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“Water only made it worse and wind will probably do the same. Let’s try to shovel some soil onto it and see how it goes. By all means, it should work,” said Uilan.

The elves used their spades and began throwing dirt upon the fire. Strangely enough, the loose earth would bump on the flames like they were solid and fall around it. There, it would slowly combust and become ash. This weird phenomenon puzzled the elves, as this was not the reaction they were expecting. What they didn’t know was that this fire was one that burned the mana that existed inside all things and, given enough time, it could burn down a solid rock.

“This won’t do. We need to cover it up in one go. Shamans, get ready! We’ll raise enough soil to blanket the entire area.”

Following the elder’s order, each shaman expended a lot of energy preparing a spell that would raise the earth. At his signal, a huge pile of loose dirt was thrown into the flames, covering it up in a small mound. The fire was nowhere to be seen, but giving its persistency till now, they waited with bated breath. After nothing happened for a few minutes, they finally felt relieved. The flames might have been special, but they still needed oxygen to thrive. Uilan looked around at his fellow shamans who were resting against the trees. Moving that much earth was really strenuous for them and now they needed some time to recover. At this rate, it would take till nightfall to deal with situation.

-

“… and that’s what he said,” concluded Boro.

“Thank you, Boro,” said Liza as she hugged the small child. “I’m sure you were tempted to ask about your ancestor and other things related to the divine clan. Don’t worry though, after I interrogate my father, that bastard, you can ask him anything you want. If he doesn’t cough up the information you are looking for, I’ll personally beat him up for you.”

Humph, it’s nothing,” said the dragon proudly.

“He said your father is locked up… what do you suppose he did?” asked Ben.

“Maybe he fumbled one of their rituals? That elf did say it was related to their traditions,” suggested Fang Chu.

“I don’t care. For all I know, it serves him right,” said Liza with schadenfreude.

“If the entrance is blocked by that forest organ or whatever, then Liza should be able to open it, right?” asked Eliot.

“I’m his daughter, unfortunately, so I should be able to. Though I have no idea how.”

“Maybe you’ll be able to feel it when you get close?” suggested the redhead.

“Perhaps. Then, should we continue with the plan? Most of the elves should be busy putting out the fires for now, so this will be our best chance.”

“Yes, please! Have that stinky guy move away from here,” exclaimed Boro.

“All right, then let’s remove the piece of cloth from under his nose and hide ourselves far away.”

-

Lazul once again woke up with a start. He’d been knocked out for only a couple minutes, but his hazy mind and Boro’s words told him it had been a couple hours at least. He looked at his arms and legs and was happy to find he was unbound and there was no one in the vicinity. Nevertheless, he carefully scouted the surrounding area to assure himself this wasn’t a trap of some kind. Only after doing so and finding nothing did he feel secure enough to return. He was desperate to know what was the current situation, so he rushed through the forest with all his speed towards the village. Along the way, a small brownish owl hooted and flew to his shoulders.

“You guys were looking for me? Don’t worry, I’m fine,” he said as he patted the owl’s head. He knew Drannor couldn’t hear him through the owl, but his feelings were conveyed through his expression.

After running for an hour, he could finally see the village’s entrance. The small brownish owl finally left his shoulder and flew to a nearby tree as Drannor and his companions rushed over to receive him.

“Lazul! Are you okay?”

“Did they do anything to you? Were you followed?” asked Drannor.

“They haven’t done anything to me. The child from the divine clan wanted to know somethings, but that was it. I also made sure that the area was clear before returning.”

“And you talked?” asked Drannor with a raised eyebrow.

“Only enough to find out his motives, don’t worry. And I only talked with the child from the divine clan, the humans weren’t there.”

“And? What did you find out?” asked Drannor with a hint of annoyance.

“The dragon is an acquaintance of Alluin and he’d come to visit him. I told him Alluin is locked up and explained that there’s zero chance he would be able to meet him. After learning this, he said he would come back when Alluin was released. Then he knocked me out with a drug and left.”

“Well, telling him this much should be fine,” sighed Drannor. “But what of this drug? Are you okay?”

“I’m all right. He said it would make me sleep just enough so his servants would be able to leave the woods unharmed. What about things on your end? Where’s everyone?”

“Uilan took every able person to deal with the fire. Only the elderly and the children are home at the moment. We were ordered to stay and watch over them.”

“They’re still dealing with the fire?” asked Lazul in surprise.

“You saw it yourself, that fire was special and they haven’t left that long ago. What did you expect?”

“Wait, for how long was I gone?”

“An hour and a half, give or take. Are you okay? Sit down for now, that drug they gave you probably messed up with your head.”

-

“So that’s their settlement,” said Liza.

“Look at those walls made of roots! Now that’s fantasy-like!” whispered Ben with excitement.

“He said your father was locked up beneath the great tree. That one is easy to find, at least,” said Boro as he gazed at the gigantic tree.

“Should we find a hidden place to sneak in? The mist around here is really thin. It makes easier for us to see, but it will also make it easier for them to spot us too,” said the redhead.

“It’s too quiet and peaceful. I thought they’d be in a frenzy due to the fires, making it easy to sneak in. Maybe we need another distraction,” pondered Ben.

“What do you suggest? I’m already out of alchemist’s fire, though I still have some fun stuff, like–”

“Please, no more of your dangerous gadgets for now! Also, that would make obvious it was someone trying to create trouble. I was thinking that maybe Eliot and Boro could chase some monsters to this place. That would keep them busy for a while.”

Oh! We’re experts on that! We used to do it all the time back on Aldin! If you scared them good and chased them long enough, they’d bump on other monsters’ territory and they would fight. It was really fun watching them go at it.”

“Wait a second! Then it’s your fault that Aldin was a mess and dangerous creatures were appearing where they shouldn’t be! Does that mean that those golden razorclaw monkeys that almost killed me were because of you too?”

Err… ugh…

“Hahaha, I should have known! Don’t worry, I’m not mad at you. You did save me from them in the end, after all,” Liza said with a smile.

“Yeah, yeah I did!” said Eliot feeling relieved. “I thought you were a strange monster at first, rolling around desperately like that on the ground. Then I noticed you looked similar to me and…”

As he continued talking, Liza’s bright smile started to cramp a little and Eliot could see Ben, who was standing behind her, making frantic gestures for him to stop talking.

“Anyway, yeah, me and Boro can do it,” he concluded somewhat out of sorts.

“Off you go then, chase some monsters this way and make sure you’re not seen by the elves,” said Ben hoping to get his friend out of a sticky situation.

“Yeah, leave it to us!” Eliot exclaimed as he left in a hurry. Boro snickered, changed into his dragon form and flew after him.

-

[Strange. He said I’d be knocked out for a couple hours, so how come I woke up so quickly? Did he trick me? But what for? I’m positive nobody followed me and Alluin can’t get out no matter what. Maybe his drug wasn’t a good match to my constitution?] pondered Lazul.

While the shaman was lost in thought, a shadow streaked by unnoticed high above his head and carefully descended in an empty place inside the village. After looking around and making sure the area was clear, Boro dropped on the ground a small cub he was carrying in his claws. The cub looked like a bear, though it had two heads and six limbs.

“Don’t worry little guy, your parents will soon be here to bring you home. How troublesome though, if only the others could fly too, then everything would be so much easier,” the dragon sighed.

The cub, feeling afraid, quickly ran to hide between some baskets that were piled outside an empty house and stared at the dragon with fear. Boro couldn’t help but finding the trembling creature cute.

[You’re adorable, but your parents are something else… Eliot should’ve held them back long enough for now. I better regroup with the others.]

While Boro was dropping his “special package”, Lazul was still torn trying to connect the dots of everything that had happened. Though he wasn’t sure what he was missing, he thought he would feel better if he urged Drannor to scout around with his owls. He was just about to ask him when the angry roar of multiple beasts echoed through the woods.

Two double-headed bears with six limbs emerged from between the trees and charged at them in rage. They were twice the size of a large grizzly bear and their mighty charge made the earth tremble. The elves opened their eyes wide and stared in shock.

“Twin-headed bears! Why would they be here?”

“Forget that for now, don’t let them inside the village!” shouted Drannor. “Lazul! Elmer! Restrain them with your magic!”

“Okay!”

A fierce battle ensued, drawing the attention of the few elves that remained behind in the village. It had been a long time since their settlement was attacked by such ferocious beasts.

“Wait, this is wrong! It couldn’t be!” exclaimed Lazul with a sudden realization after a while. “You guys hold on for a bit, I’m just going to check on something! I’ll be right back!”

“Lazul, come back here! We need everyone to hold these beasts off!”

The shaman ignored Drannor’s shout and rushed back inside the village. He ran straight towards the great tree, his head a mess of thoughts. Along the way he passed by a small child, but he didn’t spare a single glance towards her. He needed to confirm his suspicions as soon as possible.

“Mr. Lazul, look at what I found!” exclaimed the child excitedly as she tried to show off the small twin-headed bear cub on her arms. However, the shaman ignored her and kept running. “Wait, mr. Lazul! What creature is this? Do you think I can keep it? Wait for me, mr. Lazul!” shouted the child as she clumsily ran after the grown elf.

Lazul rushed past the empty houses. The small child was the only other person he bumped into along the way. Most of the villagers were out in the woods fighting the fire, and the ones that remained behind crowded near the entrance to watch the commotion from the twin-headed bears’ attack. After running for a while, he finally had a clear view of the base of the great tree. He could see the black-skinned child who was the member of the divine clan, as well as the human lady that should have died from their ambush. They were both standing in front of the barred tunnel that led under the great tree.

“It was them! But what’s the point of all of this? They can’t get inside! No matter, I should warn the others!”

Lazul broke his run and prepared to turn around when he heard the wind whistling. Then his vision spun and he saw his headless body fall to the ground as everything went black. Eliot cleaned his bloodied blade and turned around to see a small child running towards his direction in the distance. She was running with her head down and panting a lot. On her arms was the heavy twin-headed bear cub and it was clear she was having trouble carrying it around while running. It seemed she had yet to noticed the man she was chasing was no more. Eliot watched the child approaching with a frown on his face.

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