As Hoyt saw all of the bugs underneath the low overhang, he immediately stepped forward, sweeping his axe across the area. While he didn’t contact more than one or two, he didn’t have to. A trail of fire lingered behind his swing. He was still practicing the technique. Eventually he might make it last for minutes or more, but currently it was a handful of seconds. That was still enough when concerning a swarm of insects ranging in size from large to catastrophic.
The mosquitoes were relatively fragile, only threatening because of their great numbers. Those that tried to reach him through the flames caught on fire and spread to others, while those that held back still allowed the group some breathing room.
Fuzz was clawing and biting his way through the swarm, Alva having let him go ahead while she stood back with Anton. The both of them continuously fired arrows, some piercing through multiple insects, but the swarm seemed unending.
Hoyt and Fuzz simply couldn’t hold them back forever, where they were nicely contained in the cave. The press of bodies was enough that they would eventually get out, no matter how many trails of fire he left. They could let them go, but if the creatures instead attacked they would have to deal with numbers on all sides. While many of them were smaller, they had the annoying ability to pierce through energy defenses.
Maybe if he… Hoyt stopped the thought before it could continue. They would be fine. He just had to push himself a bit harder to make certain of that. Flames roiled around him as he swung his axe back and forth, aiming for the larger mosquitoes, especially the ones that had the signatures of magical beasts. He thought all of them had some amount of energy, but those with more would be a danger if they were allowed to roam free.
As they started pouring out of the low overhang, Hoyt wondered if it might not be safer to go inside. However, as he saw a portion of the mosquitoes turning towards the lake, he knew they couldn’t just take a defensive position. While mosquitoes weren’t usually a swarming insect attacking in groups, instead relying on stealth… with their size he could see the behavior had changed significantly at well.
Their other allies were at the lake. Alva and Anton were already shooting the more dangerous specimens flying towards the lake. Hoyt remained at the mouth of the cave for just a bit longer, until he could no longer take advantage of the shape of the area to hinder more creatures. “After them!” Hoyt was the one to lead the charge towards the diverted group, though he didn’t move far ahead as he still had to help protect against the ones swarming them.
Elder Tshering squashed a buzzing insect between his palms. Well, most of it anyway. It was a bit too big for that, but bugs deserved to be squashed. Even excessively large ones. They all deserved it for trying to drink his blood.
His methods of destroying the insects might be inefficient, but he managed to match the continuous stream that found its way towards him. He had no need to do any better at the moment. He was monitoring the situations of the others, and if they needed support he would be able to offer it… but otherwise, he didn’t mind a nice relaxing fight with a swarm. Except for their ability to pierce through defenses, they weren’t any worse than the ant swarm- and he didn’t need to think about them fleeing.
Then he spotted a big one. Head to abdomen it was about the size of a human. Its wingspan made it seem much greater, though its relatively sleek profile could also fool him into it being smaller. If he counted the length of its proboscis, it was half again as long. He could sense the energy radiating off of it as it approached- not all of the energy its own. He wasn’t sure what magical beast it drained, but it seemed to have provided a boost to its power.
He moved to intercept it. The others would have their hands full dealing with the numbers around them- no need to burden them with a big threat. Besides, most of them wouldn’t be able to catch it as it zipped about. Even he had a hard time approaching it, but it got the message he intended to fight it when he flung a rock the size of its head at it, narrowly failing to connect.
It turned and shot forward at him. It was all he could do to dodge to the side to avoid being impaled. Its acceleration was nearly instantaneous as its wings vibrated with great intensity. That was the problem with creatures like these, going outside the bounds of what was normal. They could act in ways unanticipated. While Instinct might let someone dodge, it still required a certain level of speed to pull it off.
With the creature not being his sole foe, he had to get a bit serious. Instead of merely connecting with his bare fists, he started widening his energy. Slapping these bugs wouldn’t be enough anymore.
He spun in circles as the man-sized mosquito continuously attacked him. His hands and feet swept out at the surrounding enemies, crushing them while he tried to find an opening to attack his primary foe. Timing his attacks to hit it while it passed was difficult, considering he already was pushing himself to keep dodging it. Each pass it got closer to striking his heart, predicting his movements and instantly redirecting itself in flight.
Finally, he found an opening. It charged straight towards him and he countered with a fist. His arm should match its reach, preventing it from impaling him. He was mostly right. His fist directly struck one of its legs, sending it flying off the creature. However its forward momentum continued, its proboscis stabbing into his upper right shoulder. He had still tried to dodge, after all. He wasn’t going to let it get an easy hit just because he wanted to counter, but it had gone right through his energy defenses and even slipped into the joints of his armor.
Immediately he felt his blood being drawn out at a nearly impossible speed. He rallied his own energy to pull back against it, while at the same time grabbing for the creature’s head. Then he crushed it.
It was still an insect after all, subject to instinct and sometimes self preservation… but it didn’t quite have the level of processing to truly understand his strength. He did have to admit he’d also underestimated it a bit, as he yanked the proboscis out of him and shoved a bandage in to keep the hole plugged. He tossed some pills into his mouth. He might regret the way he quickly dissolved them later, but it was better to be effective now rather than later. He could already feel the power of the formation rising to a crescendo, and he needed to provide his support.
There was no point for Catarina to fight any of the mosquitoes coming for her. She had more important things to do, so she ignored them as she ran about the formation. As they followed behind her they found that they should have been afraid of her. Because they were targets of it, just like their larvae.
The adults were more durable, but simply being in the formation weakened them. Their vision was hampered by the daylight as well, which was useful for Catarina. They all tried to jab into her, but she led them around on a merry chase. What she really needed was for everything to align properly, and that included both the cultivators from their group and the concentrations of enemies. She hadn’t anticipated a large swarm of them during the day, but she could adjust for that.
Catarina stabbed her sword towards a formation flag, shunting it into a different position as she passed. She sliced trails into the ground behind her, altering the flow of energy as she simultaneously spread her energy throughout the formation as a whole, guiding its actions. If she’d done it right, it should be close to the maximum amount of energy it could support. When that happened, it was supposed to disgorge all that energy at once, in a way that resonated with the mosquitoes only. The remaining ones, of course. Perhaps a third of the larvae in the lake were already dead.
She passed by Timothy, who stepped behind her and sliced through the swarm of mosquitoes after her. “Thank you!” she hadn’t asked him for that, but it really made things easier. All she really wanted was to move that flag.
In discussions about formations nobody talked about how physically exhausting it could be. They talked about mental exhaustion, having to keep track of all the changes and implement them. Perhaps people didn’t cover enough lakes with large formations where they had to physically move around to manage it. Perhaps even Everheart didn’t, though he couldn’t have always been able to produce perfect formations that didn’t need modifying. She imagined he was the sort that frantically dealt with problems as they cropped up and later said he had everything planned from the beginning. She was at least willing to admit she planned to fix her problems along the way, whatever she missed.
Nearly there. Just a bit more. Elder Tshering started providing a strong stream of energy. Just what she needed. She guided it with tendrils of her own energy. The formation reached its limit and…
Blood splattered on her face, as well as nearly everywhere else. Ah. Well, at least it worked. She hadn’t intended for them to literally explode, but then again, what should she expect from pushing so much energy into all of the mosquitoes around them?
The lake was red, but not because of the sunset. Not only because of that, anyway. Well, at least she seemed successful. Any remaining larvae should die as the formation trickled to a halt. Then they could figure out how to keep the situation from returning to how it was.
“Fish,” Elder Tshering suggested. “I noticed the lake had a severe lack of them. If there were fish of various sizes, they could feed on the eggs and larvae. Most of them have perished, but if we just leave it they’ll doubtless attempt to spawn again. With fewer things to feed on it might be different but,” he shook his head, “It’s not worth betting on it. We will of course also inform the closest cities and sects of what happened so they can help monitor it, but we should do what we can.”
With fish being the solution, that was what they got. It turned out storage bags could also store water, and live fish. It wasn’t a good long term solution, it seemed, but as they ran to nearby bodies of water to retrieve fish and back it was enough. After a few days they had a good hundred fish in the lake. They had an abundance of larvae to eat, dead… but still full of nutrients. The fish didn’t care.
While they doubted that dumping fish into a giant stagnant lake would completely solve the issue, they took other reasonable steps. While it couldn’t reasonably be called Clear Lake anymore, hopefully some plantlife would take a liking to it and help clean it up from all the junk in it. Perhaps animals would move back into the area now that there weren’t swarms of creatures feeding on them and roaming into the surrounding region.
Elder Tshering grumbled to himself. He should have been more careful about the stupid mosquito. Though it didn’t cause too much damage to his shoulder, the junk it injected into him willingly and unwillingly was messing him up. His shoulder still refused to stop bleeding after several days, and he was getting tired of holding his blood inside himself with his own energy. That was fading, but his focus on that had given whatever disease the creature carried a chance to stake a hold.
He was confident that he would root it out eventually, but for the moment his whole body felt like crap and his blood wanted to ooze out of his pores if he so much as breathed wrong. It was a good thing they’d dealt with the problem all at once, because several of them were carrying lingering troubles. If they were still having to face swarms of bloodsucking insects they might not do so well.
Instead, they were walking along well traversed roads back towards the Order. Elder Tshering had seen enough of Ambati to get a picture of what had happened. As with most things, there were multiple factors contributing to the troubles. He might return later to take another look, but he had a duty to bring all of the disciples back unharmed and he wanted to make sure it stayed that way. Besides, Anton had that insane technique he was planning to consult with the Elders about. Getting that to the Order sooner rather than later was probably a good idea.