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182 A Strangers Help

    Four days had passed since the conversation between Daniel and Serf, and now, the two of them, along with Alesia, were standing in front of the entrance of a town built right outside of an ancient looking forest.

    From outside of this town, only a few kids and old people could be seen walking around in a depressed manner, giving the city a ghastly look.

    Once Daniel, Serf and Alesia stepped into it, a grey-haired old man dressed in simple clothes approached them from the side of the road.

    "You have come to Luton at a bad time, young ones.." Said the old man with a croaky voice.

    Daniel, which was standing at the front, asked while feigning ignorance "What do you mean by that?" He then looked around, and after noticing the lack of people from sixteen to fifty years of age, he said "Where are all of the men and women in this city?.. Why are there only kids and elders?"

    The old man responded after a deep sigh by saying "They departed towards the heart of the forest.. Two day ago.."

    "And left all of you here alone?" Asked Daniel with clear doubt.

    "We have lived in this town for about fifty years now.. And somehow never noticed that the forest near it was not only inhabited by beasts, but by dryads as well.. I don't think I need to tell you how hateful towards humans the dryads are.." Said the old man weakly.

    Daniel could barely feel any immortal essence on either him, or the remaining citizens of the town. Most of them were kids at the first stage of cultivation, or old people at the second or third stage, which had stopped cultivating in order to pursue a career like smithing, or alchemy.

    "They have gone to exterminate the dryads?" Asked Daniel while looking straight into the forest. "What is the strongest member of the group?"

    "The strongest member is a stranger that offered to help us.. He came by two days ago from the depths of the forest. He warned us that after the dryads woke up from their slumber, they became wary of our presence, causing them to be angered, and to want to exterminate us.. He offered to mediate between us.. A good man. He is at the fifth stage of the immortal cultivation.." Explained the old man with clear gratitude.

    Daniel's brows furrowed the moment he heard the old man's words.

    He knew for a fact that a fifth stage cultivator was necessary to complete the mission.. And if the mission given by his system claimed that the dryads would destroy the town regardless of  his help, that meant that he was either going to die in the attempt.. Or worse.. He had a part in the slaughter of the citizens.

    "We wish to help. Do you have a method to reach the group that went into the forest?" Asked Serf with his usual amiable tone. His heavy build made him look trustworthy, and his big smile gave the vibe of kindness.

    The face of the old man brightened in delight "Of course!.. Here, this is an immortal compass.. The kind stranger said it would constantly point at the place where he is.. Take it." He said after taking a transparent sphere out of his pocket.

    This sphere was empty, and inside it, it had a thread which was slightly shorter than the radius of the sphere itself. This thread was tense, and its end was knotted around a thin bar that went from one side of the sphere to the other while touching the center.

    No matter how Daniel moved it, the point of the thread always pointed at the same position.

    "We will keep our distance, and only intervene if a fight breaks out." Said Daniel the old man, which smiled with gratitude in response.

    They then waved at him, and walked into the forest.

    -----

    Somewhere in the depths of the forest, was a tall and serious-looking man of around thirty years of age which stood quietly on a small open space. At his feet, were the corpses of at least thirty humans, and ten human-like beings.

    The silhouette of these beings resembled that of women, but from a single glance, one would guess that they were far from being humans.

    They had long hair which appeared to be made out of tree branches, or in some cases, tree roots. Their skin was mostly covered in tree bark, and only their thighs, abdomen and chest were made out of a greenish-colored skin. Their eyes were yellow, and of a reptilian kind.

    Each of these beings lied in a pool of dark green blood, and had a slash in the middle of their chests, where an empty cavity could be seen bleed.

    Various cultivators approached the man a few moments later. They were, just like the many deceased human cultivators, part of the force that belonged to the nearby town.

    Their eyes opened in shock as soon as they saw the massacre in front of them. A few directly dashed towards their friends and family members, and bawled in sadness and desperation.

    The man gave them a minute, then said "They dryads refused any form of deal.. There was no choice but to fight" Said the man with an apologetic tone. He then turned to look at the depths of the woods, and added "They came from deeper into the woods.. We can only try to talk with their leader.."

    The cultivators of the town looked at the deceased ones one more time, and unanimously thought that they couldn't let the deaths of their loved ones be meaningless. They had to solve this crisis immediately, or there would be no future for their town.

    Now, there was something important to keep in mind. The world where Daniel was currently in, was immensely larger than his world of origin. The number of people which lived in it was in the trillions, and the cities were extremely far from each other.

    Of course, due to the ability to make long distance travels through teleportation devices, one would be able to visit most of the capitals and big cities in a lifetime, if they put their mind and a large amount of money into it.

    Unfortunately, that didn't mean that everyone had the same chances.

    If the citizens of the town decided to abandon it and go back, they would have to face a travel that took Daniel, which was a fifth stage immortal cultivation with a high comprehension of space, four days to make.

    It was almost guaranteed that they would encounter danger more than once in their travel, so,  they had decided to stay, and try to resolve their problem by themselves.

    Usually they would have sent a request for help to the closest city, but the stranger that had showed up, had warned them of the incoming attack just days before it happened, causing them to give up on that idea, as it was too late for it anyway.

    After listening to the man's words, the group of cultivators steeled their minds, and followed him into the depths of the forest.

    -----

    Five hours passed since Daniel, Serf and Alesia entered the woods.

    They had finally arrived to the point indicated by the compass, and after following the direction to the exact place, they had found themselves in a small patch of grass free from trees.

    In the middle of this patch of grass, there was a man standing alone.

    Alesia was about to approach him, but right before she could take two steps forward, Daniel put his arm in front of her chest, and stopped her.

    Alesia, of course, did not take Daniel's actions to heart. In fact, she became aware, and prepared for a possible battle.

    "What is it?" asked Serf with confusion.

    "It's a trap.. A formation." Responded Daniel with a voice slightly shaken by what he had experienced in the past minute and a half.

    While this was the first time for Alesia and Serf, Daniel had already entered this formation once. Once in, a sixth stage formation had been activated, inside which the "puppet" left inside the formation had killed him and the others.

    It was a fortune that Daniel had died so fast, or they might have not gone back right before entering the formation.

    "Who do you think left it?" Asked Alesia while observing the man standing in the middle of the patch of grass.

    "I don't know.." Responded Daniel plainly, then let go of his immortal essence, and flew high up in the air.

    Alesia and Serf followed suit, and together, they started to observe their surroundings.

    Unfortunately, they found nothing.

    With no clear direction in mind, Daniel turned towards what looked like the depths of the forest, and flew at high speed while dragging with him his two companions.

    It was only after another hour of flying, that he finally spotted a faint column of smoke rising from a small area devoid of trees.

    This area was disseminated with corpses, and from the different look of at least a fourth of them, Daniel guessed that a battle had taken place here.

    "Dryads.." Muttered Serf with a dubious expression, and furrowed brows.

    Daniel had never told him the reason why he had come here, so, it was quite interesting for him that Serf knew what dryads even looked like. "What can you tell me about them?" He asked.

    "Nymphs of the forest.. Relatively powerful.. They are usually mistaken for wood elementals." Responded Serf while looking at their bodies.

    "Did you notice their bodies?" Asked Alesia from the side. "They all have a cut in their chest which doesn't seem to be a result of the battle."

    Serf turned to look at her, and said "Yes.. their hearts have been extracted. Whoever did it, clearly wasn't interested in discussing terms with them.. And wanted their hearts instead"

    "Do you have any idea why?.." She the asked with curiosity.

    Serf's eyes moved back on the bodies of the deceased dryads, then said "The hearts of dryads are an alchemical ingredient.. Relatively rare.. Especially the one of queen dryads that are above a hundred years old. Many pois..." It was at this moment that he turned towards Daniel with eyes opened wide in shock.

    "Is this why we are here?" He asked with great surprise.

    Daniel simply nodded in response. Then, without saying a word, started to use his spiritual sense to feel his surrounding.

    He quickly caught a faint trace of immortal essence that had been left by what looked like a fifth stage cultivator.. It was close to disappearing completely.

    "Let's go.. We have to move now." He said with confidence, before surrounding their three bodies with his immortal essence, and flying towards the source of the trace.

    -----

    "Humans, we would have granted you a few more days to live.. Or a chance to run.. Had you not come to look for death in our own territory." Said a pleasant voice from within a cave made out of vines and tree roots.

    In front of this cave, was a large group of cultivators, with at its head, the thirty years old man which had promised his help in mediating with the dryads.

    "Mister Tera, is there anything you can say to stop them?" asked a relatively well-dressed middle aged cultivator from within the group, with a hopeful tone. He clearly trusted the man, and was putting the fate of his town into him. He was the town chief.

    "I am afraid that we are beyond words now.. Our only choice could possibly be to fight this out.." Responded Mister Tera with an apologetic tone.

    The moment he finished speaking, a large group of dryads started to approach their group from all sides. Once surrounded, the many vines and branches that closed the cave opened, making a way for a larger entity to walk out of it.

    This dryad was bigger than the rest, and while she had hair made out of vines, she also had a crown made out of thorns. Her body was more human-like, and the only parts covered in bark, were her private parts, and the extremities of her limbs.
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