This giant wriggling mass of colors looks similar to mana but it behaves differently. I can take my iron grass sphere and move and toss it about through the void. This other uninvited guest does no such thing. I cannot move it or dislodge it from where it sits. There is also a disconcerting feeling that I have due to the colors not being like those of my mana. This is foreign and it has invaded my inner world which if you take the giantess’ outline into consideration, I probably have a parasite of some form.
I’m hesitant to try and take the grass sphere and bash it into this invader. I’ve been unable to grasp or move the giant blob, however, while it was doing its own thing, I see a streamer of mana that is the same color as my own mixed in. It disappears quickly into the mass confusion but I felt a resonance with it. I float and circle around it trying to see it again and I notice a few deep within.
Once I manage to see one get close enough to the outer core of it, I reach out with my will and take hold of it and the entire writhing mass comes to a complete stop.
“Cat got your tail!?” I say into the void as I pull at that strand of mana.
With a huge effort, the mass of colors bulges out as I pull this foreign mana streamer that is of the same color as my own that I can grasp. After a bit of tug-o-war, I finally free the streamer and with it, a torrent of other colored streamers fly at and through me.
I drop the similar color streamer as a wave of emotions or inklings of memories brush across the surface of my consciousness.
Defending my territory from a young welp with more courage than brains. The hot splash of arterial blood hitting the back of my parched throat. I easily kill an injured veteran Guar who was injured while securing a huge trophy, a female will submit with this trophy. I crush and eat the eggs of a rival. I am limping through some tunnels with too many wounds, however, I’ve successfully defended my nest and mate.
A myriad of foggy memories that are not mine, flit through my consciousness as I finally return to the void. Looking around I seem to have misplaced the streamer that I pulled out that caused the minor explosion of colors. The various color streamers that passed through me are slowly drifting off into the void beyond my person, gone as I cannot touch or manipulate them directly. I turn back to the main mass and I see that it is coming apart at the seams, dissolving into individual streamers that are slowly all floating away.
I now see that they are all drifting away from my central magic sphere for void storage. It is the brightest thing here. Possibly with the invader broken up into much smaller pieces, it is shying away from the central brilliant sphere. They are all drifting away into the void beyond. I see a few smaller pieces that are of similar colors to my mana and the initial thread that I used to disassemble the entire blob. I cannot reach them as they are beyond my giant shell. The brief experience of foreign memories probably took longer than I thought.
Thinking about it, I summon a mana tether. In front of me, a pair of my mana embers shoot over and stretch out into the void beyond. As the twined pair cross the boundary of my giantess’ body, a small shimmer of orange shows as it exits. This shimmer is the size of maybe the smaller iron grass mana sphere. It shows a lot more of the boundary of the void than when I was simply gluing mana embers to their furthest point that they could travel. I can feel a change or pressure in the mana strands as they exit, being suppressed and only able to go so far unless I wish to commit reinforcements.
I stretch this mana tether out and try to corral the escaping memories. My mana tether simply passes through them as though they are ghosts or perhaps it is because they are outside now. I try a few more times and am unsuccessful until I track down one of the memories that are of a similar color to my own. The difference here is that the mana tether just bisected the memory as if it was nothing.
The memories are becoming fainter and fainter as they move into the distance and I can barely perceive them anymore. I use my mana tether much more gently and try to nudge one of the bisected pieces of that memory and I am successful in not destroying it further. I find that I can gently guide it along with my mana tether. I play with it as it slowly escapes, not sure what the significance of this is until I manage to have my tether go through another strand of mana and the guided piece of mana bisects that piece and itself.
The fragments are too small and far to interact with any more, so I retract my mana tether and try to go through my findings.
“So I cannot touch memories that are not a similar color to my own mana and those memories are able to interact with themselves of any color.”
I look around at my now much more empty mana world. I shoot a glare towards the iron grass sphere.
“You’d best be on your best behavior squatter and pay up rent soon. Else, you’ve seen what happens to other squatters.” I say to the grass sphere, but it still spins and turns in the multiple layers without care to my threat.
I feel the gentle tug at my mana and come back from my journey to the void. Opening my eyes I see Akira move away from Jessica and come to me where he starts to reach out to my face. I try to back away as he approaches, my face reddening, my back is against the tree and I have nowhere to escape as he reaches out and places two fingers on my forehead. I sigh in relief, not understanding why I was trying to avoid him. The ringing in my ears quickly subsides over a second.
“The three of you are now healed,” he says in a muffled tone as I see a black mana ember disappear from his palm leaving one left that he stores.
“I STILL CANNOT HEAR VERY WELL.” I try to say to him, not realizing that I am yelling.
“Your ears are still blocked with blood, you’ll need to clear that out.” He replies as I reach up to my ear and feel the dried blood flake away as I touch around the area.
“WHAT SKILL DID YOU USE TO HEAL WITH!?” I hear Jessica ask her question, yelling as compared to Akira, but still muffled to me.
“It is the rampant growth skill that Cara learned this morning. That plus a few support passives if they take effect with so much low mana.”
“Wait! So does that mean I can heal people?” I ask, trying to be conscious of my volume as I open my grimoire to take a look at the rampant growth skill.
|Rampant Growth (Lv 1) (673 / 10,000)|
|Push beyond the soul. Sunder the veil of the core. Shape thy masterpiece.|
|Expend 100% - Level (99%) of target soul's mana capacity per second to effect changes.|
Looking over the cost of the skill, there was something that was nagging me. When I managed to put what it was that bothered me.
“The spell costs a percentage of mana of the target’s soul… Does that mean you had to spend almost each of our full mana a second to heal? If so, I thought you said that spending that much mana would kill me?”
“I’ve long mastered the spell, so I only need to spend less than a hundredth your mana with some passives to heal something so small. I’d be limited trying to heal anything more grievous with those restraints you mentioned.”
“So if you get injured can we heal you?” Jessica asks, trying to control her volume.
“It would be easier for you to move this mountain to the other side of this world than it would be for you to heal me. It works both ways. If you know how to heal something, you can just as easily kill it. Unless you can resist the invasion of foreign mana a healer could just as easily destroy or paralyze you.” He said in what I assume was a grave warning through the muffled blockages of dried blood in my ears that I cannot get out without some water or a bath.
“So, if Jessica gets injured, I could heal her?” I ask, ignoring that Akira must have an exorbitant amount of mana to boast the futility of trying to heal him.
“As much as you could in a single second before you run out of mana. Probably barely enough to stem the blood flow of a bad gash. Not until you level it up some more or there is a significant power difference between you. Understanding the wound is equally as important. Start with plants, then insects, heal or kill small animals to try to increase it to the point and do not practice healing on anything you are not fine with killing on accident. There will be accidents.”
Jessica seems pretty adamant about learning how to heal others. Maybe finding her true calling, as she decides that she’d like us to rest a little more as she takes one of the satchels of salt and follows along with my experiment from this morning to try and learn rampant growth for herself.
Looking around, I try to see if I can find anything to keep me busy when I spot a small shrub with several tiny purple berries. I scoot over to it and pluck one off to examine as I hear a warning from Zoe.
“CAREFUL! YOU’LL BECOME AN EXPLOSIVE BROWN MAGE IF YOU EAT THAT!” She yells out, snapping Jessica out of her concentration. I ignore the filthy image she made me think of and remove all the other tiny berries before throwing them away.
Now that I’ve removed the berries, I know that if I just throw mana at the plant I can force it to go through its natural life cycle. Touching the plant, I try thinking about growing the fruit with rampant growth. Holding the branch, I focus and feel the slight drain of a single point of mana a second, feeding my intent into the desired area.
After a few seconds a red bud forms and blooms out of where I plucked the berry. The flower quickly wilts and a tiny poisonous fruit takes its place after six seconds. I focus on rampant growth and push to make the berry bigger than what it was on the host plant and I feel the plant resist. Pushing through it takes ten mana a second to overwhelm the plant and the poisonous berry engorges more and more. After ten seconds the berry gets to the size of my thumb. I am positive this is beyond what the plant is normally able to do as the branch is starting to sag and just before the outer skin rips and ruptures the contents onto the forest floor.
I quickly check my grimoire and see an extra 106 experience earned before I killed the berry. So I’m able to make it grow fruit and if I want to force it to do something more I need to overwhelm it.
I shuffle around on the forest floor and find a rock to upturn and find some insects that quickly want to hide from the new ventilation hole I put into their home. Not wanting to stick my hand in, I figure that using my mana tether would be useful here. Trying to find something that is not moving fast is a bit difficult until I see some ants dragging an injured grub down into the nest. Figuring it would be a good test I reach out my mana tether to the grub, blinking furiously to make sure I guide it along with my perception when I’m not looking. Latching onto the grub, I’m able to see a soft white glow emanating from it.
I try to use rampant growth to heal the grub and as I start to push I feel that a whole ten mana is required for the insect. I push and see it start to thrash violently after three seconds and only thirty mana before the white glow fades.
I am hesitant to dive in and start plucking legs off of ants or hurting them outright. Looking around I examine them all more carefully and do manage to find a slower one with a broken mandible that is struggling to carry a seed of some form.
I reach out towards it and see the same little white glow from it. Focusing my intent on wanting to heal the mandible, I focus that as my intent and I hit a wall until I get up to ten mana to push into the little creature. I almost lose my concentration thinking that perhaps all these insects have a baseline of ten mana, which means that a nest of ants puts my mana depth to shame.
I give myself a quick mental shake and focus hard on that mandible. With the creature moving as much as it is I almost miss it but the broken root of the mandible does start to elongate and begin to reform. It takes another eight seconds for a total of 90 mana to force the mandible to regrow. It is of a paler color than the rest, but it does seem functional. Perhaps it doesn’t do or feel anything and maybe all I did was have it grow out something akin to a fingernail.
Wondering if I could maybe make the mandibles bigger and stronger, a bit similar to the berry experiment, I focus my intent on that. The wall reappears and at a ten mana it does not want to go in, resisting the change. I push more and more and similar to the berry, this time when I got to a hundred mana it started to flow into the little insect. The mandibles started to get thicker and longer, confusing the ant for a moment. After pushing 500 mana into the insect was unable to hold up its head anymore and while trying to release the seed and open its jaws, the head… just kinda popped…
The white glow vanishes and I quickly put the rock back over top of the insect lair to hide my dirty deed. Looking around to see if anyone had seen my terrifying experiment, I’m thankful to see that they are all focusing on their own form of pandemonium.
Looking up I see that Violet is actively strangling a bunch of iron grass that originated from Jessica’s satchel of salt. Akira is trying to mime things to the agitated Violet as Jessica is ignoring the two as she is currently looking inside her grimoire. Zoe has a rot weed plant that is still pushing through its early maturity phase and trying to focus on completing it.
I’m curious about the white glow that I saw from the ants and I reach out a mana tether three meters to get to Jessica and upon touching her she does not react. I close my eyes and I can see a gentle white outline of her person, ignoring her cloak and clothing. It is fuzzy, but I can make out that we probably need to get more food onto her plate to help put some weight on her bones.
I made the mental commitment to not try any healing on anyone, especially after I easily killed a grub and popped the head of an ant. Though I believe the latter to be due to trying to make it better than it was.
I shift my mana tether to Violet who’s finally won and strangled all the stalks of iron grass but won't let go. Touching Violet, I can see the soft glow of her and realize how big she is. She’s not simply within Jessica’s hair but seems to be like a child hanging off her mother’s back, under her clothing. Violet is much larger as she is has made two small shoulder pads for Jessica to help with her weight and is going halfway down her back and up through her hair into the long appendages that are now pulling the iron grass out of the salt satchel by the roots and tearing the blades apart.
Smirking at her shenanigans, I instead turn my attention to Akira. Reaching out to him, he immediately flinches and jumps back and away half drawing a sword in the motion locking eyes with my horror-stricken face. When I touched him… All I saw was a tiny bit of white with a dark red underlayer that was containing an all-consuming darkness.
He stands up and slowly forces himself to relax as he resheathes his half drawn weapon.
“Careful to not burn those closest to you with overconfidence.” He says in a flat monotone, possibly hiding a hiss.
“I-I… I wasn’t. I was just looking… But why is it black?” I stammer out with a paltry defense, hoping that he will not think less of me.
“Killing intent…” Is all that he replies with.
“Killing intent?” I repeat, my voice still wavering at his quick actions and how for just a moment, he looked at me as though classifying me as a potential enemy.
“It scars the soul permanently and can leave a lingering effect if you know what to look for.”
“But ants show up as white and they kill things,” I ask, not wholely understanding the difference.
“For the most part, that is their nature and will rarely be tainted with killing intent as they are simply trying to eat. Grazing animals do not form killing intent for their pasture or the grass they eat, it is food for them, same for most animals and predators. It is a higher function or a way of marking the failures of a person by the degree of how tainted their soul is.”
“What about those bandits… from before…” My voice slowly trailing off.
“Deep down you know whether you are doing something for survival. While you can be burdened by it emotionally, there is a stark difference in how your soul will perceive the act or results. After disabling them and having their lives under our control, whomever executes them would taint their soul in doing so.”
“Then what about the Guar that we are hunting? We are not eating them.” I ask while trying to poke holes into his explanation.
“It is not the same and normally only occurs within your own kin. Murdering or wanting to murder your own family will affect your soul much more than a stranger or highway bandit. There is less dissonance with the soul the fewer ties you have with the entity.”
I asked a few more questions but was unable to find out anything more of note. That was until I tried to use the mana tether to circle around and touch myself. I did not see anything and that was to be expected. I wanted to ask Jessica to check me out but she was exhausted from earning rampant growth and mana tether just now.
We waited to rest up before we continued on our path after Akira took the lower beak as proof for this Guar as he had already taken care of the bladder. It took us a while but we did manage to sneak up on another Guar. This time I was much more careful and we were planning on Zoe not blowing out our ears.
I set the trap just in front of me as I was not going to waste all my mana reaching a mana tether out to the creature. This time I picked a pretty large tree and placed the trap two meters in front of it and also right beside it.
This time I had my sword ready and threw a rock at the Guar missing it, but getting its attention. It turned towards us to growl and claw at the earth before charging. This one had maybe ten eyes in total. They all started to close in sequence from the front to the back, only keeping the back two open as it charged.
It was much slower compared to the first one, probably younger given the eye count. When it got into the first trap area, I threw two hundred mana at it to explode out and manage to only grab the back legs. I was smarter this time and made them much deeper so that as they latched onto the hind legs, the creature lurched forward and extended out as I spun around behind the tree. The front face came crashing down beside me where I threw another two hundred mana to have the iron grass explode out and wrap the head, pinning it to the ground as the beast started to thrash.
I was not prepared for the thrashing so I only stabbed it a couple of times into the neck. It is much sturdier as the blade only went a few inches inside causing the Guar to thrash even more, which oddly enough caused more damage then my initial slash. Akira came over and gave a quick decisive chop to the back of the extended neck of the creature.
“Don’t let it suffer, best to be quick with it.” He said, perhaps a little distant still after I touched him with a mana tether. I don’t see why he’s being such a grouch about it. Not like I poked his butt or anything insidious.
“I wasn’t trying to make it suffer! It was just more difficult than I anticipated.” I say with a bit too much bite as he simply nods and turns to the creature to dig through the entrails.
After a short rest, we continue along, thankfully I was much smarter with my mana usage. We manage to find another one and this time Jessica tries to set up the trap. We made sure to practice first which was fun to have Akira’s entire lower body entangled.
He was able to use a blade to get himself out after a brief couple of seconds. The only issue was that Jessica needed to use the seeds of the plants as she did not get a crazy iron grass symbol like my own. Akira theorized that it was probably due to her not having enough mana and embers on hand and when she does if she wanted to, she could form it.
Jessica’s trap was much more successful than my first one as it mimicked my second version. I feel guilty, but I had my trap set up as a redundancy. Thankfully we did not need it and I was able to hack a half dozen times at the back neck of the creature to get it to stop moving.
Zoe had been hard at work simply trying to get a rot weed plant to grow. I feel bad for her as she’s been trying very hard and struggles a lot compared to what we had to do.
We were now finding a Guar perhaps every 20 minutes up to at most an hour while we were setting a hard pace with rests in the relatively open forest. The only big issue we had was when we came across a pair of them fighting. Akira had told us to simply wait as he jogged over and the two creatures were so preoccupied with each other they barely noticed him until he delivered two effortless slashes to the back of their necks.
We got up to our count of twelve as it was getting late into the afternoon. Our system was down and with me and Jessica alternating the traps, we were having an easy time with the beasts that always charged in straight lines to try and tackle you.
We cut south and were able to find a main road that went west back into the town as the sun was getting low in the sky and having it change to a nice red and pink.
We went directly to the guild where we handed off the dozen beaks of the creatures which got us a very quick audience with the guild master.
“Well I’ll be damned, you guys completed that as fast as some of the silver teams.” He said while eyeing Akira.
“You could always stay within Lekthar young man, we’d be able to put your talents to good use.” The guild master said, trying to poach Akira.
“No thanks, we’re a team and besides, us girls killed most of them,” I said, a little pissed that we were being ignored and downplayed.
“Yup, Akira did most of the tracking, but it was Cara and Jessica that were trapping them and delivering the killing blows.” Zoe chimes in, trying to ensure that the credit was pushed onto everyone else other than her.
“Hmm… Duly noted miss Brinks. Anything I can do to entice your team to settle down in our town?”
“We’ll think about it, bounties please!” I say, smiling and cocking my head to the side while extending a hand wanting to be paid immediately and leave.
“Well please do think about it. I’ll need your plaques and it is late already, we’ll pay for logging for your team and have your funds in order first thing in the morning, with a little extra for a speedy execution.” I dropped my hand, knowing that we’ll need to dance a little bit before we can go home. Perhaps being in another town might be nice, I’ll need to see what the other two would maybe be willing to stick this out for the long run together.
We ended up leaving the guild and were thankfully put up instead in a home at the center of the town. It was nicer than the inn and private with eight bedrooms and a large common area to gather. It was nice with some well infrequently used furniture. The guild must possibly treat special guests to this place.
I can see the guild master’s ploy too easily, but right now, a comfy bed all to myself is much more than I can ask for. We ate together in the common room, which was quite nice before Zoe said she was off to go wage an epic war against a single weed. We all went to turn in for the night and after I crawled into the best bed I’ve ever seen or felt. I was almost fell asleep immediately.
Remembering that I had a few things I should get into a routine of doing. I was hesitant to leave the bed, but in the end, I decided to snake a hand out and fish for my rune stone. Finding it, I quickly compressed every once of mana that I could before seeking the void.
The void was crowded at this time. I arrived and was expecting to see my two mana spheres. I had forgotten about the mass of memories and I found nine of these fuckers squatting in my mana world.
I pretend to crack my fingers and neck as I address all of the uninvited guests.
“OY! Who let you guys in! Time to leave or pay some rent!” I yell out as I get to tearing them apart and dodge their remnants, not wanting to experience any of their primal memories, as it just felt weird. I go about tearing them apart and experimenting on them with a mana tether to see what else I can find out about these… invasive… soul parasites.