Due to the size of the city of Maginia, there were several footbridges that reached down to the forests and plains of their new resting place. With so many, explorers and guards alike, rushing back and forth, the members of the Guardians waited until they reached the tree line before they gave Chi-hung a piece of clothing of their missing person.
They moved quickly through the crowds. Sunset was just a few hours away. Not much time to conduct a full search and rescue. And with an area so vast, not to mention wholly unknown, they may be in for a difficult time.
Hopefully, as Jhon paused to allow Chi-hung to take in the young medic’s scent, he would narrow down the search area quickly.
“All the information we have is that the young medic is searching for small flowers for medicine,” Axel said.
Lynus readjusted his bag upon his shoulder. “Those flowers flourish in open areas. It’s also possible that other medics and gathers were also searching for these flowers.”
Speaking with potential witnesses would either help them narrow the search grid further, or lead toward a red herring.
“Chi-hung seems to have caught a scent,” Jhon stated, folding away the handkerchief as the mighty white tiger sniffed the air repeatedly.
He soon narrowed in on a direction and moved forward determinedly. Jhon and Axel immediately moved to follow, while Tobyn and Lynus stayed just a few steps behind. Their usual formation whenever they ventured out into the field.
“As large as Maginia is, we best take note of our surroundings,” Jhon said as they ventured closer to an outcropping of trees. “I wasn’t expecting the area to be so vast.”
Axel nodded his head as he surveyed their surroundings, using his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. “It was a good idea to bring the Tharsian airships with us. We’re definitely going to need them.”
Having never flown in an airship, Lynus mused about how his first experience may play out. Hopefully it was a joy flight in hopes of getting used to the craft, and not another search and rescue. He also deduced that it would be far different to the turbulence felt within Maginia and the Heavenly Keep of Lagaard.
As they moved beyond line of trees and into a clearing of colourful wild flowers, Tobyn paused mid step. And raised his arm in front of everyone to pull them all to a stop. He kept his gaze forward, even as others turned to him in question.
“There’s someone over there,” he alerted them, his eyes suddenly narrowing as he swiftly revealed his bow and notched in an arrow. “Tch, there’s also a monster.”
Jhon immediately pushed forward, concern etching upon his face. “What?”
“I’ve got it,” Tobyn returned as he pulled back the string of his bow. “Keep an eye on the kid.”
Lynus immediately turned his gaze forward to scan the clearing of red and yellow flowers. The first thing he was able to see was a flash of pink. He soon narrowed in on the bright colour and noted that they appear to be that of a young girl.
Pink hair. Clothes similar to that in the description of their missing person’s report.
The next thing he saw was a blur of dark green and red eyes. An insectoid type of monster. It was unlike anything Lynus had seen before. And it was airborne, it’s target; that of the young girl huddled close to the ground in the middle of the field.
A bubble of fear appeared in Lynus’ chest, but he quashed it when both Jhon and Chi-hung sprung forward, Axel close behind them.
Being a fraction faster than Jhon, Chi-hung immediately placed himself between the young pink-haired girl and the airborne monster. He was soon joined by said blond protector, who readied his shield as a precaution. And Axel took a stance in front of the two protectors, his hand gripping the handle of his weapon in preparation to holster it at a moment’s notice.
Lynus lingered back with Tobyn, knowing full well that it would be better for everyone if he stayed away from the impromptu battlefield. He knew that Jhon and Chi-hung were more than capable of protecting the girl, and that if Tobyn’s arrow was not enough to defeat the airborne creature, then Axel was more than willing and able to rid of the threat entirely.
There appeared to be only one of the creatures, so they weren’t in for a long battle, he was sure.
As the creature continued its path, not faltering even as three more targets appeared. And before the surprisingly round and green insect reached anyone, Tobyn’s arrow struck true to its side. The attack so sudden that it stopped the creature immediately.
It fell to the ground with a surprisingly loud thud, right in front of Axel. Purposely done on Tobyn’s part. It continued to shriek as it kicked and rolled in the grass. It was clearly still alive, though it was possible in its death throes.
So, Axel swiftly ended its suffering with a single swing of his axe.
Lynus winced when he heard the sound it made. It was a sickening “popping” sound.
Axel looked at the green slime staining his axe with an expression of distain. He utterly a loud sigh as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe clean the blade.
“That’s a new one,” he said casually as Tobyn joined him. “An overly muscular fly, huh?”
Tobyn fiddled with his hat, he, too, staring at the mess with disgust. “Let’s just call it a Muscle Fly and move on.”
Axel chuckled. “Sure. No need to be fancy.”
Seeing that the battle was over, Lynus chose not to pay any more attention to the defeated monster. Instead, he and Chi-hung made their way over to the young woman while Jhon continued to survey their new surroundings with caution.
The young girl was crouched to the ground, her back toward the thankfully interrupted attack, her hands over her pink hair.
“Are you all right?” Lynus asked.
The young girl momentarily paused in her cowering and slowly turned her head in his direction. Her blue eyes were watery as she peered up at him. Her gaze then quickly shifted toward Chi-hung and her eyes widened.
Before Lynus had the chance to reassure the frightened girl that Chi-hung was friendly and benign, the young pink haired girl was up on her feet and stood directly before the white tiger.
“Woooooow!” she unexpectedly said in pure awe. “He’s beautiful!”
That was an unexpected reaction, but not an unwanted one. Chi-hung himself seemed mildly amused, if the flicking of his tail was any indication.
The pink-haired girl immediately eeped and turned her wide eyes in Lynus’ direction. Both surprised by her name. And by his presence, clearly enthralled with Chi-hung to notice anyone else. “Y-yes, that’s me.”
“Ah, good. My name is Lynus. We’ve been sent to find you,” Lynus smiled reassuringly before his expression folded into parental scolding. “You shouldn’t be out here all on your own. It’s far too dangerous.”
“B-but I’m not alone,” Birgitta immediately insisted. However, a mere second later her teary-eyed expression turned into that of concern. She spun around and frantically looked around at their surroundings. “Wait, where’s Laika? Laika! O-oh no, that monster must have scared him off.”
The fear and concern from the younger medic immediately made Lynus grow worried himself. The report hadn’t mentioned another. Had she found someone else along the way to pair up with?
“What’s going on?”
Lynus immediately turned around and sent Axel a concerned look. “It seems like the report forgot the mention the presence of another.”
“He’s like a brother to me,” Birgitta murmured aloud before she spun around and hurried to stand directly in front of Lynus. Her eyes were filled with tears as she gazed pleadingly up at him. “Please, help me find Laika! I can’t…I can’t just leave him.”
“Of course,” Lynus immediately reassured. “We’ll find him, too.”
“Do you have anything that belongs to your brother on you?” Jhon questioned.
“Oh, yes!” Birgitta immediately perked up and began to rustle around in her shoulder bag. “Here, this is his favourite scarf.”
Jhon retrieved the red chequered material from Birgitta. He made his way to Chi-hung and crouched down by the white-tiger’s side, a hand upon his back as he raised the scarf toward Chi-hung’s nose. “Once more, Chi-hung.”
The white tiger dutifully sniffed at the scarf, his nose twitching for a few seconds before he pushed himself upon all fours. He lowered his head to the forest floor, where loud sniffling could be heard. Soon, he began to prowl forward, indicating that he had managed to narrow in on a scent.
Jhon and Tobyn moved to follow the white tiger, while Axel stayed a few steps behind. Lynus offered his hand to the young medic, which she took surprisingly quickly. She clung onto his hand with both of hers, clearly frightened but willing to push forward to find her Laika regardless.
They quickly moved beyond the field of wildflowers and into the dense forest around them. The foliage was full and thick, the trees tall and sturdy. There was but a few paths through the dense undergrowth, so it was clear that it had been quite a few years (decades even) since anyone human had walked through these woods.
Lynus glanced up at the canopy above them with a sense of unease. Sunset wasn’t far off and they were moving through terrain they were completely unfamiliar with. True, they couldn’t just leave when they had the knowledge that someone else was missing. So he could only hope that they would find them easily and were able to return to the city before sunset.
The vegetation remained dense the further they moved and the light began to fade, which only increased Lynus’ concern. But then Tobyn, who was at the lead with Chi-hung, suddenly threw his arm out to his side, once more causing everyone to come to a complete stop.
“Monsters?” Jhon asked quietly.
Surprisingly, Tobyn shook his head. “There’s something up front. An opening.”
Once again, Tobyn shook his head as he lowered his arm and crept forward. His bow remained by his side, however, so his narrowed eyes were of suspicion and curiosity. “No. I think…I think it’s the gateway to a labyrinth.”
That earned him several sharp intakes of air from his companions.
A labyrinth wasn’t all that shocking in all honesty. Not with the density of these woods. But it was surprising nonetheless.
Silently, Axel shared a glance with his teammates before he nodded his head.
They needed to keep going. Laika was likely hiding somewhere within this labyrinth.
They had better move cautiously.
Pushing through a natural wall of trees and vines, the soft soil beneath their feet turned into harden stone. Paved stones. Square and flat. Definitely hand-made.
The vegetation around them suddenly cleared to reveal a stone archway. The stone was light grey, covered sporadically with moss and entangled with clinging vines and curious fern plants and red flowers. Etched within the stones were ancient symbols and patterns. Curiously, there were veins of bright, shimmering blue material threaded throughout the stones.
The blue veins of blue crystals emitted a mysterious energy. Something otherworldly, and yet so...earthly. Origin was that of the earth beneath their feet. Made with purpose. Yet that purpose lost to time. A time long forgotten.
The feeling of relevance draped through the air and around them like a cloak.
The ruins around them and before them were of some significance. The purpose, however, wasn’t immediately known. And would likely remain hidden to them for some time. What was known was that they were within the halls of a labyrinth.
And it was quite beautiful.
“This is definitely a labyrinth,” Jhon said with unrestrained curiosity on his face.
“Yeah,” Axel murmured, he too, gazing at their surroundings with interest. He, however, shook his head a moment later. “And that means there’s going to be more monsters. Stay close together.”
Tobyn took a moment to shrug off his backpack and pulled out a roll of blank parchment and a writing tool. “Good thing I brought my mapping tools with me.”
“It is,” Jhon said absentmindedly as his gaze shifted from the labyrinth and back toward the path they had taken. “The foliage is so thick, we can’t see beyond the next path, let alone Maginia itself.”
Unconcerned with the sudden change in their surrounds, Chi-hung continued to periodically sniff at the ground as he moved forward. Appeared that their new missing person was indeed hiding within the labyrinth somewhere.
Axel took the lead with Chi-hung, while Tobyn stayed a step or two behind him as he concentrated on his mapping skills. Jhon lingered back with Lynus to ensure the safety of the two medics.
Birgitta seemed blissfully unaware of their significance of their surroundings. She simply kept a tight hold on Lynus’ hand, staying close to him as she nervously gazed at their surroundings.
In order to ease the young girl’s unease, Lynus started a conversation on what this Laika was like and how long she had known him. Birgitta readily began to talk about him. And the way she prattled gave him the indication that they weren’t looking for someone exactly human.
“I see,” Lynus smiled as the turned down a long natural hallway. “What breed is he?”
“Shiba,” Birgitta immediately answered.
Ah, so they were searching for a beloved pet companion.
That was fine. Human or beast, or anything in-between; if they were a beloved companion that became lost, they will be found again.
He allowed the pink-haired medic to continue to prattle, nodded his head on occasion. He was only half listening, his attention directed mostly to their new and unique surroundings.
The stones with blue veins continued to shimmer softly, remaining the same as they moved deeper through the halls. The light was darkening, however, casting the dense vegetation in dark shadows.
They had better find Laika soon.
As they moved into a medium sized room, Chi-hung unexpectedly released a low purr and raised his head. As they turned their attention in the direction Chi-hung was moving in, they took note of a small, white dog that sat in the middle.
“Laika!” Birgitta squealed in both delight and relief as she promptly released her tight grip on Lynus’ hand and ran forward.
Lynus and the others moved to follow the excited young girl, they too, pleased to have find her missing companion. And they watched as she dropped down to her knees and threw her arms around the fluffy canine’s neck in a tight hug.
“Where have you been? I was so worried!” she began to prattle mindlessly. Laika, however, simply wagged his tail happily, seemingly unaware of the fuss he had caused.
As the reunion took place, Lynus and his guildmates approached the two and kept a firm gaze on their surroundings for any further threats. But as Lynus drew forward, a strange sensation, similar to that of a cold chill raced down his spine. He jumped slightly and he spun around to look in a northly direction.
That feeling…It was similar to what he felt whenever that peculiar wraith of Kyrell’s, Raven, would sit itself upon his shoulder without warning.
It wasn’t a threatening feeling.
Yet…there was something there that wanted his attention.
“Is there something wrong?” Jhon asked him, concern in his voice.
Lynus tore his gaze away from the small pathway in the northern wall to look toward the blond-haired protector. “I just…sense something strange up ahead.”
Jhon furrowed his brow slightly. “Strange? Like a monster?”
Lynus quickly shook his head. “No, nothing like that,” he reassured, only to pause a moment later, grappling with how to describe what he felt. “It’s…odd. I feel this…yearning from somewhere north of here.”
Jhon’s gaze flickered over Lynus’ shoulder, his brow is furrowed. His gaze then shifted to the canopy above them, taking note of the reddening sky above them. “I’m afraid we’ll need to come back later to investigate.”
Lynus immediately nodded his head in understanding. They still needed to escort Birgitta back to the city and they would need to speak with both Mueller and Princess Persephone about this…discovery.
Now that she had been reunited with the one that was like a brother to her, Birgitta settled herself down and pushed herself to her feet. “Thank you so much for your help,” she said in earnest.
“We’re glad you’re all right,” Lynus replied with a smile. “But, please don’t head out on your own again. Take an explorer or guard with you.”
Birgitta flushed lightly. “I-I will, I promise.”
“Then, let’s head back.”