18 Chapter 18 – Difficult Path

Year 1, Fall, First Month, Fourth Week.

Caiset Village, 1 AM on the third day of hunting.

“Tump.. tump... tump... Grandpa, please wake up.”

The villagers usually moved wooden planks to block their hut’s entrance because they didn’t have the materials to build a proper door.

The heavy knocks woke Chief Omero and he got up to see who was disturbing his sleep. He was already expecting something bad. Nobody would go knock on his hut at night without a good reason. But when he saw who was standing outside, he was shocked.

“How... Why did you come back at this time? What happened?”

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Before he finished speaking Diana was already crying in his arms.

Omero raised Diana to be strong and never lose control under pressure, but even so, she was only a 17-year girl. Despite being used to seeing villagers dying from sickness or bad nutrition, Diana never felt directly responsible for someone’s death.

After she was done crying, she told the Chief what happened.

Unfortunately, the team had to leave Carion’s body behind because they couldn’t carry it. The beasts' meat was too important for the village, each meal could save the life of a sick villager or prevent future sickness. She had to make this awful decision on behalf of the village.

After the attack, they quickly left the forest and walked to the village non-stop. They were all tired and hungry but wouldn’t dare to stop to eat. After what happened to Carion, the team didn’t want to sleep outside the village.

Fortunately, they arrived at the water stream at dusk, so they only walked eight km at night. Normally they could have done it in three hours, but in the night their pace was reduced and they were dead tired.

On their way back, the only beasts that dared to attack them was a pack of grey wolves. However, Diana attacked them with such ferocity that they quickly gave up and ran.

Finally, they arrive at the village border just after midnight.

Chief Omero woke some of his helpers and passed some commands. He didn’t plan to wake up all the villagers but unfortunately, the noise woke them. When they heard that the hunting team was back almost everyone went to the village border.

While Chief was talking to Karl, more villagers were arriving. The first thing they noticed was how many beasts’ bodies rested on the LCs (five beasts), and thus they started to cheer.

When the team left, even though everyone was trying to be hopeful, there was a lingering feeling that they wouldn’t come back. For these last two days, the villagers were on edge but now they let their feelings out and felt like they were finally saved.

It didn’t take much time for the parents of the team members to arrive and start hugging and checking their kids. For a moment, they forgot about the horrors that happened in the forest, but then, Carion’s parents arrived.

The villagers started to realize that instead of smiling faces, tears were coming from most of the team members. Carion’s parents too realized this and started to panic while looking for their son.

“Carion! Carion! Where’s my son? Did he run home to get us?...”

Karl and several other members couldn’t even look at Carion’s mother. The awkward silence quickly spread and Chief Omero move between the team and the parents, facing Carion’s parents.

“I’m sorry. Carion died in the forest. He was a hero that died to save you and all the village...”

Carion’s mother tried to say something, but nothing came out. She stood there in disbelief until she finally processed what he said. She dropped to the ground and started crying.

Carion’s father looked at the Chief and the team members with anger and kneeled to embrace his wife. In his heart, he blamed them for his son’s death, especially Diana.

He remembered Carl telling him that she wasn’t fit to lead them and that she was always putting him in the worst positions. In Carion’s opinion, she was afraid of him standing out and ending up as the team leader.

Diana too blamed herself for Carion’s death. In her mind, she was the leader and thus responsible for everyone’s safety. Like the other members of the team, she didn’t like Carion, he was insubordinate and thought himself better than everyone else. But, she didn’t want him to die.

She knew that Carion didn’t have the abilities needed to be an attacker. He was best fit to hold a shield and defend but he didn’t want to. He thought that was a waste of his abilities, that was beneath him being a defender.

Maybe, if she had been more resolute he would be here now.

Karl was so tired and depressed, he couldn’t stay awake anymore. He asked the Chief to take care of everything and went home with his parents. Before diving into sleep, he heard questions coming from his parents but he couldn’t process them. Not today.

.........

Lew rolled to his side and avoided the bird’s attack by centimeters of distance. Still laying on the ground, he awkwardly slashed his sword at the bird using his right hand. The beast cried in pain and failed to fly back to the sky.

The razor sparrow is a second rank LT wind beast. As a wind beast, this bird is very skillful in flying, specially razoring from the sky to attack a prey. Only the power of its razor attack is not enough to put it on rank 2. However, its attack is so sudden and fast that makes it difficult to dodge or avoid.

Even so, the razor sparrow isn’t considered a dangerous opponent individually. The problem lies in its flock, the bird never flies alone. Hundreds of birds razoring from above at any moment could make a low ranked LT beast appear quite terrifying.

Lew didn’t relax after disabling the bird, which made him able to dodge the three sudden attacks that followed. He rolled again and stood up after slaying the three offenders.

Following the razor attack, the beast would land on the ground level, making it harmless, at least until it flew back to the sky. So, If one managed to dodge the razor attack, one´s countering success was guaranteed.

A cry came from his back, Lew reacted fast and moved to help. Unfortunately, the birds also realized the weakened prey and razored him. Dozens of sparrows razored the Fighter, each taking a chunk of meat back to the sky. The scene made Lew want to throw up.

But he didn’t have the luxury of wander his attention, because another attack came. He dodged it again and finished the sparrow with a slash. He was getting tired, slaying the birds individually wasn’t very effective energy-wise.

To keep himself from getting razored he was flowing magic energy to his legs, which made dodging easier. Fortunately, he didn’t need to use the energy to power his attacks because the beast lacked defenses. So, he was saving spiritual energy in the attack.

But the constant dodging was taking his stamina away. He needed to come up with a solution fast.

Actually, his life wasn’t at risk. Lew could use magic energy to power his leg muscles and run away from this situation. Even though the birds were faster, they wouldn’t abandon the flock or give up on such bountiful prey.

A burning sound came from Lew’s side and he felt the temperature in the air rising. A dozen or so sparrows dropped to the ground burning. A red-robed woman stood with stretched arms pointing towards the fire line in the sky.

The Fire Invoker was trying to extend the Flame to other sparrows in the sky. The sweat trailed down her concealed face as she tried to keep the fire in the sky going by catching more birds on it.

It took her minutes and a third of her spiritual energy to conjure fire from her fire crystal ring, direct the Fire Ray to a group of flying sparrows, and stimulate the Flame to burn the near birds.

It was a fantastic sight the Flame jumping from birds in the sky.

She was trying to keep the Flames going by pushing it towards new targets. To save up energy and gain time she had to extend the attack’s effect as much as possible. The Mage´s group was counting on her to keep the birds occupied for some time.

Earlier, when the party saw the flock coming in their direction, they knew it was impossible to escape it.

The Enchanter didn’t wait for commands and announced that he would deal with the birds but he would need ten minutes for preparations. The Mage´s group naturally circled the Enchanter to protect him, while the Fighters, except the leader, dispersed themselves to divide the birds' attacks.

Fortunately, the four Elemental Mages were used to working together. The Earth Invoker became responsible for blocking the concentrated attacks using Earth Walls. The Water Invoker was using Water Rays to block individual attacks. While the Wind Invoker was trying to disrupt the sparrow’s flight and slow them a little by circling the group with Breeze.

Aside from some birds that passed their defenses, everything was going as planned. The Earth Mage was defending the group against major attacks until the Fire Mage prepared her attack. He would move the earth energy from the crystal on his ankle bracelet towards the ground and build an Earth Wall in less than two seconds.

Normally, the sparrows’ attacks would come faster than his Earth Walls, but the Wind Mage’s Breeze was delaying them. Of course, he couldn’t keep this for long, because the spiritual energy cost of building the Earth Walls so fast was very high.

The small attacks that weren’t worth the energy cost of intercepting, were dealt with by the Water Mage. She was controlling the water from a big jar on her back to block the minor attacks with a Water Ray. The technic wasn’t very powerful but she could move it easily and fast enough to block razor attacks.

Once in a while, a bird would pass the Elementalists defenses and go towards the Enchanter, but the leading Fighter would eliminate it with ease.

When the Fire Mage started to attack the birds with an area effect Fire Ray, the other Elemental Mages could ease their efforts and recuperate their energy.

The trick was to pass the Flame to other sparrows before the burning bird dropped to the ground. It was easier to move the fire and stimulate the Flame in the sky than to recast the Fire Ray again.

Since the beginning of the attack, the Enchanter decided to delegate his safety to the other Mages and focus on his spell.

Enchanters are second-level Spellcasters, that use Keys to convert magic energy into simple spells. Even though they cant cast powerful damaging spells, their power is very versatile. If used creatively they could accomplish a lot.

When he saw the razor sparrow flock coming, he decided to use a Confusion Spell to deal with them. This spell had the effect of disrupting the target´s mind for a moment.

The challenge was that the spell would only affect one or a few targets. It worked by transmitting a chanted Key by sound, the Key would activate once it touched foreign spiritual energy.

The sound would carry the inactive Key to a target. The Key would react with the target’s energy and activate the effect.

Even if the effect wasn’t powerful, the spell was very complicated and only a few Enchanters would be capable of casting it.

If the caster wanted to extend the effect to more than one target, he would need to cast a Key for each target, which was way beyond his abilities, considering the flock numbers.

But instead of casting hundreds of Keys, the Enchanter was trying to use a Spell Ritual Tool to replicate the chanting Keys. The Repeater Bell was used to amplify Mind Effect spells to crowds. It was a very costly ritual and could only be pre-arranged.

The Mage brought out of his bag, a MQ crystal, a ritual board, a set of ritual bells, a pack of herbs, and other auxiliary materials.

First, he placed the Repeater Bell over the board and made preparations to energize it with the MQ crystal. Then, he ate some herbs and spent over five minutes concentrating and forming the spell Keys in his mind.

Finally, he poured spiritual energy into the ritual board, activating it, and directed the crystal´s energy to the bell, causing it to glow.

He stood and started to cast the spell. He pushed almost all of his spiritual energy to form a powerful Key and chanted it through the bell.

“Confusio.”

The glowing bell ringed causing small distortions in the air. Thousands of replicated Keys traveled invisibly through the air to the ears of birds, Mages and Fighters alike.

Once a Key entered their hearing system, it interacted with the target’s spiritual energy and activated the Confusion effect.

The effect caused instant erratic behavior of brain waves, creating a moment of confusion. In the Fighters the effect interrupted their moves for a moment, causing at most, the fall of a few.

The Mages suffered the same, losing control over their Elemental Spells for a short moment.

But the birds were the most harmed. The effect disrupted their flight and caused them to fall. Injured and confused, the birds that survived the unexpected fall, couldn’t react fast enough to the Fighters moving to finish them.

.........

Karl woke up feeling a lot better, at least until he remembered everything. He wasn’t naive, he knew that it was a matter of time before someone died in one of the huntings. However, he hadn’t thought too much about it.

Every month a villager or more would die, so it wasn’t news for the village.

But Carion’s death was different, he was, in a way, responsible for it. He invited the villagers’ teens to go hunting, he developed the weapons and he was holding Carion when he died.

The problem was the guilt, the knowledge that if he had done a better job he could have saved him. Maybe if he had taken more precautions or developed better weapons. There was a sea of IFs going through Karl’s head and nothing he could do would change the past.

.........

In the afternoon, Karl set over a tree near the fields. He looked attentively at the green crystal that cost Carion’s life.

‘-- Hybrid elements are born from the interaction of two elemental energies. A hybrid element inherits properties from its forming elements. However, there is no pattern for which and how many properties the hybrid element inherits. Some hybrid elements only have the inherent properties, while others develop new properties from the interaction between its forming elements. --’

‘-- Lighting is formed by Fire and Wind. It is fierce and destructive, like fire, and fast like the wind. Magma is formed by Fire and Earth. It is destructive like fire, strong and tough like earth. --’

‘-- Bubble is formed by Water and Wind. It is versatile like water and light as the wind. Wood is formed by Water and Earth. It is flexible like water and tough like earth. Lightning and Magma are stronger in battle while Bubble and Wood have wider uses. --’

‘-- The Elemental energies can also interact with the Life energies, forming special hybrid elements. The Plant element is formed by Life and Earth. This special hybrid element inherits growth from Life and nourishment from Earth. --’

‘-- Like the basic elemental crystals, the special hybrid crystals might be found in places with high energy concentration or on a beast’s core. All plants have plant energy, but you can only find a plant crystal in the core of plant beasts or inside some special trees. --’

Karl made a bitter smile and said:

“I hope this plant crystal is worth it...”

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