Chapter 3: Discerning The Truth
Birds sang the song of nature as leaves rustled softly in the wind. Morning dew formed as the chilly humid air condensed into tiny droplets onto nearby foliage. However, it wasn’t too cold as the warm rays of the sun penetrated through the dense canopies above them, forming tiny golden beams and illuminating the ground below. Surrounded by the sea of trees, it would’ve been an otherwise peaceful morning.
If not for the stupid birds chirping noisily.
“Stoppppp! Stoppppp! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!”
I yelled at the top of my voice, whilst stamping at the ground angrily. I didn’t know why I was throwing a tantrum at birds. In fact, the only thing I knew was that I hated them. Absolutely despising their high pitched, carefree voices. They were annoying, obnoxious and loud. Worst of all, they also never did sing in harmony too!
“Everything alright back there? Com’on we gotta get a move on. Quit whining already will ya’?”
Valtan’s voice echoed from my front. Reluctantly, I turned my body to his direction, shrugging my shoulders and slumping my body as I walked towards the source of Valtan’s voice. Furrowing my eyebrows, I put on a resigned look on my face as I fed thoughts to the voices reverberating in my skull.
Why am I so easily irritated? Heck, I don’t even know why I was throwing a tantrum at birds in the first place! Have I completely lost it? No no, I’m still sane aren’t I? Yes Yes, I am definitely awake. Then was it because I had accepted this dumb request from Valtan? No way right? I mean waking up in middle of the night because of “squirrel attacks” and running from the occasional attack by bears, wolves, Saber Tooth tigers and boars. Those were all normal right? Valtan even said so himself!
Failing to recognise the rock on the ground as I was heavily contemplating my terrible life choices, I tripped. As it was on a slight incline, I achieved flight momentarily before planting face first into the ground. Dirt and mud splattered unto my face, lodging itself into the crevices of my nostrils and throat.
“Ehehehe… No no no. This is not right at all! I volunteered to look for a bear! Not run for my life at every juncture! I’m a humble villager, no way such things are actually normal!”
I exclaimed loudly as I coughed out the sediments in my mouth and wiped off the pieces of earth that stubbornly stuck to my face, refusing to come off.
Having only four hours of sleep for the previous nights is finally taking a toll on me huh. Those damn “squirrel attacks”. At this point, I don’t even know if squirrels are the same friendly creatures Andromeda and I used to chase after in the past anymore. Coupled with the weird looking and tasting globs of syrup that Valtan calls “meals from the wilderness”, I’m not sure whether I’d find the bear before I actually die myself! Seriously! Purplish paste-like globs served on thorny leaves, there’s no way those things are edible, are they? And to call all these as part of a training regiment, who the hell would actually survive this, much less want to adopt it?
I grumbled in my heart as I trudged my left foot before my right into the slightly damp undergrowth beneath my feet. My vision faded in and out, from the hazy, almost dreamlike world into the harsh, crystal clear reality before me as I struggled to keep awake.
Suddenly, I heard the rustling of bushes coming from the dense thicket at the corner of my vision. I don’t know if it was through sheer luck or something else that allowed me to notice the rustling in my state of half-alertness, but I somehow did.
A mouse? A cat? Or could it be something worse?
I don’t know. Panic overwhelmed my senses, causing my body to stiffen in fear and kicked it into a higher state of alertness (or as alert as a person that’s half-asleep person could be anyway). Adrenaline once again pumped through my veins as it did in the previous nights before, bringing my swaying consciousness to a standstill.
If there’s anything that I’ve learnt over the past few nights, running is probably better than sticking around to find out.
I clenched my fist in determination as I made the silent decision in my heart. Without nothing left to hesitate about, I bolted forwards, past the bush and towards where I had last heard Valtan’s voice. The bush shook hard as I ran past it.
Judging by the shaking of the bush, whatever’s hiding in it probably didn’t expect me to, out of all things, run towards it.
Once again, I found myself running for my life. At this point, I didn’t know how many times I had already done this over the last few days.
Was it 5 times? No, it must’ve been in the double digits by now. So maybe 20? Well, I never bothered counting in the first place. Afterall, fleeing for my life isn’t something one would expect to happen often, right?
I charged forward into the woods while screaming, never once turning behind to see what was chasing me. Fear and panic gripped my heart, while I slowly lost feeling in my legs as they became numb from exhaustion. Not just my legs, but my arms and knees felt heavy and creaked like an unlubricated door. I just wanted it all to end.
I just need to get this quest done and over with and it’ll all end.
As if reading my thoughts, the trees ahead opened up a gap large enough for me to see the familiar figure of Valtan standing amidst the sea of white. My weak eyes were slow to adjust to the world of bright that laid beyond the gap in the trees. I couldn’t see anything else but the body of Valtan standing strong and sturdy. However, it was also the only thing my mind could focus on as I tried to beat whatever was pursuing me.
Finally! There’s Valtan!
Hope filled my empty body as I headed towards his toned back upon the horizon.
“Valtan! Help me!!!!”
I called out to Valtan at the top of my lungs. With a “hmmm?”, he turned towards me. Within the next moment, countless expressions flicked across his face, going from first surprise, to happiness, and to finally terror. Before this, I never knew a person could make these many expressions in such a short period of time. However, I soon came to realize why Valtan, the one who wouldn’t show any signs of faltering in the face of danger, showed an expression of pure terror.
Oh boy! Fate sure loves to play cruel jokes huh? For the last time, please make it stop! I beg of you!
I tripped as my feet got hooked by the root that stuck out from the dense undergrowth below me. In conjunction with my earlier momentum, I then ungracefully collided into Valtan who was standing on a steep ledge that I failed to notice as the brightness of the sun shrouded most of my vision. As expected, the end result wasn’t something very pleasant.
Rolling down the slope as one, Valtan and I screamed. Well rather, Valtan screamed. Since my voice was already hoarse from earlier. Believe me, I too wanted to scream but nothing came out when I opened my mouth.
After about a whole minute of ear piercing screaming from Valtan, we tumbled to the bottom of the slope. I didn’t know whether I should been happy or in pain that my ears were still functioning after all the abuse that Valtan has placed them through when a loud crunch sounded out from my left hand as Valtan landed on top of it.
Ahhhhhhhhhhh! Did I fracture it? Don’t tell me I fractured it!
Waves of pain surged through my arm, complimenting the loud crunch from earlier. It couldn’t hold up against the herculean pillar of strength that is Valtan, as it succumbed to his gargantuan weight. Finding an alternative to my voice who refused to obey my orders, my mind shrieked in pain.
“Oh nice one Aegeus! I guess all that training paid off because there’s the cave! As expected of my training regime to hone your survival skills”
Valtan chuckled happily to himself.
“No it didn’t! Urghhhh… I don’t think this is the time to be joking around man, I think my arm’s broken.”
I retorted as loud as I could to Valtan’s ridiculous claim, while holding back the surge of tears and pain from the injury.
Anything! Anything is better than that stupid training regime! Even this broken arm pales in comparison to it!
Interrupting our short exchange was a ferocious roar.
I turned my head slowly towards the source of the roar. Part of me didn’t want to find out what it was, but yet it was paramount to the survival of Valtan and I. However, I immediately regretted my decision as I stared wide-eyed at the scarlet beast before me.
Stripes and spots permeated throughout its scarlet orange hide. A pair of monochromatic yellow eyes exemplified its predatory and bestial instincts. It was determined to kill. With the same matching theme, the great beast opened its mouth, revealing its elongated canines that stood out amidst the row of razor-sharp teeth. With its long curvy whiskers that showed its pride and arrogance, it was a Saber Tooth tiger!
Oh shit! Speak of the devil. The only thing worse than this that I could’ve encountered is a minotaur.
The beast licked its mouth as it observed us with its ravening gaze. It had readied a palm full of keen digits, preparing to dig into its newfound meal. Losing control to its savage instincts, it pounced, putting its springy hind legs into action and leaped towards us.
We were utterly defenceless against this great beast. Caught out of position and unarmed, there was nothing we could do.
I squeezed my eyes shut, readying myself for the worst possible outcome, which was death.
Even death doesn’t seem that bad compared to the living hell that is now. At least, I’d be reunited with Andromeda. If she asks why I’m here, maybe I’d just reply “the empire got me”. That’d be fine right?
However, it never came.
Instead, Valtan had once again saved me. He made a split second decision, rolling me over so that he ended up above me, absorbing the downward strike from the primal beast.
Written by: Emelia-Tan
Edited by: Schwarz13 and Mega14343
Proofread by: Yakult