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30 The Barren Bush Is Doomed

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The Crawlings, or Crawlers as they were called by the Free Races of the Forsaken Lands, were both majestic and hideous creatures.

At first glance, they looked like a compact black panther, except that their short, silky fur was a subtle mix of black and night-blue. Their golden eyes glowed balefully in the darkness, bestowing them with a ghostly aura.

So far, nothing to fret about. At least nothing that justified fearing them more than a lion, a tiger or a leopard.

It was when one saw them from a little closer that the fear gripped those who had the misfortune to bump into them. It was often the last thing they would see.

Because very quickly one would realize that their proportions were not right. Their spine was too elongated and supple like a snake's. Their extreme leanness and dry, toned muscles gave them an emaciated, skeletal look, enabling one to clearly discern the outline of their ribs. Their long swinging tail lengthier than their body called to mind the tail of a scorpion or rattlesnake, and seemed to have a life of its own.

It was still okay. Ikaris could still consider their morphology a quirk of this world.

After all, on Earth there had also once been terrifying creatures like dinosaurs. Even today, there were still all sorts of creepy or hideous animals like bats, spiders or blobfish.

But these Crawlings were in a league of their own.

Like an Ankylosaurus, the top of their skulls, all the way down their spines, and even their tails were covered with a plate of blackish-blue cartilage that was as flexible as leather and as glistening as the wet skin of a frog or eel.

Dozens, hundreds of horns and spikes dotted its surface like the back of a hedgehog. No whiskers on these animals, but spines on each side of their snouts. The same applied to their cheekbones, their eyebrow arches and the tips of their ears. The back of their joints, the natural weak points of any mammal, were also protected by these spikes and cartilage as if they were wearing knee or elbow pads.

These creatures had no weaknesses.

Yet a bunch of horns and cartilage were still not enough to scare adults into nightmares. There was something more, the crowning touch.

In addition to their impressive claws and fangs, their mouths housed multiple layers of long, thin lamprey-like teeth. Their long purple tongue was split at the tip like that of a Komodo dragon, while their skin constantly oozed a cloudy, slimy, lubricating gel-like liquid. It gave them a repulsive appearance, like a prematurely born fetus.

Ikaris didn't panic when he saw all these monsters coming out of the jungle, because he had already faced one the day before. Also, since he was now one of them, he didn't feel the same aversion.

However, it was different to look at one and brace himself against dozens of them. At that moment, he came to the realization that the one he had faced last night was actually one of the puniest.

If the average size of these Crawlers was that of a small panther, there were also several that were no bigger than a house cat. In contrast, at the back of the pack stood a huge Crawling as stocky as an adult lion.

The horns on its forehead were more developed, taking on a crystalline texture, while its plates of cartilage were thicker and stiffer, assuredly enough to stop an arrow. Its gaze was less frenzied and hostile, but that only made it more menacing.

Remembering the proof Asselin had asked for, the boy clenched his fists and with bated breath sprinted toward the Crawlers. Somehow, he was sure they would not attack him.

"Ikaris, what are you-" Malia shouted, but was stopped by Grallu, who shook her head.

"You wanted to kill him less than 30 seconds ago. Don't ruin his sacrifice." The shaman lectured her glumly.

Malia was torn between her inclination to help him and the relief of not having to kill a Crawling-Thrall she knew. She also didn't want to reveal her true appearance to him when she fought.

Seeing Ikaris charging at them at full speed, the smaller Crawlers scrambled away, but the others stood still, staring at him indifferently. Recognizing one of their own, they let the big Crawling decide.

Suddenly, Ikaris felt a presence connect with his mind, as if an intention had just been transmitted to him. It wasn't intelligible words, but he got the message.

"Kill them."

At that moment, he felt a compulsion welling up from the depths of his mind like he had never felt before. His will to kill those Crawlers and the one who had turned him wilted like a bride's dress on her honeymoon night.

Without realizing it, his run slowed down and he made a sharp turn, his killing intent overflowing.

"He lost control." Asselin sighed in disappointment. "That's the fate of all Crawling-Thralls. I was wrong to get my hopes up."

Malia and Grallu also wore sad faces. In the end, they would still have to kill him with their own hands.

Just as they thought Ikaris was going to pounce on them, he turned his head to the big Crawler and muttered through clenched teeth,

"See-Through Vision. Heart Puncturing."lightsnovel

With his current stamina, this was a piece of cake. The monster felt as if a needle pierced its heart from side to side and it convulsed on the ground, a silent roar escaping from its mouth as if protesting the injustice.

Thud.

Something collapsed and for once it wasn't Ikaris.

The other stupid Crawlers were unable to process the nonsense of the scene that had just taken place. The monsters stared at their boss, blinking in amazement.

STAB!

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Taking advantage of their daze, Ikaris charged at the convulsing Crawler and stabbed its abdomen with all his might, then its throat and heart before impaling its brain from under its chin. It was only after receiving these additional lethal wounds that the creature finally perished.

Gasping for breath, Ikaris became aware that he had successfully resisted the compulsive loyalty that compelled him to serve the Crawlers and forbade him to attack them. His last uncertainty melted away and he burst out laughing.

Malia, Asselin, and Grallu stared at him with their mouths agape as if he were some kind of alien, but inside them a raging storm of conflicting emotions was boiling.

"He-he did it." Malia stammered with a fascinated gleam in her eyes. For the first time, she stopped looking at the boy as a number that could be disposed of at any moment.

The old shaman remained stolid, but a strange glint also shone in her eyes.

"I won my bet, it seems." She congratulated herself with a dry laugh.

What she meant by that, no one knew and neither Malia nor Asselin questioned her about it.

For the Crawlers had recovered from the death of their leader and... They were furious!

ROARRR!

" Hell with it!" Malia had expected a normal night, but Ikaris had a completely different perspective on events.

By killing that big Crawler, he had broken rules that were supposed to be inviolable. But just because it was a rare occurrence didn't mean it hadn't happened in the past history of the world. The Crawlings obviously had countermeasures in place.

The Crawlings were all telepathically linked and the death of their leader was immediately reported from Crawling to Crawling until it reached... a Glenring.

Then, the authorization was relayed from Crawlings to Crawlings back to the village of Karragin, giving them the green light to eliminate the guilty Thrall. Ikaris, who was mentally linked to them, was also ordered to kill himself, but for obvious reasons he steadfastly refused.

This long-distance telepathic network also made him realize the astronomical number of Crawlings that were sweeping through the jungle surrounding the village.

Millions of them!

"Ma-Malia, I must leave the village." Ikaris grunted with difficulty as he struggled to keep his knife away from his throat.

The young woman became serious again as she saw the panic filling his features. The Crawlings' growls were getting louder and it was clear that they would soon attack. The death of their boss could only hold them back for so long.

"What's going on?" She asked in an urgent tone. "If you're talking about those Crawlers, although there are more of them than usual, me and Grallu can handle them."

"But can you defeat millions of them?" Ikaris shouted as he sprinted off into the jungle.

Asselin, Malia and Grallu turned livid when they heard his reply. Ikaris obviously couldn't know what it meant, but they knew.

"The Great Wall has been breached." Grallu shook with horror as she voiced this statement.

"The Barren Bush is doomed." Asselin wailed while squeezing the hilt of his sword so hard his knuckles had turned white. Why was he so far from his village and his parents when such a tragedy was happening?

But they had no time to wallow. The dozens of Crawlers that had gone after Ikaris were replaced by new ones, hundreds this time, and a bloody night began in Karragin.

The next sunrise, this village would never be the same.