Chapter Twenty-one: Proudsprout
Brandr watched the malevenomous serpent bite the troll. Those things really deserved their names. They were rank 3 creatures and products or perhaps, the product of the first gu vat. There had been only one at first but thanks to his dungeon abilities he was able to create more using that one as the template. The cost of doing so was outrageously expensive but well worth it in his opinion.
Every single thing about the serpent was mean if not poisonous. They were the equivalent of ill-tempered people who scowled all the time. The kind who rarely had anything nice to say and cussed or fought at the least provocation. All he had to do was put one near the entrance. He didn’t even have to command it to do anything. Just the fact that the troll had stepped so close to it was enough to trigger a response.
He stared at the large screen as the troll screamed. Its ankle was already swelling though it already looked to be reducing as well. Lashing out in anger, he stomped on the serpent, easily crushing it but not before it embedded its fangs in his flesh.
The stupid troll did not even bother removing the offending implements. Leaving that to its regeneration, it rushed deeper into the tunnel almost in a panic. Sure enough, the fangs along with what was left of the snake’s head hit the ground soon after having been pushed out by the regenerating tissues. Still, its job was done and its payload delivered. Now came the tough part.
Beside Brandr was Thorn and behind him were the rest of the sprites, all of them staring at the giant screen that tracked and showcased the troll’s progress. However, a significant number of the sprites were missing and that was because they were currently lying in wait for the lumbering flummox coming their way. The others could only sit back and pray for them.
Proudsprout tightened his grip on his sword till it started to hurt. He could hear the troll coming. The sound of each massive footfall was like a stake being into his heart. He could not admit it to himself or to his warriors but he was afraid. As a matter of fact, he was terrified and the swirling feeling in his gut was only growing as the troll came closer. Once, he was the most promising warrior in the commune, a student of the sprite lord himself. He lived up to his name and even succeeded old Riverstone, the hobbled sprite, as head of the warriors. Once, he could have beaten his chest and proclaimed that he had no fear. Once, he did not have trouble keeping his spine straight and his head held high.
That was then. That was before the creature coming to eat him destroyed his home and everything he held dear. That was before he, the most promising warrior in the commune, was rendered a spectator. That was before he was forced to watch helplessly as the people who had once looked up to him were eaten. That was before he was powerless to protect those he was sworn to. That was before his spirit was broken.
Gritting his teeth, he somehow found the strength to clench his sword even tighter, fearing that he might drop it given how much sweat dripped from his palm. He was not the only one. A quick glance around showed many of the others in similar states. A couple even had their wings quivering in fear. Proudsprout blinked away his shame. Now was the time for him to say something to marshal their spirits and raise their morale. However, how could he rouse others when he could not do same for himself.
The footsteps paused, creating an eerie silence. For whatever reason, the troll had stopped. All of a sudden, it started back up again, this time much much faster than before. Eyes widening in fear, Prousprout realised that the troll must have smelled them. The realisation left him listless. Didn’t that mean that the ambush was now useless? The rest of the serpents would never get their chance. Panic set in and for the first time in his life, the thought of fleeing snuck itself into his head.
Perhaps, it was the moons of constantly running away from their adversary. Perhaps, it was the fact that for too long he’d acknowledged the troll as unbeatable. Perhaps it was because, at heart, Proudsprout was really a vain weakling. It didn’t matter the reason, Proudsprout actually considered fleeing. For a split second, he entertained the thought of abandoning his own warriors and escaping. Following that came revulsion at how low he had sunk. That was what saved him.
With a shaky cry that stunned even himself, Proudsprout flew forwards. Sword held out and to the side, he flew out of the alcove and rushed into the tunnel, heading straight for the troll. His warriors were left confused but after watching him barrel into the tunnel, they followed. Proudsprout himself wasn’t sure what he was doing. He just knew he had to do something. Initially, he’d planned to fight the troll and die to restore his honour but he couldn’t well do that now that his men were with him, could he?
Keeping his voice steady, he yelled back to his men, “The troll has sniffed us out. Hiding will do us no good. Everyone, remember your places. Our purpose is to harry the creature! We’ll make it come for us and lead it where it needs to go!” He just hoped that would be enough.
A loud roar echoed down the hallway, with his hands shaking imperceptibly, he reached for his pouch and pulled out a crystal phial. The poison in it was too dangerous to handle normally, he was supposed to wait and pour it into the creature’s wounds but he couldn’t wait that long. Pouring the poison over his sword, Proudsprout prayed to the faelords that he had not doomed his people. He had to be quick, the steps were coming from right in front of them now. Looking up from his poison application, Proudsprout found himself staring a pair of bright bulbous eyes had shone hungrily in the dark.
At first, Makas could only smell the little wings but now, he could see them. He limped towards them. For some reason, the leg the biter had bitten was not healing as it should. The wound was closed but it still bothered him. However, he would not let that stop him. Releasing another guttural roar, he charged. To his surprise one of the little wings yelled and charged at him too. It shifted in a strange way and before he could react properly, it was in front of his face, lashing out with a fang. Makas was able to get an arm in the way but the little wing still opened up a nasty gash on his arm. The wound burned in a way not unlike the biter’s attack did.
Quickly, Makas backpedalled a bit, scrutinising the little wing. There was a certain little wing that hurt him all the time precisely because of how fast he was. He could never keep up with it. Its attacks burned too however, he could tell that this was not that little wing. A feeling of relief filled him. His need was too great. Currently, he had no time to waste with that annoying little wing. Emboldened, he struck with the sort of smack that would leave this challenger nice and broken in his palm.
Then, something strange happened. The little wing somehow ghosted around his arm. It was almost like it cut a semicircle Makas did not expect that and it did not look like the little wing did either. It stared at him with shock. Makas did not hesitate. He clapped his other hand over it as if he was catching flies only to see it flicker away, backwards this time.
While he tried to figure out how it was doing that, the little wing held its sting up and yelled, “For the people!”
The [Blitzwing Technique] had four basic movements. The first, [Onrush], allowed you to advance towards a target. For Proudsprout, using this skill made it feel like some force had taken him by his wings and was pushing him forward. The wind screamed in his ears and if he pushed it too far, he started getting tunnel vision. However, the skill was perfect at doing what it was meant to, which is closing distance.
Pulling himself to a halt just in front of the troll, he did not attack, instead, he slipped straight into the second skill and in so doing, he narrowly avoided the palm that swung through the space he had just occupied. He had the close-up view of the troll’s arm shifting into its true grotesque form before it crashed into the tunnel wall showering him with dust and shards of stone.
[Onrush] was difficult for Proudsprout to control but the second skill [Stalk] was not. His wings seemed to naturally find the patterns of mana flow needed to send him twirling and skimming through the air. If [Onrush] was like being a loosed arrow then [Stalk] was like being a falling leaf. Only, you had full control of how you fell. Your target became your tree and all you had to do was stay alongside it.
It was the one move that let Proudsprout feel truly in control. For him, it felt like the fall dances they used to hold, all quick beats and agile movements. Allowing himself to slip wholly into the feeling, he took a circuitous path past the troll’s left and rose behind his back his sword seeking the tender flesh at the side of its neck.
Up next we’ve got Chapter Twenty-two: Fire Pit and HoGW, BK IV, Chapter Thirteen: Blood Rites