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74 Mystery of The Forest of Towering Rocks Part 1

    Four days later, entrance of 'The Forest of Towering Rocks'. 21:45

    "Woah.. this place is beautiful." Said Ligart, mesmerized by the beauty of the scenario that appeared before him.

    Daniel and the rest of the group were standing at the edge of a thick forest, and in front of them, a large expanse made out of thousands, if not tens of thousands of tall and thin rocks formed 'The forest of Towering Rocks'.

    The place was a common crossing point between different sides of the empire, so it was usually filled with crossing merchants, and travelers despite its resemblance to a labyrinth made out of stone. But due to recent news that a high-ranking beast had kidnapped and killed people, the place had become much less populated.

    The only groups that traveled this path were mostly those powerful enough to not fear a high-ranking beast, or the numerous groups to whom the Krehan empire had assigned the investigation to.

    "Thanks for taking us here by flight.. We would only be halfway if it weren't for you" Said Heimart to Daniel.

    Daniel sighed deeply, and while shrugging his shoulders he said "Don't worry about it.. Better to spend fifty hours flying by myself, than listening to your cousin ask to stop every twenty minutes.."

    Heimart couldn't help but smile, and say "True.. and at the same time we got three days of vacation in the creepy castle."

    "You guys should have trained.." Responded Daniel while looking back at him with narrowed eyes.

    Heimart responded through gritted teeth "We tried to.. Imblen never got out of that training room. I've tried to spar with Jerigh, but that guy is crazy.. It's worse than practicing with the dummies.. Anyway, let's set camp. We'll investigate tomorrow"

    -----

    After a quiet night, morning came once again.

    "We have to find the location and time in which the attacks took place. Also, we could use the help of groups from other factions. We can't ally with other groups from the legion, as the legion rewards only one group, but nobody said we can't make an alliance with a group from another power.." said Alis while looking at the other members of the group.

    "We should split into two groups." Said Daniel decisively.

    Heimart looked at him and said "How do you think we should split?"

    "You, Ligart and Jerigh should go look for groups willing to ally. I'll enter the rocky forest with Alis to gather informations." He said after a minute of consideration. He then added "You still have my 'Ki Flag', if something happens, I'll teleport next to you in a matter of seconds. So try not to call me when you are surrounded by other objects."

    Once agreed on how to split, and which group would take which job.. Ligart, Heimart, and Jerigh departed towards the edge of the rocky maze, while Daniel and Alis followed the cleared paths that lead inside.

    The Forest of Towering Rocks already covered an immense area, and the fact that the numerous rocks made the paths curve continuously, only made exploring it a harder job.

    After a full hour, Daniel and Alis had only gone through thirty kilometers into the rocky forest.

    Suddenly, they both heard voices coming from further into the path.

    "..It's this way I tell you.. I've really seen it!" said a voice in a high pitched tone, seemingly belonging to a child.

    A hoarse voice responded to the first one by saying "Quit playing with your old man.. I just want to get out of this damned forest and reach Kripka" The second voice seemed to belong to a man in his mid forties, and it sounded like he was chewing on something.

    Daniel and Alis proceeded further into the forest, and after the seventh turn, they found a five to six years old boy followed by a fat middle aged man. They were both at the head of a cart, next to which ten guards walked orderly in formation.

    The moment Daniel and Alis appeared in front of them, the guards immediately walked in front of the two and formed a wall of protection.

    "Excuse us sir, you seem like someone that would travel through this forest often.. May we ask for a few informations?" Said Alis politely, trying to make the guards drop their fighting stance.

    "It's alright" Said the fat man. He then walked past the barrier of guards and said "Ask away. It's been two weeks since we've been in here, a bit of new company doesn't hurt."

    Alis smiled at him and bowed gracefully. She then removed her hood and said "We have been sent here by the legion to investigate the accidents that happened in the forest. Could you tell us something about that?"

    "Oh, the legion." Said the fat man with a surprised expression. He then swallowed whatever he was chewing before, and continued "Of course.. The accidents have started about eight months ago. At first, merchant reported the disappearance of members of their caravans. It was only after a couple of similar incidents happened that a few mercenary groups started to send searching parties to look for the bodies."

    "I assume that a few bodies have been found." Commented Alis before asking "What can you tell us about their deaths?"

    "Not caused by humans. From what I know, not one clean cut, puncture or sign of human magic arts were found in the places where the bodies have been found.. That's why simple homicide was ruled out, and the conclusion that a high-ranking beast was the culprit was formulated." Responded the fat man patiently.

    "What caused the victim's deaths then?" Alis asked in confusion.

    "All the injuries suggested that the cause of the death had something to do with trauma caused by the collision with.. Rocks." Responded the fat man.

    Alis's face twisted in a deeper confusion. She then asked "Rocks? You mean that rocks were the weapons that caused all those deaths? With no exception?"

    "With no exception. One was impaled by a tall and pointy rock, another had his thoracic cage destroyed due to being sent flying against a stone wall, a third person was found buried by tons and tons of rocks, and so on." Responded the fat man while slowly brushing his chin, trying to remember as many details as he could.

    "This is all very useful information, you have our most sincere thanks. Please, tell us if you have noticed anything weird that could be of help." Said Alis through a kind smile.

    "Weird.. Something weird.. Well there is something odd. It's about the victims.. None of the merchants, guards, or travelers were ever touched. In fact, the only victims were unknown people that were hired as bodyguards by the merchants. I know it doesn't say much, but I've always found that odd.." Said the middle aged man with an uncertain expression. He seemed to have pondered often about this particular part of the mystery.

    "It is indeed odd. Thank you once more sir. If there is nothing else, we'll let you proceed your crossing in piece." Once again, Alis thanked the man while bowing elegantly.

    When Daniel and Alis were about to leave, the kid said "Dad, tell them about the weird little snake i've seen!"

    "Shut up boy, don't make them waste time.." He said before turning towards Daniel and Alis to say "Excuse my son, it's been awhile since we've been inside this place.. And he has a fervid imagination."

    Daniel, which until now had stayed quiet, looked at the fat man and said "It's alright sir, we don't mind." He then turned towards the kid and said "What was weird about that snake? Was it big?" His tone was playful, and showed interested in hearing the kid's story.

    "No! It wasn't big.. It's was only this big" said the kid while raising his arms and parting his hands of about a meter. "The strange thing is that it looked like his skin wasn't covered in scales.. But rocks!!" Said the kid with passion.

    "Ha ha, that must have been cool to see." Said Daniel to the kid, before looking at the fat man "Once again, thank you for your time sir. Have a safe travel." He said with courtesy.

    He then walked past the group along with Alis and disappeared into one of the carved paths.

    "What do you think? Could it be that it was a spiritual cultivator adept in earth essence?" Asked Alis once out of earshot.

    Daniel kept walking forward and said "I don't think so. If what that guy said is true, then the stones weren't directly used as weapons. One thrown against a wall, one buried, and one impaled. If it was someone adept in earth essence, why not create spikes of stone under their feet? Or throw the spikes at them?"

    "So, it was a high-ranking beast? A beast at the fifth or sixth rank wouldn't be any less intelligent than the two of us. It would certainly have the brain to stage those kinds of deaths." Responded Alis with a matter-of-fact tone.

    "Might be.. Let's find somebody else to ask to." Said Daniel before suddenly increasing his movement speed.

    -----

    Southern border of the Forest of Towering Rocks.

    Jerigh, Heimart and Ligart were currently facing a team composed by ten people. They were all at the fifth rank cultivation, and from their attires, one could tell that they were all spiritual cultivators.

    Once the three of them approached the group of spiritual cultivators, one amongst them immediately looked in their direction, and said "Who's there?"

    "Members of the legion. Sent here, just like you, to investigate the disappearances and deaths within the forest." Said Heimart as clearly as possible.

    Half of the group approached Heimart's party, and stopped only when they were only two meters away from them. After they stopped, a young woman walked to the front of the group and said "My name is Lipa. I am in charge of aiding this group of recruits in completing their first task. We belong to the a group called 'Explorers of Dreams', and we are part of the Magical Covenant." She then paused and waited for Heimart to introduce his group.

    Heimart straightened his back and said "My name is Heimart, and along with these two, and two more companions, we were sent by the Legion of Blood and Steel to investigate the strange events that took place here. Our group is called 'The Aimless Adventurer', and we split in order to gather informations, and find allies amongst other mercenary groups."

    The young woman responded through a serious expression "If it an alliance you seek from us, I am afraid we have to decline. We've already made arrangements with another group from the legion. In fact, we were waiting for their arrival."

    "That's unfortunate. Very well, we will be on our way then." said Heimart while nodding politely. But before he could leave, a group of seven people appeared behind them.

    Amongst these seven people, only one wore light clothes. While the other carried heavy armors and large weapons.

    "Who are these people?" Asked a muscular looking man covered in armor. On his back, he carried a large sledgehammer.

    "A group from the legion called 'The Harmless Adventurers'.." Said a girl that stood within the group of spiritual cultivators.

    "Ha ha ha! What kind of name is that!?" Asked the muscular man.

    Irritated, Ligart looked at the girl who had made fun of them with a look filled with malice, and said "It's The Aimless Adventurer.. It's unladylike to not clean your ears."

    The muscular man clearly had a close relationship with the girl, so the moment he heard Ligart embarrass her, he turned dead serious and said "It's not that big of a deal.. We could always do something to make you guys fit your name better."

    "Hold on. This is all a misunderstanding. We proposed an alliance to this group from the Magical Covenant. They refused, so if you let us through, we'll take our leave." Said Heimart, trying to pacify the situation.

    "But here is the point. You guys are a group from the legion, just like us. Therefore we are competitors.. And now that guy insulted my girlfriend.. We could go on our way and maybe stumble upon each other later, or solve it right here, right now." Said the muscular man while grabbing the big sledge hammer from behind his back.

    Before Heimart could say anything, Jerigh unsheathes his single-bladed sword, and stepped towards the group of warriors.

    The situation had gone out of control, so all Heimart could do was to limit the damages. He looked at Jerigh and shouted the only two words of the asum's vocabulary that Daniel had recommended every one of them to know.

    "Sid Stahri!" Shouted Heimart immediately.

    Jerigh stopped, looked back at Heimart, and after a brief nod, he rotated his sword by one hundred and eighty degree and started to approach the group of warriors once again.
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