Chapter 3.

Elias' fear grew as he watched Caren walk down the hill. He admired her perseverance, and getting back home would probably be a lot easier with her than on his own. How was he ever going to get back by himself?

"Wait!" he called out. She turned around and looked at him. With shaking arms, he let himself fall off the branch and landed on the grass on his side. His arm hurt when he got up, but it wasn't unbearable. It would probably be one big bruise tomorrow.

This could have been such a great holiday. Derek and he had made plans for a grand lanparty at his house while his parents would be away on this cruise. Elias hadn't known they had also planned for him to come along. He never even wanted to go, he hated boats and water! He knew this was going to be a disaster, and he had been right. Apparently he wasn't the only one who got lost at sea, but now they had no clue where they were.

He clumsily walked up to Caren as she waited for him at the foot of the hill.

"Look," Caren pointed at what appeared to be a group of trees in the distance. "There's a town over there"

"Caren, those are trees" Elias said dryly. Caren shot him a dirty look in response.

"What?" Elias asked. "What kind of creatures do you think would live over there? Goblins?"

Her facial expression changed from annoyed to questioning.

"You can't be serious…" He added. "We both know very well that goblins don't exist"

"No, you turd. Look!" Caren said, pointing at the trees once more. Elias looked closer this time. Behind the different kinds of trees, he saw shades of different colours. Bright orange, yellow, grey, red, white. Then the colours started taking shape: they appeared to be large mushroom-like structures, built in between the trees.

"Mushrooms? What the…"

Caren didn't answer his unfinished question, she had already started walking towards the settlement.

"Caren…" Elias started. She turned her head, but kept on walking. "Are you sure this is a good idea? Maybe we shouldn't disturb the goblins. What if they don't like humans?"

"Oh, so now you do believe goblins exist?" She laughed as she put more distance between herself and Elias. He sighed and started following her reluctantly. No good was going to come of this, he was sure of it. He just wanted to go home.

The two of them walked side by side for a while. They came across one mushroom-shaped house, that just stood there, in the middle of the grassy plains. There were a few trees here and there, but nothing else. Caren walked up to the house with Elias in her wake. She was about to knock on the door when Elias saw something move in the corner of his eye. He had to blink two - no - three times to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him. About two feet away from them stood a snail. Now Elias wasn't afraid of snails - at least, not the snails he knew from home.

This snail, however, was huge - for a snail. It was about a foot high, with a white, slimy body and a deep green shell, and it continued crawling towards them. Caren eyed it cautiously, but Elias wouldn't wait for it to come and get them. He frantically searched the ground, and found a rock about the size of his palm. He chucked the rock towards the snail, which hit right below its left eye. He half expected the snail to become angry, but the blow seemed to have weakened it. Feeling a bit more brave now, he threw another rock. When the second rock hit the snail, something strange happened: the snail yelped, and then the creature seemed to dissolve into thin air. Only the shell was left behind.

"Now that's… odd" Elias said. "Where did it go?"

As Caren picked up the shell, items fell out of it. There were a few coins, and a small vial that seemed to contain some kind of red fluid. Was that blood? Elias didn't dare to touch it. Caren did, however. She picked up the coins and the vial and put them in the pocket of her hood.

"I don't think anyone's home" She said, nodding at the house. "So let's keep going"

This place was odd. That much San knew. After being attacked by multiple giant snails, she finally managed to reach the edge of the town. As she came out of the woods, she saw the sign that stood by the side of the road. 'Amherst', the sign said. That must be the name of this place. This town was just as odd as the rest of the area she had seen so far. Literally every building here was in some way shaped as a mushroom. San thought it was insane, yet it seemed to fit in a place like this. Cautiously, she started making her way to the crowded town square.

"Are you okay?" A voice asked. A middle-aged woman with wavy, blonde hair and large brown eyes had appeared in front of her. It was then that San realised she must look awfully lost and painfully out of place.

"As a new explorer, you should look up the town chief. His name is Lucas. He can tell you where to go."

"Explorer…" San tasted the word in her mouth, then thought better of it. "But I was in an accident," She told the woman. "I'm not supposed to be here. I just want to go home."

"Oh, that's unfortunate. Perhaps Chief Lucas can help you go home. You should talk to him."

San sighed. Going home wasn't going to be an easy task from here, that much she knew.

She turned to the woman. "Where can I find him?"

The woman pointed to a bearded figure, dressed in white robes, standing in the middle of the town square, surrounded by people. "That's him."

Not wanting to waste more time, San walked up to him in a second.

"Chief Lucas?" She asked hesitantly.

The man turned his head and looked her way. The people around him followed his gaze and San suddenly felt nervous with all these eyes on her.

"Oh, look, a new explorer." Chief Lucas spoke warmly. "How can I help you?"

"I'm not an explorer," I started. "I ended up here by-"

"She might be one of those Black Wings" an elder lady hissed as she eyed San suspiciously. Her words stirred up the crowd, that suddenly looked at her with fear and anger. San heard the whispers as they grew louder, but she couldn't make out what any of them said.

"Oh come on," Lucas hollered with a voice that rose above the crowd. "Would you really think a member of the Black Wings would show up here in the middle of the day, unarmed?"

Nobody answered. An awkward silence hung over the crowd.

"Alright." Lucas eventually said. "No reason to panic." He told the people around him. Then he addressed me. "Perhaps you and I should talk in private."
San wasn't sure if she should fear for her life or not, but she followed Lucas anyway as he headed into the one of the many mushroom-shaped houses.