Year 1, Fall, First Month, Fourth Week.
“They should be entering the forest now. Karl said that they won’t need to walk deep into the forest to find it...” The Chief said trying to his hopes up.
“Yes, but they can’t walk into the forest without meeting beasts. You know this...”
Grandma Marlen wasn’t trying to be pessimistic, only realistic. After listing her, the Chief looked at an empty table with a sad look.
To add to the villagers’ concerns the time to handle the harvest tributes was near.
‘Master AI. Where does spiritual energy come from? I know that magic energy comes from the Origin and the elemental energies are magic energy that acquired properties of Origin. But, what is spiritual energy?’
‘-- First, elemental energies only represent the material properties of the Origin. The magic energy also acquired other characteristics, like the spiritual properties of the Origin that manifested as life energies. The elemental energies created the material world and the life energies created the cycle of life. --’
‘-- Life, Soul, and Death are the three life energies. These energies created all life and sentient beings in our plane. Together, these energies are responsible for maintaining and balancing the cycle of life. Life brings existence, Soul brings conscience, and Death resets the cycle. --’
‘-- All beings have life energy keeping them alive. When sentient beings are born the soul energy gives them a conscience, each forming a unique soul. The soul is formed by soul energy and it can convert magic energy into more soul energy until it is reset into the cycle of life by death. However, the converted soul energy takes the properties of its soul, a unique type of soul energy which we call spiritual energy. Therefore, spiritual energy is the converted soul energy unique to each sentient being. --’
Karl nodded and looked to the team members wondering how their souls looked like.
‘-- Similar to elemental energies, the life energies can also concentrate to form crystals. These crystals are rare and might also be found in the core of beings... --’
“It’s better if we don’t walk deeper into the forest, the Contple Tree also grows in the outer layer of the forest so it’s better to not take more risks going deeper.” Karl explained almost whispering. He didn’t want to draw attention from any beasts.
The team decided to stop moving deep into the forest and started to move towards the south.
Karl had told them that the Contple Tree would grow stronger than the nearby trees and would also exhale a healthy aura. They weren’t satisfied with Karl’s description, he didn’t tell them any remarkable features and they were afraid of missing the tree. However, Karl guaranteed that he would recognize it if he saw it.
Karl was counting on luck or rather, on Master AI’s capabilities, because this tree was very rare, but he didn’t tell this to the others.
Everyone believed in his “luck”, after all, it was already noon and the team hadn’t encountered any beasts. Actually, if it wasn’t for Karl’s ability to evade beasts, Chief Omero wouldn’t approve their excursion to the Eastern Forest, commonly known for sheltering strong beasts.
The team was getting tired of walking in the tense atmosphere. Diana considered stopping a couple of times but decided against it because of the possible dangers. Fortunately, before breaking their limits Karl asked them to stop. Shaking from excitement, he pointing forward.
“There it is! The Contple Tree... “
The team looked in the direction Karl was pointing and saw a big tree circled by small pale trees.
The astounding tree clearly stood out in the middle of the neighbored unhealthy trees. The team was shocked how Karl’s initial description was actually accurate. They couldn’t miss it.
They got near the tree and touched it, feeling the calm and healthy air around it. Karl didn’t want to waste time here, so he broke the team out of their trance and asked Diana to cut the tree. She organized the fighting members to form a safety perimeter and prepared her sword to cut it.
Since the tree wasn’t too thick, Diana cut it with less than ten slashes. Seeing the stump emitting a faint green glow, Karl urged the rest to help him excavate. With some difficulty and dirty hands, Karl extracted a green glowing crystal from the roots of the plant.
“This is it... Quickly collect the roots, the leaves, the branches...”
In less than five minutes, the team was carrying the village’s salvation through the Eastern Forest.
‘I can believe everything just worked out. I was too nervous because of the forest, it’s not that scary... we should be leaving it soon... I can’t wait for the feast, the feline beast looks tasty...’
Toni didn’t believe in jinxing but when he spotted a beast he couldn’t help but cursing his thoughts.
Right then, everyone stopped in silence. Nobody wanted to startle the red scale beast 20 meters in front of them.
The beast was some kind of big red-scaled lizard with a long tail. Although it wasn’t much bigger than a grey wolf, it looked dangerous.
First, the team thought that this beast wasn’t a threat to them, because it didn’t seem fast. However, their opinions quickly changed when its tail easily cut through a thick tree and let its stump burning.
‘-- Karl, quickly leave! This beast is way above your capabilities. The salamander is not slow as it seems and it can shoot fireballs. Fortunately, it is still in its infancy so you might survive it. --'
Karl’s face turned ugly and he said looking at Diana:
“Run, we need to run. The beast can shoot fire.”
Diana looked confused. They had trained for several scenarios, even retreating from a stronger beast. However, they didn’t plan for long-range attacks, their shields were made of wood and wouldn’t hold against fire.
While Diana and Karl were losing it, Tael was concentrated enough to see the disaster unfolding so he quickly took command.
“Move to formation D and retreat towards the southwest. Archers draw the arrows aiming at the beast and prepared to shoot it at my command.”
Fortunately, they had trained a lot and the formations were deeply engraved on their minds, so they instinctively moved following the commands.
Formation D was a fast escape formation that would prioritize defending against a strong enemy while escaping. In this formation, the team would move away from the enemy diagonally with all the battle members turned towards the enemy, except for a defender and attacker team that would face the other way, looking for any new threats.
They came up with this formation for a situation when they had to circle the enemy and couldn’t retreat towards their back.
The team knew that if a beast blocked their way out of the forest they couldn’t retreat deeper because they would meet stronger opponents. Therefore, they came up with a formation to help them move forward while avoiding the enemy the best they could.
In formation D, the usual three fighting layers us still up. In the first layer (facing the enemy) three defenders, while the second layer had three short-range attackers, and the third layer was formed by the four archers. The carriers and Karl would be between the three layers and the group that faced the other side.
This formation was an emergency and they would prioritize the only strong known enemy.
The team prayed that the salamander would let them go, but unfortunately, it continued to swing its tail turning in their way. Everyone wanted to run, but they knew that organization was their strongest weapon.
Tael kept his arrow drawn tight aiming at the salamander’s head, he had an unfortunate guess that the scales would protect this beast against the arrows.
The tension was high and the beast continued to move towards them. When the team was ten meters from the salamander its throat glowed and a fireball flew at them. Everyone’s heart skipped a beat but fortunately, Toni stepped up and activated his shield’s Arrays.
If it was the previous shield, it would probably be burned to ashes because the Toughness Rune only increased its resistance to impact. However, Karl had upgraded the weapon with the Extract Properties Array and its structure was enhanced by earth elemental energy.
The shield barely resisted the fire.
The heat was so strong that Toni felt his body burning, he instinctively knew that his shield couldn’t resist another attack. Even in distress, the team continued to move because if they got within the reach of the salamander’s tail they would be finished.
When the Salamander realized that they weren’t defeated by the fire attack, it charged forward to attack with its flaming tail.
Again, Toni took the lead and move to block the attack. Right on track, Tael commanded an archer to shoot the beast. He wanted to test with the arrows would work against it.
While the arrow was being shot, Toni took the attack from the beast’s tail head-on after activating the Arrays on his shield.
The team only saw a wood wrecking sound before Toni’s shield was broken. Fortunately, the shield stopped the attack before breaking, saving Toni from getting cut.
When he stepped back, an arrow arrived at the salamander’s back. For their despair, the arrow only scratched the red scales.
Tael wasn’t convinced and shot the beast with one of his arrows. The arrow flew straight at the salamander’s head and it was also deflected. However, a small trace of blood emerged from the place where the arrow hit.
Seeing the battle unveiling, Diana finally came out of her trance and started to take action.
“Jay, give your shield to Toni and move back to the carriers. Archers, keep only one arrow and pass the rest to Tael, his shot is stronger and more effective against the beast.”
With Diana giving orders, they calmed a little and started to see a chance of victory.
The salamander was only stunned for a moment and soon fired another fireball at the group. Toni again blocked it, almost destroying another shield. The burn marks on his arms proved that he also took damage from the attack.
Although they lost arrows and a shield, the team was escaping from the salamander and heading out of the forest.
Unfortunately, the salamander wouldn’t let its prey run away. So it charged again, determined to finish them with its tail. Toni tried to intercept the charge but was caught by the tail on his left side.
He was thrown against a tree and the beast advanced also hitting another defender. The boy didn’t activate his Arrays on time and was also thrown to the back.
Since nobody stopped its charge, the salamander continued attacking the members in the front. Unfortunately, the next victim (Carion) didn’t dodge or blocked the tail on time and had his throat cut.
Blood filled Carion’s vision while he dropped to the ground holding his throat trying to stop the bleeding.
Before the salamander could resume its attack on Carion, Diana moved quickly performing a sword slash. The sword cut through the beast’s cheek, hurting it and leaving a small trail of blood in the air. Diana’s attack didn’t deal a lot of damage but it stopped the charge and bought time for the other team members to react.
Tael drew an arrow and shot it. He didn’t aim too much but the arrow luckily hit near the wound left by Diana, adding damage.
While the beast was hissing from pain, Diana continued her attack with another slash.
She dodged another tail’s attack and tried to cut it at the same place but her slash only caught the beast’s back. Tael didn’t lag and continued to fire at the beast also trying to hit the wounded parts.
When the salamander was starting another charge against the Diana/Tael duo, a shadow formed on top of it. A shield reinforced by earth energy and enhanced with the Toughness Rune pinned the beast down, stopping its charge.
Toni was back in the fight and had taken this opportunity to pin the salamander to the ground.
Diana saw the chance and slashed at the beast while Tael moved to its left side shooting arrows on the wounded parts. The salamander struggled to get free from Toni. But before it could use its tail, it received grave wounds from the arrows and sword.
Finally, it died.
The relief sights were interrupted by Karl’s cries.
“What can I do?... Something, please! I need to save him... I need to...”
Karl forgot to address Master AI with thoughts. Either way, he couldn’t do a thing.
Everyone was lost looking at Karl kneeling beside Carion, trying to stop his bleeding with his hands. Unfortunately, the cut was too deep, it was already a miracle that it didn’t behead Carion.
After the bleeding stopped, there was only silence in the forest. Carion died in Karl’s hands.