Chapter 345 Forest Journey
The long line of caravans rattled as they trudged through the dark woods.
The trees on both sides of the road towered over the travelers. All the trees were above thirty meters and were thick enough that four people were needed to circle a tree. The tree foliage was extremely dense as well. The giant canopy completely covered the sky, only leaving thin strands of light shining upon the road.
Even though it was daytime, the merchants had to light up torches to have a clear view of the path.
It was almost as if the caravan line had moved into a silent and enclosed corridor. There were no other sounds apart from the rattling carts and the hooves of the horses.
One couldn't hear the chirping of ordinary forests or the pattering feet of leaping rabbits and foxes.
Greem could distinctly feel a faint magical energy flowing through the Black Forest the moment he stepped foot in it. The elementium particles were at least one or two orders of magnitude more active than the ones outside of the woods.
"Chip, gather the environmental data for the Black Forest!" Greem thought for a moment and gave this order to the chip.
"Beep. Constructing project. Gathering environmental data."
In truth, the Black Forest took up more than sixty percent of the Continent's land mass. The territory occupied by the Zhentarim Association and the three massive adept organizations were no more than forty percent.
This meant that much of the World of Adept's land remained unexcavated. What stood in the way of humanity's progress was the boundless expanse of the Black Forest and its wild, primal grasslands.
The World of Adepts was vast and had an almost perfect high-magic environment. When this was taken into consideration, along with the massive landmass of the Black Forest, you realized the terror that lurked in the wild. If only one in every thousand wild creatures had been polluted and mutated into a magical monster, then the number of magical creatures was still numerous enough to run over all the adepts put together.
If the adepts wanted to expand their territories, they had to reach their tentacles into this monstrous stretch of woods.
They needed to fell trees, pave roads, construct settlements, and erect adept towers.
This process was not always a smooth one!
Every step the humans took into the Black Forest would draw an intense backlash from the woodland creatures, magical beasts, mutated monsters, and polluted beings.
It was tolerable if humans were only dealing with the occasional assaults; the most these could do was cause minor losses. However, the entire settlement was at risk if a whole tribe of magical creatures struck, or if a powerful being instigated a stampede.
Such massive assaults had happened countless times in the history of colonization on the World of Adepts. Every time this happened, it meant that the tens of thousands of peasants that had moved into the settlement were doomed to be the victims of the conflict between the adepts and the wild beasts. Most of the time, an adept's tower was the only thing that could survive the bloody fight. Everything else would be razed to the ground.
Every piece of additional living space that the humans earned had gone through such a complicated and drawn out tug-of-war. It was only when the adepts whittled away the will and numbers of the magical creatures that they were able to force the beasts further back into the Black Forest.
Thus, a sizeable territory over fifty kilometers in width and length required an investment of several decades. It was primarily the case if you included the entire process of colonization. The moving and establishment of a population were repeated after the conclusion of every single battle that happened over the land. Exhausting tens of thousands of civilian lives and several dozen adept lives in this process was a familiar sight.
Every adept that braved the storm and led their followers and servants into the Black Forest to forge a path of their own were real heroes that were worthy of remembrance throughout the ages!
For ordinary men, the Black Forest represented mystery, wickedness, power, and especially death!
However, this place was a treasure trove of resources to the adepts!
Magical plants that grew all over the place, wildlife of immense diversity, abundant reserves of metal ores, and mysterious and powerful magic creatures were treasures to the adepts.
Adepts could find a lot of rare resources that had gone extinct or exhausted in the adepts' lands within the depths of the Black Forest.
Apart from plane invasions, venturing into the Black Forest for ancient ruins and magical creature hunts had become the easiest and most convenient way of accumulating resources. Squads of three to five adepts did most of these.
The prerequisites for plane invasions and conquering were far too strict. Not all adepts could achieve them. As such, exploration of the Black Forest had become their best option for training and gathering resources.
Greem pulled apart the curtains and looked at the dark forest in the distance.
Despite his perfect eyesight, he was unable to see too far into the forest without casting any enhancement spells. After all, the magical energies in this forest were too active! They were a massive hindrance to an adept's spiritual senses.
Greem pushed the curtain even further aside and saw a pitch-black owl on top of a tall tree not far away from the carriages. The owl was observing everything in the forest with its large eyes. It would occasionally hoot at the transports.
"That's an owl reared by the apprentice witches." Alice crouched beside Greem and looked on with boredom, "Harmless little critters. They can only serve as their eyes in the dark."
"Why don't they pick a more powerful animal?" Greem asked doubtfully.
"Tch… " Alice couldn't resist the urge to roll her eyes, "Do you think everyone is like you and doesn't need to worry about magical crystals? Those girls are broke. They can't afford to buy or even rear stronger pets!"
"What's the benefit of having a pet like that?"
"They can be your eyes and ears usually. They are decent flying scouts. Moreover, enchanted owls also possess a weak ability to see through invisibility. They are fairly suited to be guards. Of course, more importantly, rearing owls like them isn't that much of a strain to an apprentice witch's Spirit."
"Then what kind of pets do witches generally have?"
"The most common ones are naturally black cats, flower serpents, red bats, and the crows. Black cats can give stealth and agility bonuses to their masters, and flower serpents have infrared sight. Red bats can cast weight-reduction spells and have sonar, while crows have night vision. Anyway, the witches love to transform themselves into all these weird critters!"
"What about you? Why have I never seen your pet?"
"Hmph… " Alice grumbled, "I've always wanted to catch a hellhound, but sadly I haven't succeeded yet!"
"A hellhound?" When he heard this name, Greem instantly thought of a bizarre abyssal creature with harsh black and red skin.
This creature that was ugly from every perspective was Alice's ideal magical pet. Greem was speechless.
"Why?" Greem couldn't help but ask.
"Because there was a witch that once caught a hellhound for a pet. She obtained the ability 'Spell Lock' from doing so. Moreover, a hellhound can provide Spirit bonuses to its master. It is most definitely the best magical pet there is." Alice's eyes instantly started glowing when they raised the topic. She went on and on about her favorite abyssal creature.
"But don't you think a hellhound is a little ugly and hideous? Also, from what I know, they all stink terribly. They have a pungent stench unique to the abyssal creatures from the lower realms!"
"Do they really smell that bad?" Alice's face turned as she cautiously asked Greem. When Greem confirmed his answer, Alice rested her little face in her hands and frowned, "Then if I skin the hellhound and smear him with spices, it should be enough to mask the smell, right?"
Greem drew a cold breath. He couldn't help but start worrying about Alice's future pet.
The caravan line slowly proceeded through the Black Forest.
They could already start to make out the silhouettes of small animals in the dim forest when they were fifteen kilometers away from Ibis City.
However, with the mercenaries intimidating the beasts, none of them dared to draw close to the caravans. They growled from a distance before retreating to the depths of the woods.
This road might not have been very populated or crowded, but the frequent passage of a dozen merchant groups had already cleared the path of most of the more threatening magical creatures. The remaining ordinary beasts would be turned into the mercenaries' dinner if they came too close.
The scouts of the apprentice witches were the busiest of the group.
The beat their wings and wove through the dense forest that was hard for humans to navigate. They avoided the dangerous beasts and birds of prey as they searched for rare plants and herbs.
The moment they found something valuable, two or three apprentice witches would charge into the forest with a dozen mercenaries at their sides. They would retrieve the plant as quickly as possible. This was undoubtedly a lucrative income for them as well.
Of course, there were times when powerful creatures guarded the rare plants. In these moments, it was up to the witches in the group to take care of the beasts.
They didn't include the yields during the trip in the accounts of the merchant company. They were private possessions and spoils of war for the witches. Thus, after an entire journey of doing so, every accompanying witch would find their collection exceeding even the pay that the merchant company paid out. It was why every one of them was so excited and passionate about doing this treasure hunt.
That said, the company couldn't possibly stop for their treasure hunting. They could only explore a small area within five to ten kilometers of the road. Any further and they wouldn't have time to harvest the goods even if they found anything.
Moreover, areas like these, which were close to the road, had already been exhausted from repeated searches by traveling witches over the years. Anything that was of value had already been scoured and taken from the place. Thus, the witches of the group decisively gave up on such a game that was only a waste of Spirit and passed the chance on to the training apprentices.
For these poor apprentices, that had no right to enjoy the resources of the clan, even morsels that the witches didn't want were enough to keep them full. Consequently, they too were glad to busy themselves with the task of searching for plants.
And so, the caravan progressed in such a seemingly slow, yet truthfully quick manner, and soon arrived at the first camp of their long journey.
It was barely noon at this point!