Volume 5, Chapter 3-1: Into the Wilderness

Zhuyu, En, and Shui exchanged doubtful looks and exited. Tess tossed the sniper rifle into the back, stepping out. I almost fell face first into the snow. The depth surprised me, reaching all the way above my knees. Tess steaded me, grabbing my arm.

Shui grabbed the snow, breaking it in the palm of his hand. Oh, that’s right. He controlled the water elemental. Placing his right hand down on the snow, he cleared a path for us.

“I’m guessing he’s limited in how much snow he can clear,” I said to Tess.

“Yes, but this is adequate for us to move forward,” Tess nodded.

We walked further in, our boots sloshing in the water. I looked around, keeping an eye out for enemies. Snow fell off from the branches of tall trees and I flinched each time. Kyoi’s words kept echoing in my head. I expected something to burst out from the ground, lumbering toward us.

“Tomo, be careful!” Tess shouted.

A faint wisp of smoke wafted out from her shotgun barrel. I saw a nearby bush on fire. Vines shot out from it, missing my leg by a few inches. Kyoi arrived in an instant, her sword glowing. The bush split into two with one slice, disintegrating into dust and smoke filled the air.

“Tomo, get ready. We can’t have Tess over for you all the time,” Kyoi ordered, sheathing her sword.

I nodded, understanding her intent. Zhuyu glanced ahead, grabbing Kyoi by the shoulder. Such an action would have gotten me killed. She stopped, no scary or angry look on her face. He said something to her, pointing up at the sky.

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“Ah, I see what you mean. Tomo, incoming!” Kyoi shouted.

A shower of metal needles descended from the sky. I knocked them back with my blade and shot icicles to counter them. Compared to Shui’s, mine were brittle and weak, shattering once they collided with the needles.

Shui’s ice wall blocked all the incoming needles flying at him. Zhuyu knocked away the projectiles with only his sheath. En and Kyoi deflected all of them with their blades. Chains surrounded Tess and the needles bounced off.

“Tomo, stay sharp!” Tess warned, firing her shotgun again.

A bird-like beast plummeted from the sky, crashing down with a splat. Grey liquid oozed out from it. Tess pumped another shotgun shell into it. Kyoi followed up Tess’ attack, decapitating the bird. So brutal. Did it take that much just to destroy one enemy?

One of the vulture beasts dive-bombed. It missed me by inches and it wiggled around, stuck in the ground. It spread out its wings, and metal needles came flying out.

Shui blocked all of the needles with an ice riot shield, making his way toward the enemy. After pounding his ice shield into the enemy, it became encased in a block of ice. Zhang hurled a fireball and the enemy exploded. Needles flew everywhere and one struck me in the leg. I winced, pulling it out.

“Can’t En just burn all the snow here?” I asked.

“His fire elemental is limited at the moment. Besides, this area has been exposed to war so many times that some enemies have evolved where they aren’t affected by flames,” Kyoi explained.

“What about burning down the surrounding area?” I pointed out.

“Tomo, if I were to burn this entire area down, then what challenge would it provide? Sometimes its better to have the odds stacked against you. Besides, there are things in here I rather not burn down,” Kyoi answered.

Valid points but I wished she thought of my well-being. Not fun to sludge through snow and fight at the same time.

“Let’s keep moving. We’re still in the easy phase,” Kyoi commanded, moving forward.

We encountered a few more minor enemies but nothing too difficult. I improved my control over Shui’s power, feeling more confident about using ice as a shield. We arrived at a split path and Kyoi glanced at Zhuyu.

“Long, pick one,” Kyoi directed.

“What? You’ve traveled this place more than I have,” Zhuyu questioned.

“I agree with him. I rather have you choose…. wait, no, no, I take that back. Zhuyu, pick one before she does,” I realized my mistake.

Zhuyu sighed, glancing up at the sky. Hurry up and make a damn decision already.The snow kept falling, covering the area Shui cleared.

“The left. I doubt it’ll matter since these two paths probably converge back into one common path,” Zhuyu decided.

I hoped that was the one Kyoi didn’t have in mind. She would always select the one involving the most suffering and hardship. It must be nice area, when not covered in snow, considering all the trees. Then again, the wilderness literally came alive. What an awful area, traveling here was such a burden.

“Tomo, watch your footing!” Zhuyu shouted.

I didn’t realize how close I walked near the edge of the path. Tess yanked me back and I fell onto the snow. Everyone paused, waiting for me to stand back up.

“When did the path become so sloped? We weren’t even this high,” I said, brushing the snow off my pants.

“We are up in the mountains after all. Watch where you’re walking, Tomo,” Zhuyu warned.

It became a hassle, exerting more strength to walk up elevated paths. I felt relieved after arriving on flat ground again. This was worse than hiking. It was also unnerving, knowing enemies could swoop in at any moment.

“Feng, do you know where we are?” Zhuyu asked, looking around.

“We’re close to one of the bandit camps. Time to discover if we’re in for a good time or a great time,” Kyoi finally concluded.

“Damn, I don’t exactly want to go in without knowing their numbers. It might not be in our favor,” Zhuyu commented.

“I’m sure we can handle it. Tomo’s the main star of this little adventure after all,” Kyoi declared.

“Fine, we’ll advance, not that I have a choice. You’ll do whatever you want,” Zhuyu remarked, glancing at me.

Was he concerned for me after hearing Kyoi’s decision? I like to think so, but he might be staring at something in my general direction.

“So, how do we get there?” Zhuyu asked, looking at Kyoi.

“Just follow me,” Kyoi said.

We walked downhill this time which I favored. Maybe this was a good sign things were looking up. Kyoi raised her hand in the air, consulting with Tess.

“Can you disable it?” Kyoi asked.

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“Yes, it’s easy task,” Tess replied.

She bent down on the ground, requesting Shui clear a specific spot. A cubic device blinked with an ominous red light. Tess stared at the device for a few seconds, requesting Kyoi’s hunting knife. Tess pried open the device, examining the interior. Wires crisscrossed everywhere and the red light blinked faster.

Kyoi dashed at me. She shoved me away, drawing her sword. Two broken purple tipped arrows lay on the ground. Tess remained calm, still examining the wires. Zhuyu and En backed Kyoi up, as more arrows flew at us. I stood up, attempting to locate where the arrows originated from.

“Tess, can you handle it while we hold them off?” Kyoi shouted.

“Of course,” Tess replied, her gaze still on the device.

Ten people approached us. Kyoi gave a wide smile, ecstatic about the incoming wave of enemies. Oh crap, this was actual combat. I gripped my blade, preparing for the bandits.

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