Book 4, Chapter 26

Blood Bait

Phaser stood silent for a moment, her eyes closed. When she opened them again, a wisp of dark green started burning deep within to turn a bloody red. Crackling sounds rang throughout her body as she grew a little taller, her aura growing more powerful.

She raised her hand and gazed at it, a pale crimson wisp appearing at her fingertip in response. ‘Now level 11, these elves are nutritious. 50 more for level 12… 150 for level 13… 450 for level 14…’ she calculated silently.

The shortsword stuck in her chest was pulled out, thrown by the wayside without so much as a glance. The wound on her left breast hadn’t shed a single drop of blood, mending immediately to leave behind a long, shallow scar.

Phaser’s thoracic cavity was densely packed with bone and muscle, the latter of which carried the ability to store energy. Whenever a foreign object pierced into her, the muscles would force the special bones to clamp down on the invader firmly; the heart was not her weakness but a trap.

“The last one has been dealt with, Master,” she sent out the message, turning to walk in Richard’s direction.

As a construct of the broodmother, she had a particularly powerful spiritual link with Richard that exceeded everyone but Waterflower. When Richard’s soul strength increased back in Faelor, they had become able to communicate over this link.

……

After regrouping with Phaser and Waterflower, Richard carried the unconscious druid out of the jungle. The elven warriors attempting the rescue had been ambushed and killed, but without a good grasp of how long it would take for more to arrive, he wished to avoid any unnecessary complications.

The trio quickly retreated from the forest, knowing they would be the safe the moment they were out in the open. Once they did come out, Richard was in no hurry to return to the city itself; he waited until Agamemnon exited as well, a magical staff covered with leaves in hand. This was a nature staff, the kind favoured by the druids.

“I got careless,” the youth forced a smile, “The quarry escaped, and all I got was an arm and this damned thing.”

However, Richard was already astonished; Agamemnon was even stronger than he had anticipated. He himself possessed many special abilities that qualified him for this attempt; in particular, his Nature’s Domain rune and elven blood. In fact, he was better adapted to the forest than these elves themselves. Even so, the panthers that the druids could turn into were invisible, and detecting their presence required a considerable amount of luck. He had been expecting Agamemnon to return empty-handed.

Richard had captured his prey easily because of the teen’s inexperience. However, Agamemnon had actually found one himself and even claimed an arm and the nature staff that was practically their second life. It had to be known that Agamemnon didn’t have his legendary hammer in hand during the ambush, only a normal sword.

Richard looked back at the dense jungle, waving the druid in his hands, “Let’s return, the elves might make some noticeable movements tomorrow.”

When they were back in the city, he called out to Agamemnon and pointed at the unconscious druid, “This little punk has quite the spirit, my men might not be able to get anything out of him. Why don’t you send some of yours over as well, and we’ll see what we can do?”

Agamemnon eyed Richard deeply and nodded, “Very well.”

Richard smiled, handing the youth over to Olar and giving him some instructions before retiring to rest. Staying in the extremely moist forest was far from pleasant, and unlikely as it seemed some moss had started growing over him in the short period of time.

……

The next morning, the city gates opened up as usual. Three platoons of warriors exited in formation, beginning to cut down trees. The troops were still being led by elite humanoid knights, but this time their crimson armour was decorated with golden patterns. A new insignia had been emblazoned on their breastplates, depicting a world tree against a volcanic background. With such an elaborate crest and the shiny armour, even an idiot would understand that these elites were of immense significance.

Richard casually explained to Nyris that he had designed a personal crest in his leisure time, infuriating the Prince who was practically bored to death. The crest was the start of a new branch family; something Richard was definitely competent to make. The only things he lacked now were connections and capital.

While the restless youth was lamenting, Agamemnon remained silently at his side. His expression was unreadable, but his hand was patting Nyris’ hair.

Although nobody mentioned it, Richard had already noticed that the insignia on Agamemnon’s soldiers was irregular as well. The base crest of the 200 sanguinary guards was a white shield emblazoned with three golden fleurs-de-lis, the crest of the Orleans Family. Every branch had its own variations on the above; for example, the Ironblood Duke's personal crest had a horizontal sword replacing the blood dripping from the petals. However, these sanguinary guards had the three fleurs-de-lis against a winged sky-blue shield. This was a variation that he had never seen before.

The warriors were chatting and joking as usual, logging in high spirits. Richard and Agamemnon’s nightly raid that resulted in one druid captured and another severely wounded had greatly bolstered their resolve. This was a clear sign that the natives were nothing worth fearing at all. It was just like Richard had said, they would cut all the damned trees down until they reached the elves’ den. They were particularly efficient this day.

The walking woods still showed themselves in the night, but although Richard and Agamemnon had no plans of striking one could see how panicked the druids were. The number of trees sent over wasn’t even half of what was normally seen.

The only complication was that the teenage druid was stubbornly resisting interrogation. He had an ironclad will, one that even Richard felt he could not match. A skilled interrogator like Olar and two of Nyris’ subordinates had exhausted every trick in the book but there was no effect. The youth’s soul was shielded in a shell of green energy, the protection of the forest, that made any spells affecting the mind useless.

After a day’s hard work, everyone else began giving their own ideas. Tiramisu wanted to cook his left leg, a suggestion seconded by Phaser. Scherr and several others were bickering as well, mostly with some uncreative suggestions about amputating the boy that wasn’t even as scary as what the ogre wanted to do.

Master Pamir suggested raping the rather handsome boy with several strong men to cause some psychological trauma, the physical harm only being an afterthought. This grand mage apparently had some rather strange fetishes. However, Richard was sceptical whether such a method would work. Druids’ animal transformations weren’t purely physical; their minds were altered somewhat as well. There was no shortage of druids in Norland who had lost themselves to their transformations, becoming base beasts.

In came numerous varied proposals, but not a single one was workable. Someone suggested pulling the druid back to Norland and using the divine grace of the Eternal Dragon to eliminate the barrier on his soul, but that was just too expensive for any potential use.

Richard came up with a plan of his own, ordering a consistent torture schedule that only left the youth with half an hour’s sleep a day. More often than not, interrogation was a game of patience.

The next day, the three logging groups set out as usual. One of them was targetting a patch of sparse forest at the edge, just heralded out by the druids the night before. They were now experienced enough to have learnt that these new trees took less effort to cut down, focusing on them before turning their attention to the indigenous trees.

The platoon spread into the jungle, several dozen woodcutters each protected by two bodyguards. The elite humanoid knight of the team was patrolling the surroundings as a precaution.

It was then that the situation changed drastically.

A dozen ancient trees grew animated, ferocious faces appearing on their trunks as they swung thick branches viciously at the surrounding warriors. Some of the soldiers barely managed to raise their shields in time, but they were sent flying out. Those without shields ended up with shattered bones.

In an instant, the casualties numbered in the dozens.

The elite humanoid knight was surrounded by four of the treants. He grimly swung his sword to cut down the one in front of him, but with seven or eight branches on each they were almost impossible to avoid. He dodged the attacks from behind him only to be struck in the side, his steed pierced by several branches. His shoulder suffered a heavy blow from a huge branch, and he was thrown to the ground.

The elite knight spat blood from his mouth, struggling to get up, but a seed suddenly shot out from the jungle and landed squarely on his body. An untold number of vines sprouted out violently, firmly restraining him in a scant few seconds. The vines were more resilient than steel; no matter how much the knight struggled, it was all for nought.

Four elven warriors leapt down from the trees like ghosts, each with a vine in hand. They hoisted the humanoid knight and immediately retreated into the jungle, vanishing into the sea of trees. One druid nearby waved his nature staff and turned into a panther, his silhouette slowly disappearing from view.

At the edge of the forest, the dozen treants were still pursuing the human warriors. They were about equivalent to level 14, but with resilience and strength far beyond a human at the same level, the soldiers would only be slaughtered.

Light shone from the distant city walls as Richard’s powerhouses flew towards the battlefield. When Scherr, Nyris, Agamemnon, and the rest arrived, the ones being slaughtered would be the treants instead.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: JH

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA