“That is for the elves, you are different,” the Tree of Life answered flatly, “I use up the life energy I generate to create the eternal springwater, so I reduced my output to the elves and increased my focus on this. They can go back to reproducing like they do naturally.”
“Why are you giving me such special treatment?” Richard asked softly.
“Because I need to prove that I am more valuable than my core.”
“Ha, a smart one! Now, here’s the second question. With how conducive this world is to the growth of flora, can you speed up your own advancement to a world tree?”
This time, the ancient voice trembled with emotion, “You mean…”
“If possible, I’d like to try and help you become a world tree. Of course, that’s only if you’re loyal enough.”
“.... Every region of this world can only have one world tree. Once it forms, the entire forest in that region will fall under its control. It can go so far as to order around all sorts of natural enemies to our kind, killing off any competitors. Even if I survive that, the end result will be a battle to the death for the region unless one of us moves away.”
“You mentioned the trees of life don’t have the ability to protect themselves and need the help of the elves?”
“Yes. The elves help keep our enemies at bay, and in turn we help them grow stronger. The size and prosperity of our attached elven tribes decide how much we can grow. We trees of life have different stages of growth— saplings, adolescents, and adults. Both of the latter stages are divided into three parts each, and I’m currently in the beginning stages of adolescence. The tribe protecting me wasn’t very powerful, so I would have to wait another century for them to grow before I could dare to advance and attract even more powerful enemies.”
“Hmm… Say I can guarantee your safety, how long would it take for you to advance?”
“I haven’t grown past the young adolescent stage for almost a century. If I don’t need to care for my enemies, I can enter the middle stages of adolsecence within half a year. Another decade longer and I’ll approach the end.
“My enemies at the middle stages are woodpecking crows. Their bodies aren’t too large, but they often move in flocks of ten thousand at a time.”
Richard was quite surprised by the sheer speed of growth. It seemed like the main bottleneck to these trees’ growth came from their predators and each other. However, this worked perfectly fine for his purposes.
“Where can I find woodpecking crows?” he asked. The best way to obtain adequate information about these things was to use Analytic on a live one and take it apart.
“The elves are very familiar with these creatures, you can ask their hunters to catch them for you. I believe it won’t take them long.”
Richard nodded, “Alright, what will change with you once you advance?”
“I will be able to produce more eternal springwater, my fruits of life will take only eight years to form, and you will receive five branches a year that can be turned into staffs of nature. I will also be able to dispel the will of the forest up to 150 kilometres away.” The Tree understood just what he wanted.
He nodded and stood up, “Alright, make your preparations.”
The will of the Tree of Life gradually faded away, leaving an unconscious Jubu falling to the ground. The conversation had lasted far too long, taking a great toll on his soul. Richard carried the young druid and put him on a nearby bed of vines before walking out and calling for the grand elder, asking him to catch a few woodpecking crows.
It didn’t take long for a small team of hunters to disappear into the forest, returning in the evening with about ten or so of the birds. Half were dead, while the rest had been captured alive.
These birds had rather average physique, each only a metre or so long. The most striking factor wasn’t their dark grey feathers being hard as metal, but the sharp beaks that were disproportionately large for the rest of their bodies. These beaks were like small sickles that shone a dull yellow every once in a while.
One of the hunters demonstrated these birds’ power, having one peck like lightning into a piece of bark with its foot-long beak. The hard wood that was nearly as strong as metal was pierced through almost completely, the beak filled with saw-like teeth drawing out a few grooves as it withdrew.
Even most of his soldiers’ armours and shields couldn’t take on the pecks of these creatures. One needed superior-grade equipment enchanted for protection to avoid being drilled through, but even then a barrage of attacks would soon render any shield useless.
The tail feathers of these crows were extremely terrifying as well. They could pull them all in to make them sharp as little knives, and when spread out these tails could scratch up a target with the sheer number of sharp edges.
Richard turned a little grim. It was fine if there were only a few dozen of them— they were small targets, but hitting them wasn’t impossible. However, if there were tens of thousands, that was extremely terrifying. He could already imagine the large black cloud of woodpecking crows charging through the sky. That was no less powerful than the swarms of axes from his throwers.
With the current strength he had here in the Forest Plane, it would be difficult to deal with a thousand of these things. Another thousand more and he’d have to flee pathetically in defeat. However, the Tree of Life was saying there would be an order of magnitude more attacking it when it advanced.
Some special arrangements would have to be made. Richard thought over it for a while, having his warriors confine the captured crows as well as all of the forest elf slaves that hadn’t submitted. He would take them back to Emerald City when they returned. He made ample use of the time to rest, entering a treehouse a little above the midpoint of the Tree to meditate.
As his vision faded to black, an entirely foreign landscape appeared in his mind’s eye. He was amazed to find himself surrounded by boundless jade-green life energy that made it seem like he was sitting in a warm pond of life. This energy was of similar purity to what he had encountered in the Archeron cemetery.
He didn’t even need to chase these things; any random tug and large amounts of the life vortices would flood his body. These vortices were immediately absorbed by the branches and roots of the astral world tree, no longer in fragments but surging within, The crown started to tremble, producing endless starlight that wandered around his sea of consciousness. Some of this starlight was absorbed by the Archeron bloodline, more by his remaining elven affinities, while the rest entered his mana pool!
Be it his bloodlines or mana pool, they started growing at visible speeds. The feeling of his strength expanding was truly intoxicating. He greedily devoured the life energy around him, not taking a moment to rest. Although the conversion process was wasting more than half of the energy, the total output of astral energy was still much higher than when he captured astral rays. Besides, the conversion process greatly strengthened his astral affinity. Even the energy that seemed to be wasted was actually being absorbed by his elven bloodline to an extent.
Richard absorbed everything crazily while the life energy surrounding him never thinned. He slowly lost track of time, completely immersed in growing his power. His mana pool grew, his bloodlines were agitated, and the elemental trunk that was never given a chance to grow was suddenly doing its best to absorb every ray that passed nearby. Likely because he was in the Forest Plane, his Archeron bloodline had faded into a dormant volcano while his elven bloodline was bursting with vitality.
Time slowly passed. As the elemental world tree absorbed enough astral rays, its phantom-like image started to grow clearer. Energy gushed up the roots out of nowhere, gradually turning the trunk corporeal. The affinity kept flickering in different colours as a lone bare branch at the top of the crown started to thrash about. Fiery-red leaves slowly formed at its tip.
It was only when the elemental trunk fully materialised that Richard was startled into consciousness, breaking him out of the intoxication of his strength growing endlessly. The pleasure of obtaining as much power as he wanted left him unwilling to awaken, like a pair of invisible arms wound around him to try and drag him down, but thankfully his mind was strong and he soon returned to the real world.
“Shit, how long was it?” He shook his head hard, recovering from the last bit of muddle-headedness to find that he had actually lost track of time. Thankfully, his second mind gave him the answer— five days.
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