Chapter 24 - Healthy Venting
Finding sleep wasn’t easy, but I eventually managed to drift into a dream that found myself sitting at my bridge at the Sayabro. Terry was sitting next to me, whistling to himself.
“What’s the deal with the armor?” I asked him.
He shrugged and said nothing.
“What are you hiding?”
Again, he shrugged and said nothing.
Without warning, I yanked off his helmet to reveal a giant chicken head.
I woke with a start. Sitting up, I saw Neeko and Jenna asleep, huddled next to each other under a large umbrella.
With a yawn, I rose to my feet. I felt sticky; sweat caked every inch of me. With a quick glance at my companions, I walked a short ways downstream until I was out of view. After staring at the river for a few moments for signs of trouble, I disrobed and waded into the middle of the river.
The water was cool, at least to my skin. I washed myself as best as I could without soap or a rag. As I scrubbed, my mind wandered to Terra. Knowing she was okay did a lot to sooth my mind, though I knew she’d be mad if she knew where I was and what I was doing.
“Ah, I’m just being paranoid.” I said.
Something patted me on the head. “Just because your paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.
I spun about in the water only to see Rydia. She was laying on the surface of the water, her head propped up on her hands as she watched me.
Covering myself, I said, “Ack! Do you mind?”
“Hey, you’re the one who’s swimming in me, remember?” Smirking most inappropriately, she turned away while I climbed out of the river and slipped back into my adventurer gear.
“What brings you down here?” I asked curiously once I was dressed.
“I wanted to thank you. Y’know, for helping with the crystallic damming the river.”
“I’m glad I could help.” I said politely.
She stood and approached, her graceful feet barely touching the surface of the river. “So what are you up to today, mister hero?”
“Ugh. Please don’t call me that.” I muttered.
Rydia laughed, saying, “Ooh, bashful, huh?”
I glowered at her. “I’m not a hero.”
“Some might disagree. Princess Sera and her hubby Cid, for example. They were at the Saybaro last night, y’know.”
“Really? But …” I shook my head. I’d worry about that later. I had enough on my plate as it was. “Is Meryli still there?”
“The Galden woman? Yeah, she’s there. Last I saw, she was tinkering with that flying bus.”
“Ah, good. Could you fill her in on what’s going on? Maybe see if she can meet us at the Center, provided the Ascendant’s ready to go?”
“Sure thing, Jimmy. Anything else?”
I considered it for a moment before shaking my head. “That’ll be enough. I appreciate your help.”
“Hey, I appreciate being able to go to northern Wenapaj again.” With a final salute, she vanished into the river.
“Well, that’s something.” I muttered. Shaking my head, I started to lace up my boots when I heard Jenna ask, “Who are you talking to?”
I turned to see Jenna and Neeko approaching through the brush. Neeko stretched and let out what sounded like a yawn.
“Rydia.” I told them, “They got the crystallic out of the river, apparently. Anyone up for some rations?”
After a thoroughly unsatisfying breakfast of nuts and dried fruit, we were off into the depths of the jungle again. It wasn’t as bad as the first day, though perhaps I was just getting used to it.
“Pardon me, Neeko,” I asked at one point, “What happens if we run into the chicken again?”
“The Kamehyameyah Chicken?” She asked.
Deciding it would be best not to comment on the name, I simply replied, “Yes, that one.”
“Well, I’m keeping an ear out for it. They aren’t exactly great hunters. Not that smart either; we’ve found several dead on the edges of the jungle, usually after it rains.”
“Why after it rains?”
“We have footage of one of the chickens staring up into the sky, as though trying to figure out where the rain was coming from. Given their build, when they look up their mouths hang open, so …” she shrugged.
“Yup. Anyway, if we do run into one, my advice is to just get out of the way, stay out of view, and try not to look like a piece of corn.”
I spent the better part of the day wondering how I could not look like a piece of corn to an animal that was three stories tall. Fortunately, my musing was cut short as we approached a large opening in the jungle floor just as the suns sank into the horizon.
I had never seen a stream vent before. It was pretty, in an odd sort of way; lifestream energy of all colors continually rose through the air, stirred by invisibly eddies and the breeze blowing across the tops of the trees. Glancing down into the vent (carefully, mind you; it was a long drop), I saw even more concentrated lifestream swirling below. It was quite beautiful.
Jenna patted my arm, making me jump a little. She pointed above the stream vent, where a small flock of zelestra was soaring above the stream vent. Exposure to the stream had mutated them; a thin insulary layer of feathers covered their surfaces, and each had from one two four small taloned claws. Most of the flock flew about, their smiling mouths opening to inhale small bits of stream.
It wasn’t any of the feral zelestra that made Jenna point however; it was the one zelestra that looked unaffected, clearly the one that recently escaped.
The sight of any zelestra was strange, but this zelestra one-upped the rest with the tiny Plush One perched on its back. One held on to the base of the wings as the zelestra fought to shake him off, the Dreamer’s cackles of joy audible over the noise of the forest.
“One!” I shouted as he zoomed by, a grey and green blur.
The zelestra didn’t seem to enjoy having a mount, but the harder it tried to buck off the Dreamer, the louder One whooped.
“Narrator Number One!” Neeko shouted, producing a small metal container I hadn’t seen her with before, “Steer him over here!”
“With what handles?” Further conversation was cut short when the zelestra shot through away from the vent and plunged into the jungle in an effort to remove the Dreamer.
I rushed after them, branches slapping me in the face and scratching every exposed part of me. Jenna kept up easily; she dove and twisted like a dancer as she darted between the trees.
Suddenly, the trees stopped. We skidded to a halt outside a large clearing that looked as though it had been trampled down.
Of course, we weren’t paying particular attention to the horticulture; we had another problem … another big problem.
Chickens. Kameyhamehya chickens. Dozens of them. Some were in groups, looking as though they were talking to each other, while others pecked and scratched at the ground, their massive talons leaving deep trenches. I really hoped that there were no giant worms.
Fortunately, none of them seemed to notice us. Thanking the Creator beneath my breath, I slowly started backing into the cover of the jungle, Jenna wisely following suite.
I was almost out of view when Neeko came bursting out of the jungle and slammed right into me. We both hit the ground with a loud squelch. The metal container she had been carrying went flying on ahead. We probably still would have been fine, if One hadn’t suddenly zoomed by on the zelestra and sent the container flying again, this time with much greater distance.
It landed on the beak of one of the nearby chickens, who immediately let out a loud squawk as the device exploded.
“Hey!” Neeko shouted angrily. “It took me days to calibrate the containment fields in that damn thing!”
Every set of beady eyes turned first to the chicken in question (which seemed fine, though the feathers closest to its beak were singed) then to us. There was a long moment of complete silence that was almost deafening.
I grabbed Terra and Neeko’s hands and started running. Sure enough, we hadn’t gone far when the ground began to tremble beneath our feet. I didn’t even bother looking around; the mental image of dozens of giant chickens behind us was already motivation enough to go as fast as I could.
The trembling was suddenly changing; it seemed to be coming from either side as well as behind as it got closer.
“They’re flanking us!” Neeko shouted.
Jenna broke away from us, “I’ll try and draw a few of them off!” I tried to shout back, but she was already gone.
“She’ll be fine!” Neeko said as she glanced up at the suns as best as she could while running. “The elevator’s this way! Come on!”
The trembling to our right side tapered off. I didn’t have time to hope Jenna was all right; the group behind us was getting closer, knocking down massive trees as they pursued us.
We had to leap aside as a particularly large tree nearly fell on the both of us; unfortunately, it separated us. With no time to climb over, I had no choice but to continue on my own. Still, I hesitated; I couldn’t just leave Neeko.
I shouldn’t have worried. “Southwest, Jimmy!” I heard her shout, her voice already fading as she no doubt hurried away.
As the first of the chickens broke into my field of vision, I took a quick glance at the suns and ran to the southwest as fast as my legs could take me.
As the ground began to incline, I struggled to maintain speed. Fortunately, a few massive beaks tearing into the ground just a few yards behind me helped keep me motivated.
Hearing a particularly loud squawk behind me, I was unable to resist the urge to glance around.
Dozens of chickens were behind me and to my left. The sight made my stomach seize in fear. While I was distracted, my foot found a large root, sending me tumbling to the ground. I struggled to rise, but mud formed a slick that soon had me careening across the forest floor.
As I tumbled across the muddy slick, I caught occasional glances at my pursuers, most of whom gradually lost interest as they were unable to keep up with my speed. The last eventually gave up and turned to rejoin the others in pursuit of Neeko.
With the chickens gone, my next concern was my speed; the downward slope had me sliding along quite quickly at that point, which i realized would be deadly should I come across something that brought me to a sudden stop. Drawing Glint with some difficulty, I managed to stab it into a passing tree. Just in time too; as I clutched Glint’s hilt, I turned and saw a massive tree in my path that would have made me a red splash amidst the green jungle.
Glint held fast, but the mud on my hands made it difficult to hold on to the hilt. I tried to pull myself to the tree, but my attempts to grab one of the tree’s lower branches loosened Glint’s hold. It gave at just the wrong moment, making me lose the grip on a branch and ultimately Glint as well.
I managed so slide past the tree only to find myself again airborne as the tree was blocking the view of the cliff that lay beyond. I flailed about in midair, shouting indistinctly as I tried to see where I was going to land.
I found myself in a lake, surprisingly clear water surrounding me. Before I could even start to swim away, I spotted the three maws of an inuit heading my way. I flailed madly, but didn’t do much more than stir the water. What was worse, the mud on my body and clothes just clouded the nearby water, making it impossible to see. To my surprise, it brushed by me moments later, but didn’t strike.
A need for air suddenly came to mind. I swam to the surface and took a great gasp of air. Turning around, I saw the plated back and neck of the inuit floating nearby, but what interested me most was the muddy hilt of Glint sticking out of the top of the monster’s head.
Shaking my head at my luck, I swam over and pulled Glint out with some difficulty, as I was very fatigued. It was covered with a foul-smelling blue substance I supposed was the inuit’s blood, but it washed off easily in the lake.
I swam to the shore and crawled to the nearest tree. Part of me urged me to get up, to go look for my friends, but I my limbs felt as though they were made of lead. Exhausted beyond belief, I lay back against the tree and closed my eyes.