Editors: Templar, Jack Vanatis, Orang
Author’s notes: Second chapter release. I would like to thank the editors who have really helped me and basically left everything ready for posting in the first few chapters. More chapters coming.
Chapter 2 – Mutant Stone Beasts
Regal and his squad take the entire day to reach the north gate. They decide to spend the night near the city’s edge before leaving the enclosure of Grand Theore, rather than walking through the night or camping just outside the city.
The men have one room in the inn to themselves, while the women have another. Astore and Kilde aren’t very talkative, so they end up easily falling asleep in the silence. Aqua and Piora are the exact opposite, talking vibrantly into the night as they get to know each other, occasionally forcing Veronica into their conversation.
The next day, still full of energy, the squad exits through the gate and steps out into the greater world. Regal marvels at how large the sky is, just like the first time he left the confines of the city to learn cartography. Back then, they couldn’t leave the range of five miles from the city in fear of the wild mutant beasts.
The wasteland outside of Theore is bereft of raw materials. There are a few trees with wilted, brown leaves, but if Regal wants to create a wagon, he has to travel further out to find any useful materials.
Regal gazes up toward an airship leaving Theore. A massive, copper ribbed balloon in the shape of a bullet, covered in armor plating, holds the massive structure afloat. Attached to the balloon is a long, pure carbon blacksteel hanger where all the passengers stay. Poking out from the hanger on each side are dozens of double-barrel heavy cannons, possibly also engraved with alchemy enhancements.
The small, dry rocks crunch under Regal’s feet as he walks, bringing his attention back toward the mountains on the horizon where they are headed. Veronica sticks close to Regal’s side like some form of protector, glancing at the surroundings to detect any enemies. Meanwhile, Aqua adopts a sour expression as Piora quietly convinces Veronica to link her arm through Regal’s, causing their shoulders to rub together intimately.
Aqua attempts to move forward and break them apart, but Piora cunningly holds her back by starting a conversation about how their daily lives have changed and what it was like in a different academy.
A few hunting squads and traders are also travelling along this road. Some caravans are heading toward the city, while others are travelling away, passing beside Regal’s squad on the pathway. Regal stops the first two, asking if they can take them further north on their travels, but both are already full of materials to sell, with little to no room to carry extra passengers, much less all six of them.
The roads are the safest paths to travel, with very few mutant beasts appearing, so they are very popular with the traders and any squads who have a far off destination. The reason isn’t entirely known, because mutant beasts usually have very little intelligence, yet the creatures somehow manage to recognize the roads and use them as borders for larger territorial sections. Approaching and crossing a road to them is the same as entering a different territory, which can spark infighting between the beasts.
At noon, with the blistering sun glaring down on Regal’s squad like some angry deity, they encounter their first mutant beasts. Regal was simply cooking lunch, when the aroma of the food attracted a pack of hungry level 14 Mutant Stone Beasts, four legged creatures as big as a hunter and made entirely out of rock.
They have an unnaturally high defense due to their physical traits, and an equally explosive attack, but it comes at the expense of them being relatively slow. Despite being slow however, they still have the ability to launch a lunge attack which will explosively increase their speed over a short distance.
“What do we do?” Aqua asks nervously, placing down her food and eyeing the dozen stone beasts that appear from the surrounding rocks and slowly circle them, “Mutant stone beasts only eat rocks, right?”
“Didn’t you listen in class?” Piora quietly chastises her, “Mutant stone beasts indeed live off rocks, but they will eat anything and everything, including young hunters.”
“There’s no need to worry, just get ready to draw your weapons and fall into formation,” Regal resolutely commands the squad.
Everyone apart from Aqua has the custom weapons Regal created for them hanging on their hips, ready to be drawn. They each have the menacing combat knives, their ‘Jagged Severing Blade’ on one side, and their unique weapons on the other. Piora is an exception to this, with a pair of smaller revolvers, one on each side.
All the weapons are already loaded with ammunition, and as soon as the stone beasts make a move, Regal shouts, “Formation!”
The squad moves with lightning reflexes, Regal and Veronica forming the core of the group while the other four surround them, facing all four directions.
“Veronica, use ice alchemy to slow down the enemy, the wind element won’t work. Shoot any beasts that are about to attack and knock them back. Astore, use your earth alchemy and trap one beast while we take out the rest. Piora, we are relying on your high damage output to finish up on your side as quickly as possible – spare no mana. Kilde, don’t get too far from the formation and leave yourself open. Aqua, fight however you please so I can analyze your typical fighting style and work out future strategies for our group.”
Regal fires off commands so fast the others don’t even have time to speak their acknowledgement. At the same time, the Mutant Stone Beasts begin to move, their heavy footsteps causing the ground to shake. How they managed to sneak up on the squad with such loud movements is a total mystery.
Veronica is the first to act, stepping forward into the gaps between allies so they aren’t caught in friendly fire and using ‘Chilling Wind’ in a cone toward the enemies. With the boosts from her almost mastered skill level, it slows every enemy caught in the icy blast by ten percent while efficiently utilizing her mana, leaving plenty for stronger alchemical arts should the need arise.
Astore is like a moving mountain, firing his ‘Heavy Ironplate Revolver’ while ingeniously using stone cages to slow the enemies down to help his teammate’s aim and prevent the Mutant Stone Beasts from reaching them. He also doesn’t forget to trap one in a heavily fortified dome of earth, even though it expends a quarter of his mana.
Piora dual wields her two ‘Swift Cycle Revolvers’ to fire a storm of bullets at the three stone beasts on her side while simultaneously casting the Tier 8 Divine Art ‘Crimson Skyfall’, causing a concentrated rain of flame bullets to hit every enemy in the area in front of her. The stone beasts’ skin can visibly be seen chipping away bit by bit under the barrage as their health drops at a frightening rate. Of course, Piora’s mana also falls to nearly empty after just that single combination attack.
Kilde is the only one without high powered alchemy to fight enemies at long range, as he excels at close combat. He made up for lack of range by acquiring the martial skill ‘Gunblade Wielding’, which allows him to equip both a one-handed gun and knife at the same time, but he can’t do anything to slow the stone beasts approach. As a result, he is the first person to engage the Mutant Stone Beasts in close combat.
Aqua is greatly surprised at the sudden change in Regal and how efficiently he gives the squad orders, this causes her to be slow in engaging the incoming enemies. They manage to close half the distance before she draws two dangerous knives, which are even larger than Regal’s ‘Jagged Severing Blade’. She doesn’t draw any guns as she starts casting several water alchemical divine arts to not only enhance her blades, but attack the enemies with blades of water that can cut through steel.
Regal continues observing the fight and everything that is going on, occasionally firing ‘Ice Bullets’ at enemies that get too close. He also uses ‘Future Sight’ several times to warn people of incoming attacks. From the center of the formation where he positioned himself, he is in complete control of the situation.
“Veronica, cover Kilde,” Regal promptly says before shifting his attention toward Aqua, displaying his full trust in his squad.
Veronica swiftly turns and faces Kilde with her custom rifle, the ‘Deryu Ordinance Rift’, raising it against her shoulder, ready to fire. She sees Kilde moving in and out between two Mutant Stone Beasts, the third having been killed already. He enters a difficult situation moments later as the beasts trap him between their attacks. With a crisp *crack* of splitting ice, Veronica fires a ‘Heavy Ice Bullet’, using some of the ammunition created with Regal’s path in ‘Ice Heart Alchemy’. The bullet creates a thin trail of mist through the air as it hits the Mutant Stone Beast behind Kilde in the neck and knocks it back almost two feet.
Kilde takes advantage of this moment to dodge backwards, causing the attack from the first beast to graze him and only do 24 damage, less than ten percent of his total health.
Aqua is fighting the beasts well in close combat, but seems to be approaching exhaustion as her stamina runs low from using too many martial Divine Arts in quick succession. Regal notices this, and after making sure everyone else has their situation under control, dashes forward to support her with his gun while commanding Veronica to back him up.
An attack from one of the stone beasts finally lands on Aqua, doing a large amount of damage. The worst part is that even though her armor prevented the beast’s stone claws from ripping her stomach open, it tore across her arm creating four enormous gashes that blood pours from onto the ground. Even though the visible wound heals in nearly an instant, the pain causes her to wince and be unable to defend against the attack from the second stone beast that quickly follows.
‘She’s surprisingly weak to pain. I wonder what her school was like,’ Regal thinks to himself when he views her vulnerable situation.
Regal arrives at Aqua’s side only a moment later, pulling her back away from the third stone beast’s attack as Veronica shoots the beast closest to Regal to knock it back. It’s a shame that Veronica’s rifle needs to be reloaded after every bullet so she can’t fire off those bullets in quick succession.
Regal then uses ‘Future Sight’ to look four seconds into the future, using it to avoid one of the stone beasts lunging at him suddenly and its jaws clamping shut where he was a moment ago. These beasts have terrifying jaws, and if someone is caught in them, they will constantly suffer damage until either they or the beast are dead.
A ‘Heavy Ice Bullet’ fired by Veronica whizzes past Regal’s ear in the nick of time, saving him from an attack by the second Mutant Stone Beast, coincidentally finishing it off as well.
As though it were a signal, all the enemies around the squad then begin dying one after another as their health finally runs out. Regal retreats with Aqua back to Veronica’s side to watch over the battle’s end. In only a few breaths worth of time, all the stone beasts are dead with the exception of the one trapped by Astore’s earthen dome.
“Regal, should we kill the last one now?” Piora asks curiously, looking toward the dome of earth that has spider web-like cracks all over it from the trapped mutant beast trying to free itself.
“No, I plan on taming it. As long as it doesn’t have to charge toward or chase an enemy, it will be a great addition to help protect everyone. I would have liked two or three at least, but I have to defeat them myself, and I can only fight one with my current strength.”
Piora’s eyes widen in surprise and she seems to be about to still insist on helping, but after seriously considering it, she stays silent and just watches.
Regal steps away from the squad, forcefully calming his tension as the beast finally breaks free of the stone prison. It looks at Regal and furiously roars, the shockwave of its voice causing the smaller stones on the ground to rattle around Regal’s feet.
Regal frowns as he sees this Mutant Stone Beast. It is larger than the rest and was obviously the leader of the pack. Not only that, but it’s level 16 too!
‘Why couldn’t Astore capture one of the ordinary ones?’ Regal silently thinks with complex emotions.
Not waiting for the enemy to make the first move, Regal takes the initiative to fire several ‘Ice Bullets’ at the enormous beast bearing down upon him. The bullets bounce off its stone skin, leaving only a few scratches and taking away only a sliver of its health. The stone beast howls, its voice again creating shockwaves, but this time directing them at Regal in an attack.
The beast charges at Regal at a speed equivalent to a hunter with 20 agility. Regal’s agility is at 39 points, almost twice that of the stone beast’s, allowing him to easily maintain a safe distance from its jaws. Of course, the stone beast has its howling attack, which can attack Regal from a distance, and the frightening lunge attack which can instantly close a short distance between the two.
Once Regal is able to reduce the beast’s health by a quarter, he switches his gun for his ‘Jagged Severing Blade’, and uses the divine art ‘Radiant Enchant’ on it to give the blade additional flame damage. Holding the weapon in one hand while attacking whenever the stone beast gets close enough, he uses his other hand to stab at the beast with ‘Lightning Thrusts’, a Tier 1 Divine Art from the ‘Lightning Finger Alchemy’ skill that summons small bolts of lightning.
The stone beast is extremely resistant to the lightning element, but some of Regal’s damage breaks through its defenses. Regal and the stone beast fight back and forth for twenty whole minutes. This is a result of not only the Mutant Stone Beast being at a higher level and so being much stronger than the others, but also because Regal is lacking attacks that deal a large amount of damage.
With the assistance of ‘Future Sight’, Regal finally manages to corner the beast and leave it with only a sliver of health. The stone beast has some intelligence, and knows that it lost. It fights defensively against Regal while backing away, eager to flee as soon as it gets a chance.
Regal doesn’t give it that chance, deciding that this is the best moment to tame it with his skill, ‘Soul Authority’. Regal quickly uses a few expensive potions to restore his mana to full and raises one hand toward the beast, activating the Divine Art ‘Soul Shackle’.
An eerie purple alchemical circle, filled with a large number of formulae and strange sigils, appears in front of Regal’s hand and beneath the Mutant Stone Beast. Translucent purple chains launch from the ground and rapidly tangle themselves around the target. The Mutant Stone Beast struggles initially, but soon gives up and allows the chains binding it to sink into its body like a ghost. At the same time, Regal’s mana is nearly completely depleted, the sudden drain bringing along a sudden wave of weariness that nearly robs him of his consciousness.
Regal feels a profound link formed between the Mutant Stone Beast and himself. After his mind adjusts to the lack of mana and calms, he can feel the beast’s thoughts, even if it can only express some basic emotions. Regal can transmit his own thoughts to it with an undetectable communication. He first tells it to come over to him, and is confused when it doesn’t respond.
As he thinks about the beast’s low intelligence, he tried to tell it to come over again, but this time through an image of it walking over and sitting in front of him. Exactly how Regal transmitted his thoughts, the beast calmly walked over, causing the ground to tremor with each step. Slightly different from his thoughts, however, is that instead of sitting, it kneels in front of him in a subservient manner.
The rest of Regal’s squad look on with amazement and wonder. Even Veronica, Astore, and Kilde, feel a twinkle of surprise within themselves as they each logically organize the new information in their Soulless minds.
Everyone in Regal’s squad has seen what a tamed beast is usually like. They treat the tamer with respect, but are more or less partners. What is being played out in front of them, however, is a relationship more reminiscent to that of a master and servant.
“What kind of skill was that?” Piora avidly asks, poorly trying to disguise her shock.
Regal awkwardly clears his throat as he maintains a calm demeanor, even though he himself is just as surprised as everyone else.
“It is the Tier 1 Divine Art of the skill ‘Soul Authority’. It is used to subdue an enemy I have defeated myself and make it bound to me. It is similar to a taming skill.”
“It’s much better than a taming skill! An ordinary taming skill wouldn’t be able to subdue such a ferocious mutant beast so easily. You could create an army if you kept at it long enough! As expected of our squad leader!”
Regal doesn’t respond to Piora, who is so excited she doesn’t seem to be suffering from mana deprivation. He knows more about the skill than anyone else, apart from perhaps the humans who created it.
Unlike an ordinary tamed beast, he has a spiritual link with the Mutant Stone Beast that constantly sends its thoughts toward him. Regal isn’t confident in being able to handle an army’s worth of these thoughts flowing through to him at all times. He feels that if that were to happen, he may just lose his own mind.
With the link between the two, Regal also understands the stone beast’s skills much better than before. It also has an ability to partially fuse with the earth, concealing its presence and allowing it to move silently. This is information that wasn’t taught at school when studying these mutant beasts, and also explains how they snuck up on the squad.
“Anyway, let’s collect and divide all the loot up now.” Regal casually says to the squad, completely ending the earlier conversation.
The squad moves around the area and collects all the loot from the monsters before placing it together for Regal to see.
~ 43 Bronze Coins ~ 2 Iron Ores ~ Stone Tendon (Bad) ~ Stone Serrated Katana ~ 3 Rockdust Fragments (Low) ~ 1 Rockdust Fragment (Medium)
Most of the Mutant Stone Beasts just drop bronze coins, but some drop other items as well. Regal is quite excited about the ‘Stone Tendon’ and ‘Rockdust Fragments’, which are items used by various crafting skills. The ‘Stone Tendon’ can be used in guns to reduce recoil and increase fire rate, while the ‘Rockdust Fragments’ can increase the durability of equipment if used on certain materials when refining or can be used as an ingredient in a potion which will increase defense temporarily.
The ‘Stone Serrated Katana’ is a curved sword twice as long as any of ‘Jagged Severing Blade’ weapons used by the squad, but it’s attack and durability are much lower, so it is placed aside in someone’s inventory for selling later.
It goes without saying that the crafting ingredients are reserved for Regal, who is the only person who can use them, while the bronze coins are split evenly between everyone.
The squad then goes back to eating their food, which has begun to grow cold by now, while the newly contracted stone beast, who Regal temporarily names Lande, patrols the surroundings in stealth mode. Everyone’s health had dropped from the fight before, especially Aqua who only has a third left, so they eat extra food to ensure that their health recovery will bring everyone back up to full health.
Regal also makes some extra rations to boost mana recovery in case another group of enemies attack them before their natural mana recovery restores enough to fight properly.
After all the preparations are complete, the squad then continues travelling north. Not too far away, they venture off the main road to actively search for more Mutant Stone Beasts. They quickly locate a small pack thanks to Lande’s help, and even manage to seize the initiative in attacking this time.
Astore follows Regal’s commands and once more traps the Mutant Stone Beast pack leader in a defensive dome while the squad deals with the rest. Following the advantageous start the squad took advantage of, Regal leads them in perfect unison to quickly dispose of the group of mutant beasts. Unfortunately, the loot the Beasts dropped wasn’t as good as the first pack, only leaving half the crafting materials as the first lot.
He then fights against the pack leader to subdue it. Testing a theory he had since subduing the first beast, he has Lande join the fight to subdue the pack leader. Regal does this because he feels like Lande fighting is similar to him fighting, as Lande is a part of his personal strength.
Regal’s theory proves correct. He successfully subdues a second level 16 Mutant Stone Beast, who he temporarily names Lore. With two contracted beasts, the information flowing into Regal doubles as to what it was before. It isn’t unbearable and he can easily discern which thoughts belong to which Mutant Stone Beast, but it still reinforces Regal’s concerns about having an army of beasts.
The squad returns to the road with Lande and Lore, travelling north. They pass several traders and other hunting squads on the way, but most don’t show any concern toward the Mutant Stone Beasts. This is because to most hunters out in the world, a level 16 Mutant Stone Beast, or even two, are still considered weak monsters. It would be different if there were several hundred, and they would be cautious of Regal’s squad actually being bandits, but only two are not a strong force in the eyes of most.
When the slowly growing squad finally reaches the mountains they saw on the horizon from Theore’s gate, the terrain starts to change. The area is still barren and dusty, even the crags of the mountains above look completely desolate and uninviting. Several scraggly looking trees without leaves, known as deadwood trees, grow in patches around the base of the mountain.
The sun is already well beyond the mountains and the daylight is rapidly fading. Regal decides the squad should head to a nearby patch of deadwood trees to camp for the night. These trees are a valuable resource out in these barren lands. Even though they have no leaves and the wood is nearly black the wood itself is healthy, easy to craft with and if the correct resin is treated onto the wood it becomes almost as strong as iron.
This is the secondary reason why Regal chose this place; to collect deadwood and create a wagon for everyone to ride in.
Astore was holding onto the tents, which he and Kilde work together to set up. At the same time, Regal leaves Lande and Lore to guard the perimeter while he makes a simple dinner to fill everyone’s satiety. The two stone beasts are fine without being fed any of the groups rations as this barren land is full of earthen food for them.
After dinner, everyone other than Regal take turns guarding the perimeter from any night ambushes. Lande and Lore both sleep in the center of the camp like two stone monuments, but being mutant beasts, will wake up as soon as danger appears.
Regal doesn’t take a turn guarding the perimeter because he decides to stay up all night, cutting down deadwood trees and preparing the raw materials to create a wagon. It will be a long night for Regal, and he will surely be half asleep tomorrow morning, but figures he can always sleep in the wagon as the group is travelling if he is successful in crafting the simple covered wagon.