Chapter One Hundred and Ninety Two – 192
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"Can you believe it?" Evie said as they burst from the smithy's door. "An entire Territory, all on the same Quest! Never seen it before!"
 
Felix and Evie raced across the courtyard. They had to weave through the crowd, many of whom were clumped in tight groups, each discussing the new Territory-wide Quest with varying amounts of dread. Snippets of their conversations drifted through his Perception.
 
"A Nest? How will we survive...?"
 
"...we have to fight them? All of em?"
 
"No! No, they took your father, they'll not take you too!"
 
Felix blanched, his own burgeoning excitement dying near instantly. Quests weren't exciting to normal people; normal people died on quests, especially quests involving a huge nest of monsters. Monsters that had just killed many of their friends and family.
 
The tension was palpable, roiling among Felix's already turbulent emotions. Felix fought the grimace off his face, focusing on maneuvering at speed through the crowd without hurting anyone; simultaneously, he attempted to flare his Bastion of Will. He had to do something to reduce the pressure in his chest.
 
Yet his emotions did not calm.
 
What?
 
Felix came to a stop three quarters of the way to the warehouse, staring into the middle distance. Humans, Hobgoblins, Orcs, the crowd noticed him for the first time, but Felix wasn't paying attention any longer. His Bastion was one of the cornerstones of his life on the Continent, an Epic ranked mental resistance Skill. It had protected him time and again from the Maw and its machinations, often proving to be the one thing between him and failure. But it was ineffectual at managing his new problem.
 
Because it's emotions? But those are mental, right? He was missing something obvious, he was sure. He could see the Bastion swirling with light in his core space, brighter than before, just as all his Skills had become. He was about dive into it when he felt something touch him.
 
Unfettered Voliti-!
 
Felix's fist was moving before he dropped out of his core space, the blind strike guided by his recent training. His ears, however, caught up to the motion in time to hear a single, choked off word.
 
"Don't!"
 
Felix pulled his punch, stopping only inches from a dark green skinned face. The man cowered next to him, a burly Orc with tusks bigger than Felix's pointer finger. He stepped back, fixing the Orc with eyes that he knew were glowing again. "I'm---Please don't touch me."
 
The Orc cracked open his eyes and nodded rapidly. An adam's apple as large as a baby's fist bobbed in his neck. "Sorry, sorry! I--We, we all just--"
 
"We need to know," said a woman, another Orc. She stepped from the crowd around them and gripped the still-trembling man's shoulder. "What is happening? What are you doing about this?"
 
Felix stared at her, unsure what to say. His Mind raced, composing then discarding a thousand phrases in seconds, all of them trite or fake. He took so long that the woman blinked and stepped back, her face guarded. She pulled her friend with her.
 
"I understand. We're sorry to have bothered you, Fiend," she said.
 
"We will win," Felix said, unwilling for her to walk away. The words came unbidden, unexamined.
 
The Orcs paused, glancing back at him. Felix's Perception caught dozens more around him, all craning their heads in their direction.
 
"I'll kill them all."
 
The emotions around him rumbled, swirling in fluid arpeggios. It was a hurricane and Felix the eye. With his Affinity, the sound became light became sound again, a churning of dark, soiled frustration and fear swept away by a small but powerful azure and golden light.
 
"I promise."
 
Hope is all I have. The Orcs both gave him looks of relief. The man's back straightened, as if a great burden has been shifted. A great many others around them did the same, and though it wasn't uniform or perfect, the air felt...calmer, somehow. It's all they have too.
 
"Thank you," she whispered, before pulling her friend back into the crowd.
 

 
They reached the warehouse along with everyone else. The interior was packed with folk, everyone from Harn to Aenea and her husband Hector. Among the crowd, Felix made eye contact with Vess shortly before catching sight of the dour Hand beside her. Darius Reed stared down his aquiline nose at Felix, his distaste only marred by his acute interest in what exactly Felix represented. Felix's Affinity could feel the man's Spirit tremble, awash in a strange melange of annoyance and curiosity. There was no fear there, unlike with many of the people outside. An Adept combatant had little to fear from Felix, especially one as reportedly capable as the Hand.
 
"Felix! Evie! You came back just in time," Vess smiled at the both of them as she made space. She actually shoved the Hand slightly to the side, though Felix could tell she had no real way of budging the man had he wanted to remain. Darius was even three or four inches taller than Felix, which made his glare a bit more intimidating as they sidled up. "Cal is starting."
 
Cal pushed her way through the crowd, carrying an armful of rolled up parchments. Maps? A couple of splintering tables had been shoved together, and Cal maneuvered to one side. "Someone clear off this damn table," she growled.
 
Trendle and Portia quickly scooped the remaining bowls and plates from breakfast, and Cal dumped her load of paper onto the table. With quick motions, she laid out several large maps, held down by pieces of broken masonry. Felix could see the city etched out in crude, faded lines, but it was clearly Haarwatch broken up piecemeal in each map. "You've all seen the alert. This is big. Doesn't get bigger. We got a chance to save this city, and we're gonna take it."
 
"Not gonna argue against ruling a Territory neither," Harn chuckled. Several others did as well, all of them former Guilders. They had a glint in their eyes, a mixture of excitement and fear.
 
"Neither am I," Cal agreed. "We got a shot at Territorial Authority, that means we could take control of the city in a way no one's ever done. Not here."
 
"But how's it work?" Bodie asked, and he wasn't the only one. Several of the others joined in a vague chorus. "We get Authority, then what? I've only heard big wigs back east have it."
 
"That is just it," Vess said with mounting excitement. "Most cities have Provisional Authority from the System. Not even my Father has true System Authority over his territory. With it you can do so much."
 
Cal pointed at Vess and looked at everyone else. "Exactly. We would gain access to any supply caches, weapons, crafting--"
 
"Treasure," Trendle said, his eyes glazed.
 
"Defenses," grunted Harn, putting an elbow into the big man's ribs. Trendle let out a small noise of surprise before pouting his mustache. "We could control the Wall. Really control it."
 
"How would that change things?" Reed asked, his eyes sweeping the assembled. He, aside from Zara, had the highest advancement among them. Felix had seen many of them defer to the man out of respect or maybe fear. "That just alters the hand on the wheel, is that not so?"
 
"Wrong," Evie said, glaring at the man. "The Guild didn't have System Authority, not full force. And now they've got none."
 
"Correct. The Guild only ever had Provisional Authority, granted by the Heirocrat, much as any Duke is granted. They were the rulers of this city because of the nature of the post: a wall against the monsters of the Foglands," Zara explained. "But the Guild's Charter was torn apart by the Master Inquisitor. Their Authority has been dissolved." She nodded at Aenea, who frowned in thought.
 
"Right, and stop interruptin' me, all of you," Cal said with a tired sigh. "The point is, we take the Authority, we take the city. Oust the Revenants, the redcloaks, by Siva's grace we could even push back those damn monster hordes at the Wall."
 
"Sounds...too perfect," Felix said slowly. "What's the catch?"
 
"The catch, boy, is that we'd have to wade through thousands of beasts to find the Nest, let alone destroy it," Reed smirked at him. "I doubt even you could manage that."
 
The animosity in the man's Spirit flared the moment he started talking, but Felix ignored it. He simply met the man's gaze, staring at him as the tempo of his internal rhythm started to stutter then tilt back toward caution. Felix felt the moment when the Hand remembered just who had taken a dragon out of the sky.
 
Darius Reed looked away first.
 
"Except...we all got the quest notification, yeah?" Evie asked and folks around the room nodded. "What are the chances that the Inquisition and Guilders got shafted on it?"
 
"Nonexistant," Zara interjected. "This was a territory wide alert. Everyone in the territory received the quest which, according to System records, means anyone in Haarwatch, these mountains, or the Foglands themselves would have been notified."
 
Felix immediately thought of the Archon. Is he a sentience Race, or is he a monster? Zara said monsters don't get quests. They might be fine on that front, but for how long?
 
"...that just means we have to stay ahead of them. System said there was a Nest, so that means a concentration of at least three thousand by Guild reckoning." Cal pointed at the center of the map, where the hill and a large, imposing tower was depicted. "City center is where we've been seeing them, so that's where we start."
 
"There's too many, how would we get through them all?" Bodie asked. "It'd be wading into a river of blood. We'd lose more Tin Ranks than we could train up."
 
"Meanwhile the Guilders and Inquisition got equipment and recruits to spare," Trendle grumbled, making his curled mustache wiggle. "They'll get through em far faster than we ever could."
 
"We need a better way ta fight them," Harn rumbled. He had taken off his armor again, but he looked far less tired than he had in a long while. "We get too close, and Bodie's right: we get swarmed."
 
"I may have an idea," Felix announced. Everyone turned back to him with expectant gazes. "But we may need to do a few trial runs."
 
When Felix explained his idea, several of the Guilders broke out into laughter and Evie punched his shoulder with a grin.  Harn literally chortled, full throated and everything.
 
Make An Entrance is level 39!
 
Only Zara stayed quiet, though she let a thread of her Spirit touch Felix's Affinity to make it clear to him: she was not pleased.
 

 
"You're idea is foolhardy in the extreme, Felix," Zara said while baring her teeth. "You cannot fight the Revenants. Not as you are. You know this."
 
Felix stopped at the threshold, door open and courtyard abuzz outside. He didn't turn around, just considered the moving crowds, feeling the new emotions that was growing by the second. Cal's crew were out there, answering questions and letting them know they had it under control. Zara watched him with an eyebrow raised.
 
"You're going to do it anyway though, aren't you?" She asked. "Just as before."
 
Felix didn't even answer. He just opened his Affinity completely in reply. Zara's eyes widened a moment before she snorted. "Ridiculous. You place the Untempered above your own well being?"
 
"You can feel me," Felix said. "Yeah. Yeah I do. They can't defend themselves, not against Revenants. The Tin Ranks aren't much better. There is no choice here, Zara."
 
"There is always a choice."
 
Zara considered him for several beats of his heart, her ice blue eyes boring into his own. Felix felt stripped under her gaze, flayed to the bone almost. Finally she let out a very unladylike grunt. "Find a way to center yourself, at least. Practice those breathing exercises I showed you. Level Meditation. And Avet's teeth, don't go eating everything you see."
 
The grim set of Felix's mouth eased, just a touch. "Thank you, Zara."
 
Zara frowned and walked away. "Thank me by not getting killed, Felix Nevarre."
 
He had gone through the door when her voice floated back to him. "And don't miss your lessons!"
 

 
The Healer's Ward was quiet compared to the hubbub outside. Portia hadn't even returned. After sharing his letter with the others, Felix, Evie, and Vess had all made their way over.
 
"Where's your Hand?" Felix asked Vess with a pointed glance around. Vess thinned her lips at the question.
 
"I told him off. I cannot believe he spoke that way to you."
 
"What, the stuck up thing or the 'you cannot comprehend the power it takes to kill' tripe?" Evie asked through a mouthful of bread. Where had she gotten bread?
 
"He is insufferable," Vess said as they passed Portia's empty office. "I cannot understand why my father would ever have saddled me with him."
 
"He's strong though," Felix admitted. "I can't deny that having him out there is a good thing. We need all the help we can get in this."
 
Vess tilted her head at him, conceding the point.
 
"Psh, Revenant's ain't nothin'. We've handled em before, and we can do it again," Evie said, swallowing the last bit of her loaf. "I bet I can kill more Revenants than that ponced up fop."
 
The rows of ill patients passed them one by one, his friends' conversation not doing enough to keep his attention away. Men and women of all Races were wheezing and sweating, their skin reddening and scaling. The Primordial energy in the air was changing them, faster than Felix realized. And the further back they went, the worse it got...until it didn't. The last three rows felt blessedly cool, like someone had invented and then turned on an air conditioner. Felix glanced around, but there were no fans to account for the temperature change, though he noticed that many of the patients were breathing easier and their skin had smoothed.
 
It worked better here. Why? It keeps coming back everywhere else. He'd stopped by three times now to consume the ambient Mana in the air of the Healer's Ward, each time leaving it calmer than before. But the energy in the air had always returned...just not here. Near the mages.
 
Sitting up on one bed, heads together, Alister and Atar were weak but clear eyed. They leaned against each other, and though their breathing seemed labored, it was clear.
 
"Atar! Noble-boy! You're not dead!" Evie exclaimed. "Congratulations!"
 
"Evie," Atar croaked, his voice creaky from disuse. "You're...you, as always."
 
"Atar, Alister, how are you feeling?" Vess asked. She sat gingerly on the bed beside them, keeping her eyes on the pair. "Do you need food or water?"
 
"We're fine, Vess, thank you," Alister said. His voice was just as bad, if not worse than Atar's. His eyes lingered on Atar's own, and Felix noticed him gingerly grip the other's bandaged hand. "It's been...bad. But I'm told we have you to thank, Felix?"
 
Felix shrugged, uncomfortable. "I have a useful Skill. I just wish it could have been more help to everyone else here." Though the weight of the Revenant's influence in the ward was less now, it was still both extant and beyond the reach of his Skill.
 
"Your Ravenous Tithe, was it?" Atar asked and Felix nodded. "A strange ability, but to be expected considering its...source."
 
"Damn useful though," Evie said. "Listen, you see the Territory Wide Quest? How soon before you two can fight?"
 
"They have been through quite a lot, Evie. I'll not have them fighting until I'm sure they're clear of the worst of it," Portia said, walking down the aisle. "Now if you please, my patients need their rest." She gestured gently toward the exit.
 
Vess gave Atar a hug and Evie almost punched Alister on the shoulder before she caught Portia's stern eye. Felix simply nodded, his own emotions in turmoil. His read on their Spirits was troubling; they were both fresher than before, but traces of Primordial energy clung to them. Like a stain. Something surged inside of him, an emotion he couldn't name, but Felix fought it back.
 
Bastion of Will is level 55!
 
"Felix? Can you make a pass through the ward again? I fear it's grown once more."
 
Breathing heavily from whatever that was, Felix nevertheless nodded. Portia half opened her mouth, as if she wanted to say more, before turning around and walking back to her office. Evie and Vess, freed of the healer's attention, lingered and spoke more to the mages.
 
She still wants me to share how I do this. He shook his head. As if I'd willingly give anyone else these Skills.
 
Felix wasn't an idiot. The rampaging emotions he'd been experiencing were clearly from the Primordial energy that he'd been using to advance himself. Essence, energy, whatever. I just know I have to find a way to stop this without....stopping.
 
Ravenous Tithe was the key to saving these people. He knew it.
 
Felix just had to save himself first.

 

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