First blood was not taken by me or the feline monsters, but rather Arya as an arrow fell from the sky and took down one of the charging beasts. Her newfound strength from not only her new race, but also the new Skills was not something to be taken lightly. She had already been very good with a bow to begin with, and with the addition of being able to see much farther and the bow I'd made for her, she was probably more akin to a sniper than archer, though she still missed more frequently due to the fact that her projectiles moved slower that of a guns.
My fighting style hadn't changed at all however. I was still just as reckless and heavy handed as before, only now I was capable of putting out much more force, though I wasn't even planning on killing, so I stuck to just my claws and webs as I tried to incapacitate as many of the beasts instead of killing them. A task that was much harder than I had thought it would be, as restraining my strength to the right amount was much more difficult in an intense melee, and their instincts paired with their agility made a mockery of any attempts I made to web them up.
However, despite their superior numbers and ability to evade my attempts to capture them, it was a losing fight, something the largest took notice of, as it soon rushed to join the fray. Unlike the smaller ones that came up to around mid thigh, this one was only slightly smaller than the old pack horses that I'd turned into undead and were pulling the carriage.
I had been waiting for the large one to come into the melee as I was worried that if I were to kill or otherwise remove too many from the fight it would flee with the survivors. Ignoring the smaller ones I charged at the large one while telling Arya to pick off more of the small ones. Unlike the smaller beasts the large one met my charge head on, likely confident in its own strength, however it became confused when I made a sudden left curve while throwing my right hand out.
It had to slow down slightly as it made a sharp turn to come straight at me, just as I had wanted. I gripped down with my right hand on the thread I'd thrown out and anchored in the ground, while leaping. With my velocity, I arced into the air the thread wrapping around the torso of the large beast as I came tumbling to the ground not too far from where it had stopped and was now thrashing on the ground as the thread dug into it. With out wasting any time I tangled thread around its legs that slowly tightened as it struggled, completely immobilizing it in a matter of moments.
Once that was done I told Arya to try and keep the small ones from fleeing as I stopped ignoring them and began to try and capture them. For the most part that simply entailed me pretending to be tired from dealing with the large one before letting them bite onto me, not that they could pierce my carapace, which made it much easier to grab and wrap them in web. Unlike how I thought it would turn out, it seemed the small ones were determined to fight to the last one, I wondered if that was because they knew I wasn't killing them, or if their pack tendencies made them value their pack more than their lives. Either way it was good for me as I didn't have to waste any time chasing them down and therefore made short work of the eight or so small ones, though I only managed to capture about four as I'd failed to properly restrain the others, or had used too much force and killed them.
Arya made her way to the scene of the battle a slightly sad look on her face as she looked at the dead and captured beasts. I knew that she wasn't that fond of senseless loss of life, but having another companion capable of fighting in the Forest of Darkness was extremely beneficial so I could only ignore the look in her eyes as I backed off and summoned Steria and filled her in on the beasts.
"These are an evolved form of Khetorah, Khetoran, faster, stronger, smarter, you know all the stuff that comes with an evolution. The large one is the pack leader, and the sole female, the others are all male, ordered from best to worst as far as their Status shows."
Steria looked over the five captured beasts, her eyes meeting the large ones, before she turned back to me. "I was hoping for something more human, but the large one will do I think."
I smiled as I figured that would be her choice. "You can learn the Humanization Skill eventually, I figured you'd want to start with a decent base over that of a criminal."
Steria nodded. "Fair enough. Did you look into the process for preparing and merging into a Vessel? I'm no-"
I cut her off with a hand and pulled the thick black book I'd gotten from Ellie. "I've got a better method that doesn't require a Vessel's compatibility and will keep most of the original creature's instincts and muscle memory so you don't need to spend as much time adjusting."
Steria only looked at me intrigued as I motioned for her to come over as I kneeled next to the large Khetoran female. There was only a small amount of preparation needed for this ritual, something I took care of easily since it only required the blood of a Yin creature, something that was normally rare, but I had it in abundance as I myself was one. I spilt my blackish purple ichor in an unnerving pattern both across and around the beast, thread keeping the black book suspended in front of me to make sure I didn't make a mistake.
Steria looked uncomfortable as I finished up. "I wasn't aware you practiced Heresy Magic, were I a Divine still I'd have no choice but to smite you." she then smiled as she seemed to come to terms with it. "Well I don't think you'll use any of the more horrific spells, but be careful, I'd hate to lose another master."
I hadn't even known what this magic was called before, as it was simply a scrambled and unreadable mess in my Status. However, I didn't have the leeway to check to see if it had changed now that I knew, as the ritual was rather delicate and required most of my concentration, even with Multitask.
Once the pattern was finished I motion for Steria to stand next to me as I reached towards the feline and lightly dug a claw into its flesh, pulling a black thread from it, I did this is six other spots using my hands and Thread Manipulation to keep them sorted as I matched them to the same spots on Steria and gently pushed them into her. There wasn't any resistance as she wasn't made of flesh, but I could feel my carapace being burnt and torn apart by her energy, however it was no problem as I healed slightly quicker than her energy destroyed me.
I connected the black thread to Steria's own black thread. "There will be a small battle of wills, if you lose you'll probably die, but it should be fine since I will be reinforcing you."
I saw Steria's expression twist, but before she could complain she suddenly vanished as her white energy coalesced and traveled down the beast's black thread like electricity. The black book told me what I could do to aid the takeover, but it turned out to be unnecessary as before I could even connect the black threads shattered and faded away, Steria had easily taken control.
There was only a final step, though it was more of a quality of life thing over something that was absolutely needed. I touched the Steria's head and sent a few threads of Heresy and Pact Magic in. "Don't fight against the magic, it's a slightly modified familiar contract, it will allow you to communicate with me easier and will let you roam towns and cities by my side until you can take human form."
Steria must have understood as the thread of magic had no issue permeating into her and forming a contract, though just as it finished I noticed white patterns begin to glow under Steria's fur before they faded away. I had a feeling that it had something to do with Corruption as both Marian and Arya had similar patterns, but I wasn't too worried about it, if anything, so long as Steria was willing she'd probably get a human form sooner, though I imagined as a former Divine and paladin that she probably wasn't going to accept, not that it mattered either way.
With Steria added into our group, I was much more confident about all of us getting to the center of the Forest of Darkness, though I did plan to stay here for a bit longer so that the three of us could take some time to get used to fighting together, plus I still needed to check Steria's Status to make sure that there wasn't any abnormalities that shouldn't be there, but for now it was time to head back to the nest.