(Patreon) Truthful Transmigration 190

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The sky was dim even during the day, the atmosphere of darkness elemental spiritual energy wrestling against the power of the sun. It reached a balance that John didn’t particularly mind- he didn’t have to deal with the harsh glare and heat of the sun, and he had no trouble seeing. It might even have been better for him if it were darker, but not every member of the Tenebach clan had the same magnitude of the blessing. They could all see in darkness to some extent, but at a certain point they would be less effective.

Deeper in the Darklands the effect was stronger, but they were traversing along the border with the Green Sands, the fire element reacting over larger periods to create a stable balance with less potency. Because of the dominant element the area was by default part of the Darklands, and nobody was motivated to change that. The forested hills were unremarkable on most counts, at best full of beasts that made it unlivable. The elemental concentration wasn’t strong enough for anything impressive to appear… normally.

That was why an Ascending Soul Phase equivalent Shadowhawk was serious news. Had it been hiding in the area for years? Unlikely given the concentration of spiritual energy, but possible. More likely it had come from deeper within the Darklands, unless there was some exceptional concentration of darkness energy somewhere else where it had made a home. The most likely candidate would have been the southeastern corner of the Stone Conglomerate, since the only other nearby areas were the fire dominant Green Sands and the air dominant Wuthering Steppes. 

“Where do you think it came from?” John asked his uncle Aydan.

“Perhaps somewhere high in the mountains. That would be the optimal location for a Shadowhawk to make its nest.”

“Our border with the Darklands, then?” John asked.

Aydan shook his head, “The hills there aren’t quite enough, I imagine. Perhaps it was further inside the Stone Conglomerate or… perhaps the border with the Wuthering Steppes. Though a Shadowhawk is attuned to the darkness element, no birds are unfavorable to the air element. There are towering peaks that it could have roosted atop, and it might have found or made a nice concentration of spiritual energy for itself.”

John nodded. Spirit beasts might not be able to create energy gathering formations like people, but even those that weren’t an incarnation of the elements themselves could influence the area around them. “Do you think it was chased away from its home, then? It might have always lived out here, with few people passing through.” There was little travel from the Darklands to the Green Sands to begin with, and the direct route was not the most pleasant, with no roads on either side. 

“It’s difficult to say. If this has always been its roost, it will have an advantage. Otherwise, there might already be others seeking it. Beyond those who received the same information as us, of course.”

John nodded. “We will need to approach cautiously in either case. Let’s just hope the information is accurate.”

—–

Though the information was likely as precise as the traveler who had made the sighting was able, it still left a wide area to cover. A large Shadowhawk could easily roam more than a handful of kilometers from its nest every day, and if it was inclined it could go further. The fact that the traveler had sighted the Shadowhawk in the same area over a couple days of travel was the only thing that indicated it hadn’t just randomly been in the area. And even that was marginal.

Still worth gathering the Tenebach clan for. In theory, good equipment could come from any material. In practice, that was only practical at earlier cultivation phases. There were few materials that could service a Soul Expansion or Consolidated Soul cultivator which did not have any element tied to them, and since everyone could use them they were highly sought after. Even then, that would only result in weapons and armor that were functional, instead of exceptional. 

An elder Shadowhawk would have great value. Its sharp talons would be sufficient to be made into spears. Its feathers, impossibly light but as durable as thick steel armor. If such a creature had a nest of eggs, it young could be raised as companions- messenger birds or even for combat. And this was only an approximation of its value given what weaker Shadowhawks had been previously hunted or captured. Having reached a higher power than the rest, the differences might be even more profound.

For any of that to matter, however, the Tenebach clan had to actually be the ones to get their hands on this prize. That meant finding it first- or at least early enough to get involved in the contest. Once combat broke out with a creature of such power, it would be obvious to any with even the most elementary of spiritual senses within many kilometers. 

That factor also influenced their decisions about how they moved about. No matter how stealthy they were, a decently large group could not avoid every beast in the area. They would inevitably cross some, and those beasts fighting or fleeing could both have consequences. There wasn’t much concern about actual dangers from anything besides the Shadowhawk they sought, unless there was actually something special about the area nobody had ever caught onto. They just wanted to avoid alerting the Shadowhawk or other hunters to their presence.

One would expect that a lack of sunlight would hamper the growth of local trees, and that was true to some extent. The plants that John would consider ‘normal’ were stunted in their growth, low bushes and familiar but scraggly trees. Some did well with lower sunlight, and some plants actually fed off of the darkness element. 

During the assault on the Society of Midnight, John had seen massive trees that sucked up all the darkness element around them, as well as many other things hidden off the roads. Nothing here was quite so sizable as those, but there was a very interesting effect to be found. Deeper in the darklands where the spiritual energy was so dense that it would never completely diminish, the darkness attuned plants struggled against each other for dominance and eventually reached some sort of equilibrium.

Here, darkness attuned trees were generally bastions of power on their own, surrounded by nothing but normal vegetation- which also grew more healthily than anything else. In short, the trees would absorb the darkness for their own use, letting the actual light of the sun filter to the regular plants around them. They were nothing impressive- but stood out sharply against small or sickly trees without a ‘protector’.

The variation between denser and sparser areas of growth made more traditional stealth methods difficult, and while manipulating the darkness could hide their group to some extent the local fauna would be more attuned to such deceptions. They couldn’t help but disturb lesser beasts they came upon, and even if they could instantly slay them that only left traces of their presence for others to track down. Much like something they were currently investigating, clearly not the result of local beasts in conflict.

“An ebon-eyed boar,” Aydan observed. “Missing its tusks, and of course its namesake.”

“… What do you even do with boar eyes?” John asked. He learned what he could about beasts in this world, but he still didn’t know everything. His uncle had extra decades of experience to absorb more knowledge, which was one of the best reasons to keep him around besides his strength.

“They are generally sealed in resin and used as display pieces,” Aydan explained. “Pure black spheres radiating a simple aura of darkness.”

Now that he said it, John thought he had seen some. He wasn’t sure how eyes like that functioned- even if there was a benefit to having pupils take up the entire visual area, absorbing what little light fell on the Darklands at night… the rest of the eyeball being black was an oddity. But it was far from the craziest thing he had seen or heard in this world. “How long has it been dead, then?” John asked as he set about answering the question himself. There was a bit of bloating, and the blood was dry… but no real signs of decay. More than that, the carcass hadn’t been picked over by scavengers yet.

“It should be relatively fresh,” Aydan said. “The wounds tell us something. Deep, sharp… impaled all the way through its width. A powerful cultivator, leaving traces of darkness.”

John nodded, trying to pick up on the details of the remaining spiritual energy. There wasn’t much of it- some combination of it fading in the last hours and there being minimal extraneous energy left behind. “It’s unlikely someone of that strength was here just for this.” He didn’t recognize the energy signature, either because it was so minimal or because it was unfamiliar. Not that he’d interacted with many groups from the Darklands except in passing.

The group continued on their way, keeping their eyes on the sky. Where the trees thickened, John had scouts climb the trees at regular intervals to keep a constant watch for their target. Night fell, but that was not a reason for them to cease their search. The area would be more active, but that was exactly the time they could expect a Shadowhawk to prefer to roam. 

John had scaled one of the trees himself, reasoning that his higher cultivation might be advantageous for spotting something. His energy was concentrated on his eyes, because while piercing the darkness came naturally, his actual vision was hardly better than a normal person without augmentation. He would have been quite pleased to have better than 20/20 vision back on Earth, but here it was just alright. He hadn’t put all that much effort into developing his eyesight, since it was already sufficient to see people on the horizon- and sensing spiritual energy was generally easier. 

In this case, however, his spiritual energy senses didn’t pick out anything- but his eyes did. There was a small change in the darkness levels in the sky, something he might not have picked out if he weren’t so used to looking at Ciaritzal and attempting to discern any form in his black void. Regardless, he saw the shadow moving across the sky, and with an intention to focus he even picked out a shape. 

When John had heard of a massive bird, he had expected something slightly larger than a human… but this was even larger than Cuah’arn who was already an impressive six meters in height. It was one thing for the being made of light to be so large- for something with physical form to be at that size reminded him of the great lizard that had been slain within the Stone Conglomerate. Except that creature strode on the ground- it didn’t have a wingspan larger than a dozen meters. 

While the Shadowhawk was indeed smaller than the enemy at that time, it wasn’t weaker. Its spiritual energy was much more powerful, and more importantly it was condensed into its ‘smaller’ body. The contributions of John, Magtel, and Crystin had only been possible in that previous battle because the spiritual energy was spread out over the creature’s whole body, and its intelligence hadn’t been sufficient to counter their attempts to ‘dig’ through it.

Given that comparison, John supposed that this creature was relatively ‘conservative’ in size, though having its danger condensed into the beak and talons that almost hurt to look at from a great distance meant that there would be some significant risks. John could likely defend himself to some extent, but if any of their Soul Expansion Phase cultivators were attacked directly they would have great difficulty defending themselves. That said, John was already planning to lead a combat formation and consolidate the power of their warriors.

Still, he was a bit hesitant to begin a fight with such a creature. And with others already around… perhaps it would be better to let someone else take their shot first. But they could decide that in the morning. For the moment, John kept track of where the creature flew, approximating the distance as best he could from his vantage point until it disappeared below the treeline- though he could not be certain if it was truly landing or just swooping low and beyond the horizon.

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