“Gale,” she said, hand raised.
“I’m ready,” I took aim on her signal. The bushes rustled and a bull-hog rushed out. Its horns well sharpened by repeat grinding on the bark of a tree, and hairs full of yellows and browns. But most importantly, its thick thighs and filled belly. I let go of the arrow and for a few seconds the forest was silent, nature continued but a life was taken by the eventual sound of the bull-hog’s squeal.
Captain Zeyl walked over to the corpse and raised a closed fist. This didn’t mean that the animal was dead, but that the area was clear. Everyone that was hidden now gathered around the bull-hog, the arrow still lodged inside.
“We aren’t in Talician territory yet,” said Colins. There were four us in total, including Captain Zeyl, Ovid, and myself.
“It’s just practice,” said Ovid. He handed me his staff, crouched and started skinning the animal. I kept watch on our surroundings. Just trees in all directions, no roads, only wild fauna and skies that were moments from going black.
“If you take your time thinking about what the new signals mean,” added Zeyl, one brow raised, “then you’ll put the team in danger.”
“Ay, sorry captain.”
At night we set up camp. Traps were laid out around the area and I was away with Ovid in the vicinity of the camp. He was in the process of masking our scent, releasing a spell that oozed magic in the shape of smoke and stood there releasing it for about an hour, staring at the dark and away from the campfire.
“Do you have to do that for so long?” I asked
“Yes,” he said. “I don’t want to attract any attention.”
“It’s not like we’ll be getting attacked by the enemy this far south of the borders, we’ll be in Ephram for a few more weeks at most.”
Ovid closed his eyes and sighed. “You’re starting to think like Colins, but I agree with the captain. We should make a habit out of these routines.” Unlike Ovid, my specialty was scouting and archery. Where he could rely on his pool of magic, I had to rely on magic stones—just like the captain.
I stared. From his wood staff and to its pinnacle, a green crystal was embedded. And a few millimeters from its surface there were streams of white and black smoke, the result was the gray that had made a fog effect in our surroundings and its smell similar to the furs of wild animals. Without notice, the staff was placed in front of my face and the smoke tickled my skin and lastly I noticed the smell had changed to that of flowers.
“It’s artificial,” I said, “…It’s different.”
“From the plants you can find here in Ephram,” I said.
“Ah,” he said, and stopped to jot it down in a handbook, “I’ll need to study the flora more.”
“Alright,” I said, “It’s my turn to keep watch.”
Ovid gave me a light tap on my back and walked back to camp, “Don’t fall asleep.”
I climbed the nearest tree and sat on a branch with bow ready for use. For the next hour I focused on the smallest things that were out of place. If a bush rustled, then I gave it a moment’s attention. For that reason alone, I felt that every second lasted twice as long. If the moon wasn’t out and so bright, then the focus would have turned to sounds. Like the snap of twigs or crush of leaves.
“Gale,” I heard the captain below, “it’s my turn. Get some sleep.” I climbed down and headed towards the camp, however, halfway there I heard Zeyl call for me. “Wake Ovid, quickly.”
“Something wrong, captain?”
“Something feels off,” she said, “just to be safe.”
“Yes, captain,” I said. Ovid was resting against a tree while hugging onto his staff and I tapped on his shoulders to wake. By the time we reached Zeyl, Colins stood next to her with sword at the ready.
“Scan the area,” Zeyl ordered. Ovid sat on the ground and pointed his staff upwards. The staff created a light at its center that blinked every few seconds.
“No humans,” he said.
“Scan for others,” said Zeyl. There was a long pause as we waited for more info from Ovid.
“Something’s coming one mile south-east,” said Ovid.
“Well?” I said. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t organic—and its headed here.”
“What do you mean?” asked Colins.
“It means it doesn’t have a heart-beat,” said Zeyl.
“Your orders, captain?”
“How long until it gets here?”
“Fifteen, thirty minutes,” said Ovid. “It’s walking erratically.”
“Pack your things, we’ll keep moving.”
Ovid was the first to head back, but Colins seemed agitated.
“We should be attacking, not retreating,” he said, and for once, I agreed. The captain gave us a long hard gaze.
“Fine,” she said. “You have ten minutes when it gets here.” Regardless, everything was packed and after fifteen minutes, we waited. Each minute felt like we were advancing towards winter. The temperatures had become abnormal to the point I could see my own breath. Is it that things doing?
“There,” said Ovid. It was a set of red jeweled eyes, nothing else. It didn’t make a sound or looked at any of us. I aimed my arrow at one of the eyes and waited on the Captain. Fortunately, Colins volunteered to go first.
“What is it? A wraith?” he asked. I shrugged my shoulders and he turned to it. “Whatever. I’ll you call ugly.”
“Hey, ugly!” Ovid played along. That thing didn’t care and just kept walking, and seemed to be heading toward the camp. Colins raised his sword and slashed it, but the attack simply went through. That didn’t stop him from trying again, and again… and…
“Stop it, you idiot!” I yelled.
Ovid took out his staff and light beamed out of, a burst of fire followed the beast and engulfed it in heat.
“It stopped,” said the captain. “It’s… enjoying it. Everyone.”
“Move back to camp.”
We moved to the campfire, and that thing started moving again once the fire Ovid used went out. This time it entered the campfire and seemed to feed off it as the fire slowly died off. Once nothing and my eyes adjusted to the darkness that thing went after Colins.
“Shall I, captain?” asked Ovid, aiming his staff at what remained of the campfire.
“It’s after something,” she said, and pulled me over to her, so that were making contact with our bodies.
“C-Captain,” I said, looking at her confused. That thing turned to us this time. “Body heat, perhaps?” she said. “Ovid, re-kindle the campfire.”
The fire Ovid created burned brightly, that thing turned to it and smothered itself in the heat. Its eyes vibrated and the fire around it weakened little by little. Ovid took out a notebook and drew what was shown before us, jotting down its details and its behavior before we left. Ten minutes had long passed, and it was decided it didn’t pose enough of a threat to kill it right then.
* * *
“Is this it?” asked the lady behind the counter. We were in the adventurer’s guild after a few days from running from that thing, and were submitting a form for new monster discovery. The form had Ovid’s drawing and description of that ‘thing.’
“Yes,” said Zeyl, “It definitely wasn’t a wraith since we doused it in fire.”
“Alright,” said the lady. “I’ll just need your Guild ID.” Zeyl handed her ID, though fake. “Miss… Evleer. We’ll have someone observe your findings. If it turns out to be new, you can find your payment at any of our locations.”
“How much can we expect?” I asked.
“Anywhere from one hundred gold for the most dangerous at SSS class, to F class at one gold.” Out of curiosity, I leaned over the counter.
“What does the guild consider SSS class?”
“That would be the Great Lion in Dalhramn, the Iron Scaled Dragon here in Ephram owned by King Elphric, and in Talica, a Phoenix called Madrick, currently owned by the Talician Queen, and a list of others.”
“Thank you,” said Zeyl, we finished submitting the report and headed out. I stretched my arms and looked up, the ceiling easily reached three stories high and we could see people on different floors, there were images of monsters carved on the walls, some I didn’t recognize. Then a pair of fingers snapped in front of my face.
“Stop daydreaming,” said Zeyl.
“Where to next?” I asked. We stepped outside and I saw a castle colored in hues of yellows and oranges because of the material it was made of. In all directions there was nothing but buildings and great walls at the very end towards the horizons that made up only the first section of the capital.
Next thing I knew, we were outside the city, staring at a road leading to the forest. We were in the capital for no more than a few hours. No sight-seeing, just a resupply and short visit to the guild.
“That was disappointing,” I said.
“We’ve got a mission to follow,” said Zeyl. “Let’s go.”
* * *
We traveled for another day. Roads went from cobblestone to dirt paths, then grass the moment we avoided the main routes north. We returned to our usual routines of keeping watch once night had arrived I sat on the branch of tree looking out again.
“Gale,” I heard someone’s voice, “where the bloody hell are you?” I looked below, it was Colins.
“Up here,” I said, and looked over to where the camp was located. The fire was nothing but embers. “What is it?”
“Need to take care of business,” he said, and I wanted to cringe. “Keep watch, I’ll go behind a bush.”
“No,” I said. My turn to keep watch was almost over and next to take my place was the captain. If only he could wait a little!
“Do it, you fuck!”
“Look,” he said, “I’d rather not watch a girl like you do her business, either, but Ovid is dead asleep.”
“Get the captain,” I said.
“Never,” he said, this time with conviction. I sighed.
“Number one,” I said, “right?”
“Number two,” he said, and made off to a bush. I was hesitant to watch, but at least all I could see was from his shoulders up as he was crouched. It was dark, and the night air had gotten chilly.
After some time passed, Colins came out of the bushes, all smiles and no worries, except that something was off.
What is that? There was a pair of red glowing balls behind him, like they were looking at Colins. I readied my bow and took aim. It’s following us.
“Colins,” I said, and aimed a meter below his head. Those red eyes were uncomfortably close to him. Before he could respond I yelled at the top of my lungs. “On the ground, now!” Colins hugged the ground and I released the arrow.
“What is it?!” he screamed back and reached for a stone in his pocket. It burst into pieces and lit the surroundings with light. There was nothing behind him and my arrow was a few centimeters dug inside the ground. I jumped to a different tree and took up aim once again. Colins was holding a knife out and looking all over the place. “Damnit, Gale, what is it?”
“It’s that thing from before,” I jumped to the next tree and back to camp and saw the campfire had not the slightest trace of light.
“G-Gale!” Captain Zeyl had that thing nibbling at her left arm as she tried pushing it away. I got out an arrow and took aim. “Use a fire arrow!” she yelled and I switched arrows and shot a few meters to her right and that thing took the bait. I hopped down and checked on Zeyl.
“Are you okay, captain?” The spot where she was bitten didn’t resemble a bite, it looked like she was burned.
“Yes,” she said and I helped her up. “It only stings.”
“No,” I said. I looked around and couldn’t find Ovid. “We need him to look at it.”
Colins showed up with a jar and caught one of the red eyeballs with it. Almost instantly, the jar freezes and Colins drops it on the ground. There was a small piece of his skin stuck on the jar. The jar popped open.
“Well, shit.” Colins was taking a look at his palm. In the mean time I shot another fire arrow to keep that monster busy.
“Where’s Ovid?” I asked. Everyone looked over to where his sleeping bag was located, funny enough, he was there… sleeping.
* * *
“Well,” said Ovid, he fed those red jeweled eyes periodically with a stream of fire, “what are we going to do?”
“We could head back to the capital by luring ugly here with fire,” I said.
“Or we could signal nearby travelers to do the job for us,” said Colins. “They can lure it back to the city and can get help there.”
“We’d have to pay them in advance,” said Zeyl, keeping her eyes on the monster. “Ovid.”
“How long will it take you to make a summoning stone?”
“You’re thinking about capturing it in one?” he asked. “It will take me a week to make a C class summoning stone.”
“Captain,” I said. Zeyl gave me half her attention. “If we do the job ourselves and lure it back to the capital, assuming it’s a new species, we could be rewarded the funds to use in traveling.”
“At the least one gold,” said Ovid, “the least we could do is rent something to ride to Talica. It will make the trip shorty and gives us more time to fulfill the mission.”
“Do you think its following us?” asked Zeyl.
“It’s safe to assume that we aren’t the only travelers in the region,” said Ovid. “That we met it twice already in different places can’t be a coincidence.”
We waited on the captain. She gazed at the monster, the flames reflecting on her dark green eyes. She took out her black sword and made contact with the monster’s jeweled eyes.
“Keep feeding it,” she said and walked away from the camp. “Gale, accompany me.” I followed. We stopped far enough so that we couldn’t see the others.
Zeyl sat on flat bolder and took of her chainmail she hid under her shirt, leaving her shoulders up bare. She pointed at her back and I saw a burn mark on her right shoulder blade. Just a little farther up was where her right arm would have been. I couldn’t help but stare since it was the first time I’ve laid eyes on her injury from her trip in Sharia.
“Did it bite you there, too?”
“Yes,” she said, and handed me a lotion. “Ovid took a look at my arm and said it was a burn from extreme cold.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“For what?” she asked.
“I should have stopped it sooner,” I said, and started applying the lotion to the burned area, though it wasn’t bigger than an inch, it was in an area she wouldn’t be able to reach with the one arm she has left. As soon as I touched it, I saw the captain jolt. “Does it hurt?”
She didn’t respond.
“…I tried pushing it away with my right arm,” she said, her right arm was long gone. “It’s a strange feeling.”
I finished applying the lotion and brought up the chainmail. We headed back to camp and saw that Colins was taking a nap. He really doesn’t waste time.
For the next few days and nights we headed back to the Capital in Ephram. ‘Luring’ it wasn’t necessary in the first place because that thing followed us regardless. The only hard part was that we had to carry Ovid during the day while at night he kept the monster from attacking. Now at the city gates we were met with guards and explained why we had a monster bathing in flames just a few meters from the entrance. Everyone was tired and smelly.
“I didn’t think you would bring it yourselves,” said a familiar voice, it was that lady from the guild and several others bearing the guild emblem. A Dragon in the background and a. I didn’t care to look at her name tag the first time but a short glance and my eyes popped open. ‘Guild Master Rein.’
“It kept following us,” said Zeyl.
“Any idea why?” asked Rein.
“It seems to love warmth,” said Ovid, “but it doesn’t explain why it’s only after our group.”
“So,” said the captain, “can we leave it to you?”
“Yes, we will keep under observation,” she said. “If you stay in the city for a day, we should have the report ready and you can collect your payment as early as tomorrow morning.
* * *
I let my body fall flat on the bed. Everyone else was unpacking their things in this small room with two beds. Total cost was
“Aren’t you going to take a bath?” asked the captain.
“Sleeeeep….” I said. The next moment I felt the bed sheets lift up underneath me and it forced me to fall face first on the floor. I was too tired and had no energy to express how much that hurt with my voice.
“I’m not sleeping next to you while you smell this bad,” said the Captain. My nose was red and the captain dragged me to the shower room. Afterwards we returned all clean and spiffy. Now with commoner’s clothing. Still, the first place I headed to was the soft bed and feathered pillows. I closed my eyes.
“It’s still day, captain,” said Ovid. “Can I have some time off?” I opened my eyes. Captain Zeyl sat near me.
“You have my permission,” said Zeyl. “Just don’t return drunk or not get enough rest before tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, captain. Thank you.”
I let every part of my body relax until I shut my eyes. There weren’t any dreams, just the black of my eyelids and before I woke to see it was was dark out, except for a mix of yellows and oranges outside. I hate the kind of sleep where it feels like an instant from the moment of rest to the time one wakes up. I looked around and saw that Zeyl wasn’t around, nor Ovid yet to return.
“Colins,” I saw him sleeping, there was an earthly smell and sweat coming from him. I opened the window to let some fresh air in. Outside I saw lanterns hung everywhere in the streets, fueled with magic crystals. Below that were crowds of people moving in one direction, and even farther away I heard the noise of laughter and drums. It was enough to pique my interest and I headed outside to join the crowd. After a few blocks we were met with food stalls. People on the streets were celebrating, loud yells and praises.
The smells rich of meat and vegetables, soups and breads, everything abundant, endless. I walked up to one of the stalls and saw that they were cooking meat on a stick, smothered in sauce and served along cuts of bread.
“One please!” I said, my mouth watering for the first bite. I handed them the copper and received my treat. The first dig snuck up on my teeth and hurt the ends of my mouth after so long of not eating something sweet.
I noticed everything around me grow silent. People were pointing up and some still went about their business, the sky lit up as if the sun was out. A giant bird appeared to have taken off from the castle. Each of its feathers burned brightly and was heading north-west, leaving behind a trail of light. There was a loud clap and screams that followed, all the while I kept my eyes on that bird.
Zeyl is back! Next chapter will return back to Lee.
Also, character names have changed from the first volume. Sada (because it sounds too close to ‘soda’)-> Gale. Din -> Ovid (yes, like the author/poet).
Hope you enjoyed.
V1.0.1 (Temporary Fix)
V1.02 (Edit 10/08/16): Zeyl’s ID name change from Kanelva to Evleer.