On the Road Again
The land before him was slow to change, lost to time and that vast sea of green. For four nights and three days he saw nothing but that ocean of grass, with the mornings welcoming him with the rise of cascading color off of opalescent shells and nights followed by silvery orbs. Both above and around. He happened across Hu Jass on the second day, doing his best to look ragged, and explained to him the horrible events that had transpired to his company. They were ambushed as they made their way to Ralai by the dreadful dregsao, and, though he wasn’t sure of the fate of the others, he made it this far and was on his way to deliver this message. Hu believed him and offered two skins of water and a bit of dried fish sticks before continuing on to Leyshun, completely unaware of the discourse that has rooted and corrupted it.
As the days drew on, he noticed that the grass seemed more rugged, darker and twisting upon itself. From there, it wasn’t too much longer before he saw trees. Actual trees, not the zombie trees that were grown behind the falls. He couldn’t be sure, but the foliage even looked different, more oval-shaped leaves than the jagged arrowheads those dying branches gave off. However, he had a very real fear pass through him, a dread that only deepened as he drew ever nearer to them. He was certain of the ecosystem in the plains... Forest? What sort of nasties waited in there? After all, something must prey on those bugs... and something must prey on that.
But he couldn’t stop now. There was no going back. He had no one to protect him now nor stand up for him except Naiyala, whom already had a target on her back thanks to her parents. Though these people say they leave everything from the day before behind, Naiyala, herself, was leaving proof that even these beings know vengeance... and retribution. Nick wondered if she was even still alive; they must have noticed her helping Goshu get away, but he supposed they would consider it being “coerced” by him, using her to get away.
Oh, how he wondered how Sur would talk with her about the dangers of her infatuation, how quickly she bent over backwards to listen to his every whim... and how his face would pale and green when he heard her say he promised they would meet again. Surely, by now, word reached back to them of the slaughter of the other three. There were plenty of traders he passed and gave his message to see to that. How many would see it as hog wash... Rather, how many would see it as justice, as karma, or even as cruel, for denying them the chance to sever Goshu limb from limb? Rylo was the smartest of them, and that was not opinion but empirical fact. Nick stayed in that city long enough to see most didn’t even have a candle wick left in their heads to light, and the ones that did... well, he took care of that. Save for Naiyala, but he set a different fire alight in her, so she was effectively neutralized.
He got another chill from the thought and thoughts that followed, this one of pure glee. For so long he had made plans, set things in motion, but, for once in his whole life, one managed to go exactly as he hoped. He was finally in complete control, and was advancing his goal. It was downright... orgasmic with how euphoric it felt. And now, he was going to do the same thing all over again in a new city. This time, though, he had a much deeper plan in mind, one that shall change this world completely and utterly.
Before that, though, he had to make it through the forest. He made it by nightfall on the eighth day, wanting even less to do with that woodland than he did before. The trees had an almost eerie glow about them, their bark surprisingly pale for seeing sun all day. In fact, it was surprising how white they were to Nick; during the day, they were much darker, almost black as coal. At nights, though, he noticed that they did turn white, as if, with the suns gone, their very essence was drained until morning came again –once again, a stream of thought that did not make it endearing to enter.
He made it this far, though, and, considering how alien he looked to the aliens, he could only hope that he would be treated with as much wariness as the cats had before. Now, more than ever, he wished that... whats-her-impaled-face hadn’t destroyed his phone, though what good could it have done him now? It was already low on battery, at seventeen percent when he last used it, so it would have been long gone by now. Instead, he wished he had brought Nosu’s spear or Goshu’s knife, but it was only him in all his glory... and loafers.
Yet he dawdled at the edge of the forest still, looking into its pitch darkness. Wind whistled through it, shrieking softly, like a thousand tiny horses, as it stirred those limbs, crackling and groaning seemingly from his very presence. The blue orb above was only a slit this night, along the western face, signaling that it was almost the end of the month. He tried to recall the day on the phone, all those months ago, wondering if, by chance, if it was close to October now in relativity, if it would be cruelly ironic now to be on the precipice of true horror in a new land in the month it was glorified.
Sadly, he could not remember, and he had done enough bellyaching. He took a long, deep breath, breathing in those shrieks, those groans, that fear of him, and expelled it back. He gave them a taste of his own, loosing it all upon the graven wood, steeling his resolve. The wind went still a moment, purely coincidental, and came back to its normal speed, whistling and shrieking around him as he descended into that abyss. It wasn’t for long, though; the darkness held for the first few yards, but then it split, severed by the mushrooms he had seen in the mine, now lighting the way like little streetlamps all the way to the other side.
Out in the open, the mushrooms didn’t give off as much light, but they were more than enough to lighten Nick’s step. What fear he had was kept at bay by those pulsing beauties, illuminating to the first level of branches that crossed and connected over. He could see eyes, great orbs above, leering down at him, but they did not belong to any cat he met before. Those were birds’ eyes, owls; he could just make out their silvery plumage in the dark, and how their heads moved was still so surreal even on this planet. How the held on to the branches, though, baffled him the most; the orbs were almost vertical to each other, and kept that line as they watched after, as if they were hanging sideways.
Nick found it strange, though. Why would they be active now? Wouldn’t they be more successful if they were asleep at night so they could catch the insects come morni- he heard a ruffle of wings, and looked up. A fresh pair settled onto the limb above, but it was the crunching and frantic buzzing... dying off that gave him the answer he sought.
So they are opportunistic hunters, he thought. Can’t fault them... and that explains why those ants were so docile.
He felt a bit proud and revolted by that thought. If he wanted to be a parent, he would have stayed home and lived together with Her. However, he had bigger dreams than to pop out two kids and work himself to the bone. Though She accepted that and wanted to help him achieve it... He’d rather not linger on that anymore. She was long gone, and he couldn’t go back to her. Not now... nor ever.
He gasped, and scoffed as he wiped his eye, cursing at his own weakness. His feet thundered on the path, his pace renewed with such fire yet he couldn’t help but admonish whomever kept up with this road. Even through this part, it was pristine, and he hoped he would meet the masons in Ralai because he would do his best to make sure they would be the least effected in all that he had planned. They deserved nothing but the best for keeping it as clean and patched up as they possibly-
He jumped back, feeling more than anything else at the wind change. And he glad he did; right where he was standing a moment before, a large pale spider righted itself. No; not a spider. It was closer to a scorpion. It had large claws, the left significantly larger than the right, but the right was no slouch. It was easily twice the size of Nick’s head, their edges red, closing like castanets. However, their resonant clacking was only a mild boon they could offer, showing nasty spines inside their husks, also crimson in color, clashing against the pale blue of the rest of its hairless chitinous mass.
It had three eyes on the top of its “head”, octagonal in shape, and the trademark fangs that their horrific kind had, rubbing together as it lurched towards Nick. Those beady blacks glistened, and he could see its tail at the other end, a thick stump of an appendage, shivering as it dug into the path. The other six of its appendages dug into the stone as well, their spindly ends making sure they had grip, like a cat before it leaped. Sadly, Nick wished it was more kitten-sized than bobcat- but he had other issues. Specifically, the one that just plopped down in front of the other, where he had been standing before he leaped back again. This one was far closer than the other, though; it had ripped the tunic on his left shoulder, now hanging down and soaking up the blood from the spikes that managed to rip in.
The first scorp wasn’t happy about this interference, though. It leaped onto the fresh contender, the pair shrilling as chitin crunched and claws clacked. Nick wasn’t staying around to see how it ended, though, and went off on a full sprint. He heard thuds behind him, fresh clacks, fresh shrills as he tore through the rest of the forest. He did not let up. He kept going, as fast as he could, until the mushrooms faded into the darkness before bursting out onto the path again, welcoming what was left of the moonlight. Even then, though, he did not stop. He would not stop until that forest was a speck on the horizon, and he was surprised that he had the stamina to make that a reality.
The sun burst over the horizon, and he looked back one last time, quadruple-checking that it was little more than a stamp, and wasted no time falling and sliding on the stone. It might have hurt, but what his chest felt on the outside didn’t matter as much as everything felt on the inside. Cats he could handle. Large snakes? No big deal... Anything with more than four limbs, and he would run an entire country to get away from it. He hoped it wouldn’t ever come to such great lengths, but there was a day for everything... In this case, night.
So he laid there, on the road, panting... yet his chest was dead silent. His heart never ached, nor did it beat in his ears. His blood did, roaring its annoyance with how hard he pushed, but its supplier was as stone still. His lungs burned, yet that cold rock in between them would not budge. Not an inch.
“I should really get that looked at,” he mumbled... laughing, weakly, and spent a good bit of the day just laying there. He could have spent the entirety if a merchant didn’t approach. It turned out to be Phren Dav, who asked him what happened in exchange for a few more skins of water and fish. “Let’s just say I was rocked like a hurricane as I saw a good bit of action and was like a fox on a run. Could have been on helluva holiday somewhere, but I had to make from coast to coast.”
He was having some savage amusement from all the musical puns, but knew they were falling on deaf ears. One day, he will get satisfaction form this, as his father had from him with all of it. Until then, in his time in this alien nation, he must press on under those same suns, so he bade farewell and continued onwards to Ralai... He did ask one more thing of Phren before he did though, something most men usually never do: Directions... Was he happy to hear that it was basically a straight shot from then. His winds had changed.