Chapter 11: Relative Strength
The night continued on and we talked for a bit more, but we were all exhausted so we retired for the night.
Scald my eyes with the laser if you need to wake me up I’m going to start lustrating.
[Scalding sounds like I’m torturing you. It’s completely safe!]
Is it? I really wonder Eurval…
[Humph, I take great offense that you would think I would do anything to hurt you Lucid.]
I’m just saying it hurts even though it works well.
I switched off the lamp inside and begun the process of lustrating I was tempted to use Ulus’ Tea Time now that I had clacka roots, but decided against it.
The silvery glow from Laurent’s Circle filled the tent before I was greeted again by my familiar flame.
“Now I just wait in here.”
Making sure to really pack in as much mana as I could my head felt as if it was about to explode before I made it in. I would be in my mana body for close to six hours so I wanted to make sure I got enough rest and did as much as I could to lustrate.
I curled up inside my gentle flame and let my thoughts wander.
[Wake up Lucid!]
I could hear the muffled voice coming from somewhere far away. But it was so comfortable in my little flame. It had been hours and not a single thing happened.
“I’m up! I’m up!”
My mind snapped from out of my mana body. I lifted my eyes to see I was still sitting in the dark tent.
Whew. I let out a breath.
[It’s a new day Lucid. Daylight will come soon~]
For some reason, I find those words vaguely threatening.
I sat up and did some light stretches. While I wasn’t feeling completely rested I didn’t feel like I was lacking sleep. After a bit of water I exited my tent.
“You’re already up too?” I could see Ronald preparing breakfast composed his kettle and a cup of instant noodles.
I didn’t notice it before, but he was actually quite tall maybe a little larger than me. I think it is his small sharp-featured face that pits him as being smaller to me. Either that or Jordan really is just a behemoth in width and height.
Wait, Elizabeth is pretty tall also, she might be taller than me too. Huh, the people of this world must have a taller average height for sure. I must have not noticed since I haven’t interacted people here to this extent.
“Yeah, instant noodles for breakfast? I figured coming from the country you’d prefer more meats and vegetables.”
“Heh, its BECAUSE I come from the countryside that I prefer these kinds of foods. Out there you don’t get this top grocery shelf quality stuff.” Ronald pats his instant noodle cup as he spoke.
Hmm, I scratched my chin and nodded towards him as he begun to pour in the water. I pulled out a breakfast sandwich I took from the cafeteria that was still wrapped in foil and placed it over the small metal mesh above the fire.
While I waited for my food to heat up I saw Elizabeth and Berts wake up first followed by Jordan.
“So what’s the plan for today?” Elizabeth spoke as she scooped oatmeal from a pot into bowls for Berts, Jordan, and herself.
“We came to find earth essence cores I think our best bet is still the mud snakes.” Jordan was the first to speak.
“Those darn things, they all live so close to each other I reckon if we fight one we fight them all.” Ronald slurped on his noodles as he spoke.
“Can’t you draw a single one out with your earth magic Ronald?” Elizabeth looked at him.
Ronald took a small pause after swallowing.
“Ohh, nice idea muscle head I can harden the ground around them forcing it in one direction.”
“Stop calling me a muscle head! I get better grades than you!”
Ronald gave her a shrug.
“Its nothing to do with grades it’s about the feeling~”
Oh. I strangely know what he means. I get that feeling from her too.
An educated muscle head. I wanted to say it aloud but decided against it.
Besides, I didn’t want to butt into the conversation of these two. I could feel that there was some kind of romantic feelings coming from Ronald. Though, I could be wrong since I’ve only known them for a little over a day. If its true it’s a little sad since she seemed dense to those kinds of things.
Good luck Ronald. I sent him a thumbs up only to have him tilt his head in confusion.
“Hmph, so we’ll go with that then my idea.” Elizabeth brushed off his comment.
Jordan nodded his head still seemingly not fully awake as he slowly chewed on his oatmeal. I was a bit surprised, I never pegged him to not be a morning person.
Once we finished eating it took a bit more for Jordan to finally wake up. We took down our camping gear and Berts undid the protective layers of spells around our site before we began our trek back towards the swampy areas.
Our goal was to single out one mud snake at a time by drawing it away from its group. Even if didn’t find an earth essence we would hunt three because if no earth essence is found the split materials from three could roughly buy oneself a comparable earth essence orb.
We took the same path from yesterday so we moved at a much faster pace as a lot of the brush was moved out of the way. However, it obviously meant we ’t didn’t find any new lustrating materials.
We also passed by the place we fought the three crimson fanged tigers. We didn’t notice anything different from when we left it. I wonder if the residual mana undulations scared any of the hyres in the area from coming.
“We’re here. Ronald perform your search again.” Jordan paused once we reached the swampy area again.
“Okie doke lets see god I hope they’re close by.” Ronald placed his staff on the ground.
It was quiet while we waited outside of the occasional chirps or rustling of the large trees around us, of course. I looked around now that I had the chance. I could see why Ronald didn’t want to go any further than what we could see, the ground was almost pure mush now and maybe a quarter mile further would be the ‘real’ swamp with plenty of standing water.
“Oh, lucky! There’s one directly north of us about 180 meters alone deeper into the swap, and threes two 30ish meters apart 85 meters to our east.”
That’s a heavy question which one?
“I asked my magi. For me, it says the one alone is the best bet what about you guys?” Jordan asked us after
Magi? Is that referring to you Eurval?
[That’s me Lucid, its an acronym for Magically Augmented Guiding Interface, well I’m sure their input is much less than what I can do since their level of freedom with the sources of information is much lower. I can see how they arrived at their answer though. In my opinion, both are equally dangerous, but that’s only because I’m allowed to guess and add my own parameters to the query~]
It must be rare then, having an AI, err, I mean a magi second guess you. I can see it in a way, its probably because I never grew up in this world that I’m so open to its input.
Well, if both are equally dangerous than let us go with the one they would feel confident in? Right?
“I’m getting the same thing.” I was the first to reply.
“Heh same here.”
Elizabeth and Berts nodded along with Ronald’s answer.
“Then we shall go north.” Jordan began the march.
We all knew the result but I could see the expressions in Ronald and Berts worsen a little knowing they would have to slog through the increasingly stickier mud.
While it was ‘only’ 180 meters it took us a good hour to travel through this forested swamp. Though I didn’t mind we did run into a plenty more amethyst roses too add to my increasing stockpile.
“Okay, we’re coming up on them be careful. I’ll start hardening the ground around the den so it has to fight us without much room for escape.”
Ronald put on a serious face and closed his eyes. He stood there for a good twenty or so minutes so it must be a pretty complicated spell, or at least one definitely not suited combat without a grimoire.
A giant orange magic circle appeared around us turning the mushy muddy ground as hard as rock leaving only a small portion still soft in the middle. I could feel the low rumble deep under us too, he was probably creating a rock tunnel so the mud snake had to appear at the center.
“It’s coming! The moment it comes out I’ll close the hole. Jordan cover me.” Ronald opened his eyes.
We all nodded at each other and took the same positions we used for the rock tor.
An enormous black snake shot out from the hole at the center. Its giant body seemingly never ending as it flew high into the sky. Its gaze was sharp as it curled itself in the air. Instantly knowing it was Ronald who had disturbed it.
The mud snake shifted its weight and sent its whip-like tail towards Ronald as it fell back down.
Jordan blocked the spinning blow with the familiar shield shooting reflecting the blow throwing its tail back.
“DONE!” Ronald yelled.
Thinking it could dive back into its home after the failed blow it dived head first into the ground.
The mud snake face planted, but quickly flipped itself over and curled up hissing its giant pink tongue and showing us its huge fangs. What a beast this hyre was its body thicker than my torso its length seemingly never-ending. Ominous pearlescent brown scales covered it and tensed ready to snap.
There was a short stare off.
Elizabeth was the first to run in brandishing her glowing red saber. Her red blow creating lines in the air as she hopped from tree to tree zipping around the 50-foot long snake stabbing and slashing where she could. Similarly, the mud snake began its attack. It probably could tell it wouldn’t be able to escape by borrowing without going through us.
Jordan followed after Elizabeth wielding his short sword and shield sending jabs with the pointed end keeping. Both kept the mud snake in place.
Like a whip caught in a powerful tornado the mud snake was vicious in its attack and defense twisting and curling its body sending thunderous cracks when its tail attacked.
Of course, I was firing arrows the entire time also prioritizing quantity over a single powerful arrow seeing I wouldn’t be able to hit them well enough from my position. It’s movements begun to slow as arrow upon arrow began to chip away its whipping body sending strays of purple blood from its open wounds.
While significantly stronger than the crimson fanged tigers fighting one on its own was much easier than fighting three simultaneously.
“We’re close it can’t fight for much longer! Keep pressing!” Jordan yelled back to Berts, Ronald, and I fighting from the back.
It’s movements were slow now so I began pressing more and more mana into each arrow as my accuracy was increasing.
Tiny explosions began to really damage the mud snake as it was now completely languid almost slug-like.
It’s over. Elizabeth dashed in landing on its thick neck and pierced its head. The hyre’s body tensed for a moment coiling tightly then loosed and fell rolling on its side.
“Easy, right?” Ronald was beside me and sent me a grin. He had been tasked with keeping the ground from turning to mud as the surrounding wet grounds tried to do so. If that mud snake got into the ground it could zip around under us and destroy any type of battle formation we tried seeing as none of us could fly.
Elizabeth walked up to the mud snake and performed the mana and essence orb extraction.
“ITS EARTH ITS EARTH!” She yelled excitedly.
“Lucid I think you might be our lucky charm what the heck I didn’t expect to find one on the first one.” Ronald looked at me surprised as he ran to Elizabeth.
I laughed and begun to relax as they dismantled the rest of its body being extra careful with the skin. Most of it isn’t mine anyway.
“Ronald you can stop hardening the ground now. We’re almost done we’re gonna leave soon.” Jordan turned back to us smiling at our job well done.
“Huh? That’s not me.”
Seven massive heads exploded from the surrounding ground.
“POSITIONS!” Jordan’s roar shook me from my surprise.
He ran past me and Ronald taking the front once again. Elizabeth followed after this time she must have been shocked too.
“FORTRESS!” Jordan yelled as five massive silvery shields appeared in the air each one floated then flew out encircling each one of us seem ready to block any incoming blows.
“Its only good for maybe 2 blows from these hyres! Be warned!” Jordan yelled out again.
[This looks bad Lucid, I advise you abandon them immediately.]
That is ice cold Eurval. Still, I would be lying to say it wasn’t on my mind. Honestly, I might have to. What even alerted all these mud snakes anyways!? Ronald would have told us if there was any close by to hear!
I looked at the seven giant snakes each one wriggling about staring at us, not like a predator the last one saw as, but as prey.
I steeled myself once again. If it really is unwinnable I hope you all can forgive me in the afterlife…
With an arrow nocked I aimed it and waited. The snakes where the first to break the standoff as they all shot towards Jordan and Elizabeth at the front. Maybe they can hold the line? My heart was pumping faster than when I fought the rock tortoise knowing the implications of how easy it is to die. Still maybe! Maybe they could.
Jordan lifted his shield ready for the incoming blow.
Zoom. Zoom. Zoomzoomzoom.
Five streaks of light shot out from behind me. Berts? Did he have some super secret ace? He was the only one behind me.
The five streaks pushed the seven mud snakes back. Even they were caught by surprise as the seven hyres looked for the source. I didn’t want to take my eyes off them for a second, but I was curious too.
Five people appeared at the front before Jordan.
Standing among them was a familiar face.
“Runter?” What the hell is he doing here?
Runter dashed in wielding a long porcelain sword in one hand while another long sword with an emerald blade danced around him floating much like the shield was for me.
Instantly the seven saw him as a threat charging at him. I was stunned. This was the difference between he and I. He dashed and glided around the seven whipping tails and heads as if fighting a hydra.
He looked calm as could be while the emerald blade and the sword in his hand sliced or blocked any of the attacked with ease.
With a couple more clashes it was over. Seven heads fell to the ground separated from their lacerated bodies.
Just like that? One person? Just like that can kill these seven gigantic beasts. Does that mean he could solo the rock tortoise we fought?
I-I couldn’t believe it. I struggled to shut my mouth as he glided down the emerald sword disappeared into a ring on his hand, but he kept the white one out.
“Nice one Runter! Level D one’s mean nothing to you huh.”
I walked closer to their group. Did he save us? Jordan and the rest looked at me to go talk to him seeing as we were from the same academy.
I was too embarrassed to voice out I was the last in rank. So I didn’t say anything.
They want me to thank him? They all seemed to be busy showering him with praise that I didn’t see a moment to enter the conversation.
“Runter?” I called out.
His group went silent and looked at me.
“Eh, its Last why is he out here? I thought he couldn’t cast magic or fight?”
“I heard some people saw him fire a bow at the gym the other day though.”
Runter looked at me he was probably pulling my public information from the Academy database. He wasn’t saying anything so I started.
“Thanks for saving us. I thought we were in real danger. Really thank you, I can see why your rank 0.”
Seriously, I thought those four would haunt the fuck out of me for leaving them for dead. He seemed like the type to love praise so I threw some in there too.
His expression didn’t change. Oh, did I read that glare to Mei wrong?
“Of course, I wouldn’t just let a fellow cadet in danger. It was the right thing to do. But, I should be the one apologizing. I had asked Alexandra to charm the hyres in the area towards her while we were flying here so we wouldn’t need to round them up. They must have been angry when they didn’t find her.”
So that’s what happened. Wait, what the hell Runter seems like an alright guy. Those fucking four and a couple others really messed with my perception.
I feel like an asshole. Eurval upload the update to the academy database about the lustrating materials we have been finding.
“We found one for earth essence and one water essence, Runter. They’re both low grade should we move on deeper. There’s probably B class ones that will definitely have mid grades. Though, you won’t be able to rush in alone.”
One of Runter’s party members spoke out after they had quickly taken out both orbs, but had left the bodies intact.
“Yeah, I won’t take anything lower than mid. Sorry again Lucid, be careful out here. Let’s go, everyone.”
Be careful? You almost killed me! Kinda, he is right though things like this can happen suddenly and in this world, it was your own fault for being too weak if you died.
What a valley between us. I let out a breath. Here I was thinking I was pretty strong with my two spells and my bow. Yet these seven hyres I wouldn’t dream of taking on my own one on one where like paper to him. He probably doesn’t even understand how freighting of an experience it was for us five.
If he’s that strong that how does the Bowman or the mage in his party fight? I was curious and a little envious, it was probably similarly as dazzling. Seeing fights on television doesn’t do it justice. It completely different watching and doing, it wasn’t obvious before it was now.
With an effortless jump, he and his party literally flew off.
“Wait what about the bodies?” I called out to him.
He didn’t hear me.
[To Runter and his party these materials aren’t even worth the time to take Lucid.]
As quickly as they came they left for the deeper regions of the Tole Forest. Areas clearly marked in red with a skull and crossbones over them by Eurval.
“Those are for us?” Jordan came up to me.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Darn, you must know them real well Lucid.”
“I don’t know about that.” I chuckled at Ronald’s assumption.
“Don’t prattle let’s dismantle everything and get out of here.” Jordan arrived, although on the surface we all seemed to be okay I was sure we were shaken. Maybe even more so compared to the rock tortoise.
“Yeah, lets do that.” Elizabeth took out her saber and begun her expert dissection.
I was sure we were all spooked and now that we all had what we wanted we didn’t need to be here in dangerous lands any longer.
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