Marc had never thought there would be a day, when he had to scout on his own, but with the size of a realm, everyone able to search for the site of the rite had to help. So using his earth affinity and elemental sense skill he systematically walked through his assigned sector, an unassuming obsidian plains.
A rather boring task, but with possible hostile earth or illusion mages necessary. While the rings helped in seeing through the latter, the mercenaries in charge of searching the realm from the air were likely to miss opponents who were using illusions to simply make themselves less noticeable. Not to mention, in case they used some form of artificial and resealed cave to hide, it would be impossible to be spotted from the air. So it was unavoidable that people had to also search on the ground.

Though while the mage had no need to worry about attacks from the creatures of the realm itself, the same couldn’t be said about other human beings. So with a frown on his face, since he couldn’t finish his sector before being interrupted, the man stopped. “Do you want to come out on your own or should i start?”

“… I told you we should have attacked earlier.”
“As if that would have worked, even though he might have seemed careless, i’m sure he still had his guard up and was ready to attack us at any time, in case we made a mistake!”
“Doesn’t matter. Look at what lies in front of us.” Three bickering figures appeared, which had likely been veiled by an illusion.

“Sending three after me… You really don’t make it easy for us. I don’t assume you happen to know where the ritual is taking place? Well, not that you could talk about it, if you did. So lets get it over with.” Then, even before he finished his own speech, a number of stone shards were flying at the three stalkers. He had already noticed them a bit earlier, not visually, but with his sense skill, and hoped they would attack him at one point to allow him a counter attack. However as they didn’t seem interested in a mindless first strike, he had to try to get them flustered through other means.

Unfortunately, his small distracting speech and their internal quarrels weren’t enough of a distraction to allow his quickly cast spell to do any damage. A suddenly appearing metal shield protected the three. The shield itself didn’t quite survive the barrage of projectiles, but such a minor detail didn’t matter much with a hostile metal mage around.

With his opponents hopefully still a bit distracted, he started preparing his next spell. Marc had a level advantage at level 108 against 103, 98 and 95, but he was still outnumbered. The strength of the illusion and the speed of the metal shield led him to the conclusion that at least two of the three opponents were mages, but that still left one unknown element in the fight.
Maybe his next-

Unable to finish his spell, the level 103 enemy was suddenly before him. He hadn’t even noticed the approach of the sword wielding woman! Was she using spatial magic? But he also didn’t have many points in perception, so most speed oriented warriors would be able to achieve similar results. A problematic trait, but he wasn’t scouting alone without reason.
Quickly jumping to the side and salvaging his spell, a stone crust started to form on his body. And he was just in time. Only fractions of a second later the blade made contact with his now shielded body.

The heavy strike pushed the airborne mage a few meters away, but fortunately thanks to his quick reaction only a slightly bleeding cut could be seen on his arm. Well, for a moment at least. Then a piercing pain shot through his lightly wounded extremity, before with a small burst a flesh wound appeared. That together with a smirk on the face of the woman who had just attacked him, made it easy to conclude that she was likely a flesh or blood magic user as well as an at least decent swordsman. The sword could also be the reason behind the suddenly worsening wound, however he hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

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Anyway, while his condition wasn’t perfect, he had regained some distance and had more than enough experience to ignore the pain in his arm. As a distraction he again used a few more stone shards. With the blood magic woman now separated, he could at least hope to do some damage, but regardless, it should buy him some time for two more spells.
So while his projectiles were again blocked by metal and dodged by the nearly untraceable enemy, his stone crust quickly regenerated over his wound and suppressed the bleeding at least for the time being.

Then countless obsidian spikes shot out of the previously flat plains they had been fighting on.

Did he hit anything? He wasn’t sure, as he had other things to concentrate on.
Having used the opening of his enemies defending against the large scale attack, he opened a small hole under himself and quickly fled unseen from the scene. He maybe would have tried to eliminate three mages, but fighting against an enemy with blood or flesh magic who was also proficient in close range combat and supported by two mages was a pain.
Also as one of the stronger members of their team he couldn’t risk losing his own life already. He didn’t even have a backup who could retrieve his body and get him to a healer afterwards!

Exhausted from the escape, Marc reached the head quarter.
As he had assumed, the wound turned out to be more dangerous than it initially appeared. Thanks to a potion and his magic, it wasn’t much of a threat for his life at the moment, but if he had chosen to continue the fight and gotten more of them, he would have likely bleed to death, even if he fled later.

None bothered the man as he entered the camp and the security might seem rather lax, but with the alignment being part of the tags floating next to each person, having someone without stealth abilities sneak in was basically impossible. Counter measures against unseen threats where however present, just less visible. No need to let your enemies know your own defenses.

Walking in between tents made from enchanted fabric the still regenerating earth mage soon reached one which was neither the biggest nor otherwise outstanding, but nevertheless, one of the more important ones.
Entering it, a seated man was already talking with a woman, though after a few more exchanged words she excused herself and quickly left. Making a cross on a sector on the map of the main part of the Flame Sea Shore, the operator finally turned to Marc.

“Hi. The top part of sector 34-B should be clear, however i encountered resistance in the second half while searching for the ritual.” He then recounted his short encounter in an abridged form. He didn’t want to waste time, but getting a feeling for the enemies they could encounter and the danger level they represented was also important. Levels weren’t everything. “… but i doubt they were protecting anything in particular and were just harassing us.”
“Though they could also just want you to believe that. Well, i’ll mark it as such. We will have to recheck the sector later anyway.” The operator pointed out.

“How is the general state?” As one of the higher leveled members of the searching faction, he would have been informed about important developments anyway, but he preferred to get infos even before those in charge of coordinating everything saw it necessary to inform those fighting on the front.
“About 80% of the realm have been searched from the air without success, 20% of the ground have been completely checked, 40% had some kind of resistance, while we don’t have any infos about the rest yet. We have lost 3%, mostly of low level participants, though with more and more parties hunting for our search teams that wouldn’t be surprising.” The seated man replied, going over a few documents.

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“Should we also switch to parties instead of sending everyone able to fight alone out without support?” Marc suggested.

“It would slow us down… But we probably have to after today. If they even manage to repel an Arch Earth Priest with a divine blessing. I doubt everyone of the defending faction is this strong, yet we also can’t risk needlessly losing men.”
Thinking for a moment, the operator then continued. “If we also form parties with three members… We would definitely lose a lot of time, but the same would happen when more people die… I’ll talk about it later in the meeting. We should be able to somewhat negate those issues with the right party formations and we could also send some mercenaries to less important sectors. Anyway, rest for now. We will contact you in case your presence is needed or when we come to conclusions.”

Nodding the earth mage left and went to his own tent for the time being. He also thought about seeing a healer, but decided against it, after checking his status. The bleeding had finally stopped and the wound would slowly close on its own with the potion.
No need to tire them out this soon for minor wounds, which weren’t much of an issue any longer.

“That mage had no honor, running away after being hit by just one attack!”
“…says the blood affinity swordsman, who sneaked up on him with a whole team. Well, we got more infos on the enemy, disrupted their scouting efforts and didn’t even take any damage against an opponent above our levels. I still can’t believe they sent out most of their people alone.”
“Their strategy will probably soon change. Should we continue the hunt?”

Having finished their report in the camp of their own faction, the three set out again.

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