As the battle approached, Richard communicated his decision to the tree of life. It was currently the weakest it had ever been, riddled with so many injuries that it couldn’t conjure up its cervitaur form. Even their thought communication was rather rudimentary, comprised more of ideas than anything else.
“You can have everyone leave, I will hold them back for a few hours,” the tree said calmly.
However, Richard shook his head, “Surrender, we don’t need the extra time.”
“But…” the tree hesitated.
Richard knew its problem: as a tree from a primary plane, it stood equal to the world tree of the Forest Plane. Bowing to an inferior being was humiliating. However, he continued to persuade it, “Survive, and I’ll be back very soon. My troops are waiting right at the portal, and I’ll charge right back and rip the enemies apart.”
Eventually, the tree sent him a soft affirmative.
While telling the tree to stay behind was painful, it was actually the easiest part of what he had to do. Now, he had to take care of the elves themselves. Counting the rune knights, only half of the tribe could actually evacuate on horseback; while the most powerful of the hunters would be able to keep up on foot, the rest would fail.
Alice’s suggestion was to take the women, children, and the elite warriors. The rest would be defenceless, but they would manage to take along those who were vital to the resurgence of the tribe. Even leaving the most powerful warriors behind would make little difference, so she wanted to focus on rebuilding first. An additional issue was that the older and weaker elves would be more of a burden to take along; they would tire faster and move slower even on horseback, which meant more rune knights sacrificed to keep them safe.
However, the elves themselves disagreed. All of the elite warriors including both great druids and two saints volunteered to stay back, pushing for a bulk of the remainder to leave. They would rather die in war than leave their kin behind; while elven society followed a strict hierarchy of status, it also followed the same hierarchy in responsibilities.
The two parties were arguing constantly until Richard put a stop to it. He had ten of his toughest and fastest rune knights dismount, having them follow on foot. Giving those ten mounts in addition to his own unicorn for the old and weak to ride, he put an end to the conversation. He still urged the elite warriors and druids to follow along— they were far more necessary in rebuilding than they would be to hold the enemy back— but the final decision was up to them.
After a few moments of discussion, the elves decided to leave about a third of the elite warriors behind. One of the saint hunters volunteered his life in delaying the onslaught, while the rest would follow Richard to the city.
Richard nodded at the saint, “You may choose to surrender, I will be back soon.”
However, the hunter saluted to him in a gesture reserved for the highest of elven lords, “Never!”
Richard wanted to argue the practicality of it all, but he just nodded and moved on. The other saint and two druids took the opportunity to salute him in the same way, signifying that they had finally acknowledged him as the true lord of the Evernight Tribe. Seeing less than five hundred elves left, he found little reason to rejoice.
The troop set off immediately; the treants were still on their tails, and they couldn’t afford to waste a single minute. The horses meant to transport the elves were completely loaded with the slowest members of the tribe, with Richard himself making the journey on foot despite his obvious weakness. Alice had jumped down to move alongside him, allowing the elves to use her mount as well.
Only a few minutes into the journey, she couldn’t take it anymore and asked, “Why?”
Richard didn’t respond immediately, instead looking around at the rune knights and elves in his surroundings. Everyone had set aside their differences in the midst of combat, and they were constantly glancing at him to make sure he was alright. Coughing softly, he answered her, “Unity.”
“Unity?” Alice thought over the word repeatedly, but she just couldn’t understand. Couldn’t one just force their way through now and be a little more gentle afterwards?
Her thoughts were interrupted by Richard coming to an abrupt halt. He slowly turned to face the tree of life in the distance, as did the three strongest elves. Each one heard the pained cry of the tree, who was now flapping its roots and branches frantically to eliminate as many of the treants as it could. Several dark shadows were swarming it, of the same shape as the forest elves but two times the size with black scales instead of skin. These creatures were much faster than the ordinary elves, pouncing up the tree like wolves and biting right into it with razor-sharp teeth.
The tree’s howl of pain as it was eaten alive spread far and wide through the forest, accompanied by the screams of the evernight elves that had stayed behind. These monstrous creatures had swarmed everything like locusts, gnawing at what they could without sparing a second thought.
Richard’s hands were balled into fists, the exertion so great it seemed like he would pop a vein, but he forced himself to calm down and turned back. The three elves followed suit as he started moving once more, trying their best to ignore the sharp whistling sounds that were the tree’s death throes.
Even as accustomed to bloodshed as she was, Alice felt herself wanting to cover her ears. She asked Richard, “Why are they damaging the tree of life? Didn’t you ask it to surrender?”
“Those… things aren’t elves anymore; they aren’t the guardians of the forest,” Richard said with an eerie calm.
Alice sighed, not asking further. She knew that he was just putting up a facade of indifference, but there was no need to expose that right now.
Deep within the forest, in an enormous wooden shrine that was a hundred metres wide.
Dark energy circled the inner halls of the building, a sinister force floating all around. The top of the shrine was burning with dark green flames, with the mysterious black-robed figure singing and jumping like a lunatic around it. He constantly clapped and stomped, the entire building shaking to his rhythm, but nobody could understand the language he used.
There were two doors to the shrine itself. Groups of weaker elves, young and old, were streaming into the building through the back, ‘helped’ on by the Duskword hunters into pitch darkness. Out the front came the transformed creatures that barely resembled what they once were, movements initially rigid and eyes lifeless until a tendril of green flame shot out from above and branded them. This flame quickly turned them into fearsome creatures as they leapt dozens of metres into the air, rushing into the woods to act on orders unknown.
Some of the elders of the alliance had gathered together on the fringe of the forest, looking at these fearsome elves with terror and fear. An elder from the Windscreech Tribe suddenly spoke up, “Didn’t the Evernight Tree of Life want to surrender? Why did we still…”
“Exactly!” another elder said angrily, “Every tree of life is a blessing to our existence, how could we do that?!”
The elders jumped into a heated decision about the situation; trees of life were like deities to the forest elves, and they did not like what had been done to one. However, the Duskword Grand Elder spoke up once the rest were done bickering, “The old era has passed.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Styles
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA