Bob narrowed the search grid concentrating on exploring a smaller area. His willingness to agree and conform to Thutmose's complaint keeping our party on track and moving forward. Like most Slaugh, he was hard to insult. They were more creatures that considered the world around them in black and white. Enemy or friend, and for now Thutmose was considered friend so there was no harm in changing to a smaller search grid. The map would still be updated, it would just take longer.
This new grid pattern allowed him to share a more detailed map of the surrounding area, filling in some of the finer nuances that he had been missing earlier. Sending out Beag as an advance scout also allowed us to begin exploring in a much safer manner, as well as flesh out whatever mapping details Bob was still missing.
The planet's lower gravity made a large difference in our exploration. We were able to move quicker, but more importantly, we were much more agile, able to respond to the environment with an easy none of us had ever enjoyed before. I wasn't certain how much smaller this world was than Talahm, or if the difference in gravity could be attributed to something else. What was clear, once Sieph attuned a device that could detect ley-lines, was that we were not close to any of the major power lines.
Sieph's machine did help us decide on a direction. We would have to trek easterly, or what we defined as easterly based on the path of the Sun, for at least a week before we could begin following a ley-line.
Those ley-lines were vital clues in the location of dungeons. There were entire reams of research that explained the accepted methodology for dungeon creation. The confluence of magic and environment that occurred at a junction of ley-lines, areas where qualitative variables merged on every world that was added to a Pantheon to support the esoteric mix required for a Dungeon to form.
Dungeons would occasionally open in out of the way places, but over 99 percent of the newly formed entrances were anchored near a convergence of at least two ley-lines. The increased pool of converging energy often was the only impetus required for a Dungeon to form. Interestingly, more ley-lines converging did not necessarily translate into more powerful dungeons. There had been tier 9 dungeons that formed where two streams crossed, and tier 1 formed where dozens of lines crisscrossed.
Sieph had offered to cobble together devices that we could wear similar to our M-AI's. They wouldn't have the functionality of the advanced devices, but they would allow us to speak with each other and to stay in contact with Bob. Based on technology the Knocker's researched while trapped in CERN, they used radio frequencies to allow for this voice communication.
I wasn't enamored of the devices. They seemed unwieldy and unnecessary. The functionality of the chat system that we had been given from the System seemed more robust and well suited to our circumstances. The problem was that Thutmose hadn't been given access to the new social functionality the rest of us had. If we wanted Thutmose to be included in discussion when he was out of range, then we needed a solution.
I doubted that over the countless worlds and years the other Pantheons had been exploring and claiming new lands that some kind of solution hadn't been devised. But if it had, that solution had not been shared with King Teigh. Another impediment tossed in our way to keep us from succeeding and adding our first new world and System evolution under our influence.
Still, we had found a work-around to add him to our new party function, a solution that may prove essential if these additions to System remained after integration. A solution that would allow us to work well together with the new allies we were garnering.
King Teigh, Grandfather had responded to my chat messages with an explanation for these adaptations. A quick missive that System would use the chance to beta test new functionality every time a new world was absorbed. Although no one knew the matrix or algorithm that the System used to determine if a new feature would be expanded or not, there was a good chance the Social System would eventually become a part of the Universal System paradigm. These kinds of adaptions, changes, and additions to System menus were almost always in response to a real-world problem.
"Hold up," I said interrupting my musing after I received a by a burst of caution from Beag. I closed my eyes to better understand why he was concerned. I couldn't project my thought well enough to use his eyes, to see for myself what had triggered his wariness, but I could form a mental image, an idea of what he was focused on from the sensory feedback he was willing to share.
"Bob, get back here," I ordered eschewing the M-AI prototype that Sieph had created for the much quicker and more responsive chat function.
"There's a small pack of something, four or five animals headed this way. They seemed to have caught our scent or heard us moving about and are using stealth to surround us," I informed the rest of the party.
We had had a few skirmishes as we began our trek, always individual animals, but these fights were enough to allow us to get a better idea of our personal fighting styles and how we could support and work well with each other.
Thutmose removed a shield and mace that he had placed in storage, entering a stance as he waited. Sieph had proven herself to be a talented climber and had taken to using the trees to her advantage. Using the protection her height advantage would offer, she would gain tactical superiority for most engagements. Her ability to understand and track the field of battle was profound, and she used her ranged abilities to snipe, aiming to blind or disable when possible.
Her ability to control metal allowed her to 'shoot' metal orbs, bullets that delivered high kinetic damage. In those few instances where something was well armored and able to shrug off those attacks, she used a set of metal knives that she could control mentally, slashing at vulnerable spots, almost always aimed unerringly at a point of weakness.
Bob was Slaugh, a creature of horror, one that had evolved to kill. He lived up to the stories of Slaugh slaughter, and because his entire body was well adapted to the task, he was often able to destroy an enemy before we could even identify it. He was armed with tentacles that restrained and tore his victims apart, gleefully ripping them apart.
If that wasn't bad enough, he was also equipped with a serrated set of teeth that ripped and shredded flesh in opposing directions. Anything that entered that maw became shredded chips of blood, flesh, and bone. There was the occasional flotsam as flesh and blood escaped what he couldn't swallow fast enough.
I enabled [Shadow Blend], all signs of my existence vanishing as my corporeal body collapses into the nearest pool of shadow. I had learned over the last few battles that not only was I visually undetectable while in this state, but I was immune from detection by any of the senses. I couldn't be seen, heard, or smelled.
The shadow realm was part of the world, but just that half-step skewed. A world of grays, the peace deceptively attractive. But in this world, I was a two-dimensional pattern, a model of my true self.
Beag approached me using his own version of [Shadow Passage]. He had the same ability to move from each patch of shadow. Maneuvering, he continued surfing the pools of shadow until he had found a spot that was close to my position. He had become adept at being exactly where I needed him to be, during each fight he reacted, damaging or defending in concert with my movements. If I received nothing else from this adventure, the bond between Beag and I had made this journey worth it.
The strangest aspect of the Shadow realm was our ability to look out at the real world. It was like looking through a pool of clear water at the life that swam within that body of water. There was distortion, and the field of view was limited. But the tunnel vision I experienced allowed me to focus more fully on egress points, places where I could leave the shadows safely while attacking.
This type of double vision required practice to become adept at. The world I could see within the Shadows and the world that existed on the other side fought for my attention. Not only did I have to train my brain to understand the differing stimuli I was receiving, but I also had to work on my depth perception so that what I saw with my tunnel vision was given context.
Like spearfishing, the things I saw across the boundary between shadow and light were not exactly in the spot I thought they should be. It had taken hours of practice to gain the trick that allowed me to exit shadow in the precise location I was targeting.
Beag had this ability from the beginning, he had an instinctive and uncanny ability to move between realms. He also seemed to be able to use our bond and gauge where I would transition out of the shadow. We never had an issue, there was no fumbling collisions, even when my ability progressed, and we began dancing in and out of the shadows. Flicking between, learning how to attack and strike quickly before returning to Shadow to repeat the process.
Each battle allowed us to become more proficient in the technique. Sieph monitoring our progress had finally mentioned that what she saw when Beag and I attacking full out, there was a series of after images, images that seemed to teleport in and out of reality.
Support "Second Chances"
I'm a fanatic about reading. To say I read two to three books a day would not be exaggerating. If it's Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy, I play no favorites and give everything a chance. I love hard hitting sci-fi like David Weber. Urban like Ilona Andrews, and Fantasy like Mercedes Lackey.
I've beta read for a few published authors, most notable Robin D. Owen's.
I've always wanted to write a novel, so did so during the last NaNoWrite Month. This is an edited version of that novel.
Maybe someday I'll release the original chapters so you can see just how badly mass producing a book in only 30 days can be.