Legend of the Gunslinger Mage Chapter 70: The Swarm

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Five minutes after leaving Broken Hill, Manco was at the edge of the unnamed forest north of the town. It was almost completely silent except for the rustling of leaves in the wind.

Having made sure no one was tailing him, he double-checked the map for the approximate location of the witch's hut and made his way toward it. After a minute's walk, he heard faint buzzing sounds ahead.

'They've already spread out this far?' he muttered, watching a group of insects of various types crawling around on a dead tree.

'It doesn't matter. Let's do this!' He checked his equipment and consumables. Exhaling sharply, he walked forward.

With each step, he heard wet crunching sounds of his boots crushing dozen of crawlers. His nose was filled with the damp smell of rotted plants and animal carcasses. Trying his best to ignore them, he focused on the path ahead.

As if sensing a new threat (or a new prey to be more precise) the volume of the buzzing grew by several levels. The scenery shifted as tens of thousands of insects seemed to materialize out of thin air and hovered around him. He knew that they were simply hiding atop the tree branches or on the ground, but the effect was still uncanny.

Without stopping, Manco cast [Mana Shield]. With a few gestures, he quickly adjusted the shield to become as small as possible while still completely covering his body. As he released the spell, a transparent dome materialized around him. A shield of this size cost roughly 10% of his mana to cast and 1% per minute to maintain, which was offset handily by his natural mana regeneration.

Lighting a torch for better visibility, Manco stepped toward.

With small pitter-patter sounds like rain, several dozen insects crashed against the shield. Noting the negligible effect to his mana reserves, he kept moving and the shield shifted to cover him.

The insects kept crashing into the shield from all directions, as if to test his defense. Four meters ahead of him, a fallen tree was crawling with countless insects. A big swarm hovered nearby, moving in sync in a mesmerizing pattern.

Aiming at the tree, he threw a fireball. The fiery projectile traveled in an arc, hissing as it vaporized small fliers on the way. Then it hit the tree and exploded, instantly roasting hundreds of the small creatures. There was a violent hiss and the air was filled with a noxious smell of burned insects. The surviving ones scrambled away from the burning tree.

Since these creepy crawlies were repelled by fire, Manco planned to set things a flame and create a second barrier to keep them off him on the way to the hut. However…

'Shit. It doesn't work!' He frowned as the fire quickly died out. The air around was too damp and almost everything was covered in insect droppings. Regular fire wouldn't last long.

He didn't have long to dwell on this, as an angry screech drew his attention. To his right, he saw something rushing at him. In the light of the torch, he could only see a pitch-dark mass approaching at a break-neck speed.

Diving forward, Manco narrowly avoided the thing, which grazed his shield and shaved off a visible chunk on his mana bar. Without thinking, he aimed at it with his free hand.

[Mana Blast]!

The force of the explosion tore the thing in two. Each half stopped moving, shuddered in mid-air, then began shattering into thousands of tiny pieces. Manco realized that the 'thing' was simply a big pack comprised of hundreds of thousands of insects, packed together so densely that they looked like a single organism.

'Not so fast!' Before they could completely scatter, he equipped the skull wand and fired off another spell.

[Dark Implosion]!

His next attack gathered all the insects within a sphere and crushed them into a fist-sized lump which fell to the ground.

Before he could celebrate, something slammed into his back. The shield trembled and almost half of his mana bar was depleted.

Gritting his teeth, he shot a Fireball and several Fire bolts toward all directions. As the projectiles made contact with tree branches, the flashes of light revealed several dozen quivering black clouds that were getting larger by the seconds.

'Dammit!' Manco frowned as he saw multiple densely-packed swarms forming around him. Having apparently learned that this was an effective move, they sought to repeat it.

'Alright, let's play!' Acting first, he readied a vial of Alchemical Fire and threw it at the nearest swarm.

The vial shattered, spilling a magically burning liquid that killed thousands of the pests. The liquid splattered onto the ground, creating a pool of fire. Standing as close as he could to the fire, he used it as cover and began firing at the other swarms with his AoE spells.

[Mana Blast]!

[Dark Implosion]!

[Fireball]!

Over the next few minutes, screeches, shrieks, squeals were deafening as Manco attacked the clouds of insects. The fire kept them off his back so that he had one less direction to worry about. However, as much as he tried, he didn't seem to make a dent in their numbers. They seemed to continuously regenerate without limit.

As the alchemical fire died out, the buzzing grew in intensity and the air and the ground around him became thick with the combined mass of squirming insects.

Before the fire was completely extinguished, the small pests formed a thick blanket, clung to the mana shield, and completely covered his vision.

'Are you kidding me?' Muttering in disbelief, Manco used a [Gust] spell that tore off a large chunk of the 'blanket' …

… Just in time to see a giant ball slamming into him. The sheer combined mass of the insects shattered the mana shield and slammed into his body, knocking him off his feet. The swarm then pressed him onto the ground and immediately start biting into whatever part of him they could latch on.

'Fuck!' For a split second, his mind went blank by the smell, the sound and the sensation of being crushed and bitten to death by half a ton of insects.

Getting ahold of himself, Manco cast another [Mana Shield], which pushed the insects off his body. Fighting the bouth the light-headedness caused by the depletion of his mana bar, he spit out bits of dead insects, then chugged down a vial of mana potion, bringing his reserve back up to 30%.

In the dying light of his torch, he saw the massive swarm reeling back, preparing for another assault.

Another 'blanket' fell on the shield, once again obscuring his vision. Tearing it off with a [Dark Implosion], Manco saw the main attack. This time, it came from above. The buzzing and screeching reached a crescendo as the gigantic cloud descended upon him.

Manco took out a vial of Alchemical Fire and tossed it straight up.

[Spatial Displacement]

As the vial began to drop, he teleported himself toward the direction of the hut and broke into a full sprint.

A flame roared to life behind him along with deafening death cries of millions of the tiny creatures, but he didn't look back. Instead, he kept dashing forward, his mind divided between maintaining his mana shield and navigating the treacherous terrains in the dark.

Along the way, he used his fire spells liberally, creating a trail of fire to slow down their approach.

After the big-scale assaults failed, the swarm stopped bunching together into large clusters, and instead, formed fist-sized clumps and pelted themselves at his mana shield. Individually they didn't do much damage, but combined together, they quickly wore down his mana reserve.

Glancing down at his belt, which had no potion vials left, Manco grimaced and ran faster.

Eventually, the trees thinned out and he caught a glimpse of an orange light. Half a minute later, he reached a lake. The water was pitch black, reflecting the dark moonless sky.

At the lake side was a crooked wooden hut standing atop a low mound and surrounded by a fence. Orange light was streaming from one of the windows.

Manco dashed toward the fence and vaulted over it, belatedly noting it was made of human bones and crowned with human skulls. Without pausing, he stepped on the leaf-covered mound. It was strangely soft like rubber.

'If this isn't the witch's hut, then I'm screwed!' Trying the door, he to find it unlocked.

With another Gust spell, he repelled the swarming insects, opened the door, dived in, and kicked it closed.

"Damn it, that was close!" he breathed out a sigh of relief and looked at his mana bar, which had almost depleted.
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