Side Story – The Heroes
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Sometime around Year 83 Month 2
 
“I’m off, mom.” Lausanne walked over and gave her mum a hug. Laufen smiled and hugged her back. Lausanne’s about to turn 14 years old, and she’s now an active member of the regional patrols. 
 
“Alright. Come home safely.” Laufen kissed her on her forehead. Laufen smiled, her age is starting to show, lines and all. Even elves suffer from stress and age, though at a slower pace than others. “Don’t stay too far from TreeTree’s trees, alright?”
 
“Yup. Got it.” Lausanne nodded, but a part of her knew it’s a lie. Very often, she and her patrol group had to stray from the trees, sometimes to help a stranded group of merchants, or just reach out to some refugees who’s lost their way. 
 
But after their first incident of losing contact with TreeTree, they’ve improved their strategy. Now their squad has three rangers, all with a focus on tracking. One of the Valthorn girls is also a ranger, a choice that they get as they progress under TreeTree's tutelage. 
 
Lausanne grabbed a small pack of food, equipped a few wooden spears on her back, and then two wooden swords. All enchanted to be extra-effective against demons. There’s some basic armlets, made to her size, and she walked to the meeting place. 
 
New Freeka’s a whole lot bigger now. A lot more crowded, at least compared to a few years ago. TreeTree doesn’t really feel it, to him, it’s just a blip, but for Lausanne, the smell, the ambient noise, the chatter, sometimes she wished it was a bit quieter. Still, she knew that TreeTree was always watching, even if his vision is 'brief'. She could feel it, if she had his attention. It would just resonate with her special familiar. The ‘Warden’. 
 
Lausanne looked at her own status menu, and then the familiar’s. It has its own mana-meter, there’s a star symbol next to it. It lived in her, and it slithered out like a snake, detecting it’s host's attention on it. 
 
“Routine patrols.” She whispered. The tree-snake nodded, and disappeared again. It has never spoken, but Lausanne believed it understood what she said. “Let’s see what we bump into this time.” 
 
“Hello milady.” Two of the patrolmen bowed. Lausanne sighed. The captain nodded in acknowledgement. 
 
“Alright, everyone’s here.” The captain brought out a makeshift map. “We’re travelling a bit further today, to this section.” He gestured, and the rangers nodded. “Our scouts this morning saw some flares out in that direction, and we’d like to check it out. Counsel Jura has already stationed some beetles near to the location, but as you know, the beetles' range is limited. As usual, we have to investigate. If we encounter any opposition, we lure whatever we face to the designated beetle hideouts, here, and here. The beetles will take care of them.”
 
The captain looked around. Everyone nodded. It’s a routine task, something they’ve been doing since the whole communication shutdown. 
 
“Well, looks like we’re good. Remember, our role is minimise our fight. We scout, and we lure. Don’t do anything stupid. If in doubt, check with myself or Lady Lausanne.” 
 
She mentally sighed, but in New Freeka, Lausanne’s has many titles. Some refer to her as the Princess, some as the Avatar of the Tree Spirit. Things she never really noticed until recently, as she approached the teen years. Lausanne looked around the patrol group. There’s four other Valthorn Initiates, and about twenty patrolmen, a mix of soldiers and rangers. Most of the soldiers also have movement-assistance skills, due to the mobility-focus of the squad. 
 
A young Valthorn Initiate came over and sat next to Lausanne. “Lady Lausanne, what do you plan to teach us today?”
 
Lausanne rubbed her chin, her role is part-tutor as well.  She didn't really have a 'tutor-plan' in mind. “Some sword-spear forms, perhaps. If we encounter demons. Anything you’d like to see, Ssaera?” 
 
“Erm... can we see your Warden in action?” Lausanne shrugged. She tried not to rely on the warden too much. 
 
“Alright, let’s move out.” 
 
A convoy of beetles helped transport them to the designated starting area. There’s a bunch of beetles that functions as ‘buses’, they move at regular intervals along the 5 chain of trees. It conserves the patrol group's energy, and the beetles are plenty fast. 
 
They arrived at the nearest location about an hour later. “Alright. Let’s stop here.” The captain tapped the beetle on the head twice, and the beetle obediently moved to the side, then stopped. “Don’t forget anything, especially your supplies. You may never know if we’re cut off again.” 
 
Well, nobody’s going to make that mistake. Everyone had enough rations for a week. And the Warden can even create [healing fruits], just like TreeTree. 
 
“Alright.” The beetle moved away, and continued it’s route. It's headed for the next waypoint. There was another tree, in the next hill. Lausanne looked around, it’s hilly, and there’s a whole bunch of bushes and grass. The past demon invasions left some damage to the area, but things regrow quickly.
 
“Let’s move out.” 
 
One of the soldiers walked next to Lausanne, “Milady, what do you think we’re getting this time?”
 
“Refugees?” Nine out of ten ‘sightings’ have been refugees. No merchant’s going to travel without escort in this environment. Unless they were extremely desperate.
 
They walked past animal corpses, and some debris. There’s also some damage on the ground, from normal monsters. 
 
“It’s quite quiet, for a sighting.” One ranger said, but Lausanne knew their scouts are rarely wrong about sightings. 
 
“I hope it’s just a dud.” 
 
Ssaera and the Valthorns sometimes caught up to Lausanne, and they would try to chat. “Lady Lausanne, what kind of dreams do you get?”
 
“Huh, the [dream tutor]?" The Valthorns look to Lausanne as an 'idol', thanks to her high level, special familiar and position as the 'first' Valthorn. 
 
“Yeah. Does Aeon give you more... erm... scary ones?” Ssaera asked sheepishly. They wanted to know more, about what they could do better to be like her.
 
Lausanne looked at the 10 year old girl. “Sometimes.” Lausanne did recall the war-dreams were especially gruesome. She vomited after she woke up from that one. 
 
“Often? Do... funny people appear in your dreams?”
 
“Sometimes? It’s usually someone to teach me how to fight.” 
 
A streak of light in the sky. And everyone knew. They stopped their conversation and focused. “Magic?”
 
They increased their pace and headed in that direction. A few more flashes of light. “Somebody’s using quite a bit of magic. And... demons?” As they approached closer and closer, they could hear it. In the faint distance, the sounds of demons. 
 
When they arrived, they saw three young persons, one boy and two girls, about Lausanne's age. Humans. And around them, a whole lot of destroyed demons. But the battle was not yet over. There were five demon knights.
It seemed they’ve only managed to defeat the regular demons. 
 
“Should we help?” They looked at the three, and they looked tired, weak. Not injured, though. They were on a hill, and the three were down below in a small valley. 
 
-
 
“I’m out of mana.” Mirei looked at her two friends. Her two friends’ weren’t much better.
 
Harris shook his head. “I'm almost out of mana too.” 
 
“How’d they find us so quickly?” Becky sighed, and a floating shield appeared. “We need rest, we can’t even choose our level 10 perks like this!” 
 
The demon knights closed in. Mirei looked again. It was a tactical mistake to use her powers so quickly on the regular demon army. The demon knights wanted to drain them out.
 
Inexperience. 
 
Harris lifted his wooden shield. He wished he had something more sturdy, but after being popped in the middle of nowhere, this was all he could make with his newfound knowledge of shields. “I can’t block all of them.”
 
Mirei sighed. They were backed into a corner. They’re too green to take on demon knights, and she hoped her friends would do better. Her fists were both charged with lightning, but she knew that it’s not enough.
 
Becky’s back faced hers, and she had a magical sword in her hand. A summoned weapon.
 
Becky’s probably in the best shape. The five demon knights however, didn’t move. They turned. 
 
And they saw a girl about their age. She was surrounded by vines, dark-greenish vines. 
 
“Uh. Is that a bad guy?” Harris asked, “Because we’re dead if she is.” Harris’s had a skill [Battlesense], and he knew the odds. 
 
And those vines moved incredibly quickly, to them, they saw it almost instantly impaled the three demon knights, destroying them instantly. The two moved to engage, and a wooden snake chewed off it’s head, it’s fangs sunk into the body of the demon knight. 
 
One left. And she threw a wooden spear. It struck the demon knight’s shield, but then the girl took the chance to impale the last demon knight with another spear. It died then. 
 
“Adventurers?” Lausanne asked. “Are you alright?” 
 
More soldiers came down the hill. Harris wondered whether they saw the battle the entire time, but was just relieved to be saved. “Yeah. Thanks. We... uh... tried to bite more than we can chew.”
 
Mirei and Becky was absolutely relieved, and at the same time, impressed. But they were so exhausted that they just sat and took a short shut-eye. 
 
Harris smiled at his two friends, and then turned to face Lausanne. “How’d you beat the five demon knights so easily?” 
 
Lausanne shrugged. One of Warden’s unique abilities is a the ability to use variants or lesser versions of TreeTree’s skills.  That meant, she could use [anti-demon strikes], and a smaller [anti-demon aura]. With those two skills, taking down a few demons knights isn’t exactly difficult. 
 
“Apologies for my two friends, mages. We’ve been fighting and running for the past... 8 hours. They’re so tired their mana isn’t even regenerating anymore.”
 
The Captain nodded. “Well, it’s not a safe place here. They can rest elsewhere. Where are you three headed?”
 
“Uhm... we don’t know.” Harris rubbed his head. “We’re still trying to get directions, can we go to wherever you are?” 
 
The Captain looked at Lausanne. “Milady, your decision?”
 
Lausanne looked at the three, all of them about the same age as her. Maybe younger. “Very well, let’s take them back to New Freeka.”
 
Harris bowed. “Thank you.” The two mages were still too exhausted, but found some energy to walk back after some rations. 
 
They made the journey back to the Tree-line, and the convoy of beetles was their ride home. 
 
“So, what happened back there?” The Captain asked. Harris seemed to be the leader of the three, the two mages napped on the beetle’s seats. 
 
“Uhm...” Harris looked a whole lot better after some food and water. Fighting for so long was exhausting, and they looked visibly green at it. “I don’t know where to start, honestly.”
 
“Well, whatever you are comfortable talking about.” The Captain smiled. The beetle ride was one hour after all. 
 
“Uh... let’s just say, we got lost and somehow we found ourselves being chased by demons. We fought where we could, but the three of us are just level one. I mean, I think I’m level 14 now, but before that rest I was still just level 5.”
 
“You had a lot of skills for a level 5 person.” The captain smiled.
 
“Uh... it’s a bloodline thing.” 
 
“Ah. The gifted children. Milady Lausanne’s here also one of those gifted children.” The Captain grinned, and Lausanne just glared. 
 
“Well, that vine-strike thing was impressive, and I felt like they froze in place. So uh... where we heading? And what are these... giant beetles?”
 
“New Freeka, and transportation.” The Captain laughed. “Impressive, right? Most refugees are extremely excited when they see one of these. Merchants less so, some of them say the giant elephants, or the sandbeasts are more impressive as transports. But whatever, we have giant beetles.”
 
Harris nodded. “Indeed. It’s my first time seeing such... obedient beetles. Do you control them?”
 
The captain shook his head. “Nah. Aeon does.”
 
“Aeon?” Harris asked.
 
“Our city’s guardian spirit.” 
 
“Nice.” Harris nodded and he looked at Lausanne. Lausanne talking to the younger Valthorns, who are extremely impressed by her display of the Warden’s abilities. 
 
Soon, they arrived at New Freeka, and passed by the five layers of walls that now encircle the entire city. 
“This is impressive.” Harris looked, the two girls still asleep. They’ve really drained their energies for the battle. Harris, being the physical combatant, less so. 
 
The Captain nodded. “Indeed. Even during the last demon walker’s attack, they only got as far as the fourth wall before Aeon destroyed it. I know, because I was on the walls.” He pointed to one part of the wall. “I was there.”
 
One of the soldiers tapped the captain on the shoulder. “Alright captain, don’t have to talk about the same story to every single refugee.”
 
“I can’t help it!” 
 
“We were there too, but we were right in the trenches, with the other beetles.”
 
Harris looked at the captain and the soldiers. “So... is every city in the world like this?”
 
Everyone instantly shook their head. The Captain even sniggered, as if they said something ridiculous. “All this is possible because we have a guardian spirit. Without it, this valley would be uninhabited. Many of us are refugees from other cities that were attacked by demons.”
 
“Hmmm...” Harris soaked in this knowledge. He looked at Lausanne again, who’s not really talking. She seemed more interested in something else. But Harris wanted to talk to her, at least, to learn about her powers. 
 
“So uh... do you guys have any money?” The Captain asked. “If you do, I’d recommend the Oakwood, it’s the fanciest inn we have in New Freeka. Otherwise, you can head to Inn Street, there’s a few good ones like Roommies, and The Paul House.”
 
“Ah.” Harris tapped at his menu. He smiled. He did have some cash. “Yeah. Is there an... uh... adventurer’s guild?”
 
“Yup, right next to the Council offices. Oh yea, one more thing, we’re from the Valtrian Order, we’re sort of an independent arm of the city, but New Freeka has it’s own militia and guards, so don’t mix us up. You can identify us by our armband.” 
 
Harris nodded. He looked at his two sleeping friends. He tapped both of them. “Hey, it’s time to wake up.”
 
The beetle stopped right outside the city gates. There was a tree-woman waiting. “Eh, Lady Mika, what brings you here?” The Captain asked. 
 
“Your... guests. They’re with me.” Meela flashed a wide, hospitable smile. It's something practiced over the years.
 
“Ah.” The Captain tapped Harris on his shoulders. “You’re in luck. The Oakwood boss is already here.”
 
Lausanne hopped off the beetle with the rest of the Valthorns, and headed back to the Order’s HQ. 
 
As for Meela, she looked at the three visibly human heroes. “Hello.” She extended her wooden hand. “Come, all of you must be hungry, poor, and extremely confused. And probably a whole load of questions.” 
 
Harris looked at her, and noticed she looked like a very high quality wooden carving of a young girl. “What, don’t trust me?” 
 
Harris nodded. 
 
“There’s probably no one you can trust if you can’t trust me. Especially if you are... heroes.” Meela whispered to Harris’s ear, and his eyes immediately opened wide. “There are ears everywhere, best to come with me.”
 
Those words made Harris nod, and they followed her to a large opulent wooden lodge, that looked like a hybrid between a tree and a hotel. Two treefolks, they waited at the lobby, and  worked for Meela immediately passed them their keys, and there was proper food waiting for them in a quiet, private dining room. 
 
Harris, Becky and Mirei sat, and it was... food from home. A burger. 
 
“Sit. Eat. Leave us.” Meela motioned to the attendants, and the doors were closed. She snapped a finger, activated a few skills. [High Security Room], [Private Quarters]. “Alright, here, there’s just the three of you, and me. My name is Mika. Speak freely. You three are the reincarnated, summoned heroes?”
 
Harris stared at Meela. Becky ate a bite of the burger, and nodded. “Yes. We are. How’d you know.”
 
“I received the notification that heroes have arrived. And then I saw the three of you travelling on Aeon’s beetles. And your clothes.”
 
“Ah.” 
 
“So, let’s talk.”
 
 
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