Great [Monster] Journey 19

RSanon Feb 1st, 2014 1,784 Never
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  1. The night brought on sleep. Bellies full and appetites satiated, Galen and his group found whatever nooks and crannies they could to sleep in. Mino needed nothing more than a bucket to relax in, Seira slept across two chairs, and Galen on the floor. He was offered a blanket, but when he woke up cold with chattering teeth, he noticed Seira had stolen it sometime during the night. Grumbling, he glared at her sleeping form, even knowing it was a fruitless gesture. He felt better afterward.
  3. With a yawn, he started his morning routine. He kept as quiet as possible as not to wake anyone else, watching Seira sleep with the hopes of waking her in an annoying a fashion as possible. Finishing his stretches, he bumped his fists together and took a step toward Seira’s sleeping form. On the second step, he froze in place. Sybyll. He hadn’t seen her at all last night, even after they ate and slept. Roy had said she was fine while he cooked, and Cea went to check up on her later on, but still Sybyll hadn’t shown her face inside the house. Scrunching up his face, he promised revenge on Seira later and walked out the back door.
  5. The cool morning air hit him in a rush. Chills ran up his spine and his hands automatically went to his arms. He was regretting not bringing heavier clothing with him. Such a silly thing to forget, really. If only he hadn’t been in such a rush to leave. Biting his lip to keep his teeth from chattering, he looked across the porch to his left to find Sybyll and Cea both awake and watching the plains. Cea had already turned and noticed him, but Sybyll remained stoic and silent.
  7. “Good morning, Galen,” said Cea. “Did you sleep alright?”
  9. He smiled to himself. That sounded like something his mother would ask. “Yeah. Thanks for offering your roof. It’s starting to get nasty out.”
  11. “You should have heavier clothes, you know.”
  13. That time Galen frowned. Definitely like his mother. “I think I’m realizing that a little late.”
  15. Sybyll finally offered some sort of response, sighing and relaxing her shoulders, if only a touch.
  17. “I should go back inside, get something ready to eat. Would be a shame to send you all off without breakfast.” She entered the house, leaving Galen alone with Sybyll.
  19. He walked up next to her, rubbing his arms in attempt to keep warm. “Why didn’t you come inside to eat last night?”
  21. “Hmph. You should know I need no food. It would’ve been awkward to refuse it from a stranger.” She still wasn’t looking at him.
  23. “Well, you could’ve at least sat around and talked with us. I like hearing your stories.” He glanced back toward the house. “You’re much better at storytelling than Seira.”
  25. “My experiences are obsolete or at the very least moot. My knowledge of the present is lacking.”
  27. “Then stay and listen. There were all sorts of cool stories from Roy and Cea!” Galen gave a hop, half from excitement, half from the cold. “And the best stories are the really old ones.”
  29. Finally, she turned, though only to raise an eyebrow at his last comment.
  31. “Oh. Age. Yeah.” Galen's gaze fell to Sybyll's feet, but only for a moment. “You’re still cool.”
  33. “It was important that someone stay outside and stand watch. You were vulnerable last night in relaxing and we still likely have those lamia on our tail, not to mention the natural dangers of this area which we do not yet know.” She looked back into the distance, like the plains would be offended at the lack of attention.
  35. “I think you’re just making excuses.” He leaned toward her, getting up on his tip-toes. “Are you shy? Or not social?”
  37. Her next breath came out harsher than usual. “I am not shy, and I needn’t be social. My duty is to your person. I felt that was clear enough.”
  39. “Well, ‘my person’ is telling you to relax a bit. I get that the strict, succinct stuff is your thing, but you should really unwind sometimes. My dad always told me work is much more fulfilling when you’re reminded why you do it.”
  41. She turned her head just enough to view Galen with both eyes. “And why do we do this?”
  43. Galen slapped his cheeks in bewilderment. “You don’t know why you’re doing this? I mean, I’m traveling because Seira needs my help, and I promised the Kraken.” He was unable to meet Sybyll’s gaze for a moment. “And because I want to be someone my family can be proud of.” He poked Sybyll hard in the shoulder, trying to disrupt her balance. She didn’t budge. “I can’t tell you your own reasons. But there’s gotta be something. You can’t be following me just because.”
  45. “I have my duty. That is all I need.”
  47. “Uugh! That’s boring. And I know you’re not a boring monster.” He rested his forehead against her arm. Her skin was warm to the touch, stark in contrast to everything else about the morning.
  49. “It is enough.”
  51. That was all the explanation she offered.
  53. Cea’s brewing in the kitchen had woken the rest of the group, as well as her husband, who hopped up onto her back while she was still busy and demanded she reveal her secrets and other such nonsense. Cea begrudgingly tolerated him all the way up until the tickling, on which she swiped him off her back and plopped him down on the floor like a troublesome child. In more than one way, he was. Galen aspired to be the same when he grew up.
  55. By that time Seira and Mino had already woken up, Mino busying herself with examining every inch of the house and Seira grinning as her eyes ate up the sight of breakfast. Galen knew that look from the times it’d been directed at him.
  57. They had a small breakfast together, once last excuse to gather around a table. Sybyll, of course, was absent, but Galen didn’t have it in him to go bug her about it again. They spoke about their plans over the short meal, particularly their next destination.
  59. “Roy said you were bound for Mallus,” said Cea, looking at Galen.
  61. He glanced over to Seira. He still wasn’t entirely sure why they were headed that way. “Yeah. Seira said there’s a pass a bit further north.”
  63. “Indeed. The mountains surrounding the Scorched Lands are more like exaggerated hills in some places. Another day north and you’ll find one of the more agreeable passes.” Cea’s eye darkened. “But the challenge with the Scorched Lands is never the journey through the mountains. It’s the trek beyond them. You are aware of why they are called the Scorched Lands, correct?”
  65. “Umm…” Galen pulled at his collar. “Because they were on fire?”
  67. Cea sighed and grumbled. “No, because they ARE on fire. The Scorched Lands surround a breach to the demon realm, and the thin barrier between our world and the demon realm does little to block out the unquenchable flame.”
  69. Galen slammed his hands on the table. “Wait, the entire place is on fire? How are we supposed to walk through that?”
  71. “Not the ENTIRE place, Galen,” spat Seira, swallowing her food. “There are spurts of fire coming from the ground in many places, but there are roads we can take. The temperature will actually be a nice departure from this cold we’ve been walking through.”
  73. “But the flames are not the only danger,” said Cea. “Because of the proximity to the demon realm, your mind will be assaulted by primal urges. Not as much for you, Galen, as you are human, but Mino and Seira may have a difficult time.”
  75. “Does that mean what I think it means?”
  77. “Perhaps.” Cea scratched at her hair. “It is not limited to sexual urges, though for most monsters, that is certainly the most dominant. As a human, you will feel urges to hunt, to hurt, and a powerful hunger. With discipline, those urges will not become a problem.” She looked to Seira. “As a manticore, Seira may--“
  79. “I’ve been through there before. I know what it’s like,” Seira blurted out.
  81. “On foot? Or flying across?”
  83. “Flying.” She leaned back in her seat, trying to appear lax, but Galen had a feeling that wasn’t the case.
  85. “The urges are much more powerful close to the ground.” Cea turned to Galen. “You will need to stay on the path. That is where the mages of Mallus will have put the waypoints which will get you through safely.”
  87. “Waypoints? Like markers?”
  89. “Much more than markers. Each emits a powerful dampening field. The waypoints were made to allow travelers to come and go from Mallus, but over the years, it has become less open to outsiders and the waypoints have not been maintained. Only two major roads still remain protected, and you are lucky the one you are bound for is one.”
  91. “What’s the other?” asked Galen.
  93. “The road heading northeast from Mallus toward Uuluth.”
  95. Galen sat back, crossing his arms and nodding to himself. “Well, as long as we’re careful, we should be fine, right? Seira said we could make it there in a day. That’s not long at all.”
  97. “I would hope a day is all it takes. Night in Mallus is something you wish to avoid.”
  99. “How is--“
  101. “I think some questions are better not asked,” Cea said, cutting him off. “Remain cautious and stalwart, and you will see Mallus. But do not underestimate the danger.”
  103. “Right.” He nodded, then stood. “Well, I think we should be heading out. We don’t want to waste any more time.”
  105. Everyone stood from the table. Seira gave a brief bow to Roy and shook Cea’s hand.
  107. “Thank you,” said Seira.
  109. “It was our pleasure. I wish you luck.” Cea nodded to Galen. “And look out for him.”
  111. “Hey!” Galen stomped a foot, but Seira chuckled and nodded.
  113. “I will.”
  115. After Seira walked out, Mino stepped up. Her farewell was much more enthusiastic, vigorously shaking both Roy’s and Cea’s hand while grinning.
  117. “It was fun! And you two are really nice! I’m putting you under ‘good’!”
  119. Cea gave a confused look for a moment. Roy smacked a fist to his chest and grinned back. “Thank you, young slime! I’ll put you under ‘good’, too!”
  121. Mino skipped out the back door, flashing Galen a smile before disappearing.
  123. Taking a deep breath, Galen approached Roy first, giving him a rigid handshake. “Thanks for everything. I really needed that meal and a night out of the cold was great.”
  125. “My pleasure! You should stop by when your journey’s all over. I’d love to hear about it and I’m sure Cea would too.” He slapped Galen’s shoulder, giving a radiant smile. For some reason, Galen’s shoulder didn’t hurt when Roy slapped it. He smiled back and nodded before moving onto Cea. She looked down at him with a half-smile, arms crossed, awaiting his farewell.
  127. What he had wasn’t quite what she expected.
  129. “You know Sybyll, don’t you?”
  131. The half-smile shifted to a more curious expression, her brow arched as she appraised Galen. “What makes you say that?”
  133. “You said you knew the sword Toneruth, but you can’t really know the sword without knowing Sybyll. And she’s been acting a little weird the whole time we were here.” He scratched the back of his neck. “I wasn’t entirely sure until just a few minutes ago, when you were talking about having trouble with Mallus. You said Mino and Seira would have a hard time, but not Sybyll. How could you know that stuff like that wouldn’t affect her? You have to have known her.”
  135. She pinched her chin between two long fingers, giving a slight nod. “Indeed. Yes, I knew her, but it was many years ago.”
  137. “With Solvet?”
  139. “The circumstances of our association are not for me to reveal. Sybyll will tell you if she wishes.”
  141. Galen bundled up his face into a frown. “That’s not a fair answer.”
  143. “It is all I can offer.” She leaned forward, laying a hand on Galen’s shoulder. “But you are a perceptive kid. You noticed her turmoil, read between the lines and picked up on the information I gave you. So I will give you something more.” Her hand squeezed. “Sybyll is too concerned with the present, too sure of the future and too dismissive of the past. She puts no value in herself. I do believe you are someone who can help her, but only with time and care. Ask her about herself. Make her put her life to words.” She paused, glancing to the back door. “And if she is too stubborn to see even then, ask about the object she hides beneath her armor, low on the inside of her thigh. Do not mention it if you can avoid it; it would be best for her to mention it on her own. I regret even needing to tell you of it.”
  145. “What is it?”
  147. Cea paused, looking down at the floor. She raised her head when she had the answer. “Her greatest contradiction.”
  149. Galen stood silent a moment, blinking as he stared into Cea’s concerned gaze. He hoped to pry some further answer from her body language, but all he understood was her sincerity. It was possible she didn’t know any more than that, or the answer she gave was the best for him to hear. Either way, he knew enough to not ask further.
  151. “She’s in good hands,” he said, nodding.
  153. Cea smirked. Crossing her arms again, she stood up straight. “Don’t go thinking she’s a child to be coddled. That will get you in trouble quicker than an lamia’s coils wrap up her prey.”
  155. “Got it.”
  157. She waved him out the door. “Now off you go. Your friends are waiting. Best of luck.”
  159. He grinned as wide as his mouth would allow. “Thanks!”
  161. And the group was off once again.
  164. **
  167. Galen kept to himself for a while, huddling up to keep the brisk wind at bay. He didn’t trust himself to keep from blabbering about the only real hint Cea had given him, or to pester Sybyll with endless questions about her past. If he gave her much attention right away, she’d probably figure out Cea was involved. Given her demeanor back at the house, he wasn’t sure she wanted all that much to do with Cea. What had those two been back then, anyways? Friends? Acquaintances? Rivals? Cea knew an awful lot about her for anything less than a friend.
  169. He turned toward the back of the group, where Sybyll’s pace kept her. She still watched the area with her razor eye, but her movements seemed more strict. Artificial. She was keeping back further than before, too. Grumbling to himself, Galen looked forward and jogged a few steps. He had to at least give Sybyll time to decompress, as much as it might bug him.
  171. The dead leaves and twigs covering the forest floor crunched beneath each step, the only sound echoing throughout the forest as the group moved forward. Even Mino wasn’t making much noise. No humming, no exclamations of wonderment, just a quiet but lively skip that weaved through the trees. She reminded him of himself when he’d first set out on this journey. Hopefully she could stay that way, amusing herself with the scenery, having fun with each encounter, and keeping a light heart not matter what. Maybe it would be a good idea to amuse himself, too, in order to make keeping away from Sybyll easier.
  173. Now that he thought about it, he had something he wanted to ask Mino anyways. Huffing and grasping his arms tighter for warmth, he jogged up to her.
  175. “Hey, Mino.”
  177. Her head turned but the rest of her body continued forward as if she was still looking ahead. Galen cringed, but continued.
  179. “Back when we left Cea and Roy’s house, you said you we’re putting them under ‘good’. What did you mean by that?”
  181. Her skip stopped, turning into a gaudy stride. “’Cause she’s a good monster and he’s a good person! Why else?”
  183. He shrugged. “Well, it’s just a little odd to put people in categories like that. Yeah, they’re good, but why define it? Do you do that with everyone you meet?”
  185. “Mm-hmm.” She smacked her lips. “That’s why I’m traveling around!”
  187. Galen cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
  189. “Mmm, well,” she said, intertwining her fingers behind her, “lots of people and monsters always say they want to be ‘good’. It’s a big deal. But everyone has says good is a different thing. So I decided to go around the world and figure out what ‘good’ really was.”
  191. “Just like that? Didn’t you want to stay with your parents?”
  193. “Parents? I guess you could call the slime I split off from my mom, but queen slimes are the only slimes that really make families. As soon as I was formed, my mom left and I started exploring.”
  195. Galen’s mouth floundered open and closed, trying to find a proper response. “W-what? She just dropped you off and left? How were you supposed to fend for yourself?”
  197. “I learned pretty fast. And slimes pass on a lot of basic knowledge when they split off. She didn’t need to stay around.” Closing her eyes, she stuck her tongue out at Galen. “We’re not slow like humans.”
  199. Galen tried to laugh, but his chuckle was forced. “Maybe, but parents are a great thing. There’s more than just learning. Humans make a genuine connection with them and they help us through all sorts of things.”
  201. “Not all the time.”
  203. “Huh?”
  205. “Lots of humans don’t like their parents. They run away or act mean to them.” She spoke as if she was stating the most ordinary thing in the world, her exaggerated stride uninterrupted. “So maybe they’re good, maybe not.”
  207. “That’s…” Galen rubbed his forehead. “That’s kinda harsh. I know things are sometimes complicated with parents, but they’re always just looking out for their kids.”
  209. “You’re probably right.” Mino leapt, spinning in mid-air and sticking the landing. She shot Galen a smile as if expecting praise for her acrobatics.
  211. Maybe speaking with her wasn’t the best idea. Galen scratched his head, trying to figure out what to say next. He had to have words for this, didn’t he? It just didn’t make sense for Mino to go on believing something so… raw, so cruel. Parents always had their kids’ best interests in mind. The way slimes treated their offspring wasn’t right. Mino deserved a better.
  213. Galen’s stride quickened, his frustration flowing into his steps. His breaths came out shallow, the fall air stale on his tongue. Mino wasn’t wrong, per se. She just misunderstood the facts, that was all. He clutched his arms closer to his chest. His father should be here, or his mother. They would know what to say to her, how to explain parents the right way. Dads were strong and strict, examples to follow in all the things that made a man a man. That’s why Galen was here now: because all the heroes and adventures from the stories his dad told him were real men, valuable and respectable. Moms were wise and kind, women who showed you how to think first, how to show mercy, and they knew all the things you’d never think of. But in words alone, that knowledge felt so hollow. How was Mino supposed to learn all that on her own?
  215. Grumbling, he kicked at the dirt. Whatever happened to her and her mother back then didn’t matter any more. He’d have to teach her himself, now that she was part of his group.
  217. The plains were upon them once more. Galen looked skyward as they left the forest, squinting at the afternoon sun and sighing. In the distance, he could make out the mountain range they were heading toward... though it didn’t look much as like ‘mountains’ as it did ‘large hills’. None of the mounds truly pierced the sky, and none were tipped with snow. He frowned. He’d been looking forward to seeing real mountains for the first time, even if the idea of fighting through snow in this weather wasn’t all that appealing.
  219. This sunshine didn’t agree with the cold at all. Neither Mino nor Seira seemed affected by it, and Sybyll couldn’t be in her state.
  221. Galen’s steps slowed, his brow furrowing. Was Sybyll really immune? Ever since they’d left Fullsburg, he’d felt she was a little different. Her touch was warm instead of neutral like before. She’d also been able to handle his clothes after they were off his body. What had she said earlier? She would change as his bond with Toneruth grew? He absent-mindedly laid a hand on its hilt. He didn’t feel like his bond was growing. Heck, he didn’t feel any sort of bond with the sword. But nevertheless, Sybyll was changing. His first instinct was to turn around and ask her about it, but shook his head at the idea. Not yet.
  223. As the hours beat down on them, Galen grew more and more twitchy. He didn’t want to talk to Mino, because he now had no idea where a conversation with her would go. He couldn’t talk to Sybyll; she needed time alone. He supposed he could talk with Seira, but he didn’t know what he would say to her. And it wasn’t just his silence that tugged at him, but everyone else’s. Seira and Sybyll sometimes talked, Mino could probably chat with Sybyll no problem, and heck, with a little effort, Seira and Mino could get along. But they almost never interacted unless spurred on by the journey or something Galen did. Weren’t people and monsters who traveled so far together supposed to be friends?
  225. The realization almost made Galen stop in his tracks. They might not be friends, and he had no idea how to make them become friends, either. He may have learned many things from his parents and the other villagers, but never how to get people to be friendly with each other. Sure, he could make friends with people and monsters himself, but this problem was something altogether different. Working his jaw back and forth, he about started pulling his hair out. Out of all the problems to be having, this was the last thing he’d expected. It was such a silly problem, too. All they needed to do was talk with each other. Surely they could find something in common, something they liked about each other. Galen smacked a fist into his open palm. That was it: he’d get them to talk!
  227. Not wanting to waste any time and desperate to stave off his growing boredom, Galen jogged ahead to catch up with Seira. She glanced back to him on hearing his approach, having a smug grin prepared by the time he was at her side.
  229. “Little surprised to see you keep quiet for so long. Didn’t know it was possible.”
  231. A quip. At least she was in a good mood. “I’m plenty good at being quiet when I need to be. Besides, my father told me--“
  233. A paw pushed against his chest, cutting him off. “Please, spare me any more of those juicy sentimental ‘sayings’ you seem so fond of.”
  235. “Well excuse me for wanting to have some depth. They’re pretty valuable if you take them to heart, you know.”
  237. “I’m sure.” She didn’t sound sure at all.
  239. “So how far out is this pass? Did our stop at Roy and Cea’s place slow us down?”
  241. “Not enough to make a difference. We’ll hit it a little before nightfall and hopefully make it a little ways through. That way when the sun rises tomorrow we can get started through the Scorched Lands right away.”
  243. He nodded. “Say, remember how you said you like to watch people and monsters? Learn how they act and stuff?”
  245. “I remember saying something to that effect, yes.”
  247. “Well, you know, I was just talking with Mino, and she said she likes to do the same thing, too.”
  249. Seira turned to Galen, scrunching her brow and tilting her head forward a bit to give him a darker look. He didn’t say anything more, letting Seira scrutinize him before saying, “I’m trying to figure out if that was an insult or the least-subtle hint you could possibly give for me to talk to her.”
  251. “It definitely wasn’t an insult.”
  253. Her mouth curled into a frown. “Galen, I’m not talking to that thing! What we should do is leave her and let her live her slime life away from us. She’s going to bring trouble. The only reason I’m tolerating her now is because there are other, more important things to worry about. That’s my thoughts on the subject, and they’re not going to change.”
  255. His frown matched hers. “I don’t know why you are so insistent on hating her. She hasn’t even done anything bad. In fact, she got you out of your cell, then me out of the city! She’s been a big help!”
  257. “She’s a red slime,” she said, her lips and tongue punching out each word. “That means she’s smart and scheming. I don’t know what her plan is, but whatever it is, it’s going to ruin us at the worst possible moment.”
  259. “I still don’t understand why you think she has it out for us.”
  261. “Because that’s what they do.” She crossed her arms and raised her chin. “I hope you figure that out before someone pays.”
  263. With that, the discussion was over. Her posture left no room for rebuttal. Galen’s tongue squirmed nervously in his mouth, but said nothing further. It wasn’t like Seira would listen, anyways.
  265. Dulled thoughts and wearied legs did little to help the next few hours. Every time he tried to cheer himself up, Galen was reminded in some fashion about how poorly things were really going. Sure, they may have left the lamia behind, but everyone drifted further and further away on a horrid current of silence. The journey to nighttime passed with a sour taste on his tongue and a sinking feeling in his stomach.
  267. The passage through the mountains was so unimpressive he didn’t see it until the group was upon it. Seira came to stop, allowing everyone to catch up. Galen watched Sybyll, her face calm as ever, as she approached the rest of the group. He wasn’t sure, but he thought her steps may have been a bit heavier than normal.
  269. Seira stepped forward. “Well, I was hoping the moon would provide us a little more light, but it looks like that isn’t the case. I’m sure Sybyll and I will be able to manage just fine, but I don’t know about you, Galen.”
  271. He looked at the ground to test his eyes. She was right about the light; he couldn’t make out much detail at all.
  273. “I know this is a bit hazardous, but if you stick with me, I’ll guide you through around obstacles and help you keep your footing. We could rest here, but believe me when I say we should allow ourselves as much daytime as possible tomorrow for our passage through the Scorched Lands.”
  275. Turning to Sybyll, he asked for her opinion with a look. She replied with a stern nod.
  277. Galen shrugged. “Alright. If this really is the only way to go, I guess we should do it the right way.” He nodded at Mino. “You should stay with Sybyll. Don’t get separated in the dark.”
  279. “Yessir!” she said with an stiff stance, arms slapping to her sides. Rolling his eyes, he wondered if she ever truly took anything seriously. He would’ve cautioned her, had Seira not seized his hand in one of her fluffy paws and dragged him forward.
  281. Just as he suspected, the ascent up the shadowed path didn’t go so smoothly for him. While he wasn’t stumbling every few steps, there were plenty of times he almost landed with his face in the dirt or on a rock. The path was littered with uneven ground, rocks jutting out of the dirt, and the occasional hole where an animal may have once lived. Every time he started falling, however, Seira caught him. Her grip stayed true and her strength was plenty to keep him up, even when her own footing was uneven. A few thanks were mumbled, though he couldn’t quite make out whatever expression was on her face each time she caught him. He imagined she was enjoying the bit of power she had over him, showing strength where he showed weakness. Guiding him through unknown ground with him at her mercy.
  283. So busy stewing he was that he almost crashed into her when she came to a halt. His mouth opened to ask why, but he got his answer all too soon.
  285. “The great demon is not with us, it seems. We have visitors, and something tells me they’re not friendly.”
  287. Oh, boy.
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