Pressured by Viscount Jackson's aggressive request, very soon the other acolytes agreed too.
After all, they had been in his territory for so long, and he was also a Grand Knight, so it would be awkward if they were to decline.
However, there was an exception, the acolyte with acne, whom Leylin saw before, refused without hesitation.
Finally, the Viscount's gaze focused on Leylin, "How about you, Mister Leylin?"
Viscount Jackson had some reservation towards Leylin. This was because the timing of Leylin's arrival was a coincidence which made him guess that this acolyte was the emissary who had accepted the royal family's mission.
It was a pity that ever since Leylin had arrived, he had spent most of his time in the manor, and rarely left the place. Neither were there any magicians who came forward seeking revenge on him, so it seemed like this acolyte was truly reclusive.
If it were not for the fact that Leylin gave orders so a mission to the withering woods would go forth, Viscount Jackson would have been utterly disappointed.
"After all, it has to be done, and going in as a party is better!"
Leylin thought deep down, yet on the surface he appeared extremely hesitant, "Recently I have been researching potions, and am extremely busy. Some of my experiments have reached a crucial stage...."
"Still, I beseech Mister Leylin to take time out for this!" Viscount Jackson said suddenly, "I know that you have been buying Hove Violet Leaves en masse recently. This ingredient is rather rare, and other cities as well do not have too much of this in their reserves. However, our castle has a storehouse. If Mister Leylin agrees to go on this scouting trip, I am willing to add those in our reserves as a reward!"
"Hove Violet Leaves?" Leylin eyes flashed; this was an unexpected surprise. He estimated this offer to be Viscount Jackson's threshold. Leylin appeared to 'struggle' on the surface, before finally agreeing.
Afterwards, the acolytes made plans for a concrete time to meet, before leaving hurriedly to make preparations.
For this bunch of acolytes, who wholeheartedly wanted to retire and live like princes, Leylin did not put much stock in their actual battle prowess.
"However, when all is said and done, they are still acolytes. Their basic spells, once cast, should still be something." Leylin consoled himself.
At this moment, Murphy who just bade the others farewell walked beside Leylin with a frown on his expression, "Young man, when we reach the withering woods you have to protect me."
"Sire! You are level 3! A level 3 acolyte! While I am but a level 2 acolyte!" Leylin eyes widened.
"Sigh...I'm already too old for this. I have forgotten much of my spell repertoire. You understand, forming the spell model is meticulous work, a small miss-step, and the explosion will not even leave behind corpse!" Murphy had a helpless expression.
"You, how long has it been since you last cast a spell?" Leylin suddenly had a bad premonition.
"It seems almost 30 to 40 years! As you know, I have always regarded myself as a scholar!" Murphy said very innocently.
"F*ck!" Leylin felt rather regretful suddenly.
Two days later. In the morning, Extreme Night City's gates opened. Through those gates came a squadron of soldiers escorting a party in the middle. The group left the city's perimeter at a rapid pace.
"I never thought that Viscount Jackson would also set off with us!" Murphy seemed to be very happy. Having a Grand Knight around, left him greatly assured.
Riding beside him, Viscount Jackson wore black-coloured, steel armour with a helmet that covered his entire face.
"How are your preparations?" Leylin found a suitable time and whispered into Murphy's ears.
"I have concentrated these past 2 days, and can barely use two spell models," Murphy replied softly.
"That's good!" Their conversation before was of a joking nature. Leylin would never believe that this crafty old geezer did not have any life-preserving trump cards up his sleeves.
The Magus world is not a peaceful place. Without enough skills, Murphy would have long since died. So how could he have survived until now as a mere scholar?
"However, even the Black Iron Guards have been activated? There seem to be two small squadrons, about 20 men!"
"Of course, these are all elite troops of the city!" Murphy said. Actually, both he and Leylin knew that in the withering woods, those two squadrons served only one purpose. Cannon fodder!
Dark Night Woods wasn't that far from the city. After travelling for about half an hour, the group managed to reach the wood's outskirts.
"The danger level here is comparable to Abyssal Bone Forest Academy, despite its smaller size. At least, if a normal human were to be more alert, they can enter and leave here as they please when gathering the herbs!"
Leylin was at the centre of the party. Seeing the two squadrons paving the way at the front, his mind wandered.
Along the way, Leylin felt the life force of the Dark Night Woods reducing. Although it was spring, the woods seemed to lack vitality.
Moreover, everyone felt that their bodies were getting heavier and there was a shadow that veiled over their hearts. It felt extremely repressing.
Leylin looked around. The roots of the tree showed signs of withering. Some of the fresh sprouts have even turned pale yellow.
"The withering area has not extended to this point, but this is just a hypothesis!" Leylin gasped.
"It is indeed different here now! My family used to be hunters. In past years, there used to be animals prancing about in this area. There were many wild vegetables and fresh herbs...."
Leylin overheard the words a few soldiers whispered among themselves.
"A.I. Chip! Any change in the air around here?"
[Scanning. Comparing with the database! Conclusion: Oxygen density/levels decreased by 3.7%, Nitrogen density increased. An unknown noble gas has appeared. It currently accounts for 1.2% but its density continues to rise!]
The A.I. Chip's voice intoned.
"Could this inert noble gas be the perpetrator of this withering woods event?" Leylin stroked his chin, allowing the A.I. Chip to continue.
"Be careful! We have entered the withering domain!" Viscount Jackson roared at the forefront of the group.
Leylin patted his leather armour. Beneath it was the grey robes of Abyssal Bone Forest Academy acting as a second layer of defense. He had even purposely removed the academy's insignia earlier.
What the accompanying acolytes lacked were the ephemeral defensive constructs that the Magi layered around themselves as they went into battle. Victory often revolved solely on whether the spells cast managed to strike an opponent.
"Instantaneous spell casting, Potioneering Spells, magic artifacts were all great enhancers of an acolyte's battle strength!"
Leylin reached into his robes and took out a potion from a leather bag tied around the waist.
In Brey Canyon, he had replenished his ingredients and had made many explosive potions as his ammunition for this expedition.
As the group advanced, the environment began to change.
More and more dried withered plants and trees filled the woods. They let off an aura of death and decay.
Leylin reached out and grabbed a twig in passing. His eyes flashed, "It has already lost all its water content, and even...."
Exerting a little more force in his palm, the twig immediately turned into white dust, trickled through the gaps in his fingers and floated down towards the ground.
"Even the internal structure has been completely destroyed!" Leylin's heart felt rather heavy. A power like this already exceeded his expectations.
"Where are we supposed to go?" Viscount Jackson asked Murphy who was beside him.
"The heart of the woods! Only by reaching the center of this withering region, can my spell exert enough effect!" Murphy had an extremely solemn expression. He withdrew a spectacle-like item and hung it on his nose.
A wide withered tree lay on the ground. It had an extremely spongy feel when stepped on.
[Warning! Warning! Dangerous organism ahead!] The A.I. Chip's alarm went off suddenly and Leylin tried to think of an excuse to use so he could warn the others.
* Hu! * Suddenly brown-coloured branches and twigs flew up. A black figure came charging towards them.
This figure was extremely quick. It opened its jaw littered with snow white fangs. A red-coloured tongue flicked out.
* Su Su! * The tongue coiled around one of the guards on duty at the front and retracted its tongue. * Pa! * The guard's spear fell.
"Be careful!" At this moment, Viscount Jackson gave a warning.
"Argh!" The miserable cries sounded. The guard, trapped in the tongue's coils had already disappeared into a black hole. He was snapped into two halves. Fresh red blood and guts spilled onto the ground.
"Damn it!" Viscount Jackson shouted angrily and brandished the wide sword that hung from his waist. He immediately went and engaged the black figure.
"Sluggish Spell!" The red-haired shop owner waved his hands. A yellow-green light was shot. It turned into a circular ring that closed on the black figure. The other acolytes began reacting and started their own incantations.
* Sssii! * With the hissing of the creature, the black figure's speed finally slowed down revealing its appearance to everyone.
Its body was clay-yellow in colour. It had four legs, a tongue that was like a snake's and a small horn on its forehead.
"Wasn't it reported that this creature died already? Why is there still one?" Leylin was suspicious, but he still activated the A.I. Chip.
[Beep! Unknown organism. Strength: 5.5, Agility: 4 (6-7), Vitality: 5, Spiritual force: 3. Similarity to Blue Lizard 67.4% and to Mance Earth Snake 45.8%]
"It's a rather strong creature. Apart from its low spiritual force, it doesn't have any obvious flaws. Their numbers are also unknown; no wonder Jackson was not able to deal with them alone!"
However, as the Sluggish Spell took effect, this strange lizard's speed obviously took a hit. After a brief exchange of blows, the Viscount shouted, "Death Arc of Light!"
From within his blade, a resplendent circle of light expanded into the shape of a blade. It streaked past the lizard's neck.
"A Knight-class killing technique! It has the same properties as my Cross Slash. However, Jackson uses it with ease. He has not even used any Knight secret technique."
* Bang! * The two passed each other. The huge lizard charged forward another few steps before suddenly crashing to the ground.
* Sssii! * Clay yellow scales landed on the floor one by one. Around the lizard's neck area was a huge cut. Dark red blood spilled on the ground.
"All of you look!" An acolyte shouted suddenly.
With the death of the lizard, its body continued to cave inwards, with the scales continuously falling off and littering the ground. The blood quickly evaporated too. Within a few short minutes, there was only a white skeleton and some yellow scales left on the ground.
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