The Beginning After The End | Chapter 308

The Beginning After The End - Read Light Novel

Beginning After The End Manhwa Novel

Chapter 308



 Chapter 308


Caera and I appeared atop the snow-capped cliff guarding the entrance to the Spear Beak village . Branches of aetheric lightning crackled around us from the use of God Step as we were greeted by the sharp, beady stares of several dozen oversized birds .


Large torch lights cast a warm glow over the once eerily cold village and filled the hollow mountain top with a wooden, slightly acrid scent .


Suddenly, a cacophony of sounds erupted from the Spear Beaks as they began to flap, honk, and screech . A few even took to the skies carrying long, colorful streamers, circling over us in an intricate pattern .


“Are they…throwing us a party?” Caera asked hesitantly .


“Stay on guard,” I whispered before taking a step forward .


Immediately, the crowd of Spear Beaks parted to create a path for us, revealing Old Broke Beak garbed in an elaborate fur coat that reflected the flickering lights cast by the torches .


Lining each side of the path to Old Broke Beak, warriors of the tribe held out a variety of food .


“Welcome, welcome mighty ascenders!” Old Broke Beak squawked excitedly, rousing another wave of cheers from his tribe . “Yes! Today, we celebrate our warriors’ return . ”


As if possessed, the overgrown birds all began to squirm and move erratically to a rapid beat made by two Spear Beaks beating their beaks on what looked to be a giant drum .


Old Broke Beak began to walk toward us, his stick-thin legs quaking slightly as he took slow step after slow step .


Curious to see what he and his village had planned, I waited for him to arrive just a step away from me and Caera . He gently placed a wing on each of our shoulders and let out a mournful honk .


“The scouts say that Swiftsure fell in battle, but he has been brave, yes, very brave, and will soar high with the Creators!” the old Spear Beak squawked . Caera and I exchanged a wary glance .


Lowering his frail wings, he continued . “Our scouts also tell of your triumph over the wild things . This deed will be written in history for all our tribe members to read, yes!”


‘Their attitudes are a lot more humble than when we first talked to them . I like that,’ Regis thought weakly from within me . Though he was no longer wrapped around my core like a leech and was speaking to me again, Regis wasn’t yet strong enough to maintain a physical form after his use of the Destruction Rune .


“It’s nothing heroic,” I dismissed . “We’re just doing what we have to do to leave this zone . ”


“Heroic, a good word! And a true one, yes . We Spear Beaks can only bow in awe at your bravery,” he said before gesturing with one wing toward the table with food . “Ascenders, you must be famished . Please, the warriors of my tribe have brought you gifts of food and drink!”


“Is that all for us?” I asked, looking more closely at the items held in the Spear Beaks’ wings . Two carried slabs of meat, while three others did their best to hold handfuls of a fruit that looked like giant blueberries . A sixth carried a sharp black stone, while the last two each held an earthenware jug that sloshed when they moved .


Old Broke Beak nodded his head . “A humble gift from humble Spear Beaks, yes . ”


Caera subtly squeezed the back of my arm twice, though her smile didn’t falter . Even without prior preparation on nonverbal signals, I knew what she meant . If the Spear Beaks were as crafty and cold-hearted as I feared, it was possible they would try to do away with us and take the portal pieces for themselves .


How would I eliminate an unwary, yet more powerful foe?


I looked at the food again . Poisoned? I wondered, though when I met Old Broke Beak’s eye, I made sure to keep my face passive, even thankful .


“Without any disrespect, we couldn’t possibly accept such gifts . Surely your brave warriors should be allowed to enjoy such spoils themselves?” I said, lowering my gaze . “It would be more than enough if we could simply ask for your hospitality once again . ”


The old bird stood wordless as his good eye travelled up and down me, his cracked beak pointing wherever his gaze went until he finally spoke .


“Very well! While some may see it as disrespectful—though not I, no, not Old Broke Beak—to reject a Spear Beak’s gift, I see that Swiftsure’s ascension to the Creators has been difficult to bear, and so has put the ascenders off their hunger . It weighs on us also, very much so . But a feast will still be prepared, yes!” he said with a nod . “Come to Old Broke Beak’s hut, so that we may sit and discuss . There is much for you to tell . ”


Old Broke Beak led us past the line of Spear Beaks holding gifts, and though the giant berries looked delicious, they served to remind me of the memory that Three Steps had shared with me, and I knew it was best to avoid any potential trap the wily birds might prepare for us .


If they were smart enough to bait in two cautious Shadow Claws, who were taught from birth to watch out for Spear Beaks, then they were smart enough to poison some food in an effort to weaken or even kill us .


‘I thought your cockroach-like body was immune to things like poison, though,’ Regis chimed in .


But Caera isn’t, I replied . I’d rather be rude than stupid . Anyway, I wanted to see how Old Broke Beak reacted to our refusal . Now stay quiet and focus on recovering . You’re useless to me in this state .


I could almost feel Regis roll his eyes as he replied, ‘Aye aye, princess . ’


The couple whose egg we had consumed, True Feather and Red Wings, stood amongst the rows of gangly Spear Beaks, staring at Caera and I as we followed Old Broke Beak into his hut . I thought of the dark shape in the sky above the Shadow Claws’ village and wondered if it had been Red Wings who had followed and spied on us .


Once the elderly chief led us inside his home, he dipped his cracked beak and stepped back outside . “Please get some rest here . There is still much to be done, but I will be back soon, yes . ”


“Wait . We came here with the portal pieces like you asked,” I said hurriedly, not wanting to wait . “I want to try and repair the portal with what we have now, so we just need your tribe’s piece and we’ll—”


“No . ” Old Broke Beak clacked his beak sharply to cut me off . “You must provide the four, and we will provide the one . Right now, ascender only holds three . Rest for now, and we will together find a way to claim the final piece . ”


With that, the chief hobbled away, leaving Caera and I alone .


Caera let out a sigh beside me as she sunk to the ground . “How frustrating . ”


“That’s putting it mildly,” I said with a scoff as my eyes flickered to the bed of straw, feathers, and grass where Old Broke Beak usually sat .


“It’s unlikely the old bird left the one thing we want alone in the same room as us,” the Alacryan noble chimed in as I made my way toward where the portal piece had previously been hidden .


I rifled through the bedding, but only found the dusty floor of the chief’s hut . “Damn it . ”


Caera remained silent as I took a seat next to her, tense and angry .


It hadn’t been that long since we’d first arrived at the Spear Beaks’ village, grateful for Swiftsure’s assistance and the village’s hospitality . But in that short time frame, a lot had changed…I had seen too much .


A part of me blamed myself for everything that transpired . I should’ve noticed it sooner: the facts that didn’t quite add up to what these tall birds had told us, the animosity that all other tribes had toward the Spear Beaks, the bird people’s eagerness to use us for their own purposes .


If it hadn’t been for the Four Fists chieftain’s challenge, we might have exterminated the entire tribe before realizing they were anything but wild aether beasts . If it wasn’t for the lingering doubt I’d felt after that battle, we might have gotten revenge against the Shadow Claws for their ambush .


I shuddered at the thought of Three Steps and the rest of her tribe’s corpses scattered about in a maelstrom of Caera’s soulfire and my aether blasts .


No . I did the right thing in following my instincts, and while lives were lost, much worse could’ve happened if I had trusted Old Broke Beak implicitly .


While the elderly chief and his tribe still thought we were on their side, I had to be patient and wait for the right moment .


“How’s Regis doing?” Caera asked, snapping me out of my thoughts .


“He’s using my aether reserves to recover while he rests,” I answered, turning to the Alacryan noble .


That was when I noticed that she was no longer shivering from the cold, or even wearing a blanket over her shoulders . “Are you not cold?”


“It’s a lot warmer here than before . Maybe because of the torches they have lit outside for the festival,” she said, shaking her head . “Anyway, do you know what caused him to behave so wildly earlier during our battle?”


“It had to do with him tapping into the Destruction godrune that I have,” I began . “It’s difficult to explain, but Regis is a lot more compatible with that specific type of magic than I am, even though I’m the one that technically has access to this magic . ”


“So he wasn’t able to fully control it,” Caera said in understanding .


I looked down at my empty palm . “Basically . This magic is really harmful to the caster if they’re not compatible, though, which makes it hard for me to practice it . Because Regis isn’t limited like I am, I think he’s learning at a much faster—”


I stopped, realizing that I had begun rambling .


Looking back up, I could see the Alacryan noble watching me, her obsidian horns shimmering from the torch light .


I frowned . “What is it?”


“It’s nothing,” she said, revealing a faint smile . “I just appreciate the fact that you’re able to share these things with me . Even if I don’t fully understand, I doubt this was something you would have revealed to me when we first met . ”


I cleared my throat before turning away from her scarlet gaze . “The fact that I could silence you at any moment hasn’t changed . ”


Despite my threat, however, Caera let out a chuckle . “Yes, yes . ”


~


“Elder Broke Beak,” Caera said, her voice clear and confident as we followed behind the gangly old bird . “You said earlier that your tribe would help us get the final portal piece, but we seem to be heading deeper into your village . ”


We had waited in his hut for several hours before he finally returned with a group of battle-scarred Spear Beaks behind him, only for him to have us follow him back out . Now, we were walking on a well-lit path leading toward the steep cliff that sheltered their village .


“The Spear Beaks will help you hunt the Ghost Bears, yes . We will find, and you will fight . ” His cracked beak nodded up and down as he spoke . “But first, you must join us for a feast . Very rare feast indeed . ”


I began to think of excuses to make in order not to eat any of the food provided by the Spear Beaks as we ascended the steep cliff .


Two of the scarred Spear Beaks carried Old Broke Beak, since he was too old to fly . While I was tempted to simply God Step to the top, I didn’t want to waste any aether in case things went south, so Caera and I jumped up, using some of the jagged protrusions of the cliff as footholds .


We appeared on the ledge of a small, flat cliff overlooking the village . Tall torch lights were embedded all over the cliff, casting a warm glow over the crowd of Spear Beaks that were already there . A pillar of smoke rose from a fire behind the tall birds, which began to shuffle out of the way at the sight of Old Broke Beak .


The elderly chief of the village was waiting for us, his one violet eye glimmering in excitement as he motioned with one wing . “Behold!”


“Grey?” Caera’s voice was small and disgusted .


I looked from Old Broke Beak to her, then followed the line of her gaze to the “feast . ”


Laid out on a wide, flat stone was the huge Four Fists chieftain . All four of his hands had been removed, as had both his eyes and the largest of his tusks . His once silver hide had been flayed, while a large gash on his stomach had stretched open and stuffed with more of the large, round blueberries as a roaring fire danced beneath the stone slab he was on .


“What the hell is this?” I asked, unable to hide my revulsion .


“A most rare feast!” Old Broke Beak exclaimed . He then turned toward the waiting Spear Beaks and began to clack and caw in their rasping, birdish language . The tribe listened, then cheered and crowed to the sky, a few even leaping from their perches to wheel around the high peak .


“I have told them,” Old Broke Beak said, turning to us, “of your victory over the brutish Four Fists clan, and how you killed their chief and left the clan weak and without protection . ” He followed this proclamation with a little bow .


My gaze drifted back to the Four Fists’ body . “How’d you get this?”


“Raided the village after your battle,” Old Broke Beak answered proudly . “An honor to feast on a fallen enemy, yes . ”


“Barbaric,” Caera muttered under her breath next to me . The chieftain’s purple eye flicked to her, though I couldn’t tell if he understood what she’d said .


“I’m sorry,” I said, dipping my head in an effort to hide my disgust . “In our cultures, we don’t eat…our fallen foes . ”


Old Broke Beak let out a raspy gasp . “What a waste to leave strong enemies to rot on the ground, but we will not force you . Would the ascenders, perhaps, prefer another egg for energy?”


‘Did someone say egg?’ Regis chirped, his voice half groggy still .


I shook my head . “That won’t be necessary . In fact, we’d like to get on our way as soon as—”


Old Broke Beak squawked, cutting me off . He hopped a few steps away and held his wings out to his people, then burst out with a single sharp noise .


A cry went up from the Spear Beaks and they rushed down on the corpse, rending and tearing at the half-frozen flesh like a wake of vultures . I turned away, letting my gaze drift over the village below .


Two Spear Beaks had left the peak and were slowly wheeling down to the collection of huts .


Beside me, Old Broke Beak said, “Spear Beaks will celebrate in the enemy’s dead flesh for you then, yes? There has been another egg that is empty of a hatchling . We will bring it . ”


“As I was saying,” I started again, my jaw clenched in frustration, “we would like to leave soon . My companions and I see no reason to hunt the Ghost Bears unless we can’t make the portal work with just the four pieces we already have . ”


“Three,” the chieftain said, watching with apparent pleasure as his tribe devoured the Four Fists’ corpse . “Honorable ascender agreed to fetch four pieces, and we agreed to give the fifth . You only have three pieces . ”


I let out a deep breath as I locked eyes with Old Broke Beak . My gaze was calm and level but the aether-laced pressure casting a palpable chill in the air made my intentions clear . Caera and the old bird stiffened, and the three scarred Spear Beaks stepped up to guard their leader .


“I’ve been civil up until now, but I’m at my limit,” I said, my voice icy . “We are not a weapon for you to point at your enemies . You can either help us of your own free will, or our time as allies will come to an end . ”


A veil of silence fell over the proceedings as even the Spear Beaks feasting on the Four Fists corpse stopped to stare at us .


“As you say . Stay, at least, for this feast . Such victories are not enjoyed often by my people . Eat of the egg of Rising Wind and Thunder Cutter, let the tribe live this moment, while I retrieve you the piece . Yes?”


“I will decline the meal,” I said firmly, my gaze piercing through the gangly old bird .


Old Broke Beak clacked his beak in what looked like a display of frustration but quickly hid his emotions with a sharp laugh . “The heroic ascenders wish to fly as fast as Spear Beaks . Very well!”


The chieftain let out a series of sharp squawks to one of the Spear Beaks behind him before turning back to us . “Blade Wing will bring our portal piece . ”


With a curt bow, the old bird shuffled back with his three guards . Despite their violet eyes boring holes in me, I finally thought we could relax .


That was when my body began to feel sluggish, like my very muscles had frozen . My breaths came out in haggard rasps .


“G-Grey . ”


I felt Caera grab onto my arm for support as she stumbled . Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Old Broke Beak’s only eye glimmering in excitement as he eagerly watched .


Caera fell to the ground in a fit of labored breaths as I buckled to my knees, heart pounding against my chest in fear for the Alacryan noble .


“What…did you…do,” I said in a forced voice, turning my gaze fully toward the chieftain .


The elderly bird let out a shrill laugh, which was echoed amongst his tribe members as they stared at us in delight .


“Old Broke Beak may not be strong as mighty ascenders, no, but he has the best of brains!” he said while practically skipping toward us . “You see, this one knew the ascender would not eat our food . Suspicious, yes! Obvious, yes!”


I fell to my side, one ear on Caera to make sure she was still breathing behind me .


The old bird remained a few yards away, safe behind his battle-scarred protectors, and continued to speak . “This is why Old Broke Beak poisoned the fires so that smoke would be breathed in by the ascenders . Not harmful to Spear Beaks, very bad for others!”


“Cae-Caera,” I mustered through gritted teeth .


“Poison will not kill . Ascender has to fight the Ghost Bears after all, yes! Ascender will give us four portal pieces, Spear Beaks will give back ascender’s mate,” the chieftain responded .


“Won’t…kill?” I repeated .


Old Broke Beak let out an impatient squawk . “Yes! Won’t kill, won’t kill . ”


“Good,” I replied, no longer laboring to breathe .


Violet lightning crackled around me as I God Stepped behind Old Broke Beak and made a fist around his neck . “Then it looks like our negotiations are over . ”


*

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