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Chapter 22 - Pests and Poisons III

Beckard Links awoke from his afternoon nap as he sensed a presence near his door. Uncurling his body and wiping his face with the sock he kept hidden underneath his desk, the feline retrieved a quill from his drawer. It was a pointless endeavour. Everyone knew his work ethic bordered the line of non-existent, but the feline was insistent in keeping up appearances. A cat was nothing without his pride, after all.

His guests began knocking on his door right as he finished patting the dust off his robe. Three short but sonorous strikes, each made immediately after the other. Though the rapping was far from light, he could tell that the person responsible was one of a small stature, a perk of the class he had recently acquired.

“Come in.”

He admitted the visitors with a grumpy growl. Unlike many other cats, he was hairless, and not by birthright. Many would have described the state of his body as tragic. The man in question, however, was convinced that it was anything but. It was an intentional choice made in Flux’s name. His goddess found most males distasteful, and those with hair or fur were especially disliked.

“Neil, Eric, Meg. You’ve returned.” He took a moment to study the expressions on each of the werebears’ faces, a feat only possible because none of them were in their more ursine forms. “I’m guessing it didn’t go well.”

“No Beck. It didn’t.”

Neil, the runt of the group, slowly shook his head from side to side. His words were quiet, barely audible beneath the weight of his emotions.

“Stop being such a fucking twat and say it already, one-eye. If you don’t, then I will.”

Eric, the burliest of the three, kicked the other man’s leg in frustration. He was the only member of the group not present by choice. The other two had dragged him along because he was both the most observant and the one with the best memory. Only he would be able to answer most of Beckard’s queries.

Knowing that was precisely what turned the angriest bearman off from tagging along. He hated dealing with Beckard. Saying that he did his best to avoid him was an understatement. It wasn’t because of the bald gentleman’s personality or his propensity to ask questions befitting of his position. It was because of his appearance. The once abyssal marksman simply could not stand seeing the tomcat as he was now. Shaving off all his fur was not the only act of self-mutilation that the once orange tabby had performed in his goddess’ name.

“You may as well. That might be for the best.”

“Fucking short ass pussy! This is why I like your ass better as a lamppost. Least you’re less of a coward that way,” Eric clicked his tongue as he turned to the feline. “Fine! Listen here Dickface, Gurd’s fucking dead. Kicked the bucket and got himself eaten by a fucking hellhog. We found the shortdick’s skull and brought it back with us. Even buried the fucker just outside the citadel yesterday morning.”

“A hellhog? Odd. It’s hard to imagine Gurd falling to a hellhog.”

“Yeah, well this one’s probably nearing fifty. Hell, might’ve even hit it by now. We found a few traces of some shithead snooping around the goddamn nest. No idea what happened to the guy, but he’s either got balls the size of his brain or a brain the size of his balls. Probably dead now though. I bet the only reason it wasn’t there when we were was ‘cause it was off chasing the dumbfuck down.”

“That sounds like it’ll be a problem. We’ll have to let the others know to avoid the area. Where was it?”

“Take a guess, Dickhead.” Eric smirked.

“Oh no, not again.” Beckard fell flat on his belly and curled his tail up next to his rear. “Please tell me it wasn’t right by the equitaur’s chamber.”

“Hey, look at that. Even your dumb hairless ass got it right first try.”

“We’ll have to tell the others to avoid the area and pray to Flux that it stays away from the exit. We don’t need another veaber incident.”

The shaved cat stood up onto his hind legs and paced around his desk while cradling his head with both his front paws. The possibility of another stampede was not a pleasant thought. Lone veabers were not a threat. In fact, they more often killed themselves than not. A sudden artificial surge in their population, however, was. The buck tooth rodents were sure to provide the other more fearsome monsters with the fodder that they needed to grow. And if there was one thing that the citadel did not need, it was another lord wandering the dungeon.

“First Archibald, and now you lot? Why does everyone have to bring nothing but bad news?” groaned Beckard.

“Archibald? Why was that creep here?”

Meg, who had been silent throughout the conversation, finally chimed in. But not because she wanted to know more about the person that Beckard had mentioned. If anything, it was the opposite. She wanted him as far from the citadel as could be.

“Apparently, to report that he’s been robbed and attacked.” Beckard climbed down the side of his desk, opened one of his drawers, and retrieved a sheet of paper. “Several pieces of enchanted equipment were taken from his home, including, apparently, his runecloak.”

“A runecloak’s worth a pretty penny. I could name a few guys that’d kill a fucker for one. Hell, I’d do it.” said Eric. "But you know what, wrenchdick? Shit like that ain’t our business. This ain’t the sort of place that’s gonna look after you. Only people who’ll do that are your buddies, and since he’s an artificer, he ain’t got none. He’s lucky none of the monks have killed him in his sleep.”

“Unfortunately, it is our business.”

“And why the fuck is that?”

“Because the thief was most likely an ascended borrok. He didn’t get too good of a look at it, since you know how his eyes are, but it had huge ears and stood at about waist height. His birds attacked it on sight too, apparently.”

“Before you ask, we’re not going to scout Borrok Peak. It’s too dangerous.”

Neil gave the feline an almost hostile gaze.

“You won’t be the only ones.”

“No means no, Beck.”

“What? You scared of a few borrokspawn, one-eye? Fucking pussy. Just fucking take the goddamn job and stop moping around. You’ve done nothing but sit in your room, wallow in shit, and touch yourself for nearly two fucking days, using one round as lube for the next.”

“Eric! That’s disgusting!” complained Meg.

“But it’s true. Ask him and see what he says. Fucker isn’t even trying to get over Gurd, even though we all knew the shortdick was going to kick the fucking bucket eventually with all the dumb as bricks risks he was taking. One-eye’s just being a huge pussy. Got nothing but bitch between his legs.”

“Being afraid is the reasonable thing to do. Our racial levels are too high. Our new skills and classes have barely made any progress. Tell me, Eric, how do you plan to fight a borrok with no weapon masteries?”

“By using your stats and punching the ever-loving shit out of it like a man?”

Eric began shadow boxing as he spoke. His fists whistled through the air, creating tiny shockwaves with every strike, but as he lacked any real technique, it looked more like he was flailing about than showing off. Unimpressive, to say the least.

“You won’t have to fight them,” said Beckard. “I just want more people in the area so we can learn as much as we can.”

“I’m not going, no matter what you say, Beck,” said Neil.

“Because you’re a fucking pussy.”

“I agree with Neil, Eric. It’s a really bad idea.”

“Shut up, Meg. You’re literally a pussy.”

“What’s that even supposed to mean!?”

“You know exactly what the fuck it means, you fat whore. I know you tried to fuck Carter last night. He told me all about how he had to spend the better part of an hour rejecting your bitch ass. So much for loving Gurd, eh?”

“How dare you!”

“Can the two of you please settle down?”

Beckard flopped on his belly and groaned after realizing that neither of the two had actually heard him.

“I’m sorry. They’ll likely be at this for another hour,” said Neil.

“Then let’s relocate. I would like to discuss terms, and it isn’t possible with them around.”

“I told you, Beck, we’re not going. We need to kill the hog that got Gurd.”

“Well, then what if I was to lend you a hand with that?”

___

Locating a straggler proved incredibly difficult. Claire tried circling around the walls and scouting the nearby area, but to little avail. It didn’t matter if they were above or below. Most of them traveled in groups, and the few that were alone were always within range of a nearby patrol. She had been tempted to try her hand at a sneak attack regardless, as she felt that she would likely score a kill if she successfully activated Assassinate, but she refrained. There was no telling what would happen if she failed.

Only after expanding the range of her search did she finally come across a squirrel man too far from the others to call for help, but not even it was immediately deemed a suitable target. Unlike her, the naked goblin rat wasn’t being pulled towards the marshy meadow. Its feet were attached to the forest’s floor instead. That wasn’t to say it was out of reach. Positioning herself atop a particularly low branch would have put it within range of attack. The only problem was that the approach was highly suspect. It left her with too little room to move around, too little room to compensate for a botched assassination. But she decided to try it anyway. She couldn’t bring herself not to. It was the only lone wolf she’d found in what felt like several straight hours of searching.

The halfbreed retrieved the knives she had been playing around with earlier in the day and slowly snuck her way behind her prey. Keeping an eye on it throughout informed her that it was in the middle of foraging. Every once in a while, it would approach a tree and dig around its root system. Each of the spiny black lumps it found was immediately consumed, thrown into its maw and swallowed without reservation.

She raised her knives right as it began digging for another subterranean mushroom. She didn’t bother activating Double Stab, opting to experiment with a more recent acquisition instead.

Envenom
Poisons Available
- Bee Venom (5MP)
- Raven Rocket Fuel (50MP)

Out of Combat Persistence
- None
- Temporary (+10% MP Cost per Minute)
- Permanent (+1000% MP Cost)

It wasn’t her first time opening Envenom’s menu and she was at least aware of how the skill functioned. She had to choose both a poison and a persistence level for it to activate. Intuitively, she understood that persistence was only relevant outside of a fight. Any poison she synthesized would last the battle’s full duration, but more mana was needed for it to remain if it failed to find a target.

Selecting non persistent rocket fuel, she kicked herself off the branch and drove both knives inside her target while it remained unaware of her presence. She felt Assassinate activate as soon as her weapons dug into the creature’s back, amplifying the damage she dealt. Her knives ran deep and her momentum allowed her to rip out a huge chunk of its flesh as she passed it by. Expecting to see a fresh entry, Claire looked towards her log, but the feed was blank. Nothing new had shown up at all.

The rogue spun around and turned her eyes towards her foe, which had suddenly started to shriek. It was clearly injured. Two long slashes ran from its back through its left flank, one thin and nearly invisible, made obvious only by the amber-colour liquid it seeped, and the other an obvious mutilated mess. The larger wound looked nothing short of fatal, but neither was even close. The not-squirrel was still brimming with vitality.

With the hairs on its tail raised, the otherwise naked rodent dashed towards the tree she was in. It shot up the hardwood’s trunk with a speed that didn’t quite seem possible for a creature of its stature and made a beeline right for her. Oddly enough, It appeared unbothered by her upside down position. It even began running along what it perceived as a branch’s underside just to meet her head on.

Half panicked, the rogue dropped down to avoid the attack. Or at least she tried. The branch she had been standing on contorted the moment she stepped off of it, reeling itself back to an unnatural degree before snapping towards her like a whip. She was able to put up her arms in time to stop the various smaller twigs from scratching her face, but that was the only part of her body she was able to protect. Her exposed gut was hit by a heavy blow that left her winded and unable to stay balanced.

The branch she had attempted to land on evidently didn’t feel like doing her any favours either, as it also attacked her. Bashing itself into her back, it propelled her towards the wart-covered squirrel, which headbutted her flank and sent her flying off into the canopy. The charge’s momentum carried her for over ten meters. She wasn’t able to stop tumbling until she crashed.

Groaning in pain, the rogue picked herself up off the branch she landed on and eyed her health. Only a quarter of it was gone, even though she felt much worse for wear. Though the first two hits had caught her off guard, neither had seemed to do as much damage as the final strike. They had barely hurt her, likely because they were magical in nature.

Claire recognized the spell that the not-squirrel had cast. It was the same one that Allegra had shown her when she demonstrated her wood magic, as well as the reason the halfbreed had decided against taking up the element. It just seemed boring. The power to order a tree around was much less interesting or impressive than the power to light said tree aflame. Knowing that she had gotten caught off guard by Treearm, of all things, led Claire to cringe. She was ashamed, insulted. The rogue had never exactly possessed a soldier’s pride, but even so, she was nothing if not outright offended by the fact that she had been hit by such a boring spell.

Reorienting herself, she activated Tracking to pinpoint the foe she had lost.

Only to find that it had chosen retreat.

She tried chasing it down by hopping from branch to branch, but she knew she couldn’t catch it.

“You have to be kidding me!”

Claire was so annoyed she nearly cursed. The not-squirrel had run for the walls. In the few seconds it had taken her to reorient herself, the sole straggler that she had found after hours of searching had refused to fight her even though it was clearly at an advantage. Worse yet was that it was significantly faster than her. There was no way she would be able to catch it before it reached safety.

Log Entry 639
Tracking has reached level 5.

Shut up, box. I wasn’t looking for a consolation prize.

But that didn’t mean that she was going to give up.

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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