Chapter 135: Miros

When feathers, as hard as steel and as sharp as the keenest blades, flew in all directions with the speed of a bolt fired from a crossbow, Deckard shifted leisurely and avoided every single one heading at him. The mother mossbear to my right, on the other hand, didn’t bother to move at all. Those feathers that caused nasty injuries to her young ones didn’t pierce her moss-covered fur whatsoever.

Me? Even though I was now covered in fur like her, still had the moss on my head and [Wrought Hide] among my skills, had no faith in my own hide to resist the feathers in the same way. For crying out loud, that skill was only level two! Or used to be.

So, not confident enough to face the feathers, I did my best to avoid them and fend them off with my barrier. Honestly, it was pretty frustrating how much effort I had to put in compared to those two, so I wouldn’t end up with feathers sticking out of my body and bleeding. 

I was good at it, though. 

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Well, I mean good at dodging and deflecting attacks with my barrier. That and the fact that I didn’t need the help of either Deckard or the massive beast standing next to me gave me some pride.

And as for the attacker? The northern eagle fared much better than I expected. I mistakenly thought that once it was pulled to the ground and outside of his domain, where winged creatures like him reigned like the mossbears ruled the woods, the fight would end quickly. It didn’t and the mossbears, despite their numerical advantage, struggled to kill the feathered weasel.

Was it necessary to call the eagle that?

No! The eagle deserved it, though.

Was it shocking that it fared fairly well on the ground?

Not really! 

What the mossbears were fighting was a level six hundred beast. The young ones even had trouble getting through its feathers, let alone striking deeper blows. If anything, they acted as weights, holding the eagle down while the older individuals struggled to tear the beast apart.

Shrieks and roars echoed through the ruined part of the woods as the two sides fought. Anger, rage, defiance, arrogance, and pride; there was so much in those cries reaching my ears that I had trouble making it all out. And the same was true for their presences, battling for dominance that pressured my instincts.

Mossbears did not take well to the destroyed woods and the bird’s presence in it at all. The northern eagle, proud and arrogant as it was, was enraged that they even dared to touch it.

“You mud-wading weasels! Stop this instant or risk wrath of Zeew!” the eagle screeched. 

Before I saw the beast fight the mossbears, I considered the air blast the most dangerous weapon in its arsenal. Now I saw it was its claws and beak. The beak in particular, which the winged beast used to tear chunks of flesh from the moss-covered furballs.

One peck, and I’d be done. No doubt!

“Deckard, who’s Zeew?”

“W-what the…why do you ask?”

“The weas…ehm; the eagle has mentioned the name several times.”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “I keep forgetting you understand the beasts’ speech.”

And I kept forgetting that what he heard was just shrieks and roars, no words behind them.

“It screams that if they don’t stop, it’s gonna piss off Zeew.”

“Well, if I had to guess, it would be the one that stayed up there,” he said, nodding his head to the skies. 

Raising my eyes, I looked at the shadow of the bird, which had not moved from its place during the whole time. Was it Zeew? If so, did the one who fought the mossbear have a name too? No, I didn’t think so. The eagle would have already made his name known in his pride if it had. It was just one of the nameless beasts.

The fact that the one up there, apparently a female eagle, had a name gave me the chills all the more. Even the mother mossbears didn’t have one, only Esu. Did it then make the eagle equal in strength to him? What a terrifying thought!

“Don’t worry, little pup. She one, us many.” Mother mossbear surprised me with her assurance. Yet it did not rid me of my doubts.

“Is she strong?”

“Yes.”

“Stronger than you, great mother?” Of course, I didn’t want it to sound like I was questioning her strength, so I put as much respect for her as I could into my words. It amused her, and the strange grunting noise she made I would describe as a chuckle. Not exactly the response I was aiming for. Better than pissing her off, though.

“Bird strong as me, but far.”

S***! That wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to hear.

“You continue to impress me with your brazen courage to talk to these beasts as if they were your friends. What happened this time anyway?”

Of course, Deckard hadn’t missed my chat with the mother mossbear or the shift in my mood and the silent curse I made. 

“That is Zeew up there, she’s as strong as she is,” I told him, motioning to the huge mossbear standing to my right. “And this mother mossbear is one of the strongest I’ve ever met. My instincts are screaming at me…level seven hundred. I’d say seven hundred and fifty.”

“Then you know more than I do. All I see are three question marks when I look at the beast next to you. If what you say is true, she’s close to four question marks. In short, no one we want to face! Neither of them!”

[Mother Mossbear: lvl ????]

Yeah, I saw mother mossbear as four question marks, but so did the eagle that was losing the fight with her young. It was too far away for me to look at now, but when I jumped between its legs back in front of the woods, I took a peek. At its level, nothing else of course!.

[Northern Eagle: lvl ????]

If it wasn’t for my instincts, I wouldn’t know s*** about how strong it is. Actually, that wasn’t exactly true. What the four question marks told me was that the beast was five hundred to a thousand levels from my level. A pretty wide range if you had to face a creature as strong as that. There was a hell of a difference between confronting a beast at level six hundred or level eleven hundred.

In the first case, you had a chance to escape; in the second, you had no time to even come to terms with the inevitable death.

“Is that all you can tell?” What struck me as odd was that Deckard had no skill to tell him exactly what he was facing. I would have thought that it was necessary to know things like that when he was diving into Fallens Cry solo. “Don’t you have a skill or tool to tell you how strong a beast you’re facing?”

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As carefree as his expression was, his inner voice laughed. “Despite all those ear, wing, and tail flicks of yours, sometimes I really struggle to understand what’s going on in your head, Little Beast. In a situation like this, you should be fully focused on what’s going on around you.”

That was something I was fully aware of. Only my brain, in an attempt to cope with what was going on around me, disagreed and tried to draw my thoughts elsewhere, especially now, when mother mossbear’s company gave me a kind of comfort I couldn’t describe. 

There were Identification Stations, magic tools I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with myself. To my chagrin, they completely exposed my Status Screen for everyone to see. So wasn’t there some kind of, I don’t know, a ring that would reveal the levels hidden behind the question marks?

“Damn! You’re still thinking about it, aren’t you?”

“Sorry.” There was no point in denying it.

It wasn’t hard to imagine his mental sigh, but there was a note of severity in his voice and a loss of patience with my whims. “Save it for later and focus!”

“Yes, sir,” I squeaked back, almost saluting. Why did I say that when I was eager to find out more about the variety of magical tools? To ask further would be pushing it. So I instinctively added ‘sir’ and kept my mouth shut. Or rather, my thoughts at bay.

That is, until the ground shook again, and I let out a girlish startled squeal. Well, given my beast form, it was closer to a whine. Either way, it was nothing I was proud of.

“What did I tell you!” Deckart immediately threw a remark at me, reminding me to pay more attention to my surroundings. And I heeded his advice as the tremors of the soil beneath my feet took away the strange false comfort enveloping my heart. 

Refocusing on the fight, I saw an adult mossbear knocked to the ground, and thrown away like a rag doll by one of the air blasts. The massive beast was bleeding profusely, breathing heavily, unable to continue the fight, but alive. This mossbear, barely an adult, was stubborn, though. It got back to its feet and was about to return to the fight when an admonishing growl sounded above me. 

Just as Deckard was trying to get some common sense into my head, mother mossbear was doing the same with her young ones, who had lost their ground in battle and pride.

The wounded furball grunted in disapproval, trying to prove that it could still fight, but staggered aside where it fell among the trees. There, within moments, the beast was covered in faintly glowing moss. Whether it was doing of the collapsed beast or the mother mossbear, I couldn’t tell.

Either way, the fight between a feathered weasel and moss-covered bears didn’t seem to go in favor of the latter. The young mossbears not unsurprisingly failed to use anything but their weight against the intruder in their woods, and the adults struggled to gain the advantage despite their numerical superiority.

Should I ask or not? If the massive beast overseeing her young took my question the wrong way, perhaps as a doubt of their and hers abilities, I could risk her ire. It’s just…not asking would bug me.

To hell with my indecision!

“Great mother, are there others on the way?” I couldn’t say straight out; it looked like those present were too few and seemed to be losing.

“If needed,” she growled, shifting her focus for a moment somewhere in the distance. “Some helping humans in hollow trunk. Deal was done. Woods spreading to humans fighting outside them.”

“…” Fu…..ck me! 

Lightfeather and Pip must have been better translators than I gave them credit for when, together with Lord Wigram, they were able to strike such a deal with the mossbears. And they did it during the fight. Well done.

At the same time, it was reassuring to know that they made it to Esulmor, and oddly enough, that the army was still fighting. Whether it was with a horde of beasts or just a northern eagle, I couldn’t tell. 

Frankly, it was astonishing how much the mother mossbear was able to convey with just a few grunts. 

When I relayed her words to Deckard, he was genuinely taken aback. “I don’t remember Esulmor ever spreading.”

“So, it’s a big deal?”

As a florist, I didn’t plant seedlings, but I had a pretty good idea of how long it takes a tree to grow. Expanding the forest in mere moments as Esu and apparently other mossbears were capable of was beyond my puny, mundane imagination. It simply shouldn’t be possible. Yet here at Eleaden it was. I witnessed the miracle myself when Esu had the trees burnt to a crisp regrow and turn green with leaves in a few heartbeats. And so, I just took it as another impossibility that was possible in this world, not questioning mother mossbear’s claim.

No, I was wondering how unusual it was for Eleaden that it took Deckard by surprise.

“As far as I know, Esu has stuck to his agreement with the Empire. That included not expanding Esulmor. For decades, perhaps even hundreds of years. I doubt once the forest grows he will pull it back, so…yeah, it’s a damn big deal. What was Wigram even thinking!” 

My musings on the implications of all of that were interrupted when the ground shook again. This time it wasn’t another mossbear at the end of its strength that hit the ground, but the northern eagle itself. The massive adult, the strongest of those here, whose antlers in places bore considerable damage, stood with its paw on the eagle’s neck, crushing it and preventing the beast from using its beak.

The next moment, I was brought to my knees by a presence that shook the trees and pressed me to the ground. Even Deckard, a man I thought was capable of withstanding anything, was kneeling next to me. And he wasn’t the only one. When I managed to lift my head, I saw many young mossbears struggling with the weight pressing down on their bodies, just like us. There were only a few who managed to endure it.

“Pathetic!” a screech rang out in all directions, a voice more songful than I’ve ever heard from the northern eagle still struggling on the ground under the weight of an adult mossbear. Nor could the presence pressing on our bodies belong to none other than the eagle, who has so far remained aloof from all the action. Zeew spoke up and was pissed.

Not at us, though. She was angry at her fellow eagles. None of them met her expectations, and neither destroyed their prey. 

That’s what I felt from her presence I did my best to endure. All my attempts to fight back have ended in failure. The weakness of my own presence came to light when I could only resist in short bursts. Sure, it took the pressure off me, but only long enough to catch my breath.

For a moment, I wondered why mother mossbear didn’t counter the Zeew’s. After all, she matched the beast up there in the sky in strength; I was sure of it now that I felt the eagle’s presence. 

However, it didn’t take me long to figure out she was taking it as a lesson to her young ones. This mere presence could not kill them. Instead, it was a valuable experience, showing them that there were other powerful beasts outside their forest than their kin.

“Let me go if you want to live!” screeched the northern eagle, struggling with the last of his strength under the paw of the adult mossbear. Despite Zeew’s anger at the eagle, the beast was sure she would come to its aid.

And when the adult mossbear paused, I thought it would actually let the feathered weasel go. Instead, the massive furball took a breath to roar right in the eagle’s face. There were no distinct words in it. The meaning was clear, though. “Shut up!” Perhaps even something like, “F*** you!”

Either way, it didn’t matter.

Despite the eagle’s claws tearing apart the belly of the massive beast pinning it to the ground, the adult mossbear bit into its neck and broke it in one snap motion. Silence fell on the ruined part of the woods, and even Zeew’s presence receded. 

Did the adult mossbear really kill the eagle? I think it was a question on everyone’s mind.

No chime sounded in mine. The system didn’t send me any notification informing me of the beast’s death. And no wonder. I played no part in killing it. Yet the absence of it raised doubts in my heart about the beast’s demise. Was it that easy to kill such a powerful one? One snap of the neck, and it was over? I couldn’t help comparing it to the horned rabbits in Fallens Cry, a fact that would surely piss off the now lifeless northern eagle.

Could I have done it then? Was it feasible for me to kill the winged beast the way I used to kill the horned rabbits? Absolutely not! If it was that easy, Deckard would have done it long ago.

And while the adult succeeded after he and his fellow mossbears had exhausted the northern eagle, the beast didn’t get a chance to express its pride in the victory. Without me hearing the slightest gust of wind, flutter of wings, without a hint of her presence, Zeew appeared over the ruined part of the woods, sending a gust of wind at the one who killed her kind.

I knew right away that it would be a mistake to take it as one of the attacks of the now-dead northern eagle. My instincts were screaming at me to get away. Only it was too late for me to do anything but brace for impact.

That one never came, though.

Mother mossbear intervened as, for the first time in my life, I witnessed the branches of the surrounding trees move with speed rivaling the bolts, forming what I would call a barrier of twigs and leaves. Not something that in my mind should be able to withstand Zeew’s attack, yet it did. The leaves, shining with a faint green light, repelled the attack altogether.

“Enough! Leave!” growled the mother mossbear, letting out her own presence to back up her words. She was careful enough not to hit me with it, for which I was extremely grateful. Not pressed down by anything, I could lift my head and see. There, beyond the leaf barrier, my eyes fell on Zeew.

She couldn’t be more different from the northern eagle lying dead on the ground. With a wingspan that almost completely blocked the light of the setting sun, the feathers of this not much larger beast were tinged blue and brown, shading to red. Four long feathers trailed from her blue-feathered head across her back to a pair of smaller wings at her waist. Her long tail feathers were a spectacle in themselves, decorated with ornaments like those of peacocks, waving behind her and giving the impression of a tail.

Zeew was a magnificent creature to look at. She was no ordinary northern eagle but the one that Lightfeather had called Miros.

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