Chapter 11: Terrors of the Night
We had all been walking for hours now, retracing each of our steps back to Hendon Myre. As I strolled forward with the horn strapped to my back by some vines Kana found, I gazed up at the ceiling of trees. This forest looked so foreboding when I first entered and now it did not seem as intimidating. It seems despite its quirks, the forest had a relaxing feel to it, but that was probably just because I had never been surrounded by trees before. It was just something about the trees and the sounds of the various wildlife rummaging and making their calls throughout the forest that made me feel at ease; much better than the noises of war and chaos back in Empyrean when Bakal reigned.
As usual, Kana was griping and complaining about all this traveling through the forest. It almost felt like my ears would fall off if I had to listen to her for five more minutes. She never complained this much back in Empyrean, so why now? If I had to guess, it was probably due to the fact that we were out in the wilderness and she was so fond of indoor accommodations. Despite trying to calm her down, Kana just would not listen and continued with her complaints.
I kept trying to tell her only a little more, but she just tuned me out, not wanting to hear another word. Eventually Seria tried speaking with her in her usual soft voice, "Kana, listen." Kana shut her mouth for a moment and looked straight at Seria as she spoke, "Let's walk a little farther so we can find a place to rest, okay? Do you think you can manage? It's not going to be that far, I promise."
I do not know what Seria did, but Kana immediately beamed at Seria's words and nodded enthusiastically in agreement. It honestly made me feel like Seria had some sort of special power to calm people down and it made me a bit jealous of it. Instead of calming people down, I always seemed to rile them up since I was a dragonoid and dragonoids had a bad rep.
Grubeck picked up his pace so that he could catch up to me and walk by my side, "I honestly don't know how you deal with Kana. My ears hurt from all her complaining." Grubeck grumbled.
"Yeah, I know she can be a pain at times, but she's good company. I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for her." I commented with a smile. I did hate Kana's complaining, but she did help me keep my cool in most situations and probably ended up saving my life by bringing me to this time. I owed her my thanks and sucking up all her whining was the least I could do for her.
We shortly found a nice clearing to set up camp for the night. Despite her groaning earlier, Kana was compliant in finding some wood for a fire. Once the fire got started, Seria unpacked our sleeping bags and we all snuggled within them, getting ourselves comfortable. The forest was pleasantly warm with a slight breeze rustling the leaves of the many trees that surrounded us. It was soothing and sleep was about to take us when it was scared away by rustling in the nearby bushes. Kana's ears immediately perked up and faced the direction of the rustling as we all emerged from our sleeping bags, curiously eyeing the bushes as well.
Everyone was giving me the look meaning that I should get out and investigate what exactly was happening within the bushes. Seeing how I was the only fighter here, I did not see a problem in investigating it myself as considering what we have already encountered within the forest, it was probably an enemy. I carefully crept up to the bushes and hastily pulled them apart to see what was lurking behind them. I was in for a surprise myself as I saw two older men jump back and stare at me wide-eyed in fright. One man had a short, round figure, wearing a long white shirt with some sort of green design on the front. He had a big, bushy, brown mustache and wore a small blue cap upon his head. I could not see his eyes as he wore a large pair of glasses with seemingly opaque lens. The other man looked older and had a strange tan and green get-up and wore something that resembled armor. The man had a long white beard and long white hair tied up in what resembled a pony-tail.
The two men stammered and looked at me with complete shock, trying to shield themselves from me. After hearing all this commotion, Seria quickly got up and walked over to me to see what was going on. She saw the two men cowering within my presence and quickly ran over to them. To no surprise, Seria knew who they were as it seemed she knew who everyone in Hendon Myre was. She talked to them for a bit in her usual calming voice until the two men calmed down. Seria then went on to talk about me and who I was, while the two men kept glancing at me, giving me suspicious looks. I could tell that the men did not trust me, but I was a dragonoid after all, no human would ever want to trust me.
After a lengthy explanation on who I was and what we were doing in Grand Flores, the men stopped giving me unsure looks of uneasiness and eventually joined us around our campfire. It seemed Grubeck knew who these men were as well as he immediately greeted them and they greeted back cheerfully. They sat down with us and finally graced me with their names. It seemed the one with the glasses was named Loton, an alchemist from Hendon Myre while the man with the white hair was a blacksmith named Cinda. We all wanted to know why these two old men were here in such a goblin infested forest and Loton willingly divulged all the information we wanted as soon as Seria asked.
"Well, Cinda was in here earlier and he lost his hammer and not just any hammer, it was a hammer made from a special type of rare metal he used to craft his weapons and armor. Not only that, it was a gift from his mentor, the former best blacksmith in all of Arad. I just wanted to come in here with him to help him look for it, that's all." Loton explained, "Besides, this part of the forest is special. I always wanted to investigate this part of the forest and now was my chance."
I raised an eyebrow at Loton's words. How exactly was this forest special? This was the first time I had ever entered a forest, but it did not seem like anything out of the ordinary to me. Loton apparently saw disbelief in my eyes as he continued explaining, "What I mean by special is that people have reported strange beings wandering the forest around these parts, yet nowhere else within the forest. I wanted to investigate them myself."
"Strange beings? Like what? Couldn't they just be goblins or something?" Kana asked inquisitively. Grubeck shot her a sharp look, clearly not liking being labeled under the category of strange beings.
Loton was not too sure himself, but he then relayed to us that these beings were not goblins, nor were they human. As Loton spoke, my mind drifted back to when I encountered Gabriel earlier in the day. Due to everything that had happened earlier with Shauta and Binoche, my mind was in disarray and needed some rest in order to recharge itself, thus I could not remember exactly what he said. What I did remember was that he mentioned something about creatures at night around here; were the beings Loton brought up the same creatures Gabriel told me about?
Cinda got up from his slight rest and began walking out into the forest once more, "It's best I get back to looking. I've got a large order of armor and weapons to create and I can't do so unless I have my hammer." Cinda stated, sounding a bit upset. This hammer must mean a lot to him considering it was a gift from his presumably deceased mentor. Cinda probably already came to the conclusion that finding such a small hammer in a large forest would be so difficult and it seemed as if he was prepared to be out here for as long as it took in order to find this hammer.
I got up myself and placed my hand on Cinda's shoulder, stopping him from progressing any farther. Cinda looked at me with surprised eyes that hid his disappointment. What I was about to do was the least I could do for him. I wanted to show the people of Hendon Myre and all of Arad that I was indeed a dragonoid, but I meant no harm. Surely helping people who were in need would prove to everyone my true intentions. Cinda looked so weary, which suggested that he was out all day searching for this hammer. I had an exhausting day as well, but I was used to having such tiring days when I was back in Empyrean.
"You look weary, why don't you sit down and take a rest? I'll go and find your hammer for you." I said with a smile, trying to show Cinda that I was not your usual violent dragonoid.
Cinda looked confused at my words, as if he was not too sure if he could trust me or not. He glanced back at Seria as if to confirm what I was saying was true. Cinda returned his stare back to me with now thankful eyes, "Thanks Archnir, I appreciate it. Helping out an old man like me; you're quite thoughtful." Cinda said as he walked back over to the campfire and sat down on a log he pulled up for himself earlier, "I'm going to have to repay you somehow when we arrive back in Hendon Myre."
I shook my head as I did not need any payment to do this. As long as he knew I was not dangerous and spread the word, then that was all I could ever ask for. As I began walking out into the forest I was stopped as well by Loton clearing his throat. I halted as he walked up to me and stopped by my side, "If you don't mind, I would like to come with you. I don't mind searching for the hammer, but there's also something I'd like to look at." Loton announced. He looked me over and a satisfied grin appeared on his face, "You look pretty strong so you'll be able to protect me from all the nasty creatures within here at night, won't you?"
I sighed and allowed Loton to come with me. I still was not too sure on his agenda within this forest as he still wanted to research these mysterious strange beings. I had a feeling that I did not want to meet up with these strange beings, but knowing my luck, it was not a choice.
We wandered off into the forest, making sure that the light from the campfire was still in view to make sure that we would not get lost. As we began rummaging through the bushes, hoping to find Cinda's hammer, Loton began telling me about himself. He relayed to me that he was a proud scientist in Hendon Myre and from the way he talked, it sounded as if he was the best scientist in all of Arad. He had an interesting quirk of getting excited over little bits of information as he talked. He mentioned something about researching the biological and neurological differences between humans and goblins and I had to end up slowing him down as he kept babbling on so quickly with excitement that I could not understand a word he was saying. He clearly loved being a scientist and almost everything fascinated him. Throughout the entire conversation I had an uneasy feeling that Loton was going to ask to vivisect me or perform strange experiments on me in order to study dragonoids, but thankfully no such proposes were made.
After searching for what was probably only thirty minutes, but felt like hours, I finally came across what I believed was Cinda's lost hammer. Loton himself seemed excited that I finally managed to find what was lost and I as I reached down to grab it, a hand suddenly shot out of the ground next to the hammer. Loton yelped and jumped backwards while I too flinched, shocked by what I was seeing before my very eyes. Soon enough a humanoid figure emerged from the ground and the entire area began to smell like decay. The figure's pale skin was flaking and peeling off its rotting body as well as large gaping wounds all over the figure, revealing the intricate piles of organs slowly decaying away within this creature's body. I was taken aback, never having witnessed such a sight before in my life. Loton stumbled back with me as he fell down onto the ground, lying in a pool of his own sweat and fear. No doubt if I could see his eyes behind those thick glasses of his, they would be wide open in terror.
This undead monster slowly stumbled towards us, moaning softly as it tried to reach out towards us with its rotting hands. Despite the shock of seeing such an unholy horror, I quickly brought my foot up and kicked it squarely in the chest, sending it flying backwards and onto the ground with a loud thud. Without hesitation, I ran up to the being and swiftly brought my fist down onto the creature's skull. Not to my surprise, the decay on the figure's body had already taken its toll and thus its head easily caved in on itself as my fist came in contact with it. The figure was not getting up anymore after a moment of silence, which meant that my blow finally vanquished whatever creature it was. I removed my fist and wiped off the gunk from the being's head onto some nearby leaves, hoping my hand would not being infected and end up falling off itself.
I was shocked to see that Loton had recomposed himself and was teetering over the creature's body, looking it over thoroughly. I guessed Loton was somewhat used to seeing strange occurrences like this as it apparently it did not bother him now. The smell seemed to not bother him either as he overlooked the figure, rubbing his mustache slightly.
"That was your first time witnessing a creature such as this, right?" Loton asked as he paced around the being's body. He took a quick glance at me and smiled while continuing his talk, as if he could already read what was on my mind, "This strange creature here is a zombie, a being that was formally living but due to magic or unknown circumstances, it comes back to life as a soulless entity with only the desire to devour the flesh of the living. I've heard rumors of some zombies wandering around this area of Grand Flores, which is the real reason I went out here with Cinda. I wanted to investigate these zombies." Loton rubbed his mustache vigorously as he went on about the zombie; it was quite evident that he was excited about subject matters such as these.
"Let me guess, you want to study why these so called zombies are rising from their graves out here in the forest, right?" I asked as Loton began slowly nodding his head even before I managed to finish my sentence. I had never seen a zombie before and I would be lying if I were to say that I was not interested in what was causing these beings to rise up form their graves. I was also a bit worried since everyone was sleeping around here tonight and I sure did not want one of these zombies to come over and attack us in our sleep.
Loton then politely told me to sit down and wait as he took off the small backpack he was carrying and took some tools out of it. Since the sun was almost set, the forest was already covered in a menacing blanket of darkness so I could not tell what Loton had taken out or what he was doing to the zombie, but whatever he was doing, it was probably something I would not be able to understand even if I tried. I was never good with science or machines for that matter since everything I tinkered with back in Empyrean seemed to just fall apart or not work at all.
Loton brought what seemed to be a small flashlight with him and used it to help his work, making it the second light source in the forest next to the campfire, which was already becoming obscured by the thicket surrounding us. Loton worked silently by himself as I patiently waited. I wanted to head back to the campfire, but I did not want to leave Loton out here alone, especially after what just happened not too long ago. I was sure if a zombie had stumbled upon the campsite, Kana would have been the first to fly over here screaming her head off.
Loton uttered a loud gasp and I immediately rushed over to him, questioning if something was dreadfully wrong. Loton looked as if he was taken aback, but I could not quite piece together why as the body and the area around it looked pretty much the same as earlier with the exception of the small pile of tools next to Loton. I asked Loton what he had found in a serious, concerning tone and Loton began to speak, "Archnir… this body here… it's the body of an elf! Or, at least, it used to be a body of an elf before it died." Loton's speech was a bit fast as he slurred his words together. As much as he would have wanted to hide it, I could hear shock within his troubled voice.
"I'm sure you're aware of the great fire that took place here long ago; the great mysterious fire that claimed the lives of almost all the elves. It seems as if these zombies are the remains of the elves that were engulfed within those flames! But something is wrong here… it seems a strange, yet powerful magic is causing all these zombies to come up out of the ground." Loton pondered, still speaking as quickly as he could. Loton scooped up all his tools and poured them into his bag as he stood up. He looked down at the body once more and sighed.
"I'm definitely going to have to study more into this subject matter. Something very strange is going on here and I'm going to get to the bottom of it! I must get to my lab back in Hendon Myre first thing tomorrow so I can begin conducting my research!" Loton proclaimed as all shock seemed to have finally left his voice. I still was not quite sure what Loton meant by strange as just seeing the dead up and walking was strange enough for me. I would have just left the explanation at just some sort of magic caused them to appear, but Loton definitely wanted to investigate more into this matter and I did not plan on stopping him.
A shrill scream disturbed our thoughts as we both quickly turned towards the direction of the scream; it was none other from our campfire. I quickly set off towards the campfire as Loton ran as fast as his legs could carry him in an attempt to catch up to me. That scream definitely came from Kana and if I had to guess, it was because some more of these zombies had appeared near there.
Sure enough as I reached the camp, a few zombies had collapsed on the ground, motionless and with several large sections of their bodies missing. A herd of these zombies slowly dragged themselves towards my group of friends before me as Kana was ahead of the group, smoke streaming from the muzzle of her gun. Terror was twisted across everyone's faces as they looked at the zombies dead-on. Their frightened faces turned towards me as soon as they detected my presence behind them. Immediately Grubeck came crawling over to me, bumbling on about not wanting to die, his words an incoherent mess due to his fear.
"Just in time! I can't take all of these on by myself so come on and help me out, will you?" Kana called out to me. Despite the fear in her voice there was also confidence; confidence in me, believing that together we would be able to take all these unholy terrors down. With no need for words, I boldly stepped in front of everyone and dove headfirst into the slowly approaching heard of zombies.
The zombies were slow and were not bright, making it fairly easy to take them down, the only problem lying in the sheer number of them swarming the area. I had to crush the skull of each individual zombie as I found out just knocking them around did not seem to faze them much. It only seemed after having their heads destroyed they would cease their movements. Even with Kana and I doing our best to take the zombies down there seemed to be no end to them. Seria and the rest cowered behind us, trying to keep their distance from the fighting while constantly checking around them in order to make sure no zombies were coming from the other directions.
The leaves on the nearby trees then began to frost over and the temperature began dropping rapidly. Curious by this phenomenon, I peered into the oncoming horde of zombies and saw on zombie in particular that stood out. Its skin was tinted a light blue instead of the usual sickly white and it had ice particles dangling from several parts of its body. My thoughts first arrived to the fact that it was some sort of zombie that knew ice magic, but I was not too sure until a voice behind me perked up.
"It's Ghoulgish! I've heard about a strange undead being whose heart is so distant and cold that its body in turn generated a frozen air!" Cinda yelled out, "I only thought of it to being a myth! Just what exactly is going on?" Cinda seemed both very confused and frightened on this matter. I still did not understand what the big deal about this was and disregarded it as some sort of affair in magic, but according to everyone around me, it was a rather big deal.
I did notice the sudden drop in temperature, but I would not let that stop me. As cold as Keraha's icy aura, but it was still tolerable by my standards. I fought through the crowd of zombies in order to come face to face with the one Cinda named Ghoulguish. I tried my best at attacking the frozen zombie, but its skin was strangely sturdier than the rest. Ghoulguish was a bit faster than the others, but it was nowhere near me in terms of speed, which allowed me to easily dodge its grasping hands and land blows quickly. The accursed creature would not go down no matter how many hits it took as time ran out for us. The zombie horde began creeping every closer to everyone else and Kana could only take down so many before her gun needed to charge up.
The air around Ghoulguish was bitter cold, making it slightly more difficult to move as well as toughening up Ghoulguish's skin so my punches and kicks were not doing as much damage as they should have been doing. I easily picked up and hurled Ghoulguish dozens of times, but nothing seemed to take the foul being down for good. My fears worsened as zombies began marching towards my friends from all angles, surrounding them completely. Even with my skills, there was no way I could single-handedly take down this many zombies without anyone getting hurt. I desperately fought against Ghoulguish, trying to take it and as many zombies as I could down, but the swarm never seemed to end. Despair began to creep into the eyes of everyone as the zombies closed in. Was this really the end of everything? Is there really no way to take down all these zombies and save everyone? As I too was beginning to despair, I heard a familiar yell.
A huge portion of the horde of zombies immediately toppled over onto the ground, motionless. There standing above them all was none other than Pungjin, "I was wondering what was taking you so long to return." Pungjin stated with a sly smile.
I was happy to see Pungjin here as he could help us take down all these zombies. With someone of his skill level here, we might actually be able to survive the night. Pungjin saw the frost covering my arms and legs from my battle with Ghoulguish and immediately rushed in and smashed Ghoulguish's head with his fist, breaking it apart. Pungjin moved faster than even me with the wind at my disposal and hit the creature with a blow at least five times harder. It seemed Pungjin had not taught me everything about strength and fighting.
Pungjin looked at me and nodded his head, "While you stand there gawking at my strength, you could help take down the rest and save your friends." Pungjin noted. I snapped back to reality and quickly turned around and dove headfirst into the mass of zombies, destroying them with my grabs and punches while Pungjin joined in with me.
With Pungjin's help, the zombies did not stand a chance and were soon all vanquished. The only thing that remained of them was mounds of decaying corpses left behind. Everyone was exhausted after experiencing such a fright and could only muster enough strength to walk just far enough so that the stench of the zombie corpses could not reach us. Everyone was amazed by my skills as a fighter and kept thanking me as well as thanking both Kana and Pungjin. We started another fire and all sat down, almost everyone falling asleep as soon as we set up everything. Pungjin decided to stay awake in order to make sure no more zombies would be after us, I would have done that job, but Pungjin insisted that I get some sleep.
Feeling a bit restless, I walked over to Pungjin who was standing vigilantly by us and leaned against a nearby tree with a long sigh. I wanted to show my thanks to Pungjin for coming when he did. If he had not, no doubt we would not all be alive at the moment, "Thanks for coming earlier. You really saved all of us." I admitted, feeling a little silly for thanking someone. It was not really my nature to thank someone; I blamed it all on stupid dragonoid pride.
"It was a good thing I came out here when I did. You were gone longer than I anticipated and I began to worry so I figured I would come in and see if something had happened. That pot-headed man, Manjin, right outside Grand Flores was keeping a sharp eye out for anyone exiting the forest and claimed nobody had left the forest since you entered." Pungjin replied with his voice being as stern as ever, "It is only natural for a master to worry about his disciple, is it not?" Pungjin looked at me with thoughtful eyes.
"I guess so." I said as I looked down at the ground, feeling a bit touched that someone actually cared about my well-being. It had been so long since someone showed care and compassion towards me. It was a rare for any of my brothers to show any emotion besides pity and frustration towards me so Pungjin's thoughts were touching, "Ah, that's right. I managed to get this for you…" I began pulling Shauta's large horn off my back when Pungjin held out his hand to stop me.
"Don't worry about that now, just get some rest. You've been fighting hard these past few days in this forest and deserve some sleep without worry." Pungjin said with a slight nod.
I removed my hands from the horn attached to my back and nodded. There was nothing else I had to say to Pungjin as I could not think of any words that would express how grateful I was that he arrived and helped take care of the zombies. I walked back over to where everyone else lay and decided to try and get some much-needed sleep. I believed that Pungjin was not only my mentor now, but my friend due to his earlier actions. All these people here were my friends now, which dwarfed the number of friends back in my time. I then slowly began to wonder if I really was meant to be in this time period rather than the other one.