Dwindling Foes (Part I)
“It seems, the company of masked men have some fight left in them. What say you, dear elves? Are you starting to feel threatened by their presence?!” Gimofel shouted. “Oh, wait. But one creature… is more threatening, isn’t it? And here it comes, sneaking around trying not to waken it’s prey. Oh, the sneaky and mighty Snake!”
They stared at the holographic image floating on the vapor in front of the tiers. Elmator kindly explained to Catherine how the trees in the canyon were enchanted with a spell that allows them to project whatever is happening within their surroundings. This is how they follow the events during night time. Though the moon shines ever brightly in Valhalla and though the elves have keen eyesight, keeping track of everything that occurs under thick branches of trees was still quite difficult.
“It’s slithering closer and closer. Will the Nothodon remain unaware? But there it is, the fire of helonios in the bonfire.”
Catherine watched the screen as the crackling flames turned into the shape of an elf archer firing arrows at the Snake as it glided by. The sleeping elves were awakened and the Nothodon roared to life.
“What is that?” she whispered.
“The Fire of Helonios, a defensive incantation. It is casted into the fire to serve as a watchman over the caster and his crew. Should anyone attack them, the fire turns into an elf and defends them by shooting flame arrows at the attacker,” Prince Hanariel replied.
“The sneak attack didn’t work. We all know that was the Snake’s specialty. But now it has no choice but to attack the Nothodon head on. Oh, wait. No, certainly not head on. It’s climbing up into the tree faster than a bolt of lightning!” Frinamdel said deliberately detailing every move the Snake makes.
“Oh, but he won’t be able to escape. The Nothodon is in pursuit, it’s banging the large tree over and over again. It’s going to fall now. And boom! The Snake falls with it!”
Catherine closed her eyes, the Nothodon was now biting the Snake’s flesh while it wailed.
“The Snake is going to fight back. Yes! Dear elves, watch as it coiled its body around the Nothodon. Who’s going to win? Will the Nothodon be able to break free or will the Snake strangle it to death? Here comes the elf riders. They threw their loadstone blades at the Snake. Wait, it got repelled by a wind spell from the Snake’s riders. This is getting more interesting.”
The two elves shot arrows using their infinity quivers but still it got repelled by another wind spell. Since using their weapons was useless, they decided to fight fire with fire. The three Nothodon riders held hands, while reciting some strange words. Spiny stones came flying towards the Snake. But the Snake rider’s countered by flinging their loadstone blades, controlling it from afar, chasing every stone and slashing it to bits. Rubble rained down on the two behemoths. The Snake still got the Nothodon in a deadly lock, weakening it, before delivering the finishing blow and bit it’s neck, injecting poison to its blood.
The deafening sounds were heard all the way back to Rebecca and her friends. She was busy helping Claus bandaging some cuts Eris and Demelov sustained from their altercation with the Bison and it’s riders. The rest stood immobile quietly listening to the screams that were emitted by another creature, no doubt getting eliminated.
“Well, it seems like we are not the only ones having a rough night,” Ink said.
“Do these creatures even sleep?” Sebastian added.
“There are some who prefer to hunt at night,” Frank answered.
Demelov grunted, “Like you.” Claus was finishing the knot of the cloth wrapped around his biceps. He sustained a minor stab from the spine of the Guntheri when he jumped in front of it’s face.
“In any case, it is to our advantage if they fight and eliminate each other. Judging from the sound, they are no more than ten kilometers away from us. We could easily cover that distance and reach them. Remember, our goal is to win and acquire the Vertigo Forest,” Claus said.
“So, do we go after them now or do we wait till morning?” Frank asked.
“I believe it would be best for us to rest for the night,” Claus answered, looking at Eris who is quite exhausted from the fight. “You did a great job Eris.”
“Thank you, Master Claus,” he replied humbly.
“I think it’ll be best to heed Rebecca’s advice. No need to refer to me as master all the time. You have outdone yourself despite of your condition. And I am truly grateful. You are not different to me at all. To me, you are no longer just a servant.”
“You honor me too much, Master Claus. And my condition has been better ever since that day Lord Fillias helped me,” Eris replied.
Ink and Marty shared the same look of disbelief. They have heard about Lord Fillias from the stone masons. They have known almost everyone at the quarry since they were little. The people they cared about worked there. It wasn’t the best of place to be working an eight to five job, if you asked them, but it’s not like the peasants could be picky when they can’t be accepted anywhere else.
“Helped you?!” Marty asked incredulously. “Tss, that lord who owns the quarry and doesn’t even look after his laborers?” he continued spitefully.
“He is not that bad,” Eris defended.
“I don’t know about that Eris. He commissioned town defenders to watch over the stone masons and allowed them to beat the workers to death should they anger or cause them trouble. And by trouble, I mean, taking a short break after hours of lifting heavy stones,” Ink added. “Does that sound like someone who is not bad at all?”
“It is true that the lord owns the quarry. But he has no knowledge of the operations, he lets the other lords oversee these things,” he reasoned.
“Don’t play me for a fool, Eris. Whether he has knowledge of the operations or not, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a damn about the peasants that are working at his quarry. He wouldn’t even beat an eyelash if he sees a sentry guard beating up the unmasked.”
Eris stared at him and was quiet. Ink could feel his anger bubbling up.
“Oh, yes. You think I didn’t know? I heard from Catherine. He was there that day the sentry guards came looking for me at the quarry. He saw them beating up the stone masons. Tell me, Eris. Did he do anything about it? He has every authority to do whatever he wanted. But did he do anything?” Ink asked.
Eris was quiet. “Why couldn’t you answer me?!”
“It was because he did nothing to stop those men,” Ink finished bitterly. “He only cared about saving his own skin like the rest of you.”
“You watch what you are saying!” Demelov angrily said.
“What?! He is only telling the truth,” Marty seconded.
“Shut up, peasant!” he growled.
“Why should I?! Do you not like hearing the truth? Does it wound your ego to realize that your lot is worse than shit?!” Marty taunted.
Then all hell broke lose as Demelov punched Marty in the jaw throwing his borrowed mask off his face.
There was a collective gasp among the elves as they stared intently at the huge screen displaying Marty’s unmasked faced.
“What is that?!” one elf shouted.
“A hideous ghoul,” the other whispered.
“So, the stories are true!”
Catherine could hear the loud chattering that engulfed the stadium. She gazed at the screen, at her fiancee’s curly hair and enraged eyes and the tattoo on his forehead covering the mark of the undead. She didn’t see the same ghoul that the others could see. It didn’t disgust her to look at Marty’s face. Not only because she loved him. But because there was nothing disgusting for her to see, which reminds her that she was just the same as him. Should she remove her mask, right there surrounded by the elves, they will be grossed out and sickened at the sight of her. She will be scorned.
“Well, what do we have here? It looks like there’s an internal conflict happening in the group of the masked men. Or should I say unmasked too?” Gimofel said, peering at Marty’s ghoul figure.
“This my friends, is the true form of our guests! A terrible curse! Which should greatly remind us to never dabble with dark magic.”
Some of the elves demanded to change the scene on the screen. Move the focus to the other competitors in the race. They claimed it was sickening to see their form.
“At this rate, your friends are never going to win this race,” Prince Hanariel mentioned to Catherine.
“No,” she replied confidently. “They definitely will win... because they know that something indispensable is at risk.”
She said while looking at the mask that was thrown away on the ground.