Chapter 25
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When jogging, the average person might cover three, even six miles. Then they take a taxi home. Or they might do a lap around their local park.

However, back on Earth, there are legends about African and Native American tribes whose inhabitants can run for weeks on end. Not too quickly— just a little faster than their usual walking speed.

The locals, whose bodies were as hardy and powerful as young oaks, did things a little differently. They ran for many hours, at the kinds of speeds cars in cities managed. All in absolute silence. They were like the wind as they rushed beneath the canopy of trees.

Naturally, at first, everyone kept looking askance at Hadjar. He charged through the forest like a rhino—almost knocking the trees down with his forehead. Then, using the navigation function of the neuronet (it looked like a ghostly arrow in front of his eyes) and applying his own understanding, he began to run more quietly.

By the evening of the first day, eliciting yet more shocked whispers, he made as much noise as a snake on the hunt. It was difficult to even sense him.

The people marveled at the wanderer’s talent. Hadjar only smiled to himself.

The Master had taught him a lot—he only had to remember it.

And the dragon heart beating in his chest was doing something to him. Hadjar didn’t understand what just yet, but he felt it.

In the evening, after running a distance that was inconceivable by the standards of a person from his world, but trifling by the standards of the local hunters, the squad stopped for the day. They climbed up to the second tier of the forest—below the crowns of the trees, but still not on the ground.

After they’d secured themselves to the mighty branches and ate a little of what they’d brought in their bags, the people fell asleep, still as silent as before.

Talking while hunting was seen as something only a complete layman would do. And so they talked rarely, and only by using various hand signs. Each of them knew their business well, and Hadjar just tried to keep up. Fortunately, thanks to his new legs and body, he found it easy to do.

A couple of times, he was pleasantly surprised by the messages of the neural network informing him about the scanty increases in his physique.

After everyone fell asleep, Hadjar checked whether the straps were holding him tightly, closed his eyes and concentrated.

Once again, he felt the particles of energy in the air. As usual, he reached out toward them with his mind and ‘soul’ and began to breathe them in and out just like an ordinary person would air. With each breath, the nodes in his body would burn slightly. When the fever became unbearable, Hadjar held his breath and, mustering all his willpower, pushed the energy in the direction of the sinciput—the last point in his body that was still closed.

The power began to shift around like a hot whirlpool and pierced the ‘gates’ that had been ‘closed’ since birth. Thus, Hadjar was able to break through to the last, ninth stage of the ‘Bodily Nodes’.

To reach this stage by the age of nineteen was unimpressive, even by the standards of Lidus. However, thanks to the dragon, he was now less than a month old.

“Status.”

 

Name

Hadjar

Level of cultivation

Bodily Nodes. 9th stage

Strength

0.95

Dexterity

1.15

Physique

0.95

Energy points

0.8

 

Hadjar had changed the settings once again, deciding to display the steps he’d reached within the stages in numbers. The message took up less space this way. It looked like something from an augmented reality device, but was still pretty annoying. That’s why Hadjar tried to use the neuronet as little as possible.

He was pleased with the increase in his stats and the fact he’d managed to progress to the next stage. He easily fell asleep.

The next four days followed a simple routine:

Run.

Halt.

Run.

Sleep.

Run.

Halt.

Then it all came full circle.

Any other group would’ve lost their minds by now, but the hunters, who’d covered almost a thousand miles in four days, had only warmed up. Finally, something interesting happened.

Robin gave the signal.

His upraised fist meant “Stop”.

They were in a small clearing.

The old man squatted down, ran his hand over the grass, and then made several hand signs.

“Herd. Nearby. Two hours. Run.”

One of the hunters came forward. He also used the hand signs that Hadjar had entered into his database beforehand, and could now ‘read’ easily.

“Ours?”

“I don’t know. Herd. Deer. I’m thinking.”

There was no democracy in the group. Only a harsh totalitarianism—what the leader of the hunt commanded was carried out. They had no time or desire to argue.

Finally, Robin punched his open palm three times.

This signal meant “Getting started”.

The hunters moved from a ‘gallop’ to a ‘light trot’. They took their bows off their shoulders and nocked arrows. Looking alert, they moved strictly downwind of the herd. Armed with one of the darts, Hadjar followed them.

The farther north they went, the more clearly Hadjar could hear the sound of falling water.

“Tree. Crown. Scout,” Robin showed. He pointed to Hadjar and they climbed a tall, deciduous tree. It was almost as tall as a ten-story house.

After getting through the thick crown, the Prince turned his face toward the east wind. Taking a moment to enjoy himself, feeling refreshed, he opened his eyes and nearly fell.

Not because of the vast expanse of the valley that was covered in thick vegetation. The endless sea of green was lined with blue veins—a huge number of streams and rivers.

Some of them formed waterfalls that plunged into ponds and lakes, then ran farther down until they merged into a single, enormous body of water. Billions of tons of water fell onto a huge giant that was embracing the waterfall.

“Dead” the smiling Robin signaled immediately.

“Who?”

The old man tried to show him something, then waved his hand and got as close as possible to Hadjar.

“The ancient titan,” he said in a whisper. “The Lord of this valley. The legends say that he was once so powerful that he lifted a mountain with one hand and threw it into the sky, where it remains to this day. And below, he created our valley.”

“The one where you hunt?”

The old man smiled.

“The one where our Kingdom is located, and more besides.”

Hadjar looked at the ancient creature again. He noticed that it had turned to stone long ago. The legend was most likely untrue, but the giant, who was the size of the famous tower in Dubai, still inspired awe.

“Look” Robin signaled, pointing at something.

In the meadows on the edge of the forest, a herd of deer grazed. You could only ever see such beasts in pictures. They were all mighty and stately, much larger than their ‘ordinary’ relatives.

The weakest ones were still a higher level than Robin.

The fallow deer were beautiful. Slender and graceful, they looked like arrows that had been shot from a bow.

Robin came down first, followed by Hadjar.

“Herd. Ours. The first—scare.” Robin signaled as briskly as if he were speaking the sign language from Earth. At the same time, he drew something on the ground with an arrowhead. “They’ll run. We’ll cut off. Old ones. Weak ones. Don’t disturb the Alpha.”

With a glance, the old man ‘asked’ the people around him if everything was clear. The hunters responded with quick nods.

Robin jabbed his finger at Hadjar.

“Look. Stay close.” That was an order that Hadjar didn’t intend to disobey.

The old man took out a bundle from the ‘first-aid kit’ and handed it to the guy with the scar on his face, who moved the fabric aside to reveal a small, shimmering stone. It was too big and too... alive agate.

Hadjar felt the potent energy emanating from the stone.

It wasn’t the same as the one in the air, but it was still energy.

Having tied the strange object around an arrow, the scarred man, Iry, who had also been the one to find the herd, ran ahead.

After patiently waiting for the wind to change direction, he came out of the bushes and fired the arrow. It flew at least five hundred yards and landed next to the herd. The deer with the best senses raised their heads but didn’t smell anything. Iry had already hidden in the foliage.

Hadjar looked inquiringly at the old man, but he wasn’t paying attention to the newcomer. After a couple of minutes, something in the meadow growled. Hadjar’s heart sank, even if he wasn’t afraid.

The ghostly figure of a gigantic wolf appeared from the stone that had been tied to the arrow.

Damn! It was the size of a house, and its aura was the same as the Imperial Governor’s!

The Wolf-Leader, whose spirit the hunters had called forth, snarled and rushed at the deer. Fleeing from its ghostly fangs, they rushed toward the forest immediately, where the hunters were waiting for them.

The Wolf-Leader growled for just a couple more moments. His spirit disappeared after two heartbeats, but the frightened deer were still running frantically toward the safety of the forest and hills.

“In the eyes!” Robin signed.

Climbing up onto the tree branches, the hunters began to fire one arrow after another. The herd, mad with fear, ran farther and farther without noticing that some of them were falling behind.

The oldest and weakest ones.

The well-aimed shots took them down easily. None of the arrows missed their mark. Every single one hit them exactly in the eyes.

The hunters loosed their arrows calmly. They used their sturdy, heavy bows skillfully and with practiced ease. The bows were small but still required enough strength to use that not every royal archer would’ve been able to fully pull them back.

When ten deer fell to the ground, Robin raised his fist, signaling for everyone to stop.

There was no point in killing more deer than they could safely carry back to the village. And it could also attract...

Suddenly, a human cried out, and the place where Iry had been sitting in ambush erupted in a column of fire 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Hadjar had to close his eyes for a moment.

When he opened them again, he saw a gigantic deer towering over the burnt remains of Iry. It was seven feet at the withers. His majestic horns were adorned with the roaring, scarlet flame.

The Beast was at the Alpha Stage, and he had come to avenge the fallen members of his herd.

“Look out!” Robin shouted, but it was too late.

The rest of the deer, apparently obeying their Alpha’s ‘orders’, had surrounded the clearing. They lowered their horns and stood fast, ready to impale anyone brave enough to try and get past their barrier.

Who are the hunters here? Hadjar asked himself, as he shifted his grip on the dart he was holding. Doesn’t look like it’s us...

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