Author Note: Extended the previous chapter a little bit. That is all. Enjoy!
As the gigantic birds dived towards our group, I expected them to land talons first on some unfortunate sod’s flesh, but they instead flapped their wings and landed around and in front of us, then began walking towards us at a leisurely pace.
I see, they don’t hunt the way eagles or hawks do, but solely by kicking and pecking.
“Everyone, line up for combat, then fire at will!”
I was worried they would dive down, pick us up and carry us off into the sky while pecking us to death, or even more horrifying, dropping us to our deaths from the sky, but if they wanted to fight, that was a different matter.
The birds’ bodies were small in relationship to the length of their bodies, but they were still quite the large targets, moving in a straight line, and most of the shots fired by the orcs had no issue hitting their marks.
Our attackers were clearly confused by the painful pointy sticks sinking into their bodies, but there were hardly any immediate casualties amongst them, even when hit by the spears of the ogres, and they soon were upon our group, kicking down and rending flesh while breaking bones and ripping bodies in two.
I saw Stella jump in front of me and break the thick leg of one of the birds with a furious swipe of her right arm, and that succeeded where the arrows and javelins had failed, freaking out the nearby birds and causing many of them to retreat and flee.
It looked like they couldn’t understand the arrows and the danger they represented, but a broken leg would be obviously a crippling injury, one that would prove fatal in a few days, and that, they understood.
I shot arc lightning at two birds who were still attacking our group, and caused them to cry and tense before falling down to the ground, their stilt-like legs still tense and straight, giving the fall that much power.
Almost half a dozen orcs were already torn and their bodies spread across the brush-covered mountain side, though, and still as many as four birds continued attacking our group.
Daai lost her right arm when one of the birds kicked at her, and the furious ogress started using her heavy metal spear (not one of her throwing javelins) as a impromptu mace to smack at the legs of her attacker, breaking them and crippling the bird, that made an almost comical sight as it flapped on its way to the ground to soften the blow, and then tries to stand and flee on its stumps, continuously falling back on its ass over and over again.
Another ogre attempted the same, but the bird kicked him faster than the eye could follow, and its body disappeared from the stomach and upwards. Still, with just a handful of birds left, Stella freaked one out when she climbed up its legs and started tearing at its body, while the other two finally got the hint and fled back to the relative safety of the skies… not.
I shot [Arc Lightning] at them again, and they fell down stiff towards the ground. It was actually funny to see them hit the ground beak first, almost like cartoon characters, before collapsing into the ground with their necks bent in unnatural directions, very clearly dead.
It was at this point that I noticed Ragashi had appeared at some time, and was casting [Regeneration] on Daai.
Looking around, we had killed a dozen of the birds, and they had killed a dozen of us. It was pretty much catastrophic, but we had certainly shooed the flock away.
“Shit.” – was all I could say right now
Stella organized the survivors into two groups. One was busy collecting the bodies of my fallen men, while the other made itself useful butchering the bird bodies all around us.
“What?” – I noticed Stella talking to me, and looked back at her after a few minutes
“I asked if we should burn the troops bodies again, my prince.”
“Yes… yes, that seems appropriate. Do you think we should camp here or make our way to the forest?”
“It is hard to tell. I don’t think the birds will return. Not that flock, anyway, but there’s always the chance of another being in the area. On the other hand, we don’t know anything about the creatures in the forest, either.”
I looked at her pretty face as she gave me her opinion frankly and openly, and thought that her slight change in attitude (she was no longer avoiding my eyes) was the only positive thing to come out of my stupid call to run and draw attention to ourselves. It was at this time that I remembered we had brought Ragashi specifically to have him learn about the flora and fauna around us, so as soon as I saw him finish patching up the wounded, I called him over to my side.
By the way, I was just amazed at the fact that I later noticed the ogre that I had seen lose ½ its body, was still around and looking fit as a fiddle. A few moments of contemplation made me realize that rather than using [Regenerate] on its lower body to have it grow most vital organs, Ragashi found the still moving upper half of the ogre and had it regenerate its lower body instead.
An ogre’s vitality is truly amazing.
“Yes, my prince?”
“Advice me. Should we make camp here, or in the forest?”
“Y-you want my advice, sire?”
“Why does that surprise you? You are a druid, aren’t you? It only makes sense to follow your advice in the wilderness. I did buy you with such a intent from the beginning, did I not?”
“Its just… no, nevermind. It will be my honor.” – he replies promptly
According to him, we had been moving through the brush-covered mountain peaks for days now, with barely any incident at all, so the birds must be quite rare, and even more so since the ‘hero’ party hadn’t come across them on their own trip west to begin with.
On the other hand, we had barely any knowledge about the creatures in the forest ahead of us, except for what little he saw while scouting ahead today, and he had been focused on securing a good route towards the last mountain ahead of us, so he hadn’t paid attention, nor seen, any noticeable animals.
With that, we made camp where we were. The forest was close, but not too close, with about 600” of brush-land between us. We made pyres and burnt the bodies of our fallen, then assembled the (somewhat reduced) campsite, and set up watchmen before going to rest for the night.
Come think about it, daytime birds do not usually hunt at night, do they?
In the morning, I was woken up by Kalkah as she reported that the guards had caught some intruders, and that they wished to consult with me on what to do with them.
“Alright, I’m on my way.”
With that, Kalkah left the room, and by the time I followed after her, six orcs were surrounding three tiny cavemen-looking individuals.
Their bodies were so small that they barely reached the orcs’ hips, and they were wearing naught but loincloths and carrying baskets with what I assumed were roots and vegetables.
Well, they knelt down and offered me the baskets, so their intentions were easy to understand, but their words were a completely different matter.
The orcs certainly did not understand them, nor did Kalkah, so with few expectations, I called for our gnome and dwarf, and thankfully, Grumnir was indeed able to communicate with them.
According to him, these are ‘stone gnomes,’ some subspecies of gnome that has lived isolated for long enough that everyone forgot about them. Their tribe numbers… they don’t know how to count, so it seems their numbers are as simple as ‘one’ or ‘many.’ Therefore, they have many tribesmen.
The problem is that these four also count themselves as ‘many.’ As for why Grumnir understand them, it looks like [Primal] is a pretty common language amongst the earth-races, including dwarves, gnomes and others, so chances are, the gnome would understand them too,
Still, I’m glad I called for Grumnir first.
“You took down the devil birds, so they’ve come to acknowledge you as their god and beg for your continued protection.” – he explains, and sighs
“I assume that asking them how many birds there are left would just lead to ‘many’?” – I reply
“I guess as much.”
“Can you explain to them the idea of a group? I want to know if there are many groups of those birds.”
“Give me a few minutes…”
As it turns out, the stone gnomes’ ‘devil birds’ are indeed a ultra rare species unique to the region, so we may have put them in the endangered species list after just that one fight… even so, I have no intention of settling here before inspecting the swamp.
“Well, can’t we use them as workers?” – asks Kalkah
Oi. I have no interest in taking slaves, you know? Ah… I mean, in capturing them… I do have you, Grumnir and Ragashi as my personal slaves, though, but this is different.
I think my morals and ethics are becoming weird.
Lets carefully consider what to do now. I do not currently have a use for these guys, but that doesn’t means I won’t have a use for them in the future, either. Saying farewell in good terms is definitively the best possible choice.
“Tell them that I accept them as my people. I must now lead my warriors into the lands where the sun dies, and defeat a great evil, but will one day come back for them. Until them, they are free to pray to me with a sacrifice of roots and flowers whenever a new child is born.”
Grumnir gives me a look.
“You don’t want to try and uplift them?”
“Is that what you call it?”
“I seriously have no intention of just one-sidedly using them…”
“I may tell them to move to another mountain and hide from you.”
“And break an oath you made with your clan’s honor on the line? Hardly.”
And so, the rock gnomes have officially become part of my household. Well, its not as if I expect them to become fighting potential for me, but perhaps farmers? Either way, they are currently living in the stone age, so they have everything to win by coming to the safety of my future farm, you know?
Freedom? What, can you eat that? Can it shield you? Besides, I see no problem with a god telling his chosen people to work the land, learn, and multiply, you know?
Ah… I may actually be more demon lord-like than I’d like to admit…
And so, we descended into the forest on the lower half of the mountain under a light rain, crossed the valley while navigating through thick mist and even thicker rain, carefully crossed a fast-moving river, climbed the following mountain against rain sharp enough to sting, and decided to skirt around the brush-land to take somewhat of a detour instead of risking losing the relative safety of the massive trees. It was not a fun time, but neither was it interesting enough to talk at length about it. It was quite simply, a chore.
If the birds came back, we could go into the forest at any time, and if manticores appeared, they would become dinner.
Yup. Though the manticores were individually much stronger than the secretary birds, and in fact preyed upon them, from our point of view, it was much easier to deal with a single power monster than with 20 or more foes at the same time.
Of course, it would be a different story if a truly powerful creature such as a dragon showed up, but with our current strength, I’d figured we’d be dead either way, so what’s the point in worrying about it?
And finally, what greeted us as we came around the mountain, was the sight of a swamp region stretching beyond the horizon, beginning from the feet of the mountain, with no apparent end.
Obviously, its not as if there’s a clear line marking where the forest turns into a swamp. There are numerous bogs, ponds and small streams that, together with the semi-permanent rain caused by the tall mountains continually draining the incoming clouds of any water they may be carrying, contribute to create a extremely humid environment that ultimately created the vast swamp region.
If this was Earth, I would not want to live here no matter what. I know many great cultures have been born in monsoon lands, but the idea of living under 4+ months of rain was enough to squeeze at my heart. But here in Eiren, we have magic.
“Ragashi’s not back yet?” – I ask Kalkah while looking around at ‘my domain.’
“He should return soon. Do you want me to be on the lookout for him, my prince?”
“Yes, I’ll be setting up some keystones for an array, so have him come find me as soon as you find him. I have no intention of making camp under the rain.”
My lovely maid nodded, and headed towards Daai and Stella to have them inform the troops. As soon as the perv- I mean, our druid showed up, someone would send him find me.
Now that was taken care of, I got started with work.
Grumnir was a great help with picking the correct stones for the array’s corners. Hardly anyone knows more than the dwaves when it comes to rune magic, after all, and we quickly found six stones of the right make, size and weight.
To be completely accurate, we found 2 large ones, then broke and worked them into smooth, round stone plates. My intention was to create a ‘dry area’ inside a hexagram, a cone-shaped area with the end pointing up. Rain would ‘slide off’ the cone, creating a tolerable environment for the campsite. Still, it was quite a bit of work just to create the heavy stone plates, and we required the ogre’s help in order to place them, so it is not something we could have done during the trip. Only now that we were ready to create a semi permanent base, was it worth the effort.
“You called for me, my prince?” – the gnome was covered in dirt, but not mud, which meant he must have kept off the floor during his inspection. Why? Because calling it floor was all-too misleading. This already was a swamp, after all, and in some parts the water would surely reach dozen of feet deep, if not deeper.
We had picked the top of a hill to set camp, so it was only muddy, but there wasn’t a single one of us that wasn’t stained in that mud to some degree or another.
“Yes, I want you to use [Waterproof] on the rune array I just finished installing.”
“That’s a first level spell, my lord.” – it was, as he mentioned, a low-level spell typically used to reinforce work clothes or containers, and little more.
“Just do as I said.”
“Yes, my prince.”
The way I had prepared the array, each stone would accept the spell, then I would seal it in with a final rune, and they would continue to cast it upwards and towards each other while draining my personal mana every few hours.
That would coalesce into the effect I wanted, but more importantly, it would cause my mana to be worn off continuously at a measured, controlled speed. The prince me was an asshole, but I was confident he was a brillian asshole, and his research suggested that one’s spirit is the source of one’s personal mana, as well as a entity able to grow under duress. Well, he couldn’t have known how exercise works, but basically, your muscles are damaged during a good workout, and then your body burns resources such as protein and fat in order to repair and improve them. This was similar, yet applied to one’s spirit.
Of course, it also meant that I would be pretty weakened for at least several days, but once my spirit got over it, it would instead turn into a mild stimulation, and finally into a negligible expense, all the while continuously stimulating my spirit and improving my mana reserves and mana production.
But the starting strain was going to be fucking awful.
“Alright, you can go now. From now on, you’ll be interacting with Kalkah and Stella instead of me. Your job will be to survey the area and learn about the local flora and fauna, as we had previously discussed. I want to know what’s dangerous, valuable, or edible in my domain, as well as the best location for our permanent base.”
Once we knew all of that, we could move there and set up the teleportaion platform, which would be a huge expense of time and mana for everyone involved.
Well, if I was right, I should have more than enough mana to make such a expense nearly negligible, though. And if I was wrong, I would probably be crippled unless the [Waterproof] array was destroyed first.
I called for Stella, Kalkah, Grumnir and Daai, then issued instructions on how to set up the campsite. It would be much the same as it had been before, with a simple change in the form of a pallisade wall and two observation towers around it. It didn’t need to be magic-proof just yet (something I had already talked about with Grumnir, to his great interest) but it had to be solid enough our troops could rely on them to stop beasts and monsters, as well as impressive enough to send a message to any locals who may see them.
It was alright if the side pointing inside the campsite was just wooden frames for our soldiers to stand upon, but from the outside, it had to look like a impregnable bastion.
I further explained that the rain bothered me, and the swamp displeased me, so I would stop the first and retire into my tent until Ragashi was done with his work and we were ready to move to a permanent location in a month or so. In the meanwhile, I expected them to start sending patrols and hunting expeditions to increase our provisions and knowledge of the surrounding area.
This sounded properly spoiled and demon-king like that Daai and Grumnir could accept it before I sent them away, and then I could explain the Kalkah and Stella the real reason I would be confined to my tent.
They were the only ones allowed in. It would be a seriously bad idea to let anyone else know of my weakened state. Kalkah obediently accepted my words, but Stella surprised me by getting angry at me.
“Asmund, you idiot, for such a dumb thing like keeping the rain away!?” – ah, I hadn’t seen this side of her ever since I raped her, uh? The concerned childhood friend side, that is.
“Mmph. This is just a temporal sacrifice for greater power, the rain is just a convenient excuse. Stopping rain within a contained area? When have you heard of such a thing before? It will be great for my reputation and may even make me famous, you know? I may as well have done a similar thing back home if I had had the time before being sent here.”
“Uuuh… you always talk about complicated stuff with a refreshing smile.” -and then she said the same thing she used to say when we were children- “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you!”
Ah, I really want to pat her head and scratch her behind the ears, but that’s not something I have the right to do anymore. Plus we were out in everyone’s sight (if out of earshot), so it would probably be a bad idea, anyway.
With that, we erected the campsite, and once inside my tent, I finished the enchantment for the array, and the world went black.