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They left the next day after a cold breakfast and mugs of warm klod. Their path led through the empty valleys. The cave happened out of nowhere. Only flags planted by a previous expedition differentiated the small hill that hid their target from the other ones.

 

Viv looked at the cave entrance. It was square and reinforced by solid blocks of stone. It looked like it could endure for millenia.

 

//This is the remnant of an underground mushroom farm.

 

Viv turned to Solfis, surprised that he would talk.

 

“Ah, so your golem can speak. I was wondering why you would carry it around,” Farren said, while nodding to himself.

 

“What else can you tell us?” Viv asked.

 

//My database indicates that the structure will lead underground, with several caverns linked by a network of tunnels.

//Some or all of the tunnels may have collapsed.

//Depending on the size of the installation, the farm could have anywhere between three and seven chambers.

//Larger farms would have a larger entrance.

 

“I see. How convenient!” Farren continued, “your golem is a knowledge depository! As expected.”

 

“That he is,” Viv confirmed, “now, we have a large structure to clear. I propose that we proceed as such: we park the sled here with the horses, then circle around to clear revenants because I don’t want anything on my tail when we clear the cave. Then, we go in slowly. Marruk first with the shield with me behind to provide cover. Farren, you watch our six. Everyone agreed?”

 

“I go first,” Marruk confirmed, and she banged a large fist against her door, errr, shield.

 

“What’s a six?” Farren asked.

 

“Our back. You watch our back.”

 

“How does it relate to six?”

 

Viv pinched the bridge of her nose. Did they even have watches? She hadn’t seen watches. Farren had asked them to be there ‘half a period after sunrise’.

 

“Nevermind. You cover my back. Clear?”

 

“What about your beast? The marsh drake.”

 

“...”

 

“...”

 

“Moral support?”

 

“You brought her for moral support?”

 

Viv glared at Farren, who bounced nervously from foot to foot.

 

“Look, she imprinted on me so she is sticking with me and can defend herself, but she’s still far too young. Got it?”

 

“Alright, alright, it’s your mission.”

 

“Yes, so, we clear on the formation?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I will be your shield!”

 

“Ok, now for the plan. We go to the entrance and make some noise. The entrance can be used as a chokepoint. We stay there until we run out of hostiles, then move in. Rinse and repeat in every tunnel. If a room leads to two different tunnels besides the entrance one, we will stop and plan. Got it?”

 

“I make noise on your command, shaman!” Marruk claimed. Then, her eyes clouded a bit.

 

“I mean, witch.”

 

“It’s fine. We start by sweeping the perimeter, errr, the space around the cave. Come on!”

 

Viv directed Marruk to open the way. They took fifteen minutes to strut around and take down the stragglers. Viv let Farren purify the remains of those Marruk had bashed down. The Kark woman fought with simple, economic movements. Her vertical strikes with the mace showed that she had a lot of power. Viv thought that she might never forget the repetitive crunch of crumpled spines for the rest of her life.

 

Eventually, they made their way back to the entrance, and Marruk stood there looking like a one-woman wall. The entrance was large enough for three strong people to walk abreast, yet somehow, the lone defender seemed to occupy the whole space. She looked back and received a confirmation nod from Viv.

 

The clang of metal on metal resonated ominously in the enclosed space.

 

Viv felt something coming, though she heard nothing.

 

Marruk looked back with a raised brow.

 

“Another?”

 

“No! They are coming. Eyes forward.”

 

The Kark woman blushed furiously.

 

Danger Sense: Beginner 3

 

Good, and not a moment too soon. Viv heard a gurgle and reacted automatically.

 

“Nope shield.”

 

A half-circle of void materialized before their vanguard, and the gut spiller’s bile crashed on it with a vicious hiss.

 

“Gut spiller, be ready,” Viv said. She dropped the shield as soon as the attack was over.

 

A large specimen was charging at Marruk, arm extended. Viv took a step to the side just as Marruk slammed up and to the side with her door. The massive weapon wooshed through the air as if it weighed nothing, easily batting the powerful arm aside. It was back in position before their foes had the time to take a step back. Its malevolent glare, black where Solfis’ was yellow, shone in the pallid light of the sun. Briefly.

 

“Yoink.”

 

The creature collapsed in itself in a shower of dark ash.

 

“More of them. Hold.”

 

A horde of revenants soon followed. Viv held back a bit just to see how Marruk would fare against the onslaught.

 

Pretty well as it turned out.

 

Again, Marruk’s style was economical, barely letting any part of her body emerge from the shield’s powerful defenses. Skulls were smashed, bodies were bashed, and attacks were interrupted with a perfect sense of timing that spoke of skill and experience both. Viv watched her as for a handful of seconds, Marruk killed. Savaged remains piled at her feet.

 

“True mass yoink.”

 

Viv shivered as powerful mana filled her conduit. Once again, her body was singing with the power that coursed through it just as she knew that it would eventually kill her. It did not matter right now.

 

They waited a bit. Only a shuffling revenant with no legs crawled forward, quickly slain. He had been too slow to keep up with the rest of the bulk.

 

“Move to the entrance to the next cavern. Steady.”

 

Marruk grunted and moved forward. They walked into the side of the cliff, darkness closing around them until Farren lifted an arm.

 

“Neriad, be the light in our time of need.”

 

A golden aura shone outward from all three, wait no, four participants.

 

“Squeee!”

 

“When did it get there?” Farren asked. Viv remained silent as the dragonling climbed on her shoulder and flapped once to stabilize herself. Viv now had a shoulder-mounted, self-propelled dragon, and that was cool as cucumber.

 

“Focus,” she ordered everyone including herself, “we’re here. Marruk, bang once.”

 

The door clanged once more. Nothing stirred in the darkness. The cave before them was square and obviously man-made. Whatever furniture or equipment had been used was long gone. Only the ever-present dust piled in the corners. The light around them easily shone across the space to show a decidedly target-poor environment.

 

“Hmmm.”

 

There were two passages heading further. One of them was completely obstructed. The other one showed signs of excavation.

 

“Forward and left. Stop at the entrance of the tunnel.”

 

Another grunt. They moved slowly with Viv standing back and to the side. She saw that the excavation had been made by something with sharp claws, and large hands. At least four to five times the size of human ones.

 

Viv looked at the tracks and thought to herself, ‘Well, that’s not—’

 

Something surged from the darkness and struck Marruk as Viv hastened her thoughts. By some supreme instinct, the Kark woman managed to angle the door to deflect a vicious swipe that sent sparks flying. The odious shriek of tortured steel rang like thunder on a blue sky. Meanwhile, Viv was already moving.

 

A spear of pure darkness shot forward, thick as a forearm. The overcharged spell stabbed at the attacker… and missed.

 

The spear, still linked to Viv’s closed fist, angled up and right. It struck an arm. Viv felt as much as saw a humanoid form covered in plates, half crawler and half… something else.

 

She connected and flooded the creature’s conduits. They were titanic. After hundreds of victims, killing with yoink had been like exploding a balloon with the stream from a garden hose. Now, it was like filling a tub.

 

And she did.

 

Without thought, overwhelming power invaded the creature’s network, claiming the black and making it hers. The color sang in her core and in her mind, eager to carry out her will. It rampaged through the foreign conduits without restraint. The dire violation sent a tremor through the attacked limb. A second spell lashed out just as the target was retreating.

 

The creature seized the captured arm and ripped it off. It used the severed limb to intercept the second spell and ran backward, just as Marruk’s mace whistled through the air. The amputated arm turned to ash.

 

Then the creature was gone.

 

“Orrak Makthun!”

 

“Neriad’s cock…”

 

“Bordel de merde.”

 

“Squeeeee!”

 

As one man, the living visitors of the cave expressed their dismay. Farren and Viviane swore the loudest.

 

[Nascent Necrarch: Extremely dangerous, this creature is in the process of evolving into a Necrarch, the most powerful of all natural undead. Although weakened during the transformation, it remains a supremely dangerous existence, capable of clawing through heavy armor.]

 

The golden sheen around Marruk’s shield had faded. In its stead, four diagonal tracks had sliced through wood and reinforced steel alike. Only the dense structure of the door knocker had held long enough to prevent the Kark woman from having her arm shredded.

 

“What. In Enttikku’s hallowed name. Was that?” Marruk asked in a clipped voice. She was breathing heavily, and Viv suspected that her uncanny parry had come at the cost of stamina.

 

Farren took a step back and sat heavily.

 

“That is the apex existence of the deadlands in the making. A nascent Necrarch. I don’t think we can defeat it, despite Bob’s timely spells. Well done, by the way. I thought we were done for, for sure.”

 

“It was closer than I hoped. Are we going after that thing?”

 

//Before you continue this discussion, we may want to solve the current problem.

 

Three people jumped a bit, then Farren swore when he realized that Solfis was standing at their back, as if he had been there all along. He was near the entrance, slightly to the side.

 

“When did you get here?” Viv asked.

 

//At the same time as him, Your Grace.

 

Solfis’ yellow glare turned to the side, where there was nothing.

 

Absolutely nothing.

 

“You’d better show yourself, Irao,” Farren said.

 

A shape emerged from the wall. Well, not literally. Before there was a wall, and now there was a shape. Viv could scarcely believe her eyes as they processed what could only be qualified as a fucking ninja.

 

Really.

 

Black armor wrapped around a thin, lanky build. It looked like a person, if a slightly anorexic one. And just a little crooked. In fact, every aspect of the man disturbed Viv at a fundamental level. His proportions skirted the edge of human limits, and she found herself taking a step back.

 

[Obfuscated: your inspection skill is being blocked.]

 

That didn’t bode well.

 

Farren precluded any complaint by waving his hand.

 

“Not a danger, nothing will happen as long as I am not harmed. Everybody, stay calm.”

 

Marruk kept her shield angled towards where the undead abomination had disappeared, but it was clear that she was feeling ambivalent about the whole bullshit and her frantic eyes jumped from one deadly thing to another.

 

“Squee!”

 

Viv patted Arthur’s chest and decided to act decisively.

 

“Marruk, watch the tunnel. Block it with your shield.”

 

The Kark woman nodded and approached the opening with Viv as backup. The value of the door proved itself when it was used as an actual door. The way was blocked. The nascent Necrarch would have to ram through it and Marruk’s sturdy frame to escape. Viv made sure to stay around.

 

“Okay. Farren, who, what, and why?”

 

“Irao is here for my protection. He will only act to defend me. Won’t you Irao?”

 

The shape’s attention was fixed on Solfis who was not moving at all. Only Viv knew that the Golem’s reserves were very low and that even idleness was too dangerous to sustain.

 

The silence grew uncomfortable.

 

“Irao is fine, I promise. He is not… the best with people. I suggest that both him and… your… is that truly a golem?”

 

//I am Solfis, little man.

//You may think that you are protected by your assassin friend.

//You are wrong.

//Tricks and deceptions are of no use against me.

//TRY ME, AND DIE.

 

“Perhaps it would be best if the two of you waited by the sled,” Viv suggested. Now was not the time for explanations.

 

“Okay so yes, Irao is an assassin, but I swear on Neriad’s name that I did not intend to hurt you in any way. He is just insurance.”

 

Huh. It was really unambiguous as far as oaths were concerned. Viv shook her head.

 

“Fine, but we can talk later. For now, fall back. We won’t be long.”

 

“A nascent ravager is a dangerous adversary, even with your abilities, Bob.”

 

“I don’t intend to face it.”

 

“Ah, of course. Naturally, I would not expect you to assault such a foe in its very lair.”

 

“Ah, nah. What I mean is that I don’t intend to walk down there. Solfis, how deep would you say that thing goes?”

 

//From the blocked off right-hand cavern entrance, I can extrapolate enough to make the following statement.

//The nascent necrarch has dug a path that is no less than ten paces, and no more than twenty paces deep.

 

“Just the right size then. Marruk, cover me. And you guys fuck off.”

 

Viv was about to send a blight that would go through that tunnel like a laxative through a big intestine. Shit would get real.

 

“Can I stay and watch, please? We will behave. I swear it on Neriad.”

 

“Ok then. Solfis, stand down, and you? Shut the fuck up.”

 

Solfis returned to his more compact form and Farren stepped back to the entrance with his secret bodyguard or something in tow. It was time for Viv to violate the Geneva Convention on the use of chemical weapons and, by God, she was looking forward to it.

 

Strands of black mana gathered in front of her core. She could have made it appear in her hand but it made no difference and she found it fancier. The orb grew to the size of a tennis ball, both incredibly dense and weightless. She infused it with the idea of destruction. It had become easier to do, and she was tempted to add another rune than just spread. She refrained, however. Now was not the time to experiment. Instead, she charged it as much as she could. Soon, her breath hastened under the pressure of the spell. Her head tingled. It was time.

 

“Blight.”

 

Just like last time, the globe of darkness expanded into an impenetrable cloud that covered the entire tunnel. A furious hiss soon surrounded Viv as the deleterious mana scathed the walls on its way down.

 

Marruk voiced her worries.

 

“How do we know if something something dead?” she asked. Viv could not understand the words she had used, but she got the gist of it and soon, Marruk had her answer.

 

They heard a roar of anger, then a shriek of pain, then silence for a few seconds. The shriek resumed, and turned frantic. Finally, there was an ear-splitting, maddening trill that ended into a gurgled whisper. When silence finally descended a moment later, no one reacted.

 

“Should we check if it’s dead?” Farren asked in a small voice.

 

“It’s dead,” his companion commented drily. He had a raspy voice, as if his throat had been damaged by smoke.

 

Without a word, the assassin walked back to the entrance and disappeared. Solfis tracked something Viv could not see for a few moments, then his eyes dimmed.

 

“Wow. I had no idea someone so early on her path could unleash such devastation.”

 

Viv wheeled around like a dervish, her gaze now drilling through Farren’s apologetic expression.

 

“Ok, enough bullshit. Explanation time. Why was there an assassin on my back?”

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Mecanimus

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PhiFell ago

Ohey would you look at that, and empty comments section!

 

TFTC

 

I'm curious what Farren's real reasons for coming along are - if he has such a skilled assassin protecting him, surely he doesn't need to follow along with Bib and co.

    docarrol ago

    It's like Farran was explaining earlier. No matter how good his bodyguards, he needs personal combat experience for both his personal level ups, and future reputation building.

    Viv's not upset about Irao being there, she's upset about Farran fucking with her and not telling her about the invisible ninja, when she was questioning why she should trust him. Hell, even Viv was assuming someone as important and vulnerable as Farran would have at least one guard along, she asked him about when they left. Instead, he did that lying-with-the-truth bullshit to imply that she was his only escort, and that because he wasn't brining a "temple guard or something" he wasn't bringing any guard.

      PhiFell ago

      I feel like he could have gotten real experience with the assassin just taking it easy unless they encountered anything out of Farren's ability to handle. I'm not sure I buy his explanation but I suppose it's not out of the question.

      Chaos Clown ago

      Maybe she should tell Solfis to purge the assassin. I mean as long as Farran isn't dead then all is well no? :)

      Leahcim Zanathax ago

      A hidden guard is MUCH more effective than one that is not. It may seem like BS, but it makes a ton of sense. Many important figures employ concealed guards, because a guard that an enemy doesn;t know about can't be planned for.

      It makes perfect sense for him to have a hidden guard, period, much less when going into the wasteland filled with undead with a Black magic using Witch with a drake and golem pet.

      It does make him kind of a jerk for insisting her go along while having such a guard, especially this KIND of a guard, but I do understand why he would have one.

      Exiled hiveworker ago

      That profile pic fits really well here's some rep, also as much as we'd all like such a thing unless the assassin is seeking to kill them their just burning the few bridges they have. Viv can only heal her soul through him as of currently and doing something like that will certainly set her back a good deal on getting that healing if not completely throw her out of the possibility.

      also you can't really deny why he would have a guard, these people being his guard? Okay, sure, I'll accept the protection of a unknown caster and her golem I only met yesterday, they seem trustworthy! He'd be a fool to do so and this may have been his way of seeing if they actually intended to have positive relations with him and not murder him in his sleep, without having much risk of course.

      Fnord13 ago

      The fact that he hasn't had any combat experience, despite the fact that he has a talented assassin protecting him, implies that the assassin was no more willing than the temple guards to help him get experience by allowing him to come into the Deadlands.

      The thing that has changed here is the arrival of a mysterious and powerful witch, who might, for all they know, be plotting against them. Farren probably pointed out to the assassin that he needed to understand Viv better, and if possible make friends with her. And the best way to achieve that was to do something he had wanted to do anyway, go out to the Deadlands with her, and get some experience killling undead. The reason he tried to keep the assassins involvement in this a secret was because, for all he knew to the contrary, Viv might have seen his secretly going to the Deadlands without anyone but her knowing where he was as a perfect opportunity to secretly kill him.

      NEEDS_MORE_DAKA ago

      I don't think the assassin is for the undead. I think it was meant to kill Viv if she ever proved to be less than an upstanding citizen. She is a caster that exclusively casts dark spells and a witch at that. Who knows what she might be up to.

      summoner 99 ago

      at needs more daka, im betting the assassin isnt for bib either..but for another figure, later in his career ^_^. best way for a ninja to sneak past a bigtime leaders guards? - dont be a ninja. be a bishop of alien church instead hehe.  farren is shaping up to be an interesting character...like garrack from deep space nine hehe. 

    Joyueguie ago

    if I were leader of a city and somebody with the class of Black Witch came into it, I probably doubt her bonifides as well. If I were really the active sort, i might even go so far as to take my assassin and set up a task where I could judge her. If she failed in some way, well, my assassin's already there. Better to solve a small problem at the beginning then let it grow to be a larger one later.

Sylaise ago

I wonder how Ariane feels now that her most exalted ladyship Bob overtook her in ranking.

Also;

//I am Solfis, little man.

//TRY ME, AND DIE.

 

 

Man it’s hard to choose between Solfis and Arthur for the best supporting role. More stories should have the Terminator as a right hand man.

Chaos Clown ago

Thanks for the chapter!

“That he is,” Viv confirmed, “now, we have a large structure to clear. I propose that we proceed as such: we park the sled here with the horses, then circle around to clear revenants because I don’t want anything on my tail when we clear the cave. Then, we go in slowly. Marruk first with the shield with me behind to provide cover. Farren, you watch our six. Everyone agreed?”

If you're unlucky by the time you're out a revenant will be eating the horses... Well perhaps not. Horse kick.

    Melting Sky ago

    True, but she's knocked out all the revenants in the area so if something comes sneaking up behind her it is probably both demi intelligent and quite a bit more mobile than a standard revenant since it is stalking them unseen from a distance. It's better to sacrifice a horse as an alarm and temporary diversion then let something dangerous pin them in without them realizing it.

Patryk Rys ago

Solfis- true terminator. I like it.

luda305 ago

I am learning so much French.

armsdealer12 ago

Heck yeah. Gonna go all biochemical against those deadbeats.

yellingbrian2 ago

The Economic Part of me says she should set up a business based around bringing a bunch of Supporters to the Deadlands, luring Undead in, then True-Mass-Yoink for infinite Profit and Monster Bones!

The Explorer Side of me says that would be effective but not necessarily fun to read.

The Magical-fan Part questions if she could get any other Affinities? We've been told multiple times she couldn't get a life affinity, BUT:

[Mana distribution: between the eighth month of gestation and birth, the child’s body adapts to the mana currents around him or herself. The distribution is fixed for life and offers different affinities for spellcasting. Someone born in a desert will show increased red mana distribution, while someone whose mother was at sea before birth will shift towards blue mana. Everyone receives some life mana from their mothers.]

So shouldn't she still be able to get Fire Mana if she journeys to a volcano? It hasn't been stated (in story) that a human is limited to 100% attunement total between all the Mana Types. She hasn't really been exposed to anything other than Life and Black, so we don't know for sure ether way.

If the author said somewhere that she was only able to use Black Mana Forever, please let me know.

    Chaos Clown ago

    Pretty damn sure thats the case.

    Banarok Lionrage ago

    Author have said she's locked to black, her mana distribution is 100% black, hence she have no room for other mana now.

    The fact her distribution filled so quickly is because the deadlands are thick with mana, all black.

    etherkye ago

    Black or 'colourless' mana spells only as she hit 100% black.

      naralian ago

      Even if her soul can grow and free up some percentage points, the minimum to cast spells of a color is 30% that color according to Solfis' lessons. That would be an essentially impossible threshold to reach given that she's a caster and her own spells pretty much guarantee that most of the mana she'll be exposed to in the future will also be black.

      I'd wager having an earth education is going to make this a lot less limiting than it normally would be as her control increases, though. Knowing the laws of thermodynamics and some basic chemistry means that the "entropy and destruction" part of black mana borders on being a complete substitute for the "set everything on fire" aspect I'd presume normally belongs to red, for instance.

      Azrage ago

      I doubt Viv can set anything on fire with black mana. She can destroy things and probably render them less orderly and/or more uniform in particle or energy distribution, but setting things on fire is almost certainly outside of the domain of black mana. Destruction as some connations that seem off to me, we've previously been informed that black mana is about annihilation, and it seems far too complete to allow for combustion. Viv may be able to create fires with colourless magic, but even then it would likely be an application of friction to create heat to ignite something, and not a fireball or something similar. As far as I can tell the entropy aspect of black magic wouldn't really work with chemical reactions either, to me it seems like it instead directly and immediately increases the disorder of the system affected. For instance, I suspect that when her "bzzt" spell damages something it just disintegrates it. It doesn't change what atoms are bonded to what, it just breaks the bonds. Although, if that was the case then energy should be released in proportion to the material affected, so it might not affect things on a molecular level on the first place and just screw with IMFs. I'm not sure what laws of physics magic can break and to what degree, and the author hasn't gone into the specific physics of magic so we have no way of knowing for sure. Ultimately this just doesn't feel like a story in which the author an explanation weaker than wet paper to make a type of magic do things that is supposed to firmly be under the domain of a different type of mana, like some kinda b-tier Japanese LN. The toy dinosaur man Mechanimus may even grace us with a response, if we are lucky. Similarly, Viv's mana distribution is not going to change, unless I've drastically misunderstood the type of story this is.

      Rainmaker_118 ago

      I believe it was said that 30% was the threshold required for casting advanced spells, although I don't remember the chapter it was mentioned in.

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