Chapter 327: Losing Home
“You have to leave this place as quickly as possible!” the dryad told the crowd that had assembled at her abode. Shocked and confused voices filled the atmosphere.
“I know this comes unexpected, but something happened, and I wont be able to protect you. I can feel a great darkness approaching. Those who have experienced the ritual know what I am talking about. Its seal was broken.”
Gasps could be heard, and Pip quivered in fear. It had been less than two weeks since she had felt the corruption that tortured nature.
“It is spreading with terrifying speed. It will only take days to reach here. You dont only need to leave me, but the forest completely. Otherwise, you are all in grave danger.” the dryad sighed with a heavy heart.
She had known that the day would come where the children had to leave her care, but she had never thought that she would be forced to expel them for their own good. She could not hide the pain on her face, and it was clearly visible to the people that had stayed with her in these past months.
Although it broke their heart, nobody had it in them to argue with Karina. Even the youngest children could read the mood. They had been through a lot, all of them, and they were far from normal children anymore. Instead of crying, they smiled and hugged the dryad.
They kept assuring her that they would be okay out there and the apprentices, no matter the age, promised to protect everyone. Only Pip approached her after everyone went to prepare for departure.
“But what about you, Master? Who will protect you?”
It was clear that the dryad could not leave her tree. No matter how much bigger, stronger and more imposing her tree was, a dryad could not leave her tree. She was stuck here and could only wait for evil to come.
“Pip…”, Karina patted her head. ” I can protect myself.”
“Thats a lie! When the darkness comes you will suffer-” the girl said with tears in her eyes.
“Yes, you are right. And yes, its a lie. A beautiful little lie. Wont you rather believe this lie than accept reality? Please, I dont want you to live with this burden.”
“I- I could stay behind and safe you from your suffering!” Pip suggested.
There were a lot of things she had done to leave Hope. If she steeled her heart she could-
“My brave little Pip. Do you know what my tree is called?”
The girl was surprised by the question but shook her hand. Nobody knew what this giant tree was.
“This tree of mine is called a Hangingtree,” she said with some sorrow in her eyes. “It is called like this because the vines I used to protect you will snatch up any prey within my grow and strangle it. The corpses are pulled into the crown and decorate the branches, like the corpses of hanged criminals.”
Pip could only stare at her blankly.
“Do you understand? This tree had killed many people before it mutated and gave birth to me. If you stay here, you will only throw away your life and this would hurt me even more than the darkness ever could. Do you understand?”
She nodded with big tears. There was nothing she could do to help her Master.
All preparations for the journey were done in a hurry and the group of mostly children and young teens was ready for departure in the morning of the next day. Only four adults were among them, three women and one elderly man.
“Now hurry! You have to leave the reaches of my crown before the darkness reaches here. If you dont… you may not have a chance to leave at all!” the dryad spurred them to make haste.
The group of roughly 30 people was distributed on 3 carts pulled by a kind of tame cow monster. Thanks to their connection to nature, it was easy for many of them to communicate with animals and have them pull the vehicles…
Had they traveled by foot it would have taken days just to reach the edge of the hanging trees crown. This travel was also their last chance to take in the view of sprawling meadows below the giant tree that embraced the sky.
It still took them a full days worth of sunlight but when they finally reached the curtain of vines in the twilight of sunset, they saw a figure waiting for them.
“Hurry!” the dryad screamed at them in distress. The animals reacted to the urgency in her voice and fell into a sprint which led to some people almost falling off the cart.
As they neared the dryad, Pip saw that her previous healthy green skin had turned dark with black web patterns all over her body.
“It has already reached the trunk! I can only control these vines. Hurry and get out. And dont get slower! Dont take a rest for as long as possible. Even when the darkness catches up, keep going.
Great destruction follows the darkness!”
Those were the last words Karina shouted after them when they sped past her. Nobody tried to hold back their tears. Except for the driver who needed to see in front.
A lullaby filled the leftovers of the campsite. Seeing the crowd upset, Seth used a simple lullaby to calm the people. Although they calmed down, because
Lets say the people quietened down because they were intimidated by the unspoken threats that swung in his song.
After the blacksmith had settled the people and power structure of the caravan, the previous and newly appointed leaders got to their work to clear up the chaos and salvage anything they could from the campsite.
“What was that?!” Marcel asked when Seth swaggered over to him.
“What do you mean? I solved your little problem. Look, now they are all calm and obedient. I bet you wont have any more problems with insubordination.”
“But did you have to pick a fight?”
“Let me make this clear, he forced my hand. he was also a good scapegoat to show them that I have the power to lead them by force if I wanted to. Anyway, this should fix the problem for now. By tomorrow, the fire should be far enough away for us to travel again.”
“Are you sure? I would hate to travel over a field of still smoldering coals.”
“Its a lot easier than traveling through the forest if you ask me.”
“Yeah, for you? Definitely. For us?… Well, you might be right.”
Traveling across an ash desert seemed more appealing than fighting their way through the dark forest. At least they could see the sun again. And even after losing some of their porters, they still had enough rations to make it to Hope.
“How far will the fire go? What do you think?” Marcel suddenly asked.
It wasnt because he was afraid of the fire, but because he was confident in it. Right now, they were in the middle of a growing circle of fire. This meant they were the only thing alive in here and protect by the wall of fire.
“I have no idea. At some point, it will lose power and turn into a normal wildfire. Since I lack experience in burning down corrupted woods, I cant tell you when that happens or how far that will reach.”
“Lets hope we dont see any of those woods again until we are out of here,” Marcel mumbled. He really didnt want to reenter any part of the dark forest after seeing what had just happened.
Seths display of power had culled the more ambitious people among the travelers. One could say that these lost sheep had been enlightened.
After they got the caravan back in shape, they once again hit the road. Because the air was filled with fine ash, they needed to cover their faces.
It took almost another three days for them to finally leave the ashen desert behind.
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