Richard merely had his soldiers stay alert after the nightly attacks, continuing to advance towards the tree of life. Zendrall summoned another horde of weak undead to scout ahead, the only way to see more than a kilometre away from the unicorn without being severely injured by the forest’s will.

As the necromancer’s minions approached the tree of life, his soul was rocked as almost all of them were destroyed in one go. Only about five kilometres away from the location, he immediately reported the situation to Richard who was pushed into deep thought for some time.

“... So we can confirm that the natives have a trap ahead for us. Master Pamir, do you have any methods to deal with large-scale nature spells?”

“Just a bunch of treants. Lady Lina’s fires will be their bane,” the grand mage played it down. Druids weren’t proficient at causing damage, their spells focused around summoning and nourishment. Their most powerful offence came from summoning treants, but a spell of that degree was basically nothing to him. He had once gravely injured the elders of an entire tribe with a single spell.

Richard’s eyes flashed with determination, “Fine, then. ATTACK FORMATION!”

The soldiers that weren’t good at horseback fighting dismounted, forming a mix of infantry and cavalry that scattered out. They rapidly advanced through the forest, heading in the direction of the tree of life. The forest elves’ loose defensive line was destroyed in the first clash, forcing a retreat as the natives kept whistling from the crowns of the trees. Richard didn’t even bother with those that withdrew, waving the army forward.

Four elite humanoid knights broke out of formation, charging towards the tree of life at full speed. Even the elves could not react in time, their arrows falling short as they made it a hundred metres ahead of the regular army. The moment the warhorses made their way to the open meadow, however, the drones immediately urged their mounts around. There was no tree of life anymore, the only trace of its existence an enormous pile of loose dirt in the centre. Deep imprints could be seen that led to another part of the forest. This was a trap!

Terrifying battle cries now rang out from the woods surrounding the meadow, echoing through the forest without end. A hundred bows were aimed in the direction of the four knights, but even the natives did not know what to do. They had expected to attack an entire army, but all they saw was four men. Even the druids hidden in the forest were unsure of what to do.

Richard raised his arm, having the remaining humanoids quickly rein in their horses and force the army to a stop. At this point, there were less than thirty metres until they were in the open field. “Soul protection!”

Flowsand and four other priests simultaneously started casting a group spell that covered all 500 warriors.

Pamir then soared into the skies, flanked by Scherr and Agamemnon as he flew ahead of the army and started a chant. The forest elves were immediately riled up, sending a dozen sharp arrows cleaving through the air to try and stop the spell. However, these attacks were all blocked by Scherr and Agamemnon, not one arrow allowed through.

It was only then that Richard managed to observe Agamemnon’s fighting style in detail. The reticent youth was calm to a terrifying level, with no showy movements as he waved his large sword around. A lesser fighter would even think him to be untrained, but Richard noticed that he had almost no extra movements and didn’t waste much of his strength. This was an amazing skill to have on a battlefield.

Pamir finally finished his chant, causing the figure of a banshee to appear above the forest. She had a beautiful face, but two long fangs exposed her true nature; the figure opened its mouth to release a shrill shriek that could crush the soul.

Grade 9 spell, Wail of the Banshee. The effects of this magic were difficult to describe. Even with the soul protection, Richard felt his heart speeding up. His soul shuddered with unease, wanting to flee his body; if it did so, that would be an instant death!

Even with the soul protection, a dozen or so of Richard’s soldiers silently collapsed with distorted expressions, the terror evident in their face. However, the forest elves were completely done for. The howl had rung far and wide, dull thuds ringing out as it echoed through the forest. The attack swept through the humanoids that were now in the centre of the meadow as well, but as creatures with no souls they weren’t affected in the slightest.

Almost half the forest elves were killed in one moment, and a majority of those remaining were gravely injured. Only those who were far away from the lines of battle managed to escape. Pamir dropped to the ground the moment the spell was cast, ashen face recovering only once he drank a powerful vitality potion.

Richard mercilessly ordered his humanoids to charge into the forest and kill the injured elves. This would leave them vulnerable to the concentrated retaliation of the natives, but just like the broodmother had said they were disposable units that were only worth as much as their use. “Disperse!” he ordered the rest, “Circle towards the left, do not enter the meadow!”

The 500 warriors immediately switched into smaller squads, roaming around the edges of the meadow and killing any fallen elves they saw. These soldiers were all quite experienced, stabbing their daggers into any enemies they saw regardless of whether they showed any signs of life.

The natives’ arrows were still near impossible to block, but with the cover of the trees the damage they could cause was lessened. If the army entered the empty plains, they would have turned into live targets.

The woods suddenly trembled as the ancient trees stood up from the ground, forming a group of a hundred treants that surrounded Richard’s army. Their thick branches waved around like the wind, rumbling as they shook the earth with every strike. This was the second layer of ambush, but it was one Richard was specifically prepared for. Disks of red flames flew out of Lina’s hands, sticking to any treant they encountered and burning them constantly. These flames could be resisted for a short period, but with their draconic nature they were extremely difficult to put out. Once they made it past the outer layers of bark, these treants would be left in excruciating pain.

Seeing the effects of the Dragon Mage’s flames, Richard sent out a burst fireball of his own. This bundle was a thick, dark red, more lava than actual flames. The lava immediately burnt through the outer layers of the treants’ defences.

Richard’s flames burnt just as long as Lina’s, but they were even more powerful. The four treants that had been touched by the burst fireball collapsed to the ground, howling in pain. Such was the power of an attack imbued with his truename’s might.

The most powerful of Richard’s elites fought the treants in close quarters. They were all armed with heavy weapons like two-handed axes that were enchanted with sharper edges, dealing incredible damage to the treants. Numerous warriors surrounded each enemy and chopped away at the roots, leaving it screaming in pain as it lost all movement.

Zendrall started to summon his warriors of darkness at the edge of the battlefield, covering them with a dark fog once ten were present. The bodies of these undead started to creak as they breathed in the black gas, bones extending out of the cracks in their armour while the soul fire in their eye sockets turned from a poisonous green to crimson. This was Strengthen Undeath, a powerful spell unique to necromancers that could force out an increase in their summons’ power. These warriors of darkness now possessed level 14 strength, heading towards the treant with their large axes and swords raised high. Every blow evoked a pitiful howl.

Elsewhere in the forest, unremarkable grey balls of light flew around to create near-invisible grey ripples on the ground. The treants and elves touched by these ripples were weighed down, their movements now heavy and slow. Many became easy targets to kill, while others were denied a certain kill on the human soldiers they were attacking. Demi was dressed in light armour, straining herself to keep up with Agamemnon as she looked for opportunities to cast slowing spells on the enemies. She could cast such spells quickly and from afar, succeeding a majority of the time in limiting the movements of her enemies. Although the power of her curses wasn’t much different from that of a regular mage, her success rate and reach made the cursemaster far more efficient at the job. On a battlefield where the enemies started off at full strength, her usefulness was evident to anyone watching.

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