1 Daniel

    In a big prairie, stands an enormous solitary tree.

    This tree's trunk was large enough for a small group of men, had it been hollow, to hide inside it. Dozens of differently sized branches grew from it in all directions, making the tree reach a height of at least three hundred meters at its highest point. Each of the tree's branches split into hundreds of leaf covered twigs. Its foliage was thick, with colors that spanned from orange, to red and dark brown. At its feet, a series of aggressive roots spread for meters, before sinking deeply into the dry leaves covered soil.

    Inside the thick foliage, on a small branch which still sized half a meter from side to side, sat the figure of a young man. His physique was very lean, almost underfed.. His black hair stuck to his sweaty face and hung down the sides of his head, as he leaned forward and tried to reach with his arm.. his slightly small clothes stuck tightly to his sweaty body like a second skin.

    Grunts and mutters broke the sound of rustling leaves, as a pair of long yet thin fingers hung in the air, just centimeters away from a plump, odd-looking fruit.

    "Come on!... damn it!" Growled the teenager, as drops of sweat streamed down his straight nose, and his skin explored every shade of red it can possibly turn into.

    For a few long minutes the teenager tried all he could to reach the fruit, but due to the sheer massive size of the tree, no other branch was closer to it than he already was.. Unfortunately, the twig where the fruit was hanging, was too slim to support his weight.

    It is important to understand that this wasn't a simple fruit, as this wasn't a simple tree.

    The people of Phyrri named this tree 'The Catering Tree', a name given due to the legend that surrounded it. This legend claimed that, when a worthy someone in need of a helping hand would come close to it, the tree would grow a fruit as a gift for that person.

    This gift was a fruit of the size of a grapefruit. Its skin was smooth and shiny, yet the color was odd. No matter from which side one looked at it, the center would always look red, while the external part was yellow with a strange shine to it. It looked as if someone constantly kept shining a light against the back of the fruit.

    According to the elderly, this fruit had magic properties, and although even they were unsure of what those effects were due to the lack of people who managed to obtain it for hundreds of years, they still remembered the stories from their ancestors better than the younger generations did.

    This made the city of Phyrri special in the past through the whole Karalis kingdom, and the tree renowned.

    Many young boys and girls used to travel from the whole kingdom to try their luck, and obtain the blessing of The Catering Tree. Unfortunately with the passage of time, this tree caused more disappointment than anything else to the people who came to visit it.. so, as it was now, the tree's powers were either considered just a legend, or a natural power that had been lost in time.

    This never stopped people that heard this story from trying to approach this magical tree out of greed, yet none of them succeeded. This was because, in order to gain the approval of the tree and earn one of its gifts, a person's intention had to be judged by the tree. Sadly, nobody remembered this detail anymore.

    The day this teenager's had approached this tree, he didn't do it with the intention of obtaining the tree's gifts. He had of course heard of the myth of 'The Catering Tree', so after he had noticed the fruit hanging from one of its twigs, he decided to take it, and use it to extinguish a debt. A debt which his deceased mother had passed down to his when she died, the day he turned ten.

    This debt forced him to pay ten silver coins at the end of each month, in order to keep his freedom, and that of his sister.

    Naturally, due to his age and his incapability of working, he ended up making most of those money by pickpocketing the wealthy women and men that were foolish enough to hire him as a guide or to carry their bags as they moved through the city.

    The city was big, and he had always been agile and fast enough to escape whenever he got caught. Unfortunately, his luck ran out when he stole from the wrong person.

    The unspoken rules between pickpockets were only a few.

    Never steal from a guard captain, never take too much from a single person, and finally, Never get caught.

    That unfortunate day, he had managed to break two of the three rules within a minute.

    The reason one should never steal from a guard captain was simple. In order to become a captain of the city guard, one had to have reached the rank 4 of martial cultivation, which allowed them a superhuman awareness of their body. The slightest change in the weight they were carrying, was more than enough to alert a rank 4 martial cultivator. As one could have guessed, this young man's target, that day, was in fact, a guard captain from Algro, a city weeks of travel away from Phyrri.

    Furthermore, the captain was carrying valuables from a city to another.

    Luckily enough, most soldiers and guards focused their training in strength and endurance, and this particular one was no exception. So, thanks to his dexterity, he was able escape. But not before the captain of the guard had managed to take a good look at his face, and reported him to the local guards.

    For weeks, he was forced to roam the streets with an extra layer of worry whenever he saw the shine of armor nearby, making him unable to gather enough money for the monthly payment.

    The person he owed the money to was a brutal one.. His mother, left without alternatives after the death of her husband, had to ask for a loan from a man her husband was acquainted with, but for reasons she didn't know.

    The man turned out to be the owner of a shady hotel that dealt in drugs, prostitution and gambling. From almost missing one of her payments, she had learned that, in case she missed any of them, she would have ended up becoming a slave along with her children. This lead to her working herself to death, and the debt to be inherited by her son and daughter.

    The reason the teenager ended up in that prairie wasn't to try his luck and obtain the fruit of this once legendary tree. The real reason, was that he had been recognized by a guards patrol right outside of the city walls. Where he had the habit of swindling foreign merchants into hiring him as a tour guide.

    He ended up being chased into the forest, and kept running for hours while thinking about the punishment for stealing. Which would have been being sent to work into the mines as a slave, for the rest of his life.

    That was also the exact same fate that awaited him in case he wouldn't be able to pay the debt in full.

    The hotel owner, from the very beginning, had been sure that the two orphans would have never been able to pay the debt in full, so he already had the intention of selling him to the mine, and force his sister to work in his hotel as a prostitute or sell her as a slave.

    The sheer thought of his sister becoming a slave made him sweat in anxiousness. The moment the young man stopped running was only after he got out of the forest, and made sure nobody was following him anymore.

    He had ended up in an immense expanse of grass, with a giant tree placed right in the middle, towering like a small mountain.

    At the base of this tree sat an old man.

    This old man was sitting on the ground, inbetween two large roots which seemed to have parted just to allow him to sit. He had a thick white beard, like someone that hadn't shaved for years, and his hair were long enough to reach the base of his neck. He wore a simple brown robe, like the one one would imagine an old hermit to wear as he roams the woods. Yet, if someone were to look at this man from up close, they would notice that the robe was spotlessly clean, and that only his bare feet were covered in dirt.

    As this old man noticed someone approaching him, he lifted his head and looked up in the distance.

    A teenage boy was staggering from exhaustion towards the tree.

    As the old man's eyes landed on the teenager, a dim dark gold light shone on his eyes for a moment, before disappearing. Then, a gentle smile grew on his wrinkly face.

    The teenager approached the tree, and immediately noticed the old man sitting near its roots. After taking a moment to sit on the grass cooled by the tree's shade, and catch his breath for a couple of minutes, he got up and approached the old man.

    "Old man, do you need help getting up?" Said the teenager.

    The old man's gentle smile grew bigger as if he was almost about to laugh from the teenager's words.

    "No, young man.. do you need help?.." Said the old man with a deep voice, which resounded in the depths of the young man's mind, leaving him stunned for a moment.

    "Y-yeah.." Answered the teenager slightly startled, then, with a hint of embarrassment in his voice, he asked "I don't know where I am, any idea on how I can get back to Phyrri?"

    The look on the young man's face was a hopeful one, as his state of mind wasn't at its peak at the moment. He had been chased by guards for who knows how many kilometers, and ended up losing the direction inside the forest. More importantly, he had to come back to Phyrri soon, and find a way to collect enough to pay his debt, as the month was about to end, and his time was running out.

    "HA!" exclaimed the old man "how are you going to help others, if you don't even know where you're standing? HA HA HA!" The old man's laugh was sweet, like that of a grandpa, humored by the silly remark of one of his grandchildren. Yet, the powerful voice of the old man had caused the teenager to, once again, feel startled.

    "..Do you know where we are or not?" Asked the teenager, slightly annoyed by the old man's laugh.

    The old man stopped laughing and started to stroke his beard. He seemed to be pondering his answer. "I am not quite sure.. I have been here for a long time, you see.." He said.

    The teenager became quite curious about what the old man meant, as he couldn't see any bag around him. He started wondering if the old man was serious, or if he was just messing around with him.

    Provided that the old man looked like a hermit, and it was known that hermits were very powerful mages, capable of cultivating the spirit by tapping into the mana that could be found in the forest, and allowing them to summon food and other necessities.. the young man was, after all, just a young pickpocketer. He was barely aware of the cultivation that guards, soldiers and martial artists practiced. Mana, summoning and spiritual cultivation, were not subjects he had come across in his short life.

    After thinking about the old man's words for a bit, the young man sat in front of him. Once he sat down, he turned his upper body to the side and reached for the small leather bag that hanged at the side of his waist. He then took a piece of bread from it, split it in half, and offered one to the old man.

    As the old man saw this, his smile grew warmer once more, before disappearing suddenly. He then reached for the bread in the teenager's hand and took it.

    The young man started eating the remaining piece of bread. It was just a piece of bread, but he was happily biting into it while looking up at the big tree, which provided shade for him and the old man. His look was one of amazement. He failed to notice that the old man wasn't eating.

    "Your name?.." Asked the old man to the amazed teenager.

    Without taking his eyes off the tree, the teenager answered "Daniel."
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