TL: Edited 29 Oct 2017
Chapter 24 – Withered trees
The deeper they went into the mountain pathway, the more desolate the scenery became. There was nearly no vegetation on the ground, and the path that was void of life was filled with intersecting rocks that appeared like sharp fangs.
Wilted brambles and grass had grown from within the cracks of the walls. Withered trees seemed to manifest themselves in the distant darkness. The cold wind could be heard blowing through tree branches like ghastly whispers.
Brendel knew that the Demonic Trees drained the nutrients from the soil and turned into this to a barren wilderness that people came to know about. He raised his torch, and there were occasional decrepit skeletons that appeared in the shadows. They seemed to be animals like mountain goats which had accidentally barged into this forbidden area and turned into the Demonic Trees’ food.
Romaine nimbly followed behind with her torch raised with one hand, while she gripped her bag with the other and looked everywhere with curiosity and tension. It was the first time that she traveled this far away from her home, and she felt like she was beginning to fulfill a merchant’s dream. The difficulty, excitement and the endless wealth and treasures awaited her, just like how this dream nurtured the numerous other merchants and adventurers in this continent.
She even had a sense of security by following Brendel.
The two sources of light passed through the narrow valley. Brendel’s hand was placed over his sword’s hilt. Once he passed through this area in the game, he would have entered a den of monsters of a certain type called the Rotting Beasts.
The Golden Demonic Tree was a terrifying creature. It was a variant of the Golden Trees, and its former body was most likely the Holy Elven Tree. However, ‘The Tree Shepherd’ who belong to one of the great evil cults, implanted the tree with the ‘Blood of Gods’ and turned it into a Golden Demonic Tree.
In this chaotic world, darkness thrived where civilization’s fire was unable to reach. Not only did the undead exist, but there were also regions where leaders found their own evil cults. In the game, evil disciples followed the footsteps of ‘The Tree Shepherd’ and did surreptitious things. There were signs of their actions everywhere, letting people know of their existence, but no one knew what their motives were.
Even Brendel was no exception.
The Golden Demon Tree had two abilities. The first was to turn plants into living creatures. It was able to turn shrubberies into monsters in the form of humans, and they were called Rotting Beasts. These Rotting Beasts were the scouts of the Golden Demon Tree which populate every area of this narrow valley.
A single Rotten Beast in the game was level 7, and their strength was roughly the equivalent of the guards that Brendel saw, but their intelligence was considered low. Veteran-ranked Rotten beasts were over level 13, which were difficult opponents for him.
The second ability it had was to infuse its fruits with Demonic Mana. When the fruits of the Golden Demon Tree fell onto the ground, it would turn into a wilderling creature, growing to over two meters tall within a day. These are elite guards of the Golden Demon Tree, and their level was between level 20 to 22. The only chance Brendel had if he encountered them was to use the Ring of the Wind Empress.
After several decades, these Rotten Beasts and Demonic Creatures had accumulated to a large number. If Brendel did not attain his current equipment, it would have been an impossible task for Romaine and himself to pass this narrow valley. He would also have to take special care to avoid the Golden Demon Tree which had reached a Grade 2 Ranked Creature.
They continued to progress with shuffling sounds from their footsteps, which sounded a little frightening in this lonely area. Brendel fondly remembered that he used to come here with a large bundle of ropes, oil, torch, dry rations and a hook to this area and fought the Golden Demon Tree hundreds of times.
The loot from the Golden Demon Tree was between 20 OZ and 30 OZ, and the best drop from it was the legendary ‘Heart of the Golden Tree’, which restored 1 hp every minute and considered to be a godly artifact in the early game.
The only difference Brendel felt was the future merchant girl following behind him. He suddenly felt that it was somewhat romantic to adventure with the girl that he was interested in.
“Brendel?” Romaine suddenly whispered to alert him.
He turned around and noticed her gaze on his hand. He was slightly surprised as he found the Thorn of Light to be glowing with white light from its sheath.
[There are undead nearby!]
He was startled but immediately realized that the Madara undead might have sent a squadron to patrol this area to ensure no one slipped through their grasp. He relaxed a little as he considered a undead squadron to be an easy battle, as long as he did not alert the Rotten Beasts in the valley.
He pulled out the sword and started testing various directions. It turned brighter as he pointed to a specific location and he immediately knew they were ahead. He gestured for Romaine to stick closely to him and extinguished their torches and moved in that direction.
Indeed, there was a squadron of undead. Leading them was the Necromancer Kabara. Its performance in Bucce not only let the human scout escape, but it also led to the demise of a fellow Necromancer. Rothko assigned it to this area to punish it for the disappointing performance, and also to remind it not to be too eager to display himself in front of its master or superior. (TL: Kabara appeared in Chapter 5.)
Kabara understood its error, but the urgent issue was how to defend against the Rotting Beasts in front of him.
The necromancer and its soldiers had first defeated a Rotting Beast in the form of a human with full of thorns, but three other Rotting Beasts immediately charged at them. A pair of flaming eyes protected by branches was located presumably on their heads, and they glared at the undead soldiers. When Brendel took a further look, he saw there were broken skeleton bones around the Rotting Beasts.
Their battle had begun.
[What exactly are these creatures?!]
Kabara’s green flames dimmed in its eye sockets.
Seeing that the enemy was going to attack again, he could only reluctantly order its skeleton soldiers to change their weapons to their bows. The soldiers lit their arrows with a ghastly blue Soul Fire, and a wave of arrows shot at the creatures. Two Rotting Beasts that were struck by the arrows roared while their branches swayed about, causing a shuffling sound and they fell onto the ground, turning into two bright bundles of intense flames.
The necromancer instantly chuckled. They were indeed stronger than their skeletons, but these plants were afraid of fire. What a blunder, how did it not think of this point earlier? Kabara raised its staff and caused the remaining Rotting Beast to explode into two halves, and a shower of wooden splinters flew everywhere.
Brendel climbed onto a white boulder and involuntarily laughed when he saw the necromancer gloating from the victory.
[This moron is heading toward its death. It actually used magic here.]
The Golden Demon Tree’s favorite nutrient was mana, and it sought after it like a drug. If there were any ripples of mana caused by any spells, it would immediately appear. This necromancer might not have known about it, but its demise was inevitable.
But this also meant that they were in trouble, and they needed to find a way to go someplace higher; otherwise, they would be killed along with this mindless undead.
He turned to Romaine and pulled her down. She had been looking and blinking at the undead. Her bright eyes did not contain fear, but curiosity.
“I recognize that necromancer.” She whispered.
Brendel treated what Romaine said as a joke. The undead’s appearance was similar enough to each other to make it hard to identify them, and they basically had no difference in their outer appearance other than the ripples of their soul. It was not only limited to the low ranking undead, and even when he identified the higher ranking ones, he did it by finding the decorations on their body or special bodily traits.
“I really do recognize it, Brendel, this was the one that I saw at your home from far away.” She swore.
“Okay, just lower your voice, if you alert them, we are going to be in deep trouble.”
Brendel squinted. He had already seen shadows advancing from the darkness, and based on their movements they should be Rotting Beasts. After counting over thirty of them, he stopped. The numbers were still increasing, yet the necromancer had not ordered the skeletons to extinguish the Soul Fire on their arrows. The Rotting Beasts were attracted to light, and he decided to treat them with their deaths as a foregone conclusion.
“There seems to be a lot of things around us, Brendel,” Romaine said.
“Yeah, come with me. Lower your body, and don’t alert them.”
The two people continued to climb higher slowly with Brendel leading in front. He started to note the good points of bringing her along. She did not panic at all under this situation, and it was a difficult thing for a normal person to do so.
He recalled in the game where a bunch of female players in the party would scream whenever they entered some frightening places. But that was not the most embarrassing situation, as some of the guys also did the same thing.
He reminisced as he progressed upwards and looked down quietly from time to time.
The rotting beasts had started to gather into torrents from several directions below, surrounding the necromancer and the few skeletons. Kabara finally felt something was amiss, and started to cast a spell of Shadow Curtain. But before he finished chanting, two dark red creatures came out from his blind spot from between the boulders and smashed his remaining skeleton soldiers to bits.
[Marsha above, Lord Rothko! What are these damn things, there was no need to patrol here at all!]
The necromancer did not care about its subordinates at all as there was no compassion within the undead. But it was allowed to have a sense of self-preservation, and it jumped up onto the boulders quickly. A necromancer’s agility and strength were not low, but people tend to be misled by their appearance.
Brendel did not enjoy this scene at all because the necromancer jumped toward to his direction.
[Are you fucking kidding me, can’t you choose a better direction?!]
He obviously did not dare to pull out the ‘Thorn of Light’, otherwise in this darkness, it would become a ‘Lure of Light’, where every enemy would have its eyes on him.
Fortunately, a dark red Rotten Beast suddenly jumped up to grab the necromancer’s ankle which made it sink a little. Right at this moment, the Rotten Beasts had surrounded this area, and all the skeleton soldiers had probably been crushed to bits. If Kabara hesitated for one second, it would have followed their fate.
Brendel yelled in his mind.
He felt Romaine gripping his shoulder from behind, almost as if she was as tense as he was. Anyone who saw the situation would see that their positions would be exposed if the necromancer came any closer.
But Romaine’s breaths landed on his ears and made him a little distracted. He turned around to look at her and found she was staring at some other place.
Brendel subconsciously looked into her direction, and his heart plunged into an icy river.
TL: Uhh… cliffhanger.