In the morning the group continued onwards towards the Clear Lake Sect. When the line of trees broke to reveal the lake in question, those with the best eyesight immediately showed concern.
A large lake stretched to the horizon, but as for signs of a cultivation sect inhabiting the area, they were not immediately apparent. There were a few buildings visible to one side, but that was hardly enough to make up a sect.
“I don’t feel anyone,” Anton commented, “Anyone else?” He paused, “There’s something in the lake though. First, we should check out the buildings.”
They didn’t want to intrude on the territory of a sect, but they didn’t have a clear path to find them. As they approached the few buildings in sight, the shape of a poorly maintained road revealed itself. More than that, however, they saw the crumpled forms of buildings. Even the few structure they saw standing were basically single walls tricking them by the angle.
As the strongest among them by a significant margin, Elder Tshering was the first to approach. “The damage is old. Plants have started growing over everything. The buildings clearly didn’t fall apart from age, however.”
Everyone began to comb the area. A few minutes later, Fuzz started barking. Though there didn’t seem to be any immediate danger, it wasn’t possible to blame him for his concern. In the middle of one of the groups of buildings was a large tree with black bark.
Catarina moved towards it, striding around it in a circle. “The flow of energy here was disrupted, long ago. It seems likely this was part of some attack. Likely another cultivation sect.” She reached her hand out to trace her fingers along it, “It’s not active anymore. Just a remnant.”
The group continued to find more similar signs throughout the area, trees with dark black bark and even a few with leaves that were much the same. Almost as if the trees were burnt charcoal, though in actuality they were healthy and aside from the color unremarkable scraggly trees.
Yet as they searched through the remnants of the buildings, it barely seemed enough to be called a sect. The Ghameita tribe seemed to have thought they were significant in size, which was strange considering they were similarly expansive. Then the group moved towards the lake.
There, they saw the rest of the sect- or at least what it once was. The sunken remnants of piers stretching out into the lake and the structures they had supported were clearly visible on the bottom of the admittedly clear waters. Clear except for the thousands of squiggling figures of various sizes that were currently inhabiting the lake.
“Mosquito larvae,” Elder Tshering declared, “And not a one of them smaller than my finger. That explains that large one. With the numbers here… there must be many more. Explains the lack of… well, much of anything around here.”
A regular mosquito might drain a little bit of blood from a person or animal. The amount was so small that it was a mere nuisance unless they happened to be carrying a disease. At a greatly expanded size, however, each one would likely kill or at least severely weaken whatever it drained from.
“Why aren’t there any flying around?” Timothy asked.
“A good question,” Elder Tshering considered, “Perhaps they are more sensitive to light than their smaller brethren. We were able to see them at night, after all. They often come out at evening, but this might be more extreme.”
“… What do we do?” Alva asked. “I don’t think I can shoot that many arrows.”
“Ha!” Elder Tshering laughed, “A good point. Well. I do believe we’ll have to find some way to clear them out, but doing it by hand is… infeasible.” He gestured to the lake as a whole, which had oversized larvae as far as they could see. “They’re all throughout this thing. A calm lake with no flow, inlets or outlets. A perfect mess.” He crouched down at the edge, looking into the depths. “I wonder if the Clear Lake Sect kept such things out of their lake, or if they were raising them. Either way, it seems clear that after they were destroyed- I’d guess just within the last few years based on the other events- these mosquitoes became extremely prolific.”
Catarina nodded, “The area has strong enough natural energy that it could be primarily responsible for their size. With just a few mutants or a leading magical beast they could have rapidly expanded in size over a few generations.” Catarina poked her finger into the water, withdrawing it as one of the squiggling wormy creatures leapt towards the disturbance. “I can set up a formation to wipe them all out.”
“All of them?” Elder Tshering asked, “Across the whole lake? Where will you get the energy for that?”
“From them,” Catarina said. “Using their life as energy to support it.”
“Ugh,” Elder Tshering shook his head, “Is this one of Everheart’s ideas?”
Catarina nodded, “Yes. It is… the most reasonable version of one of his techniques. It can be strongly tied to a single sort of creature.”
“What about materials?”
“My formation flags should suffice. However, they will need to be spread out over a longer distance than normal. People will need to prevent them from being disturbed. Likewise, everyone will have to contribute to stabilizing the formation. Except Alva and Fuzz.”
“Hey!” Alva began to complain before Catarina held her hand up.
“You don’t have the right training for that yet. Besides, you will be taking on the important job of patrolling the whole perimeter and assisting people when they need it.”
“How long will this take?” Tshering asked.
“Several days of continuous work. It should be relatively easy from moment to moment, but it needs to be a continuous process to be most effective.” She looked up at the sky, the sun approaching the horizon. “I imagine the mosquitoes will react poorly to it, though the larvae should be restricted to their location. We should start in the morning, if they truly do not like the light.”
“Good,” Tshering said. “We’ll have two on each watch for tonight, since we’re in unsafe territory. Just keep ‘em away if you can.”
Timothy stood at the edge of the lake, watching. Catarina had almost made her way around the whole lake, and he could feel the fluctuations of energy. Though he would never be as good as her, he was at least passable with sensing the flow of energy and what it might actually do. In this case, he only felt the vague sense of danger from the formation. The additional runes scrawled in the dirt next to the formation flags added a level of complexity beyond him.
It was already late afternoon once more, but the formation was just beginning to start functioning. He felt the energy flow, and he watched as many of the wriggling forms of the larvae curled up as the formation tore vital energy out of them. Somehow the others seemed to know when they were dead and began feasting on the bodies almost immediately. Perhaps that was something they did to their weakened members regardless.
As the power of the formation grew, Timothy sensed something behind him. It had been speculated that the mosquitoes would retaliate, and here he could finally see them. He readied his shield and took a stance as the first one flew towards him. His sword easily cut through it as his shield deflected its proboscis. He was slightly concerned as he felt its feeding mouth tear through his energy, but his actual armor was quite sufficient for defending against them, as long as they didn’t have any energy of their own. One by one, then two or three at a time, more mosquitoes attacked.
As he chopped through them, Timothy was glad their attacks weren’t coordinated. They were really incompetent in a straight fight, it seemed. Not that he felt safe, but as long as he was aware of his rear he could take them out. If anything, the largest ones were easiest to deal with. Despite some level of protection from their exoskeleton, it was barely sufficient to do more than keep them together. They had to be able to fly, after all, and even if they had some natural energy supporting them that limited how much they could weigh, and thus their durability and power.
Devon was used to fighting with inadequate defenses. He didn’t always have his choice of weapons or armor in the arena, and thus he knew it was quite important that he was able to defend himself without. Using his energy to absorb a blow was feasible only if he could come out a clear victor- he couldn’t know if any particular wound would still be around when the next battle came. Dodging was the best option if it was possible, placing the least strain on himself. And a step before that… killing opponents before they could get within reach.
Chains made of energy extended from him, ranging from one or two meters to almost ten in length. He could only control a handful at once, but the longer ones were quite useful. He wrapped one around one of the assaulting insects, using it like a club as he slammed it into others. Though they didn’t have much mass, they did have a large enough cross section to make it fairly accurate. Even if they dodged his chain directly, he could get wings and legs tangled up until whatever specimen he was holding fell apart.
There were lulls in the fighting. Sometimes he would only face one bug in several minutes or a half hour, and other times he was facing a dozen at once for as long as it took for him to destroy them. He couldn’t afford to be slow in case more arrived, and he took his rest where he could. By the time the morning sun began to peek over the horizon, he had piles of the creatures- and bits and pieces of them scattered about.
Fast feet patted across the ground, four paws in total. Alva rode atop Fuzz, keeping her eye above them in the morning light. She didn’t mind bugs so much, but giant bugs were another thing. They were dangerous, if nothing else. Somehow they were able to tear through her energy defenses, like those stupid western creepers. She hadn’t let one impale her, but she had a cut along her shoulder.
Fortunately, she usually was able to kill them with a good shot to the eye. Eyes? Whatever compound eyes were. Hitting a mosquito in the eye sounded difficult until you realized those eyes were a good centimeter across or more. Then it was easy, and Spirit Arrows happily drilled right into their brains. Or whatever they had in their head, because she honestly hadn’t seen any brains come out of them.
Up ahead she saw Anton. “Grandpa!” she waved. “I talked to everyone. No more mosquitoes so far since the sun rose. Catarina said some of us could go hunt them wherever they were staying, like you suggested. The formation is stable enough.”
Velvet was glad she ended up on the hunting team. Remaining in place and fighting things that came to her was just… awful. Her weapons were too short to easily kill the mosquitoes before they got to her, and there were too many close calls with proboscises nearly jabbing straight through her. Even the few scrapes she had gotten didn’t properly stop bleeding, and she’d had to pull out some of the medicines Anton made sure everyone had. Before she’d had a storage bag she wondered why she was carrying a dozen different types of things for extremely specific circumstances… but now that she needed it she would have been fine carrying twice as much. Though with a storage bag as long as she didn’t get anything terribly bulky, it didn’t matter how much she had except for when trying to dig it out.
Now they were following Fuzz around as he looked for caves and stagnant hollows beneath trees, and just generally sniffed for the mosquitoes. Once or twice he’d tried to stick his nose in a cave only for Alva to pull him back as bugs swarmed out, a dozen or two at a time. Fuzz was actually the most vulnerable to them, as their proboscises could likely jab through his tough hide and fur. They were actually still extremely thin, which made them easy to break if one had the opportunity- but Fuzz had no weapons that extended beyond himself. His best bet was to stay away.
Some of the holes he found seemed too small for anything but normal mosquitoes to live inside, but they always found at least some. Some of the ‘smaller’ fist sized ones managed to fit in knotholes in trees and other places. But fighting the things during the day, even if it was disturbing when they swarmed out of a cave, was much simpler. They were more sluggish, and with nobody moving around alone they were able to make use of teamwork to resist their numbers. If they wanted to be faster everyone could move individually, but they found it best to be cautious.
When Fuzz came across a wide mouth of a cave- just barely as high as a person but a dozen meters wide- she was quite glad to have Anton, Alva, Fuzz, and Hoyt with her. The others were maintaining the formation still, but their group was trying to help lighten the strain that would come from the next night. As Hoyt lit the cave with a lantern and she saw myriad mosquitoes ranging from slightly large to waist height, she was extremely glad she wasn’t alone. Especially since all of her stealth abilities seemed to be nearly worthless against these creatures. She readied her daggers as hundreds of pairs of wings started droning together.