Chapter 193: Gilded Feathers
Chapter 193: Gilded Feathers
Five 3rd Tiers of the Zan, Chancelor included, stood facing off against what looked like two 3rd Tier Monsters protecting a group of 2nd Tiers. The short clash between Zan-Har and the Winged Wolf ended almost immediately as they reassessed the situation. There was no question which group had the advantage. It was quite likely some of the 2nd Tiers the monsters had brought would die.
Rainer lay there in thought, staring at the scene. Should he help the Monsters’ side? They clearly had a way to enter the Forbidden Lands without being overly harmed by the curse. Not to mention his personal disdain for the Zan. Besides, unlike the Ling and Zan, they hadn’t done anything negative to Alvra. In fact, their presence was unnoticed. Compared to the ‘colonists’, such an exploration group obviously had better morals.
He didn’t deny the other possibility. That they were simply too weak. And therefore, avoided causing a stir. But looking at the confidence they seemed to have despite being two versus five, he wasn’t about to believe that. Especially when one of the opponents was said accursed Soul Mage...
He wanted to see how things went first. Even with [Arcane Awakening: Violet Death], a Skill particularly designed to be compatible with Soul-burning of any sort—courtesy of the [Archon] class bonus when he first created it—didn’t make Rainer confident enough to send an Avatar in that close. Rainer himself didn’t know enough to make a Skill that burnt a Soul faster, he only desired it and his class filled in the missing gap in the Skill he aimed for.
But if the Chancellor was distracted enough by the fight... That was a different question. He’d have little issue then popping in quickly to cause some harm, maybe save some of their people. Plus, Rainer thought while looking at Uri next to him, how could he pass up the opportunity of learning how these Monsters had taken a Human form? He patted her head as if she sensed his concern for her. He was of course far more interested in helping out Luna’s Shade or what implications such a technique could have for Kara, but he wasn’t a stingy man.
Uri paid him a happy glance before relaxing once more. What a lovely creature. Almost feeling the jealousy radiating off of Luna, he sent some Mana to her.
Rainer watched ever more carefully with [Void Seer] through the [Cosmic Map]. A distant part of him noting he couldn’t see too deeply into the Forbidden Lands.
On top of everything else, the prospect of a Title from killing a 3rd Tier was a bit too tempting. Especially as his Experience penalty would only grow harsher as he strayed further from the Human race. Not to mention the massive experience gain such a Title would give once he actually reached 3rd Tier, on top of all of his existing 3rd Tier Titles.
While he killed a 3rd Tier Monster with Locklar’s help back on his Plane, there was no Title to be had. Likely because of that very help. But this would be a true killing of a 3rd Tier by a 2nd.
Compared to when he faced Zan-Lan, just before the 2nd Tier Competition Dungeon, he was far stronger. With [Soul Consolidation] on top of his usual [Soul Presence], a seemingly low leveled 3rd Tier shouldn’t stand a chance in an ambush by an [Arcane Blade]. The only issue was his Tattoos were currently with Lilia.
No matter. He wouldn’t be going with his true body in any case. Rainer patiently watched the [Cosmic Map] as he waited for his opportunity. Of the five 3rd Tiers on the Zan side, two of them felt particularly unimpressive, though definitely a cut above farm-raised. An innate feeling he got from their Souls, even looking at them through the lens of the map. A benefit of [Low Soul Affinity]? he thought to himself. All the better…
And then there was the prospect of destroying the Chancellor’s plans. In the end, that made the decision for him. Now all he had to do was wait.
When will it be his moment to act?
Zan-Har patiently waited, seemingly in no rush to start the battle. He had tracked them down with the goal of killing off their elite 2nd Tiers, but the High Chancellor didn’t actually care about that. Who else but a proper 3rd Tier Monster could provide him some stress relief, like the one floating in front of him right now? He wouldn’t do something as boorish as openly killing another Empire’s 3rd Tier in any case.
Every 3rd Tier was a crystallization of countless resources. Representative of not only themselves but all those who failed the 3rd Tier trial before them. All the Enchanted Items and enhancing Rituals and effects lost with those failures. If big factions like the Zan openly killed each others’ 3rd Tiers, it would be far too large a waste. There would be no winners in such a thing. So even if Zan-Har pushed this Monster to the brink of death, he’d accept a surrender and later a ransom rather than aim to kill. Such was the unspoken agreement between those of a certain level of strength.
An agreement strengthened ever since the last coming of the Arcanists so long ago, even by the standard of his millennia-long life. Those indiscriminate harvesters had made many things a rarity, Mana Crystals and other resources among them. This made preparing people for their 3rd or even 2nd Tier Trials ever more challenging. The Zan were barely a planetary Empire during their last arrival, only surviving thanks to a temporary alliance with a nearby Divinity and their followers. From the records Zan-Har read, High Elves themselves were a particularly desirable capture target.
Breaking the agreement and earning the ire of all their peers, enemies or not, wasn’t something to be done without great benefit. Especially as they jointly resisted the spread of Divinity. A Divinity’s 3rd Tiers were open game. After all, the same circumstances that allowed the Arcanists to visit this ‘world’ allowed for Divinities to send down their Avatars with far less cost. They and their followers tended to be the most unscathed.
But the 2nd Tiers the Monsters brought…
“What a nice day,” Zan-Har, staring at the hodgepodge of 2nd Tier monsters and the variety of their races, his aim made quite clear. ‘Races’ in a Monster sense. The beasts were all the same as far as he was concerned. Only Dragons deserved a separate note among the myriad of Monsters and their forms.
“That it is, Elf?” the winged wolf said, gently floating with a few flaps of his wings in a way that shouldn’t be possible with his body structure. Were he worried about his fellows, his voice gave no indication either way.
“What isn’t nice is your decision to get ahead in the exploration. How improper. Especially the manner in which you hid yourselves since coming here.”
“Should we have pillaged the inhabitants as you and the Ling have instead?”
“Fear is fear, and cowardice is cowardice, no matter how pretty an ornament you adorn it with,” Zan-Har said, earning a pleasant—to his ears at least—growl from the now angry wolf. In terms of battles between the higher empires, this group of Monsters was quite lucky. The things they needed often differed so heavily from everyone else that they could keep a certain level of neutrality at no real cost. But Zan-Har saw it for what it was. A fear of being ganged up on by everyone so very different from them.
The Divinity-following Empires in particular were quite unfond of the Monsters for whatever reason. Not so unfond as to prevent themselves from taking them as mounts and Familiars when they did hunt them, however.
“You won’t get what you came here for.” The small white crane beside the wolf transformed into her Human-like form.
The High Elf’s eyes narrowed. He had barely noticed her presence prior to this. Now it was as if an army of Aura users stood in front of him combined into one. What a dangerous woman. It seems he had chosen the wrong target. No matter. She’d fall just the same.
“Is that so?” he asked before his eyes erupted with Mana. The woman was sent slamming downwards as a combination of Illusion and Gravity Magic suddenly erupted on her. Three of the four other High Elves moved forward, charging towards the winged wolf. Before they had a chance to attack, shards of ice covered in Aura assaulted them. Made when the woman had hit the snow-covered ground.
The farthest Elf, who had ran towards the escaping 2nd Tiers, found his back assaulted, losing a chunk of flesh from his side. The Aura-charged spike had ripped through his hasty defenses. Only an application of wind magic kept it from beheading him. He seemingly ignored the wound as he charged unabated into the cursed land. The white-haired woman tried to stop him, only to be hit backwards by a large armored palm.
Large soldiers covered in serrated metal armor seemingly surrounded her as Zan-Har floated a distance away. There was more to Illusion magic than affecting just a person. Only when the natural laws of the world itself were fooled in tandem was it truly a magic worth using.
Zan-Har’s hair whipped in the wind as the Monster’s massive amount of Aura came to life. As time went on, the progress of one’s Mana slowed down significantly. To the point where the current Zan-Har couldn’t remember the last time his Mana Pool increased through his atunning skills.
But Aura was different. And that was what made these ancient Monsters with an indeterminable lifespan so dangerous. Normally it’d be a lesser issue. Monsters couldn’t progress with Aura the same way others could. At least they couldn’t prior to being able to take a humanoid form.
She charged forward, trying to escape the encirclement. Dodging and dealing with spells from the Illusion caster himself alongside it. Even if she knew these powerful soldiers were fake, it was pointless unless her mind fully resisted the intrusion.
Zan-Har grinned as he slowly attacked her Soul as well. The effect wasn’t too prominent, given the unique nature of 3rd Tier Monsters. Or perhaps it was the Monsters themselves who were unique, given their general outsideness in terms of the system. As they truly reached the 3rd Tier, their Soul and Body would develop a connection. Each protecting one another as they intertwined. Of course, this had a negative effect as any Soul attacks that did damage them would harm them physically as well, the alternative being just as true.
With all his attacks brought together, her Aura would be whittled down from every direction. The moment there was a gap...
He would crush her in an instant.
With the fight between the 3rd Tiers stagnanting, Rainer instead watched as the group of 2nd Tier Monsters put up an admirable fight against the 3rd Tier Elf who had chased after them. Partially it was their own skills. But mostly it was the curse of the Forbidden Lands that weakened the Zan mage. The curse itself prevented the use of part of your energy pools normally, reaching a point where you couldn’t use them at all, but it seemed to be going far beyond that for this 3rd Tier Mage. Every passing second his attacks and movements grew slower.
It looked like he wouldn’t have to act. He wasn’t so shameless to steal what seemed to be a Title granting kill from these Monsters. Though whether or not the curse would discount their efforts was another question.
Storms and whips of magical wind weaved in between the Monsters, all in Human form. With a flick of his hand, the Zan High Elf managed to shake a Monster back and forth quickly enough for it to blackout. Though before a finishing blow could follow, the Monster was quickly protected by his fellows.
The wind almost seemed to act as a multi-armed creature, constantly attacking from all angles surrounding them. Various vortexes, blades and whips of deadly sharp magical wind danced around what seemed to be a Domain-like spell. The caster himself using it to avoid the few Monsters that were on the offensive. But he grew ever weaker and it seemed he’d have to leave without killing anyone, lest he be the one who lost his life. The injury from earlier, his side still bleeding profusely, didn’t help.
Seemingly true to High Elf magic seen thus far, the domain had a subtle gravity to it as well, slowly but surely pressuring every inhabitant and lightening its caster.
An armband on the Wind Mage suddenly erupted with blue light before rapidly forming cracks all across its surface. His power surged and for a brief moment the curse’s effects seemed to vanish. A massive vortex of wind and gravity surged in the center of his domain as all the Monsters were seemingly helpless. They could do nothing more but wait for their flesh and bones to be shredded within the turbid winds in the center.
A flash of violet tore through the magically charged air. The [Arcane Blade] only narrowly missed the High Elf as space seemed to warp around him and he was ‘pushed’ several feet away. Rainer’s eyes widened, wondering how this Elf, still under the pressure of his [Soul Presence] enhanced [Void Hold], managed to move like that.
Only something similar to [Arcane-Spatial Domain: Spatial Shift] came to mind. An absolute push, ignoring all normal physics at great magical cost. It even seemed as if the Void he had been holding onto moved with him, causing a great disorder. But there was no time to consider or explore the implications of that.
Rainer took his momentum from the missed slash as he spun around, and at the last moment of the [Void Hold], unleashed [Arcane Awakening: Violet Death] at the slightly distant High Elf. A powerful focused wave of Arcane slammed into him. As Rainer vanished both body and Soul in a violet ‘cloud’ of energy, he saw the burnt and charred High Elf fleeing for his life.
His focus returned to his main body, Rainer glanced over the Monsters through his [Cosmic Map] who seemed to be stunned to stillness. Not understanding at all just what it was that saved them. A few of them bowed to what was obviously empty air tinged lightly with lingering Arcane, before leaving as quickly as they could.
He thought to himself for a moment, remembering how the curse had affected him. Whatever blocked access to his pools, didn’t seem to matter in terms of [Arcane Awakening: Violet Death], as the entirety of his Arcane was expended.
Rainer watched over the other fight a bit longer. The white-robed woman was on her back foot, fighting what looked, to his eyes at least, to be semi-transparent black humanoid figures. They looked no more than wisps of fog, and yet somehow dealt such harm to her. All the while she dodged and fought against a variety of spatial magics, ranging from blades to bursts of gravity. The Chancellor himself almost seemed to be relaxing a distance away. Only the tapping on his staff and the occasional swipe in the air seemed to indicate any kind of movement. Her Aura looked to be dwindling and Rainer guessed it wouldn’t be long before she lost.
Elsewhere,the 2nd Tiers pushed deeper into the Forbidden Lands, and soon after both the 3rd Tier Monsters took the opportunity to flee their fight. Or at least they tried to. The white swan, mixed with some part that was certainly not just a swan, turned back into Monster form in an attempt to flee but a final blow left her unconscious. The ripples of Magic and of Soul were obvious, even through the map.
Whatever had happened to her Soul, it wasn’t trivial. But she seemed to still be alive as the Mage continued casting something on her. The goal of keeping her captive was obvious. The Soul Mage looked beyond pleased with himself, perhaps she was the goal rather than the 2nd Tiers...
Rainer grimaced, imagining the fate of such a thing. The winged wolf seemed to think things over before fleeing.
Rainer frowned, his plan for making friends with these Monsters suddenly put on the backburner. Their relationship was clearly inordinary and yet he just left her like that? There might have been some thoughts of futility but leaving behind an ally like that… Not to mention he got the sense that the wolf had more in the tank and had been mostly keeping the other 3rd Tiers busy.
No longer thinking about gains or losses, Rainer was only interested in getting this Monster away from the Chancellor. He had no reason to risk his life, but would the Soul Mage guard her so closely? If he was honest with himself, stealing something that man wanted dearly was the largest motivator.
As if answering his prayers, the High Elf stormed into the forbidden lands as the other 3rd Tier returned. It didn’t take an analyst to realize the anger he had. It seemed to this Elf the 2nd Tiers being killed was a forgone conclusion. Rainer chuckled to himself, thinking this was only the start of that High Elf’s life going wrong.
The swan-like Monster was left alone with the three battered but healthy, and one that was nearly dead, High Elves. Rainer stared intently. If he wanted to grab her he’d need to go with his main body and put her in [Living Storage] to bypass the cost of transporting a 3rd Tier across worlds. He knew he had seconds to make the decision. He grit his teeth, wondering when he had gotten so scared of dying. Perhaps it was the making of his very Avatars...
Slightly reddened and feeling quite stupid, both him and an Avatar separately went to Alvra the moment he recovered from the aftereffects of [Arcane Awakening: Violet Death]. It blocked him from his pools just as Final Arcanum did after all.
Zan-Furei stared at the Monster they captured, felt the cut that went along his hip, and then sent a kick her way. Her body took a few hits before he felt the definite feeling of bone breaking. What a uselessly tough thing.
“Zan-Jan, which one of those 2nd Tiers kicked your ass?” The object of charcoal and burnt flesh hardly represented the words Zan-Furei spoke, but with the Zan’s healing magic, so long as someone didn’t die there really wasn’t anything they couldn’t heal. He ventured the only reason Zan-Jan still wasn’t healed was because Zan-Har was pissed at him. To have the ire of that madman, Zan-Furei almost felt sorry for him.
Said Elf’s eyes widened as he looked beyond Zan-Furei. When had he ever seen this old Elf afraid of anything? He spun around, only to witness a violet light and the white swan disappearing. Moments later, before he even had a chance to process what it meant for someone to sneak up on him to such a degree, another flash of violet light promised a far different fate to losing their captive.
But already on guard, a combined effort from Zan-Furei and the other Elves meant that while the attack was strong, it was hardly an issue for the group of 3rd Tiers to resist jointly.
All of them just stared at the empty space where the captured 3rd Tier used to be, noticing the gently floating particles of violet light that soon disappeared, along with the man himself.
“What?” the man snapped, his voice hoarse and clearly in pain.
“Since you’re already on his shit list, how about you take credit for losing that pile of gilded feathers.” Such a strong 3rd Tier, assuming Zan-Har didn’t have other plans for her, would have fetched quite a sum. Assuming that crazy mage in charge of them bothered to honor the Agreement.
“Get stolen by the abyss.”
“Was that the 2nd Tier that did that to you? If you consider raw power, it’s not bad but…” Zan-Furei replied, ignoring the insult.
Zan-Jan then explained how his Mana had been partially locked away and only his sacrificial Passive Spell, one he had kept on him unused for two decades, had been what saved him. The time it took to set up, the part of your Mana Pool that constantly sustained it, and the time you spent with the lessened Mana all counted as ‘sacrifices’. There were diminishing returns of course, and offensive versions of such spells tended to be too volatile to be useful, but it wasn’t inconsequential for him to hold onto it for so long.
“But how’d you get hit then?” The Spell wasn’t called [Passive: Long-Range Spatial Dislocation] for fun. It was a Spell of absolute movement. Even just the base sacrifice, used instantly after spending the few days it took to apply the Passive Spell, should have taken him beyond the range of that attack.
“I only moved several feet.”
That brought him to silence, and for the first time in their lives, these High Elves hoped Zan-Har would be coming back sooner. Whether they were being cowardly with the extra shields of various magic now surrounding them, no one brought up.