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Great [Monster] Journey 30

RSanon Apr 26th, 2014 1,496 Never
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  1. Streaks of moonlight on the heels of the encroaching night had caught up with the group halfway through the mountains, moonlight so bright it could’ve had weight to it. They chose to set up for the night right, not needing to brave the uneven, unknown ground without light like when they’d first entered the Lands. Nature was not kind enough to offer them a cave for shelter, however, so they found a comfortable as a position they could and slept. Thankfully, the heat from the Lands kept them warm enough, something Galen knew he’d be missing as they headed north and into autumn.
  2.  
  3. Woken by a harsh breeze, Galen shivered and stood up, rubbing his arms. He’d been hoping the cold would hold off for at least a little while longer. Grumbling, he got to his feet and started stretching. Better to get up and moving than complain about it. As he ran through his routine, he scanned the area. Sybyll was awake, sitting cross-legged atop a boulder and staring out upon the path they’d be traveling. Seira was still asleep, lying on her side and head resting in her paws, a soft frown on her face and even breaths flowing in a out her lungs. Inspecting some rocks a short ways off was Mino. She’d pick one up, take a look at it, then toss it aside for another. Galen hadn’t taken her for a geologist.
  4.  
  5. Once she spotted him, however, she forgot all about the rocks and skipped over, plopping herself down in front of him.
  6.  
  7. “I can’t wait to meet Poseidon! I wonder what she’s like?” said Mino.
  8.  
  9. “If she’s really such a powerful monster, she must be old and wise. Hopefully, someone agreeable as well.” Galen raised his arms over his head. “I’m just glad to be out of the Lands.”
  10.  
  11. “Yeah, I didn’t enjoy it either. At least Mallus was kinda fun.”
  12.  
  13. Galen found himself smiling at Mino’s definition of ‘fun’. He would’ve used a different word. “Is it hard for slimes in an environment like that? Or did you just not like it?”
  14.  
  15. “Slimes like moist, wet environments. It’s harder for us to keep a solid form and replenish the slime we lose when it’s hot and dry like in the Lands. Plus, well, it just feels bad.” She stuck out her tongue in disgust.
  16.  
  17. “I know the feeling.”
  18.  
  19. Odd he was smiling all of a sudden. Yesterday had been so full of worries and pent-up emotions he never thought his spirits could rise so quickly. He shook his head. Another reason Mino shouldn’t have to be so reserved. He’d forgotten how blindly cheerful she could be.
  20.  
  21. “Mino.”
  22.  
  23. “Mm-hmm?”
  24.  
  25. Finishing his stretches, he scooted closer to her and sat properly, trying to give her as serious a face as he could, though such a thing was difficult before her innocent grin and open posture.
  26.  
  27. “I do appreciate what you’re doing for Seira by staying quiet and reserved while she’s around. It means a lot that you’re so understanding and willing to give her space.” He took a deep breath. “But you don’t need to be so selfless about it. I’ve talked with Seira and she said she’d try to get along, and while it would be a good idea not to, err, go all-out with her, I don’t want you subduing yourself so much. You’re important to me and the group, and I want you to be able to talk when you feel like talking. I want you to be you.”
  28.  
  29. Her head lowered a touch and she brought her hands together, squeezing so hard they lost form and turned into a circular blob. “Are you sure? I don’t want her to hate me any more, and I really don’t mind staying quiet.”
  30.  
  31. Galen laid a hand on her shoulder. He opened his mouth, but choked on the words. Was this really so hard to say? Sure, Seira wouldn’t be thrilled if she knew about this, but this was important. Necessary. Seira wasn’t the only one here who mattered.
  32.  
  33. “Y-yes, I am sure. Besides, how will Seira ever learn to face her problems if her problems never face her? It may take time, but I think she’ll learn to understand.”
  34.  
  35. Mino pounced, wrapping up Galen in arms and hair-tentacles for a hell of a hug. She squeezed so hard the air was forced from his lungs. While he expected a cold touch, what he got instead was warmth. Was this warmth natural? Or something Mino was doing with her body on purpose?
  36.  
  37. “Thank you.”
  38.  
  39. Only when she had released him could Galen manage a “You’re welcome.”
  40.  
  41. Now all he could do is hope he hadn’t fanned the flames of Seira’s temper. Speaking of, the manticore was rising, stretching her arms to the sky and letting out a bestial yawn. Her teeth shone in the morning light a moment before she closed her mouth, eyes going straight to Galen. She noted Mino sitting right next to him and scoffed, turning her head away but keeping an eye on him. Hopping to her feet, she stretched one last time and checked the position of the sun.
  42.  
  43. “Now’s a good a time as any to get going,” she said, and started down the path, but Galen stopped her.
  44.  
  45. “You’re forgetting breakfast.”
  46.  
  47. “Funny, I feel plenty full,” she said, her mouth curling into a grin. “And the way I eat would be rather rude to do in front of others.”
  48.  
  49. Galen blushed, looking away. “Well, the rest of us need to eat.”
  50.  
  51. “I still require no sustenance,” said Sybyll from her perch on the rock.
  52.  
  53. “And I’m still fine with what I got from the hospital!” said Mino.
  54.  
  55. Grumbling, Galen shoved his hands into his pack, looking for a meal. “Fine, fine. I’ll eat alone.”
  56.  
  57. “I didn’t say you had to eat alone!” said Mino, adjusting her spot across from Galen.
  58.  
  59. “Indeed. I will join you,” said Sybyll. She hopped down from her rock and took a seat right next to Mino. When Galen looked back to Seira, she waved a hand in dismissal and started wandering around the area. Trying to convince her would probably just leave to trouble, so he left it alone.
  60.  
  61. When he started munching on the rations the hospital had provided, however, silence hung over the three but for the crunching of food between his teeth. Neither Mino nor Sybyll seemed interested in starting a conversation, content with staring at Galen as he chowed through his small meal. At least it tasted alright. Nothing like home cooking back on Nox, but far better than hunger.
  62.  
  63. Odd that they wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Hadn’t they gotten to know each other a little better in Mallus? Or was his eating really so entertaining to watch? He tried not staring back at them, but the longer things went on, the more awkward the food felt in his mouth to the point he couldn’t bring himself to chew anymore. It was like he was on some sort of stage and the audience was deeply invested, only he had no idea under what criteria he was being judged. With a swallow, he wiped some sweat away from the base of his neck.
  64.  
  65. “Umm…”
  66.  
  67. “That’s so neat,” said Mino.
  68.  
  69. “Neat?”
  70.  
  71. “Yeah. I never get tired of watching humans eat. Or monsters, really. Just thinking about all the stuff that goes on with their bodies hidden behind all that skin and muscle. With slimes you can see everything, but it’s really boring. With humans, you can’t see anything. It’s a total mystery.” She laid her head on her hands, now staring at Galen’s stomach. “I wish I could see it sometimes, but imagination is just as good.”
  72.  
  73. “Sybyll?” he asked.
  74.  
  75. “Yes?”
  76.  
  77. “Well, you just seemed kinda quiet.”
  78.  
  79. “I was thinking about certain things, and Mino was quite absorbed in viewing you that I wished not to disturb her.”
  80.  
  81. “Care to share what you were thinking about?”
  82.  
  83. Her eyes narrowed. That took Galen aback, stopping him mid-bite. The last time he’d seen that was directed toward Seira after the talk with Ahdria.
  84.  
  85. “Later, perhaps.”
  86.  
  87. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know any more.
  88.  
  89. Breakfast finished quickly, as Galen’s anxiety rushed the rest of the food down his throat. Seira was all too ready for them to head out, and took the lead the moment she saw they were ready. Galen had to jog up to her and stop her to ask what sort of route they were going to be taking.
  90.  
  91. A confident, practically smug smile grew on her face at the question. “Sure. Take out the map and I’ll show you.”
  92.  
  93. He did so. She stood by his side, letting her furry arms brush up against his. “Here,” she said, pointing. “There’s the main road to Uuluth, straight northeast, which we’ll be taking for a while, but here we’ll split off and head due east to the shore.” She drew a line with her claw from the path to the spot Galen had marked. “That’s where the arachne said Posiedon was.” After a short pause she added, “There’ll be a nice little surprise when you get there, too.”
  94.  
  95. “Surprise?”
  96.  
  97. “Nothing bad, in fact I think you’ll enjoy it. But you’ll have to see it.”
  98.  
  99. His eyes wandered up from the map to her face. At that moment, the wind picked up, seizing the bloom of her auburn hair and that distinctive braid always trailing behind her, tossing it about like the tall grass of the plains they’d traversed several days ago. The white tufts of fur along her arms, legs and neck rippled to the wind’s demand as well, an odd sort of synchronization over her entire body. Though the gusting wind hid her piercing red eyes behind flowing, wispy hair, it couldn’t hope to bury them completely. He caught glimpses of them, fierce and powerful as always, staring at the map with a silent determination he recognized. And through all the raging winds, he realized he’d never gone cold. She was his warmth there, standing in the middle of the path, and he guessed she didn’t even know it.
  100.  
  101. When that razor gaze shifted to him, a current of warmth rushed up from his feet to his face and back down again.
  102.  
  103. “What is it? That is where Poseidon is, right? Or did you mark the map for some other reason?”
  104.  
  105. “W-what? Oh, oh, no, that’s definitely it. Sorry, I was just, uh, a little cold.” He glanced behind himself to the other two, but was surprised to find an unfurled wing blocking his vision. “T-thanks for blocking the wind.”
  106.  
  107. “Blocking the--?” She looked to where he was looking, froze, then immediately retracted her wing. “Oh. No, I was just stretching it. That’s all. It can get cramped in the morning sometimes. Especially if I lay on it the wrong way. It’s also just a good idea to give it some exercise. I haven’t flown in a while. Maybe I should.” She shook her head furiously for a second. “Never mind, doesn’t matter.”
  108.  
  109. Taking the map, she wrapped it back up and stuffed it roughly back into Galen’s pack then took the lead without another word. Galen shrugged internally at her sudden brashness, but started off behind her, eager to get to their next destination. It’d been far too long since he’d made that promise to the Kraken and it was high time he started making good on it.
  110.  
  111.  
  112. **
  113.  
  114.  
  115. “I said, keep your head DOWN!” hissed Seira, seizing the top of Galen’s head and shoving back down into the bush.
  116.  
  117. He knew why she wanted him to do so, but there were just so many monsters he hadn’t seen before! They were so close, too!
  118.  
  119. Before the group’s tentative shelter of a row of thick bushes marched a venerable legion of monsters. Lamia, medusa, arachne, salamanders, centaur, and a host of other species flowed along the path, some carrying heaps of supplies, others pulling carts, even others overseeing the host’s movement before marching forward themselves. A thunder of hooves, claws and feet echoed throughout the land, the one thing that Seira’s ears had picked up early enough for them to find shelter. They hadn’t just picked any clump of bushes, either, but a flowering clump with a thick scent to override their own. Seira said there were plenty of monsters with noses keen enough to pick them out had they simply huddled behind a rock.
  120.  
  121. As scared as Galen knew he should be, he just couldn’t keep the bursting curiosity in his chest from settling down.
  122.  
  123. “How many do you think there are?” whispered Galen, unable to take his eyes off the spectacle.
  124.  
  125. “Depends on how much longer this line of monsters goes on. I’d guess one or two thousand from the supplies they have with them,” said Seira.
  126.  
  127. “So cool.” From the stories he’d heard, however, armies were much larger, numbering into the tens of thousands. “But that doesn’t seem like much for an army.”
  128.  
  129. “Alone, no. But you don’t need a full-sized army to do everything, and they may be joining up with a larger force later.”
  130.  
  131. “Do you have any idea what they’d be doing here?” asked Sybyll, her eyes just as attentive as Galen’s, but more focused.
  132.  
  133. Seira glanced back and forth between the marching monsters and Sybyll. “My guess is they’re positioning to take some of the smaller villages in the outskirts up north, just outside of the authority of Uuluth.” Her expression darkened. “Or even some within, depending on how confident Medusuub is. Seeing arachne with them is a bad sign. They were one of the species more stringently aligned with my mother. Medusuub must’ve negotiated their cooperation recently. That would give her the strength to make a move like this.”
  134.  
  135. Galen squinted, trying to get a clearer look at the monsters. “Most of them don’t seem to have armor or a uniform at all. Don’t armies usually have that?”
  136.  
  137. “True,” said Seira, “but when the fighting is purely human against monster, you have less need for uniforms. The lack of armor is probably a combination of the lack of monster blacksmiths and slow trickle of such supplies from human suppliers.”
  138.  
  139. “Why would it be such a problem to get armor from humans?”
  140.  
  141. “Well, first, there’s the initial reluctance to sell anything of military value to monsters. Sure, blacksmiths want to make a living, but so many of them are human and that prejudice still hasn’t disappeared. Second, Medusuub doesn’t want to hint that she’s about to start a war, and ordering massive amounts of armor and weapons at the same time would be a definite giveaway. So she has to have several different buyers obtain it over a long period of time, time she just hasn’t had since deciding to engage in war. As far as monster blacksmiths go, well, those were mostly salamanders and lizardmen, the former of which probably had no trouble going to work, but the latter left this continent a while ago.” She paused. “Most of them, at least.”
  142.  
  143. “Is there some way for us to stop them?” asked Galen.
  144.  
  145. He received three looks all at once, one as if he was crazy, one concerned, and the other a combination of the two.
  146.  
  147. “Any attempt would be incredibly unwise,” said Sybyll.
  148.  
  149. “If we tried something here, we’d just end up dead,” said Seira. “The only way to stop this is to cut off the head. Stop Medusuub.”
  150.  
  151. Galen swallowed a heavy breath, but nodded. “How long do you think it will be until they start attacking?”
  152.  
  153. “It’s impossible to say. If they keep up this pace, they’ll make it to potential targets by tomorrow. But we don’t know their orders. They may only be going to watch, or meet up with other monsters.” Seira’s gaze turned to drive straight into Galen’s eyes. “Second guessing anything here would be hazardous at best. Trying to be a hero would only be worse.”
  154.  
  155. His nostrils flared as a dark frown threatened to envelop his face, but he held it down. Seira was just being rational about this. With their resources, there just wasn’t anything to be done about an army. They were after Medusuub, that was what mattered. That’s what he had to tell himself, even if it didn’t calm the churning in his stomach.
  156.  
  157. After a couple more minutes, the army was long gone. Seira kept everyone huddled in the bushes until the last trace of their march faded from her hearing. Once hearing it was okay to leave, Galen burst out, giving his back a good stretch and trying to flush the scent of those bushes from his nose. It wasn’t that they smelled awful, but several minutes of such a powerful scent was enough to make him hate it. He ended up grabbing a piece of bark off the ground and shoving it up against his face, but the hasty action unfortunately led him to breathing in some dust. Hacking, he steadied himself on a nearby tree, his throat rumbling and tearing up. At least that smell was no longer lodged in his nose.
  158.  
  159. On recovering, he noticed the rest of the group wasn’t quite themselves. Seira was staring at him, cocky-eyed and grinning from ear to ear, Sybyll stood just outside the bush they were in a moment ago, not facing Galen, but turned toward him enough he could catch the hint of a smile on her face. Mino was outright laughing.
  160.  
  161. “It smelled really strong, okay? I couldn’t stand it any more.”
  162.  
  163. “And who do you think you’re talking to? My nose is more powerful than yours, yet I’m just fine,” said Seira, voice dripping with smarm.
  164.  
  165. “You’re probably used to it or something!” His shoulders went slack as he turned to Mino. “Oh, c’mon cut me some slack. It wasn’t like I meant to choke!”
  166.  
  167. “Just… how you jumped out of the bush like you were on fire or something… then ripping that bark off the tree… I thought you were going to eat it!” said Mino.
  168.  
  169. “Well excuse me for lacking a little grace every now and then.” Rolling his eyes, he started back toward the path.
  170.  
  171. “You’re talking as if you had some in the first place.”
  172.  
  173. He smacked his forehead. Even Sybyll? What had he done to deserve this?
  174.  
  175. The day ended without incident, though that didn’t keep everyone from staying on alert after the army passed through. Sybyll became even less talkative than before, hanging near the rear and keeping her keen eyes and ears on their sides and back. Seira’s ears constantly twitched, capturing Galen’s attention with their hypnotic little jerks. Were he a more daring man, he’d have tried tickling them, but something told him now wasn’t the time. Later. He’d always have time to tickle them later.
  176.  
  177. As the sun fell and heat was once again whisked away by a chill breeze, the group found shelter for the night in a odd rock cropping. While hardly ideal, it blocked most of the wind and would do the same for rain should a storm surprise them. Galen still shivered as he sat down and rested his back against the rock. His light clothing would become a serious issue before long if this weather kept up. He’d need some way to get clothing, whether he traded for something in Uuluth or found a way to make some money. If they made it to the monster lord’s castle and defeated Medusuub soon, then he could always go back to Nox.
  178.  
  179. Go back? Yes, he could go back. His journey was coming to an end, wasn’t it? Poseidon was only another day out, then onto Uuluth, then finally the monster lord’s castle. There was, at most, four days of travel, and assuming they stayed a day at each location… yeah, it wouldn’t be that long. Galen buried his face in his hands. He hadn’t even thought about this. What would happen when it was all over? Would Seira go back to being monster lord? Would Mino go off on her own like she’d always been? Would Sybyll stay with Toneruth? His eyes snuck upwards, glancing between the monsters he traveled with. Was this something they’d thought about as well? He couldn’t imagine Seira or Sybyll being so single-minded as to not think beyond the end of this journey. Seira would have plenty of things to deal with afterwards, at least. Mino probably saw this as another leg on her journey, just like Nox had been. Surely she was eager to explore the mainland again now that she wasn’t stuck on an island.
  180.  
  181. Closing his eyes, Galen leaned back against the rock, a cold, hard rest for his back. The ridges dug into his skin, but the harshness of the rock was more forgiving than that of the wind.
  182.  
  183. “Galen.”
  184.  
  185. He jolted off the rock, lurching forward to be stopped by a claw. The world before him blurred a mix of black, blue, and orange. Blinking, he looked down to the claw on his shoulder, then up to the monster who owned it. The scene behind her took Galen by surprise: a dark backdrop littered by leaves reflecting the warm glow of a fire. When had night fallen? With a pop, the fire in front of him stole Galen’s attention for a second before he looked back to Sybyll.
  186.  
  187. “H-hi, Sybyll. I guess I dozed off.”
  188.  
  189. “Indeed you did. It has been a few hours.” She gestured to the trees above them, pointing out where Seira lay sleeping on a branch, then to a tree on the far side of the fire which Mino had made her pillow. “The other two are asleep.”
  190.  
  191. A warmth grew in Galen’s stomach and spread to his face. “I must’ve been more tired than I thought.” He rubbed his shoulders on instinct, but the wind had since calmed and the fire was doing it’s job rather well. It shot a burst of sparks into the air as if acknowledging Galen’s thought.
  192.  
  193. “That is expected. We’ve hardly been traveling slow, and Seira doesn’t know the impact our pace has on a human.” Sybyll walked closer to the fire, throwing in a couple more chucks of wood before taking a seat facing perpendicular to Galen a few feet off.
  194.  
  195. The fading fire released another spray of sparks, a hundred floating sprites giving their life to the standing chill around them.
  196.  
  197. “I have a question for you,” said Sybyll.
  198.  
  199. “Oh? What is it?”
  200.  
  201. She glanced over to Seira before asking, “What is it you wish to gain from this? What is your goal in being here?”
  202.  
  203. “Well,” Galen said, hugging his knees to his chest, “I wanted to go on an adventure. When I left Nox, I made a promise to the Kraken, then later I decided to help Seira. I’m trying to keep true to those. It’s what any person or monster would do in my situation.”
  204.  
  205. “True. But I think you misunderstood my question.” Her eyes, tinged with the orange glow of the fire, narrowed in on Galen’s. “I want to know what your motivations are. What you want from this.”
  206.  
  207. Galen cocked his head. “Isn’t that just to see my obligations met?”
  208.  
  209. “You decided you wanted to go on a journey for some reason. Maybe to see the continent, maybe to run from home, maybe out of some wild imagination, but something spurred you on, got you into all of this in the first place. Even after seeing what threats the world offers and the true depth of Seira’s ambitions, you have chosen to continue. You even brought Mino along for the trek. There is something more important than those obligations that pushes you forward.”
  210.  
  211. “I, um…” Galen scratched his head. She could be right, but he’d never looked at it that way. His decisions were always straightforward. He’d wanted to go on a journey for as long as he could remember. It might have started back when his father started telling him all those stories about adventurers and heroes, about lands and monsters far removed from Nox. That was probably it. Who wouldn’t want to have an adventure of their own after hearing all those tales? Then the encounter with the Kraken, well, he’d just wanted to start his adventure and negotiated with her a way to the mainland. Nothing more. Seira, though…
  212.  
  213. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.
  214.  
  215. “Because it is important, and because you said something today to make me wonder about you.”
  216.  
  217. Galen clutched his legs tigher. “What did I say?”
  218.  
  219. “You asked if there was a way for us to stop an army.”
  220.  
  221. He looked away from Sybyll and to the ground next to him. “Is that something you’d just naturally wonder, though? If you thought the army was going to kill people?”
  222.  
  223. “No, it is not.” She leaned back on her arms. “And it is not something the wielder of Toneruth should be thinking. It is within the dangerous territory of idealism, which carries on recklessness and lack of conviction. You are not foolish enough to misunderstand our position. We have no means to stop them, yet you voiced the question anyways.”
  224.  
  225. “I just…” His voice trailed off again. Weren’t these the sort of questions he was supposed to have an answer to?
  226.  
  227. “That is why I ask why you are here. Do you seek to help Seira because you think it the best way to stop a war? Or are you blindly charging into a situation without considering the players and circumstances, simply because you caught a glimpse of fame?”
  228.  
  229. “Fame?” His hands clasped together so tight his fingers went red. “You think I’m just trying to be famous?”
  230.  
  231. “I think I don’t know what you want. Hence the question. Do you think you are some hero that might save everyone you meet? Are you so selfless to have no life of your own?”
  232.  
  233. “Well, it, uh, it doesn’t hurt to at least try to help people!”
  234.  
  235. Her eyes grew so cold he feared she might extinguish the fire. “Yes, it does. There is always a cost for our actions.”
  236.  
  237. Before he knew it, Galen’s hands were in fists. “You sound just like my--“
  238.  
  239. The last word caught in his throat and he swallowed it back down. Was that it? Were his motivations truly so simple?
  240.  
  241. Galen stared at the fire as if trying to make sense of it, like the licks of flame and deep orange glow would drift in to some sort of pattern if he watched it long enough. Sybyll watched him with the same sort of interest.
  242.  
  243. “If I answer your question, will you answer one of mine?”
  244.  
  245. Sybyll’s eyebrow twitched. “What sort of question would you ask me?”
  246.  
  247. “I want to know about you. Long before you met me. I want to know what your childhood was like, where you lived, who your parents were.”
  248.  
  249. She paused, her claw subtly moving to her inner thigh. Galen had been watching for it.
  250.  
  251. “If it is necessary to get my answer, then yes.”
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