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The group made their way to the foothills of the Voston Mountains relatively quickly. The trip took a couple of days, but without how many people were travelling the roads, no one accosted them. Even the bandits said to be in the area were avoiding the roads. To many adventurers and mercenaries to be worth risking an attack. Once in the hills themselves, they flipped a coin to decide on what direction to go. Chara ended up winning the coin toss, and she decided to head north into the hills. South towards the highway would be sparser and more likely to have competitors. North would be more likely to have the things they were looking for out here. Along that vein they moved north until Nissa let out a gasp.

“Over there! A Silverleaf tree! That’s a perfect place to camp, most monsters avoid getting too close to a Silverleaf, they have a purifying aura.”

“Is it safe for us?”

Kahari questioned.

“Long as we don’t hurt the tree, yes.”

Bedora shrugged while Chara just nodded her head. Seemed no one was against that plan. ONce they were under the tree, they pitched tents, and while Nissa dug a fire pit, Bedora got out the map of the local area, and approximated where they were.

“Okay so the Naiad’s are about one more day east of here. The nest is about a day to the north-east, and Monster Boar are pretty common in these hills. I had planned on us staying at the Naiad village, but Nissa nixxed that, so we’ll drop off the supplies once we’re ready to clear the nest.”

Kahari shrugged, they were out here predominantly to train themselves. Him and Chara especially, as they were still in the low, low ranking of Bronze. Regardless, they were guaranteed a spot in ‘Operation Shadow Cat’ but if they were stronger, both as a party and individuals, there was a better chance of them getting to be on one of the hostage rescue teams.

Arrayed around the firepit, each of them had their own tent, big enough for their bedroll. Around the firepit they gathered up some stones and logs to use as seats, as well as some large flat stones to use for cooking. Nissa set up some stones with additional warding, which it turned out was based on the aura that the Silverleaf tree put out. If a monster was angry and after anyone near them, the wards wouldn’t slow them down, but those just wandering around, or hunting in general, wouldn’t get too close. Finally they set up some bells on a string to alert them if anything did come close to the camp.

All in all, it didn’t take too long to get the camp set up. Once everything was ready, they got their equipment in order. Chara had Fotia and Pagos out, checking the wires to make sure they weren’t tangled. As it turned out, their range was connected to spools placed inside the dolls that unravelled and recoiled depending on how far they were from Chara. Fotia’s fingers were hollow with the blades spring loaded inside. Much like her weapons, armor, and the wires extending from her, the springs and pretty much any metal in her were made from Solar Steel. Her arms both had multiple places one could mount a weapon, though he had a hard time imagining anything besides small crossbows would fit properly.

Pagos matched in much the same way, but rather than mounts on her arms, her blades folded up into her arms. Her hands detached or unhinged to reveal spell projectors. The one in her right arm was the spell Ice Shard, while the left was Ice Shield. Her mouth was loaded with a dart launcher, though it wasn’t as powerful as a crossbow. Fotia’s hands were set up with spell projectors, on top of the one inside her mouth. Her left hand held Fire Shield, her mouth still had Fire Bolt. Her right hand had the spell flaming weapons, which could coat any weapon she was touching with fire. Kahari had felt that one personally, but it could work on a crossbow or ranged weapon as well.

Once Chara was done checking her equipment, she toko the wires in hand and the dolls began to move. With her magic invested in the wires, they responded quickly and more accurately than any mundane controller, but even with her magic controlling one was far easier than two. Once everyone was ready, they set out to begin their hunt.

Kahari wasn’t used to moving around in hills as he currently was. Still, it was far from the hardest thing he’d done just in the last month alone. After about two hours of searching, they came across their first group of enemies. Three Soldier Wasps and a Killer Rose they were drinking nectar from. The nearby carcass of a Giant Ladybug said they were either gathering food, or protected a source of food from another competitor. They were yellow and black, with rough looking fur sprouting from their bodies. While at first glance they looked like the Common Wasp scaled up to the size of a cow, their front two legs ended in large chitinous blades that dropped with venom. Their stingers were equally massive in size, and their mandibles made it easy to see why their hives scaled in threat rapidly. The Killer Rose meanwhile was a massive thorned rose the size of your average oak tree. It had obviously rooted here recently, the soil was upchurned around it where it had moved to it’s new spot. Judging by the buds that were curled up, it had eaten something recently, so it was unlikely to uproot to engage the party.

The Soldier wasps turned from their task, and gave off a warning buzz to the party. They weren’t interested in fighting, just in warning off the possible threat. Unfortunately for them, the party itself was interested in fighting. Nissa changed as Bedora readied a javelin. Kahari leveled Heartseeker, while he heard the sound of Pagos’s blades springing free. Fotia had a bolt in her crossbow, and when Nissa shouted-

“Writhing Roots!”

-they all sprung into action.

First strong roots sprung from the hill beneath the wasps, catching one and binding it entirely. The other two escaped, slashing at the roots that came for them. A javelin flew through the air and buried itself in the thorax of one of the wasps the roots had missed. It buzzed angrily as green blood oozed out of the wound. Fotia’s bolt sprouted from it’s side even as the two free wasps came in to try and kill the things attacking them.

Flaming Weapon!

Kahari could see magic ripple up Fotia’s arm, into the wires connecting her to Chara, then down Pagos’ wires, and into her blades, which were promptly covered in flames. That was a neat trick, so long as they were attached to Chara, they could buff or use touch spells on each other, even when separated by great distance. Nissa leveled her daggers as the wounded wasp swooped in at Fotia, going for one of the two smallest targets. The uninjured wasp went for Nissa, who switched her focus, and with an elegant jump, avoided the wasp, and slashed at it’s wings, knocking it from the sky with an audible, angry screech. Kahari stepped forward, and swung Heartseeker at the wasp diving for Fotia, intending to impale the puppet on it’s lance-like stinger. Instead it found itself turning to avoid the blade coming for it’s head, taking a scrape down the side that cracked it’s chitin. It screeched and turned it’s attention to Kahari, swinging around for another pass.

Bedora pounced on the downed wasp as it struggled back to it’s feet, chitin cracked where it had slammed into the hillside. Bedora had one hand on each of the wasp’s blade arms, wrestling with it to try and pin it down while avoiding it’s stinger. Nissa moved in behind the struggling pair, and drove her daggers repeatedly into the back of the struggling wasp. Kahari didn’t have time to see how that was going, as the other wasp came in to try and impale him. Instead it found the nimble form of Pagos flying into it, flaming blades embedded in it’s abdomen. As it tried to shake the puppet that was setting it on fire, Kahari raised his hand.

“Wind Blade!”

And one of it’s wings came off as the scything air slashed through it. Kahari tried to move, but the waspon careened into him, hitting him head on and sending him into a nearby try as they bounced off each other. Kahari hurt after that. The wasp was definitely lighter than any cow, but it was still huge and heavy, and Kahari knew that a few ribs were broken at the very least. While he focused on healing himself, Fotia pounced on the wasp still struggling with Pagos. The two of them tore into the thing with blade and claw, but it still managed to get to it’s feet, and shook Pagos free with a screech. It’s fur was burnt off, but the chitin underneath was just scorched.

The wasp wrestling with Bedora and Nissa found it’s movements increasingly weak as the daggers repeatedly carved into it’s back. With one last wrench, Bedora ripped one of it’s arms free, and drove the blade into the things head. It scrabbled for a moment before falling limp. Before Bedora could disentangle herself, she found herself lifted off her feet as the third wasp had freed itself from the roots. It’s stinger was embedded firmly in Bedora’s side, venom pumping into the wound. It was surprised when Bedora brought a heavy metal fist up into it’s head before grabbing it’s wing, and physically ripping the thing free. As those two careened into the trees, Kahari was back in the fight with his own target.

The wasp was angry, fighting against the puppets around it. It was backed into a tree, where only it’s chitin and blade-arms kept the puppets at bay. Kahari saw his opening, and came in from the side. Heartseeker made contact properly this time, cutting a blade-arm off in time for Pagos to embed both blades into the underside of it’s thorax. The Soldier Wasp was still moving, but now it was desperate. It grabbed Pagos with it’s mandibles, and flung the puppet at a tree hard enough that Chara stumbled as it yanked at her hand. It whirled around and charged at Kahari. Instead of dodging, he braced Heartseeker against the ground and let the wasp impale itself on the blade. The blade drove through both sides of the wasp’s thorax and it’s mandible snapped at Kahari’s face before it finally went limp, dragging Heartseeker from Kahari’s hands as it slid into the dirt.

Kahari drew his sword and turned to see if he could see Bedora. She came marching from the woods with Nissa at her side, face bloodied from multiple cuts. A moment later the bodies of the wasps evaporated into smoke, one leaving a vial of venom behind, one chunk of chitin, and a pair of Soldier Wasp blades. The Killer Rose shook at the party, warning them not to come closer. Killer Roses, despite their name, rarely hurt anyone in the region and actually helped cull the monster population, though Soldier Wasps, and a few other pollinator monsters did feed from them. The party collected their drops, and moved on. They encountered a few more solo wasps, which were even easier to kill, before they returned to camp as the sun started setting.


They sat down to examine their loot for the day. In the end they ended up with four chunks of Soldier Wasp Chitin, which was actually slightly less valuable than Orb Weaver Chitin. Properly worked Orb Weaver Chitin was surprisingly strong and had good enchantment capacity. While Soldier Wasp Chitin was just as strong as properly worked Orb Weaver Chitin, it couldn’t hold the same amount of energy, and was harder to work. It was however quite potent when ground up into powder as an additive to other recipes. The venom of the Soldier Wasp was more valuable than Orb Weaver Venom, better both as a poison and for most alchemical uses, only being bad for making ink. Even then, it was good enough for most basic spells. The real good haul was the Soldier Wasp Blades, many people attached a hilt or shaft and used them straight up as a possible upgrade from mundane equipment. With Kahari’s recent status as an Artificer, he could attach the two they had to even simple oak shafts and make a good penny. He kept the materials in his own Bag for now.

While Nissa got a pot of water boiling, Kahari moved to mend the armor and weapons damaged during the fight today. Mostly it was Bedora’s, and while he’d prefer to mend the armor at a forge, he’d just use the Artificer Mend Metal ability for now. As he quietly poured magic into the metal to seal it up, Chara got to cooking a leg from one of the Soldier Wasps they’d killed. They had a few rabbits and some fruit they’d gathered, but they were all curious what the large insect tasted like. Bedora got to skinning the rabbits, their pelts were still worth a bit to the villages they passed on the way here, and if the wasp meat, if you could even call it meat, fell through they’d need it. It took about half of Kahari’s magic to repair all the damaged equipment, he noticed that the magical materials took more to mend, and he wouldn’t be surprised if an actually enchanted piece was even worse. He leaned back and took a deep breath of the chill night air as Bedora inspected her armor.

They gave the Soldier Wasp leg thirty minutes before they took it off the heat to cool. After that Chara, the most carnivorous of them all, took a inquisitive bite.

Well...it’s not bad. Taste’s kinda nutty, maybe almondlike, and is pretty savory. Think I like rabbit better, but it’s not bad.

Bedora took a big bite as Chara gave her assessment. She chewed for a moment before nodding and speaking through her full mouth.

“Yeah, not bad. Don’t think I’d eat it every day, but it’ll serve us for now.”

The rest of them got to eating, it’d be a bit before the stew Nissa was making was done, but they wanted to eat the Soldier Wasp warm. The stew was going to be all veggies, mostly stuff they’d brought with them, but they’d found some roots and wild carrots to throw in. Kahari trusted Nissa to make it at least palatable. Even if she didn’t, it’d fill the belly, and that was all they really needed. Taste was a luxury, food was the necessity and all that. Once the stew was done they all pulled out their bowls. Kahari’s was still a simple wooden one that his mother had made from Silverwood. Bedora still used a ceramic one while Nissa had one made from cherry wood. Chara pulled out one made from some kind of bone or chitin, polished and painted in a pattern that matched her scales.

The stew as it turned out, was just okay. Many of the roots were practically tasteless, and without meat, it wasn’t as good as it could be. Still it was filling, and wasn’t terrible. As Kahari helped Nissa clean up from dinner, Bedora set about preparing the rabbit meat to turn it into jerky while Chara checked the warding and perimeter bells. Kahari stretched and yawned, enjoying the warm fire and the quiet night. It’d be a bit before it was time to actually sleep, but for now, he could enjoy these simple matters even as he planned on becoming stronger.

They settled in for the night, talking, trading stories, and generally enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere than they’d had on the way to Ixul.

“-and then the crazy old bastard shoved his arm inside the Black Wolf’s jaw just to get his other hand back. I’m surprised he-”

Bedora wasn’t able to finish the story about how her and Nissa’s adoptive father had lost his hand when the Silverleaft they were sitting beneath began to shake.

[What’s this? Visitors? Oh it’s been yeeeears since I’ve had visitors.]

A feminine voice filled their heads as the tree next to them shook. The group sprung to their feet, ready for a fight but no attack came. Instead they found the tree they were camped by uprooted...of it’s own will.In place of the single solid trunk it had been before, there was now a vaguely humanoid tree-person. A Child of Bark, a Kinrinde. It was still a Silverleaf, at least in appearance with well...silver leaves, and bark that resembled a Birch with a form closer to that of a Maple tree. Nissa sat back down while the others reached for weapons. The Kinrinde moved to take a step back, it’s movements slow but the thud of it’s foot was quite loud.

“No no no, Kinrinde are pretty much pacifists. She won’t touch a hair on your head without permission unless you attack her.”

“Her?”

Kahari was dumbstruck by the fifty foot tall tree woman standing before them. He’d only heard the vaguest of legends about a Kinrinde before, and now one stood before him. Life, life was very strange sometimes.

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