“What’s the reward?”
Asuna and Shin reacted in the exact same way. At the same time, they both couldn’t help but shout.
“Are you crazy!?”
The two shared a look with one another.
“Ryuta, you experienced first hand how dangerous those Mangshi birds are. One was almost enough to kill us and now you want to take on two, and without even discussing it with us or the others waiting outside.”
Shin nodded along with Asuna.
“Asuna’s right, even if you accept this, do you think we’ll just keep our mouths shut and follow along. Who cares about a reward when shits this dangerous. We have the map, so let’s just get the hell out of this stupid forest and forget about all this nonsense.”
Hearing their situation being called nonsense sent a wave of anger through the villager’s hearts as well as desperation but before they could cause a fuss, the chief gave them a sign to remain quiet.
“I agree with Shin, plus there’s no way I can kill a child. At the same time, we don’t even know if these people are telling us the truth. How can we just go along with them? Can you really say that you believe their story?”
Kazuki felt a shiver run down his spine.
“It feels so weird hearing the two of you agree with one another. you guys are starting to creep me out, cut it out.”
Kazuki was gonna make another joke but he could tell Asuna was getting pissed and losing patience. Instead, he decided to change tactics. If he could work on Asuna’s sympathy then he might just get her to go along with this and if she went along then Sam would as well and as they spoke a plan started to form in his head, the main ingredient just so happened to need Sam.
Pointing at the villagers, Kazuki spoke of them full of pity.
“Look at them, look at their faces and look at their skin. They are obviously going hungry. Tell me are their hollowed frames a lie. They clearly fear something, which has kept them in this cave and we ourselves have run into the Mangshi. Not only that, you heard what Nunully said. What’s the point of them having a Limiter inscription and not an Enhancing inscription. Since they don’t have Enhancing inscriptions then this Limiter tattoo is needed to suppress something else. You know what it cost us to become enhanced, how much gold Zeni do you think it would be to have Limiter tattoo’s placed on every man and wom…”
A screech filled with power tore the air asunder. Outside the cave, the screech was so loud and terrifying that it shook the interior, causing a few stalactites to break off from the ceiling. Kazuki, Asuna, and Shin had no time to worry about the screech and jumped into action.
*Bam Schink Thud*
Kazuki delivered a powerful punch and shattered a falling stalactite, causing it to become tiny bits of rubble. Asuna as well, even though her daggers were small, with the amount of force and speed she could produce, the falling rocks were reduced to tiny bits in the blink of an eye. Last but not least was Shin. As the rocks started falling Kazuki and Asuna had immediately moved but Shin had paused momentarily.
Not because he didn’t recognize the danger but instead because he knew how dangerous it was. He saw a few kids about to be crushed by the rocks and something within him broke loose. A flash of memory not of his own melded with him and he suddenly knew what to do. Shin’s body moved.
He felt power in his lower half and his left foot pivoted. With a shift in balance, Shin’s hip rotated and his leg came whipping through the air like, well a whip. His toes extended forward and he did a kick at the empty air in front of him. At the same time, a thought flashed through his mind and he roared.
The ring on Shin’s hand glowed and a blade of wind shot forth from his kick. Slicing through the air, the wind made a sharp whistle and sliced the falling rock, cleaving it in two. The pressure from the air still wasn’t done and the remaining power from the wind forced the rocks back into the side of the chamber where they shattered on impact.
Shin felt his heart racing terribly fast and felt a wave of exhaustion hit as his power nearly ran dry from his Mage core. Dizziness overtook him and he fell. Kazuki landed back by his side and caught him before he crashed face-first into the ground.
Kazuki looked down at him in surprise.
Shin though was too tired to speak and simply smiled at him wearily.
Asuna tapped Kazuki on the shoulder getting his attention.
“Ryuta, something’s not right, look.”
Asuna pointed at the villagers and the three were shocked by what they saw. Each villager was lying on the ground, thrashing about with all of their might. The Limiter tattoo lit up on their wrist causing an excruciating amount of pain upon them. Some even had the whites of their eyes showing while others would bite their bottom lip causing blood to spill down their chins.
After the loud screech had finally disappeared, only then did the thrashing stop. The entire chamber was filled with heavy breaths as everyone fought to calm themselves down. Slowly everyone began to get up, cold sweat pouring down their faces.
Kazuki extended a hand and helped the old chief up but before the chief could thank him, the chief screamed.
“Nooo! The boy, someone hold him down, he’s losing control.”
Off to the side a small boy, maybe 11 or 12 was still on the ground thrashing violently. His eyes had already rolled back into his head and his teeth were threatening to grind the rest into powder.
Kazuki, Asuna, and Shin had no clue what was going on but soon enough that witnessed a grotesque scene.
As the boy was thrashing violently several men and women pounced on him all at once to hold him down.
“Good, restrain him. Abah please hurry and help.”
The chief turned to the old woman who had spoken up before. Apparently, she was called Abah.
Old Abah was still struggling to her feet when she was called upon. Still, with a bit of support, she was helped over to the boy. Kneeling in front of the boy, she held a small object in her hand. Unwrapping a cloth from it, the women revealed an old black stone tablet. This tablet had a few cracks in it and looked like it would fall apart at any moment.
As soon as the other villagers saw the black stone tablet, many of them fell to their knees and clasped their hands in prayer.
The tablet was just slightly bigger than a full-grown man’s hand. Written down on it were several ancient words made from gold. This tablet was anything but ordinary. Abah held the tablet very carefully with one hand and the boy’s wrist with the other. Shutting her eyes, she started to murmur something under her breath. The boy’s thrashing still did not stop though and once Abah began to whisper her words, it actually made the boy even more violent.
The chief roared at the people holding him.
“Keep him still.”
Looking at Kazuki and the other he kneeled down and bowed to them.
“Please, could you help hold the boy?”
Kazuki shrugged his shoulders and walked over. Grabbing both of the boy’s arms, he gripped them tightly and suppressed him. The boy’s thrashing became no more but Kazuki’s eyes went wide in surprise. Although he wasn’t using anywhere near his full strength, Kazuki could tell, right now this 11-year-old boy had more strength than an average adult man.
Asuna as well came over and held his legs, she too became surprised by the boy’s strength.
Shin might have helped as well but he was still feeling the after-effects of using his new move.
Abah opened her eyes and they shone with a golden light. The boy was suffering immensely but Abah’s words seemed to have no noticeable effect. Then…
The boy released a horrifying scream as his chest began to bulge and deform outward.
*Crack snap pop pop pop*
Several ribs broke and snapped all on their own, piercing out of his own flesh, causing blood to spray out in every direction. At the sight of this, Asuna momentarily loosened her grip. The boy’s foot came flying up and landed heavily on Abah’s chest, causing her to collapse to the ground.
A soft groan of pain escaped her lips which caused the villagers to panic.
Kazuki’s shout snapped Asuna back to reality and she gripped the boy’s legs harder this time.
The chief came running over and helped the old woman up. The boy’s movements though did not wait. Following his chest exploding outward, the skin on his body began to peel away at a rapid rate and feathers sprouted out almost instantly. His jaw extended downward and his head started to stretch out. All of the boy’s teeth fell out and row after row of razor-sharp teeth jutted through his gums replacing them.
The boy’s ribs that had exploded from his chest folded over and changed shape, expanding his chest bone outward like a bird. Abah once more grabbed the boy’s wrist and began chanting once more. The old black stone tablet that already had many small cracks in it, grew one more. Starting from the bottom of the tablet, the crack went from the bottom left and slowly stretched diagonally up toward the right.
*Crack crack crack*
Everyone clasped their hands tighter and tighter as they prayed to some unknown deity. Abah as well, she reached deep down within her and pulled out as of her power as she could, finally, the ancient words written in gold upon the old black stone tablet began to glow.
The boy’s eyes both popped simultaneously and the juices from them ran down his face like runny eggs. Just when fresh skin began to grow overtop the empty sockets, the glowing words from the tablet flew out and landed upon the Limiter tattoo upon his small little wrist. The Limiter tattoo pulsed and the boy’s body shook violently. The transformation halted, dead in its tracks.
Once more the tattoo pulsed, sending a signal throughout the boy’s body.
*Pop pop crack snap pop*
The boy’s bones painfully reformed and collapsed his chest back to that of a normal child’s. The black feathers that had sprouted from his body fell away like dead leaves on a tree. The skin that had melted off showed signs of reverting but only came in partially leaving the boy exposed to the elements. The tissue that began to grow over his eyes, like a sunburn peeled away revealing two open holes in the boy’s face. Two tiny orbs started to form but then stopped.
Abah, could last no more and fell over unconscious. The chief quickly caught her before lowering her down slowly. Holding her hand tightly he whispered.
“It’s ok, sister, you did it, the boy’s gonna be ok.”
Abah though was out cold and could not reply.
Several villagers rushed over with clean clothes and began wrapping the boy’s face and the exposed parts of his body where the skin had yet to regrow. The boy finally came back to reason but could do nothing but cry out in apologetic sorrow.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t hate me, I couldn’t control it, I couldn’t stop.”
Kazuki sent some ki inside of the boy’s body and inspected him from head to toe. The boy’s internal organs had been moved and were in an awful state. He could tell that because of this weird body these villagers had, the boy would recover quicker than a regular human but right now he was still suffering, so Kazuki sent a bit of his ki in and helped take away some pain as well as help heal him faster.
With a quick thought, Kazuki smiled inwardly. Turning to Asuna he wore a heartbroken expression.
“Asuna, do you still think they are lying?”
Asuna trembled but had no response.
The chief, after making sure Abah was ok, spoke with Kazuki and the others.
“That was Mei. With her power she can forcibly make us transform, but that’s not all. Once we transform, she can completely control us forcing us to be her slaves. That much power in the hands of a child can only end with corruption and death. If she isn’t stopped, not only we but others, other innocent people will die. I beg of you all, please stop her.”