"swoosh...swoosh” An arrow well aimed to his eyes forced Fedrin to duck, but following right after was another arrow aimed at his new position. ‘They are not well trained, but they are used to coordinate when it comes to arrows.’ Though Fedrin. Joining the second arrow was the chain swiping horizontally aiming to chop him at his waist.
With a swift jump, he threw himself forward, dodging mid-air the arrow and the chain. Still in the air, he went for Gudrak's neck stretching his arm. But with an overwhelming effort, Gudrak managed to rapidly change the trajectory of the chain. Forcing him to contort again in mid-air to dodge the chain, killing his momentum.
He didn't have much time to land, because as soon as he avoided the chain more arrows came. The worst thing was that every time he dodged another arrow appeared aiming again to his eyes.
Another chain attack soon appeared in his field of vision, Gudrak may be weakened after Fedrin had severely injured him but the man was not giving up.
“Swoosh” He could hear another arrow coming, but this time he didn't dodge. Since he knew the target was his eye, without even looking he caught the arrow while jumping and rotating to avoid the chain. After a 360 degree spin he threw the arrow he caught back to Gudrak.
“Ahggg” The speed and force of this arrow were much faster than the ones shot by the bows. It hit Gudrak's leg with such force that it destabilized him, making him fall to the ground.
Almost like having a mind of its own, the chain contracted and formed a shield in Gudraks arm, but the impact he expected didn't arrive.
Capitalizing on Gudrak's fall, Fedrin ran to a guard that was near the wall. The guard tried to keep his cool and managed to shot an arrow at him, but without time to aim properly the arrow just hit Fedrin in the chest and bounced harmlessly.
Without giving the guard time to process what to do, Fedrin's arm turned into rock and with a sudden thrust, it impaled the guard going right through his abdomen. His arm, with the guard still hanging from it, kept going as if nothing happened and hit the wall.
“Booom!” The wall trembled and after some cracks appeared, a huge hole took form.
The escaped prisoners, that a few moments before were trying to climb the wall or jumping over it while fighting other guards, went quiet. And as if guided by a single mind, they rushed with all their madness towards the easiest exit, the hole.
The guard with the bows started to shoot the other prisoners, though most of them kept firing at Fedrin. “Concentrate fire on Fedrin Levian!” Soon Gudrak's pained voice put some order to them. He was standing up with some difficulty now, and in his eyes, the fear of death was finally showing. He knew that even if he dragged the fight, with his injuries, the one to give in first would be him.
Fedrin's lips arched upwards and instead of escaping, he turned and raced towards Gudrak. Arrows were shot at his eyes, but now he used the guard that was still impaled in his left arm as a shield.
“Ahhh”. With a scream, his shield announced to the world that it was still very much alive.
He saw the shadow of the chain coming again, this time it was slower than before. With a bit more time to prepare, Fedrin jumped up avoiding the attack but as he went down he punched the ground with his rock fist.
“Booom” A huge crater was formed. But more importantly, Gudrak that had been barely standing and supporting his weight with only one leg, was thrown off balance and yet again, met with the floor.
Almost by reflex the chain contracted again and condensed into a shield. Fedrin advanced with a concentrated look, as his arm transformed once more to attack. Once he reached the shield he stabbed with his hand
“clank.” “... Ah...me...metal” Although the impact Gudrak expected did arrive, it was different than before. He only managed to say a soft word as Fedrin's arm had turned into metal and was stabbed in his throat looking like a sharp sword blade. From the wound, a small stream of blood was coming out.
That's the reason why Fedrin picked a human shield. He could block the arrows with his arm or avoid them if necessary. But he needed to concentrate in order to transform his arm into metal and he could barely dodge the chain and run while doing it. It was not easy and costed more qi to use this image but the results speak for themselves.
Gudrak looked one last time at his opponent, and from the corner of his eye, he could also see his men throwing their weapons and turning around. He didn't blame them. In one arm, an impaled guard with arrows filling his body, and the neck of their leader being opened by his other hand. That image must be terrifying for these men.
This guy was not only a powerful body cultivator, but he was also a genius. He had managed to fuse the image of metal to his body at the early qi circulation stage. The only reason they were able to hold him back was that he didn't have the time to charge his spirit-veins fully.
‘At least I wasn't killed by a weakling.’ With that last thought, Gudrak said goodbye to his life. With a swipe of Fedrin's now metallic hand, the head flew off and with it, a shower of blood was released into the sky.
Fedrin watched as Gudrak's headless body dropped to the ground, only then he retracted his hand with some difficulty from the chain shield he had pierced. Then looking around and noticing that the rest of the guards had run, he dropped his human shield to the ground. His movements were so casual that he didn't look like someone who had just fought with his life on the line. A testament, perhaps, of a life filled with fighting and death.
He raised his head to look for the last time the place where he spent the last four years.
‘Huh?’ something grabbed his attention. ‘Another wave of prisoners?’ A group of prisoners that he didn't remember freeing was rushing out from the hole in the wall. They were much more than the first wave and the few guards that were still fighting were soon overwhelmed by the sudden increase in numbers. ‘Someone must have gone to the other pavilions and released more people.’
The resulting scene was a picture taken straight out from hell. Prisoners killing guards, others killing each other, some even harming themselves, and the remaining ones running in all directions. All that with the constant sound of laughter, weeping and cursing coming from the prisoners. ‘I suppose that's what happens when you free a bunch of madmen at the same time. This truly is a night of death and madness.’ Fedrin thought as he took in the scene in front of his eyes.
That's when he caught sight of a man calmly walking at the back of the group, it was the only man of this new group he remembered freeing. He was the last to walk out of the building and he was dressed in the standard jailors' uniform. But for some reason, he didn't look happy about escaping. Instead, there was actually a frown on his face, and his expression was somewhere in the middle of thoughtful and disappointed. The man was just rubbing his well defined angular jaw while deep in thought, not paying attention to his surroundings.
Fedrin's eyes just stopped for an instant on the man, but the man seemed to sense his gaze and looked back at him. There was no hostility in his eyes, as fast as he looked at Fedrin he went back to his own machinations.
For a moment Fedrin was startled, but soon he decided to ignore the man. ‘ If he doesn't mean any harm to me I don't care enough to not pry into his business.’
Then, he looked again at the building. ‘This kingdom will pay for what you did, father. I will make sure to destroy everything you care for.’ With hatred fueling his movements, he turned around and disappeared into the night.
Aleran was exhausted, they had been walking the whole night and the sky was already clearing up. It would not have been a problem if he still had his inner qi, it was a pity that he hadn't meditated at all since last night. Because of that, right now he was like a normal 14 years old kid walking in the wilderness with his limbs hardly responding. To make it worse his shoes were all worn out from last night run, making him feel like he was barefoot.
Zarasen said that they had been walking for 5 Ru. Aleran guessed that each Ru was roughly like an hour of the earth. Of course, he couldn't be sure of the exact equivalence, but he didn't really care about that right now. The people in this planet divided the day in 28 Ru, so purely for practical matters, in his head, he called them hours.
“Old man, I really need to rest. Are we there yet?” Aleran said with a tired voice. This was the tenth time he had asked that question and of course, he knew the answer. Every time he asked, the old man seemed to become more annoyed. But for some reason seeing the annoyed look of the old fart gave him strength.
“We are almost there so stop whining, you talk like an old woman.” Zarasen kept climbing the hill. “ After this hill, we'll be able to see the forest and then I'll be free of your constant nagging.” Despite the annoyed expression, the old man was actually in a good mood and as carefree as always. During their long walk, he had been talking about many stories and even some gossips along the way.
There were stories about the man that was so powerful that created one of the three moons on the sky. And how the current royal family of the Silver Moon kingdom claimed to be their descendants.
Also, he told him some of the rumors about the Sidrin emperor. It seems like the current Sidrin emperor and founder of the empire appeared in the world out of nowhere. There was no record of him before he gained his current power. Something hard to do with the other top tier masters always watching their backs in case of new talents rising to their level.
This was the origin of many rumors about the Sidrin emperor, and Zarasen seemed to know all of them. One of those rumors said that he was an old reclusive expert who, after realizing that he could not advance in his cultivation anymore, decided to come out and create an empire. Of course, that theory had many flaws, one of them being that the emperor has lived for the past thousand years and he has become stronger during that time.
Another popular theory talked about how the emperor was half dragon half man, and his children inherited the same dragon blood. This rumor was probably started by the common people. After they saw the dragons on their robes and other similar decoration the Sidrin family usually had, the common people could not help but start rumors. There were many more rumors surrounding the figure of the emperor. From being the child of a deity, to be an evil cultivator who drained the life force of people to gain power. There were truly countless theories.
Although most of the stories and rumors Zarasen talked about were really hard to believe, after everything he saw, Aleran could not discard any of them. For christ sake, last night he had practically become a living Tesla coil, so he had to at least give these stories the benefit of doubt.
During the first hours, Aleran listened to the stories paying close attention, and more so to the ones referring to the Sidrin empire. After all, that was supposed to be his destination.
Now however he could not pay attention to anything else as he was barely standing and his vision was shaking.
Once they reached the top of the hill Zarasen stopped talking and pointed at the landscape before them. In front of them, an endless sea of green could be seen. It looked like it had no end except when you look at both the south and the north. In each of those directions, there was a mountain range in the distance. They were like two dams stopping the advance of the green sea that was the forest of eternal dreams.
Meandering through the forest, and sometimes hiding under the cup of the trees, was a wide river that flowed from south to north and then it made a smooth turn to the east.
Aleran looked with awe at the forest, it was immense. For a moment he forgot of his tired body, but in the next second, he felt his legs heavier than ever. He looked at Zarasen with a bit of incredulity and while gasping for breath he asked. “ You are telling me that I have to get to the other side of that never-ending forest? Old man, if you wanted me dead you could have just stabbed me in the back when you had the chance.”
“Don't worry kid, once you refill your qi the forest won't be as dangerous as you think. your odds of dying should be fifty-fifty.” Zarasen said waving Aleran's insecurities away, but he only managed to increase them. Now Aleran started to wobble but he was trying to stay put.
Seeing his reaction, Zarasen continued “Look, this is the only place out of the kingdom that it will make it hard for them to locate you. And believe me, a soon as the word goes out the Silver Moon kingdom will hunt us down like rabid dogs. If you want to go back and try your luck getting back home where, by the way, they already kick you out, be my guest.” He pointed towards their back at a hilly area with a few patches in the form of grooves that extended towards the horizon.
“Sigh...okay, then once inside the forest, what the hell am I suppose to do? I mean I can see the river here, but I know it will be hard to find it once I'm inside.” Aleran aked resigned. Now the edge of his vision was starting to get dark.
“That's a more proactive question. And you are right, inside the forest is hard to find your way. That is why you will look for something to guide you. Once you get close you will notice at the base of the trees some purple mushrooms. These things are almost always pointing opposite to the nearest water source. Not all of them are exactly pointing to the opposite direction but if you find enough of this mushrooms they will take you towards the general direction.”
“Oh, how reliable.” Said Aleran with a sarcastic voice.
“Sorry, but that's the best I have. Now, once you find the river, you follow it downstream. From there, It should take you two days to get out of the forest.”
“And you, you said something about going to the mountains?” Said Aleran. But before Zarasen answered, his legs gave up.
“Ah” Finally, his body couldn't take it anymore and he collapsed on the ground, first he kneeled and then the rest of his body fell.
“Oh, I was wondering when you were going to give in.” Zarasen said without an ounce of surprise. “Frankly you last longer than I thought.”
“What the hell is happening?” Aleran's vision was starting to get swaying.
“You did use all your power and even more than what you can handle in a single outburst. Though the exterior of your spirit-veins looks fine, on the inside there may be injuries. I honestly can't tell about the inside but as long as the exterior holds the interior can heal. You put a lot of strain on your body but with the emotion of the chase you were able to ignore all that and now you are starting to feel the consequences.”
‘So the adrenaline is starting to wear off.’ Thought Aleran and then he asked. “Is there going to be permanent damage?”
“Don't worry, that was the reason why you were so tired. You will probably fall unconscious for a few Ru and when you wake up you will only have a headache. LIke a hangover. Its the result of straining your spirit veins, you should be glad you didn't destroy them again. Can you imagine? The first guy to regrow his spirit-veins was also the first to suffer a cultivation deviation twice. That would have been really fun to watch hahaha!”
Zarasen explained the situation in detail with more laughing and then he changed the subject. “ I can't wait for you to wake up, I have things to do. So, here is where we part, kid.”
“ What?! You are going to leave me here unconscious in the middle of nowhere?!” Aleran was shocked and angry. It was too sudden, not to mention his current condition. With a weak voice, Aleran tried to argue. But he really didn't have more energy to do so. He could barely see the figure of Zarasen that was not facing him and was still watching the landscape.
“You will be fine, I'm not that heartless… well, I am but not right now. Hehe.” He said with a humorous tone, but next, he turned a little more serious. “Our time together has been an eye-opener for me, I really grew attached to you, sadly I can't take you with me. You should try to meditate after you wake up because inside the forest you won't have much time to rest. As for the kingdom, they will take a while to react. If our friend did what he promised and make sure everything ended chaotically, they will take at least three days to come after us.”
“You could stay and make sure I don't get killed while I am unconscious. That would be a good way to show your friendship.” Those were the final words Aleran muttered with his final trace of consciousness before darkness took his vision away.
As if suddenly remembering something Zarasen said “Oh right!! Once inside the forest don't fall asleep near-” When he turned around he finally saw that Aleran had closed his eyes. ‘Oh, he already passed out. Well, it doesn't matter, what are the chances of that happening?’
Shrugging Zarasen turned his back to Aleran but he seemed to remember something important again and faced back at the unconscious boy. Looking serious, his eyes started to glow green with unprecedented brilliance. It was so bright that the green glow practically covered half of his face.
At the top of the hill surrounded by the morning mist, Zarasen looked not like an old man, but like an ancient ghost coming from a time long forgotten. The air around him seemed to change and grow still, giving a strange feeling. He extended his pale decrepit arm and pointed his finger to the sleeping Aleran.
“whoosh.” A green streak of light flew out of his finger and entered Aleran's head leaving no trace of its intrusion. After this, everything returned to normal. ‘I guess this could be called a proof of friendship.’
‘Now you really have a fifty-fifty chance. This will scare away the more powerful and sensitive beasts and it will also make it hard to follow his trace for the kingdom.’ Zarazen's eyes, that had returned to their usual grey, softened a little and his lips showed a rare sympathetic smile.
‘I hope you get to the other side before the effect wears off lad, you have five days of grace, the rest depends on you. It will be hard even with this help, but this is the best way for you to get out of the kingdom. Besides, if you don't remember anything is for the best that you start remembering how cruel this world is.’ His gaze suddenly hardened again.
With a serious look, he now regarded his hand. The decrepit skin started to grow more wrinkles and his arms started to get more skinny and much older. Following soon after, his face experienced the same changes. ‘ Look at me running unnecessary risks, I really need to go back and undo the seal. Luckily this travel was quite helpful, my breakthrough is nigh.’
With a complex look and a lot in his mind, Zarasen turned around and, slowly like a normal old man, he walked in the direction of the northern mountains.