Book 2 chapter 26
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“Hurry the fuck up!” Ethan yelled as he bolted through the woods chasing Mira’s mana signals.

They had just finished cleaning up the bandits and were making their way back when Mira had sent out a mana pulse, that was followed shortly by the girls presence simply vanishing causing the two to panic as they ran to where they could feel Mira still faintly sending out mana pulses, either casting spells or trying to call to the two.

“Something doesn’t add up!” Fiori called as they ran, “just what the hell could have happened to make the girl disappear? While Mira was with her no less?”

“Less talking, more running!” Ethan replied dodging trees, they had been running now for way longer than either believed they had any right to given how far away the bandits had been. The only explanation was Mira was moving, and fast.

Just what the fuck has happened, Ethan thought as he jumped a fallen log, Mira was a decently powerful mage, but she suffered the same physical limitations that normally came with that. As such there was no reason for there to be this much distance between them unless Mira was forced to use magic, but even then, why would she run in a straight line away from where she knew her allies were. 

All of that with the mana pulses Mira had been sending, they were clear indications she was trying to call to them, that was the only explanation. They had been powerful enough to be felt from quite a way away and spaced out to about one a minute. The only explanation either of them could come up with was she was trying to conserve mana while either running, to or from what was anyone’s guess.

“Ethan!” Fiori yelled, grabbing his collar and pulling him back.

Ethan gagged from the sudden force, his legs continuing for a moment as they flung out over open air before he slammed into the ground. His legs hanging over a sudden dip that he didn’t see.

The drop was only about a foot deep, but it would have been more than enough to cause serious injury at this speed. “Thanks.” He rasped as he sat up looking into the ditch only for his stomach to sink as he did. What he thought was a simple ditch was actually a blood-soaked crater in the ground.

“It's too quiet…” Fiori whispered her large feline ears flicking as they looked around.

It looked as if a war torn through the forest, the toppled trees they had been jumping over laid splintered as if blown apart, the ones left standing had deep claw marks marring the bark, the ground itself had deep grooves in it that had been splattered with blood in some places while others had simply been cratered in leaving huge splatter marks that blended into the dirt.

“Look,” Fiori pointed to a set of prints in the dirt, “I recognize those… cannonball rabbits?” 

He inspected the prints, which were too distinct to be anything else. Two prominent paw prints in the middle of an indentation of packed dirt were kind of hard to misinterpret. “Well that explains the trees,” Ethan said recalling the monster.

A cannonball rabbit was a mana monster, unlike its close cousin the horned rabbit, which was classified as a beast. The cannonball rabbit was a rabbit as its name implies, only about the size of a large watermelon, their heads and backs are covered in incredibly hard bone like plates. They were simple creatures like their beastly counterparts but with significantly more powerful legs that they used to launch themselves with enough force to crack stone, simply bashing anything they hit into paste before gobbling up whatever remains.

The cannonball was commonly called a “rookie killer” given they are only a D-rank monster but they were often underestimated by low-ranking adventurers. The armored shell is hard enough to deflect a normal sword strike, and they had enough padding to block blunt attacks, it was the first creature most adventurers fought that would be honestly dangerous. Just one rabbit would be a challenge for a D-rank, but that was the problem… there was never just one cannonball rabbit. 

“But it doesn’t explain the claw marks… or these craters. Cannonballs don’t jump at the ground.” Fiori scanned the ground again, finding another set of footprints, “or wear armor…”

“Ok so someone fought a bunch of Cannonballs here… but where are they now?” Ethan looked to Fiori, who shook her head. He took a deep breath as he closed his eyes, focusing on the wind around him as he pulled mana from his core and forced it into the air, “wind reading.” He could instantly feel the wind cutting through the trees, the slight breeze like a flowing river as it passed over him. He could feel the depression in the wind current that was Fiori standing to his side, a couple dozen yards back he could feel the ripples of a small creature crawling up a tree. Then a sudden gust as something moved the wind, the disturbance traveling through the forest like a wave. “To the north.” He said moments before a dull thud filled the air.

“Thanks magic man but I heard that.” Fiori rolled her eyes as she started to run in the direction of the sound; she had always told her companions they relied too much on their magic.

Ethan would have retorted if the situation had been less… strenuous. The only thing keeping him from a full panic was knowing Mira had to still be alive, the pulses of her mana leading them to her was enough for him to hold out hope that whatever was battling just ahead had not caught her yet.

It wasn’t long before the two could hear the dull thumping they both recognized as the sounds of the cannonballs “going off” as people would say. As they grew closer, they could hear the clear sounds of combat, much louder “thumps” along with much higher cracking sounds and… laughing? 

Ethan nearly screamed Mira’s name as he broke through the treeline only to be stunned as he did.

Their standing in the middle of a large clearing, bathed in the deep red of the setting sun was the strange girl. She was just standing in the middle of the field, her once black armor now a strange white. She just stood with a sickening smile on her face as she casually rolled what looked like a metal rod in her hand as if waiting for something.

He stood stunned as he looked at the strange girl, his brain slowly processing what he was looking at. He felt a violent tug as Fiori pulled him aside just as a cannonball rabbit flew past him… but the angle was off… that rabbit was flying backwards?

“She’s fucking calling them.” Fiori frantickly pulled him to safety behind a thick tree.

Then the world seemed to snap into place. Everything caught up to him as he looked back at the girl once more, the ground around her feet was covered in craters, blood splatters littered the area as the corpses of dozens of rabbits filled the clearing. What he thought was a sickening smile was blood smears across her cheeks that ran down her chin. What he thought was laughing was actually a strange broken chittering hum. 

The girl would stand there for a moment before opening her mouth emitting the inhuman chittering, then out of the tree line a cannonball would lunge at her. Only to be met by a brutal swing from the strange metal rod she held. 

Every time she would swing that rod a sickening crunch would ring out and the offending rabbit would either fly off into the trees or become another blood smear on the ground.

“Damn there sure are a lot of these things huh.” The girl said casually as she picked up the corpse of one of the rabbits, holding it in her right hand as if inspecting it “ooo this one done cooking!” She exclaimed excitedly as she raised its limp corpse to her mouth. 

Ethan gagged as the girl took a crunching bite out of the monster, her tiny jaw somehow breaking the stone like shell as she started to eat it. The blood running off her armor as if it was being repelled.

Ethan’s hand went for his sword instinctively as he spoke. “she’s a damn mon…” before he could finish he felt a sensation creeping up his spine, a tingling that once it hit the base of his skull caused his whole body to shiver uncontrollably… as he looked at the girl he noticed her black void like eyes locked with his, his throat tightened as his whole body went cold as the girl looked at him… through him… fear. 

They stood eyes locked for what felt like an eternity to Ethan, the black veins on the girl's face pulsing as they looked into each other's eyes before Fiori finally spoke. 

“Ethan, it is rude to call a lovely young woman such a thing,” she said tentatively, her own voice wavering slightly. “I am sorry we interrupted your… meal.” She swallowed as she slowly stepped out of the tree line with her hands raised. “Ethan apologize.” Fiori kicked Ethan in the shin. 

“y…. yea… sorry.” He stammered as the girl didn’t look away from him.

Fiori grunted before stepping forward, “did you kill all of these yourself? That’s quite…” Fiori nearly choked as the girls’ eyes snapped to her, they flashed inky black for only a moment before the girl suddenly swung her rod to her left smashing another rabbit.

“The man is a good man. Proud. Strong. Good with wind magic. Catwoman is…” She held her hand out and shook it side to side, “OK. lazy. Sneaky type, bad magic though.” The girl finally said, picking up another rabbit, “not ready.” She dropped it back to the floor. “I suppose you're going to say you just came across me looking for your friend? She’s hiding in that bush over there. Good magic, scaredy cat though. Peed a little when I started eating.” 

  They both stood in stunned silence as the girl picked up another rabbit before biting into it. “I am Hecatolite.” She struggled to say though a mouthful of… Ethan threw up. “Can you stop doing that, it's running my food.” She pointed to a cannonball rabbit that now had a fresh coat of vomit on it.