Chapter 154:

Something’s Wrong

Mad God


“Are the reports correct?” Niji asked, reading through the papers Uhure had presented to him.

“Yes. I double-checked them myself, and there are no mistakes in them. Working in conjunction with the rabbits proved surprisingly fruitful. Our scouting performance went up by a large margin! This data is from the past three days.”

“Good work.” Niji nodded, taking a deep breath. “We need to pull back our forces from the rest of the forest and focus them at the crossing point on the river. I don’t think the tribes that are still somewhat unaccepting towards us would try and stab us in the back. Not right now, at least… That would be suicide.” He said, unfurling a map of the southern forest. “If they truly manage to amass this big of a beast tide… We are going to be hard-pushed to keep them from flooding us! We need to focus on our defense with all that we have!”

“We should destroy the old bridges,” Uhure said.

“No.” Niji shook his head immediately. “We would be unable to rebuild them! Even if we do, we can’t replicate the craftsmanship of the Old Kingdom. I hate to admit it, but their buildings were something else! I spoke about this with a lot of humans throughout the years. No other region could replicate their achievements in craftsmanship, not even to this day. Their handiwork is still standing strong after two millennia! It withstands the assault of nature’s forces. Including us.” He smiled, tapping on the top of the table.

“I still suggest that we destroy them.”

“Even if we rebuild a new bridge later on, it would need maintenance almost every week!” Niji explained it more to her. “It’s not just about the need to resist the changing weather and the strong flow of the Shert River, but also withstanding the weight of demons, crossing it over and over again. Are we capable of committing to that? Building that? Maintaining that? Especially as the bridges that are there right now could accommodate hundreds of demons crossing at the same time? Mm? How are we going to replicate something like that?”

“I… don’t know,” Uhure answered with clear uncertainty in her voice.

“Look, I’ll keep it in mind as a last resort. If we look like losing the defensive line, I’ll order their destruction. Until then, it is off the table!”

“Understood.” Uhure nodded, acknowledging his orders.

“What about Ren and her disciple?”

“They are at the crossing point, helping the rest to build fortifications. The ones on our side have been strengthened, and we even have human ballistas set up along the river. The same kind they used against similar tides in the past. If you ask me, it is a pretty ironic situation! Now we also face one… just like they did for centuries.”

“Eh… yeah, I can agree with you on that!” Niji chuckled, shaking his head. “Let Ren do her thing! She is going to be our main force resisting them anyway. What about that troublemaker roaming our streets?”

“Kyu?” Uhura smiled, which was rare for her. “She stayed back here. Even though she does not realize it, she is a big help!”

“Really?” Niji furrowed his brow because he was not expecting this kind of answer from her.

“Believe me! She has a knack for causing trouble! We just nudge her in the correct direction, and she inadvertently helps us point out those who are slacking off and trying to wiggle their way out of their responsibilities. She is a chaotic force of nature, but I can handle her. Mostly.”

“Then why do I receive daily complaints about her antics?” He groaned, opening one of his drawers that was filled with complaints about Kyu’s many mischiefs. “Just now, I could add three more to the pile about some missing rations…”

“I said mostly. Let Ren deal with those; why are you so caught up on it?” She shook her head with a little smile.

“Haaah… never mind! These are just nonsense, anyway! I don’t even pay attention to the ones submitted by the raccoons! They finally met their match!” Niji said, closing the drawer. Both of them chuckled at the same time, shaking their heads.


….
…..

Ren was standing on the other side of the giant, ancient bridge, crossing the Shert River. She was overseeing the construction of spiked traps, deep pits, and barricades that were being set up. They aimed to somewhat curb and slow down the beast tide when it finally arrived at the river. Behind her, Ariana was standing on the bridge, right on its old but still sturdy railings, balancing effortlessly above 15 meters of the wildly splashing river water. The old bridge itself was at least 80 meters wide, arching over the Shert River. Its length spanned right around 300 meters and was the biggest crossing point available in the south. Every other bridge was not even a quarter in size.

“What is it made out of, Master?” Ariana asked, opening her eyes and hopping down from the railing onto the bridge itself.

“I don’t know the modern name for it, but it is made out of stone from the Wall of the World,” Ren answered, walking up next to her. “In the Ein’s time, it was called Lucantium. In one of the books that Reignar brought back, it was mentioned that a master craftsman named Luca the Forgeborn came up with the method of how to mine it and use it for construction. So he named it after himself!” She chuckled. “This resource is nowhere else found in the world, only high up north, in the belly of the endless, snowy mountain ranges.”

“Is it indestructible?” Ariana asked curiously.

“No, no.” Ren laughed at her direct question. “I could smash it to pieces if I want to. You could even blast it where I tell you to do so. The scorpions used the same thing to build a small bridge over Swordscar Pass around a decade ago. That was destroyed by the Empire’s forces. Its value does not come from it being something hard to destroy. But it’s longevity and resistance to the elements. It withstands erosion! You could submerge it in acid for a year; it won’t even leave a crack on it. You can freeze it and then immediately reheat it; it won’t break. You can walk over it for a thousand years, every hour, every minute, and it won’t fail you.”

“Then… it is indestructible!” Ariana smiled at her master.

“If you look at it that way, yes. It is a cultivator… of bridges!” Ren chuckled. “It is strong, resilient and long-lasting. Yet it can be killed.”

“That is depressing to think about, Master,” Ariana whispered softly.

“Maybe. Anyway, it withstood time! It would be a shame to kill it just because some wild animals want to use it for what it was built in the first place!”

“I agree. I never saw a bridge like this before; even the decorative carvings on the sides are still clear and intact! They really knew how to carve the figures of women! And man, of course.”

“You immediately checked the women at first, huh?” Ren joked with her, grinning at her disciple, who looked away with an embarrassed expression. “The decorations you saw are past rulers of the Old Kingdom. I don’t know their names, but they are propping up the bridge as they propped up their kingdom. It shows they were the ones who held up the land and not vice versa. Of course, this can be taken as propaganda, too! We did not live here back then, so take it as you will.”

“It’s more romantic, thinking about it that way, Master. A ruling family that works for the betterment of their people is a much more relaxing thought. Especially after what I saw in the Kingdom of Ten while growing up. The Empire is much better in this aspect. Aerthus X really does care about the people! I can’t even understand why some nobles think it is a good idea to give him so much trouble!”

“Perspective. The thirst for power and wealth. Brainwashing. Human nature. There are tons of reasons why. Also, the Empire was not always like this; some would tell you straight, especially if you ask Elder Carthus about his father.”

“I heard that. I wonder if the Kingdom is ever going to be changed and be like the Empire. I hope so…”

“Who knows! There is a great chance it will be broken up! The Naulins’ line could very well be exterminated, and the Kingdom of Ten finished, at least in name.” Ren said, leaning against the railing with a smile, watching the foaming river water pass by below them.

As she said that, Ariana’s body strongly trembled, and by reflex, she held onto her Master’s hand, looking at the side of her face. She was trying to calm her down, feeling the escaping rage and dark thoughts from Ren’s aura.

“You are becoming more and more clingy by the day! Especially when we sleep.” Ren whispered, looking at her, tucking Ariana’s long hair behind her ear.

“This way, I can always help you, Master.”

“Silly girl.” She shook her head, patting Ariana’s cheeks, reassuring her.

“Founder Thunder!” A voice arrived, interrupting them. The way she was addressed made Ren sigh and roll her eyes while Ariana softly giggled at her reaction.

“Ren. Just call me Ren. I told you… how many times? Hundred?” She turned around, watching Ushi hopping closer, wearing brown leather armor, panting exhaustedly.

“S-sorry!” She skidded forward as she stopped, kicking up dust and bowing towards Ren. “I saw some demonic spiders! They are crawling closer and closer to our lines!”

“Oh?” Ren raised her eyebrows. “How many?”

“Not much, only three stragglers! Probably wandered off or sent out as scouts!” Ushi said, saluting like an army soldier. “I came back with the report; two of my subordinates are tracking them!”

“Take Ariana with you and deal with them quickly.”

“Yes!” Both Ushi and Ariana answered at the same time. Ushi was already hopping away, gone in a flash, while Ariana quickly threw her spear forward, stepping onto it and flying after the bunny girl.

After the two left, Ren suddenly shivered, rubbing her own arms, looking towards where they left.

“I hate crawling things with an unnatural number of hairy legs… brrrr… Sorry, Ariana, this is on you!”


….
…..

It took only 15 minutes for them to catch up with the other two bunnies, one male and one female.

“They are heading this way, chief!” Both of them as they saluted. “They keep crawling under the shades of the thicker trees! They clearly dislike the sunlight! They are even taking detours just to avoid any clearings!”

“There are only 3 of them?” Ariana asked, and she received a quick answer. They nodded immediately. “Good! Ushi, you keep an eye out and cover my back; you two spread out and watch for additional movements! Especially from holes in the ground! They could be an underground dwelling species, and these three may guide the others from the surface.”

“We never thought about that…” The young male rabbit murmured as his partner was gulping loudly. There was clear fear in his voice, and he was already searching for holes that spiders could swarm out from.

“Don’t worry; I just want to make sure we are prepared for any possibilities! I’ll take on the three; you don’t need to join in the fight.”

“Yes, ma’am!” All three saluted, making Ariana twitch her mouth. She was finally getting to understand how her Master must have been feeling every time they called her out.

When the bunnies were in position, Ariana started to prepare her spell. She was letting go of her spear that was gobbled up by her own shadow. While she was waiting behind a thick oak tree, she could hear the rustling of the shrubs nearby. Three 1,5 meters tall spiders crawled out from the foliage. All three had black and gray bodies, while their 8 eyes were shining in a deep, red hue. They were constantly moving as they walked slowly, like people lost in the forest, searching for a way out.

“They are clearly unfamiliar with this place…” Ariana thought to herself, watching them, “I’m sure they are lost… Chased out from their normal habitat by those kittens…” She sighed softly as she tried to feel them out. In the end, she received no human-like response from them, confirming that they were not real demons but only beasts without a higher intelligence. “Let’s start with the one in the back…”

Her hand moved right after the thought manifested itself in her head. From the spider’s shadow, dark tentacles shot out, grabbing onto its multiple pairs of legs. They were holding it in place while Ariana’s spear reappeared below him, thrusting forward, stabbing through the beast. She killed off one with ease, splashing its blue blood everywhere.

As soon as one of theirs had fallen, the one at the front screeched loudly, ear-piercingly. It was rubbing its two front legs together and shot out its fur like steel needles, piercing the trees in every possible direction.

“Hm… Can they perceive the fluctuations of my energy?” Ariana thought as those ‘needles’ stabbed into the tree trunk that she was hiding behind.

As the spiders hurried towards her, trying to attack from two sides, Ariana’s body merged into the shadows. She looked like she sank into the ground before she quickly reappeared behind one of them with a spear in hand. With precise aim, she was stabbing at the back of the beast, where its head was connected to its torso. Her spear was covered with a dark and gloomy energy, piercing the beast, making it screech in a miserable tone before its head was severed from its body. What happened next scared the watching bunnies as it looked like the spider had opened up. Its body was splitting from top to bottom, like a cracked walnut. Dark fingers grabbed onto its skin from the inside, pulling it apart while the poor spider was still twitching its legs. It only took a second, yet it felt like minutes for those who watched it happen. A shadowy monster was climbing out from the carcass, giving the bunnies nightmares to suffer through in the next few days.

The newly appeared shadow stood on its two legs. It was hunching forward, reaching only a meter in height. The end of its fingers were as if they were covered with black flames. Its body was dripping from the spider’s blue blood while it breathed out hot air from its mouth. Its features were indistinguishable. Was it a man? A woman? Or a demon? Or something else? Nobody could tell, yet its eyes were glowing red, like ominous flames at the end of a dark cave. The next moment, it was rushing towards the remaining spider with loud, thumping steps. It was clear that the monster that just crawled out from the depths of hell was Ariana’s conjuration as she looked on with focused eyes, unblinking. She was concentrating completely on controlling the apparition she just summoned.

The remaining spider was already retreating, firing his needles from the rest of his legs, but they just went through the shadowy body of its enemy. The holes they were leaving behind quickly closed up, not even staggering it. When it arrived next to the spider, Ariana’s fingers let go of her spear once again. It fell forward, disappearing, reappearing in the shadow’s hands as it swung it, slicing off the front legs of the spider. It did it with ease, and right after that, with one firm motion, it stabbed it through its head, killing it for good.

When the beast collapsed onto the ground, Ariana took a deep breath, releasing her spell. Yet the conjured being just turned towards her as if it was watching her, committing the one who summoned it to memory before slowly disintegrating. It even scared Ariana for a brief moment as she was no longer in control of it by then.

“I need to speak with Master… immediately.” She murmured, terrified, as this was the first time she summoned something like this… And it was completely unintentional. When she performed the spell, it was supposed to only spawn a hand, yet a whole… thing manifested itself. One that she needed her full mental capacity just to control it. Ariana had no time to ponder what was going on at that moment, deciding to quickly eliminate the remaining spider before halting the spell. Yet at the very end, after she cut the energy supply, the being looked at her like something with its own intelligence and will.

The bunnies only felt brave enough to come closer after everything was finished. They were watching Ariana with fear in their eyes, not daring to disrupt her thoughts. They were holding their own legs to prevent them from shaking and stopping them from making a noise. They just stood there, waiting for her to recollect herself before they followed Ariana back without uttering a word. They were constantly looking over their shoulders, afraid that a black figure would suddenly jump out from the shades, dragging them down to hell.