Chapter 23: Man up
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The night was upon them, and although David didn't feel really good at the thought of having left Erin behind unprotected, she was still level sixty-seven and had survived on her own for three hundred Earth years. "She'll be fine…"

Wushu flew around near him, he fidgeted a little, and since he didn't really have hands but claws that could barely touch one another, he looked to his left, right, down, and up in a continuous vicious circle.

"You're making me nervous, Wu. Oh, Wu! I like Wu. Anyway, what's gotten into you, Wu?" David asked.

The dragon started making acrobatics in the air to answer.

"So, it's your first time out of home, I understand. Well, you are with us now, maybe I can't say you can count on me for now, since you are *cough* stronger than me *cough* but Erin is here with us, she can protect you if something goes wrong; so relax."

The little speech was effective on the still too young, prideful, and malleable dragon. So they got back to advancing through the bare forest with care, but their pace sped up a bit.

Dave filled up the downtime, and tried to keep the dragon’s mind occupied with idle chat, “You know what I was thinking about, Wushu?”

Counterclockwise turn.

“That we’ll never manage to see what really was behind that waterfall. I swear if it’s an easter egg, I’m going to trash that place when we get back there...if we get back there.”

“Of course you don’t know what an Easter egg is…” Dave said to the questioning Dragon, “Well, an Easter egg is-“

 

***

 

The thicket of trees didn't look like much, and although they were plants that David could know nothing about since they were literally alien to him, the place was bare and inhospitable. In the middle of the clearing in the thicket, Dave noticed a crevice in the ground. It looked like a true split in the earth; although small, it was dark enough that he could define it as a proper cliff.

"I don't think we're going to find much around here; maybe we should try getting down that little cliff," Dave suggested, "or better still, you go scout in there, and I'll follow you in case you find something."

The dragon stopped mid-flight to stare at him.

"What? You can fly; I haven't even got wings, see? Weird Arcane Magic doesn't even give me a flight ability…what kind of Arcane specialization is even this…" He shook his head, "Bliz*ard should have made the Source; maybe it would have come out better. Or maybe better… Arena—" Wushu sprayed a little water jet in his face before departing down the little cliff.

"Nasty dragon!" Dave said, peeking through the dark cliff.

Indeed it was deep, and weirdly, it seemed to grow tighter the more it descended.

Wushu was already nowhere to be seen; he had likely reached all the way down the cliff, so David waited for him, sitting down and peeking out to the cliff's depths every once in a while.

He wasted time humming a modified song that he had just entitled, Wu, are you.

Dave had started singing with gusto when a *whee* sound grew stronger and stronger, it came from the cliff, and it became shriller the closer it got.

A frowning David, still singing, intoned a question to the sound of a song, "Come on tell me, Wu…are you? No, really, Wu, is that you!?"

The dragon shot out from the crevice and shot in the sky, ready to escape in Erin's direction when he recalled that David was waiting for him near the crevice, so he got back down and started mimicking to him why he was running away.

"Insects? Big insects? Level 10? But I saw you take down a Slime over level twenty; why are you running now?" David asked, yet the Loong's answer was clear, "Oh, entomophobia…of course the mightiest of all the creatures in the world is scared about insects, I should have expected it—"

David's ears picked up a crawling sound of numerous little steps, tapping, clicking on the crevice's rocks. Dozens, maybe more, clicking at the same time.

David shot up, "This is not very nice," he said, turning to Wushu, "Wu, you can't…pick me up and fly around, right?" The Dragon shook his head, "Then, I guess we…I guess we run!"

Saying, so Dave started leaving, not going toward Erin in fear of taking whatever was coming out of there to her. Instead, he turned to the right, heading to the deepest part of the thicket.

He made a mental list of his options, which came out mostly as a list of the Skills he could use.

On top of the list was indeed Wushu's lightning, then there was Arcane Missile, Stealth, and nothing else.

"I need to get myself that Arcane Blade; if I had known it before, it would have saved me so many troubles…"

David engaged Stealth right away; indeed, using Stealth required him to reach a certain mind-frame and hold a mental image of what should be his…style. David had to be stylish and dress his Stealth like a classy Armani suit.

"Yeah, right."

Dave quickly hid behind the biggest tree he could find then prepared to shoot his Arcane Missiles.

"Wushu!" He whispered, "Get ready to zap."

The silence of the night reigned supreme for a handful of seconds, then the clicking and ticking of many tiny paws on the ground started filling the air.

Dave took a quick look, peeking from behind his cover.

 

Incendiary Scrapster

Level: 11

Health: 100%

Element: Fire

 

Detailed Info reaches level 5. Increase displayed information by 5%.

 

Eight, three-feet big cockroach-like, dirty-red creatures with six legs plus two frontal outgrowths that dripped a green mucus, and were shaped like megaphones, were coming Dave's way.

They grew closer, giving no signal of wanting to stop.

Dave knew they would reach him, so he focused even more on his Stealth Skill.

Just like that, the creature walked closer to his tree, as if they were aiming at it, then they simply passed by it.

 

Stealth has reached level 14. Mask your presence to other beings with 14% efficiency.

Seeing their vicious bodies slowly getting away, David gulped down for relief. They were not following Wushu because he had stopped in mid-air, understanding that the massive insects could not raise their heads to study the skies.

Then, before he could really relax, the last of the line turned back. It did so slowly as if it had just heard something he really hadn't liked; it was as if somebody had spoken badly of his preferred book.

Almost as if he would say, "You talking to me?" The cockroach only lacked words and a white shirt. Yet it didn't need them, for its eyes were enough of a warning for David. The creature had seen him, and before Dave could react, the creature moved its antennae, and all the other Scrapsters running ahead of him stopped, then turned around.

"Shite."

David knew that this moment would have come sooner or later; he needed to act now, as a man—no, as a mage, no—as Gandalf would act. He would have to act like the person he had chosen to be. Free of every binding, even those dictated by fear.

"Wushu," he said, serious, "Blast them." Saying so, David raised his hands at them, then started blasting them himself. Arcane Missiles started pouring out of his right palm like cards out of a street magician.

They had grown thrice as strong as the useless rubber bullets projectiles he had shot at the Night Impit the first day he reached Arthan, and they were aimed at the creatures' eyes.

Before the cockroaches reached him, he had filled his well, already, and as Missile, after Missile exploded from his right-hand palm, he could feel them affect his Health, but he didn't care, because first one then two cockroaches fell when their eyes exploded in gore.

The Homing Arcane Missiles found their targets each time, and if one failed to do its job, the one following would uphold it, popping the creatures' eyes.

David knew that if it hadn't been for the Homing rank up, he would be hitting the creatures on their carapace, and it was doubtless that he would have found himself doing no damage at all to the beasts. Luckily, he had chosen well; once more, Randiallen's advice proved to be great; if he ever got back to the Breeding Grounds, he would offer the Myst-caller a nice cold beer.

When the fourth insect finally fell, David knew he could shoot no more, for he was feeling ill, so he turned around the tree and started running away, as long as he didn't head toward Erin, he was fine.

 

Homing Arcane Missile (Fast Magic-Skill) reaches level 4. 1.3% Well filling per cast. 4% increased missile agility.

 

"Wushu, aim at their eyes!" He shouted as the dragon finally was ready to attack them.

But just as Wushu got down from the sky, the heat suddenly rose, for the creatures started releasing their attacks.

Like a flamethrower, a long tower of flame released from their megaphone-like frontal appendages, and they covered a decent distance, so much so that Dave could feel the heat almost reaching his back even though he was running ahead of them. The two Scrapsters in front were fixated on Dave, while those on the back were aiming their torches at the sky to attack Wushu.

"Damn…it was Winter a few seconds ago…" Dave said to himself, "a nice cold beer would be ideal for dealing with all this heat. Please God, if you're up there, make it, so this world has beers."

Luckily for him, the creatures had cooldown for their powerful attacks, yet so did Wushu, but at the same time, David's Well was full, and it was clear that he would have to wait to use his Arcane Missiles if he didn't want to kill himself.

He chose to disperse them in the forest, but before doing so, his mind, that he had luckily been increasing all this time, made an intelligent connection. "A forest fire is a no-no if we don't want to be caught by the Fiends."

So, the only thing left for him to do was to circle around them, keeping them busy as he tried the depths of his Stamina.

Thankfully, Wushu was with him, and his Lightning had less than twenty seconds cooldown.

David ran back to the crevice, and by the time he made a couple of turns around it, Wushu had killed a couple more creatures; now they were two against two. But at that point, the Scrapsters started retiring.

"Oh, no. No, no, no. Wushu! Don't let them get back into the cave, or they'll come back with reinforcements!"

The Loong emitted another weird shrill then launched itself at one of the escaping Incendiary Scrapsters; Dave did the same, running at the creature then shouting, "Bloody hell!” Saying so, he shot a few more Missiles the creatures' way.

 

Survivalist reaches level 12. Adapt to external forces + 12%

 

Unyielding reaches level 2. Well empties 2% faster.

 

When the four Missiles popped out both the creature's bulging eyes, it fell on the ground but still squirmed, so David got up, hopped on top of it, and started hammering it with his hammer punches. "Just—die—you—ugly—pyromaniac!"

When info showed that it did not move anymore, David double-checked with his Info; then he understood that if this one was still alive after he popped its eyes, then the other four he had defeated were likely still alive, so with a grunt, he got up, huffing and puffing and headed in their direction—

—only to come back once more to take a decent-sized rock from the nearby crevice's borders, to crack their shells with.

 

***

 

By the time he had tracked all the creatures down and finished them, David was rewarded with a Class level up, but no Crystals, nor anything else.

 

The Source

Your Class level reaches 5.

 

Mind + 1, Resilience + 1. You receive 1 Attribute point.

 

"Took me an indefinite amount of level 9 Froggers and six level 11 cockroaches… Who was the wanker that set Infernal difficulty?" he asked to the wind.

David, once more, placed his free Attribute point into Mind, then summoned his Status screen, just to check.

 

Status

Name: Deviant (David Anderson) Son

Blessing: Blessing of The Source (Unique) – Resilience + 1 every Level

Title: Trespasser (Unique) – First Perk

Level: 5

Arcanist, Class level: 5

Class Perks: Source Sight

 

Attributes

Health: 41%

Stamina: 51%

Well: 98.2%

 

Alacrity: 5

Constitution: 5

Perception: 4

Strength: 5

Mind: 20

Resilience: 18

Charisma: 4

 

"I don't feel four times as smart…" he said to himself. "Oh, well, maybe twenty percent smarter, I'll give you that."

Yet as he got up, steel wheezing, he was delighted to know that the Source contacted him once more.

 

Source – Quest

Obliterate the Night Scrapster Queen that is corrupting the oasis.

 

Upon completion, you'll reach Level 6 and receive a Passive Attribute Skill Choice-Token!

 

Dave frowned; his smiling eyes suddenly got darker as he understood what the Source had just tasked him with. "What an—"

 

***

 

"—Ass," said Five, "General A'astor is an ass. That was the nastiest thing I have ever seen in my whole career," he was spitting those words with clear disgust as if he had munched on a pie made of shit.

"Five! Have you lost your mind? You could be fired if they heard you!" Said Three, sincerely surprised and at the same time preoccupied with him.

Still, Cyana felt pretty much the same way. She could not admit it, but just thinking back at what had happened less than two our priors made all her Kva'ri teachings go haywire.

Indeed, she had to relive the scene with her Mental Magic, and she would indeed do so since they were waiting for Varya standard police to take care of the mess.

In the meanwhile, they had gone down the Garden-Forest's floor and reached the place where the Trespassing had unfolded. Five was studying the place in which he said he felt the cicatrix in space left by the Trespassing; it would stay there, like a scar in space for up to twenty-four hours, which was how long the Trespasser who had made it had to wait before using his ability again.

Five was furious and was not answering her; he just stood there, studying the weird feeling only he could sense, so she took that chance to sit back in her meditative Kva'ri stance and relive what had transpired, not even an hour earlier.

 

***

 

It wasn't like a three-dimensional game; she could only relive the events in the way she had witnessed them, so it felt more like watching a movie while not being emotionally present.

It all happened so fast.

The Eye shouted for she had felt the Trespasser activate his powers, then probably sent his position to the General with a Mental Link or some other technique that the second team had installed.

Then came A'astor's realization "You are a traitor!" he shouted, and as he said so, the Special Units all got up to fight, even her, the youngest of them all, and even Five, they readied for the eventual fight.

If a General with a Title of Defender said those words, they could not be empty words.

Soon after he released the Burst Cleaver in the supposed direction of the Trespasser, everything—everything in the building and outside of it, took life. From the carpet to the outside trees, back to the vegetation inside of the villa. They all changed forms and turned into vicious tentacles loaded with numerous toxins, claws, fangs, and other dangerous features. Then it was chaos.

The second Special Squad barely had the time to summon a barrier—that lasted only a couple of seconds—before everyone Fiend in the room was thrown around and hit and strangled by the myriads of tentacle-looking roots.

The air was filled with a poisonous gas that would have killed them all if they hadn't had their helmet on, but then everything ceased just as it had started.

The balcony on which General A'astor, Captain Virael, and the Ancient were drinking tea exploded, and with the corner of her eye, Cyana could see the partially deformed but still very child-like upper torso of the burning Ancient fall to the floor.

Levels were not everything because Class and the right Skill’s Rank up counted just as much, and if General A'astor, who had specialized his Fighter Class many times over, wasn't enough, the presence of Captain Virael and Captain Torstein would easily overwhelm an indirect combatant as Ancient Vesillya.

When she fell, the tentacular roots that immobilized them did not let go, but they stopped fighting; they were soon cut down by the first of them that freed himself; the rest was history.

 

***

 

Vesillya had not died, otherwise, it would have been a declaration of war, but she had been wounded and detained. It was the first time in the history of post-Fiend joining Arthan that an Ancient of the Fey was detained. It would take the media by storm.

The Fays of Ancient Vesillya’s retinue did not intervene, it was unlikely, but they didn't even lift a finger. Indeed, they remained immobile, although Cyana recalled that some of them had definitely shown signs of wanting to act in defense of their Ancient, yet they didn't. She couldn't understand that detail; it made her think that whether it had been planned or they had received an instantaneous command not to act.

The Ancient might have killed them all by simply removing their helmets as she poisoned them with her toxins, she hadn't. But apparently, there was more than that, and as Cyana left her Kva'ri meditation, she stared at Five. She believed that he had understood something that she hadn't, but what exactly?

Five seemed rather disappointed by the unfolding of the events, much more so than anyone would be, but even more mysterious than Five's reactions were General A'astor and Captain Virael's reaction. They acted as if they had been expecting everything to evolve that way ever since the start; it was surreal.

Shaking her head, Cyana got up, lifted herself up with her Mind Magic, and hovered over the vast gorge that had bisected the ground and burned the nearby trees to a crisp. She landed near Five.

She touched his shoulders, then gulped down her pride to ask, "I don't understand; what is it that you've seen that makes you speak like that?"

Turning slowly, dejected by the events, Five turned toward her, then tapped on his helmet, shaking his head.

Right, they registered everything.

Realizing that, Cyana was shaken to the very core by a crippling feeling of dread.

Was she in danger? Was she betraying the Xaphi'rel Empire by asking that question? Was she acting as a… good soldier should? Or maybe she wasn't supposed to ask those questions?

What could she do?

Likely seeing her shaking hands, Five caught her hand in his, then put it on his helmet.

A Mental Link, of course, they couldn't hear them through a Mental Link, helmet or not, Sourceanium or not, that was inviolable, the only reason to violate it would be if a Mind Magic expert much more powerful than she had targeted them and wanted to listen to their mental conversation.

But how likely was that?

So she formed it.

<<Would you like to tell me what is going on?>> Cyana said.

Five sent a mental chuckle, <<I don't know what is going on, but I know that this is not the way things should go, this is…this is…>>

<<What? This is what?>>

<<This is asking for war, Three. That's not how this should have been handled. Even if somebody stole a Trespasser from us, caging an Ancient Fay for the first time in hundreds of years? This is nuts.>> He visually shook his head.

<<I—I don't think it is right either, but…then why?>>

<<I do not know, but I don't think we should try to find out.>> After saying that, he raised his head to the sky, then rescinded the link himself. "Look, that's for us; they are sending us back home. It looks like this long mission will finish with a pleasant weekend," Five added. "Do you want to give me a lift up the stone trail?"

Cyana nodded, then, surprised, smiled under her helmet.

 

***

 

The aircraft was waiting for them, it let out a squad of experts to study the unfolding of the events, they did not wear black suits, then the Special Squad got on board, yet before Five and Three could board, Five said something to her.

"If you want to hang out, there is a place I hit with some friends, it's called the Drunken Pilot it's in the City's Ring. So, if you are not busy, come take a look, nobody says we cannot get to know each other after the mission is over; besides, if I know who you're brother is, I know who you are, it's only right that you get to know who hides behind this helmet," Five said, tapping with his finger on his dark helmet.

Five put his foot on the aircraft’s step, then he turned around once more, “Three,” he said, “I’m sorry for your loss.” He preceded her on the aircraft.

Cyana stood there for a few, way too long seconds.

She was the last one hopping on the vehicle.

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