Chapter 5: For Another Time
"Hey Maia, wake up!" Someone whispered in my ear.
I moaned, shifting a little.
A pair of hands seized my shoulder and started shaking me a little.
"Maia, get up! We're heading out soon!" Said Misty's voice.
"Wha…? We are…?" I mumbled, my head still swirling with sleep.
"Yeah! Now come on! Unless you want me use my wakeup call on you again…"
My eyes snapped open. I pulled my blanket off of my face and raised myself up a little. Misty was kneeling over me with another grin, bouncing up and down slightly. I looked around, somehow surprised that it was still dark within the cavern, but then I realized how silly that statement was. I frowned at Misty. "What time is it?"
"The Hero said it was around eight when he came back. It's probably around nine now and everybody is ready to head out but you. So come on!"
I held my head in my hands.
"Five…more minutes…?" I mumbled.
"Alright, alright, I'm getting up…"
I blinked a few times before looking back at Misty, who decided to stand up but continued to keep her eyes locked on me. I slipped the blanket off and sat completely up, pulling my boots toward me and slipping them on. Misty stepped aside as I stood up and I swayed a little too much to the side and fell toward Misty. She caught me and held me up, shaking her head. She led me to the part of the stand where our stuff was and allowed me to sit down on it. I sighed while shaking my head.
"Guess I'm still not up to strength…" I muttered, feeling somewhat disappointed.
"This'll help you with that." Misty said, reaching over beside her pack. She handed me a bottle of what looked like a health potion. I frowned.
"I thought you said you used all of your potions." I said, taking it from her.
"I did, but the Hero brought a few back from wherever he went last night. He's got enough for all of us just in case –"
Misty nodded. "So drink it, you'll feel loads better."
I held up the small bottle and stared uncertainly at the cloudy red liquid within. It sure didn't look like a pleasant drink, but if it was going to help me feel better…well, so be it. I popped the small cork and held it up to my mouth, tilting my head back and letting the red stuff flow down my throat. I nearly gagged as the liquid hit my tongue with a strange and slightly nasty taste that made me think of old clothes that needed a good washing. Misty giggled slightly at my reaction as I forced the rest of the bottle down until not a drop remained inside the bottle. I lowered my head, wiped my mouth and set the bottle aside, my face twisting from the taste in my mouth.
"Ugh…it sure has a weird taste to…"
My eyes widened. I let out a small surprised gasp as I suddenly felt a pleasant cool sensation fill my stomach and then quickly flow through the rest of my body from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. The cool sensation seemed to be stronger around where my injuries were, especially my head and the back of my shoulder. Just as quickly as it came, the pleasant cooling feeling stopped completely. I blinked and inspected my body, immediately noticing that I wasn't nearly as sore as I was a mere few seconds ago. I stood up on my feet and didn't feel the slightest amount of weakness, though my head and shoulder still felt a bit sore. I poked the bandages wrapped around my head and eye and twitched a little from the sting.
"Feel better?" Misty asked.
"Yeah…loads better." I said, feeling the bandages on my head with my hand. "My head still hurts a little, though."
"Yeah, health potions don't completely heal you, but they still do a pretty good job."
Misty grabbed her pack and swung it around onto her back. She then grabbed the hilt of her black axe and sheathed it on her back and started to step toward the now burnt out campfire. I watched her for a moment as she took one last look at the stands, presumably checking for any of her things she might have missed. She must have drunk a potion herself, seeing as how she still had all her bandages on her head but she had more energy and spirit. I grabbed my own pack and checked the contents inside and was pleased to see that all of my books and few other things were still inside and intact. I grabbed my ragged and torn cloak and slipped it on, surprised that it was still a tad bit damp. I then swung my pack over my shoulder, feeling a slight sting from it, and started to walk toward Misty. She gave me a look that I couldn't read.
"What?" I asked.
She pointed behind me and I looked, spotting my katana leaning against the stand. I gave Misty a sideways glance and grabbed the sword, hooking it onto my belt like before. I then went to where Misty was and stood next to her.
"Happy?" I asked.
"Very." She said simply. She then led me toward the entrance of the cavern. I gazed around at the empty space.
"Where is everybody?"
"Outside waiting for us."
"Had I really been sleeping for that long?" I asked, feeling a little guilty.
"Not really. I woke you up only a few minutes after everyone went outside."
"What, did you forget me or something?"
I stopped walking.
Misty stopped and turned around. "Okay, okay, so I did forget about you, but only for a moment because I was excited that we were leaving!"
"Gee, thanks a lot, Misty…"
She sighed. "Alright, alright, I'm sorry. Here, I'll make it up to you."
She approached me rather slowly and I looked at her curiously. She then wrapped her arms around me and pulled me into a tight hug. At first I was quite surprised, but then I relaxed and enjoyed the sudden comfort I felt from her embrace. Several moments passed and I felt a little embarrassed for some reason.
"Um…Misty?" I said, looking up at her.
"You…uh, can let me go now…"
She did so, patting me on the shoulders and giving me that large grin of hers.
She entered the still dark tunnel that was the entrance and I followed. I slid my hand along the moist bumpy walls of the tunnel to prevent myself from running into one, but after several paces I could see the light from the outside world at the end of the tunnel. I could hear the pattering of rain from outside as well as a few voices. The ground rose up a little and I was careful not to trip over any stray rocks as I really didn't want to get to know the ground better.
At last we were out of the cavern and my eyes were hit by the morning light, which was limited by the rainclouds above. I shivered as the rain immediately drenched my body and felt just as cold as the day before. Everyone was waiting huddled together outside of the cavern entrance with the Hero standing off to the side and surveying the surroundings. The family of three each had their own cloaks and the parents held their daughter close to them. The traders and the Guard didn't seem to mind the rain, however.
"Does it ever stop raining in Witchwood?" I asked, flipping my hood over my head.
"Not really." The mustached trader answered. "It tends to stop raining when night falls, though I have seen days in which the afternoon was bright and sunny."
"Those kinds of days are a rarity, though." The hat-wearing trader said. "I tell ya, sometimes I think that this place has been cursed with everlasting rain by a spell or something from the Old Kingdom. It wouldn't surprise me if it were true."
"Alright Hero we're all here now. Shall we get going?" The Guard asked, approaching the Hero.
The Hero was facing away from us and he stared into the distance as if he was looking for something there. He glanced left and right slowly and scanned the area with his eyes, making sure there weren't any threats. He then turned around and faced us, gazing at our humble little party. His eyes crossed over me and I felt myself shiver, but not from the rain. The Hero then turned back around and faced the path that led down toward the stones.
"Alright, follow me." He said softly. "Stay close."
The Hero stepped forward and headed down the path. The family of three followed closely behind him, then Misty and I, and then the two traders while the Guard followed in the back with his sword at the ready, looking this way and that for any threats. I suddenly heard the familiar shifting and crumbling of the Demon Door behind us and I turned to look as did the family and the traders. The Demon Door slid shut and the face of an old man stretched outward from the doors. After a little squirming and wriggling, the face froze and became solid rock once more.
We reached the split in the path and I could see one of the standing stones down the path to the left, remembering the bandit battle a day earlier. I started to feel nervous as I thought that the Hero would take us in that direction, but I was quickly relieved when the Hero headed down the somewhat congested right path. I looked up at the tall thick trees on the right side of the path, feeling somewhat paranoid by the darkness they created. The path winded to the right and left and soon I spotted the familiar wooden archway that stood over the path that led to the Temple of Avo. The Hero went under it fearlessly and we all followed him through the underbrush of the path.
Well, so far so good…
The path opened up as we reached the area of the Temple of Avo. The Hero led us down the path to the left and kept his pace while the rest of us except for Misty and the Guard were trying to keep up. I was starting to hate all the trudging we were doing on this path when a sudden thought came to my head.
"Ugh…why can't this Hero of ours just teleport us there with his Guild Seal?" I muttered to Misty, keeping my voice down so that said Hero couldn't hear me. "It worked for you and I didn't it?"
"Yeah, but it was just the two of us when we teleported." Misty replied. "Even though the Guild Seal is an amazing thing, it's not exactly easy to teleport nine people. There are limits to it, you know."
I felt disappointed. I looked ahead at the Hero, who continued to look straight ahead down the path. I gazed to the right toward the direction of the Temple of Avo and could just see it through the trees. I felt the familiar warm and pleasant feeling as I looked, but it wasn't as powerful as before. Once again I wanted to head back and see the inside of the beautiful temple, but circumstances are forcing me otherwise. I looked ahead and noticed that I was stepping a little too close to the father's heels and slowed my pace slightly.
"Ah, the Temple of Avo…" Sighed the hat-wearing trader. "If I had the gold to spare I'd visit that place every day."
I turned my attention back to our journey, seeing that the conversation was really over now. We passed the next wooden archway and into the deep woods that the path traveled through. I looked past the others at the Hero, who continued on at the same pace and only turned around to look at us to check if we were all still following him.
A foreboding feeling suddenly crawled up into my chest. I gazed around at the woods around us, taking care not to trip over any rocks or raised roots on the path. I glanced at Misty, and I noticed that her hand sometimes would reach for her axe mindlessly and that her eyes were darting left and right and up and down along the trees. A wave of cold washed over me as I realized that we were approaching the spot that Misty and I were attacked by the balverines. I moved closer to Misty, ignoring the stares I got from the traders behind us, feeling suddenly vulnerable. I eyed the dark trees to our sides and above and flinched a little at the raindrops that still managed to fall on me through the ceiling of tree branches. I looked ahead at the Hero, who continued on confidently, and wished I could walk in the same manner. I continued to listen for that terrible low growling under the crackling of thunder and whistling of the trees and could feel my legs getting ready to bolt if the need arises. The path twisted left and right repeatedly and each minute that passed felt as dreadful as the last.
After many long minutes later the pounding of my heart told me that I was still alive. I guessed that we had passed the spot that we were ambushed, which I suppose was a good thing. At last the path began to straighten out and I could see another archway with a more open area beyond that the Hero led us toward. I felt a little relief, but I still felt the danger all around us. The Hero glanced behind him at us as we walked underneath the archway.
Another checkpoint down, but still no sign of Knothole Glade…
The path was split into two by a small group of trees and a few boulders and stone pillars as it continued uphill ahead. The rain resumed hitting us with full force now that we had left the "shelter" of the woods. We followed the path up the hill, passing some more ancient crumbling ruins, some broken barrels and furniture that might have been left there for years and a rather frightening statue of some kind of gargoyle or demon that seemed to emit an unnatural red glow. The path became slightly congested but then it opened into a wide open area with paths to the left and right. The left led over a wooden bridge and toward a large door with round lanterns hanging over the path and each had attracted a small swarm of bugs despite the rain. The right path traveled through two bodies of water with a few glowing blue mushrooms spread around them, ones that looked identical to those in the cavern. In the distance I could see the path travel up a steep hill and switch back and forth and then went to the left. I stared down the path to the left, wondering what could lie beyond that door, but the Hero led us down the path on the right and toward the hill, passing a pond and a large pool to the right that looked pretty deep.
"Well, here's Witchwood Lake." The hat-wearing trader said. "I wouldn't call it much of a lake, though, being as small as it is."
"It probably used to be much larger than that." The father said, turning his head to the lake. "I bet there are still some good fish to catch in there."
"I could sure go for some nice fish right about now…" The Guard muttered to no one in particular. "A nice, big, juicy one…"
"I just hope we don't run into any rock trolls." The hat-wearing trader said, his eyes glancing left and right. "They're usually spotted around these parts. Fierce creatures, they are…"
"If we do, then so be it." Misty said confidently. "I've always wanted to fight one after hearing how tough they are."
I shook my head.
"I still think balverines a more dangerous, though…" The mustached trader said. "At least a rock troll can't turn you into one of them and are usually alone."
"But they can still crush your head into a pancake." The hat-wearing trader retorted. "In any case, I'd rather not run into either on this trip or ever again in my lifetime. Seeing them once and escaping with my life was enough."
I couldn't agree with him more there.
Luckily there didn't seem to be any signs of either as we began to ascend the path as it went up the hill to the right. There were large red, blue and green banners hanging on the sides of the path with some kind of symbol on them, symbols that reminded me of tribes that I've read about in my books. A few torches were placed on the path as well, somehow still alit through all this rainfall as well as strings of those round lanterns hanging between some of the banners. The path curved to the left and continued up the hill in the opposite direction and I could see another wooden archway up ahead at the top of the hill. I could feel a hint of fatigue in my legs and my breathing became a little harder, each step reminding me how much my body wasn't made for this kind of thing. We traveled under the archway and followed the path as it led into the dark woods again. The Hero stopped us briefly after the mother asked if we could take a short rest, which I was rather happy about. Oh, how I enjoyed taking a break from all this hiking stuff, but everyone knew that we weren't out of the woods yet…so to speak.
Checkpoint three…but how many were left?
After a little moaning and groaning, the Hero managed to convince us all to continue on…with a stare. We picked up our things and pressed on with a somewhat moody air about us. The traders however were a bit higher in spirit and said that Knothole Glade was not too much further, which in turn lifted the spirits of everyone else. Finally, I can put this whole mess of affairs behind me and get some serious reading done. Oh, and visit with Mum and Dad of course…
The Hero suddenly came to a halt. Everyone mirrored his actions except for the little girl, who bumped into the back of the Hero's leg.
"What's wrong, Hero?" The mother asked. The Hero replied by holding a finger up to his lips, signaling us to be quiet.
I stepped to the side to see what the fuss was about. The Hero had a firm expression on his face and his eyes were glaring hard at something ahead. Misty approached the Hero and tapped his shoulder.
"What is it?" She whispered.
"Bandits." He whispered back.
Something suddenly knocked into me from behind, nearly knocking me over. I quickly recovered to see the Guard pushing and shoving his way toward the Hero, who took no notice of him. I frowned.
"Oi! What did you stop us for?" He asked much louder than anyone was comfortable with. Everyone responded with a "Shh!" that he jumped at. He then looked ahead at what everyone else was staring at and his eyes widened, as did mine. In the distance much further down the path stood a lone, muscular bandit and as far as my eyes could tell he was facing away from us. My heart began to pound again, even though I wasn't moving.
"A bandit!" The Guard exclaimed, raising his sword up and nearly hitting the father in the face, who glared at him angrily. "He's in our way. Come on! Let's kill him!"
The Guard pushed forward and was about to charge, but the Hero threw an arm out and held him back by his chest. The Guard looked up at him, frowning.
"Take a good look to the bandit's left…" He said softly.
He did so as did Misty and I. I stared into the thick of the trees, but I couldn't see anything or anyone. The only things I could see moving were bushes and other vegetation from the rainfall. I continued to stare, looking for what the Hero was seeing. I was about to give up my search when movement caught the corner of my eye on the left. Some of the plants seemed to be moving in a rather unnatural way, almost as if someone was pressing against them. I stared hard and could just make out the shape of the top of a bald head with leather wrappings…
"More bandits…" Misty whispered. "I should've known…"
"Bandits never travel alone." The Hero said and the Guard stared at him. "They're probably trying to bait Guards like you into an ambush."
"What do we do?" I whispered.
The Hero turned to me, his eyes feeling like they were pressing me down. "Go hide."
Without another word or thought I threw myself behind a few nearby boulders and the others followed. We all somehow managed to fit behind said boulders and I glanced at each of us in turn, only to feel my heart drop a little. I peeked around the boulder to see the Hero, who was accompanied by Misty and the Guard.
"Misty!" I exclaimed, still keeping my voice down.
She turned around and looked at me, and then gave me a smile before turning back around. The Hero pulled out his bow, one made of fine golden wood and an odd shine to it. I saw Misty gawk at it for a little and it looked like she was going to try to touch it, but then the Hero pulled out an arrow from his quiver and knocked it in the bowstring. He slowly pulled back the bowstring and raised the bow up, aiming straight at the lone bandit. And then he let the arrow fly. It sailed through the air in the distance so swift that I couldn't follow it with my eyes and within the next second, the arrow tore through the bandit's neck, completely severing his head and his body was knocked away and down to the ground by the sheer force of the shot. A stream of dark blood came from his neck as the body met the ground and I quickly looked away and covered my mouth.
I heard the rushing sound of footsteps and whipped my head back around the side of the boulder, not wanting to see the carnage but unable to look away. Within the next moment several more bandits, at least four or five more, suddenly appeared from the bushes on the left to investigate the death of their comrade. It didn't take long for them to spot their attacker and the two with him and they immediately charged forward, yelling a battle cry with their weapons raised high in the air. One bandit hung back and raised his crossbow, but he never got to fire it as the Hero had already knocked another arrow and fired, piercing the bandit right in between his eyes. Misty grabbed her axe and the Guard readied his sword, bracing for the impact of the remaining bandits. Misty raised her left fist up and fire began to engulf it while the Hero sheathed his bow and equipped his glowing broadsword. He then cast a spell upon his blade, making it glow a fiery bright orange. He then vanished in a bright flash of light, reappeared in another and immediately slashed at one of the bandits from behind. The bandit's body flew through the air as some kind of force repeatedly hit his body three, four, five times and he landed with a heavy thud and didn't get back up.
Misty threw a fireball at the nearest bandit but missed as he did a rolling maneuver toward her. The bandit lashed at Misty, but she easily blocked the attack despite his strength. She knocked him backward and lashed out at him rapidly, locking her weapon with his. The bandit swung a powerful strike, but Misty dodged it and took advantage of the opening with a slash to his back. The bandit roared and retaliated with a ferocious swing behind him, but Misty ducked under the swing, raised a glowing hand and struck the bandit in the face with a bolt of lightning. The bandit stumbled backward while holding his face with his free hand, yelling in pain. He lowered his hand and looked at Misty with a menacing glare, but that glare quickly turned into a look of shock as Misty was already charging up a large fireball. She raised her fiery fist up and threw it, sending a fireball flying at the bandit and hitting him in his still wide-eyed face. The fireball exploded, sending ash and flames in every direction while throwing the bandit's smoldering body backward and flopping to the ground.
Misty then turned her attention to the Guard, who was nearby and struggling with a particularly HUGE bandit. She charged forward just as the bandit was about to strike the Guard and swung her axe, but the bandit heard her coming and blocked her attack with his cleaver. He kicked Misty in the stomach, knocking her down and then resumed attacking the Guard, who now had a new gash on his shoulder. Misty growled and brushed a lock of hair off of her face and quickly got back onto her feet. She raised her hand up and threw a bolt of lightning at the bandit's back, making him roar in pain. The Guard took advantage and knocked him to the ground with a swift and strong blow with his sword. The bandit got back to his feet, shook his head and turned his attention to Misty, who smiled mockingly. The bandit roared and charged forward like a bull, his cleaver high above his head. He swung downward at Misty and I shut my eyes, fearing the worst. I heard an incredibly loud clang that sent a vibration down my spine and I opened my eyes again. Misty held her axe up as the beefy bandit was pressing down on her with his cleaver, both baring their teeth from the strain. Suddenly a sword pierced through the bandit's stomach, making his eyes and mouth open wide with shock and pain. The sword quickly withdrew from his stomach and he clenched his gut as it began to spill blood onto the soaked ground. Misty then whirled around a circle, swinging her axe and slicing straight through the bandit's neck. His body collapsed to the ground with a rather sickening thud, along with his head, making me turn away and feel like gagging.
Misty stood up straight and the Guard lowered his bloodied sword. They both stared at each other for a moment.
"You know, I can take care of myself." The Guard grunted, placing a hand on the cut on his shoulder.
"Yeah…you're welcome." Misty muttered, turning away.
Misty jumped, as did I, when we heard a grotesque sound like something being slammed into something soft. I searched for the source and my eyes quickly spotted the Hero standing over a large bandit with two flags on his back, his broadsword firmly shoved into the center of his chest. The Hero wrenched his blade out and continued to look down at the now dead bandit, and then he scanned the surroundings with his eyes, slowly landing on Misty and the Guard. Misty looked around as well, probably checking for more enemies, but the woods had fallen relatively silent again. Misty then gave the Hero a thumbs up, who didn't seem to notice as he started making his way toward where we were hiding. Misty and the Guard followed him and soon arrived at our little hiding spot. He stood over us and took another glance at the surrounding area.
"Let's go." He said softly.
"Are we nearly there, Hero?" The mother asked. "I don't know how much more of this we can stand…"
The mother gazed down at her daughter with a saddened look on her face. The girl was trembling rather terribly. The Hero turned to her and nodded slightly. The mother sighed heavily with relief. Everyone stood up and followed the Hero, who had already started to head down the path ahead. Misty approached me, wiping the sweat off her brow. I stared at her, but she merely smiled and motioned for me to come. I did so and we followed the others and continued on, stepping over the fresh bodies. The Hero led the way, though he was now moving a little faster and he was continuously gazing around.
The path curved around a steep rock wall to the left in a wide radius and around the corner stood another archway over the path accompanied by a lone lantern. The trees hovered over us again, standing tall and without roots on their bases. A few rays of light managed to shine down through the trees' thick branches, providing a little more light for the dark path. Two large blue banners and a lantern were followed by a small wooden bridge that appeared sturdy enough. The river below was rather calm despite the heavy rain. We passed two more red banners and under lanterns that were hanging above and tied between the trees. We then reached a more open area and I gazed ahead, my eyes widening a little at what I saw.
"Finally! Knothole Glade!" The mustached trader exclaimed, picking up his pace.
The spirit in the air felt like it shot up to the sky. The traders rushed forward towards the large wooden gate along with the father and mother, who started to drag their daughter away with them. The Hero continued at his pace, seemingly not taking notice to them as they passed him and ran through the gate. The Guard chased after them without so much as a glance behind him. Only Misty and I were left with the Hero, who didn't seem to mind their running off.
"Geez, not even a thank you…" Misty muttered. "But…we're here! And it's not even noon yet I bet!"
I stared ahead at the large open gate of Knothole Glade. A smile began to stretch across my face and my heart fluttered excitedly. We made it! And we were both okay! Well, relatively speaking…but still! A sense of relief that I haven't felt since we had left Oakvale washed over me and I almost wanted to dash off after the others and enter the safety of the village. I looked up at the totem pole that towered over the gate before my eyes landed on a stone circular platform to the left of the gate. A familiar symbol was on it and I knew it must've been a Cullis Gate. I glared at Misty as we passed through the gate, but then we stopped as we were met by a pair of Guards in red uniforms.
"Hello there, sire!" One of the Guards said to the Hero. "Good to see you! And I see you've brought quite a few wanderers with you!"
"They must've been lost for quite a while, considering how fast they ran in here." The other Guard said, scratching his chin. "By the way, did you ever find out anything about why those –"
A low, dreadful howl pierced the air, making me jump an inch off the ground and sent a freezing chill up my spine. The two Guards bared their teeth, searching left and right for the source of the howl. The Hero whipped his head behind him toward the forest, his eyes fierce. My heart began to race again, this time out of fear.
"W-was that what I thought it was?" I stuttered.
"Close and lock the gate." The Hero said firmly, leaning toward one of the Guards. "If it attacks the village, blow the horn." The Hero then began to dash off back into the woods while both of the Guards nodded to each other and dashed off themselves. Misty stepped toward the leaving Hero.
The Hero came to a quick halt.
"Let me come with you!" Misty pleaded. "I can help you fight them!"
It wasn't loud. It wasn't even angry. But the Hero's answer seemed to have startled Misty as she looked back at him with wide eyes as if he had just insulted her. Or perhaps it was the stare he was giving her, his blue eyes firm and unflinching and clearly said that he wasn't going to change his mind. After a long stare, he quickly turned around and ran and disappeared back down the path, drawing his blade.
"Come on, you two!" A Guard suddenly said from behind me, making me jump again. "Get inside so we can close this gate!"
We did as were told and stood back away from the entrance and into the village, though Misty did so a little reluctantly. Three Guards began pulling the wooden gate shut with ropes, sliding across the wet and slick grass. They slid it shut and barred the gate with large steel bars, locking them in place. A crowd of villagers started to gather behind us as they watched the Guards run back and forth, making absolutely sure the gate was securely shut and that nothing was going to break through it. Misty watched with narrowed eyes.
"I can't believe he just went out there alone…" She said softly, folding her arms. She then turned to me. "I should be out their helping him!"
"It's for your own good…" A Guard said standing near us carrying a crossbow. "Besides, he's one of the greatest Heroes who ever lived! Probably even better than the woman that statue represents! I'm sure he'll be fine against those balverines or whatever that was out there."
Misty and I gazed up at said statue behind us. I gazed up at the stony woman who held the biggest axe I had ever seen. She was rather thin and wore a robe or cloak of some kind that looked a little like my own. I looked at the base of the statue and spotted a name engraved into the stone, reading "Scarlet Robe."
Wait…I had heard that name somewhere before. Yes, in one of my books I believe. She was a great Hero a long time ago who killed many balverines and even became champion of the Arena. But in my book it said that she had put her Heroic days behind her and lived a quiet life. It didn't say anything about what happened to her or her family after that though…
Another howl sounded from the woods, followed by another, and then another. Suddenly I caught something out of the corner of my eye and spotted the girl running up the hill to the left of the gate with her parents chasing after her close behind. I stared in surprise as she quickly disappeared along with her parents up the hill and couldn't help but feel curious as to why. I took a glance at Misty, who was staring through the small window in a door to the right of the gate and looking out into the woods. I frowned, and then I felt myself running up the hill after the girl and her parents.
I ran up the somewhat steep path, ignoring the strain of my legs. I soon reached the top and met up with the family along with a Guard who was standing by some kind of large horn and looking out over the gate and into the woods, his crossbow at the ready. The mother was giving her daughter a good scolding, but she didn't seem to be paying any attention. She was looking out over the gate along with the Guard. I approached them slowly as to not startle them and earn a scolding of my own and leaned against the ledge on the Guard's right.
"Nothing in sight…" The Guard muttered, holding his crossbow over the ledge. "I sure hope that Hero bloke is doing alright. Whatever that was sounded pretty nasty…"
I gazed out into the distance, trying to spot any movement from the woods. The rain continued to pour, albeit a little weaker than it had been all day. Lightning crashed frequently above, making it hard to hear anything out of the ordinary. Several minutes passed without so much as a disturbance and the mother had finally stopped yelling at the girl for running off. She frowned as she continued to stare out into the woods.
I turned around as did the Guard, seeing Misty running up the path to us.
"Geez, I can't turn around for a second anymore without you running off!"
I ignored her and turned back around to look out beyond the gate. I scanned the wide area left and right, but I still couldn't see anything.
"Any sign of him?" Misty asked. The girl, the Guard and I each shook our head in turn.
"It's been a while now…" The Guard said softly. "It's been quiet since that last howl. You don't think he…?"
"He'll be okay…" The girl said confidently, earning the stares of all of us. "I know he will be."
We continued to wait for any sign of his return. Minute after long minute passed and quickly the air of doubt was beginning to surround us. I started to feel unsure myself as the time passed slowly. I felt the mood among us drop further and further, and then I noticed Misty sit up a little straighter.
"I think I see him!" She said, pointing in the distance at the path into the woods. "Yeah, that's him right there!"
We all leaned against the ledge, staring at the spot Misty pointed at. I narrowed my eyes, and could just see the movement of a lone figure that was walking toward the gate. I heard shouts down the hill from the Guards down at the gate and soon after they began to slowly open the gate to let the figure in. The girl turned on her heel and rushed back down the hill to the gate and her parents gave chase after her. Misty and I followed quickly and met up with them at the now open entrance to the village, along with the blue Guard and the two traders amidst the crowd. We all watched eagerly as the Hero approached the village and seemed to be carrying something in his free hand. I could see multiple bloodstains all across his suit, though somehow I didn't think they were his own. He gazed at the waiting crowd, and continued walking forward. He approached the waiting crowd and suddenly a few people gasped and screamed. I looked around at everyone wondering what was going on until I realized what the Hero was carrying; the blood soaked severed head of a balverine with silvery fur as pale as the moon. The parents covered the eyes of their daughter and I looked away, feeling a little uneasy still despite everything that I had seen within the last two days. I caught the stench from the head and felt my stomach turn. The Hero ignored everyone's reactions and tossed the severed head at one of the Guard's feet. The Guard looked at the head and then back at the Hero with a confused and disgusted look on his face.
"Blimey! What in the world is that?" The Guard exclaimed, stepping away from the huge head.
"A white balverine…" The Hero said simply.
Misty stared wide-eyed at the head. "Wow…a white balverine…"
I turned to look at her. "What…? Is it…special or something?"
Misty glared at me as if that was something I should know. "You don't know? A white balverine is like a huge step up from a normal balverine. They are much bigger, stronger, and dangerous. Like regular ones, white balverines can turn you into one if you are bitten, but they can summon other balverines to their aid. But they're said to be extremely rare…"
"Well said, there." Said a voice from behind us, making everyone face the other direction.
Not too far away behind a few villagers stood a tall man with a balding head with a long braided ponytail that was graying in areas and his mustache was ridiculously long and tied together underneath his chin. His vest did a rather poor job at covering his bare tattooed chest with a protruding belly that hung over his dark green pants. He had two Guards standing with him and a growing smile beneath that strange bushy mustache.
"It has been many years since a white balverine had terrorized Witchwood." He continued. "That explains why all those wretched beasts have suddenly appeared in great numbers. Once more we owe you a great thanks for getting rid of this recent nuisance, Hero. For a while I thought that no one was going to help us. And also an extra thanks for finding and escorting the missing people back to the village. You really are the Hero that I remember you as, at least as far as my memory serves."
The Hero stared for a moment, and then merely nodded slightly, without expression. A Guard approached the man from his left and whispered something into his ear and the man smiled.
"As much as I would like to reminisce on the past, I have other matters to attend to. It seems the game master in the tavern is causing a ruckus again. But first…"
He signaled another Guard and pointed at the white balverine head. The Guard looked at him questionably, but then he frowned, went over to where the head lay, and picked it up with the tips of his gloved fingers as if he tried to touch the least amount of the head as possible. He then returned to the man's side.
"I'll just add this to the collection of Knothole 'trophies.' Again you have my thanks, Hero, and I'm sure those you helped would like to thank you as well." He motioned at us with his hand. "Farewell, Hero!"
The man waved, turned on his heel and walked up the hill past the statue of Scarlet Robe and out of sight. The small crowd that had formed had started to disperse and resumed in carrying on their normal lives. I started to wonder who exactly he was, someone of power I assume, when I felt movement behind me. I turned around to see everyone in our group surrounding the Hero, minus the blue Guard, who gazed at us all unflinchingly and his eyes seemed to say that the attention he was getting was rather unnecessary. The two traders approached him first.
"Well, I guess this is it, Hero." The mustached trader spoke. "Can't say this has been the most enjoyable experience, but this is nothing I plan to forget in a long time!"
"Indeed, this'll be a story to remember throughout the rest of my days!" The hat-wearing trader said. "I can't wait to tell this tale to others in the future; the day I went adventuring with the greatest Hero of all time!"
"You have our thanks, Hero. But I'm afraid that's all we can give you."
"Unless you are in need of some of our supplies, as they are the only things of value on us at the moment."
The Hero shook his head.
"In that case, you must excuse us as we have a little delivery to make at the shop. Though I think the shopkeeper will be upset that it's a bit late."
"Ah, he'll make do." The mustached trader shrugged.
The two traders bowed low to the Hero, who looked at them with raised eyebrows. They then turned to Misty and bowed to her as well.
"Thank you as well, Miss…um…" The mustached trader said, rising back up.
Misty looked taken aback, but then she slowly smiled. "Um…okay. It's Misty."
The traders nodded their heads. "Farewell, Misty!"
They turned and headed up the hill into the village after that other man and quickly disappeared. Misty stared after them with a confused look on her face.
"What did I do?" She asked me. I shrugged my shoulders.
We turned back around to find both the mother and father shaking the Hero's hand in turn. The mother looked like she wanted to cry while the father kept repeatedly saying something over and over. The Hero remained silent after receiving their thanks. He then looked down to see the little girl tugging at his pants.
"Will you come visit sometime?" She said, her voice a little high-pitched.
The Hero stared at her as if he didn't really know what to say. His forehead wrinkled into a frown and he stood silent, searching for an answer. The girl started to frown as well, her eyes growing sad.
"…Maybe…" He finally said. The girl's face didn't change.
"I think that's the best answer we're going to get." The father muttered, placing his hands on her shoulders. The girl continued to stare up at the Hero.
"I'm sure he's very busy, honey." The mother said, trying to sound reassuring. "He's a Hero, after all, and probably has many things he needs to do. I'm sure he'll visit when he can."
The mother looked up at the Hero, who now stared at her. She gave him a look that told him to give an answer. The Hero looked down at the girl, who was still staring at him, and nodded slightly. Immediately the girl's frown turned into a smile.
"Come on, let's go home." The father said, starting to drag his family away. The mother and daughter followed, but not before one last "Thank you" from them both. The Hero watched them as they walked up the hill towards their home. After they were a good distance away, the girl took one last look at the Hero before they disappeared behind a house on the corner.
Well, I guess that just leaves us…
The Hero then turned to us, using that same stare that I've already grown accustomed to. Misty and I glanced at each other as if we didn't know what we were supposed to do. After several long, awkward minutes of silence, Misty was the first to move and walked up to the Hero.
"So…I guess this is it, huh?" Misty said, scratching the back of her head. "I guess I still have a lot to learn about being a Hero, huh?"
The Hero blinked. "It comes with time. Besides, you're already a Hero to someone."
The Hero gazed at me and Misty turned around to do so as well. I felt my face turn a little red. He then faced the opposite direction and started to walk toward the woods while Misty and I watched him silently. There he was, walking away just as quickly as he first appeared. I desperately wanted to say something to him though, something I needed to know before he left, possibly for good. My mind clicked.
The Hero froze and turned his head to the side. I stepped forward.
"We never got your name!"
The Hero stood silent for a moment, seemingly searching for an answer again. He then said, "I have been called many different names in my lifetime…"
"Well…what would you like us to call you?"
The Hero gazed down at his feet and then he turned around again and looked me straight in the eyes. I felt his blue eyes pierce through me. "Just call me…the Hero of Oakvale."
We both whipped ourselves around to look behind us and quickly we spotted both of our parents as they stood not too far away behind the statue. Misty squeaked and dashed off to Mum and Dad. I stepped toward them, feeling like doing the same, but something stopped me. At first I didn't know what it was, but then I turned back around to face the woods, only to see that the area beyond the village gate was now empty and the Hero had vanished. I looked left and right for his presence, but there was no trace of him whatsoever. I sighed heavily and wiped some more rain out of my eyes.
"Maia, come on!"
I slowly turned back around to spot Misty standing with our parents and waving at me. I took one last look out into the woods before running into the arms of my waiting and worried sick parents.
I flipped over to the next page of A Hero's Journey: Volume One, enjoying the warmth of my parents' fireplace. It was strange that I was reading this book now, remembering how much I used to dislike this book and regarded it as my least favorite, but somehow I found it rather appealing and interesting now. Even though I thought that the constant flipping back and forth of the pages was a bit annoying I still found the whole "choose your path" idea kinda cool.
After reading about five chapters I decided to call it quits for tonight and marked my place in the book. I set it down on the nightstand that was next to the comfy chair I was in and leaned back into it. It was a little dark in the two story house with the only light coming from the fireplace and the lone alit lantern on the dining table. Misty and Mum and Dad had already headed for bed after a whole two day's worth of catching up. Misty and I had done our best to describe our little "adventure" without upsetting either of them and left most of the gruesome details out altogether, as well as the whole "dying" bit…
I took a deep breath of the cool night air from the open window nearby and sighed. I could feel sleep getting a grip on me, but I felt that I still needed to do something before the night was over. I glanced at the nightstand again and quickly spotted what it was; a somewhat thin notebook lay next to A Hero's Journey, seemingly waiting for me to pick it up and open it. I leaned over and slid it toward me and placed it on my lap. Out of all of my books, this one is my most precious.
I opened it, scanning the various notes and walls of text that I had already written inside, some old and others new. I flipped the pages until I spotted the one that I needed, but then another thought came to mind. I marked the current page by folding the corner down and flipped to a blank page. I leaned over in the chair on the right and rummaged through my pack and pulled out a quill and wrote "The Hero of Oakvale" at the top of the page and underlined it. Then I paused in thought. As much as I would like to write about the Hero I had met, I really didn't know anything about him. Nothing about his life, his family, his accomplishments, his goals, I don't even know what kind of food he likes. I had asked some of the local villagers about the Hero, but the only things anyone knew were things like what he had done for Knothole Glade and numerous tales of his feats. But I needed more stories, more facts about the Hero who saved my life, and had turned up somewhat empty-handed despite of everything.
I flipped back to my marked page of notes and text. I sighed, somewhat disappointed, but renewed with determination. I guess that'll just have to be a story for another time…