Chapter 134: Do Mossbears Like Honey?

When the mighty northern eagle fell to the ground, the soil beneath my feet shook so hard that I had trouble standing. Not that it matters that much. The first thing I did was jump into a ditch to escape the flying debris, so a few massive tremors weren’t that big a deal. 

However, what I felt now through my bare feet was a constant shaking of the forest floor that even resonated in the trunk of the tree by which I stopped and leaned my hand against.

If I didn’t know it was caused by the stomping of dozens of mossbears running towards us, it would be nerve-wracking. Standing back home like this and feeling the same thing, I’d throw myself under the table, fearing for my life. In fact, any sane Eleadenian would have felt the same fear at the thought of the charging beasts. But not me.

They would surely call me crazy for the joy and relief I felt when mossbears finally showed up. It even brought tears of pure joy to my eyes. Nuts, I know. And a week ago, I would have thought the same s*** of myself. Not now. All I could think of was, finally. Any hard feelings I had towards them about their tardiness and unwillingness to show up early were gone.

And how did I even know it was them and not an actual earthquake or some kind of eagle’s or Deckard’s skills? Though my big fluffy ears were not yet fully healed, I could hear them from the woods, their huffing and puffing as they made their way here. Their reckless and cumbersome forging of a path through the thickets of the woods was in stark contrast to the eagle’s silent dive from the heights of the sky.

Quickly realizing I stood there like an idiot, in the eagle’s sights, and in the mossbears’ way, I stepped out of their path to the shelter of the tree and pressed my back against the trunk.

Stupid move if the eagle was still trying to kill me. Luckily, like me, the feathery beast sensed the arrival of the denizens of these woods and redirected all its efforts to get rid of Deckard and reach the tree canopy as quickly as possible. This little weasel named Korra Grey, for whom the beast bore senseless resentment, was suddenly at the edge of its bird mind.

“Are you trying to run away, you cowardly weasel?!” I shouted in a growl at the top of my lungs. 

Was it a smart move to piss the beast off furthermore when I stood exposed to its attacks like an idiot? Absolutely not. Was it worth it? Yes, it was! When I got struck by its presence, carrying pure wrath, I felt great satisfaction.

Sadly, my taunt hadn’t brought the result I was hoping for the most. The northern eagle didn’t stop to attack me. A somewhat masochistic wish, you might say. And no, it wasn’t my thing, just the only way I could think of to delay its escape. All I got from the eagle was a bloodthirsty look and screech so loud it made my ears twitch in pain. Not for a moment did this feathered beast halt in its rather desperate efforts to gain altitude as fast as it could while Deckard struggled to stop it from reaching the treetops.

With every meter the beast rose above the ruined forest floor, my heart clenched with worry that the mossbears would not make it more and more. In my mind, I was pushing the rushing furry moss-covered beasts onward, knowing full well what a futile effort it was; that it would not hasten their step.

“I can’t keep that bastard down!” Deckard informed me, the strain evident in his voice.

“Can’t you use that sick move you did before?” 

“Not unless I want to cripple myself.”

Not surprising, I mean that he couldn’t repeat that demigod-like move. I’d have to be blind not to see that it took an enormous toll on him.

“How far?” He asked about the mossbears, giving me pause. Wasn’t he the one who had a far more reaching perception than me?

Whatever, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that those fuzzy, moss-covered giant bears made it in time.

So, where the hell were they?! The forest was still trembling, but I didn’t see the mossbears anywhere, and with that, with each passing second, more and more dreadful thoughts crept into my mind. 

They won’t make it at this rate! 

Did they give up?

Or was I wrong, and it wasn’t them? 

But that was impossible; these were their woods. So what were they waiting for? For when that northern eagle flies away? What could they do to the airborne beast? Next to nothing. 

There was no other way than to rise to something other than mere insults, but what could I do?

The eagle was already a good three meters high. Not too high that I couldn’t make it to its feet. The question was, what then? Poison in my tail would do s*** to such a massive beast, it wouldn’t even feel my blows, so my claws and fangs were the only options that came to my mind. However, the idea of nibbling on its feet wasn’t exactly appealing.

Perhaps my weight alone would be enough to bring the beast down?

A thought I didn’t get to carry out when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught motion to my right, and a huge beast burst out of the woods into the clearing a second later.

[Mossbear: lvl ??]

According to the level and size of the beast, a young mossbear. Less than what I was hoping for, since I felt it could do no better than I  against the eagle. Except maybe the weight, and so I watched in tension as the young mossbear made its way through the ruined forest, pushed off from a fallen tree, leaping in an attempt to bite the eagle’s leg.

When the beast missed and its jaws bit only empty air, my heart sank. Too late. Unless they could air-walk like Deckard, which I was sure they couldn’t, the eagle was already out of their reach.

“D-Deck…” voice stuck in my throat when I was about to tell him to give up and leave the feathery weasel off as another mossbear leaped at the eagle. This young beast completely escaped my attention, coming from a different direction than the first. And unlike the first one, this moss-covered bear sank its teeth into the eagle’s leg.

The winged beast uttered a screech, something between pain and challenge; you dare! In its eyes, the mossbears were as much of a nuisance as Deckard, not even holding a candle to this prideful creature. That’s what I felt from the northern eagle. Sadly, it just reinforced my belief that young mossbears won’t be enough to stop it.

The furry inhabitant of these woods pulled the eagle down a meter, but that was all it managed before that bloody weasel hit it with one of its wind blasts. Unlike me, the young mossbear took a direct hit. 

Even though I was too far away and could not see precisely where the beast got hit, its painful whine and blood with chunks of flesh thrown into the surroundings spoke volumes. A shiver ran through me at the sight.

Heedless of the wound, it didn’t release its grip on the northern eagle’s leg, and as it tumbled to the ground, it pulled the feathered weasel even lower to the forest floor. By then, a second mossbear had pounced on the eagle, biting into its other leg and the another two swept past the tree I was standing behind, joining the fray.

The overly proud eagle threw one blast after another at them, but for every one it knocked out of the fight, another two or three burst out of the woods. Soon the winged weasel was brought down to the ground, mossbears swarming over it like frenzied bees.

Did the mossbear like honey? A silly thought that crossed my mind in the middle of this mess.

As it seemed that the northern eagle was going to be overwhelmed, the air around it rippled like a soap bubble stretched too thin and burst, blowing mossy fuzzballs away from it. Even though I was standing a considerable distance from the winged beast, the pressure wave hit me with such force that it pinned me to the tree trunk behind me. Shielding the flying debris, some with my own body as they passed through the barrier, I endured only to see an eagle soaring skyward, too high for a young mossbears to reach.

“I can’t do more!” Deckard said out loud as he appeared beside me, almost giving me a heart attack.

“F*** you!” I couldn’t help swearing.

There was nothing worse than when you focus your attention on your surroundings to make sure that nothing gets away from you; when you were certain that there was nothing around to threaten you, and all of a sudden, some idiot shows up next to you like it’s nothing.

“Auch, that hurt. I would have expected more gratitude.”

Now when I looked at him, he was drenched in sweat and panting. He didn’t seem to be injured, yet it was the first time I had ever seen him look like that, exhausted.

“That’s what you get for startling me.”

“Another thing we should work on then,” he said with the strain in his voice, never taking his eyes off the rising beast. “Limps on one wing. I got in a few decent blows, but it’s already too high for…” He stopped short. “Hold on to your panties and get yourself ready. The adult mossbears are here.”

As he spoke, a trio of massive moss-covered beasts burst into the area, immediately expressing their outrage at what the eagle had done in their woods with a roar mixed with the presence of their own. Although larger than their younger counterparts, it was still not enough to reach the eagle that had already attained the height of the treetops.

Or so I thought.

In my haste to survive, I completely forgot that even young mossbears could control the surrounding nature, especially the moss. In my training with one such young individual, that ability turned out to be quite annoying as it tried to restrain my feet with the shoots. Back then, the shoots proved not to be too dangerous. But those were moss shoots wielded by a young inexperienced mossbear. When the shoots wielded by a trio of adults sprouted from the ground, they were as thick as my arm. 

The northern eagle cut several of the moss shoots down but limping as it was, it was incapable of handling them all. Some wrapped around the beast’s legs, others around its body, and a few around its wings.

I know it was stupid to compare myself to that mighty beast, but the shoots just seemed annoying, just like to me back then. It tore them apart with every movement, with every flap of its wings. If there were only a few, the eagle would be free. Much to his dismay, there were dozens of them wrapping its body, and new ones were sprouting up with every second as more adult mossbears showed up in the clearing.

The northern eagle, Miros as Lightfeather called them, may have been proud and powerful creatures up there in the sky where few could touch it. Down here among the trees, it was a different story. It rightly feared to descend into the woods as its much weaker denizens used their numerical superiority to bring it down bit by bit.

The shrieks echoed through the forest; the curses reaching my ears.

“You damned, mud-wading weasels! Let go of me before Zeew comes down and destroys you all and your pathetic forest.”

“Stop this depravity!” the beast screeched and released a massive shockwave, demonstrating its power once again when it broke all the shoots in one go. The triumphant and contemptuous cry of the northern eagle didn’t last long, though. It died away in the roar of the adult mossbear, who could well match him in strength.

[Mossbear: lvl ???]

Three question marks, just like the eagle. Around level five hundred, according to my instincts, not even a hundred levels away from that arrogant weasel. Still the strongest adult I’ve seen among mossbears so far. Close to the power of the mother mossbears, which, in my experience, ranged from the 500 to the 700 level.

The sight of this massive individual made me wonder, where were the mothers? Or Esu for that matter? Why did the weakest ones rush in first, and the stronger ones show up later on? Then it hit me. In all likelihood, it had to do with what parts of the woods they lived in. The stronger they were, the deeper they dwelt in the Esulmor, and thus the further away they were from here. If I was right, it shouldn’t be long before mother mossbears show up. Perhaps even Esu.

The question was whether it was necessary.

When the shoots shot out of the ground again, it was with such speed and force that they threw the trunks of the felled trees aside. These shoots at the base of the roots, as thick as my thighs, then wrapped themselves around the eagle with extraordinary speed and nimbleness. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they had a mind of their own. The limping airborne beast didn’t stand a chance, and with the roar of the adult, the shoots pulled it down to the ground.

“Yeah, these are the beasts they sent me to get rid of in my time in the army,” Deckard remarked, watching the spectacle before us, as did I. “The fact that Esu is keeping them in Esulmor is troubling.”

One day I’ll have to clear with him how and when he went from suppressing the beasts at the heart of the Empire to defending its borders from mind mages. Not today, though.

Lord Wigram mentioned a similar thing. “Why is it so disturbing? You think Esu is gathering power for…something?”

“More like he’s holding on to it. Honestly, it must take him a lot of effort not to kill them.”

He already told me about that. As the mossbear grows older and stronger, tensions between them and Esu increase. They challenge him, fight his dominance over Esulmor, and so before it reaches extremes, he usually drives them out of the woods. The same applies between mothers and adult female mossbears. That has now changed, and for some reason Esu and the mothers are willing to tolerate them in their woods.

“Piece of advice, Little Beast. Don’t let your guard down.”

I knew very well that he was not referring only to the northern eagle, on which, at the moment when it was pulled down to the ground, all able-bodied mossbears in the vicinity pounced, but to my situation with Esu in general. Even though he thought of me as his pup, I wasn’t safe from him. That notion could change at any time. At the very least, when I fail his test of proving myself worthy in a year. Yeah, what could I say; I wasn’t so sure I was going to succeed.

In the same way, it wasn’t certain that those adult mossbears, such as the one who had taken down the northern eagle and was now tackling it in a close fight, see me as their…actually, what? A sibling? 

On the contrary, to show their defiance of Esu and his authority in the woods, they could do… things to me. Well, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be experimenting on me. That was a sickening act of disgusting people. Beasts? They’d probably tear me apart like they’re doing to each other right now.

“Shouldn’t you be there?” I asked Deckard, gesturing to the horde of mossbears crashing down on the northern eagle. “You know, help them beat that feathered weasel.”

“Have you lost your mind? Never, and I tell you never, meddle in the quarrel of two beasts. Let alone a dozen.”

“…” I didn’t think those thoughts out loud, but why? Wasn’t it convenient to take advantage of them fighting with each other?

“Traiana’s tits! This is not the best time to explain,” he cursed, shaking his head after seeing my doubt written all over my face. “Look at that bird, one cornered beast is damn dangerous, and you’d want to stand between two? Besides, tell me what would happen if I denied these mossbears their prey?”

I’d like to say he’d gain their respect, but I myself knew that would be far from the truth. After all, I have struggled constantly with my instincts, sometimes less, at other times more as I did now under the tier three beast change. And as hard as it is to admit when on the hunt, I would hate to be deprived of my prey.

“Let pups show bird their fury, little one!” a deep rumble reached my ears from behind. Mother mossbear was here. She came slowly, no longer in a hurry. 

Was it weird that I felt a little proud of myself for not being thrown off guard by her arrival? Deckard seemed tense when she stopped next to us. Surely her presence was overwhelming and the sight of her was impressive, but I didn’t feel any malice from her. Not to us, anyway.

“Yes, great mother,” I growled my reply, expressing my respect for her. “Thank you for coming to my aid.”

If I had to somehow describe the grumble she gave me in response, it would be amusement. “You brought mighty prey, little one.”

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“How does it look? Are we good?” Deckard asked, quite eager to know what we were talking about.

“We are not to interfere. Also, according to her, we brought strong prey with us.”

“S***!”

“No, no! She’s not blaming us. If anything, she’s grateful.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “What the …. whatever. As long as we don’t have to fight her.”

That wouldn’t be much of a fight, more of an attempt to escape and survive. I didn’t say that out loud, though.

“Esu?” Another growl escaped my throat as I asked.

“Nurturing heart of woods,” she told me like it was a given. “Comes when necessary.”

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Now she got me, and I was lost for words. For one thing, they didn’t seem to take the threat of northern eagles as seriously as I thought they would. The truth was, there were only four of them, and they came to their lair. Thinking about it, it was stupid and probably one of the reasons why the soldiers and Lord Wigram decided to seek safety in their woods.

The other part that gave me pause was the fact that she was talking about the heart of the forest as if it was a real place. For her, it wasn’t just the figurative center of the forest dense with trees that I took it for, but a place where Esu nurtured…something.

Should I tell that to Deckard, who was trying to look casual, even though I knew he was as alert as ever while regenerating his powers as fast as he could? Or should I ask the massive beast standing to my right for details and risk her ire? It was utterly beyond me how big the secret of the forest’s heart was.

So I decided to do what those two were doing; to watch with caution the ongoing struggle between a northern eagle and a bunch of pissed-off mossbears in the midst of the destroyed part of the Esulmor Woods.

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