Dee looked around her and saw nothing but snow and ice. She, Razark and Moirai had gone down the mountain this morning, after which Razark had made some weird gesture which opened a gap in the shield protecting the mountain. Dee had sensed a very different kind of power to anything she had ever felt before, but the whole thing had happened so fast that she didn’t get a proper feel to what that power might have been. It seemed to have worked as some sort of a key though as the shield opened before them. After that Moirai had made a portal for them. The portal had brought them here.
‘Here’ was the only way Dee could really describe the place since she had no idea where ‘here’ was. The thin air suggested that they were somewhere high up, and the peaks of other nearby mountains confirmed that, but the surrounding mountains didn’t explain the thin air since they were so small. It felt to Dee like they were on top of a mountain that was on top of a much bigger mountain. She couldn’t use the sky to discover their location because it was completely covered in dark clouds. Her visibility was limited by the snow that was beginning to fall amidst the harsh wind, adding to the layer already on the ground. The fact that there were clouds above told her they were not as high up as the volcano they had come from.
Both Razark and Moirai had protected themselves from the cold by covering their bodies with ki and psionic power respectively. None of the three was really dressed for the weather. The two others had assumed Dee would cover herself with her power in the same way, but Dee just walked around as if it wasn’t necessary.
“Aren’t you cold?” Moirai asked slightly curious. She knew Dee had her fur but it wasn’t really the type of fur that would keep someone warm.
Dee tilted her head slightly in confusion. “Should I be? I mean it’s a little nippy, but not really that cold.”
Moirai didn’t reply but was a little confused. She was the most heavily dressed out of the three and covering herself with her power and she was still cold. The temperature was cold enough to compare to the coldest and darkest nights during the heart of winter, and the harsh wind wasn’t helping things. None of the trio thought the matter was worth investigating as they simply chalked it up to something in Dee’s heritage. Who knows, maybe the white furred fox part of her was some arctic kitsune type?
Only Croestia noticed that one of Dee’s tails had very slightly changed color to faint blue, and that was only because the magical item’s sight was not normal. She however decided not to mention anything until they were alone with Dee.
“So why are we here…wherever here is?” Dee asked.
Razark was the one to reply. “So far your training has been mostly focused on sparring and training by yourself and you haven’t really gotten much in the way of combat experience against a variety of opponents. The old man is comparable to a monster but it can be dangerous to get too used to fighting against just him. You’ve absorbed the lessons with the guandao very well so far, so it’s time to put them to the practice as well.
“I’m also aware that you seem to have an affinity for taking lives. An affinity that you haven’t been able to let free for a long time. Yes I’ve noticed the shaking of your hands on occasion. I don’t pretend to understand the physiology of demons or the psychology of someone raised as an assassin. I’d prefer to just go with it. That is your burden to bear, as we all have our own. However, you are supposed to become a scout. Plopping you in the middle of a group of monsters would not be much of a training exercise. Instead we’ll be making this into a challenge.” Razark waved his hand over the snow covered terrain where no life could be seen.
However, Dee could feel the presence of power from multiple sources in the surroundings, the sources where simply hiding in the snow. A quick look with the Mindscape also showed several feral minds in the vicinity.
Moirai had noted Dee’s actions and continued. “Just having you hunt something in the mountains would be too easy. We are all aware of your sensory abilities, and I taught you to use Mindscape myself. So to make it a challenge, we want you to hunt the biggest prey you can find in these mountains. You will be judged based on the rarity and the level of strength of the prey. If you do well I’ve got a little something I think you’d love learning. If you do badly? Well then we’ll hand you over to the old man. You can imagine the rest.”
Razark finished the explanation. “The time limit is one week.” He tossed a small bracelet to Dee. “Hold on to this. It will show your location to us and we’ll open a portal straight to your location once the week has passed. Just to set the stage, I’ll be very disappointed if you don’t catch something stronger than rank seven at least. Happy hunting.”
The duo of masters didn’t mention that they also hoped the deaths of some beasts would help Dee with gaining more power as well. They were both aware Dee could gain power by taking lives and the girl had been stuck at the rank of a class six psion for too long, especially when compared to her earlier growth. It was true that this period had allowed her to vastly increase her mastery over her powers, but now her power was becoming the biggest limiting factor. So if the genocide of everything on this mountain range would push Dee to the next rank, then that’s what would happen.
Dee was quite happy at the chance for some murder and mayhem. The hunger had been becoming almost suffocating lately.
Dee pulled her weapon out of the body of another yeti. The big and dumb brutes were strong but not very fast. Their thick hide and fur might have been problematic if not for the extra penetrative power provided by her dark weapons. As it was though, she didn’t even bother pulling out her guandao. She could simply flash close to the creatures and cleave huge chunks of their flesh with her gauntleted claws.
She devoured the grey smoke that represented the poor creature’s soul. The Yeti were big physically, but their souls did almost nothing to quell her hunger. In fact they only made her more hungry, because now something inside her knew there was food to be found instead of the endless fasting she had done so far. The Yeti were also most certainly not the type of prey her masters wanted her to go after. Still. The trickle of power that she gained was satisfying even if it was small.
It was time to go after some larger prey. Her Mindscape had already located a large concentration of minds near the mountainside not too far from her current position. Such a large amount of beings in close proximity was odd in the mountains like this. It signified that there was a community of some sort, like a village or a hive. Their presence seemed at odds with her mission of hunting down targets. Maybe they were not strong enough to count as hunting targets? But perhaps they could replace with quantity something that was currently lacking in quality.
As she sneaked closer to her goal, Dee realized that the group of minds was within a system of caves carved into the mountain. She also got an answer to the nature of the creatures when she noted a wide and tall figure at the mouth of the cave. The rough greyish white hide covered the bulk of a wide four mel tall frame of a nasty creature familiar to most people of many inhabited worlds. The creature’s hands ended in nasty jagged claws and its bestial face had a hideous, tusked underbite. The troll was also scratching its back with a large club, hinting at the fact that the creature had enough intelligence for crude weapons at least.
Trolls were the bane of many intelligent races. They were like pests that kept on reproducing like crazy and their amazing regenerative powers made getting rid of infestations of trolls extremely difficult. Trolls came in many varieties but almost all of them were hated and hunted down whenever they were seen. It was not surprising that some had managed to get within Pantheon, and they would invariably be found in the less civilized areas.
The feeling of hunger stirred within Dee. Apparently the souls of something with great vitality and at least some intelligence were more attractive as a meal. Dee wasn’t initially sure if she should even bother with the trolls seeing as they were not going to qualify as proper prey but the hunger drove her to action. The troll vaguely saw a flash of something from the corner of its eye before a sharp pain went through its shoulder, and the creature saw its arm fly off into the distance.
The trolls were used to pain and losing body parts, and it simply roared in anger as it swung its crude weapon at the nimble assailant. In a matter of seconds the troll was filled with wounds. Normally the creature wouldn’t have been overly worried as only fire or acid could prevent it from regenerating but there was something wrong. The wounds were not closing! In fact the creature could feel some strange power creeping towards its heart.
Dee had wanted to test the corruptive effect of her weapons against the famed regeneration of the trolls and was quite satisfied with the result. She stopped playing around and cleaved the troll’s head from its shoulders. Normally even this would not be enough to keep the thing dead, but the troll’s life was snuffed out by the corruption and the soul was cut free from its bonds. Dee quickly devoured it, finding the taste a little bland, but at least it was more filling than the Yeti she had eaten earlier.
Dee’s eyes flashed red and all rationality vanished from her mind with the HUNGER finally driving her over the edge. Croestia observed with detached coolness as her master cut her way through the surprisingly large troll colony. There were hundreds of the creatures. Now they all lay dead and mutilated around the large central chamber, as their souls provided Dee with some much needed sustenance.
The rampage had taken hours, but even in her crazed state Dee had managed to retain the methodical and careful way of fighting that had been beaten into her by the old man. Even when she was crazed with blood, to an observer it would seem as if she was a cool and collected fighter who just happened to be a bit more brutal than was necessary. Also one that didn’t distinguish her targets as even the infant trolls met their end at the sharp edge of the black guandao.
As rationality returned to her, Dee could only sigh. With how long she had been starved, this rampage had been almost inevitable. Her training had paid off and she no longer went completely bestial during the loss of control. She also happened to have complete memories of what had happened this time. Progress of a kind. Perhaps now that her hunger was no longer all-consuming she could focus on finding proper prey. There was a reason she didn’t go after something bigger and more dangerous so far. It would’ve been bad if she had lost her sanity when fighting something more powerful than herself after all.
Suddenly there was a familiar but sharp pain at her lower back. The tail signifying her rise to the seventh rank had appeared, along with a new burst in power. It really was true what they said. The power of a person became almost exponentially large as you went up in ranks. At lower ranks the only thing that had signified her rise in rank had been the extra tail, but now the rank up came with an actual and significant increase in power. The burst had actually surprised her as usually crossing these kinds of thresholds was more symbolic than anything else. That wasn’t to say there were no such bursts of power for people as they crossed important thresholds. Those thresholds simply didn’t usually correlate to crossing ranks, as the ranks were something created as a measure of a person’s strength. That said the ranks were not arbitrary and truly signified important increases in strength.
Maybe it had something to do with her tails? Most other beings didn’t have such clear and obvious signifiers of their power. Maybe her tails came with a little bonus?
Dee decided not to dwell on it, as she cleansed herself of the blood that had stuck to her during the fight. As she exited the cave, she got startled by the roar of some creature flying in the skies. She quickly hid herself as she tried to locate the source of the roar. It didn’t take much to note the white figure against the dark background of the clouds.
‘Is that a white dragon?’ Dee wondered in shock.
As she observed the creature more, she noted that it was not a very large creature. It seemed the creature had been drawn here by the smell of blood, but now it was leaving due to noting that the smell came from dead trolls. No being wanted to eat the flesh of trolls, except maybe other trolls when they were starving. The white winged creature was veering off towards the tallest mountain peak in the area.
Dee started thinking quickly while she inconspicuously followed the creature. The dragon was clearly feral and not a very large one. That would make it a lesser dragon. The normal dragons were some of the smartest and most powerful beings in existence, but the feral lesser dragons could not compare to their better cousins. The lesser dragons had cunning and strong instincts but no true intelligence, hence why they were classified as monsters and not as an intelligent race unlike the true dragons.
That all said, even if they were the lesser variety they were still dragons. The white creature was most likely the top of the food chain on these mountains. What better target to show her prowess? This needed some thought. Even if she had just ranked up and gotten a boost in power, Dee still wasn’t a match for a dragon in a straight up brawl. She needed a plan. She also needed to find the dragon’s lair.
It took two days to track down the dragon’s lair, as Dee didn’t dare to fly after it, and it took another three days until she got the chance to put her plan into motion. She only had one more day before her deadline so she had to subdue her target in a timely fashion. Luckily the plan didn’t require too much time to come to fruition.
The dragon was clearly still growing and it had to hunt often, and by the look of things it wasn’t as proficient at finding prey as Dee was. Then again few beings were. Thus it had to go out pretty much every day, and sometimes it came back empty handed. That was a clear sign that the dragon couldn’t be too picky about its meals. That’s why it had followed the smell of blood to the troll lair, but it wasn’t desperate enough to actually eat any of the dead trolls.
So Dee had prepared some prey for the dragon. She hadn’t left corpses lying around as the dragon was still rather cunning and might notice an obvious trap. Instead she wounded and poisoned several creatures, hoping that the smell of blood would draw the dragon to hunt one of them. The poison was slow acting enough that the dragon should not notice anything wrong with its prey before consuming it. The downside was that it would take time for the dragon to also be poisoned. The poison would also be less effective since it had already gone through the body of the prey, and the dragon most likely also had a fairly strong resilience against such things.
That said, Dee’s plan wasn’t to poison the dragon to death. It would be nice if it went like that, but realistically all she could hope for was that the dragon would be weakened by the poison. The second part of her plan was put into effect as the dragon left its lair. Dee slipped inside and started laying dark holy spells down as traps for the dragon. Holy magic wasn’t the best method for laying traps, but it did offer some nice curses and detrimental spell effects if one delved into the darker side of things.
The problem was that dragons were in general resistant to magic. Magic resistance was not uncommon but no being was truly fully immune to spells. Magical resistance came in three main varieties. The first way came with a special constitution. A golem strengthened by spells could resist spells due to its sturdy build, but resistance of this type could be negated by a powerful enough spell. An elemental would be almost immune to spells of its own element, but even they couldn’t completely nullify the effects. Normal fire might be equal to healing to a fire elemental, but a hot enough fire would affect even them, with the possible exception of the rulers of the elementals.
The second and most complex resistance was the type that disrupted spells in an area around the being or item causing the effect. The spells approaching the target would unravel, and thus be negated. There were ways around this however. If a powerful geomancer dropped a mountain on a being that had this type of resistance, the spell controlling the mountain might be unraveled, but the mountain would still fall on the target, pulled down by gravity.
The third type was the simplest. The resistance came about due to the magical nature of the being, and simply dampened the effect of spells thrown at it. A fireball would lose heat, a curse would be less severe and projectiles would lose some of their impact. The resistance simply reduced the effectiveness of spells used against the target. It was at the same time the weakest and the strongest form of magical resistance. The weakest because unless the resistance was very powerful, it wouldn’t completely nullify even the simplest of spells. The strongest because with powerful enough resistance, even stupendously powerful spells would be turned harmless.
Dragons fell into the third type. This young and feral dragon most likely didn’t have too much resistance against spells, but dragons also had their scales to protect them, turning projectile spells pretty much obsolete. Even Dee’s psionic weapons would lose their effectiveness. The dragons also had a powerful constitution to resist against curses and weakening spells, but when combined with the poison the spells might produce a significant enough effect to help Dee win this fight.
Once her work was complete Dee slipped into the deep shadows of the ice stalactites in the ceiling of the cave. She had to wait for a couple of hours before the dragon returned to its nest. It was huffing with satisfaction as its hunt had been successful. It had eaten one prey, and had brought another half-eaten creature back with it to be eaten later. Dee recognized the half eaten prey, and judging by the timing the dragon couldn’t have gone too far. Thus it was likely that the other prey had been among the ones Dee had prepared as well.
Dee grinned expectantly, as she waited for the poison to take effect. It took another hour before the dragon started grumbling and keening from pain and discomfort. That was when Dee released the trap spells she had planted around the cave. Dark energies flowed inside the dragon, and the dragon roared in anger. It was under attack! Who dared?!
Dee took advantage of the distracted dragon and quickly struck at its neck with her guandao and a full power boost from Croestia. The dragon sensed the attack at the last moment and tried to dodge. Dee had chosen her target place well and the sharp edge of the guandao bit deep as the dark power shattered the protective scales. Blood splashed from the wound, but Dee knew the strike had still been too shallow. The dragon was seriously wounded but not dead.
‘Well it was a bit hopeful that the first strike would be enough against a dragon.’ Dee though to herself, as she prepared for battle.