IS, V2, Chapter 6: Preparations

Power doesn’t corrupt, it simply reveals a person’s true nature… Which typically creates the illusion that their personality has changed as a result. Desperation is what can actually warp someone’s soul, but we all lose our innocence eventually, who we become after that transformation is what really matters.

The fourth ring of Lorthon was a place where nothing weaker than a demon or dragon could survive for longer than a few seconds. It wasn’t just because of the curses, monsters, and feral treants, the mana density was so ridiculously high, that the air was toxic.

Dark elves called that place, The Forest of Corruption, because anyone who was capable of walking upon that hell-bound path for even a few minutes, would begin their transformation. Both their mind and body would be twisted into a form that was even more demonic than the creatures that they struggled to survive against.

If they managed to return to Angren, they were so disfigured and hideous, that their own families wouldn’t even recognize them. The stories I heard from Amber, Scarlet, Hazel and even the treants, seemed to corroborate that it was essentially suicide to enter that terrible place.

However, there was one person I knew, who actually lived in that chaotic jungle for several years. Uriel was born in the fourth ring, three miles above the forest floor, in a city called Belegorn.

According to Yuri, the elves who lived atop those mountain sized trees, had only been able to make it there by finding some exposed hollow roots in the outer rings. They traveled nearly a thousand miles inside of those gigantic subterranean tunnels and then up several miles of suspicious stairs, before finally reaching their three, supposedly, impregnable sanctuaries.

Nadja’s information, along with what I read about in her royal library, was incredibly inaccurate with regards to those super-trees. Their scale was far more ridiculous than anyone who hadn’t actually been there before could possibly imagine.

Each of the fifty mile wide trunks grew on the borderline between the fourth ring and The Eye of Lorthon, which was what the elves called the gigantic lake in the very center of the forest. The scale was nearly unimaginable. If there wasn’t a three hundred mile wide triangular pyramid in the middle, the body of liquid would have been a perfect circle… six hundred miles in diameter.

No sunlight could ever reach that abysmal pool of mysterious fluids, but Yuri claimed that whatever that lake was made out of, definitely wasn’t water. She only saw it from a great distance, because she heard a voice in the back of her mind, screaming at her to stay away.

The liquid was completely clear, but the massive golden pyramid, which was literally the size of a mountain, would illuminate the entire lake and almost half of the fourth ring with its sporadic bursts of blinding light.

Strangely enough, she actually remembered her time spent as a tree, which wasn’t quite as boring as it sounds. Mainly because her perception of time was dramatically different from what most, relatively average sized, humanoid beings would consider normal.

After a few years, when she was three meters tall, a large group of Belegorn archdruids gave her sentience and transformed her into a treant. Yuri was created from some sort of rare pink tree and her purpose was as a spirit of healing… which worked out fine for a while.

She didn’t get paid, but she wasn’t a slave or servant, more like a revered being of incredible power. For the first few years, she couldn’t really move from the sacred puddle that her nonexistent feet were buried beneath.

Uriel simply waited, then used some basic recovery or regeneration magic on whoever was brought into her shrine. Although, it was more like an alligator filled swamp, with a bunch of crumbling stone obelisks surrounding it.

She only received about one visit per year, for a millennium… the advancement of a treant into a dryad is a very rare and gradual process. However, once she stopped receiving visitors for a few decades, she decided to finally uproot herself and use the nature magic that she had recently mastered, to ascend to that next level.

Unfortunately, she was never able to actually see Belegorn when it wasn’t in ruins and infested with hideously deformed, barely sentient, wood elves. The moment she first saw the strange creatures, Yuri’s scientific interest was piqued and she began down the incredibly dangerous path, which lead to the creation and annihilation of many races.

After thoroughly analyzing the residents of the large stone cave, which used to be a beautiful palace, she discovered that they were suffering from a curse. More specifically, someone used nature magic to dramatically lower their lifespans, potential mental capacity, physical strength, and even weakened their immune systems over the course of many generations.

She was able to come to that conclusion because she remembered curing the symptoms of the first person she had healed and everyone after that. Before then, she never understood that the problem was genetic and every time she kept one of the elven children from dying, they would live their lives normally.

By saving a thousand people, she damned an entire country… obviously, she was more interested in experimenting on the frightened demi-elves, than worrying about the possible consequences. Their skin was still beige, but covered in sores, lumps, warts and boils.

With their normal 150 cm height reduced by half and all of their hair absent, they were basically goblins. Even their teeth were sharp and narrow, with eyes that seemed too large for their over-sized heads.

When Yuri found something as interesting as that to “fix” she decided to put off exploring for a few decades, while she honed her nature magic throughout the generations of those fortunate, yet terrified, creatures.

At first, they could only live for about a decade or two, and their life cycle was similar to that of a generic, non-magical, dog. However, the final product was essentially, a wood elf that was scaled down to 100 cm tall and completely bald, with much more efficient fang-like teeth.

It wasn’t that she couldn’t stick around for a few hundred years and keep playing with their genes until they were back to their original forms. Uriel was just bored with them and believed that her creations had been improved enough for her to move on.

From there, she went on to discover the rest of that flat circular world, which had forests, grasslands, lakes, and a relatively mild climate that received snow during the winter. The ground was made of dirt, rocks, there was even sand and clay, if she had never seen the edge, she would have thought it went on that way forever.

The overall mana density that high above the ground, was about the same as in the western plains, so there were never any “natural” magical beasts or other races besides elves. Well, there weren’t, until she created them… the results of her three thousand year long exploration and experimentation were pretty predictable.

Her details were rather lacking, due to her disinterest, but the two peaceful elven kingdoms were thrown into chaos by the appearance of vicious monsters and genetically modified humanoid animals that raided their farmland, villages, and eventually their cities.

By that point, Uriel had visited the relatively small, golden pyramid, that was poking out of the ground at the center of The Eyelid of Lorthon, which sounded catchier than Gilophen. It wasn’t some floating island in the sky, but a chunk of dirt and rock, which was piled upon the six hundred mile wide canopy from those three world trees.

Their branches seemed to purposefully grow towards each other and intertwine to create a massive net that wrapped around the gigantic pyramid. There were plenty of smaller ones all along the sides of the three mile tall, dark green mountain, that was impossible to see from the ground.

From Ael Tol, it was visible if I was flying pretty high in the sky, during the day, and not being attacked by gigantic birds. Although, it mostly resembled an impossibly large pine-tree… when I focused as much as possible, I was able to see hundreds of thousands of gigantic birds on the ridiculously large branches.

Climbing it or trying to fly up to the top was not something that I was capable of back then, and it wasn’t even on my list of pointless things to try. However, Yuri’s method of descent was actually pretty sensible, she basically just created an enormous glider, then circled around the third ring once, before gently landing in the south west.

Eventually, she traveled north, in a straight line, to the city that she came to reside in for a very long time. On her way there, she traveled through the demon infested jungle that only a ridiculous person like herself could thrive in.

The only reason she ever left, was because of the ten year super-storm and ancient Ael Tol was just a place that she accidentally found. Most of the people there treated her like a deity and begged for her assistance in making their lives easier.

Obviously, she didn’t tell me that extensive origin story directly, I had to piece it all together from her research notes and personal journals that seemed to be randomly placed on her massive shelves. Well, they weren’t really books in the conventional sense, more like extremely creepy book shaped plants that launched tiny tentacles up my nose and somehow uploaded the information directly into my brain.

I know that sounds extremely convenient, but the time it took was only about a thousand words an hour. Luckily, she showed me a more efficient way to absorb the ten encyclopedias worth of mostly unnecessary knowledge… apparently, the tentacles could be inserted into any orifice and all at the same time.

It seemed like every occasion that I visited Yuri, I would end up with strange tubes and needles sticking into and out of my body. Followed by, suffering horrible pain and discomfort for at least a few hours, but it was usually worth the trouble.

Wisdom comes from experience, and I already entered The Forest of Corruption before then, for a few moments at least. My hormones weren’t clouding my judgement and regardless of the possible time sensitive nature of my pseudo rescue operation, I had learned my lesson several times over about preparation throughout those nine and a half years.

With phase two underway, it was mostly a waiting game, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t have expedited the process by personally intervening. Amber and I could have taken either the north or south and then began recruiting or massacring our way along the lake-shore, from east to west.

The only problem with that brilliant plan, was that the death toll would have been ridiculously high and it would have still taken a few months. A short vacation into the mouth of hell was something that both of us desperately needed.

Well, there was a bit more to it than just running, walking, or flying into the fourth ring, completely naked and unarmed. Most of our overused demon bone, teeth, and claw, weapons had been destroyed by Amber and my rough treatment.

Scarlet, and her rapidly growing pack of subterranean earth mages, had found several pockets of ore in their tunnels that ran beneath the city. Not surprisingly, the area directly below the clearing was protected by some sort of mana shield that prevented them from digging towards the pyramid.

There were massive roots from the various trees on the island, but when they went down deep enough, they found plenty of empty spaces. However, even if they could gather metals, there was no one in the city who knew how to forge them into anything.

Unfortunately, all of my knowledge on that subject was stored in Ailyn’s seal, and I would have had to go see her in person. Although, in that situation, I could have just asked her to make the equipment for us.

Another problem was that even if I could have created weapons out of the iron, aluminum, copper, tin, or any of the other ores that Scarlet was mining with earth magic, they wouldn’t have been very effective against demons.

Ael Tol barely had fifteen hundred citizens, so I didn’t really need to place someone into a leadership position in my absence. With the four spirits, not including Uriel, in the general vicinity of the lake, it was possible for them to communicate with each other and the city’s residents.

There was a bit of animosity between some of the races, but there was also a lot of trade as well. Ox tribe may have been used as livestock, but it wasn’t for their meat, the females were capable of producing massive quantities of milk

They didn’t have udders, but their hairless humanoid breasts did seem excessively large. Even though they weren’t being forced to do it anymore, it was a relatively easy way for them to create a commodity to barter with.

Tiger tribe of all ages seemed to enjoy the way their milk tasted, but it was a bit bland to me. There were plenty of nutrients and a decent amount of mana… but I preferred fruit juice.

The problem was that there were a handful of women who kept giving me leather flasks filled with their own personal blend and expecting me to drink it in front of them. Rather than kindhearted gifts, it was more like a sacred ritual where they were offering their milk in return for my blessings on various matters.

Tiger tribe were the best hunters, but they also ate the most meat, so they mainly traded the pelts, bones and teeth for ox milk. Every race had their own specialty and something that they had difficulty creating or acquiring on their own.

A week after I heard my biological mother’s telepathic cry, we had finally prepared to leave Ael Tol. However, we needed to make a quick stop on the way in the abandoned dark elven city, Angren.

Daeris volunteered to be our tour guide, but I had to decline her offer… she was still a child, mentally and physically, regardless of her talent in magic. I had already received a decent amount of information on the city from the three former residents, so there was no need to drag them along.

It was a relatively quick trip across the lake, I used water magic to gracefully glide a few meters above the surface at a swift but comfortable pace. Amber’s method of flight was much faster, because she was essentially turning herself into a rocket, but since she lacked control, her zigzag pattern caused her to reach the shore only a few seconds before me.

After each of us took a shot of concentrated mana fruit juice, she began sprinting along the northern riverbank and I continued hovering above the water, while propelling myself forward with powerful gusts of wind. Her strides were enhanced by explosive bursts of orange fire, if we kept traveling at that pace we could have reached Angren in less than an hour.

However, less than a mile before that waterfall where we first met, there was a metallic bridge that connected both sides of the mysteriously barren pathway. There was only dirt, not even one blade of grass would grow, it was extremely suspicious… but convenient.

Amber was a little winded and I was suffering from motion sickness from flying for too long, although my problem was mostly psychological. It took us a few hours of walking southward, before we finally arrived at the triangular clearing.

On our leisurely stroll, we were attacked by a few small packs of grey wolf tribe and there was even a giant gecko who was kind enough to sacrifice its body for our evening snack. We didn’t have any particularly meaningful conversations, mostly just discussing how delicious the demons that were waiting for us would be.

When we reached the lightly glowing stone triangle in the middle of the grassy field, I said the magic word “Activate” and we casually entered the bright beam of light. Amber was a little startled at first, but quickly followed me through the portal into the subterranean pyramid.

The mana density in Angren was quite a bit lower than on the surface, but it was probably around the same level as the middle of the second ring. It felt like a massive amount of pressure had been suddenly removed from my body and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

Amber quickly collapsed on top of me and started hyperventilating, while whispering “Michael, I… can’t… breath.” in a deep voice that was barely audible. I quickly took out a vial of concentrated fruit juice and forced her to drink it.

After a few seconds, she began breathing normally and looked down at me with a puzzled expression on her cute, furry face. With her crushing my body, I said “The moment the pressure dropped, your aura exploded and there wasn’t enough mana in the air to make up for what you were pouring out. Just breathe normally and focus on compressing your aura… kind of like flexing your abdominal muscles.” in a calm voice.

Obviously it wasn’t nearly that simple or easy, I felt like I was suffocating as well, but the only color that I could see inside of the pyramid was her bright purple and blue flames. She closed her eyes and then growled “How do people survive in a place like this?” in an irritated voice, as she rolled off of me, onto her back.

Both of us were just laying there inside of that huge hollow pyramid, struggling to breathe normally, while retracting our auras, for at least an hour. Normally, traveling from the third ring to the second would take a decent amount of time and our bodies would have been able to slowly acclimate to the dramatic change.

Unlike muscles, mana pools never atrophied or became weaker if a person stopped using them, but they would eventually run out if they weren’t refilled periodically. Which made it much more difficult for demons, or powerful magical beasts, to live outside of their natural habitats.

Beast races that migrated to safer areas with lower mana density would become more humanoid with every generation, but it would take such a long time that they wouldn’t even notice. However, if a human traveled from the plains, to the third ring of Lorthon… they would have either died, or if they were a powerful mage, they might have simply mutated a little bit.

When I was finally able to breathe properly and the massive space around me was almost completely dark, I sat up and noticed that Amber was already standing in the giant triangular doorway, which was at least a few hundred meters to my left. I walked up next to her and she said “This city isn’t empty… you should be able to hear them as well.” in a serious voice, while staring at the rather extravagant looking temple in the distance.

The main difference between Angren and Black Mithril’s original architecture was the southern district. Instead of having a palace at the tip, there was a gigantic silver statue of what appeared to be an elven woman, with three glowing golden eyes, and four arms, each hand holding a crescent shaped dagger.

It was my first time actually seeing the religious district, but I had heard about it many times from Daeris and her parents. There was huge pathway, lined with massive stone pillars, that lead from the pyramid, all the way to the temple of Morneth, who was revered as an ancient dark elven hero.

I turned towards Amber, and said “They might be moving, but those things definitely aren’t people… avoid letting them get too close to you.” in a stern voice. She looked into my eyes and nodded in confirmation, then we began the mile and a half trek through the empty streets.

The corpses that littered the ground were little more than bones, skin and hair, yet they somehow managed to twitch in response to our presence. It didn’t take much mana for me to cast a few small fire bolts, but my partner wasn’t quite as reserved with her purple flamethrower.

Eventually, we reached the temple, which was basically just a slightly elevated triangular piece of open space, with that massive statue in the center. It was at least thirty meters tall and appeared to be wearing light armor, but it was all the same color as her skin, so it was difficult to notice until we were only standing a few hundred meters away.

In front of the statue’s feet was the entrance to the tomb of Morneth, which basically looked like an unreasonably large, golden disk, that was laying on the ground. No one ever had to guard or lock it, because it would have required a team of expert earth mages to even try to move the 6 meter in diameter chunk of 50 cm thick metal.

There were a few barely twitching corpses scattered around the temple, so we quickly removed them and then returned to the golden seal. I kind of expected to see a bunch of elven runes, but it was completely smooth.

After a few seconds of staring down at our reflections, Amber growled “I don’t think I can lift this…” while squatting down and placing her palms on the edge of the disk. Then she looked up at me and said “Michael, why do we need to go down there anyway? I thought we were looking for weapons.” in a curious voice.

I smiled at her, then said “We can loot the royal armories later, I just wanted to take a quick peek inside. I’ve been getting a weird feeling about this place since we came through the portal… there’s probably something down there.” in a nonchalant voice.

She sighed, then growled “There definitely won’t be any food down there.” in a disappointed voice as I begun levitating the whole disk, less than an inch above the ground. There was no need to lift it any farther than that, because Amber immediately pushed the friction-less disk with all of her strength the moment she realized my intentions.

The giant golden coin smacked into the statue’s toes and made a deep bell-like ringing noise that was so loud that the ground was vibrating for at least five seconds. When I saw what was hidden below the seal, I started laughing unconsciously, then said “How the hell did that thing even get down here?” in a curious voice.

There was no entrance, it was just solid stone, but the moment the ringing stopped, there was a loud groaning sound, followed by a woman shouting “Owwww!” in a ridiculously deep and deafening voice. Gallons of bright red liquid were squirting out of the statue’s mangled toenails and the silvery material began to fracture around the damaged areas.

Amber smiled at me and roared “If it’s alive, we can probably eat it!” in an excited voice, I couldn’t tell if she was serious or not.

I sighed, then said “Well, it probably wouldn’t care if we just took a few bites… but she doesn’t look very appetizing.” in a sarcastic voice, as the metallic exoskeleton began to shatter and fall around us.

Her light grey skin looked withered and covered in hundreds of scars, and when her three eyes opened, they were pure white and obviously blind. Even her impressive muscles had all atrophied so much that she didn’t look much better than the barely living blood elves that were scattered around the city.

The disappointed tigress grunted in agreement, as the gigantic old woman fell backwards and slammed into the stone ground with the sound of hundreds of brittle bones breaking. We casually walked over to the left side of her head, and since the armor and weapons shattered upon impact with the ground, so she was essentially naked and covered in bleeding wounds.

Somehow, she was able to breathe, but considering that she was encased in some sort of metallic paint for thousands of years… I had my doubts that it was even possible for her to suffocate or starve to death. She turned her gigantic head to face us when we approached, and Amber growled “If it’s a spirit, why does it look so weak?” in a curious voice, while placing her palm against the giant elf’s cheek.

I looked into the woman’s lifeless eyes and said “Morneth, do you want to live, or do you want us to kill you?” in a sincere voice. Her mana pool was so empty that we never would have noticed that she wasn’t a statue, if we didn’t accidentally push that golden disk into her toes.

She smiled at me, then whispered “I’m… sorry… I wasn’t strong enough to…” in a weak, but incredibly loud, voice. Suddenly, a torrent of water began rushing out of her three tear ducts and pouring down her face.

Amber was completely drenched, but I just used a bit of water magic in place of an umbrella. I sighed, then said “I don’t know if I can heal something so ridiculously large, her mana pool is empty and it’s probably at least ten times the size of mine.” in an irritated voice, while looking over to the extremely disgruntled tigress.

After drying herself off with an excessively large inferno, she growled “Why can’t we just throw her through the portal?” in a serious voice. It wasn’t quite as simple or easy as she made it sound, but since Morneth’s body wasn’t protected by an aura, it was possible to levitate her bones a few centimeters above the ground.

She was screaming in pain the entire time, as Amber was using her gigantic strands of white hair to pull her floating body at an incredibly slow pace. I was standing on the center of her massive sternum, while struggling to hold her broken bones together and keep her from touching the ground.

It took two hours and my last three vials of mana fruit juice, but we eventually reached the portal and dragged her through. However, that was when we reached another serious problem… it was nighttime and we were only a few hundred meters from the fourth ring.

Fortunately, our gigantic crippled friend had so little mana, that she was completely invisible to the hordes of starving demons who were lurking just beyond the southern treeline. She had already lost consciousness from massive blood loss, but was still breathing and groaning periodically.

I’ve never been one to judge a person based on their reputation or secondhand history, but there was a decent amount of information about The Hero of Angren, Morneth. There was one extremely familiar story regarding her adventuring days… she entered The Forest of Corruption as an average dark elf and returned as a being so powerful that they considered her a spirit of war.

Using blood magic, the red eyed clan treated her like a slave and forced her to kill a few dragons and demons, but they eventually took it a step farther. They ordered her to slaughter the black eyed clan, she refused and she was killed, or so the official records stated.

Obviously, they left out the part about her being thirty meters tall and sealed inside of a pseudo statue. If the dark elves still had blood mages… either way, I needed to warn Beatrix of the possible threat.

However, there was a much more urgent matter that needed my attention, it was something that looked eerily familiar. A six meter tall, grey wolf, with four octopus-like tentacles instead of legs, three heads, one of which seemed to belong to a black panther, then a massive brown snake, instead of a tail.

The demons of the fourth ring were Uriel’s inspiration for her own chimeras, she found them interesting but ultimately inefficient. Personally, all I could see was a combo meal of delicious meat, that could probably kill us if we weren’t careful.

I could tell that Amber felt the same way, because she wasn’t immolating herself and charging forward. She roared “We really should have gotten the weapons first!” in an angry voice, while glaring at me.

It was difficult to gauge a demon’s power, even their auras were chaotic and occasionally transparent. The creature in front of us was definitely big, but I had killed much larger magical beasts in the third ring and some of those actually traveled in packs or herds.

I smiled at her, then said “Don’t let it touch you, it might be poisonous, just use long range spells for now.” in a calm voice, while charging enough electricity to fry a demonic panther. We were about two hundred meters away from the slowly crawling creature, that seemed to be arguing with itself over which one of us would taste better.

The two wolf heads were staring at me and the cat was sneering at Amber, but the cobra seemed to be the one in charge as he appeared to be hissing at them to be cautious. Obviously, I was just guessing the creatures intentions, they might have just been trying to confuse us.

Amber, who was only a few meters to my right, roared “Now!” in a deafening voice, as we both sprinted in opposite directions and began our assault. Her repertoire of offensive spells was actually just a large flamethrower, or lighting herself on fire and punching her enemies in the face… so she couldn’t really do anything until the demon was a lot closer.

A few seconds after I began running, I fired off my first bolt of lightning, which the creature couldn’t avoid, even if it knew what was about to happen. My target was the panther head, which kept growling at the rapidly moving tigress.

The loud crackling sound and blinding light, combined with the death of the main force that was holding back the dogs, caused the chimera’s full attention to turn towards me. I was actually surprised at how quickly the creature’s tentacles could actually propel its massive body in my direction.

Within moments, I had to start dodging giant globs of brightly glowing purple venom, that the cobra was spitting at me. However, with a second burst of electricity, the central wolf head was unrecognizable, but the rest of the monster seemed to be completely undeterred and was moving even faster.

When the squirming creature was only a few seconds away from tackling me, I used a bit of wind and fire magic, to launch myself into the air. Unfortunately, the cobra shaped head of the giant snake acted like a massive flyswatter and was able to spike my body into the ground and I almost landed on the furious tigress, whose aura looked similar to a bright purple inferno.

The impact with the snake’s scales did a lot more damage than the soft soil. The whole front of my body was covered in messy lacerations, which bled profusely. Amber always lost her temper when I was injured by someone other than herself, and the target of her rage that time, was the giant cobra.

I quickly closed my wounds with a bit of water magic and gathered all of my lost blood into a ball, then fired it like a bullet into the snake’s left eye. The lumbering creature started sprinting sideways towards me and ignoring the massive, purple, ball of fire that was flying towards it’s relatively small face.

It’s last remaining wolf head was only five meters above the ground, but the snake’s was at least twice that high. With Amber’s control issues… she missed and smacked her whole body into the same painfully sharp scales that I did.

However, the giant flyswatter wasn’t prepared for the impact and was knocked off balance for a few seconds. While the flaming tigress dug her searing claws into the snake’s throat, I was running up the gigantic squirming tentacles, which would have been a lot easier if they weren’t covered in an oily ink-like substance.

I was actually happy that I didn’t get around to clipping my talon-like toenails, since they allowed me to sprint without slipping. Once it realized that both of us were on its body, it stopped moving and started using all of its limbs to stab at me.

When I finally made it to the creature’s back, I ran over to the giant wolf head and used a concentrated flamethrower from my right hand. After a few seconds, I was able to burn through the base of its skull, while avoiding a few relatively slow tentacle jabs.

Unfortunately, instead of suction-cups, there were huge bone-like spikes and I was grazed a few times. There was no immediate effect, but I was slowly becoming dizzy from what I could only assume was some sort of poison, combined with the constant spinning that was occurring every time it attacked.

Eventually, I heard Amber give a victorious roar, followed by the sound of a massive cobra smacking into the ground. Somehow, the chimera was still alive and attacking with even more ferocity, while my body was becoming sluggish.

When the center of its back began opening up and revealing a gigantic beak, I started laughing as my spell was finally charged. With both hands aimed at the exposed mouth, I unleashed two bolts of lightning that had enough power to reach whatever semblance of a brain the pseudo-cephalopod had and deep fry its central nervous system.

Each of the ridiculously large tentacles began spasming and violently thrashing around, but it was definitely dead. With its limbs sprawled out in every direction, its total mass was easily double that of the unconscious giant, who was at least a hundred meters away from us.

I was already pretty close to the barbecued panther head, so I peeled away a slab of its charred pelt with my left hand and then grabbed a large chunk of neck meat with my right. It was a little overcooked, but the taste was still exquisite and my mana pool was nearly full by the time I started devouring my second handfull.

Any nausea or dizziness that I had felt from my unfortunate poisoning, quickly faded with each bite. There was no need for me to rush over to Amber and make sure she was OK, because I could hear her purring “So good… we should have came here a long time ago.” in her exceptionally satisfied voice, from thirty meters away.

She had started eating the giant snake before the chimera was even dead, it’s octopus-like legs were still wriggling around, but that was relatively normal. When the monster finally stopped running around, it was halfway between the portal and the southern tip of the triangular clearing, so I was able to easily monitor the treeline from my elevated position.

There was far more meat than the two of us could possibly eat in a whole year, but a colossal four-armed dark elf who had been starving for several millennia… still wouldn’t have been able to consume that much food before it went bad.

After I was full and Amber had gorged herself, we walked back to the sleeping giantess. Her aura was still weak enough that I was able to lift her, but I had to use a slightly different method, since dirt didn’t work quite as well as stone.

It was a combination between earth and water magic, but the effect was the same, her massive body was levitating and my slightly injured partner was dragging Morneth by her hair. I could hear her groaning in an extremely loud and deep voice, but she still didn’t wake up.

We set her down, so that her head was close enough to the massive carcass, that I could perform the healing ritual. Well, it wasn’t anything that impressive and even Amber was able to help out with the first part.

Before it was possible for the giant’s body to start receiving my regeneration magic, she needed to have her mana pool completely filled. The process was actually pretty simple, we just had to make physical contact with her massive face, then channel our auras into the void where her’s should have been.

Since it was similar to charging a spell, Amber accidentally created a few hand shaped brands on Morneth’s left cheek. It wasn’t a particularly fast process, because we had to stop before our own mana pools were emptied, and then wait until they refilled, as our bodies were constantly digesting the demonic beast meat.

After about three hours of that, the sun was already starting to light up the sky, but since we were surrounded by a thick jungle with trees in excess of ninety meters tall, it was still pretty dark in that clearing. However, it was finally time for Amber to take a nap, while I began the arduous task of repairing the unreasonably large, broken, body that laid before me.

The moment I first saw and heard her beautiful golden aura, I knew that it was going to be worth the effort. Unfortunately, it also told me that my first guess was right, she wasn’t a mage, she probably couldn’t even use magic with a body that required such a massive amount of mana to function.

In order to survive for so long, she must have been unconsciously turning her unnecessary muscles and bones into mana and then using that to supply her vital organs with the bare minimum of oxygen, water, and a few vital nutrients. Although, there was probably a few air holes near her face, but from the ground, there was nothing visible.

Her heart and lungs were both barely functioning, so fixing them was my first challenge. I contemplated sending a telepathic message to Yuri for assistance… but I had a feeling that Morneth already met with the helpful dryad, during her trip into the Forest of Corruption.

In one of the research notes that were downloaded into my brain, I vaguely recalled her mentioning a wounded dark elf female that required modification. Although, without some sort of timeline, there was no way to know for sure, unless I asked.

After a few hours of revitalizing the gigantic cardiovascular and respiratory systems, she was finally breathing properly and her pulse was reaching, what seemed like, a normal pace. The clearing was finally illuminated by the sunlight and Amber was waking up in an irritated mood.

She was laying on top of the furry torso of the chimera, growling at the bright sky for disturbing her pleasant state of unconsciousness. The four gigantic tentacles were still twitching a little bit, but there was no indication that the creature was going to recover.

I was actually trying a few bites of the surprisingly fresh octopus sashimi, when she roared “Birds!” in a startled voice. They certainly did resemble a flock of vultures, while flying circles around the clearing and staring down at the two gigantic piles of fresh meat that were conveniently placed right next to each-other.

However, those creatures were actually green wyverns, relatively small dragons that had wings instead of forearms and were very closely related to pterodactyls or other species of flying reptiles. I was confident that the two of us could kill them, or at least escape before they killed us, but that wasn’t exactly necessary.

While staring up at the cautious creatures, I yelled “Do you speak Lorthon!?” in an extremely loud voice, that echoed throughout the clearing and managed to reach the flock. Suddenly, all of them began gliding down and landing throughout the clearing, completely surrounding us, our food and the giantess.

Each of them were only about three meters tall and had a wingspan that was three times that, but their tails were about the same length as their height while standing. There were at least a couple dozen of them and each one appeared to have a slightly unique eye color, that matched the thin, fleshy part of their wings.

They had smooth scales and lacked any sort of horns or spikes, but they did have massive claws on the parts of their wings that resembled large reptilian toes. Their actual feet had impressive talons as well, but their bodies seemed to resemble a monitor lizard and even their faces were very snake-like. When they let their long, forked, black tongues slither from their mouths, I couldn’t help but remember a certain mouse girl.

The largest one, who was at least four meters tall, perched itself on the same tentacle that I was standing on. I smiled at the haughty dragon, who had a surprisingly serene, sky blue, aura, and said “I’ll take that as a yes…” in sarcastic voice.

Then the wyvern seemed to smirk a bit, and said “I’m surprised you’re still alive brat, I could have sworn that I saw you die about a week before the ten year storm. Well, it could have been a different three eyed, horned, cat-tailed, aura-less bastard… but that seems even more ridiculous.” in a surprisingly normal sounding voice, its range seemed to be rather high for such a large creature.

I said “Yea, I get impaled way too often, haven’t been bisected in a while though. Anyway, I’m guessing that you kids didn’t come here for a fight, or you would have attacked us a few hours ago. If you want some giant tentacle meat, we obviously have plenty to spare, so what do you need?” in a slightly irritated voice.

After a few seconds of silence, the lizard said “You’re obviously a very powerful healer…” in a slightly hesitant voice, but I cut it off before it could even ask the question.

It wasn’t difficult to notice that a few of the wyverns had auras tainted with a tinge of dark red, one of them was coughing violently and another had a thick black liquid dripping from its nostrils and mouth. I said “You idiots actually managed to catch vampirism?” in an aggravated voice as I used a gust of wind magic to launch myself over to the two who seemed the closest to the point of no return.

The magically enhanced plague was usually limited to humanoid races, but viruses mutate and with such a huge outbreak of blood elves, it wasn’t really that surprising to find dragons who were infected. However, that meant there was a much more dire crisis than I had expected… all of Lorthon was in danger, including the magical beasts and every person who lived there.

In response to the unfortunate situation, the ankh on my right hand began glowing a bright red color. I started laughing when I remembered how complicated it was to create that sealing spell that I used on Rae.

Back then, I didn’t have enough mana to completely overpower the curse with a much simpler solution. All I needed to do was supercharge a couple drops of my blood, add in a few basic commands so that my immune system would only target the infected cells, then force the patients to ingest the impromptu cure.

If it had reached their brains, they probably wouldn’t have been salvageable, but none of the wyverns seemed to be at that stage. Although, they still required a bit of regeneration magic, or they would have died from blood-loss and multiple organ failure as my anti-bodies obliterated all of the infected cells.

In response to my actions, that looked extremely hostile, the healthy dragons started roaring and yelling at their leader and me. One of them actually tried to attack me, but Amber literally punched it in the face and knocked it unconscious before the, relatively small, fledgling even noticed that she was standing next to me.

It was lucky that she had realized my intentions and kept from barbecuing it. When a few more of them tried to attack her in unison, their leader yelled “Silence you fools! Cease your idiocy this instant! Can’t you tell that he’s healing them?!” in a furious voice as he landed in-between Amber and the charging wyverns.

By the time they all calmed down, I had finally managed to heal the two who were in need of immediate treatment, but they were still screaming in agony while writhing on the ground. I turned to the large winged lizard and said “They’re fine now, but all of you could be infected. Actually, this whole damn forest is probably on the verge of a pandemic. I don’t have time to cure each of you… so I need all of you to travel north east of here.

There’s an island in the center of a rather large lake, land in the clearing around the giant pyramid. Make sure to announce that Michael has sent you, or you all might get slaughtered.” in a serious voice, while preparing a spell that I hadn’t used since I left Black Mithril.

The wyvern was slightly startled by the rapid bombardment of information, but said “I see, my name is Callon of the western skies, since we might not meet again, allow me to thank you…” in a sincere voice, while bowing slightly. However, the moment he closed his eyes, I smacked my right palm against his scaly forehead hard enough to draw blood.

A red circle with the number 777 in the center, was left in the aftermath of the seemingly unprovoked attack. It wasn’t a seal, like the ones that I gave out to Beatrix and her soldiers, but more of a mark that would replay a telepathic message, once he came into contact with Uriel.

All of the agitated dragons who witnessed my assault, started roaring and yelling again. Then I said “Sorry about that, but who knows what might have happened to you and your friends if you didn’t have some sort of proof that I sent you. We will definitely meet again… but I don’t like to try to predict the future, just don’t rape, enslave or murder anyone and I’ll never have to kill you.” in serious voice, while smiling innocently.

Callon stood up straight, roared “Be quiet!” or something like that, and all of the noisy wyverns instantly fell silent. After a few seconds, he smirked at me and said “For some reason you remind me of an old friend… he was a weird one, but if you ever get a chance, you should try to meet him. At the peak of the tallest and widest mountain in all of Alfirin, is the lair of… well, I don’t know how to pronounce his name in the elven tongue, but I have a feeling that you two already know each other.” in worried voice, it was obvious that there was more to his suggestion than he was allowed to tell me.

The whole situation was getting far more complicated than I had anticipated and my list of urgent matters to attend to had lengthened and become jumbled once again. As the flock took to the skies, two extremely muscular, furry white forearms with light orange stripes, wrapped around my shoulders and chest.

I could feel the tigress’ chin resting on the top of my head as she tightened her hold and pressed my back against her body. Then Amber quietly purred “Why do you care so much about people?” in a curious voice, while we watched the wyverns fly away.

That was a question that I often asked myself, even when I had access to my past memories. I sighed, then purred “They’re useful, potential assets, possibly important to my plans… it depends, I usually gain more by helping someone, than ignoring them. When we first met, you decided to offer me food, instead of trying to kill me. Have you ever regretted that decision?” in a gentle voice, while reaching both of my hands up to her head and scratching the area’s behind her ears.

She quickly released her tight hug and then forcefully turned my body around, and licked my face three times in a row. Amber had a vicious grin on her face as she said “Michael, since I’ve known you, we’ve hunted more dangerous prey than any pride has ever even attempted to approach. We have tasted more delicious foods than I had ever imagined existed and you’ve given me more power than any tiger tribe has ever come close to reaching.” in an excited voice, that was deep and raspy, but still cute somehow.

I smiled at her, then said “Ah, that reminds me… I’m getting pretty hungry and I still need to finish healing that giantess. Ugh, I need to get in contact with Beatrix, why couldn’t our vacation be a bit more relaxing?” in an exhausted voice, while trying to keep my eyes open.

Then she picked me up and started carrying my body bridal style, while she quickly returned me to Morneth and the chimera. After the two of us had some fried squid, she went off into the northern forest to find a nice tree, to use as a toilet, while I began repairing a colossal digestive system.

Bones were nearly impossible to regenerate with only mana, so I needed to make it possible for the toothless giant to be able to at least drink something. Since they were completely unused for several millennia, her stomach, intestines, even her tongue and esophagus were all so atrophied, that they were practically nonexistent.

The key to regeneration magic, involved penetrating the patient’s aura and interfacing with their nervous system. Then forcing their body to heal itself in specific areas while neglecting others, so it was basically all about electrical impulses and technically fell under the area of contact telepathy.

However, most people just did everything subconsciously, while humming some sort of melody or repeating a mantra, that they believed held some significance. Almost all mages had no idea how their spells actually worked, a good example was Amber.

Anger, frustration, irritation, annoyance, fury, and rage, were how she determined the power and heat, behind each of her flames. When she was calm, content, happy, or sad, she would subconsciously lower the temperature around her body, especially her teeth.

It was nighttime again by the time I finished repairing Morneth’s colon and she was finally awake. I imagined that she probably felt like there was a large insect, casually walking from her navel to her neck, then climbing up her chin and across her face, but her body was so weak that she wasn’t even able to react.

When I finally reached her forehead, I placed my palms against her skin and began regenerating her gigantic eyes. Each one was at least half a meter wide, but compared to the other organs, it was a lot easier to heal them.

She didn’t say a word or even groan in pain, until she finally saw me with her shockingly beautiful pure golden, vertical eye. The first thing she said was “What are you?” in a curious voice, that was surprisingly quiet and not very deep.

I was sitting in the space between her pure white eyebrows, with my legs crossed, and placing my palms on the bridge of her nose, while beginning my repairs on her other two deflated white orbs. After a few seconds I replied “The Spirit of Eternal Suffering… I really wish that I was joking.” in a pained voice, I hadn’t slept in nearly two days.

Morneth was probably making a serious expression, but it was impossible to see it from my perspective. She said “Your mana sounds far too beautiful for such a dreary title, may I ask for your name?” in a sincere voice.

I sighed, then said “My name’s Michael, do you mind if I call you Morn? All the elven suffixes tend to become annoying.” in a frustrated voice, while struggling to stay awake.

She seemed to frown slightly as she said “You may refer to me however you wish. Why have I been released?” in a solemn voice.

I said “Well, to be completely honest, it was an accident. We were actually just trying to rob your tomb… sorry about breaking your toes. Although, compared to all of the other damage to your body, a few mangled phalanges are the least of your problems. How the hell are you even alive?” in a semi-serious voice.

Morneth paused for a moment, then said “I don’t know, but I can’t feel anything below my neck, I doubt that even a healer of your skill will be able to fix me.” in a calm voice, I was pretty sure that she was smiling at the thought of finally dying.

I started laughing, and said “What’s the point in giving up this late in the game? If you didn’t want to survive, you wouldn’t have… besides, I have way too much experience repairing spines.” in an irritated voice.

She said “What are your intentions? Freeing and healing a monster like me, the red-eyed clan will never stop hunting us.” in a serious voice.

After dramatically sighing, I said “Ah, I already removed that primitive blood magic from your body. Seriously though, aren’t you kind of weak? I mean, you have the potential to be physically strong, but how did you let such a pathetic spell control you?” in an exasperated voice.

A few minutes of silence passed, before her eyes were completely healed and I was able to finally climb down off of her face. Amber was standing on the chimera’s back, while keeping watch on the treeline and sky.

When I placed my palms on the side of her neck and began regenerating her spine, she said “The golden-eyed clan was small, only a few of us were left after the civil war. We were able to see mana and had incredible talent with weapons, but we couldn’t use magic. I let them believe that they had power over me, because I knew that they would target my family if I didn’t… not that it really made a difference in the end.” in a dejected voice, while gigantic globs of water splashed down around her face.

It was such a predictable story, but at least it made a bit more sense. I said “Sorry about your clan, but no one even remembers that they existed. Although, there might be a few of the red-eyed clan survivors who might know the true history, or at least some distorted version of it. If it makes you feel better, Angren is a ghost town right now and the entire dark elf population was pretty much annihilated by an outbreak of vampirism.” in a nonchalant voice.

She laughed for a few seconds, then started crying loudly and yelling “How the hell would that make me feel better?! You’re basically telling me that I sacrificed myself for nothing! That I was trapped for what felt like an eternity and no one even noticed that I was there!” in an angry voice as she lifted her higher set of arms and covered her face with her bony hands.

Then Amber yelled “Michael! Make her be quiet!” in a voice that sounded more like a roar, but I could barely hear her over the bawling giantess. The suggestion came a bit late though, because we were already attracting a crowd of miscellaneous demons from the south and a rather large group of tiger tribe hunters from the north.

Using a relatively small amount of mana, I electrocuted Morneth back to her senses, who let out a deafening yelp and then used her second pair of arms to sit upright. After looking around for a few moments with a confused expression, she yelled “I can move!?” in a surprised voice.

I yelled “Yeah, but you’re still a cripple, so start eating that giant pile of meat somehow! Try not to choke to death though, you don’t really have any teeth to chew it with!” in an angry voice, as I started moving towards the army of humanoid tigers who had crude spears, swords, shields and even a few very large bows.

Then I recognized a certain cheerful tigress archer, and her 250 cm tall Kodiak tribe boyfriend, who was carrying a massive ax, that was made from a demonic cockroach’s mandible. I smiled as Coffee yelled “Michael! Your reinforcements are here! Mistress Maeleth was worried about you two, so she asked us to come assist you! Please allow us the honor of defeating your enemies upon this beautiful field of battle!” in an exuberant voice, while grinning.

I roared “Of course, just be careful! They aren’t as easy to kill as your usual prey!” in voice that was loud enough for everyone to hear me. Most of them probably wouldn’t have understood Lorthon anyway.

The whole group let out deafening roars as they charged past me and towards the dozen or so, randomly assorted, demons that were fighting with each other around the giant cobra’s head. Amber was already beating a three meter tall wolf to death, with her flaming fists, by the time the three dozen, surprisingly organized, warriors began their assault on the strange creatures that vaguely resembled animals.

Meanwhile, Morneth was crawling towards the eastern woods and completely ignoring the gigantic chimera carcass, that she probably gave up on trying to eat. Her target seemed to be a massive banana tree, that had five meter long fruits… I had completely forgotten that elves were typically vegetarians.

A beautiful tigress, with pure white fur and no stripes, walked up to me while smiling seductively. She said “Yuri received your message and is already playing with those cute kids you sent over. For some reason she seemed… happy, it was really creepy.” in a worried voice.

I sighed, then said “Yea, I’m not really surprised, she has to create a treatment and vaccine for one of her deadliest plagues and then figure out a way to inoculate every healthy creature in the whole damn forest. Anyway, that’s her mess to deal with, I need you to do something for me, but it may be a little… unpleasant.” in an irritated voice.

She started laughing obnoxiously, and said “Michael, you’re so naughty, cheating on poor Amber while she’s only a few hundred meters away…” in a jovial voice.

Before she could continue with her usual nonsense, I said “Ask Yuri to fertilize some of your eggs, I was going to wait a little while longer, but with this whole pandemic situation, she’s going to be pretty busy.” in a serious voice.

Mae started blushing, which was only possible because she was an illusion, then sheepishly said “Oh wow, I never thought you would actually agree to that. Actually, I’m pretty sure it isn’t possible, I was just teasing you that time.” in surprised voice.

My expression remained composed as I said “Fine, I’ll say it… will you please give birth to my children? I’m pretty sure that Uriel can figure out a way to make it work.” in an irritated voice.

Then she started laughing hysterically and said “Ah, that was great, but yea… it wasn’t really a big deal, I kinda just squirted a couple dozen eggs out and the crazy dryad’s been doing something with them in that creepy baby making room for the past few days. It’s not like I had to get pregnant or anything like that.” in a nonchalant voice.

I sighed dramatically, then said “Well, they probably won’t hatch for a few years and then they’ll take a while to grow, but when you eventually travel to the eastern ocean, I don’t want you to be alone.” in a tired voice.

She smiled while saying “Awww, you were worried about me being lonely… how naive do you think I am? You’re just trying to build a navy that you can use to conquer all those pesky underwater nations.” in a confident voice.

However, I immediately said “It wasn’t some secret that you uncovered, that was pretty much exactly what I told you a week ago. Even if Yuri speeds up their growth rate a bit, dragons take a long damn time to grow and eventually, I will need to expand beyond the continent. Anyway, I need to go save a giant four-armed cripple from getting eaten by a banana tree.” in an angry voice as I sprinted away from the illusionary tigress.

In the aftermath of the battle, I still couldn’t get any sleep, because I had a dozen severely wounded tiger tribe warriors and I had to monitor Morneth and keep her from hurting herself. She wasn’t suicidal, just extremely clumsy and impatient, even with so many brittle and broken bones… she was actually trying do physical exercises.

I guess it was understandable that she didn’t want to lay down or sit still, since she was trapped in the same position for an indeterminate amount of time. The problem was that I desperately needed to rest and every time she attempted a push-up, one of her four arms would break.

She was able to scrounge up some unreasonably large fruits, that had plenty of nutrients, but regenerating bone mass isn’t quite so simple. I used earth magic to set her fractures and breaks, but then I had to wait until her body supplied the calcium and collagen before I could begin repairs.

Growing teeth was exhausting as well, but they were pretty important for her overall health, so I couldn’t just let it happen naturally. For that entire week since we left Ael Tol, I had barely gotten any sleep and if I wasn’t eating demon meat and mana fruit every day, I probably wouldn’t have been able to heal Morneth so quickly.

During the day, while we weren’t under attack by demons, Amber, Coffee, Demil and the large group of miscellaneous tiger tribe, all of which I had never met before or even knew their names, went into Angren and looted the place. They didn’t particularly care about jewels, gold or other valuables, what they were searching for was useful items and equipment.

There was a legitimate reason why most mages couldn’t wear armor or use normal weapons effectively. Every element besides earth, was greatly inhibited by dense metals like steel, iron, lead, or even titanium, because their auras couldn’t penetrate the materials.

If they tried to create a flamethrower, while wearing a normal gauntlet, the spell would be cast within that confined space and their hand would most likely be blown off or simply melted along with their metal glove. Mana crystals were the key ingredient that allowed a person’s aura to freely expand beyond their clothing, armor, or weapons.

The more powerful the magical beast, demon, or even plants, the more intricate their body’s crystalline structure was. When a metal or other non-organic material became infused with enough mana, it was then considered “enchanted” which meant that its nature had changed in some dramatic way.

Mithril was not quite as rare as most people believed, since it was originally just iron that became magically enhanced. The problem was that each mana well had a completely different effect on the minerals surrounding it, and each type of enchanted metal was dramatically altered.

Its most common form, after smelting, was called Elven Steel. Angren wasn’t the only place in Alfirin that it could be mined, but that was definitely where it was most abundant.

In fact, there was no normal iron in any of the city’s mines, which meant that almost every tool, weapon or piece of armor that the looters found, was made out of mithril. I was finally able to cut my hair, well, I wanted to have Demil do it… but it ended up requiring Amber’s strength.

After that disaster, I had to just shave it all off with a razor. I was tempted to clip my horns a bit… but since they acted like telepathic antenna when cooled, damaging them seemed counterproductive.

My three feet of ridiculously strong, heat resistant, and lightweight hair, was used by Amber to make a proper string for her newly acquired mithril bow. Well, she wasn’t the greatest archer in the world, but most of the enemies she would need to use it on, would be pretty damn hard to miss.

Her other equipment included two teardrop-shaped kite shields, which would have been rather large on a dark elf, but she used them more like fist weapons. Since the tip was sharpened and the way she held the handle was probably backwards, it didn’t really protect her body that well.

She managed to find a three meter long halberd and two slightly smaller spears, a total of ten daggers and sixty throwing knives, plus a few forks and cleavers. There was no armor that could fit any of them, including me, but there were mithril belts and chains, that she had to use in order to carry all of those weapons.

I already had a relatively well crafted leather belt, created by Daeris, but I knew that it wouldn’t last very long where we were going. Amber managed to pick me up a couple relatively short claymores, their blades length were only about 80 cm, so that I could wield them with one hand each.

There were some slightly larger one, but their handles were a bit too long and it just didn’t feel right. Most of the knives and daggers that she found, were for me, but the spears and halberd were much more familiar to her.

It wasn’t like I preferred swords, I actually would have rather had a few pistols, or some sort of white mithril staff that amplified the power of my spells. However, blades were probably my third favorite weapons and I knew that they would be useful in the fourth ring.

When Morneth was relatively healthy, but still no where near her former dragon slaying physique, I finally answered that question she had asked me five days prior. My shaved head and facial hair was already starting to grow back when I approached the giant, who was doing one-handed push-ups.

An interesting fact about people with four arms, is that they need the same amount of pectoral muscles. It wasn’t really necessary for her to have nipples on all of her breasts, but knowing Yuri, I was more surprised that they weren’t able to squirt out streams of acid.

My assumption about the pink dryad’s involvement was confirmed by the giantess, after I thoroughly interrogated her about the true cause of her various mutations. Although, I was a little surprised that the golden-eyed clan actually had the vertical one on their foreheads.

Her pale and clammy skin had regained its original obsidian pigment and she had managed to transform her haggard dreadlocks into a lustrous wavy pure white, hair. Apparently, the gigantic oranges that grew near the clearing could be used in conjunction with water, to replicate shampoo.

There was also a large stream to the west, which Morneth told us about, so our stay above Angren wasn’t quite as unpleasant as it may have seemed. The underground city had magical plumbing, just like Black Mithril, so once they got used to it, the tiger tribe warriors actually seemed to enjoy spending time there.

Except for Coffee, none of them were even affected by the drastic change in mana density. Some of them even thought that it was actually more pleasant in an atmosphere that wasn’t quite as oppressive as the third ring.

That was the main reason why I decided to include them all in my request. I smiled at the extremely weak looking gigantic woman and said “Five days ago, you asked me why I decided to help you. The answer is simple, you have a lot of potential and I thought it would be a waste for someone like yourself to die.” in a sincere voice.

She paused her exercise and began sitting cross-legged, while resting her incredibly thin arms against her knees. Her smile was strained and she was panting so loudly that I had to cover my ears, with my hands.

Eventually she calmed down and said “You want me to do you a favor in return for your generous salvation, right?” in a wry tone, while looking down towards me and wearing a disappointed expression.

I laughed, then said “Not exactly, you’re free to do whatever you want with your life. What I’m offering you is a job, as an adventurer you must have performed hundreds of similar tasks. You’ve been to Ael Tol before, thousands of years ago, when it was filled with wood elves. Have you ever been to Black Mithril?” in a curious voice.

Morneth was wearing an extremely worried expression, when she said “You’re not asking me to destroy the dark dwarves… because I refuse to kill innocent people. Even if you freed me from my cage, I would rather be imprisoned again, than lose my honor.” in a solemn voice.

It took me a few seconds to figure out how to word my question so that it didn’t sound suspicious. I took a deep breath, then said “Well, a lot has happened since you took your little vacation, especially in the last two years. There was this whole thing with a dragon, lots of people died, I killed it… there was some drama with two of the matriarchs. Hmmm, basically, I decided to start conquering the world and began with that underground city.

Some other stuff happened, I had to leave, so I put a few of my most trusted friends and family in charge before I left. Lorelei Fleisher, the mouse tribe girl with a few snake-like features, ended up creating a country called Alfirin and has been expanding a lot since then. The problem is that I need to create a trade route between Black Mithril and Ael Tol.” in a nervous voice. In the end, I completely forgot to ask her anything.

Luckily, she managed to make sense of my gibberish, and said “You want me to escort the caravans? Isn’t that a little bit… underwhelming? If you’re supposed to be taking over the world, shouldn’t you be asking me to go capture some cities or destroy a country?” in a curious voice, while making a puzzled expression.

I laughed unconsciously, then said “Well, I was hoping that you could let me know if any of the Angren survivors were remnants from your unfortunate history. Although, I’m pretty sure that they would be dead by now, but if there are former slavers in my country… I would like to remove them as soon as possible.

Anyway, don’t underestimate the importance of this trade route. It isn’t just about goods, there will be thousands of residents moving to Beast Haven. There will also be plenty of technology as well, they have weapons there that would let a rat tribe with almost no mana capacity, kill a massive magical beast with the twitch of their finger.

Someone with your size and potential strength could become unstoppable with the proper equipment. Although, you may want to ask them to make you some clothes first, it isn’t difficult to tell how uncomfortable you feel. Out here in the jungle with a bunch of nudists, you may be able to bear it, but you’ll be going to a much more civilized place than you’ve ever seen.

Even if you decline my offer, I still suggest that you visit Black Mithril. You are technically a citizen of Alfirin, regardless of what you choose.” in a confident voice.

She seemed to be in deep contemplation for a few minutes, while covering all four of her breasts with her hands. Then she said “It’s not like I have anything better to do. I’ve never left Lorthon Forest before, so maybe I’ll be able to see the world while helping you conquer it. As long as I don’t have to kill innocent people, I’m fine with a little bit of destruction every now and then. You really didn’t have to tell me all that other nonsense though, if all you really wanted was a simple caravan guard.” in a nonchalant voice, while gazing up at the sky.

In all of my lives, I was never a very good salesman. Well, after you save someone’s life or perform some sort of miracle for them… people tend to be a lot more open minded towards your suggestions.

Convincing Coffee, Demil and their small army of tiger tribe warriors to go with Morneth and spend some time in the capital was much less work. Luckily, Hazel was too preoccupied with her love-life and taking care of her adoptive children, to worry about her son, who was almost an adult.

On the morning of the next day, the entire group departed towards the west, following the path that was just barely wide enough for the giant dark elf to comfortably walk through. I wasn’t worried about them traveling through the third ring safely, but there were a few concerns about how they might have been interpreted if they had just shown up unannounced.

It was finally time for me to test Terra’s gift, so the two of us used the portal to reach Angren’s pyramid. I had to remove the two claymores from my back and the myriad of other weapons, that were sheathed all over my body, before I could comfortably sit down in the center of the floor.

Amber copied me, because she didn’t really know what I was doing, and we sat there, back to back. Although, the next part wasn’t possible for her to imitate, because I began levitating my body using a bit of earth and wind magic.

However, in response to my sudden ascension, she wrapped her arms around my waist and my meditative state was much more difficult to achieve. Yet, somehow I managed to reach the very center of the pyramid, nearly a hundred meters from the ground, with the six hundred pound tigress using my lap as a chair.

When I finally connected with Terra’s mana pool and began siphoning power, Amber’s extra weight was barely even noticeable. After a few minutes, it finally worked, I was floating weightlessly in the bright blue sky above Angren.

Although, it seemed that I had a passenger, but she appeared to be a lot more surprised by situation than I was. Before she could speak, I said “Don’t worry, we aren’t really flying, this is all in our minds. Just concentrate on following me, try to keep up, because we have to fly about a thousand miles west of here.” in a nonchalant voice, while smiling.

Then we began our incorporeal journey, following the unnatural pathway from a few hundred meters above the treeline. In the first few seconds, we passed over Morneth and her group, who didn’t appear to be in any hurry and were just casually walking along the dirt road.

It only took a minute for us to reach the second ring and I was finding the experience a lot more enjoyable than simply grabbing an illusory chain and teleporting to wherever I needed to go. Although, my enjoyment probably had more to do with Amber’s presence. She seemed to be trying to race with me, but the beautiful golden chain that was connecting us together, prevented her from moving a few hundred meters away from me.

When we reached the border between the first and second ring, I noticed a large circular settlement that was at least a mile in diameter. It was surrounded by ten meter tall reinforced concrete walls, and the two gates appeared to be larger versions of the ones that Ailyn designed for the ostrich farm.

Almost all of the buildings in the clearing were under construction, except one that looked like a large inn. There were hundreds of tents set up, which were probably being used as houses for the workers.

I wanted to get a closer look, so I dropped down to the ground, directly outside of the eastern gate. On the right wall, there were large letters engraved, that read “Welcome To Annui Alfirin!” in basic Lorthon.

We were able to walk through the barbed-wire and steel, but not completely unnoticed. The guard who was sitting in a rather uncomfortable looking chair, that was placed against the left wall, was frantically searching around in his pockets for something.

He appeared to be a relatively old wood elf and had a terrified expression when he was looking at the two of us, in our incorporeal forms. The blond haired man was wearing a light green mage’s robe, that had a huge circle, with the number 777 in the center of the chest area, written in dark red.

On his left hand was a similar tattoo, but before I could tell him to calm down, he had already started blowing on a high pitched, extremely loud, whistle. In less than ten seconds, Amber and I were surrounded by a squad of heavily armored dark dwarves, each of which had a shotgun that they aimed at us.

I smirked, then said “My name is Michael… if I was actually here and you aimed those weapons at me, with such a bloodthirsty look in your eyes. Well, have any of you tried to kill each other yet?” in an irritated voice, while walking through one of them and continuing on my tour of the town.

They were all speechless, but that was most likely because they could communicate with each other telepathically. I was correct in my assumption that they were awaiting orders from their superior, but I didn’t expect to find the person that I was looking for so easily.

In the very center of the settlement was a relatively small, but finely detailed, black bronze statue of a rat tribe girl, wearing a robe and cloak, who was kneeling while aiming a large sniper rifle towards to the east. It was on a large circular concrete platform, which was as tall as the 5 meter statue.

Sitting on a wooden bench, that was directly underneath the barrel of the rifle, was the woman who that monument was dedicated to. Her face was expressionless, like it always was, and she was holding a pistol in her left hand that was aimed at my face.

There was a very young, wood elf, girl sitting to her right, who was wearing a bright pink t-shirt with a silver meat cleaver on it, and a black leather skirt. She seemed overly excited by my presence and was yelling “I told you Mama! There he is, the source of all the pretty music!” in a happy voice, while smiling at me.

I snickered quietly, then said “It’s been a while Beatrix, I can see that you’ve been doing pretty well. I know how much you hate talking, so I’ll try to keep this short and concise. A small group of people are traveling here from Angren, they should arrive in about a little less than two weeks.

One of them is a thirty meter tall, four-armed, dark elf with three eyes and in desperate need of some equally large clothing. She may take a bit of convincing, but I’m sure that five minutes with Lorelei will be enough for Morneth to accept my mark from you.

The others are thirty-four tiger tribe and one bear named Coffee, he’s their leader and very trustworthy. Each of them has already agreed to join my army and as a group of less than three dozen, they were able to kill demons while using crude spears, bows and swords.

The vampirism outbreak is far more serious than it seems, I have someone working on the cure, but let people know that they need to be careful with magical beasts that appear sick. Also, that horde of blood elves should be arriving in Black Mithril through the labyrinth within the next few months.

I need you to start preparing a massive caravan, Morneth will be able to guide and escort it to the ancient elven city Ael Tol. Although, you’re still going to need at least a couple thousand soldiers to make it safely so deep into the third ring.

Make sure that there are at least ten thousand people who are willing to move there permanently. Merchants, craftsmen, mages, especially teachers, pretty much every profession that Lorelei can think of, since that’s technically part of her job.

Whoever your second in command is, prepare them to take care of things in Black Mithril for a while, because I need you to go with the caravan. There are lots of potential soldiers in Beast Haven that you have to mark.

It’s probably best if Ailyn goes with you as well, I doubt anyone else in the city knows how to build ships. A few rafts or a bit of magic isn’t going to be enough to ferry nearly twenty thousand people across the forty miles from the lake-shore, to the island.

I’m probably forgetting something… hopefully it wasn’t important. Did you get all that?” in a completely serious voice, while faintly smiling.

I probably would have been out of breath from talking so much, if I was actually there. Technically, Amber and I weren’t even giving off light, since it was all telepathy.

After holstering her relatively large revolver, Beatrix said “Affirmative.” in a disinterested voice. She seemed to be visually examining all of the physical changes that occurred on my body, since the last time we saw each other.

Then the small, blonde, wood elf girl that was sitting next to her, yelled “Wow! You really are related to Aunt Lorelei!” in an overly excited voice, as she was staring into my third eye.

After blinking a few times, she turned towards Amber and yelled “Oh yea! I’m Muissel, I’ve been a huge fan of your’s for years! Your music is kinda scary sometimes, but it’s still one of my favorites!” in an exuberant voice, while grinning.

At first glance her physical appearance didn’t seem very impressive, but her aura… was certainly strange. It was incredibly weak, yet the entire town was dyed in a light tint of her vibrant pink mana.

Amber had a puzzled expression, while looking down towards the strange green-eyed child, then she turned to me and said “What’s a fan?” in an incredibly clear, high pitched, and much more feminine tone than physically possible for her real vocal chords to achieve.

If it was the first time that I heard her mental voice, I might have been surprised, but even back when I was using basic touch telepathy, I was able to hear what she sounded like through her own ears. I smiled at her, then said “It basically means that she admires the sound of your beautiful aura. Although, I’m a little amazed that she could hear it from nearly a thousand miles away…” in an amused voice, but then I was cut off by Muissel.

Her face that seemed so happy before, suddenly distorted into an expression of despair and she started sobbing loudly. Then she said “It hurts… this song is so painful… Hanael…” in a quiet voice, before passing out onto Beatrix’ lap.

The rat tribe woman who I had never seen make an expression, raised her right eyebrow while looking down at the snoring elven girl. Then she looked up towards me and said “I’ll tell Raelin that you stopped by.” in a serious voice.

I looked down towards my chest and noticed a thin and frayed white threat, that was glowing brightly. It was attached to something far to the east, and when I tightly wrapped my, semi-transparent, right hand around the string, I saw someone who vaguely resembled my mother.

The once beautiful white, dove-like wings, were nothing more than two feathery stumps that were protruding from between her shoulder-blades. Most of her pale skin was covered in terrible scars from numerous severe injuries.

One of her luminous, bright green eyes, had lost its luster and the other was burned away, along with the entire left side of her face. Her long, fiery red hair, had been replaced by a mostly charred black scalp, even her pristine elven ears were broken in various places.

It was nearly impossible to discern what gender she was, because her elegant figure was replaced by rippling muscles, that weren’t bulky, but still pretty impressive. Although, the main reason that I couldn’t discern her sex, was because she didn’t appear to have genitals… there were huge scars where they should have been though.

Well, I never really verified whether my biological mother was actually female or not, so it wouldn’t have been strange if she was just a feminine man, with breasts. For all I knew, she might have just created my body out of pure mana and nature magic.

She was in a place that looked like the inside of a volcano, while wielding a large tooth in her right hand and viciously trusting it into the mouth of a creature that resembled a massive, black centipede. The woman used both of her hands to grab its two antennae, jumped up and kicked the glowing red fang, deep into the demon’s throat, launching herself backwards through the air.

After doing a slightly impressive flip, she landed on the ground and started sprinting away from the monster. It stayed there, stunned and confused for a few moments, then exploded into a violent green inferno.

The woman’s back was slightly singed, but she seemed relatively unfazed by the shards of shattered exoskeleton, that were embedded in her body. Then she walked over to the center of the huge room and was standing right underneath me.

After staring into my eyes for a few seconds, she yelled “It’s safe now Hanael, you can come down from there!” in a confident voice. My body moved on its own and slowly lowered from the extremely high ceiling, to the scalding hot ground.

It felt like there was an extra set of arms protruding from my back and flailing around, but it was easy to guess that they were wings of some sort, by the flapping sound that they made. The moment I saw her face up close, I realized that she looked nothing like my biological mother.

Actually, she wasn’t even the person whom I connected with, but she did appear strangely familiar. The eyes that I was seeing through were clouded with tears and the body I was inhabiting seemed to be trembling.

Then I heard my biological mother’s harmonious voice, saying “Angelica, I heard him calling for me again…” from my mouth. It felt a little creepy being inside of her, but I couldn’t seem to separate myself from her, without letting go of the metaphorical thread that I was still gripping in my mind.

The scarred and disfigured angel interrupted my mother, with a powerful slap across her cheek, which nearly knocked her to the ground. Then the woman yelled “Don’t listen to the voices! They aren’t real!” in a furious tone.

After a few seconds and she seemed to calm down a bit, she said “We need to get back to the village… I’m sorry for snapping at you, but one of these days I won’t be there to save you from your delusions.” in an exhausted voice.

My mother sighed, then said “I know, I know… it just feels so real and by the time I realize what’s going on… where the hell are we anyway?” in a dejected voice, while looking around at the obsidian walls. It wasn’t until then that I noticed that their skin was luminescent and the only light source in the whole room, not that they were glowing any specific colors.

Angelica cleared her throat and said “Well, unlike you, I can’t just fly around, so I had a little trouble keeping up with your ridiculous speed. I’m pretty sure I came from the east?” in a nervous voice, as she pointed her left hand up towards what looked like a gigantic honeycomb made out of volcanic glass.

It took the two of them a few hours of randomly wandering through seemingly endless tunnels, before finally emerging above ground. They were greeted by a blinding light, that was reflected off of a crystal clear lake and then I saw it, a golden pyramid that was so immense that even from a hundred miles away, it still seemed massive.

Once the golden beacon disappeared from my sight, I was able to see a huge beach with, faintly glowing, golden stand. There were only a couple dozen relatively small huts, made from dead leaves, tree-bark, demon bones, insect chitin, leather… pretty much anything that could be easily found in such a hostile environment.

Before they could enter the village, I lost the connection and felt a dull pain on the back of my head. My tail felt a little broken as well, but most of all, I noticed that there was an incredible weight completely covering the whole front of my body.

I heard a loud roar, that was basically a unique profanity that Amber invented, which I still hadn’t been able to translate properly. However, she only used that particular phrase when her tail was broken or amputated… which happened far too often.

My own groans of agony, were muffled by the wall of fur and muscle that was suffocating me, while crushing my face. Luckily, she was able to roll to my right, before I lost consciousness.

Unfortunately, my mana pool was completely empty, we couldn’t even use the portal to teleport ourselves to the surface, because I was draining its power supply for too long. My injuries were a lot more severe than the tigress who used me to break her fall, but were were both temporarily incapacitated.

Although, as soon as I drank a vial of concentrated fruit juice, from some fourth ring grapes, my recovery took less than a minute. Amber didn’t know how to use healing magic, but since her natural regeneration was so abnormally high, after drinking a shot of demon blood, she was completely healthy in about the same amount of time as me.

It took a surprisingly large amount of mana to use astral projection over such a vast distance, but what took even more, was peering into the fourth ring. Even if I was just connecting with a persons mind and couldn’t interact with anything, I did spend several hours in that state.

After both of us gathered up all of our sharp and dangerous objects, which we placed a good distance away from our crash-site, we decided to spend the night at the red-eyed clan’s palace. Since they were mostly water mages, they had a much better bathtub… or swimming pool.

Although, with Amber there, it was pretty much always heated, until it reached the proper temperature for her to relax. The moment she would get comfortable, it would get colder, so she was stuck in a constant state of frustration that resulted a lot of wasted mana.

If our skin wasn’t so heat resistant, the boiling water would have been a lot more unpleasant. The main reason we chose that particular palace, over the other one, had to do with the fact that it was still in pristine condition.

There were no corpses, or blood elves, scattered about and stinking up the place. Well, it had been nearly two years, so the actual dead bodies didn’t really smell like anything in particular, but we wanted to spend our last peaceful night for a long time, in the most pleasant environment possible.

The bed frame broke the moment we laid down, but the mattress was still relatively comfortable. Nothing particularly interesting happened and that was the best part, I was finally able to sleep.

Amber’s body was the perfect temperature, since I had gotten used to the alternating hot and cold cycles. I didn’t hear any cries for help, no one was trying to kill me… well, I liked to imagine that she was just playing, absolutely no prophetic dreams occurred, and since there was no sun to wake us up, we were able to sleep for almost an entire day.

Ignoring the fact that my adorable tigress had a dream about marking her territory, where I was the tree, or how she used my body as a scratching post and chew toy, it was probably the most pleasant rest that I had in a long time.

Once we took a nice long bath, we gathered our equipment and left Angren. Standing on the metaphorical precipice, at the southern tip of the clearing, which was technically inside of the fourth ring, we both stared deep into the abyss and breathed in the insanely dense mana.

Amber, who was on my left, turned towards me and growled “Do we actually have a destination?” in a curious voice, while stretching her back and arms.

After she was done yawning, which sounded very similar to roaring, I smiled at her and said “The Eye of Lorthon is only a hundred miles away. As long as we don’t die or go crazy, it should be fun…” in a sarcastic voice, but I was interrupted by what sounded like a thousand crying babies being trampled by a herd of elephants, followed by some large explosions, a rattlesnake’s tail, and a cowbell ringing.

The Forest of Corruption was a place of great power, where a person’s true nature would be forcefully revealed. Neither guilt nor Innocence had any place in that hellish paradise, only true demons who were willing to transform into monstrous aberrations could survive in such an unreasonable environment.

It was probably the worst vacation spot in all of Alfirin, and that included the eastern desert, the southern tundra, even the dragon infested northern mountains. The food was definitely worth it though.


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