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Great [Monster] Journey 21

RSanon Feb 15th, 2014 1,562 Never
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  1. Waking was as peaceful as a hurricane.
  2.  
  3. “Get up, lazy!”
  4.  
  5. Galen curled into a ball after a sudden kick connected with his stomach. Nausea rattled his weary mind awake, a strained groan coming out of his mouth as he fought to keep yesterday’s food in. Sensations slowly came to him, first the cold sting of a stiff, uneven bed, then the wispy touch of a foreign wind, and lastly the smell of damp rock. Blinking, he looked to the exit of the small alcove he’d slept in, memory of last night coming to him in a rush. The fight with the harpies and mothman, the argument with Seira, and the dark trek afterward.
  6.  
  7. Seira stood at the alcove’s exit, grimacing down at him. She kicked him again when he wasn’t quick enough for her.
  8.  
  9. “This isn’t the time for slacking. Since we still have monsters on our tail, we have to get going now.” She spat the words at him as if they might draw blood. With her glare, he felt they could.
  10.  
  11. He scrambled outside, keeping an eye on Seira as he got to his feet and braced to feel the chill wind once again. When he left his shelter, however, he was pleasantly surprised to find the air tolerably warm. He rubbed his bare skin briefly to check and make sure he wasn’t out of his mind.
  12.  
  13. “Is it… warmer?”
  14.  
  15. “Yes,” said Sybyll from behind him, leaning against one of the rock walls that made his shelter. “We are very close to the Scorched Lands. Yesterday the wind was blowing in towards them, but now it has changed directions and we are feeling residual heat.” She stood up off the wall and uncrossed her arms. “It will get worse as we travel.”
  16.  
  17. “He’ll find out for himself soon enough. Let’s get going,” said Seira. She didn’t leave it up for argument, turning on a heel and making her way towards the Scorched Lands.
  18.  
  19. Just like last night, she kept a good distance in front of Galen and the others. Luckily, he could actually see the path ahead now, though the sun had only just begun its ascent over the horizon. Sybyll stayed a short ways behind while Mino stuck to his side like tar. He appreciated the company, but his thoughts were in a hundred places at once. Seira was still mad at him, and he couldn’t decide whether or not she was in the right. The once-sword called Toneruth had been broken again, reducing it to even less of a weapon than it was before. He had a handful of things to say to Sybyll, but he still wanted to wait a bit longer before bringing them up. And the thing that worried him most at the moment laid right ahead: the journey through the Scorched Lands.
  20.  
  21. He could only imagine what the place was like. Fire spurting up from the ground, inhibitions lowered to the point of losing sanity, swarms of wild monsters prowling for prey, and demons of a strength unseen in the outside world--all this awaited them in the Lands. Maybe more, if certain stories and rumors were to be believed. The current state of their group didn’t exactly alleviate any of Galen’s concerns. Sybyll was the only one at a hundred percent, and she couldn’t do much. Mino seemed fine, and after last night, he was a little more confident in her ability to defend herself, but the way Seira acted around her, especially aggravated as she was now, could come back to bite them. Galen frowned at the manticore’s back. Hadn’t she been injured last night? He could’ve sworn he heard her cry out in pain at least once.
  22.  
  23. Before he could break into a jog to catch her, he stopped himself. Seira wouldn’t so much as let him ask about her wounds, much less treat them. Mino would be perfect for the job, but that was even less feasible. There was only one alternative.
  24.  
  25. He called Sybyll up to them.
  26.  
  27. “Can you check on Seira? I think she was injured last night and I want to make sure she doesn’t have any serious wounds before we head into the Scorched Lands.”
  28.  
  29. “She is indeed injured. I noticed her wounds yesterday evening. I do not think any are serious, but the sum of her injuries may pose a problem.”
  30.  
  31. Galen huffed and curled his hands into fists. “Why didn’t she ask to have them treated? Or at least do it herself? I almost want to force her to do it right now!”
  32.  
  33. Sybyll shook her head and laid a claw on Galen’s shoulder. “She is much too prideful for that. But if it might soothe your worries, Seira is in the least danger--next to me--out of all of us. She can fly away, should serious danger present itself. Elevation also lessens the cognitive dampers of the Scorched Lands.”
  34.  
  35. “Well, at least she has that, then.” It wasn’t ideal, but Galen would take what he could get. Maybe after they made it to Mallus he could talk her into getting treated.
  36.  
  37. “I can heal her right up if she ever wants me to!” said Mino.
  38.  
  39. Galen patted Mino’s head. At least she still kept that enthusiasm. Something told him they’d need it sooner rather than later. “I know. And I think Seira knows, too.” It might be part of the reason she’s so angry. Knowing a slime has the power to help her; being in a position where she actually needs something from someone she hardly even considers a monster.
  40.  
  41. The journey out of the elevated hills they called mountains went by quickly. The air grew thinker and hotter as they descended, each breath catching in Galen’s throat on the way to his lungs. His tongue wretched more than once at the taste of it, a taste that reminded him of a swamp infested by insect swarms. Occasionally, he’d catch the scent of something much sweeter, but that flavor was fleeting, teasing at him under the swathe of oppressive heat. When they finally hit even ground, the air was so think he feared he might choke on it.
  42.  
  43. “This is it,” said Seira, paws on her hips. “Keep your wits about you and don’t slow down.”
  44.  
  45. Galen gaped at the sight. The land was almost entirely flat, scattered shoots of flame licking at the air as far as the eye could see. The fire swayed differently than Galen expected. It wasn’t calm and predictable like the flames of a campfire, but wild and surging, like the ground was holding it captive from the sky. It gushed through the cracks in the ground like water bursting through a leak. In some places, the placement of the raging fire spouts was too dense to so much as consider trekking through, but most were spaced out. The closest gave off enough heat for Galen to feel it press into his skin.
  46.  
  47. The earth, cracked and dry, had a red tint to it, enough that if Galen stared at it too long, his eyes began to hurt. The hot air from the flames would produce an occasional gust of humid wind, kicking up small clouds of dust. Galen started coughing when one snuck into his mouth.
  48.  
  49. “How is it so damn humid? I would’ve thought all the flame and dust would make this place dry as a desert,” said Galen before succumbing to another bout of coughs.
  50.  
  51. “I don’t know, and I don’t care to know. If you have any brains, you’ll stop wondering too much about this place. It’s nothing more than a land to pass through,” said Seira. She pointed to a faintly-glowing pillar a few feet away. “That’s one of the waypoints Cea mentioned. They’ll keep us sane enough for the journey, but only if we stay on the path.” She paused to glare at Galen. “I won’t bother arguing with you if you start going crazy. I’ll just knock you out and carry you.”
  52.  
  53. He gave a meek nod, then turned to the waypoint, cautiously approaching it with a hand held out. The short pillar, maybe a foot taller than him, stuck out like a sore thumb against the rest of the Scorched Lands. It gave off a constant, cool air, matching the soft blue glow emanating from its surface. Runes and other mysterious markings covered the stone pillar, probably holding in whatever enchantments the mages gave it. Galen knew next to nothing about magic, only that it took many years of research to learn and that humans learned it from monsters. Now that he thought about it, there was one type of monster in particular that was good with magic, but he couldn’t quite recall which species it was.
  54.  
  55. “I’m going. Keep up if you want to live.”
  56.  
  57. Galen spun around just in time to see Seira whiz by him. She’d taken off at what for her was a light jog, but with Galen’s shorter stature and weaker muscles, it was more like a restrained run. All the traveling in the recent week had helped Galen get used to pacing himself a bit, but it wasn’t enough to prepare his body for marathon running. Mino extended her legs, becoming taller than Galen and Sybyll both and allowing her to keep pace with a more leisurely stride. She didn’t have much to say about their journey, no hurrah or ecstatic smile, just a calm gaze forward focused somewhere on the horizon.
  58.  
  59. That alone started to worry Galen.
  60.  
  61. The further they got into their trek, the more often Galen found himself wiping sweat out of his eyes, or off his neck, or scratching some part of his arm, or swallowing hard and clearing his throat. It was like the Lands sensed newcomers--intruders--and pushed itself on them. It wasn’t his fatigue that gave him the most trouble at first, but the thickness of the air, like it became more and more dense the deeper they dove into the Lands. A flame spout would occasionally rip from the ground not far off their path, causing Galen’s attention to shoot to it and his stride to break. One time, he almost fell face-first, but Sybyll was there to grab his shoulder and keep him on his feet. He nodded a silent thanks. He didn’t even know she’d been that close. Was she waiting for something like that to happen? Was his fatigue truly so apparent?
  62.  
  63. Seira seemed to know the way to go, even through whatever path that had once been laid out was now only just visible. At times, Galen would notice a several-foot-wide elevation of earth, sticking out against the rest of the crimson land around them. That must have been their path.
  64.  
  65. The sun taunted them with how slow it moved across the sky. A layer of clouds, tainted by that dusty red rampant in the Lands, hid the sun most of the time, allowing it’s glow to peek through just often enough for Galen to guess at the time of day. The clouds, while they did the favor of blocking out another source of pounding heat, filled Galen with an uncertain queasiness he would’ve gladly traded for the constant sunlight. At least it would’ve been something natural amongst this graveyard of the repugnant.
  66.  
  67. As his body began to wear, Galen looked for something to focus on, something to keep his mind off the eerie Lands and his waning constitution. Mino was still staring at the horizon, but after several minutes of trying the same, Galen discovered that wouldn’t work for him. He didn’t dare waste breath on conversation, and his sense of hearing and touch were drowned in the roar of flames and the suffocating grasp of heat. The scent of the Lands left little to be desired, but Galen would catch a sweetness every now and then, one that piqued his curiosity, but he never saw or heard anything new. It would’ve been a nice distraction to investigate, but the pull of the path and his destination were much stronger.
  68.  
  69. He relied on his eyes to find something amusing or at least jarring enough to keep him focused. The Lands to his left and right never changed in color or flavor, and the flames would twist his stomach with their sight. The only thing he had to stare at ahead of him was Seira. Her braid jiggled back and forth, bouncing with each step of her jog. Her head stayed steady, facing ever-forward. He expected her to turn around and check on him every now and then, but her attention never strayed. It occurred to him they’d run into an odd sort of role reversal from when they’d first started traveling together. Seira had always stayed behind and stared at Galen with such weight he could feel it. Now it was his turn to do the same.
  70.  
  71. Perhaps she was thinking about their argument, or maybe she was having a hard time just keeping focused like Galen. Her stride swayed mechanically, feet bounding and body shifting in perfect rhythm, no variance from step to step. Watching it made Galen sick. What he wanted to see was a reckless, leisurely pace like he’d seen in the forest back before Fullsburg. He wanted her wrecking a path forward. He wanted to see a flutter of wings or a twitch of her ears when she got excited.
  72.  
  73. Another wipe across his brow and a shake of his head took his thoughts away from Seira. The Lands were definitely getting to him, and in a much worse way than Cea had lead him to believe. Did she not want to reveal the extent of the influence of the Scorched Lands to ease his mind? Or some other reason? His teeth rattled back and forth as he ran. Such things didn’t matter right now. He could think about it later, when there wasn’t such a cloud in his head.
  74.  
  75. Somehow, Galen’s body hadn’t yet collapsed. It could’ve been the urgency of the situation, or the desire to not let his friends down, or even simple pride. He didn’t care. The only thing that mattered was that he kept going. Over the many hours of their jogging, waypoints came and went, positioned maybe every few miles, by Galen’s estimate. It was hard to keep track of distance. The worst parts of the journey were the middle of the gaps between waypoints. There, the Lands pulled at Galen’s body and mind considerably more convincingly.
  76.  
  77. The sweet scent teased at him once more. This time, it drowned out the scent of dust and humidity completely. It filled his nostrils and wafted right up to his brain, settling in like cotton. Closing his eyes, he took another deep breath, the first smile he’d had that day growing on his face. Such a thing didn’t belong here at all, like an oasis in the middle of a desert. Galen’s mouth hung open and his tongue lolled out like a dog’s would. Maybe he could find whatever it was that made that scent and take it along with him. Anything to keep the stifling presence of the Lands at bay. They had to be close to it now with how strong the smell was.
  78.  
  79. Lifting up his nose, he tried to locate the origin of the smell. It was hard to make out, but he felt it was stronger to his left. With a grin, he started off toward the curiosity.
  80.  
  81. Sybyll was having none of it. A claw reached out to grab his shoulder while another came around to slap his cheek. His eyes flew open and his stride broke, slowing to a walk as he found his bearings. Sybyll said nothing, only pointing to the just-visible path he’d wandered off of. Mino and Seira were still running, completely oblivious to Galen’s momentary disappearance. He could only imagine how tough it was for them. Nodding a thanks to Sybyll, he got back on the path and hit the same pace he’d been holding all day. Now, however, it seemed a touch harder to maintain. He had no right to complain, though. Mino and Seira hadn’t been distracted once, yet they had it much worse than him, according to Cea. He was supposed to be looking out for them, both as a friend and the leader of the group. This wasn’t the time to be weak, it was time to set and example.
  82.  
  83. Bursting forward with a surge of energy, Galen passed Mino by a few strides. He kept his head high and chest out. Mino had lent him so much strength--maybe it was time he returned the favor. He glanced back to shoot her whatever smile he could muster, but on seeing her face, he wasn’t so sure she was still in the same world as him. Her eyes were blank, her legs had shortened since they started their run, and slime kept dripping off her body to be left behind on the ground. A show of enthusiasm wasn’t what she needed, but rather to get out of this place as soon as possible. Swallowing hard, Galen turned to Seira. The manticore may not have had to worry about holding her form, but that didn’t make her any less vulnerable to the other plagues of the Lands. If she was losing her inhibitions as Cea said, trying to match pace with her or even calling her name could set her off. She was less a manticore and more a bear trap ready to snap shut on whatever dared trigger it.
  84.  
  85. Only after an eternity of running did evening begin its approach. Galen caught a glimpse of the sun through the clouds, sighing to himself when he saw it had since started its descent. He was a wreck. His legs and arms screamed at him for rest. His chest heaved in and out with each strained breath, and sweat had literally soaked every inch of skin and clothing on him. His head felt like a fifty-pound weight merely sitting atop his shoulders on the fulcrum of his neck. His throat begged for water, but the last of it had already been consumed. He could feel cracks on his tongue and a squeezing on his neck every time he swallowed the pathetic amount of saliva his mouth still made. The majority of their journey was over, this was just the home stretch. Their pace had never slowed as far as Galen could tell, which meant Mallus only lied another hour or so out.
  86.  
  87. The thought still didn’t give him enough confidence to check on Mino or Seira, though. His drooping eyes stayed forward.
  88.  
  89. The scent came back, stronger this time, and Galen found it that much harder to resist. Not only that, but he noticed Seira slowing her pace. Did she smell it too? Her nose was probably stronger than his; she had to have smelled it. When he tried to figure out why it might be affecting her now, he winced, vision going blurry. The cloud over his thoughts had grown spikes. His brain resisted any command other than ‘run forward’. Seira kept slowing and Galen with her. The aches in his body numbed and the scent filled his nostrils. His legs slowed to a walk on their own, but Galen didn’t even notice. All he could do was stare at Seira blankly. The hisses of fire and waves of heat became nothing more than background noise. A splatter rung out behind him and to his left, but still he kept staring. He didn’t even consider what that sound might have been.
  90.  
  91. “Galen.”
  92.  
  93. A voice. He’d heart it before, hadn’t he?
  94.  
  95. “Galen.”
  96.  
  97. Who was she talking to? Was Galen his name?
  98.  
  99. “Something is wrong.”
  100.  
  101. He didn’t feel particularly concerned with anything. That voice needed to go away and stop bugging him.
  102.  
  103. “Galen!”
  104.  
  105. A claw seized his shoulder and jerked him around to face the speaker. Another claw grabbed his other shoulder and shook him so violently the sweat on his face started flying about. He tried swatting at the arms holding him, but his own arms did little more than flounder. He tried telling the person to stop, but all he got out was a grunt. Dizzier and dizzier he became, unable to stop the shaking, until at last it ended on its own. Frowning, he glared at whoever was in front of him, hoping to drive them off, when his world suddenly went sideways. A blow connected with his cheek, knocking him to the ground. Earth and sky became one red haze. Drool sludged out of his mouth onto the ground as he struggled to breathe. Only after swallowing could he gulp in precious air, and each breath made his vision more clear. Eventually he found the strength to close his mouth, clapped lips rubbing up against each other, and sat up.
  106.  
  107. Sybyll stood before him, holding out a claw.
  108.  
  109. “Are you back?”
  110.  
  111. He blinked at her, then her hand, then back to her. “I… think so. I still can’t--“ Cutting off, he grabbed a fistful of his head and squeezed. “Ugh. I can hardly think. What’s going on?”
  112.  
  113. “Look,” she said, pointing.
  114.  
  115. “Huh?” His eyes followed her direction, landing on an object aside the road. Half of it was upright, the base of a stone pillar, but the other half was strewn across the ground. Both pieces had strange designs and all over them. Galen’s eyes widened. “A waypoint.”
  116.  
  117. “Yes. We have no protection from the Lands here. We must hurry forward to the influence of the next before you lose your mind.”
  118.  
  119. “What about Seira and Mino?”
  120.  
  121. Sybyll frowned and stepped to the side. Behind her was a red puddle, sloshing back and forth of its own volition. Galen squinted at it, trying to figure out what it meant. He jerked up straight when it hit him.
  122.  
  123. “Mino!”
  124.  
  125. Scrambling over to the puddle, he reached out and ran his hand through it, trying to get some sort of response out of her. The slime clung to his skin where he touched it and sucked on his hand, but couldn’t climb any higher than his elbow before sloughing off back into the puddle. He turned back to Sybyll.
  126.  
  127. “How can I help her? Can we carry her to the next waypoint?” he asked, panting.
  128.  
  129. “Honestly, I do not believe that to be the problem. The Lands may have taken her enthusiasm, but I believe her will was intact when she collapsed.” Her brow narrowed. “Her dilemma is that of nourishment. She attempted to make the journey on an empty stomach, and in the place where she was weakest, her fatigue finally overcame her.”
  130.  
  131. “Nourishment? She just needed food?” He turned back to Mino, striking the ground with a fist. “You idiot! Why didn’t you say anything! Starting your journey into the Scorched Lands while you were still starving?? Are you serious?”
  132.  
  133. The puddle didn’t answer.
  134.  
  135. Galen bit his lower lip. “If she’s starved, does that mean she needs… well, you-know-what?”
  136.  
  137. Sybyll nodded.
  138.  
  139. “Great angels and demons, I don’t know if I can give her that. I’m--“ He broke off, coughing. He hit himself in the chest to clear his lungs, then resumed. “I’m exhausted, and I don’t exactly feel like sex right now. I mean, I’d do it anyways, but I don’t know if I can perform like this.”
  140.  
  141. “Even in that state, Mino will retain enough of her instincts to know what to do. She is a slime, and once she has a goal, I think your ability or lack thereof will mean little.”
  142.  
  143. “If you say so.” He tugged at his collar, trying to suffer the heat better, but it hardly helped calm himself down. “If this is what needs to be done, I’ll do it.” Nodding, he punched his fists together, wincing when they connected. Better skip any sort of theatrics. He needed to feed Mino and get out of here as soon as possible. Who knew how long Sybyll’s wake-up call would help.
  144.  
  145. A rush of awkwardness hit him as he fumbled with his pants and underwear. He wasn’t used to taking them off himself. He also hadn’t had an audience before… though it wasn’t like Sybyll was watching to get off. He wondered if she even could in her state.
  146.  
  147. His manhood came out limp and unimpressive, heating his face even moreso than it already was. This was a necessity. He had to just do it and get it over with. Scooting forward on his knees, he brought his crotch up to the puddle. It sensed his proximity, leaning toward him and sending out a probing appendage. He swallowed, wiping another handful of sweat off his face. Please just work, he thought. Please, Mino.
  148.  
  149. A deep, reverberating growl rattled his ears. His entire body froze. Even his lungs stopped mid-breath. As slowly as he dared, he turned his head around, eyes fearing what they might see, the sting of his abundant sweat unaffecting their desire to stay wide open.
  150.  
  151. Seira glared at him with a heat that dwarfed the Lands’, her body pulsing up and down with each deep breath. Her paws were curled up into fists, her nostrils were flaring, and her teeth showed a wicked snarl of unbridled rage. Saliva fell from the corner of her mouth, but she made no effort to wipe it away.
  152.  
  153. Her lips moved to utter one distinct, harrowing word.
  154.  
  155. “Mine.”
  156.  
  157. He really needed to stop getting himself into these situations.
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