Ask Mother Nature
Samantha woke up with a start. Her black hair frayed out everywhere as she smacked her lips. She sat up, groggy with her back hunched over. She had a good sleep! She fluffed up her pillow before falling back down on it. She hummed and moaned in delight as her head sank into the pillow.
“Bea, can you get me some tea?” Samantha mumbled. “And maybe some toast...?”
But there was no response.
Again, it was silence.
Samantha, panicking, shot up from her bed only to see that Beatriz was missing. Her eyes widened when she saw the blanket completely messed up and the bed unruly. She leapt out of her bed, searching for Beatriz. She flung open the cabinets, the door to the bathroom, and slid open the shower door to check. There was no sign of her. Samantha’s heart raced. Where could she have gone?
“Bea!” She dashed out of her room. “Bea?”
She then heard Brandon growl from the other room. “Luke, this ain’t funny!
The door slammed open with a loud kablam only to find a furious Brandon, fully dressed and with both his gunblades strapped to his person.
“Have you seen Bea?” Samantha asked. She shook her head in dismay. “I’ve looked for her everywhere!”
Brandon scowled. “Did the same for Luke. He’s nowhere here.”
“Do you think they went to the village?”
“Luke’s an early riser but he always he leaves a note.”
“Bea usually sleeps until 12 noon!”
Brandon nodded. “It’s possible. Luke does need his daily dose of sunlight –.”
Before the princess could say anything, the door opened only to reveal a grief-stricken Arkamedon. But what shocked the pirate and the princess more was that in his arms was Luke’s unconscious and limp body.
“Forgive me, princess. Someone had attacked the village last night.” He shook his head. “We didn’t hear anything and I only saw your dryad friend lying on the ground –!”
“—Luke!” Brandon rushed over and grabbed him from Arkamedon. “What the—?” He lifted Luke’s skinny body and pressed his ear against the boy’s chest. Relief flooded him when he heard Luke’s soft breathing and constant heartbeat. “Deus fuck... you stupid beansprout, you nearly gave me a damn heart attack!”
Arkamedon hung his head sadly. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only casualty. We found this,” – he held up a silver ring with a skull on it. “It was lying on the floor.”
Samantha’s eyes widened with admonishment. “Bea!”
“Where was she taken?” Brandon demanded. “And what the hell attacked Luke?!”
Arkamedon, distressed, shook his head and stammered. “I don’t know. I never saw anything like it! I don’t know where it went but I can take you to where I found Luke.”
Samantha swallowed a large lump down her throat. The village was attacked last night?! Why didn’t she hear anything?! She was normally such a light sleeper. Her hands balled up into fists as she shook her head. She could have helped Bea! The princess and the pirate exchanged glances and nodded.
“Take us there,” Samantha demanded.
Arkamedon quickly lead Samantha and Brandon to the area. The princess’ eyes widened when saw the damage. The wood panels have been splintered. The tree barks were burnt. Her nose wrinkled as the smell of smoked flesh filled her nose. She let out a loud snort until she saw that the wood had been corroded as well. Her eyes widened at the damage left behind. Samantha squatted down for a closer look.
“It looks like some sort of... acid,” Samantha squinted to get a closer look. “I’ve never seen it before.”
Brandon looked around. “Whatever was here must’ve been something huge.” He pointed to the splintered branches and trees. He then brushed his finger against the bark. “Yeah, Luke was here alright. He’s the only one I know that could command a tree to attack.”
“But the tree didn’t attack.” Samantha shook her head. “Trees cannot do that!”
“Not if they’re influenced by the power of a dryad.”
“Wait, are you saying –?”
Brandon nodded. “Whatever was here, it forced Luke to go full-on dryad. It takes a lot to force him to fight with brute force. His most common weapon was his mind rather than his powers.”
Samantha swallowed nervously. “How... how terrifying do you think it is?”
“To be honest,” the pirate shook his head as he looked at the damage all around them. “I don’t think I want to know.”
Samantha shuddered at the thought. She saw the village floors damaged by the fight and also the scorch marks on the trees. She hugged herself and strolled through the crime scene only to see a pool of blood on the panels. She pressed her palm against it. It was still slightly sticky but also a bit dry. She scratched the wood a bit to see the blood caught in her nails. It was red.
“Brandon,” Samantha asked. “Have you ever seen Luke bleed?”
Brandon stared at her with a bewildered expression. “Once or twice. What kind of fucked up question is that?”
“What colour was his blood?”
“His blood? It’s a little pinkish. Not like bright blood red kind of red. Why?”
Samantha shook her head. “That means the one who bled out here was Bea.” She showed him her fingernail. “I managed to scratch it off some of the boards.”
“Can’t you find her via mana?”
“I can’t pinpoint but I think I can find the trail.”
“Who taught you that?”
“Councilwoman Kara. She was one of my first teachers in magic.”
Samantha closed her eyes. She exhaled deeply. She remembered the strict lessons she had with her teacher. She focused on all the mana around her, revealing all sorts of colours. Ribbons of mana flashed in the air, coming from different sources. Trees had a green mana, the sun had a golden ray of mana, Brandon’s swords had a blue mana emitting out from it, and Arkamedon’s was orange. She then focused on the other ribbons until she saw a midnight blue to black ribbon glowing in the light.
“There!” Samantha grabbed the ribbon. But much to her surprise, the ribbon suddenly started to dry up and wither before cracking into dust in her hands. “What the...?”
Brandon shook his head. “I’m guessing you lost her tracks.”
“B-but it was here! I had it in my hands!”
“That means something’s messing with you, lass. Got any other spells that could work?”
Arkamedon offered cheerfully. “I can send out scouts to find the trail.”
Samantha beamed. “That would be wonderful. Thank you,” she bowed gratefully.
“The pleasure is mine, princess.”
“Wait, how did you know–?”
“–Sandor was kind enough to inform me.”
Samantha nodded with her mouth forming a small “o”. “Ah, I see.” She then turned to Brandon. “I think we should go check on Luke. He might be awake by now.”
“Yeah,” Brandon nodded stiffly. “I gave him a tub of water with a little sunlight.” He narrowed his eyes slightly at Arkamedon. “He should be fine by now.”
The princess led the pirate away and headed back to the shed in hopes of waiting for their friend to awaken.
Arkamedon chuckled. It was quite obvious that she was a princess. The necklace hanging on her neck, travelling with an entourage, and most of all – her mannerisms. If she was trying to convince him that she was no princess, she was definitely failing. He then strolled towards the place where Samantha stood where she had performed her spell. He could see the little traces of mana she had left behind. The small sparkling particles bobbed and danced around and landed in his palm. It was a soothing but nostalgic feeling. He remembered the magic of some sort. It was as if that only the world knew what it was.
“A very rare strain of mana,” Arkamedon mused. “But where did you come from?”
For as long as he had been the chieftain, he had seen travelling mages come in and out of Spinner’s Forest. But none of them had mana like hers. When he first saw her, he definitely knew she was a princess. But something puzzled him. She showed no signs of Sofiene’s Royal Magic. She could be concealing it, his mind argued. After all, he knew the war that happened in Sofiene. She was a princess no more but a fugitive on the run.
But that didn’t matter.
All that mattered was that she had the power to change the tides of things. Her magic in itself was proof. It was a unique strain. A strain of mana that he had not heard about or seen for the last 400 years that he had lived on Zemlyos. He chuckled. She was perfect! It was then he realized that Sandor got the wrong one!
“It looks like I have to be the one to fix this,” Arkamedon sighed. “Perhaps it is for the best.”
Your treachery towards me is still fresh, Arkamedon. Prove your worth to me and I shall grant you more than the magic to free yourself of this form.
Arkamedon sighed as he watched the fading figures of Samantha and Brandon. He frowned at the damage Sandor made. How was he going to repair this? First and foremost, he had to still be the chieftain to his people. He shook his head. No, there was something more to that now. This was their chance! A chance to once again rise from the forest. A smirk curved up his lips as he remembered one of her questions to him.
Do you want to be a king, Arkamedon?
Arkamedon chuckled as his response echoed in his mind.
I want to be the king, milady.
If this is what being drunk felt like, Luke never wanted to drink for as long as he lived.
Luke struggled to push himself out of the tub. The world swirled around him with his senses being amplified ten times more. He groaned and dragged himself out of the tub with his head nearly dropping him down to the ground. His hands clamped onto the sides of the bathtub as he tried to regain his balance.
“At least Cap knew how to rejuvenate me.” Luke chuckled. He staggered on. “But... what was that thing yesterday and... what happened after?”
Luke frowned at his mental block. All he remembered was fighting a large spider humanoid with glowing dark green skin with Beatriz. He remembered Beatriz confronting the monster head on as he tried to figure a way how to bring it down. And then, he remembered slamming into a tree before a strong scent filled his nose. He remembered feeling the urge to hurl out all his insides as the feeling of being lightheaded smacked him hard before he passed out.
“Damn,” Luke groaned. “My head still hurts...”
As he dragged himself away from the tub and struggled to walk on his own, Luke hobbled along until he tripped on one of the small uneven creases on the ground. Luke gasped as he waited for the floor to punch him in the face only to realize he landed in someone’s arms. He recognized the scent. It was the smell of the salty seas and the smell of red wood from the Warhammer. When he looked up, he found Brandon holding him a foot away from the floor.
“Is there some mystical writing on the floor I don’t know about?” Brandon chuckled at him. “Or are you that lightheaded?”
“Shush, the floor is trying to tell me something.” Luke shushed his captain. “Wait, I think the floor is telling me to tell you to shut up.”
“Yeap, you’re lightheaded.” Brandon smirked. He then scooped up Luke. “Geez, you should eat more.”
“I’ve been trying. Meat isn’t my thing.”
“Well, if you wanna learn how to use a shot gun, you’re gonna need more weight. Like, a lot of weight.”
“You think I can just wear a cannon ball to keep me weighted?”
“You spend too much time building one of those cannonball shackles. You’re better off eating.”
Luke chuckled as he felt himself being dropped onto the soft bed. “Oh wow, no wonder you guys slept like babies. This thing is as soft as a cloud.”
Nodding stiffly, Brandon frowned. “What the hell were you doing still up?”
“You were snoring.”
“I don’t snore!”
“How do you know? You’re not actually awake to know if you’re snoring.”
“I’m pretty sure I don’t. No one’s ever complained before!”
“That’s probably because your First Mate back then snored louder than Sofiene’s Naval Horn and Samantha screaming at the sight of the spider put together.”
When Luke said that, Brandon then fell silent.
Luke sighed and shook his head. “Sorry about that, Cap. That was uncalled for.”
“You bet it was.”
“Meh, it’s fine.” Brandon shrugged it off. He then turned to Luke. “But that doesn’t answer my question. What the hell were you doing up so late?”
Luke sighed. Should he tell him that Beatriz and he detected a weird dark energy? And it wasn’t just one of those weird, dark energies. It was Doom Mana. It was a kind of mana that he hadn’t seen but only read about in books. He shuddered. But if that giant spider humanoid was the result of a small pool of Doom mana. He didn’t even want to entertain the thought of having a vast pool of it all.
“I... I was uneasy yesterday,” Luke admitted. “Ever since we got here actually...”
Brandon shook his head. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“I thought it was just me being constantly anxious. I didn’t know that my gut feeling would be right.”
“Luke, we’ve been over this. Always follow your gut instinct. I always relied on you for your almost always correct intuition about things!”
“Well, you suck at gambling which is why it’s almost.”
Luke chuckled and shook his head. “I... I fucked up, Cap.”
“Everyone fucks up once in awhile, Luke. Besides, most fuck-ups are fixable.”
“Keyword being most.”
“No need to be a pessimist. What we need right now is this,” Brandon stared straight into Luke’s eyes. “What the fuck happened and where are your glasses?”
“I threw them away.” Said Luke.
“You threw them?!”
“They were going to throw off my aim! That thing literally just skewered Bea like a fucking kebab!”
Brandon’s eyes widened. “What?”
“I... I’m not sure. I... I couldn’t kill it,” Luke hung his head shamefully. Frustration built up inside him as he slammed his fists against the bed. “It was literally fifty to a hundred times my size! Bea just charged in and I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t know what the fucking hell it was!”
Brandon stayed slight for a moment as Luke hung his head with shame. His hand clenched tightly into fists as his nails cut into his palm. Tears spilled out from his mismatched eyes as the guilt inside him overwhelmed him. He used everything he could at that time to fight. At that time – it was a strong phrase. A phrase that also mocked him for what he could not do.
“Do you at least know what it looks like?” Brandon asked.
“It was a 15-metre tall spider-humanoid creature with flaming blue eyes and glowing dark green skin.”
“... You’re fucking joking me.”
“The lass is gonna shit kittens when she sees that thing!”
Brandon ran his fingers through his hair. “Tch, we have a shit of a problem.”
“You think?” Luke chuckled wistfully. “It doesn’t help that it’s intelligent.”
“I heard it say sister.” Luke then shrugged. “Not sure who he was talking about but he started moaning and groaning that before I got pummelled into the tree.”
Brandon frowned a bit. “That proves one thing.”
“Someone’s making these things.” They heard someone say.
Luke and Brandon looked up to see Samantha standing at the door with a bunch of books.
“I took a sample from the blood I scratched off the panel plus a piece of wood.” Samantha lay everything out on a mat. “Whatever attacked Luke was man-made.”
Brandon exhaled in relief. “Good to know that nothing else in the world would look like that.”
“Luke, you tell her what it is.”
Samantha turned to Luke. The dryad sighed and explained. “It’s literally a 15-metre tall spider humanoid with glowing dark green skin and flaming blue eyes. It roars and spits acid too.”
Samantha froze. “Wh-what?”
“Yeap, she’s gonna shit kittens in 3, 2, 1 –”
Samantha wailed. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S LITERALLY A 15-METRE TALL SPIDER HUMANOID WITH GLOWING DARK GREEN SKIN AND FLAMING BLUE EYES!? HOW CAN YOU SAY IT SO CASUALLY?”
“Uh, because I did?” Luke deadpanned.
“Luke! That’s not my point!”
“You were supposed to have one?”
“LUKE! I AM DEATHLY TERRIFIED OF SPIDERS!”
Brandon chuckled with a fold of his arms. “Yeah, shout louder so the whole world can hear you.”
Samantha snapped. “Not funny, Brandon!”
“I’m not even trying.”
“Stop not trying!”
“That’s kinda hard.”
Brandon chuckled. “Sheesh, alright. Calm down. No need to get your panties in a twist.”
Luke sighed deeply. What could that creature be possibly after? And who was it talking about? Sister - it sounded like it wasn’t alone. He frowned for a moment as the battle flashed through his mind. The large creature swiping its eight legs and claws at him as he tried to figure out its weakness. He clenched his hands into a fist, biting his lower lip. What could it possibly want with Bea?
“So, did you get a good glance as to where it was going?”
Luke snapped his head up as he saw Samantha staring at him expectantly. “Huh?”
“Did you get a good glance as to where it was going?”
Despondent, Luke shook his head. “I don’t know. I was drugged with Nightshade essence after.”
“Nightshade is a kind of flower normally meant for poison but with the right mixing, it could be made into knockout gas.”
Samantha sighed deeply. “So, wait - what does this mean?”
“They’re trying to feed us to something,” Brandon explained. “And Bea’s their first victim.”
“Then we have to find her!”
“No shit we do. But the thing is, you couldn’t even track her mana from where you stood and that was the last place she was seen.”
So mana tracking was definitely out of the picture. Luke frowned for a moment and looked out the window. The trees danced with the winds as the leaves floated into the air. A leaf then landed on his window sill, revealing some small bite holes from the insects that ate through it. He stood up and made his way to the window, holding the leaf in his palm.
“Luke? You okay?” Brandon asked.
The dryad nodded. “There’s another way.”
Brandon and Samantha raised an eyebrow. “What? How?”
Luke smirked as he turned to them and revealed a leaf in his palm. “Ask Mother Nature.”