The [Rancer Mite] loomed over us, her large round body about half the size of the carriage, and her weight creaking the wood and metal of the horse drawn vehicle. She stood up, straightening her hunched back as she snarled.
Saffron backed up and Matthew put a hand out, covering his lady. The monster leapt—
And a [Fire Strike] sent the [Rancer Mite] flying back towards a tree. The wooden trunk snapped and she rolled to a stop. I slowly drew my open hand back, wincing as I shook the pain off my fingers.
Right, I don’t have claws.
I created two fire daggers, one on each hand, readying myself for the next attack from the monster. However, instead of charging us again, the [Rancer Mite] threw herself back into the forest and disappeared.
I slowly lowered my weapons.
Another explosion resounded in the background and I whirled around; Helen blasted apart a small thicket with an enchanted bolt, sending three [Rancer Mites] hopping out and into the road. The [Archer] drew another three bolts, nocking it onto her bow and aiming at the closest monster.
Her arrows flashed and something came over them. She loosed the bolts and they split off— each bolt glowing and finding their way to each of the [Rancer Mites]. They struck through, digging themselves into the hard shell of the monsters. They screeched— and leapt back into the forest.
“They’re tough! They’re not supposed to be swarm monsters. Why are there so many of them?”
Zack shouted, conjuring a ball of wind and shooting it out into the trees. The air burst out into slicing blades of wind that cut apart the trees in the surrounding area. The sounds of falling trees boomed around me as I narrowed my eyes. They retreat when they’re hurt. And yet, they insist on attacking us.
I ran forward, leaving Saffron and Matthew behind. The butler cursed, calling me back. But I ignored him.
I found Daniel amidst the fighting— a [Rancer Mite] was on him, her mandibles biting and gnawing on his blade. I kicked the monster with a [Fire Strike], before jabbing both my daggers down onto her side. I heard a crack as her shell broke open. She tried to close her sharpened limbs on me when Daniel sliced her head clean off.
“There is a Lair nearby.”
I spoke simply, turning to face him. He blinked and glanced off towards the trees.
“Yeah, I think so too.”
“No— I know there’s a Lair nearby. These [Rancer Mites]— well, they look like weird spiders. And those Giant Spiders back in Silkfall’s Crevice only attack people intruding into their Lair!”
“So you believe it’s the same thing here? That we’re riding past their Lair so they got mad?”
I nodded and he frowned. He placed a hand on his chin, considering this. Our eyes met and a thought crossed through both our minds. He opened his mouth and I grinned.
“That means we have to—”
“—go and destroy their Lair!”
“...wait, that wasn’t what I was going to suggest at all.”
I cocked my head.
“What do you suggest we do then?”
“Uh, run away? Go around their Lair? I don’t know— there’s too many of them and we’re supposed to be protecting our client.”
“Oh, we’re supposed to do that?”
“Yeah. Wait, if you’re here…”
He glanced back at where Saffron had been and sighed in relief. Jaakko was standing over the noble, fighting beside Matthew as [Rancer Mites] leapt around them.
“I feel like you might’ve lost us some points by just leaving her there. Whatever, now we just have to get out of this mess.”
“I’m not the one who brought us into this mess!”
I scowled, sending a [Scorching Wave] into the air at some [Rancer Mites]. A few dropped, alive, but on the ground and writhing in pain. Saffron’s bodyguards rushed in and finished them off.
“Also— I want the experience!”
“I’m sorry, Salvos. But our job comes first. Guys, you need to get a move on! Get as far away from the forest as possible! They’ll leave you alone if you leave! We’ll hold them off for a moment until we can follow after you!”
Helen, Zack, and Jaakko immediately burst into action. The Cyclops man escorted the terrified noble back into her carriage and ordered the driver to move as he sat in the front. Matthew accompanied Saffron in as they took off, while the other bodyguards jumped back to their horses and began galloping away.
The [Rancer Mites] threw themselves straight at the carriage and the horse riders even as Daniel, Helen, Zack, and I stayed back for a moment to hold them off. One of the monsters nearly knocked the carriage over, throwing herself straight at it.
“Why are they still attacking them?”
Helen screamed, drawing another arrow. Unlike the last few ones she had been firing, this one was enchanted. It struck the back shell of a [Rancer Mite] attacking the carriage, and immediately the monster fell.
The [Rancer Mite] did not die— did not writhe in pain— but simply fell straight to the ground, like a heavy weight was on his back.
Daniel brought his blade down and the air rippled as something cut a [Rancer Mite] in half. He wasn’t even standing close to the monster. He whirled back to me, panting.
“This isn’t working, Salvos!”
“Of course not! You’re going straight to their Lair!”
“What? But we’re just continuing down the road—”
His eyes widened as the realization hit him. I cocked my head.
“Their Lair is down the road.”
The Human man muttered a curse as I happily shot a [Rancer Mite] down with a Blazing Bolt. The carriage was rapidly traveling down the road now, almost out of sign from us. I was aiming another Blazing Bolt onto my fire bow when he turned to me.
“Salvos— you’re fast, aren’t you? Can you catch up with the Saffron before they drive straight to the Lair and tell them to go off road?”
I paused, slowly lowering my weapon. Then the flames dissipated as I grinned.
The moment the words left my mouth, the world slowed. [Self Haste]. I didn’t wait for his reply as I dashed forward, ducking under a leaping [Rancer Mite] as she threw herself at Zack. Another tried jumping straight at me, but I easily sidestepped the attack, never losing my footing as I barreled forward towards the carriage.
The carriage sped up as Jaakko tossed his kusarigama at a [Rancer Mite] on the vehicle’s wheel, knocking off the monster, and I frowned.
[Charge of Embers].
In an instant, I found myself just behind the moving carriage as it picked up its pace to escape a pursuing group of [Rancer Mites]. These monsters barred my path, chasing the tails of the coach with their clicks and shrieks.
I threw myself into the air, flying over them and burning them with a wave of hissing blue flames. The fire kept me in the air for just a moment longer, and I landed lightly on the roof of the carriage.
Jaakko glanced back at me.
“Salvos, what are you doing?”
“I’m here to tell you to turn the carriage!”
“But why? If we turn back, they’ll only be angered even further.”
“No, not turn back— turn into the trees! You’re heading straight to their Lair!”
The Cyclops man blinked his single eye. Then he nodded.
“How astute. Very well.”
He spoke to the carriage driver who gave him an incredulous look. However, when the carriage hit another bump thanks to an angry [Rancer Mites], he made his choice to listen and swerved the carriage into the forest. And it was just in time.
Up ahead of us, I saw dozens of black figures waiting at a spot in the road. They looked like the [Rancer Mites], but smaller. And they covered the dirt road, the trees, and… the broken down wagons and carts ahead.
Corpses were strewn about, some of them being munched on by the smallest variants of the [Rancer Mites]. I grimaced as I saw one turn his head towards me with his open mouth. Gross. Eating is gross!
The carriage began to run into hits and bumps, the already rocky ride becoming even rockier as we made our way under the thick tree canopy. Saffron’s bodyguards followed right behind us while Daniel, Helen, and Zack were a little slower. But the monsters calmed. They began to back away from us, leaving us alone one by one until none remained.
And we were free to make the rest of our trip to Warrington.