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TDL BK I, CH 5: The Desolate Fields

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Chapter Five: The Desolate Fields

One week ago

The giant sword shot through the skies, parting wind and cloud more than a thousand metres in the air. A small party stood on it; twenty-eight students and three elders. Dunstan stood closer to the front, just a couple of metres behind Elder Anthony, the owner and pilot of the flying sword they rode. This was to be an excursion into the Suanni Desolate Fields, a trial by fire for the elite disciples of their sect. He stared curiously at the landscape beneath them as they flew by. Even his enhanced eyes found it difficult to make much out due to their speed and altitude but what little they did see filled him with wonder. 

The wilderness stretched out before him reaching all the way to the horizon in a stunning display of natural beauty. Nothing, not even the small forests and such around the sect could compare to the untamed majesty he saw below. It was worth the two-day journey and then some. From the corner of his eyes, he noticed the slight change that came over the other two elders in their troop even before he felt them pulse their essence. It was not an outward change just a visible increase in tension right before they forcefully exerted both presence and essence on their surroundings.

‘They’re probably trying to make themselves known to the daemons here… to stop them from picking us as a target!’ he realised.

Knowing that they were not far from their destination caused a stir among the disciples. It was a wave of anxiety and unease. Things got really interesting when two hours later, the site of the trial revealed itself in the distance. Murmuring rose in the back among the gathered disciples. After speaking a few words to one of the elders, Dunstan made his way to the back to check up on his colleagues.

As he drew closer, he could hear one of the newer additions asking fearfully, “Is it true they are going to leave us in there and make us fight wild daemons.”

Dunstan identified the speaker as Thomas Bloom, ranked twenty-fourth among the Inner Court disciples of the sect. The thirty-year-old came from a noble family within the sect’s greater territory and his achievement came as a result of steady accumulation, talent and no small amount of hard work. Many of the elders considered him a good seed.

Flynn, a childhood friend of Dunstan and the son of one of the sect’s elders took pity on the poor man and filled him in, “Sort of but no. The elders will leave us in there but only for three days. However, they will be waiting on the sidelines in concealment.”

“It’s sort of a mix between a survival exercise and a training mission”, Flynn added as an afterthought. “The place is a little dangerous but only to Initiates and Exultants. For the most part, all you have to do is endure the harsh conditions inside and if you’re lucky, you can find lots of treasures or make a breakthrough.” 

“There are still plenty of ways to die though!” one disciple said evilly. “I hear that five years ago there was someone who got trapped in a hall or something. They found him frozen into a statue so cold anyone who touched it got frostbite and let’s not forget the guy who got his arm cut off by a teleportation array.”

Dunstan chose that moment to cut in. It would not do to allow the spread of misinformation or the lowering of morale before the trial. 

“This trial by fire is just that, a trial by fire”, he said, announcing his presence. “It is a means for us to temper ourselves! Same as a sword must endure the heat, we too must brave danger.”

He looked them over carefully. These were supposed to be the thirty best disciples the sect had to offer but only twenty-eight stood before him. One had been called home to inherit a lordship and the other, they suspected, had defected to another sect. One day, they would form the backbone of the sect and he would be their leader. 

“There is a reason you were selected. You have already proved yourselves to be the best. This is both a reward and a challenge to do better! All you need to pass is power, endurance, perception and a reasonable amount of common sense. If you are the sort to see a broken teleportation array and choose to not only activate it but stick your arm in to look for treasure then you’re obviously lacking the last.”

Dunstan was pleased to find them listening seriously. The disciple who had been spreading the story even had the decency to look sheepish when the truth of the events was brought up. However, not everyone received the message as intended. Dunstan caught Melqart muttering “Always with the speeches…” under his breath with an annoyed frown. He chose to ignore him and focus on the more receptive members of his audience.

“The dangers are already known to some but not all of you so I’ll state them now. The place we’re headed now was once an outpost of the Four Cardinals Sect. As you can see, it lies destroyed. Nevertheless, some elements of the protective formations remain. Time and disrepair has left these formations broken, disjointed and chaotic. That combined with the traces of the battle that took place here has created a completely new ground. The elements and the essence of the place have been thrown into disarray and from time to time, elemental entities spawn within it.”

“Elder Anthony”, he said referring to the elder who controlled the flying sword. “…possesses a key that would allow us entry. Know that the place was looted clean long before our time. However, that does not mean it does not hold anything of worth, just that there is nothing that would attract anything powerful enough to break or bypass the formations in place. However, weak first-tier daemons sometimes slip in through the weak points so keep your eyes peeled for them.

“Again, the world essence there is very chaotic and the elements are in disarray so keep your essence barrier up at all times. You can try to gain insight into these elemental forces or use them to temper yourselves. If you wish to do so I’d advise you to look for some elemental loci. These usually manifest as vortexes of world essence. Low-ranked treasures may be found within but be wary of the elemental entities that sometimes spawn there.”

By this point in time, they were close enough for the disciples to properly make out the ruins of the outpost. 

“Dear Heavens!” someone exclaimed softly. 

Dunstan found himself agreeing. Even with the knowledge he had of its history, he was not prepared for the scene he saw. He had expected a bunch of crumbling ruins covered in moss and ivy and instead he got a battleground. There was a slight shimmer to the air around it. Those were probably the formations. In some places, there were visible traces that looked like cracks in the air. A massive vortex of world essence, evidence of its inner chaos, swirled in the sky above it, only visible when close to it. 

Inside the cracked shell, the place looked like it had been frozen in time. 

“What on earth happened here?”

“Same thing that happens to humans foolish enough to live in The Suanni Fields!” Melqart said speaking up for the first time. “They were overrun!”

“This place is not called a daemon paradise for nothing. Spend enough time here and sooner or later, the daemons will get you!”


The Desolate Fields, Today

“…sooner or later, the daemons will get you!”

The words rang in Dunstan head. He was sure that Melqart himself had no idea how true those words were. If it were half as easy for him to leave the Suanni Desolate Fields as it was for him to enter, he would have left by now. The main obstacles to his egress were the daemons. True, it was to be expected that a place called a daemon paradise would be crawling with them but you had no idea how many there were until you experience it for yourself. Daemons were everywhere in the desolate fields. To Dunstan, it seemed that every third fly was a daemon. You could not even piss in a bush without one jumping out at you. 

Thankfully, most were small fry that even an initiate could defeat. Dunstan found that you could frighten them away if you simply gave them a feel of your essence. They were perceptive enough to know when an enemy was beyond them and to stay away. Exuding your essence in that manner went against what Dunstan was taught. It was wasteful and in the wrong circumstances, it could be seen as provocative. Unfortunately for him, he found out the hard way that daemons were of a similar opinion. 

Walk through a daemon’s territory flaring your essence and it would come to check to see who was challenging it. If you did not learn that the first time, you definitely did the fourth time around. Become cautious enough to scout your way with your spiritual senses? That’s even worse. The daemons you just disturbed with your prying would certainly come to teach you a lesson.

Both were only useful against foes weak enough to be intimidated by his power. For those closer in power, it was a provocation. He was lucky he had yet to provoke anything that outclassed him. 

The young man stumbled over to a large rock and gingerly peeled off his top to examine his wounds. Bruises had already begun to form all over his torso but they could be ignored. He was more concerned with the broken bone sticking out of his arm. Stuffing part of his leather jerkin into his mouth, he bit back a scream and pushed it back in as well as set the bone. 

This was his fourth complex fracture in the two days he had spent wandering the desolate fields. It said a lot about how dangerous the place as well as his rather terrible habit of using his left arm to block attacks it had no chance against. It was enlightening in a way, for Dunstan had never known he possessed such a habit. He was still on the fence about whether that was a bad move or a good instinct. On the one hand, it was both predictable and foolish. It was a tell and sooner or later, someone would either take advantage of the ploy or he would lose the arm altogether. On the other hand, at least he possessed the ruthlessness to sacrifice a limb whenever he faced a life-threatening attack he was unable to dodge. Better his arm gets crushed than his head.

Opening his inventory, he took out a medicine flask filled with small beady pills. To an onlooker, it would have looked like he put his hand into a ripple in the air and pulled it out. Popping one of the Profound Recovery Pills into his mouth, he forced himself to circulate his remaining essence to further stimulate his recovery. His dantian slowly refilled with essence, his flesh and bones pieced themselves together and his bruises faded away. In an hour or two, he would be as good as new. The pill was nowhere near as miraculous as that one phoenix pill he had once taken but it was better than any other medicine Dunstan had ever taken. 

He had to make them last. A single flask of ten pills cost 1000 essence stones and he only had four left from the original set. Dunstan could only pray that he made it out of the desolate fields before the week was out. The longer it took the more trouble the sect faced and the more daemon attacks he would have to endure. Sighing, he turned to the corpse responsible for his current injuries and the system notifications he was ignoring.

[You have defeated a Daemon Lord tier Stone Giant! +50 ap]

[Claim remains?]

‘Of course!’ he muttered tiredly. The soft ripple that indicated the use of his inventory appeared around the corpse of the four-metre-tall stone giant and absorbed it. No matter how many times he saw it, it still amazed him. The system could actually, claim any of his materials or kills and render them down into their useful components inside his inventory. True enough, not two seconds later, he received a new notification. 

[Loot]

  • Stone giant life essence
  • Stone Giant template | creature | Grade: Rare
  • Shattered Heartstone
  • Red-veined onyx +6 tonnes

The sheer utility of the loot and inventory promised could not be understated. It didn’t just store his spoils, it divided them into constituent parts, no butchering necessary. Already he had used this feature to great effect when hunting small game for food. The ability to store a carcass as meat, bone, antlers and pelt was a lifesaver. Shame it only worked when looting. When he placed something into his inventory manually, it remained in one, undifferentiated piece. Maybe there were some cues or commands he was missing. This called for some experimentation. Sadly, that would have to wait till he got out of the Desolate fields and back home.

2 Comments

  1. So I tend to use a text to speech program to listen to webnovels during work and I was so confused by this chapter until I looked at it online and saw the italicization of the first part of the chapter. While it’s not grammatically incorrect given the preference of most stories to be both released as written and audio versions; a sentence or two showing it’s a flashback might be warranted.

    1. That’s a good idea! I’ve never considered how my chapters would flow if put through a text-to-speech program.
      I’ll figure out something that will make the transition clear.

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