Everything’s gone smoothly so far, and now only the guard in the watchtower is left awake.
Thankfully he hasn’t noticed his colleagues are all sleeping on the job.
I glance up at the tower from my nearby hiding spot beneath one of the huts on poles. The tower is about 30 feet high, and the only way up is a single ladder.
I steady my nerves and wait for the guard at the top to move to the other side.
When the coast seems clear, I sneak over, ignoring the ladder to go stand beneath the tower. Holding my breath, I crouch down. Nothing happens.
Success! But now comes the tricky part.
With my final dregs of Qi, I prepare one more bubble of Dreamcloud Energy and send it floating up.
This time, I’m flying blind. Though I can see where the guard is standing through the cracks in the floor of the tower, I’ll have to navigate the last bit by instinct.
I send the bubble drifting up the side of the tower hopefully opposite to where the guard is facing. I lose sight of it as it goes over the edge of the tower, and close my eyes to better sense its location.
The bubble is now at the very limit of distance at which I can control it. Sweat beads on my brow as I slowly push it towards the guard.
Finally, it gets to where it needs to be—I think—and I allow my tenuous connection to it to snap.
Moments later, I hear a dull thud as the guard keels over.
I release a sigh of relief and wipe my brow with the back of my hand.
The ladder is rickety, and its creaking is uncomfortably loud, but it holds as I make my way up.
I peek over the edge and find the guard staring groggily in my general direction. My eyes widen.
Shit! Did his own impact with the floor wake him?
He glances at me sluggishly as I hoist myself onto the tower and lift my spear from my back.
His eyes widen. The imminent danger seems to snap him from his stupor, and he scrambles backwards.
I fire off an exhale and push it into his mouth right as he opens it. He grasps at his throat with one hand, the other reaching blindly for his blowpipe.
I stab my spear through his large webbed hand into his throat and keep it there while he bleeds out, not allowing him to make a single peep until he stops moving.
My spear comes out with a wet sound, and I swing it to clean off the green goop.
I keep swinging it overhead after that, as, incidentally, this is also the agreed-upon signal. It’d be a bit hard for me to tether Dave right now, as he’s hidden in a dark forest, and we can’t afford to waste time.
Soon enough, I spot a few shadows moving into the village, each heading for a different guard. In the quiet of the night, I can’t help but imagine the squelching sounds their knives probably make as they finish off the guards I left sleeping.
I shudder, suddenly glad that sound doesn’t carry that far in this Realm.
Hopeful that everything seems to be going according to plan, I make my way down the ladder.
Dave is the first to reach here, and I bump his fist before he climbs up onto the tower to serve as lookout and back-up for when—if—the shit hits the fan.
Kaitlynn and Alec appear a little later, having finished off the last of the guards.
I place my spear on my back and accept one of Kaitlynn’s knives. Alec uses the one he’s holding to wave at me happily, and makes his way to one of the smaller huts. Kaitlynn and I head for one of the bigger ones.
One of the things Dave figured out in the village the council occupied, is that there are two kinds of huts in a froggo village. One-person huts and two-person huts.
As we sneak up to our first target, a hut at the edge of the village, I put a Yin Qi Pearl in my mouth.
The moment I swallow, it dissolves into a flood of energy. I can feel the Yin Qi cool my flesh as it travels down into my stomach. From there, it bursts into my meridians. I glance at my Status Bar.
That’s more like it. My Qi Pool even grew by two points!
Not that I’ll be using my Dreamcloud Energy in the huts. This is just a precaution, for when—I mean, in case—a battle breaks out.
Try to stay positive, Emma. Everything’s gone well so far!
With the pearls we found in the cockles, we can afford a little wastefulness for the sake of caution. I still have another two pearls tucked away just in case, and the rest have at least as many.
Still, using Dreamcloud Energy on every single froggo in this village just isn’t an option; there’s too many. It would also leave me vulnerable if a fight breaks out. We’ll just have to make do with the fact that they’re already asleep.
I sneak up the stairs to the two-person hut with Kaitlynn on my heels. I don’t spot any boobytraps, so I move through the open doorway.
There’s two froggos sleeping in the corner, on a large pile of what appears to be some kind of seaweed. Kaitlynn and I approach each from one side.
She glances at me, knife at the ready. I nod.
We strike in perfect sync, first clamping a hand over a froggo’s mouth, and then stabbing until they stop squirming.
We leave the hut covered in splatters of green goop.
This isn’t fighting, just killing, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can tell from the tension in Kaitlynn’s jaw that she feels much the same way.
We’ll be killing them either way, I tell myself. It’s just the safest and most efficient way to do this.
I square my shoulders, and lead Kaitlynn to the next hut.
Everything goes smoothly, until we’re about halfway done.
This time, when we enter the hut, we encounter something we are in no way prepared to face.
Inside of this hut, there’s a second, smaller pile of seaweed.
Oh no. Oh please no.
The baby froggo’s hindlegs are short and chubby. Unlike its parents, it has a little tail. And of course, like practically any creature with the word baby in front of it, it looks absolutely adorable.
Kaitlynn gasps quietly, and I turn to her in alarm. She faces me with horror-struck eyes.
<Oh god, look at them: they’re a family,> her voice says, thankfully inside my head. <Have we been killing families this whole time?>
I swallow down the bile rising in my throat. <This doesn’t change anything, Kait,> I send back. <We have to take over the village. If we don’t kill them now in their sleep, we’ll just end up fighting them to the death while they’re awake.>
<Not the baby though, I mean look at it!> she sends, gesturing intently at the sleeping critter. <What could it possibly do to us?!>
<It’s not a baby, it’s a frog,> I reply, struggling to believe it myself. <It could wake up to find its parents dead and start crying till someone comes looking. Kaitlynn, this isn’t the time or place for ethics; it’s us or them!>
I turn towards the baby, trying to steel my heart so I can nip the problem in the bud, but Kaitlynn grabs my arm and looks at me with pleading eyes. <You could use Dreamcloud Energy on it to keep it asleep! Surely you could miss the Qi needed to keep a wee little baby under?>
I hesitate. <And then what, raise it as our own?>
<We could, I don’t know, release it in the Hydrum near another village. It’ll have a chance, at least!>
Kaitlynn’s eye pleads with mine. She applies her full arsenal, going straight for the pout and the quivering lip. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s genuine. Honestly, it’s not a battle I have any chance of winning. Fine. It’s not like I’m looking forward to killing it. However, as I cave and start to lower my knife, the baby stirs, perhaps disturbed by our presence.
It blinks and spots us. Then it starts crying.
One of the froggos on the bigger pile of seaweed opens its eyes.
After a split-second, I lunge onto the awakened parent. I grab its broad lips with one hand and start stabbing down with my knife with the other. It’s kind of scary how these movements are almost instinctual now.
Unfortunately, Kaitlyn’s reaction is a fraction slower. The other froggo wakes up, scrambles back from the violent scene I’m creating in front of it with an alarmed croak, and bellows: “INTRUDERS! MUR—”
It’s cut off mid-word by a knife Kaitlynn’s accurately chucked at its throat, but it’s too little too late.
Cursing, I leap out of the hut, activating Boost Physical’s second mode in mid-Aether. I land in the soft sand below and draw my spear as I begin running towards to our emergency rendezvous point—the watchtower—with Kaitlynn hot on my heels.
Groggy froggos begin stumbling out of huts we’ve didn’t manage to visit. I diagonally slash open one’s belly in passing, while Kaitlynn blasts another with a blistering beam of Astreum.
In the distance I see one take an arrow dipped in Moonshade sap in the neck.
Nice one Dave!
We reach the watchtower safely.
The froggos begin to rally, however. A small force of Croakers led by a Hoplite spot us and come running.
A bolt of lightning crashes into the side of their formation, sending two croakers tumbling to the ground, stunned. Alec jumps towards them and starts ferociously stabbing them. There’s a puncture wound in his neck, possibly from a dart, but it closes up as I watch.
Damn, Regeneration is sweet!
I have no more time to think, as another croaker takes an arrow in the eye, and Kaitlynn and I face off against what remains.
I take on the Hoplite. She wields her spear with skill, unhindered by armour like the Croakers, but I’m stronger, faster, and I cheat.
As we exchange blows, I build up a cape of exhales behind my back. As soon as its finished, I send it forth. It wraps around the Hoplite, becoming a straitjacket of sorts. Finding herself restrained, she lets out a panicked croak. To my surprise, I find that the Lavi forming the huge bubble dissipates faster than normal where it touches her skin.
Is she absorbing it?
Still, it’s not enough for her to break free immediately, so I quickly stab her deep in the chest, dealing what should be a fatal wound.
By now, there are probably no more than ten froggos left alive in the village, and I have no doubt we can take them. There’s only one real problem left...
The wildcard, with unknown abilities. The one we were hoping to save for last, whose house we didn’t dare to enter first for fear of boobytraps.
An unearthly, roaring croak causes the whole village to shake, before a huge green blur bursts out of the largest hut in the village, right next to the watchtower.
The chief lands in a crouch, and, as he raises itself up, I discover that he’s about twice my size.
As in, twice my height. Which means he has four times the surface area, and eight times the bulk.
What the hell? What did they feed this thing as a child?!
To make matters worse, an armour made of stitched together shells covers nearly his entire body, and he’s wielding a log as tall as himself as a makeshift club.
[Oh, come on!] Suri chimes. [Just my luck.]
What do you mean your luck?!
“Scatter!” I yell.
Alec and Kaitlynn dash away, as I—contrary to what I just suggested—remain standing.
Kaitlynn turns back to me, wide-eyed. “Emma, what are you—”
A croaker jumps her from the side and manages to strike a glancing blow. She quickly whirls to face it.
I suppress the irrational urge to run over and help her. No, this is good. She can handle it, and it’ll keep her occupied.
I’ve got a bigger frog to fry.
Frogzilla stares at me, and the corners of his mouth curl up into a big, nasty grin.
<Be careful, Emma,> Dave sends. <I’ll provide you with cover fire.>
Before I can whip out a tether and reply, Frogzilla makes his move. Wielding his log in a two-handed grip, he attempts to bring it down on top of me in a huge overhead swing.
I dive into the roll to the side, and make sure I’m back on my feet even before the cloud of sand the impact throws up has cleared.
An arrow flashes, and accurately finds a gap in Frogzilla’s armour near his neck. Letting out an annoyed grunt, he turns his head towards the watchtower.
“Is that all you’ve got? You must be the runt of the chiefs around here,” I taunt loudly, even as I whip a tether over to Dave.
<Dave, no!> I send. <You’re a sitting duck up there! Focus on helping the others kill the remaining froggos, while I keep this freak busy.>
Frogzilla turns back to me and narrows his eyes. He lifts his log and swings it towards me in a sideways arc.
For a split-second, I think the idiot just hasn’t realised that there’s no room between the huts for such a move, but then I spot the crafty glint in his eyes. A flash of yellow erupts from a Focus Crystal worked into the armour on his chest, and the log suddenly accelerates.
Shit! He got me!
I’ve no time left to do anything but throw myself down as Frogzilla’s log smashes through the hut to my left
The log itself passes over me by a hair, but the barrage in its wake doesn’t.
Half a beam bounces off my right shoulder, and I nearly black out from the pain as jagged pieces of wood and splinters crash down all around me, blocking out my view of the night sky.
Thanks for reading! ^^
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