Chapter 19: The Terror from the Weald

The Empire, as vast spanning as it was, only covered about 20 percent of the planet. The rest of the 80 percent? That was the known as the Weald.

An expanse of trees and roots, growing and twisting into each other, drinking the oceans, and towering into the skies; a field of white wood and lavender leaves. Casper could see the edge of it on the horizon, viewed from the roof of Terminus. The afternoon sun bared down upon him. He noticed that some of the trees out there looked to reach enormous heights, higher than any building he had ever seen. Briefly, he thought to himself if someone had ever built a base up there, way from the rest of the world. Just something to think of while he finished a pack of cigarettes, the red smoke dispersing into the air in front of him.

All the stories from people who entered and exited the Weald. Each and every one of them a horror story.

Stories of highly trained members of the Reborn Legion. Only one of them came back, missing an arm and a leg, begging with his superiors to not send him back.

There was a story of a group of cultists, fascinated by the Jinmenju. All of them became enthralled and controlled by an Amalgamate, never able to feel fear or pain for the rest of their lives. They worshiped the trees and the Amalgamates.

There were rumors of a great Amalgamate that towered into the sky, its head scrapping the atmosphere.

Out there, Casper's target waited for him. If they could survive out there, Casper had to be just as strong.

Rubbing his neck, he coughed a few times, the smoke burning his throat. Then, looked back to the surprisingly busy roof top. It was more of a small patio, with a decent sized garden at the back. Full of vegetables and fruits, makes sense as a way to sustain such a large group ship of people. The patio itself was mostly for lounging and conversing in a more comfortable location. Such comfort made Casper smile, a rarely seen occurance.

A smile that disappeared, as a piercing noise tore through the area. An alarm, more like an air raid siren, used in wars of old, people began to get up from their seats and talk among themselves. The rumbling of the earth, the heavy tension in his chest. Something big was coming.

Brushing past Casper, was a panicked individual. A jittery eyed Serval youth, with a star mark on his forehead. Casper's new roommate, Wells. "There!" he shouted, pointing off in the distance. Something coming from the Weald.

Even with all the checkpoints and guard towers that the Empire set up, some of the Weald's Amalgamates leaked out. Only the strongest Ascendants could survived out there, so when those strong Ascendants became Amalgamates? It resulted in only the fiercest of abominations. Abominations that grew ever stronger, through a brutal world of constant survival and cannibalizing other abominations to survive.

This was no exception.

The beast that rose up from the horizon, barreling directly towards Terminus, its speed not affected whatsoever by its massive size, resembled a sort of long legged centipede, rising up on the back half of its body while its front half wielded a pair of large bladed forelimbs. Each of its seemingly endless number of legs, lined in spikes and thorns. Its head, a cluster of green and red eyes that flickered and switched at various intervals. As it steadily made its way closer and closer, its agape, vertical mouth, located on its chest, spewed a vibrant purple fluid, that combusted on impact with the ground… It was as this point, that Casper realized just how massive it was, if it got close it would easily be able to use Terminus as a pillow; a very uncomfortable pillow. Even towering Jinmenju trees, as thick as buildings, were sliced clean through by a mere stroke of the beast's front claws.

"Wells!?" Casper shouted. "We need to get out of here? Does this place have any weapons on board?" The Sphynx's gun might've been big, but it was just a mere pebble compared to that giant.

"Ah? Dam- Casper." Wells said, looking to his old friend. "Y-yes, a lot of weapons! Missiles even!" He spoke in his usual awkward tone, with added panic… A panic that strangely subsided as he looked down, off the edge of the balcony. "But… Uh, I don't think they'll be needed."

"Come again?" Casper asked, looking down. There, walking away from Terminus, towards the charging Amalgamate, was but two Coalition members. One of them, an enormous man, built similar to Rakkan, a Bull Minos. But what confused Casper initially was his outfit; priest robes, more fitting for someone in a choir. In one hand was a book, in the other was a silver orb. He walked with a great calmness.

The other person was Sprag… She had a love for riding on big people's shoulders.

At the sight of the man, all the panic on the patio subsided.

"Who's that?" Casper asked

"Bartow. Terminus' pastor." Wells said, getting lower, so only his eyes and ears peaked over the railing, "I recommend just watching."

Down below, a good distance away from Terminus, Sprag and Bartow conversed, as they waited for the monster to get closer. Bartow, with his bible to his chest, pressed his orb to his forehead, mumbling a prayer to himself. "Oh Alu, Beautiful Mother, comfort me in my time of pain. Oh Alu, Loyal Guardian, protect me from those who hurt me unjustly. Oh Alu, Nurturing Land, give me the strength I need to fight my enemies. I dedicate this moment to you."

"Alright, chunky, do your thing!" Sprag shouted, "I bet 10,000 Shells that you miss!"

"What type of person would hope I miss?" Bartow grimaced, speaking with an incredibly deep baritone, as he watched the Amalgamate grow closer, its leg tearing up the land, its saliva burning the land in front of it, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

"I don't. But if you do, I get to call a missile strike and I really want to do that!" She hopped off of his shoulder. "Think he's close enough… I recognize this guy. Landwaster, we called him. Our scouts mentioned whole patches of the Weald would be destroyed by him merely moving around. To think he'd attack Terminus." She looked up at the pastor. "You sure you got this? I got a missile with my name literally written on it."

Bartow nodded, the Amalgamate was now close enough, just a bit of a drive away from the base. Bartow raised his orb high, "Even the tallest towers will fall from a missing beam or brick. Even the greatest kingdoms die without a leader." The orb began to glow a deep red color, as did Bartow's eyes. "…And you don't shoot at a giant unless you can hit him right between the eyes." With a brilliant explosion of light, Bartow tossed the orb at the Amalgamate, shimmering through the sky, a small bead that looked like a speck of dust as it approached the Amalgamate. This 'speck of dust' touched the head of Landwaster… Then nothing.

But, seconds later, the monster stopped in place. Its chitinous skin began to swell and bubble, as it let out a high pitched wail. A wail that was stopped as bit by bit, its body began to explode in several technicolored explosion. Like a fireworks show of bone, blood, and viscera, all while Bartow watched with an unphased expression; Sprag on the other hand had a wide grin on her face, clapping. Then, the lights lights contracted, and in one last burst of white light, Landwaster's ruin body burst in one last shower of gore.

Bartow, making one last holy sigil in front of him nodded. "Amen." Then, he walked off, back into Terminus.

"So," Casper said, eyes wide. "He's one of the more powerful members around here, I take it?" He was aware there were many ridiculously powerful Ascendants here, but his knowledge of power was but the tip of the iceberg.

"Yes, actually, I'd consider him one of the top 3." Wells nodded excitedly, counting on his fingers. "There is him. There is Grayham of the Holy Divers. Sangria of Oryctes. Awassi and Desert Queen are up there too but the gap between 3 and 4 is really big. So that makes it more of a top 5."

Awassi? So he really was more than just a doctor! Casper didn't recognize two of those other names. Sangria and Desert Queen. "So I'll be meeting with these guys sometime?"

"Yeah, but don't think of them as the leaders, even though Sangria and Grayham are the leaders of their respective groups."

"You're a collective group, I get it." Casper said, reaching into his jacket pocket, pulling out an empty packet of cigarettes, before grumbling. Right, he burned through them all these past few days…

"You can have one of mine." Wells said, taking a cigarette from his pocket.

An action that cause Casper to furrow his brow, even as he took it from the boy. "How long have you been smoking?" Giving the teenager a small push, he shook his head, "Don't smoke, kid, it'll kill you."

"You do though?"

"Because I'm old." Casper laughed, mocking the boy, only in jest.

"Aren't you only in your 20s?" Wells on the other hand, sounded as though he was taking the teasing a bit too much to heart, his ears drooping down slightly. "I've only been smoking for a few weeks, it's fine… Plus uh…" He coughed, looking away from Casper. "…A lot of us don't live very long, y'know…"

They really were on the same wave length… With an uncomfortable pause, Casper lit his cigarette once more, then looked to Wells. "Hey, don't think like that, you'll end up like me." He grinned, "Live long, right? Name your kid after me if you live that long. Also quit smoking, unless you want to die early!"

Heading back inside, coming down from the chaos he had just witnessed. Casper stopped as he came into the hall connecting to the roof… Standing there, facing him, was another sphynx. Dark skinned, dressed in a tattered suit that must've been fancy when it was first worn.

With a wide grin, a smile that was missing several teeth, the old man extended his hand. "Me oh my, it's like looking in a mirror that makes things slightly different! Vramosa mentioned you, another sphynx… A sphynx with a mark burned into the back of his name!"

Casper, not yet shaking the man's hand, was left puzzled by the mans odd dialect, putting extra emphasis on the occasional syllable.

"Grayham of the Holy Divers, here, pleasure to meet you, fellow marked~"