Chapter 13: Cultivation

It was understandably difficult finding the crystals within the bodies, but Chris eventually found two of them. The process of finding them had sped up when he realized that his Slime arm would subtly vibrate every time it came near one of the gems. After that, it was just a process of using it like a metal detector for crystals.

He’d placed the two Soul Gems nearby, but now he picked them up. They both had the same identifying information.

Beast Soul Gem

Type: Cultivation Technique (Troll)

Rank: F-1

He was about to absorb the first in his left hand, when he felt a palpable hunger from his other arm. It vibrated harder as he brought the Soul Gem nearer, before surging forward like a slimy tide. It enveloped the Soul Gem, then shrank back.

His arm hummed in contentment as its fleshy look returned, then gained a grayish cast.

Trait Assimilated!

Stone Form (Troll)

Chris tapped his graying hand with a fingernail, there was a faint click, as if he were flicking stone. Cool. It looked like his arm had absorbed the trolls’ ability to turn to stone. He tried flexing, but the gray arm was completely rigid.

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He waved it around. “Can I have my arm back?”

After getting no response, he pushed the idea of his arm reverting back to normal to the Slime. The gray tone to his skin disappeared as he wiggled his newly restored fingers. There was a weird rolling sensation on his skin, a mobile pressure, like the feeling of touching nettles after the pain faded.

He mentally prodded the Slime again and his hand became stone-like again.

“Okay, that’s cool.”

He picked up the other Soul Gem in his left arm. The Slime didn’t seem as interested this time, although Chris sensed that it would eat it if it could.

Chris absorbed the Beast Soul Cultivation Technique, it sank in as normal. Unlike with the Beast Soul Weapon, no tattoo was left behind on his skin. Instead, the power of the crystal rushed up along his veins before it settled at the back of his skull. Then it faded, and his mind was filled with the knowledge of how and where to run his mana through his body.

He tested it out, delving back into his center. He pulled a thread of mana from his center, looping and curling and twisting it around his being in the way dictated by the Soul Gem. Finally, the thread rejoined back to his center as the mana pattern imprinted itself more firmly.

His mana regeneration had been a slow drip, now it sped up. The incoming mana flowed along the pathways he’d created and sank into his center, widening the newly-created channels as it did so. His arm also looked like it had become more solid and rocky—at least until he dismissed the Stone Form effect. The Cultivation Technique boosted the effectiveness of the trait, that was good to know.

It suddenly occurred to him that the Undead hadn’t just been harvesting bones from the Beast Horde, but Soul Gems as well.

Well… he knew what he was going to do.

\\\

He ran back to the Undead town, wielding the bone knight’s spear and shield as an extra screw you to the walking corpses.

When he returned, most of the bodies had been removed, but there were still fifty or so Undead picking through the carnage, deboning the wolves with sharp knives and retrieving the occasional Soul Gem that surfaced.

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Most of the Undead were workers, lightly armored and armed only with their skinning and butchering knives.

Unarmed civilians? Chris needed no further invitation. He charged in, spear swinging.

Five Undead workers were down before they got the hint. Archers began releasing arrows from the walls and the workers retreated. Guards began to converge on him, but Chris ignored them, cutting down more and more of the unarmored workers.

Sometimes it took several strikes to take them down, unless he aimed for the head, neck, or chest. That probably had to do with the nature of Undead. He hadn’t had this problem when using his axe or mace, but those tended to deal more large-scale damage. It was just good that all the zombie games he’d played had ingrained the importance of headshots. Fighting the dead? Go for the head.

More and more of the workers fell before he had to deal with the guards. It was that or be surrounded.

He shifted his grip on the bone knight’s spear and launched it into the torso of an approaching guard, then he pulled out his mace. It was just the right tool for the job against armored Undead.

He blocked a spear-wielding guard’s strike on his bone shield, then leapt forward and caved in the attacker’s helmet. Then he spun and pushed his body against the bone spear embedded in the torso of the guard he had thrown it at. It knocked the creature fatally off balance as the rim of the bone shield came down on its neck with deadly force. Chris threw out his arm, his mace crumpling the knee of an Undead that had tried to exploit him crouching to finish the impaled guard.

It seemed like the Soul Gems were too well defended, so he ran, deflecting strikes from the guards as he body checked his way out of the impending encirclement. A spearhead grazed the muscle of his calf, causing him to stumble, but he kept on going.

He heard some of the more dexterity focused guards give chase, but he kept running. Then, once they were a suitable distance away from the rest of the pack, he turned and bashed two more of them down with quick and brutal strikes. The last pursuing Undead guard hesitated and then fled back to the ranks of the other fighters.

He smiled at them as they watched him warily, then he flicked jelly-like blood and brain matter from his mace and stowed it back in his belt. The Undead didn’t dare approach, although they still guarded the last few bodies of the Beast Horde monsters that the workers had abandoned.

Having a stare down wasn’t particularly productive though, so Chris pulled up the kill quest. Forty Undead down. He’d have to see whether he could break into their town again. Most of his kills had been guards, but the workers were easier targets.

Then a thunderous impact resonated through the forest, the trees shook, and a column of light shot into the sky.

The column pulsed brighter and brighter, until the air cracked and fractured around it.

What was going on? The light seemed to originate from the glade. Had something happened now that the rock trolls were dead?

Curious, Chris began running toward it, hoping no one had gotten there before him.

He sprinted through the trees, dodging low branches, and vaulting over bushes when something charged into him and bore him to the ground, knocking his shield out of his hands. The thing roared—surprising Chris to no end, his battles against the Undead had been eerily silent.

Snub nosed and bat faced, two dagger-like, bone-white teeth protruded from its mouth. Thick ropes of foul-smelling saliva hung and swayed from the tips, slapping against his face like sticky metronomes.

Its claws scratched over his armor, its red-skinned body hanging over him, holding him down. Its head reared back and its jaws spread farther apart.

Chris shoved his right arm into the bat demon’s mouth just in time—just as sharp teeth jabbed down. The teeth sank into his skin. Chris cried out in pain, then the jaws clinked against rock as Stone Form activated and his arm became solid.

The bat demon’s mouth opened, then crunched down in surprise again, not quite believing its fleshy prey had turned to rocks in its mouth. Its teeth shattered on the second bite.

The bat demon screeched, but Chris slipped his free arm around its neck and flipped it onto its back. He was on top now. The bat demon struggled and scratched at him as it struggled to extricate itself from beneath him, but Chris held firm.

He ratcheted back his stony arm and plowed it into the demon’s face. More teeth shattered, but the monster did not die. He punched again, as claws found unguarded skin beneath his breastplate and began slicing out long avenues of flesh full of blood and slime.

He jerked away, pushing himself off the demon as it tried to eviscerate him. He stumbled away.

Wings, formerly concealed against the demon’s back, snapped open, launching it up and forward. Chris held out his stone arm as it approached, then bitch slapped the monster into a tree.

The demon’s jaw shattered with a crack, spraying black blood and shards of bone across the forest floor. It lay there in a daze.

Chris ran forward, ignoring the pain and slammed his stone arm into the demon’s head once more. Its skull was strong, but when it broke, it broke like an overripe melon. Its skull exploded in a shower of sticky, black blood—coating him in oily gore.

He picked up his shield, and stared down at the monster. He had his suspicions as to where the demon had come from. He kept an eye out for more demons and began running toward the glade.

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