“Awoo” The wolf emitted a short but powerful howl while slowly closing in.
Hearing the howl Aleran's face turned serious. ‘I have to run before the rest of the pack arrives!’ Without wasting time he turned and fled along the shore of the river.
The wolf seeing its prey escaping and guided by its instincts, gave chase. Aleran could hear the footsteps of the wolf getting closer and closer. With every breath he gave, and for every step he made the wolf strides got them closer together. ‘This won't do, it's too fast!’
He abruptly turned around only to catch the wolf already in the air, jumping with his fangs going straight for his neck. Aleran almost couldn't react but, at the last moment, while seeing everything in slow motion, he managed to grab the head of the animal with his two hands. Keeping the closing jaws scarce inches away from his neck.
This feat that saved his life also made him drop to the ground with the beast on top trying to bite something, anything, out of him. The beast was so strong that every time it moved the head, it dragged Aleran through the floor. Only thanks to his enhanced strength did Aleran managed to get a firm hold of the beast.
‘Tssss’ “arrggg” A growl of pain came out of Aleran thanks to the acid saliva that started to drop on his neck and chest. He didn't want to open his mouth in case some of that acid dropped inside.
It was in this moment of peril that Aleran, with his two hands still holding the head of the creature, concentrated on his image. In his right hand, he created a negative pole filled with negatively charged particles. Whereas in his left hand he did the exact opposite, creating a positive pole.
With a quick movement, Aleran put his hands on the temples of the beast losing some grip. but managing to get his hands at the hight where the brain of the creature was. He opened the circuit in the spirit veins inside his fingers and the charge naturally flowed.
“Welcome to the electric chair, mother fucker!” Forgetting about the risk of getting acid in his mouth and even the Eleemes language and speaking in English, Aleran shouted. With a voice mixed with fear and rage, he unleashed the attack.
‘tzzzzz’ With the current passing through its body, the beast whined while convulsing, losing control of its limbs and the rest of the body. The yellow eyes of the wolf started to bleed and then they started to melt. The toxic saliva started to boil while the rest of the wolfs face contorted in an unsightly grimace. One of its hind legs, due to the strong convulsions, suffered a fracture and was bent in a wrong way. Aleran could feel the heat burning his hands but he couldn't stop now, not until the beast breathed its last.
To Aleran every second felt like an hour as he focused on the image and at the same time he dogged the convulsing limbs of the wolf.
“Ahhhhgggg” This time the growl of pain coming from Aleran was much louder. In the middle of the involuntary movement, one of the paws of the animal crossed paths with Aleran right shoulder. Luckily for Aleran, the long claws didn't reach the bone and just grazed the flesh.
The beast whole body stopped moving and with a smoking head, it dropped on top of Aleran. The dead weight of the wolf almost crushed him and with an injured shoulder it cost him double to shake the body off him.
“Haa... Haa... Haa.” Gasping and trembling Aleran stood up and grabbed his shoulder. The wound was not that deep luckily the wolf was not aiming at him, it was convulsing without a target. It hurt, but to him, the pain was common currency by now.
He looked at his hands with the tip of his fingers burnt black and the rest of his hand red hot. ‘I can't avoid hurting myself while I do this, although the burning looks worse than the last night, in fact, is only the flesh that got damaged. My spiritual veins seem able to handle this level of power although it still feels like I am straining them it is not hurting them. Last night I only got my whole fingers burnt but the spiritual veins were damaged.
He looked at his legs, they were wet. The wolf lost control of its sphincters. “Seriously? Every damn time I have a fight I will end up with fricking piss on me! What the hell man!” Remembering the fight in the cell when he used the waste bucket to knock out the guard and then when he first arrived at this world. Every time something like this happened. He was truly grossed out by now.
“To think that at some point in time, this method of killing was considered clean back on earth. I guess they didn't have to smell it.” But to Aleran those times where almost ancient, he didn't know anything about electric chairs. In his time the executions where through nanobots that entered the prisoner body and stopped the heart from the inside. Then, they could be gathered and re-used every time. He certainly didn't expect to watch how the muscles of the wolf face contorted and much less to smell the burnt eyes and flesh. ‘ Probably, the wolf was so big that it was impossible to kill it instantly with my power.’
Although he said it was like an electric chair, the idea was more similar to a stun gun. But a much deadlier one and with more power. “Half of my qi...I knew the cost was going to be big, but this is too much. Not to mention that I have to be in close contact with the target.” He didn't know that for someone at his level it was practically impossible to use images. Not only because of the limitation of using it only inside the spirit-veins but because at his level, the cultivator would not have that much knowledge.
This was the first way he thought off to use his image. But last time he ended up using a more drastic approach when he was surrounded by three enemies and their pet. The fact that he needed to touch the target was a huge set back for someone like him who didn't know martial arts.
Aleran raised his eyes from the corpse of the wolf and looked into the distance. From the place the wolf came, more started to appear. They were five, with four of them just as big as the first one, reaching Aleran's chest even in all fours. The one in the middle besides having the characteristic saliva also expelled some dark green smoke from its mouth. Only by the looks, Aleran knew that was the leader, and that smoke was bad news. ‘Some kind of toxic gas?’ Looking at the plants touched by the gas wither rapidly he guessed it was similar to the saliva but with a further reach.
Without taking the gas into account, only the five wolves together were enough for Aleran to know what to do. ‘I have to run, there is no other choice! If luck is with me, the distance between us is enough for them to give up. Its a shame the attack of the other night was a one time attack. I already spent all my remnant energy in that attack, only when my level gets higher it would be an option. ’
He dashed following the river downstream. With the wolf spiting smoke at the lead the beasts gave chase immediately. And, as the leader ran, the smoke left a trail that covered the other wolves that ran behind. With the only exception being the last and smaller wolf that was too slow and was barely keeping up.
They were closing in, the leader was especially fast and seemed the most eager to hunt him down. ‘ Shit! I thought my speed was similar to theirs. But no matter the initial distance, they are faster than me and will reach me quickly. I better climb some tree, that could be a solution...’
“Baaam!” One of the rocks in the shore suddenly shot up toward the smaller wolf at the rear. It fiercely pierced the soft stomach and took the beast down leaving it without strength to complain.
The familiar sound made Aleran turn his head while running to see what happened behind. At the corner of his eyes, he caught a glimpse of the last wolf. He could see the antennae of the rock beast he saw before, grabbing hold of the wolf. And even from that distance, he could hear how the rock thing was mercilessly bitting through its flesh.
The other wolves seemed to be so focused on the persecution they didn't notice their decrease in numbers. Either that or they didn't care enough to stop the hunt.
Looking ahead, Aleran started to notice the small rocks that plagued the river, some were real rocks but others were certainly beasts in hiding. He couldn't tell them apart while running. ‘It's like a minefield. This may be good news!’ Since the wolves were much bigger targets it made sense to Aleran that the rocks would prefer to attack them instead of him. So he chose to follow the river and see what happened.
“Baam!...Baam!...Baam!” Three more rock beats attacked, but their target were not the wolves but the skinny and hard to hit human. Two were too late and the last one almost caught him with its tough antennae that looked more like tentacles now. “What the-?... Are these things really that dumb?”
For a moment Aleran was confused and afraid, the wolves were dangerously close and his plan had failed without a logical reason. But then he turned around to see how the wolves were faring and noticed the thick green smoke covering the leader that left a trail also covering the rest of the pack.
‘So that's it, I should have noticed before. Change of plans then.’ Changing course, he ran for the closest tree and jumped with all his might barely grabbing hold of a thick branch. He raised his legs to avoid one of the wolves that jumped going for a bite it. He climbed onto the branch with an agile movement and now standing on top he was forced to dodge to the side. The wolf leader with a single amazing jump succeeded in rising above the branch and lunching his body at Aleran. After dodging and without stopping, Aleran jumped to another close branch that was higher. As he was arriving a wolf jumped and almost bite off one of Aleran’s feet.
Now out of reach, he looked down at the wolf he assumed was the leader amazed by its power. ‘ I almost didn't reach the first branch but that wolf jumped over it, I can't believe I killed one of these things. I'm lucky they are not made to climb trees.’
‘Huh?’ His sense of safety didn't last long as the bigger wolf started to produce massive amounts of toxic gas that was slowly creeping up, withering all the leaves and life in its way. “Am I really worth all this trouble? Look how skinny I am you stupid animal!” While yelling to release his frustration he quickly started to jump from tree to tree trying to get away from the wolves. Even with his strength and speed, it wasn't an easy feat. The branches were slippery with some growing moss on them.
‘This tree looks big enough for the wolves to stop-’ Even before he could look down a vine that was resting on the tree suddenly came to life and wrapped itself on his ankle. He was thrown off balance and fell, the branch was so wide that he didn't have a risk of falling off the tree but the wolves, nevertheless, inched closer in anticipation.
Aleran looked at his leg to see a vine filled with thorns taking a firm hold of him. He had been so focused on the wolves that he missed the mean looking vine resting on the tree.
The thing started to pull him closer to a gap that was in the bark of the tree. ‘ I don't know what's inside that hole but I sure as hell won't wait to find out.’ With some effort, he created a small electric arc between his thumb and index finger, it looked more like a spark than an electric arc. That was enough to start a small fire on the vine that spread faster than he had thought.
From the inside of the tree, a piercing screech of pain filled the area. The vine lost strength and Aleran was finally able to retrieve his leg. After getting off the remains of the vine he was left with a leg filled with wounds and with a first-degree burn.
The rest of the vine retreated into the hole in the tree. The interior lit up for a second showing a deformed shadow and then the fire and the screech died out. Not knowing if the thing that tried to kill him was still alive he stood up. and without a second thought, Aleran jumped to the next tree. Now paying more attention to where he stepped.
It only took a while for the wolves on the ground to realize the human was now truly safe. With one last unwilling look, the massive wolves turned around at the same time as if they had one mind, and disappeared between the undergrowth.
‘Maybe my inner qi is what's so appealing to them, it's not like I can prove it but that would make sense.’ He looked at the place he came from with a frown. ‘ I can't go back those wolves are not that far. It's better to find another path and then go back to the river later. For now, I will find a place to rest. Tomorrow morning I'll try to find the river again.’
‘On a closer look, the trees don't look like the best option to move.’ As he paid more attention he found more and more of those vines all joined to some hole in the tree. “This forest is a deadly trap. Old man, where in hell have you sent me to?”
With a little time to rest, he made a quick session of meditation to regain his lost qi that, after the running and fighting, it was almost depleted. Soon after he finished he was startled by some rustling in the bushes. Not wanting to stay and find out what it was, he jumped carefully from tree to tree a little more.
The vines were so well hidden that he wasted too much time to make sure the next tree was safe. Tired of being in constant lookout for them, he jumped down and started to walk faster. It was starting to get darker and under the forest canopy, the light from the moons did not show itself.
Looking for an adequate place, he found a small clearing and after piling a few dead branches and leaves he started a bonfire. His image resulted convenient to lit the fire just like he did with the vine.
He rested his back on a tree that he previously checked. He couldn't see very well in the darkness, but he tried to check there were no evil vines hanging low near the base. Besides some weird looking fruits hanging from the tree he could see nothing else.
For a moment he allowed himself to relax, spending so much energy two days in a row left him exhausted. Even though he had slept something when he fell unconscious, it was merely for a few hours. Without anything to eat he needed to sleep more badly than he thought. That instant was enough for him to fall soundly asleep without caring about his surroundings.
Matthew was sitting with his family again, having lunch altogether. They were eating pasta like all Sundays at noon. His mother, the most kind and loving woman he had ever met, made a habit to cook pasta every Sunday. Though his father didn't like it, he was forced by the majority of the house to compromise and join this custom. His father may have his defects, but he always put his children above everything. If they liked pasta that much, he was willing to eat it every day if it made his children happy. Maybe he spoiled his son and daughter a little too much.
Mathew was in a good mood, last night he had had a horrible nightmare. Where he was alone and lost in a forest filled with all kind of dangers. It was of those nightmares that fell so real that by the time you wake up and realize everything is normal you can't help but feel grateful for what you have.
“Matt, have you thought what do you want to eat tonight? It will be our last dinner together in who knows how long. “His mother asked while serving their food.to the family one by one.
“Mmm... I don't know, I already ate my fill of sushi yesterday.” He had gone with his friends to eat his favorite food in a Japanese restaurant. As his friends heard he was going on an expedition they decided to throw him a farewell party. It was a much-needed break from studies and lab work for Matthew.
“Then, I will try to surprise you. Oh!” As she was serving some salsa was spilled on his shirt. “ Don't worry I will clean it fast, is just a small spot. Today you don't have to do anything.” His mother grabbed a napkin, put one hand on his shoulder and started to wipe the stain.
Matthew watched the spaghetti with some reminiscence, for some reason he felt a nostalgic sensation even though he remembered eating some last month. “Uh, Mom, What are you doing?” He felt his mothers hand on his neck.”
“Mom?” The hand started to squeeze, and when he looked at her face it was still smiling. But it was a stiff smile as if she wasn't able to stop smiling no matter how she forced it to go away.
The hand started to squeeze even harder and Matthew could feel his lungs asking for air. “Mom?!” he screamed hoarsely with what was left of his air. He looked at his father seat but he wasn't there anymore, neither his baby sister. He tried to struggle but suddenly his arms turned short and his hands small.
“It's all a lie! Why didn't you tell me?! WHY DID YOU KEEP IT A SECRET?!” Her mother yelled but her smile was still plastered into her face. Matthew started to feel his vision blur, he was going to die.
With an abrupt movement, Aleran sat up but as he tried to breathe, nothing happened. His lungs were still screaming for air. He opened his eyes but darkness was all he saw. He tried to touch his face and something slimy came in contact with his hands, then he realized something was stuck to his head making suction noises. His desperation started to mount as he moved his body and hands without knowing what to do.
‘There's something on my face and is suffocating me!’ He tried to punch the problem away, but nothing happened. His second reaction was to electrocute the damn thing but he restrained from doing it. ‘It's too dangerous to use when is so close to my face. A burned visage would be the best result while the worst could be death. What do I do?’ He was starting to despair, he was feeling dizzy from the lack of air, at any moment he would fall unconscious. Aleran could also feel the thing in his face slightly tugging at his inner qi. ‘Is it trying to suck my inner qi?’
“crack” ‘Thats right! the bonfire!’ The cracking sound of the bonfire revived Alerans hopes. Following the noise and the heat he reached the bonfire and got his head on top of it. Due to the lack of time, he couldn't worry about getting burned. At least it was less dangerous than the electric option. He only wanted the damn thing, whatever it was, to get a painful death.
"kyyaaaa." A weird screech came out of the creature. It first clutched harder and during a short second Aleran thought that he was really going to die. But it seemed that was the last dying struggle of the creature as it lost its grip and fell, screaming, into the fire.
A more than welcome mouthful of air brought Aleran back from death's door. His face was covered by a slimy substance and bubbles took form every time he exhaled. He just sat there grabbing his head and breathing roughly. For a moment his head went back to the dream he just had. ‘ I miss them... more than I thought I would.’ It took him a while to gather his bearings and look at the culprit of this whole situation.
A giant leech that was now dead, getting cooked by the fire and expelling an awful odor. He looked at the flames that had grown smaller since he went to sleep. ‘ Between man-eating trees, bullet rocks, and giant wolves, this leech was the one who got closer to kill me. But where did it come from? It doesn't look like a fast animal.’
Aleran looked around, after finding nothing he looked at the tree where he had supported his back. There he caught sight of a trail of slime coming from the top of the tree. He tilted his head upwards and noticed the strange fruits. Now, with the darkness slowly receding, he could see them clearly.
They were no fruits but dozens of those leeches hanging from the branches, some directly stuck to the main trunk. This was not the only tree with those leeches, they were everywhere if you knew what you were looking for.
The top of these trees looked lifeless, filled with withered leaves and dying bark. Compared to the bottom that was filled with green they were like another tree altogether. ‘Okay, lesson learned. No sleeping near the trees.’
With the light of down and after composing himself, he decided to find his way back to the river. He started walking with an injured shoulder, a scarred chest and a leg filled with holes surrounded by burned patches of skin. Not to mention the tiny cut and bite marks all over his body. Each one of those injuries was proof that he had come out alive from a deadly situation. Most people would have collapsed from the pain alone but to Aleran this was nothing compared with the pain of the soul. With that said, it hurt, and a lot, but he gritted his teeth and continued.
The next hour, he searched for the mushrooms that had guided him before without success. And after a while, Aleran was starting to believe that he was walking in circles. Every tree and every part of the forest started to look the same.
‘I need a vantage point to look for the river.’ With a frown, he regarded the trees around and started to search for the tallest one in the area. It didn't take long to reach a thick tree, covered in moss and so tall that Aleran could not see the end of it. ‘I have bad experiences when it comes to the trees of this forest but I have to climb it.’
The climb was a long one, he was very careful not to fall prey of another weird trap but more than that he was severely injured. Though he could deal with the pain his mobility had been slightly compromised. The other main reason for his delay was the size of the tree, that was around 200 hundred meters tall.
When he reached the top, he was able to see the carpet of trees that extended everywhere. The carpet had some patches of other colors such as red, yellow, and even black. But they were small areas in comparison. There was not a single cloud in the sky, so the conditions for his search could not be better.
He had been lucky enough to find this tree, for what he could tell, there were few trees taller than this one.
Aleran changed positions many times in search of a tinge of blue in the endless green of this landscape. ‘ How can this be? The river is really wide yet I can't see even a glimpse of it.’ After doing a 360 degrees search, he found nothing. The canopy was too thick to see anything besides a few clears showing solid ground. ‘ This can't be, I remember there was some space between the trees and the river. Which is normal when rivers tend to cause floods and uproot the trees. I should be able to see something.’
‘The next best option is to go where the foliage is greener and more vivid. After setting the general direction I will try to look for some animal trails, the bigger the better, I'm no expert tracker after all. Eventually, it would lead me to the river since every animal needs water, well at least every animal I know off.’ He had seen several of those trials while he was following the mushrooms but, for obvious reasons, he avoided those paths. ‘ It is risky but its the last resort.
As Aleran was focused again looking for greener areas to have a general direction to go something at the distance caught his attention. It started as a dot coming from beyond the northern mountains. And soon it transformed into a huge bird that was passing above the forest at an amazing speed. Though it was flying high, its size made him easy to spot.
‘wooosh.’ Every time its wings flapped, they created a gale that threatened to rip the trees from the base. Aleran had to hold with all his might to not get blown off. Squinting his eyes due to the strong winds, Aleran could clearly see the huge bird. It was of a bright orange color with black on its chest and had a crown of red feathers. While at its rear a long and wide red tail waved in the wind like the cape of an emperor.
As it was about to pass above him, Aleran felt a chill crawl up his spine. The proud black eyes of the bird made contact with his blue fearful eyes. But the bird's reaction surprised him enough to forget his awe. The moment it caught sight of him, the bird changed its course of flight deviating towards the left. Aleran looked at its eyes and noticed how the pride of the emperor vanished to be replaced by fear. ‘ Is it afraid of me?... No, no, that can't be, it must be something else.’ Of course, Aleran could not believe that such a beast would be afraid of him. To that bird, he was as threatening as an ant could be.
It only lasted for a second, the speed of the bird allowed it to get from the northern mountain range to the southern one in an instant. But as it was passing above the southern mountains an earthquake shook the earth and the whole forest. Holding on the tree with all his might Aleran saw an unbelievable image.
A huge feathered serpent appeared out of nowhere coiled around the tallest mountain. It had been there all the time, camouflaged. Its feathers had the grey color of the mountain that made it impossible to differentiate from the other rocks.
As the bird closed in, the serpent changed its color to red with spots of green. This change happened at the same time as it stretched its body to the sky, going for the bird. Happening so fast, that it gave the impression of appearing out of nowhere. As the feathered snake reached for its prey with half of his body in the air, most of the mountain crumbled losing its spot as one of the tallest.
The bird reacted fast and dodged the bite of the snake, who after missing opened its mouth one more time, creating a vortex that sucked everything around.
‘Whooooosh.’ Torrents of air, dust, rocks and more importantly, source qi, started to get sucked by the feathered snake. With half of its body still in the air, the serpent looked like a pillar holding the skies. This tactic paid off as it managed to stop the bird from escaping.
But the bird was not going to stop without a fight… Aleran could swear that the world dimed and for a second it felt like a cloudy day. A brilliant ball of light gathered at the crown of the bird.
The serpent feeling threatened reversed the process of shallowing and instead, pure raw source qi came out of its mouth just in time to engage in a direct collision with a beam of light coming from the bird. From his point of view, Aleran could no longer see the bird and only saw the shadow of the serpent. The next thing he saw was pure whiteness.
“Boooom!” The resulting collision was immense. With the mountains as the center, a huge shockwave expanded outwards. The power and heat were such that the nearest trees and life forms were carbonized before they were blown out. Aleran was able to see how the shockwave expanded, uprooting trees and trowing animals in its wake.
Aleran could not see the end of the fight because the shockwave arrived before him in an instant. Even though it had lost some power when it reached him, and despite his own efforts to stay firm, Aleran was violently thrown off the tree. He was sent flying dozens of meters with the wind screaming into his ears.
Alerans heart stop for a moment, he knew the tree was so tall the fall could kill him. For a moment he gave up, this was it. ‘No! Not again!’ A few branches passed by him, but every time Aleran tried to grab them they were either too slippery or too weak, breaking with his weight.
The images of his previous death rushed through his mind, and more than that, the feeling of impotence he experienced at the moment. Like that time, he felt trapped, he lacked the power to survive this. He lacked control over his own destiny, he lacked freedom. His weaknesses were now his shackles.
Then, the sensation of power he felt when killing those guards took over his thoughts. He didn't like it, but it was this memory that made him feel he had some control, some chance to fight back against a sure death.
‘NO! I can't die. I already decided to take control of my own destiny!’ Halfway to his death, he found one of the vines with thorns, one of those he had been avoiding since their first encounter.
Aleran couldn't believe how glad he was at seeing that sinister thing. With a wave of his uninjured arm, he reached for the vine. Although Aleran couldn't grab a hold of it, a small touch was all it took for the vine to wrap around his arm thrusting its mean thorns on his flesh.
"rriiip" Although it managed to stop him for a second, the vine slowly started to rip apart. But the plant wasn't the only thing that got damaged. Besides the thorns creating new wounds, the sudden pull dislocated his arm. Eventually, the vine broke and he dropped into a much shorter fall. Apart from a blow in the head with a branch, and the pain of actually hitting the ground Aleran survived the fall.
When he stood up again he was stunned and confused from the blow in the head. And for no apparent reason, he started to walk aimlessly through the forest. Injured, he limped his way through the undergrowth but, without realizing a strange fog started to cover him and his surroundings.