Moving the Sky Citadel took a massive amount of energy, enough that by the time I recovered, Accalia had already rushed out of the room. Using my world sight, I was able to see that the situation had mostly been resolved by that point. The world spirit queen had appeared, and was lifting a small chunk of land up towards the citadel.
Unfortunately, Tubrock was no longer able to remove the shields around the citadel itself. “Tsubaki.” I called out as I exited the hidden passage, finding the kitsune maid that had been patiently waiting there. “How big of a portal can you open?”
Her eyes blinked in confusion at that. “I suppose that it would depend on the duration. The largest portal I have been able to create was ten meters in diameter, but I can hold it for no more than a minute.”
I gave a small nod when I heard that. It wasn’t enough, quite frankly. “I want you to open a portal up to an area right outside the shield. Go out and cut up the object that they are bringing until it will fit. But, do not damage the bodies.”
Again, she looked confused, but hastily obeyed. And with another scan of my world sight, I gave a small sigh. “And how is it that you even got in through the barrier?” I asked, turning around to face a shadow at the end of the hall, near the door.
“Shadows connected.” Terra’s voice spoke out as she seemed to walk out of the darkened wall. The black cloths wrapping around her body brightened, turning white before vanishing and leaving her in a more normal outfit. As it did, she let out a deep breath, visibly relaxing.
“My knight’s blade that the goddess prepared for me. It enables me to step into shadows and travel through them. Unfortunately, it places a restriction on my mind in order to enhance my focus.”
“I wasn’t aware that a knight’s blade could have so many functions.” I replied with a raised eyebrow, shaking my head slightly.
“It is difficult to create. From what the goddess told me, your maid created her blade with the power to sever souls. Is it true that she trained in the underworld?” Terra’s face got exceptionally curious when she asked that.
“It is. Anyways, I assume that you are here for something in particular, and not simply because you like lurking in shadows?”
“Can’t it be both?” She fired back naturally, before shaking her head. “Apologies. No, I came here to give a report. The goddess instructed that I should make a detailed report after every encounter, to ensure that you had as much information as possible.”
Nodding my head, I waited for her to speak. “After feeling that our location had suddenly shifted, I dove off the edge of the Citadel to engage any possible enemies. When I arrived, there were ten bear-like monsters stationed near the wall of the city.”
“In an effort to understand the enemy, I launched a probing attack, and severed one of their arms in the process. However, no blood poured from the wound, and the arm continued to flex for several seconds as if it were still attached. When I severed the head, the way that it stopped seemed a bit too slow. I have to conclude that the creatures are not living, and instead are either undead or some form of construct.”
Just as I thought that she was done with her report, she continued. “When Kirishna arrived and froze the enemies, I felt as if something was watching us. When I searched for the source of the detection, I found an unusual bird within a flock that had been watching the fight. Its body was rigid, with black droplets leaking out beneath its feathers. When the flock flew away, I moved to apprehend the suspicious bird.”
And only in worlds like this could a bird ever truly be considered suspicious. I shook my head with a sigh. “Is there anything else?”
“I will need to deliver the bird to Accalia, but no sir. There is nothing else to report.”
After that, the two of us walked back towards the throne room. Terra continued walking, leaving to join the others on the ground just outside the citadel, while I returned to my throne to watch through world sight. I saw Accalia staring hatefully at the frozen monsters, and then directed my sight elsewhere.
I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse that they appeared here. I thought inwardly.
Why is that? Leowynn’s voice spoke into my mind, a welcome comfort now that the deities could no longer do so.
The beastkin inhabit the single most populated continent in the entire world. This means that there are more potential victims here. However… it will also be easier to narrow down the presence of the enemy. Like how we did today, we were able to get here quickly, but one village has already fallen, thousands of lives lost.
There was a tinge of sorrow radiating from Leowynn as she heard that. So strategically, it is beneficial to us for them to be here… but it comes at a cost.
Exactly. If they had appeared in the first or second layers of Fyor, for instance, I would not be able to engage them in battle. Our levels are too high to pass through the gates, and the sky is too small in those floors for the citadel.
Or even worse, if they appeared on some uninhabited island. They could grow their numbers without ever being spotted, until they were strong enough to extend their influence out to a continent. At that point, they’d be a swarm that could wipe out an entire world.
While speaking with Leowynn, I began scanning the forest below for any signs of the creatures. I was able to find traces of the black substance that had fallen from them, leaving a trail back from where they had come. Unfortunately, that substance seems to evaporate after prolonged contact with the air.
I had been able to get a rough sense of what direction they had come from, but expanding the search quickly drained the last of my world sight. It would take a bit of time to recharge it, and by that point any trace of them would have vanished. I could only hope that Accalia would be able to learn something from the bodies.
As I was thinking that, I heard a frustrated shout from outside the throne room. Which sounded quite like Accalia’s incarnation. Standing up, I made my way out to see what was going on.
A shimmering blue barrier surrounded the landmass that had been brought up from below. From the looks of things, they had thawed it off in order for Accalia to study the bodies. However… there were no bodies. Only steaming black puddles that seemed to blend with the melting ice, a putrid odor wafting out.
“Of course they dissolved. Why wouldn’t they dissolve?!” Accalia asked, dissatisfaction clear in her tone. “It would be too easy if I could just study them, now wouldn’t it?”
“What’s going on?” I asked as I walked out, Accalia abruptly turning around. Her eyes widened, her ears flattening against her head as she seemed to force herself to calm down.
“Sorry… When we thawed off the creatures that we had captured, their bodies began to dissolve. I don’t know if they were made that way, or if something here is making them do it, but once the ice stopped holding them together… that happened.” She pointed to the blackened puddles.
Terra glanced at one of her daggers, stepping forward to slip it through the barrier that they had created. Sure enough, with a flash of energy, another smaller puddle appeared. “The one I captured did so as well…”
“Figures.” Accalia groaned, shaking her head. “Sorry, Dale. I hoped that I would have better news for you.”
“It’s fine.” I consoled her with a small smile. “Let’s just consider what we know. What information do we have on these creatures?”
At this point, the world spirit queen was the one to step forward. “Unfortunately, there is little that I can offer as well, my lord. These beasts elude my sight such that I cannot see them without materializing this form before them. If not for the call that had been placed, I fear I never would have known they had infiltrated this land.”
“Well, that’s just lovely.” Accalia spoke up. “Anyways. We know that they have appeared in three variants. Wolf, bear, and bird. It is possible that the five that originally came through were each a different shape. And honestly, that would be the best case scenario.”
“Otherwise, the ones that we have been fighting are reanimated versions of local monsters, mutated through some unknown means. The bird tried to flee after the battle, showing either a sense of self-preservation, or that it was a scout. Given how the bodies dissolved immediately upon capture, self-preservation shouldn’t be high on their priorities.”
“So, it was just a scout then?” I asked, glancing towards her. “That would suggest a rather high degree of intelligence.”
“And eliminates the possibility of a large hive mind.” She added. “If the monsters were all connected, having a scout return after a battle would be pointless. So, they are able to somehow communicate with one another, and they are smart. They’re even able to avoid detection through natural energy.”
She let out another frustrated growl. “If they weren’t so damn annoying, I’d be impressed with them! Can someone call Udona out here? If they’re dead now, maybe she can get some information out of their spirits.”
As soon as the request was made, Tsubaki split an avatar off her body, which rushed into the citadel. While we were waiting, I decided to ask Terra something. “What is with that knife?” I motioned towards the one that she had apparently been using to store the bird’s body. It was clearly not her knight’s blade, as that was the cloth she had previously been wrapped in.
“Assassin’s mark.” She said as she lifted it up to stare at the blade of the knife. “It’s an item handed out within shadow guilds. The knife doubles as a storage device, bearing the same enchantment. It is customary to take a piece of the killed target to confirm the kill with the guild.”
At first I was worried that it was going to be yet another special class weapon, but it turned out to be a modified bag of holding? I hadn’t really considered that they might enchant things other than actual bags.
“Huh, I had heard about those.” Kirishna spoke up with interest, glancing towards the knife herself. “Never got to see one up close. Not many assassins that actually advertise themselves as such. And with the gates of major cities blocked by status checks, it’s hard to find an assassin even if you’re looking for one.”
“There are ways.” Terra gave a mysterious smile. “The goddess turned it into a game for me. Sneaking past checkpoints, and then grading me on my performance. She said that it was a requirement in order to become an assassin.”
Kirishna’s expression soured at that. “Your goddess really had a weird sense of humor, huh? Raising her incarnation to be an assassin.”
Oddly, Terra didn’t disagree, instead nodding her head. “She was… unusual. However, I could tell that she was worried. This was a job that nobody else would want out of us, but she thought that Dale would need someone with these skills.”
“Well, you’re not wrong.” Kirishna agreed readily. “If I had to go back and choose again, I’d still pick an elementalist, even without Ryone’s insistence. It’s just what I enjoy.”
Terra looked like she was just about to speak up again when the doors of the citadel opened, Udona walking out with Tsubaki’s avatar. Lazily, she looked around, her foggy eyes briefly widening as she ‘saw’ the mess that had been left behind. “There aren’t any spirits here.” She said simply, before correcting herself while pointing to the world spirit queen. “Well, except for her.”
“Are you… sure?” Accalia asked, looking doubtfully towards Udona.
“Positive.” She gave a small nod of her head. “Bit of spirit energy, yeah, but their spirits are gone, if they were there to begin with.”
“Well that’s just fantastic.” Accalia replied with an indignant huff.