Chapter 43 - Of Might and Magic

'"Not that further ahead," he said. "Just a little to the southwest, right on the mountains," he said.' I let loose a tired exhale, glaring at the orange light that spread out over the distant mountain range, the sun having bid goodbye just a while before. 'Would it have hurt to go into a little detail of how further ahead?'

A human fortress in the mountains. I was pretty sure he meant the High Passes, as the humans called it. The one Francisa mentioned provided passage to the western side of the continent. I had pictured it as a trail among the mountains, not a proper fortified position. 'Oh well, I hope they have stairs.'

I took another sip from the waterskin. I tended to keep it filled since mana was cheaper than water. While I could not fill it fully in one go, the regeneration more than made up for it. I let the bag hover by my side using accio, as I tied it to the waist rope. It was a bit scary how I was used to having magic already.

I boosted the Circle on my hood and stretched my perception out, actively scanning for magical signatures. Technically, it was not necessary as they would be detected automatically. But I had formed a habit of doing so anyway. It helped settle the mind, in a way. I did not notice any monsters nearby. Well, except the ones I was about to rain hell on.

I grimly noted a pack of hyena-like monsters sniffing and heading my way, cautious but unerring. With detachable jaws and teeth like a saw, that I feared were lifted straight from the Resident Evil movies. I first noticed something trailing me a few hours ago. The creatures were going in the opposite direction back then, eastwards. But as I made my way further and further in what could be called the start of a forest, they had changed direction.

So I decided to hunt them instead.

From my perch on a fairly high tree branch, I got a clearer view of their visage for the first time. 'Yeaaah, these are carrying the virus for sure.' But the thing I had not noticed before struck out - up close, these creatures were barely the size of large house cats. Identify showed their level at 17. And something about a parasite in special effects. For all my precautions, these things were weak. But they were in a swarm of about a dozen, so I didn't take any chances. 'Fingers crossed they can't climb the trees.' Of course, if they did try to climb, they were in for a nasty shock.

The first of the creatures came close enough that I could see it's wet snout sniffing the air. 'Just a couple more steps bud, come on.' As if encouraged by my words, it did just that. And was immediately blasted backward, its ragged corpse colliding with a tree with a sickening crunch. 'Even a halfway charged Incendio is nasty!' The other creatures, instead of running away like sane animals, chittered loudly and sniffled harder. 'I guess that is what makes them monsters.'

Monsters or not, they had some intellect, as they avoided the blasted area and spread around in a loose semi-circle instead. 'Hehehe, I had hours to prepare. As if I was gonna face you without artillery on my side.' I had made use of every single minute of those hours, spreading mundane to complex traps just about everywhere I could think of. Unfortunately, while I could select any space now, I still needed a solid surface to draw my circles. Large surfaces worked the best, like tree trunks, bounders, and the ground itself. Smaller objects tended to disintegrate more often than not. I sensed another critter coming close to a trap I had experimented on for the first time.

As soon as it laid a paw inside the Circle, it was jerked up into the air and thrown away. As if erupted from a cannon. It squealed in surprise as it happened, the sound progressively diminishing until it was so high up that it was a mere dot in my vision. I admit It was a bit funny. I had used a sort-of "reverse accio" Circle, forming a meter wide conical shape at the ground that pulled anything inside towards the origin, which was high up in the air. Momentum helped throw further, gravity did the rest. I did not hear a thud as the thing landed somewhere far out of my range, but I was pretty sure it was a goner.

Well, that was two out for the count. The rest were lurking around, as if hesitant to approach further. 'Come on, I have more than a dozen Circles around.' I wanted to see another cannon-ball performance but unfortunately, that Circle was out for the count. Just like the Incendio one. I made my Circles by brute-forcing mana into them for magnified effect, so they needed more mana than usual to recharge. Rendering them effectively single-use for me. Of course, other mages might find it better to use the pre-made Circles instead of wasting Scrolls, but it was a moot point for me.

I idly selected another region, one that occupied three of the hyenas and its origin hovering over another experimental Circle. "Accio," I whispered and put half my mana into it. The poor chumps were immediately pulled, one striking against a tree on its path to doom and falling unconscious. The three collided in a heap; one squealing, another chittering, and the last one silent. The spell ran out and they dropped, the trap instantly activating. With a loud whoosh, the air surrounding became super-heated and pulled into the center of the trap, along with those trapped inside. And then a boom, as it blasted out. The leaves of the surrounding trees wobbled in the sudden breeze, and the others of their pack gazed at them with strange attention. Unfortunately, the trap was a bust. All three were alive. At least two were, given their wild chittering. I glanced at my mana again, 'Over a half remaining.' I made sure to top off before engaging, and while it was fun to watch them stumble about, there was always the risk of something worse coming and trampling over all my traps. So I moved the show along.

The two chittering hyenas immediately noticed the pebble I had strategically placed at the center of Circle of Stupefy, now glowing due to my Lumos. Both raced towards it, and as luck would have it, reached at the same time and got slapped in the snout by what was probably a thousand volts of pure energy. Suffice to say they were as dead as one can get, skin still sizzling in the aftermath.

Lumos did not take as much mana anymore, so I was still hanging on around half my stores. I contemplated pulling big spells on the remaining ones or taking them out systematically. I was still lost in thought when there was a sudden loud crash somewhere in the depths of the forest behind me. All the hyenas sniffled the air once and uncannily turned tail as one. I scanned, but couldn't sense anything even with a boosted perception.

There was a deafening roar that shook the trees themselves. Something was around, but my perception wasn't picking it up. The roar was answered with another, a lower-pitched and deeper roar that set my bones vibrating. 'Right, not all monsters can be scanned. Fuck.'

The pandemonium was closing in on my position. I took a split-second decision and scrambled down from the tree, intent on absconding the hell away. I moved smoothly from amongst the several strategically laid Circles and set off running in the direction away from both the unknown roars and the hyenas. I had just about left the area when I heard another almighty crash and all my Circles lit up simultaneously.

I risked a look behind, turning only for a second to get a glimpse of the creature enough to cast an Identify.

[Adult] Poison Wyrm - Level ???

'Fucking huge!' It was easily the size of an elephant. I glanced for but a moment, but I noticed the dull grey-green scales and vapid stream of toxin as my traps exhausted themselves without effect, just as I had feared just a while ago. The one I identified was fighting another of its species, laying waste to the surrounding grove. I did not linger to spectate.

I ran as far as I could, the noise of the brawl now far off. Most of the monsters had fled, so there was no need to avoid anything in particular. I continued traveling parallel to the mountain range, now looking for a safe place to camp for the night.

¤ ¤ ¤

'Hmm, so air blast is out.' I muttered to myself, chewing on a fried piece of meat from last night. 'Maybe I need more volume? Or make the air hotter?'

While I tried to focus on making more creative traps, I soon realized that my efforts were better utilized in a more defensive measure. The altercation of the wyrms had certainly left an impression. 'I wonder why they were out so far, and fighting each other?' The monsters on the "edge" weren't supposed to be so out of my league. 'Anyway, a barrier.' I thought for a moment about what exactly I wanted, going back to the metaphorical drawing board.

'Alright, so what do I want? An area of protection around me so I don't get turned into a snack in my sleep.' Obviously, if a big-ass monster crashed into camp, there wasn't much I could do. I decided to focus on what I could. 'Assume I would be attacked by something like the vultures, hyenas, or the moles.' That brought the air, land, and underground assaults to the fore. 'So I need to select a whole sphere around me.' Now, since I would be asleep, it would have to be a Circle.' And since my Circles were effectively consumables, I needed something that would wake me up as well, in addition to acting as a barrier. An alarm of sorts. 'Well, Incendio and Stupefy are both pretty loud.' And I was a light enough sleeper. 'Cannot use Incendio though or it will blow me up as well.'

So that left me with a Circle of Stupefy that targeted a hollow sphere instead of my usual in-circle range. That was the pinch though. First, all my Circles selected targets inside their perimeter. Second, the area included me as well. I had no idea how to un-target myself from the effect. That being said, I had an intuition that it was a trivial matter, as the system seemed to have an inbuilt protocol for the same that I had yet to explore. The first issue was more of a blocker, as I would need to work around the system to implement it. So far, I had not seen a single Rune that could be triggered remotely. Or at least targeted beyond its surrounding area.

I wasn't keen on sleeping, despite being tired. I realized that my stamina points were doing unsung wonders. Earlier I would have been winded from a simple run. But I had been trekking, fighting, and sprinting sporadically for a whole day yet had enough juice left to experiment. I challenged myself to produce a working prototype before the sun came up, and got to work.

Chapter 42 - A Proper Mage
Chapter 44 - Reunion