Nettlehawk(not the boss) and Grasslion King…
“The most fearsome hunters are those that rule the skies.”
Where did she read that line before? Wherever it was, it definitely didn’t exaggerate.
Their wings drawn back, more than a dozen birds accelerated like an organized squad of fighter jets. Sunlight glanced off their rigid pitch-black feathers, giving off a metallic blue tint as the edges of their wings and tail burned a fiery red. Especially the three long sword-like tail feathers. Each time they moved, they helped those living missiles make minute adjustments to their course, even with their blistering speed.
No wonder Thoringar asked for those things. Bloom scrutinised the birds carefully as they reached the herds.
They swooped down, wings springing open, and tails fanned out to break their momentum. The wind screeched by them as they opened their curved claws, aiming them towards the herbivores.
The deers at the forefront called out, and Bloom had her first glimpse of the usefulness of their two heads. They used gravity. Leaning their heads towards one side or the other, they made sharp, flit second turns, and slipped away from those hook-like claws.
The hawks didn’t seem bothered by that. They once again rose into the air. Spreading out around the herd, they hovered like giant angels of death. They fanned their wings, blasting gusts after gusts that struck the running deers like invisible hammers. The poor creatures lost their balance. Their knees buckled as they crashed into each other, throwing the entire herd into a catastrophic mess of tangled bodies and broken bones.
The boss of the deers, the Three-headed Dicrocerus stopped running. It stood its ground against the gusts and faced off against the avian hunters. Its three heads opened their mouths, spraying shots of dirt and rock at the birds like a machine gun. Soon, the Four-horned Skullbison also joined it, adding a barrage of fireball to the mix.
The attacks rushed forward. But just as they were about to submerge the eagles, a few blades of wind clashed against them, scattering them into smoke and dust.
Just a few swings from the wings of one eagle was all it took to nullify the combined force of two bosses. The other birds swooped in, their claws sinking into the flesh of the deers that fell further from the herd in that chaos. They took off, gliding back towards the canyon with their prey.
The last to act was the hawk stalling the two bosses. Frankly, Bloom was expecting something at this point. A cry of triumph, or a taunt. But the bird defied her expectations and simply...
It turned and followed its friends, leaving the two creatures wailing in defeat. Almost as if it had done nothing worth mentioning. The sheer amount of careless confidence made it seem noble. Almost regal.
“Aaaaand Thoringar wants me to hunt those,” Bloom muttered, keeping her eyes fixed on the retreating birds. “Cool! Could’ve just asked me to jump off a cliff.”
She glanced back to the field. Those lions too had wrapped up their work. Only two out of the nine bison escaped. As for the rest, well, they were dinner.
So that’s how animals hunt, huh!
[With fireballs and wind blades? Sure!]
Bloom shook her head. A wry smile hung on her lips as she returned her attention to the deers. By now, they’d start getting back to grazing, though a bit more vigilant than before. As if all that had happened was business as usual. A part of daily life.
Thoringar had been right about one thing. This hunt would make her stronger. Or rather, the path to the habitat of those majestic birds would. And then...
I just have to shoot them down and pluck out their feathers.
“Damn! Who are these guys? They look more beat up than my grannie's old socks!” Fazi knelt down by seven men with varying degrees of injuries all over their bodies. Some sat, most couldn’t, laying on makeshift beds laid on the stone floor. From some scratches to the loss of an eye or a limb, none of them looked whole. Maybe due to them, this spacious hall in Vogan’s mansion looked like a hospital room, though a more herby smelling one than modern ones.
“The leftovers from that bandit hideout. The ones we could find.” Raina reached out towards him. “Four healing potions. That’s your share for bailing on me last night.”
“Hey! Four’s too much!”
“Sure, sure.” Raina nodded, wiggling her fingers. “Cough ‘em up, or I swear I’ll rip you a new one.”
“Violence begets viol...” Fazi stopped. Noticing the smile on Raina’s lips, he sighed and pulled out a few plain glass vials. A crystalline red liquid with the consistency of syrup shimmered inside.
“MAJOR!” Raina slapped a table beside her. “Major healing potions. I need to recover their body parts.”
“Major...” Fazi studied the injured people one by one. “But only four people have serious wounds!”
“Yeah, I can count.”
“Weren’t we gonna share?”
“But we are sharing. I’ll take care of the minor wounds and use your potions for the major ones.”
“That’s...” Fazi stared at her for a while before his shoulders slumped. “That’s fucking unfair!”
“Is it?” Raina tilted her head, grinning. “I also thought that last night. Reporting that mess to Arslan was a joy. Oh! And let’s not forget how you let that newbie get away.” She snapped her fingers. “Now stop stalling and bring it.”
Fazi gritted his teeth as if bearing some great pain and tossed four crystal vials with little gold markings on their caps. Raina swiftly snatched all of them from the air, giving him one last smile as she turned around and walked towards the injured bandits.
Raina frowned, staring hard at the tiger-striped rug under her chair. “So,” she turned to look at Fazi sitting beside her, “what d’you think?”
“Whew!” Fazi let out the breath he’d been holding for a while. “Easily over two hundred. Maybe three hundred even,” he said, wiggling his shoulder in an uncomfortable shrug. “I mean, the terrain changed, so I expected them to be OP, but...”
“Yeah, and there were two of them! Arslan’s not even hundred yet.” Raina’s voice carried a hint of annoyance mixed with frustration. She turned towards Vogan sitting on the other side of the table. “How long did this guy work for you again?”
“Ten years. Ever since I came back to the village.” Vogan released a sigh. “All these years, and I didn’t even notice!”
Argon walked over, carrying 3 silver goblets on a tray. He offered it to Vogan first. “My lord, the skills the bandits described, I’ve been thinking about them,” he said, moving towards the other two. “You mentioned knowing something?”
“Hm? Oh, yes, those skills!” Vogan straightened in his chair. “They sound an awful lot like the imperial skills of the fallen empire. Skills of the royal family and,” He looked at them one by one, “the imperial knights.”
“Therusen imperial knights!” Both player’s eyes widened like owls.
“Isn’t there, like, a bounty on their heads?” Fazi asked.
“Yes. A bounty of five hundred thousand gold for each of them,” Argon, who stood behind Vogan, nodded.
“That’s effin huge!”
“Most kingdoms want them either caught or dead.” Argon smiled, a peculiar look in his eyes. “Not a simple task. They are insanely strong after all.”
“Although I knew Ragnar was strong, I never thought he would be an imperial knight.” Vogan sighed. Those knights were characters from legend. Even he’d admired them during his childhood. If only he’d known, he might have had a chance to...
“But they were both imperial knights. What could push them to fight each other to the death like that?”
“Who they were, why they fought, doesn’t matter anymore. They are already dead. But that girl was there too. I bet she’s the one who made this mess,” Raina said, her teeth grinding audibly.
We really should’ve chased her out.
“Hmm...” Vogan nodded. “we have to find out what she knows.”
And how much. He left that thought unvoiced. His eyes full of hidden meaning lingered on both players before coming to stop at Fazi.
“Where did she go after you bumped into her?”
“I... don’t really know. I sorta lost track of her,” Fazi scratched his head. “Oh, yeah! She’d dragged Elsa out with her.”
“Elsa?” Raina took a sip from the glass. “That innkeeper’s daughter?”
“Yeah, the cute one. I was talking to her and the newbie just barged in and carried her away,” Fazi grumbled. “They fucking ignored me, like I was Mr Invisible.”
“Let’s go.” Raina stood up.
“What d’you mean, where? Let’s go ask Elsa about that girl.”
“No.” Vogan gave a firm shake of his head. “Leave her alone. She... is not someone you can touch.”
Vogan clenched his fist. “There are reasons,” he said. “The circle is not too pleased with me for dealing with you. They most certainly would not take it well if you move against a villager.” He looked at the tongues of fire burning in his fireplace. Though his pupils reflected the flame, it couldn’t quench the cold in the depth of his eyes.
“Especially her,” he whispered, too softly for other’s ears.
“Then the newbie’s the only one left.” Raina narrowed her eyes. “What’s her name again?”
“I know! ...God, it was… Blink? Bloop? Oh, yeah!” Fazi's index finger waved this way and that before stopping on one word. “It’s Blame!”
“That’s… a weird name.” Raina stared at him. “Are you sure?”
“Hmm.... yup!” Fazi nodded with absolute certainty.
“Well, whatever.” Raina shrugged. “We have to contact her.”
“Leave her to us,” Vogan said. “We will find her.”
Raina gave Vogan a thoughtful look. He seemed a little too eager. As if he didn’t want them contacting the newbie.
What is he hiding?
“Meanwhile, since the bandit raid failed, I have to use another method.” Vogan laid out his palm towards Argon, who took out a vial. He held it up in front of the two players. “I didn’t want to use it because the result largely depends on luck, but we have no choice.”
The two players leaned forward, observing the tar-like black liquid mass, twisting and turning as if it had a life of its own.
“What is it?” they asked.