Advertisement
Remove

Leon, shrouded in shadow, took off into the air. With the wind against his face, running through his feathers, and over his wings, he felt invincible. He was back in his element, soaring through the sky, master of all he surveyed.

He struggled a bit to focus, and after about several minutes of reveling in stretching his wings once again, he managed to turn his attention back to the forest below him.

As with the previous couple of days, the forest was eerily silent. There were no birds, no wildlife at all. Or at least, none that Leon could detect, not even from above and with his eighth-tier senses amplified by his avian form. The wolves, tree sprite, eagles, and others that had attacked before had all seemed like they’d come out of nowhere, and even from above, Leon couldn’t see a single sign that there were more in the forest.

But he had no doubt that there were more. The forest was large, dense, and hadn’t known human civilization for a long time. There was undoubtedly quite a bit more like the bulbous vine out there, as far as he was concerned.

So, he began flying around to some of the other sites he’d located a couple days before. Each one he’d marked had large deposits of local stone that could indicate the location of his Clan’s research facility, but three were located in places where previous Evergolden scouts had been known to be frequently attacked. There were still two more high danger places, but Cassandra and Maia were checking them out, and Leon trusted that they would get the job done safely. But that left three more sites outside of high danger zones that he wanted to scout out.

He still felt like his Clan’s research facility was going to be located around one of those high danger areas, but he had to be thorough, and moved with great speed. He reached the first site rather quickly—a hill dense with trees, but near its base, entwined within the tree roots, were moss-covered stones. These were what had tripped his magic senses when he’d used his scanning enchantment, so he quickly landed to inspect the stones a little closer and to re-up his invisibility enchantment, which had started to fail after so long in use.

Unfortunately, after half an hour, he wasn’t able to detect a single thing of note within the stone. Not one enchantment, not a single spark of magic power inconsistent with the rest of the environment around the stone.

Finally, he returned to human form for a moment—he wasn’t able to remain invisible the entire time, and had to hurriedly transform and get back into his armor to calm his nerves—and knelt down on one of the mossy boulders poking out of the ground. His grasp of earth magic was rudimentary at best, so when he placed his hand upon the stone and concentrated, it took quite a bit of time for him to start mapping out the stone beneath him. His magic entered the stone and then spread through the earth, letting him sense what was buried in the dirt.

He found dirt, stone, and plant roots, and little else. He found no buried ruins of his Clan, but neither did he sense any underground animals or insects. It was like the forest was completely devoid of life more sentient than a tree. If he didn’t know better, he would’ve thought this was some kind of nature preserve kept free of destructive animals.

Once he’d noted all of the mundanity that he could, he returned to the skies after transforming back into his avian form. He was once again invisible, and when he got to a comfortable mile or so above the leaves of the highest trees, he projected his magic senses and checked in on everyone else.

Cassandra was blazing through the trees with great speed, her light magic allowing her to get through the forest with ease. Maia, meanwhile, had submerged herself into a great water dragon that was winding through the forest with an almost comical amount of restraint. The water dragon was enormous, but Maia wasn’t leaving much of a trail behind her. Finally, Leon glanced at the camp and was relieved to see that it was just as he’d left it.

So, he turned his attention to the next closest of his sites and beat his wings, propelling himself with a great gust of wind magic powerful enough to deform a fluffy white cloud that he couldn’t help but fly through.

The next site was, at least geographically, a little more promising. Instead of a hill, this one was a narrow, but shallow valley. Trees lined the ridges along the valley’s edge, creating what was essentially a tunnel with a roof of leaves.

Leon entered this tunnel at one end with more caution than he had with the hill. He couldn’t sense anything dangerous down in the valley, but that didn’t mean anything at this point.

Down along the valley floor, Leon could see the tops of a few boulders peeking out of the wet soil. He alighted for a moment on a particularly large tree root and glanced around, searching for anything at all that might indicate the presence of ruins, but he saw nothing.

He was just about to ask Nestor and Xaphan if they had noticed anything when white-hot pain erupted from his side, and he was thrown off the root. His shroud of darkness was torn asunder, rendering him visible before he hit the ground a couple dozen feet away.

Leon was utterly discombobulated. He barely understood what had just happened, and the pain wasn’t going away.

He then turned his head and saw the spear sticking out of him. It was made of rough, unworked wood, and had pierced right through one of his wings and into his side. It hadn’t gone much further than just breaking skin past his wing, but it still hurt when he instinctively raised his wing and pulled the spear out of his chest.

Blood poured from his wound, and in a panic, Leon looked around trying to see just what had attacked him. And then he saw them, standing at the top of the ridge, partially obscured by the plant life: humanoid figures, but each at least half again as tall as the average man, and with bodybuilder physiques. They numbered thirteen, and each had skin like tree bark, goat-like horns sticking out of their foreheads, inhumanely elongated faces, glowing green eyes, knees that bent backwards, and hooves instead of feet. All wore little more than loincloths, revealing their masculine physiques.

They were all armed, as well. Seven had crude stone clubs, three had primitive bows, and three more held multiple spears that looked more like sharpened tree branches.

None had magical auras, but from how deeply the unworked, unenchanted spear had penetrated into Leon’s avian body, he knew that they were strong, regardless.

He flailed about on the ground for a moment, trying to get his legs back underneath him as the goat men started moving. Those with the clubs jumped several dozen feet into the air and landed down in the valley, while those with spears and bows threw or shot their projectiles.

Lightning surged through Leon’s body as panic and anger set in. He didn’t lose his mind, but given how he’d allowed this to happen, that was a small mercy.

With lightning coursing through his body, Leon’s perception of the world slowed, and he rose in an instant. Silver-blue lightning danced over his body, and the spear sticking out of his wing was turned to ash. The arrows and spears careening towards him were likewise incinerated by lightning when they drew close, but Leon could tell that they were aiming to kill.

He tried to flap his wings, and, despite wincing in pain, realized that he could fly. So, he took off, and the seven goat men in the valley that were advancing on him tried to jump and head him off.

Five missed entirely, but the other two drew close enough to strike. But they never got the opportunity; Leon snatched one out of the air in his talons, and his lightning caught the other. The latter was practically flayed as his body was torn apart by lightning, and fell back to the forest floor as little more than fried meat and bloody mist. The former, Leon squeezed. His sharp talons cut through his bark-like skin surprisingly easily, and when Leon released him, he’d almost been cut in half.

Both goat men were dead, but more projectiles came hurtling toward Leon, which he countered by flapping his wings and sending a powerful gust of wind to knock them off course.

The goat men still hadn’t made a single sound. Leon couldn’t imagine how they were communicating, but in that moment, he didn’t much care. They weren’t backing down, so he decided to go all out. He reached into the sky with his magic power, and in the time it took for him to make two wingbeats, four lightning bolts had fallen from the white clouds above. This lightning cut right through the leaves mostly covering the valley from sight and struck all of the spear throwers and one of the bowmen. All four fell to the ground, their bodies charred black.

Not giving an inch, Leon then beat his wings and sent a powerful gust of razor-sharp wind rolling into the club-bearers. Two of the club-bearing goat men were torn apart by Leon’s eighth-tier power, while the remaining three were tossed about like fallen leaves, their bark-like skin lacerated in dozens of places.

Leon then felt a pair of arrows hit him in the back, piercing feather and hide, but going not much further. Still, the fresh pain enraged him, and he turned back to the two remaining bowmen, and dove. With his injured wing, he didn’t quite have the control he needed to get both, but with talons extended and beak at the ready, Leon slammed into one of the bowmen, the force of his landing sending the other reeling.

His talons tore through the bowman he’d landed on, stabbing clean through his body and into the soil beneath where the goat man had fallen. Leon’s beak then came down in a deadly follow-up and severed the goat man’s head.

He sensed another arrow hurtling toward him, but he warded it off with a gust of wind. He then lunged at the final bowman, his beak and talons already spattered with blood and with murder in his golden eyes. The bow-wielding goat man never stood a chance, and Leon ripped him in half.

The three final club-bearers, far from cowed or terrified, were, by now, charging back up the hill, their own injuries seemingly ignored. Leon simply glared contemptuously at them, and summoned three more lightning bolts. All three unerringly struck their targets, and the final goat men, not even halfway up the hill, were frozen in their suicidal charge as Leon’s lightning charred their flesh, destroyed their nervous systems, and flash-fried their muscles. They were rendered into seared statues, the momentum of their charge causing their corpses to collapse onto the hill.

For a moment, as Leon stood on the ground at the top of the hill, the forest’s trees at his back, and admired the results of his handiwork. He’d finally met the goat men, and they’d proven not only hostile, but also both deadly and strangely weak. To prove their deadliness, the throbbing pain in Leon’s wing and back finally pulled him out of the afterglow of the brief battle. He used his magic power to grab ahold of the arrows lodged in his back and pulled them out, wincing at the stinging pain that accompanied their removal.

Before he did anything else, he took stock of himself and his surroundings. As far as he could tell, his fight hadn’t attracted the attention of his companions—the camp remained peaceful, and both Maia and Cassandra were quickly advancing upon their targets, each more than a hundred miles away. He couldn’t detect any other hostiles around, either, but he couldn’t take that for granted, and remained on high alert. Reassured about as much as he could be, Leon transformed back into his human form and donned his armor.

His injuries carried over to his human form, he was a little disappointed to see, but they’d shrunk considerably in his human form, and the tau pearl seemed to jump at the chance to heal his wounds. The pearl’s light magic surrounded him and knit his flesh back together, and Leon was left looking almost like he’d never been injured at all. Only the blood that had been drawn betrayed the wounds he’d sustained.

Only about a minute had passed since the felling of the goat men, but Leon immediately realized that that had been far too long. As he’d been tending to his wounds, it seemed like the forest had started trying to devour the corpses of the goat men, with roots quietly snaking out of the ground, wrapping themselves around the remains, and slowly pulling them underground. The earth below simply parted, and the dense shrubbery was rushing to fill in the gaps in the forest floor that Leon’s lightning had blown.

It was such a surreal sight, seeing the forest ‘healing’ just as quickly as he had, that Leon stared in shock and confusion at what was happening for a moment. But then that moment passed, and he rushed forward, not intent on letting whatever was happening steal away the corpses. He grabbed ahold of one of the bowmen as the corpse was halfway below the ground, and he immediately realized that he was probably not dealing with some non-sentient magical phenomenon; more vines erupted from the earth and batted him away like a cat with a ball of string. Leon was thrown backwards and slammed into a tree, which creaked in protest and shook with living indignation.

Leon hurled himself away from the tree just as several branches, each one thicker than his arm, slapped against the tree like he would if he felt an insect crawling on him.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Leon took to the sky. Just as his boots left the ground, more vines burst from the ground at his feet and attempted to wrap around his ankles, but a quick blast of fire ensured his freedom, and Leon rose into the air.

He climbed fifty feet into the air—high enough to have plenty of time to react to anything on the ground, while also not getting too close to the leavy canopy above him. That tree had moved like it was possessed by a tree sprite, and Leon wasn’t going to take any chances that more trees around were possessed, too, so he gave their branches and leaves a wide berth.

Unfortunately, as he was reacting to all of this, the goat men had been pulled underground, vanishing from sight. Leon could only sigh as the last he saw of his opponents vanished into the earth, and with it, any conclusive evidence that he might be able to gather about what had just happened.

But he hung there in the air, just breathing as he processed the past five minutes. Goat men, vines in the earth ‘eating’ them, and moving trees.

To satisfy his curiosity, Leon conjured a relatively small lightning bolt and tossed it at the tree that had moved. His bolt splashed across the bark, burning it black, but not splitting the tree open. Nothing emerged from it as Leon’s eighth-tier power shook it down to its roots, so it wasn’t a tree sprite, but the tree shuddered as if in pain, and then its trunk began to twist and turn in ways that shouldn’t have been possible, and its branches flailed about, slamming into its neighboring trees and tearing apart the flora around it.

Finally, just as the tree fell still, it shuddered one last time, and a dense cloud of dark green pollen fell from its upper branches, identical to what the bulbous vine had spat out. Leon didn’t hesitate to catapult himself backward, away from the green cloud, and carefully monitored himself as he flooded himself with fire magic to ensure that even if he did breathe any of that stuff in, that it wasn’t able to take root within him.

Only then did the forest finally, finally, go still once more.

Leon was left there, hovering in the air, staring at the mostly-pristine forest, not wanting to drop back down with all of those underground vines and moving trees. He could tell that this deposit of stone wasn’t what he was looking for, but he’d found something anyway, and he didn’t much like it.

The fight itself was exciting, in its own way, though Leon couldn’t help but get the impression that this wasn’t meant to be a real ambush. He thought about it as he rose back into the air—he’d been invisible, but had been attacked by beings he couldn’t sense, which had the durability of wet paper, yet were strong enough to inflict him harm. Then, all evidence of his fight was erased once it was over, preventing him from studying the bodies left behind.

‘Maybe I’m just being paranoid,’ he thought. ‘Is there something out there directing all of this? This felt like a planned ambush, or at least something trying to put me through my paces. If this was a real attempt to kill me, then why stop at the goat men? Or was this just a hunting party that stumbled across me? But if that was the case, why would they just attack without thought? And what in the hells was that stuff that came out of the tree?!’

Leon scowled as he flew onward, still in his human form, toward the final site he wanted to check. He sent a quick mental warning to Maia to ensure that she was extra cautious given he’d just been attacked, and then redoubled his effort to find out just what was going on in this forest.

Advertisement
A note from warden1207

Thank you to my Apotheosis-tier patrons:

Rane Danielsen – Ari Noordermeer – Lucas Lopez – McVerisimilitude – Easyreader – Jarrod Broome – Scarab6 – Casper Bielders – Caleb – A.M.R. – Laggmonkei – Alexey – Stretchheart – CWMA – lucas brion – Tae – Efflorescence – helvetica – Ray Ibit – Murigi – DJ9warren – Gabe9230 – sperg – zachary R Sellers – Magisch – Twist3dOas1s – Caleb – Johnny – Matthew Schultz

---

Don’t forget to leave a rating or review!

Patreon (Up to 40 chapters ahead)

Discord

I have a website, wardenreading.com, where this story is also posted along with some other worldbuilding items, like maps.


Support "The Storm King"

About the author

warden1207

Bio: An aspiring writer, currently writing 'The Storm King' on RR and my own personal website, wardenreading.com

Achievements
Comments(7)
Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In