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524 Up For a Ride

    After spending a few minutes roaming the stone forest, Daniel walked back to where he had left Rose and the others. In his hands were a bunch of dried up twigs and leaves, which had given him hope that, somewhere beyond the desert's boundaries, was a less dangerous forest from which the occasional strong winds had stolen Daniel's current haul.

    As he approached the camp where he thought he would find the others in the midst of resting, Daniel suddenly heard a woman's sharp and piercing scream, to which he reacted by shoving what he was holding into the pocket of his pants, and started running.

    When he arrived at the camp, only a few minutes later, Daniel saw Rose and the other perched over a relatively small boulder, at the bottom of which, a seven feet long beige-colored lizard was waiting for them, hissing and licking the air with its forked tongue. As he saw what kind of monster had scared his companions to such a degree, Daniel could not help but place his palm against his forehead in an attempt to handle the second-hand embarrassment he was feeling.

    "To think that their first contribution to our survival, is to be bait for our dinner." Muttered Daniel while slowly taking out his shirt, which he then wrapped around his forearm. He then started to look at the ground around his feet in hope to find something that could work as a weapon. Unfortunately, the best he could find was a rock shaped as a fruit slice.. With a thin and not so sharp side, a wider one which he could hold on to, and smooth sides.

    "Careful! There is a monster down there!" Shouted a panicked Cassie as she noticed Daniel's approaching figure.

    Daniel ignored her warning, and instead threw a small pebble at the beast, which immediately gave up on the unreachable bouffet of female humans, and focused on a more modest meal. As it locked onto its new prey, the lizard used all four of its large and muscular limbs to propel itself towards Daniel.

    -----

    This was not the first time that Daniel had seen a similar beast. In fact, in the very forest that surrounded the city in which he had grown up, lived beasts just like this one.. and even slightly bigger ones. These reptiles would usually hide in the tree line, waiting to attack the smallest groups of travelers and caravans in disorganized packs, and at times, they would approach the city walls, attracted by the carrions of pack animals, feral cats, or dogs.

    "It's easy to kill them, kid. You just need to be careful of when they charge.. Bet you can't guess how.. ahah!" Would say the guard tasked with taking care of the occasional beast that would get too close to the city gates to a curious Daniel, who would pester him while waiting to find a target.

    "They are long, and turn slowly.. You dodge to their side, obviously." Daniel would respond with a matter-of-fact tone, sure that he was right.

    The guards would burst out laughing, almost as if they had heard the most hilarious joke ever created. "Brat, that's not a crocodile. If you stick to its side, it will knock you out with a whip of its tail!" Would say the guard with a derisory tone. "No... you jump on them! But be prepared for a nice ride. AHAH!"

    -----

    With these memories still fresh in his mind, Daniel stood in front of the approaching lizard, waiting to the very last moment.. Then, he jumped. Unable to stop, the lizard bit into the space that Daniel's body was occupying only moments later, only to flatten on the ground the next second as Daniel's entire weight landed onto its scaly back.

    By using its powerful muscles the beast desperately tried to out wrestle Daniel, who was shoving his feet against the beast's legs in an attempt to stop it from moving, and at the same time, forcing its head onto the ground by pressing his covered forearm against the back of its neck.

    The beast kept struggling, hooking its claws into the ground in order to drag itself out of Daniel's hold while hissing menacingly, and waving its tail on both sides.. But Daniel never let go of it. This went on for several more minutes, until finally, the beast began to tire down.

    "A little help here!" Shouted Daniel while putting even more pressure onto the lizard's neck. He knew that the beast was faking it, and the moment it would feel him relax, it would use every bit of strength it had left to shake him off, and possibly turn around to bite a good chunk out of his body. He was also aware of the fact that these kinds of beasts usually relied on a venomous bite, and despite his immunity to poisons, he was well more than willing to avoid the injury.

    To answer Daniel's request of help were Dawn and Rose, who jumped off the boulder, and approached him. "What do we do?" Asked Rose in a hurry.

    "W-What do you.. Just hit its damn head!" Said Daniel as the lizard shook its powerful body one more time, almost succeeding in tossing him off his back. Then, as Rose looked for something that she could use as a weapon, Dawn reached for the rock that Daniel had picked a few seconds earlier, and started to bash its sharpest corner against the head of the lizard.

    After every blow the beast would wiggle around, and hiss in a fit of rage, but even after two dozen blows, of injuries, there was no trace. "Stop!" Said Daniel before turning to look at the others, "The three of you, come down here! We need your help!" The hurry contained in his voice took over the fear that was clouding the minds of Lilith, Cassie, and Saha.. who jumped off the boulder and ran towards Daniel and the others.

    With enough hands to handle the job, Daniel tasked Rose with immobilizing the beast's tail, Lilith and Cassie with sitting onto its back, and finally, Dawn and Saha with putting pressure onto the beast's neck with as much weight as they could move onto their hands. Once secured, Daniel got off the lizard and walked all the way in front of it. He then sat on both knees in front of its head, and after grabbing the rock he had picked with both hands, he began to bash the beast's skull with as much strength as he could muster.

    Each blow resounded in the ears of the six cultivators, causing the beast to struggle in a desperate attempt to get away, but after each strike, it would feel dizzier, and weaker.. This kept going until, an unknown number of strikes later, the rhythmic sound of rock hitting scales turned into the nauseating noise of broken bones, and ripped flesh.

    Daniel did not stop, and continued striking the same spot from which shreds of brain matter and blood soaked scales started to fly as a result of the constant pounding. When he finally stopped, little of the lizard's head was left intact, and its body had stopped moving.

    Covered in sweat, chunky blood and completely devoid of strength, Daniel put the rock down and painstakingly rose back to his feet. He then unwrapped his shirt from around his sore forearm, revealing a few minor lacerations, and used it to clean his face. Once clean, he put his shirt back on, and said, "Dawn and Rose, come with me.." he said as he headed towards the smaller ponds, around which he had seen a few dried up bushes that he could use to get the fire started, and keep it burning through the night.

    -----

    In the few hours that followed, Daniel was able to start a fire by using Saha's mirror to reflect the sun rays onto the handful of dried up leaves he had picked, and fueling the flame with the branches that he had gathered with Rose and Dawn. He had also managed to rip off one of the lizard's claws from its toe, and used it to slice a few strips of meat which he left to cook on a flat stone that he had placed right next to the fire. What remained of the meat was left to smoke into a cone-shaped oven that he had instructed Lilith, Cassie and Saha to build.

    With food, water, and a fire sorted out, Daniel was finally able to take a breath and prepare for the night.

    As the sun retired, and the cloudless blue sky turned to a darker shade, the temperature began to drop. To Rose and the others, the cold reminded them of when, during their youth, their failures in cultivation would cause their guardians to feel a disappointment that was reflected into their emotional aura, and that would seep into their bones, giving them a semblance of coldness.. A feeling that cultivators like them, contrary to mortals, were not used to.

    "Daniel.." muttered Rose while lowering her portion of half-burnt lizard meat.

    "You didn't lose your cultivation." Said Daniel, already aware of what Rose wanted to ask him. His words eased her worries, as well as those of the others, who let them out with a sigh of relief.

    "But then why can't we.."

    "This dimension seems to be devoid of mana.. Every bit of power generated by our bodies is forcibly taken away in an attempt to form a natural equilibrium with our surroundings, and that is what is making us mortals. As long as we are able to find a source of power that isn't affected by this phenomenon, I should be able to get us out of here." Daniel explained right before ripping the last piece of meat off of the lizard's leg that he was eating. He then grabbed the clean bone, and hammered it against the boulder he was laying on, splitting it into two pointy spikes.

    Daniel looked at these two bone knives, and once he realized that one of the two was barely longer than his palm's width, and therefore unfit to be used as a weapon, he threw it away. The second knife, on the other hand, was perfect for him. It was double the size of his hand, and pointy enough to pierce into the skin of another lizard, in case they would encounter one.

    Reassured by finally having a weapon, Daniel turned to look at Rose and the others, who were still eating. In them, Daniel could not see women, but newborn babies. Having been cultivators for all of their lives, these five young women had never known hunger, thirst, or even a long lasting injury. They also lacked awareness for their surroundings, and most importantly, a concept of the flow of time.

    Thanks to their nearly infinite lives, a cultivator would always have the chance to take things slowly, as time was not something that he would run out of. For a mortal, on the other hand, time was everything. The awareness of passage of time was what made every living being able to survive, forcing them to learn how to sustain their lives by hunting, eating, and resting. Without these concepts, a mortal would be unable to survive for long.

    By seeing these powerful cultivators at the godhood stage being brought down to mortality, a state in which one could only try to find happiness while surviving day by day, Daniel could not help but feel guilty. For someone who had always tried to live decently, this time, he had definitely ruined the lives of a group of innocent people.

    However, not everything was lost, as they still had their lives.

    With the end goal of finding a way to take these women back to their universe, he steeled his resolve. "From now on, forget anything you have learned about essences." Daniel said to the five young women, who stopped eating, and turned to listen to him. "Try to remember what little of martial arts was taught to you.. You will need it to survive in this world." He then said while adding a few more branches to the fire. As he finished speaking, he lay down on his back right next to the fire, and closed his eyes.

    "What are you doing?" Asked Dawn with curiosity.

    "I am trying to sleep, and once you are done eating, you should do the same." Responded Daniel with a matter-of-fact tone. However, when he opened his eyes a few seconds later, he noticed that his words had done nothing but deepen the confusion of the five young women. "Lay on your back, close your eyes, and try to create a world in your mind.. The more detailed you imagine of it, the better."

    Annoyed by Daniel's attitude, Lilith asked, "We don't even know what sleep is! How will we know that it is working?"

    Daniel's lips curved into a smile. "If it works, the next time you'll open your eyes, it will be morning." He then closed his eyes once again, but instead of trying to fall asleep right away, he decided to listen to the voices of the five young women, who kept trying to discover the secret of his rapid descent into sleep.

    After about ten minutes, Rose and the others stopped talking, leaving only the crackling noise of the fire to resound in his ears. It was only then that Daniel emptied his mind, and allowed himself to fall asleep.. Missing the humanoid silhouette that had suddenly appeared on top of one of the towering rocks that surrounded the camp by just a few seconds.
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