-Where It All Began-
Although the seasons were in the process of changing from summer to autumn, the wilds of Vanden still held its lush and abundant landscape that it was known for. Bright yellow primroses were in full bloom, taking full advantage of the slowly cooling temperature, while the cerulean bluebells drooped their beautiful bulbs as if they were old men looking for their lost spectacles. A multitude of verdant ferns and grasses spotted the environment, concealing the various fauna that lay within. Large bold oak trees stood tall as if proclaiming that they feared nothing; be it a storm or hurricane. Their proud and fierce bodies scarred by relentless winds and from the meddlesome wildlife.
Normally, the forests of Vanden would be populated by noisy bugs and creatures, their chirps and buzzes would fill the surroundings, creating a noisy yet somewhat relaxing ambiance that many travelers have fallen in love with.
However, the forest no longer echoed out with its familiar ambiance that the Trio was used to. Only an odd and peculiar silence resonated, causing the Trio to have a sense of caution as they entered the forest. The sun was no longer high in the sky, now it was threatening the land with sunset. Large shafts of orange light bathed the forest, causing shadows to jump out of the dense foliage near the path the party was walking on.
“Hmmm…” Michael hummed, his face filled with curiosity. Although Michael would sometimes act or do something foolish whenever he was taking a break or resting, he would always be serious and vigilant whenever he was taking on a mission.
“What’s up?” Clover spoke up, his face still beaming with excitement. Although he had inquired Michael, he was actually not paying attention. His focus was entirely occupied at gazing at the surrounding trees and foliage. Currently, he had his eyes trained on a red and orange beetle who’s mandibles were nearly as large as the rest of its body.
“Don’t touch that. Its bite is venomous.” Zen muttered, only to smile when he watched Clover quickly back away from the dangerous insect and nearly tripping.
“Clover! Rule number one of a Seeker is to never touch or eat anything you have no knowledge of!” Maya blurted out. “You never know if a bug that has bit you or a plant that you ate will give you a bad stomach ache or worse, kill you!”
Putting on a face of pride, she continued to divulge tips and tricks that every novice Seeker should know before partaking on a mission. Unfortunately, while the Seeker lifestyle had many benefits, it also had a high rate of mortality and injury. This was to be expected of course as no one believed that the Seeker life was full of ease and pure wanderlust. Instead, it was one of diligence and hard work, receiving what you put into it.
“Seeker rule number two: Always keep your weapon on you or within arm’s reach at all times! You never know when the enemy will strike!” As Maya was an experienced Seeker that was full of knowledge, Clover willing absorbed all the information that she divulged. Although Clover doesn’t plan on becoming a Seeker, it would still be beneficial for him to know this when he embarks on his travels.
“Seeker rule number three: Always travel in a group or a pair! A party is better prepared to handle any mission that is thrown off kilter when it becomes apparent that its true difficulty is much higher than it was originally posted as!”
“Besides, traveling with friends is much better than being alone…” Maya quietly added as she gazed at her two friends.
Now that Clover thought of it, almost every Seeker that entered the guild looking for work either had a partner or two with them. Of course, there would always be the occasional Seeker that would insist on traveling on their own. Most of the time they seemed as if they had something to prove. Sometimes they would be muttering about some sort of private vendetta that only they could take care of. Unfortunately, Clover had heard of these types being found dead in the wilderness or along the roads coming to Vanden. Clearly, if they had some backup than they might have been able to live through whatever tribulation that had come to them.
“Seeker rule number four….” Maya continued as Zen walked over to Michael’s side.
“Hey, you feel it too, right?” Zen whispered, his eyes filled with a cautious gleam as he glanced around.
“Yeah. Ever since we entered the forest. What do you think it is?” Although he didn’t want to believe it, Michael was starting to think that something suspicious was happening within the forest.
“Maybe some spirits are doing some strange ritual. Or perhaps a demon has broken through into our realm. Either way, we should finish this mission as fast as possible without alerting Clover.” Glancing back towards Clover who was diligently consuming all the information that Maya was spouting. His eyes briefly met with Maya’s as he nodded his head.
Seemingly being able to telepathically understand Zen, Maya nodded in return while simultaneously entertaining Clover as well as surveying the environment.
“Hmm…We promised Clover that we would take the scenic route…I didn’t think that the mission would have to be cut short like this.” Michael looked at his feet while sighing, his eyes filled with melancholy. “I guess I am a bad guy… Forgetting his birthday and all…”
“Haha! Don’t say that! Besides, Maya and I are also to blame! After all, we could have stopped you if we wanted to!” His nonchalant appearance returning to his face, Zen chuckled as he cheered up his somber friend. “Anyways, if this trip gets cut short, we can always take another one!”
“Yeah… I guess so…”Michael grumbled. “You know… If he does get hurt we will get in a lot of trouble.”
A stoic expression quickly formed on Zen’s face. “You better not jinx us, you know what happened the last time you said something like tha-”
Before Zen could finish his sentence, a loud, ear-shattering noise crescendoed throughout the forest. Causing some of the large oak trees to rip out from their foundations, and fall over. The quiet forest ambiance was destroyed in an instant as birds and animals fled from the forest. Crows, robins, sparrows, cardinals, and blue jays filled the sky as their homes were destroyed. Rabbits, squirrels, mice, and shrews appeared from the undergrowth as they scurried to safety.
Zen sprinted toward Clover’s side, protecting him from any threat that may come to them while simultaneously shooting a quick glare at Michael.
“What the hell was that!” Maya yelled as she covered Clover’s pointed ears.
“Who knows! Let’s just get Clover out of here!” Michael yelled back as he took the lead, taking them back the way they came.
“Are these all the beasts you’ve rounded up?” A deep and raspy voice growled. The figure who spoke was shrouded in a violet and cyan cloak made from the plumage of elegant birds.
Although his face was covered, the rest of his body was not. From his torso down one could clearly see the body of a horse. Anyone who took a glance at the man would be able to tell that he was a Centaur.
However, this Centaur was clearly different. Its usual black fur was instead replaced by tough reptilian scales. Its tail was also reptilian in nature, more akin to a crocodile’s than a horse. And underneath the Centaurs shroud were two wicked horns.
In front of the Centaur were dozens of bears, wolves, gnolls, deer, and other beasts that huddled pitifully in cages. The beasts were all in a sedative state and their eyes were a sickly shade of purple as they drooped down, unable to fight the venom that coursed through their veins.
“Yes, Chief! We had the Braves hunt down every beast they could until your arrival.” Another shrouded Centaur spoke up while saluting. “We have been distributing the serum as per the orders of the young master.”
The cloaked man merely nodded in satisfaction before approaching a nearby cage. The myriad of beasts that resided within the cages were unable to notice the man from their drug-induced stupor. The man approached the cages and wrapped his tail around the neck of one of the wolves, lifting it up to eye-level.
“Good, we are ready. The young master’s arrival is imminent.” Still smiling, the mysterious Centaur gazed into the eyes of his subordinate. “Have the Braves retreat from the forest at once! And sound the horn!”
One of the Centaurs reached into a bag and pulled out a horn. The horn appeared as any other horn that would be used in an orchestra or symphony.
The horn sounded out, releasing a deep and loud roar! The shockwave ripped apart nearby trees from their foundations, causing them to crash onto the ground with loud booms!
Loud roars pierced the forest as every beast locked within their cages shrieked in agony! Their bodies became roiling masses of muscle and sinew as they began to tear apart their prisons!
One by one the strong cages broke apart from their sheer strength! The Centaurs had already found refuge on top of a particularly sturdy oak that managed to resist the horn’s devastating blast.
“Notify the young master that the plan has commenced…”
The previously silent forest had turned into a madhouse. The birds were now squealing in terror as their homes were uprooted and slammed onto the ground. Insects chirped madly as they attempted to flee from the shockwave that emanated from the offending sound. But the loudest noise came from the shrieks and roars of the drug-induced beasts that were attacking and killing anything with a heartbeat.
Their previously lazy and violet eyes had become a furious red! Their bodies were covered in thick, wriggling, and blue worm-like veins as their muscles expanded to double or triple the size! Their relentless charge echoed throughout the forest as thousands of paws and hooves pounded the ground, causing the land to shake as if an earthquake had erupted! And this devastating stampede was now heading towards Clover’s party!
Roared a large beast, bursting from the bushes behind the fleeing party. The fur from its body bristled furiously making it appear as if it was double its size. And its jaws were leaking a disgusting foam as if it had rabies.
Originally, the beast was a bear. But now it was mutating in front of the bewildered party’s eyes!
In the blink of an eye, the bear’s forehead sprouted two hideous horns while simultaneously growing a thick reptilian tail! Its claws grew to twice their original size as its fangs sprouted past its jaws!
With one last roar, the mighty beast charged towards the mystified party! Without a moment’s notice, Maya and Zen leaped into a formation, both of them arriving in front of Clover in order to protect him from the incoming beast.
As the two guarded Clover, Michael leaped from his position, landing directly into the path of the rampaging mutant!
In a flash, his sword was released from its sheath as Michael struck towards the mad beast. The sword gleamed with an orange light as the setting sun’s rays struck it and created a brilliant flash!
The mutated bear seemed to hesitate for a second as it was blinded by the orange glow. Only for it to stir from its stupor and reinvigorate its charge as it slashed its deadly claws towards Michael!
Michael merely smiled and swung his sword. The deadly slash ejected a plume of fire that scorched the landscape as it flew towards the maddened beast.
The beast, blinded by rage, did not attempt to dodge this attack at all. It instead opted to meet the plume of fire head on!
The beast raised its hideous claws towards the oncoming flames, but this would prove to be a costly mistake as the scorching slash tore through the beast!
A large fountain of blood splashed from the maddened bear. The smell of burning fur and flesh filled the air as the bear was cleaved in half. Some parts of the bear oozed sticky blood, while other parts were partly cauterized. The scent of burning flesh and fur was foul enough to induce vomiting.
“Whew…” Michael sighed, letting out a single breath. Turning back to the party he flashed a quick smile.
Before he could let out his words, another loud explosion resonated near them, followed by the sound of hundreds of footsteps!
Turning his back towards the sound of the incoming stampede, Michael took a single glance towards the party and yelled. “Run!”
Sparing no time, the group sprinted towards the way they came! Zen grabbed a hold of Clover, carrying him like a sack of potatoes!
“You don’t need to carry me!” Clover grumbled as he struggled to release himself.
“Sorry, Clover. But this is faster…”
After running for less than a minute the stampeding beasts caught up to the group as they exploded from the dense woodland! Dozens of mutated beasts sprinted towards them, their eyes red with fury and bloodlust. Bears, wolves, deer, gnolls, and even squirrels charged towards the party with an insatiable urge to kill!
“Damn it! Both of you take Clover to safety! I’ll hold them off!” Michael yelled before charging towards the army of mutants.
Silently acknowledging him, both Maya and Zen picked up the pace, leaving their comrade behind!
Fear filled Clovers eyes as he stared at the young hero’s back as Michael charged towards the horde of monsters!
“Sir, it seems we may have met with a slight problem…” One of the shrouded men muttered as he gazed at Michael from afar. Michael was surrounded by hundreds of mutated beasts, as he swung his blade and carved a path through the onslaught of monsters. His breath was becoming increasingly rapid, as he could not take on such a large force of deranged beasts!
“No matter, sound the horn once more!” The plumage cloaked Centaur rasped. “We must make sure the beasts reach their target before the young master arrives!”
“Yes, Sir!” Said the subordinates, before sounding the horn once more.
The horn’s shockwave tore apart the sky! Its sonic blast ripped apart the clouds and knocked down flocks of birds, their eardrums having exploded from the loud blast!
“Shit!” Michael cursed, his figure appearing more like that of a demon rather than a hero. His previously unscathed azure jacket was now stained with the foul blood of countless enemies. Countless holes and tears oozed blood from the myriad of minor scratches and punctures. His metal chest guard was heavily dented; with the most significant damage coming from a large puncture caused by a horn that had nearly pierced his heart! His entire body was racked with pain and fatigue and one could tell that his right arm was under significant amounts of stress.
Switching his blade from his right to left arm, Michael continued his onslaught! It was only after he cut down a couple more beasts that he noticed that they were no longer preoccupied with him.
With the horn being the signal, the beasts took one last glance at Michael and proceeded to run away!
Michael opened his eyes in panic as he noticed that the rampaging horde was on a direct path with his friends!
“You can’t escape!” Fury filled Michaels’ cold blue eyes as he sprinted towards the fleeing beasts!
“Argh!” He yelled out as his entire body was slammed by a massive Centaur! His body flung towards a large tree and landed with a loud smack! He had fallen head first, and now a stream of blood ran down his face. Fighting to stay conscious, Michael used his sword to prop himself up, before lunging away from the tree.
His previous location turned into a large crater as a large warhammer slammed into the ground, causing a piercing noise to ring out as chunks of rock and earth flung all over!
Michael gazed at his new foe, his usually calm white face had long since been stained with dirt and blood.
“I’ve fought stronger creatures than you, Centaur!
Michael yelled out one last time as he slammed his fists to the ground! Large fiery cracks sprawled from his blows which headed towards the wild Centaur!
The Centaur sprung away from the cracks as its previous position erupted into an explosion of molten lava! Immediately the Centaur sprang into action. Its shrouded torso became uncovered by the force of the blast which knocked its cloak off.
Its upper torso had transformed into a fiery red color as if to imitate the rage and fury it held within. Its lower half was covered in dark-green scales, while its tail looked more reptilian. This Centaur had a pair demonic horns, but one had been broken, leaving only a pitiful stump in its place.
Raising its warhammer, the Centaur bellowed out with a fierce war cry as it charged straight towards Michael!
Anticipating this, Michael also slashed once more with his sword while letting out another plume of scorching flame.
The Centaur met the fiery strike head on! Bursting it apart as its large hammer stuck towards Michael!
The Centaur’s hammer slammed into Michael’s metal chest guard, causing it to shatter into small fragments! Michael’s body shot back tens of feet, only stopping when his body slammed into the ground with a loud, thud!
“Pwah!” A large breath of air was ejected from Michael’s body as crashed into the ground. With much effort, he scrambled back into a standing position. Straightening his tottering body, he vomited a mouthful of blood. His face had now grown pale from the lack of blood, but his eyes still had a resolute shine as he glared down the mutant in front of him!
The Centaur nonchalantly watched Michael as he charged towards it once more, raising its wicked warhammer once again to meet his blow!
“Is Michael going to be alright?!” Clover yelled, his voice shook with fear as he continued to look back towards Michael’s direction.
“Haha! Of course, he is! Michael isn’t some weakling who would lose to some weird beasts! He’s not a Gold ranked Seeker just for show!” Zen bellowed, his face covered in a wide grin as he laughed.
Of course, he only said this in order to calm Clover down. In actuality, Zen was concerned for his friend. Even though he had not seen Michael’s full combat potential in a long time, he did not think that Michael could have become strong enough to take on hundreds of those mutated beasts!
“Michael is incredibly tough! Don’t you worry Clover, let’s just stay focused as we get you to safety!” Maya yelled out from in front, before turning her head to flash him a quick smile of reassurance. In her head, she was already contemplating on how she would be able to deliver Clover to safety as well as having enough time to save her friend.
“As soon as we get out of this forest Maya will lead you back to Vanden, alright? And then I will go back and help out Michael, so just sit tight!” Zen said while continuing his cheerful charade. “But I’m sure that won’t be necessary! Michael will probably have cleaned them up by now!”
Zen looked back in surprise as he heard the close roars of the horde once again! His eyes widened in shock as a single terrifying thought entered his mind.
Did Michael die?
Forcefully shaking his head free from such a terrible thought, he threw the startled Clover towards Maya, her nimble yet strong arms easily grabbing a hold of him!
“Get Clover the hell out of here!” Zen yelled with all his might as turned around and confronted the swarming horde of mutants. Grabbing a hold of his powerful bow, he jumped three meters into the air and launched three arrows! The arrows met their marks as a mutated wolf and two gnolls were shot through their heads!
“Zen!” Maya looked back in fear, the scared boy on her back felt like he weighed a thousand pounds as she looked back at her longtime companion! Her legs were like blocks of stone as she stood petrified. Maya wanted to help her friend, but Clover was the obvious priority!
Biting her lip, Maya sprinted away with Clover, leaving Zen to face the horde alone.
“Whew…” Zen let out a long breath, as he stared at the demonic beasts in front of him. Their bodies were no longer covered in hair and fur, but with scales and horns. Their eyes glowed bright red with hate. Zen had dozens of terrifying thoughts racing through his head.
Will Clover and Maya get out safe?
Violently shaking his mind clear from that terrible thought, Zen pulled out three more arrows from his quiver and strung them to his bow.
The beasts took this movement as their opportunity to strike. The large mutated bears and wolves led the charge! Their large paws shook the ground with tremendous strength with cracks sprawling under their feet as they grew ever closer towards Zen!
Merely looking upon these poor creatures in disdain, Zen released the arrows from his mighty bow! Three arrows split the air as they flew at near impossible speeds! They soon met the heads of the nearest beasts as their heads exploded like watermelons! Brain matter splattered onto the other beasts. The sight of blood and gore caused their bloodlust and their desire to kill to increase!
The beasts roared with renewed vigor, their unrelenting charge drawing closer to Zen every second! Their snarling jaws spewed saliva in every direction as their restless teeth hoped to chomp down onto Zen’s delectable flesh.
“Go to hell!” Zen roared one last time as he jumped into the air once more! In the blink of an eye, Zen loosed three more arrows which met their targets at an unfathomable speed! However, his current trajectory was landing him directly in the middle of the beast pack!
The jaws of the beasts snapped at Zen’s heels as he landed on top of the beasts, his feet dancing on their backs as he jumped from beast to beast! In a flash, Zen had arrived behind the majority of the horde. Their eyes shone with fury as they saw their prey escape their jaws! Zen continued shooting a relentless barrage of missiles; every well-placed strike finished off a mutated beast.
“Whew…” Zen let out another breath of air as he contemplated his next move. His hand reached for another arrow only to notice that he had only three left.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been pushed this hard…” A slight smile formed on Zen’s face. “It’s been a long time since I had to use Arcana in a fight!” His eyes gleamed with increased vigor as he gazed at his enemies. “It’s not as flashy as Michael’s fire and not as cool as Maya’s ice. But my magic is the strongest!”
Reaching into his quiver, Zen pulled out a single arrow. Stringing it onto his bow, he stretched the string out to its full extent. The bow struggled as it was bent to the extreme! Zen’s arms were as hard as stones as his muscles bulged and flexed as he pulled on the tough cord! The nocked arrow began to shine with an emerald sheen as it filled with Zen’s Arcana!
The Arcana built up around Zen as he burned his inner reserves, causing a dim green glyph to form underneath him as fast winds protected his body. One of the less cautious mutants entered the gale and were shredded into pieces as a result!
No longer able to contain the pressure of the taut string and billowing power of Arcana, Zen released the arrow from the bow!
Zen yelled out the ancient command!
The arrow tore apart the air! Causing a large shockwave to explode outwards caused by a sonic boom! The air seemed to shatter apart from the ear-splitting noise, as the ground crumbled underneath the immense pressure that the arrow emitted! Nearby trees were shredded apart as a powerful gale through them!
The arrow obliterated dozens of beasts as its sharp gale like winds easily tore apart bone and flesh! Gore, bone, and chunks of meat scattered throughout the battleground as the arrow continued through the horde, eventually piercing through them and continuing along its path into the forest behind! The wind infused arrow continued its devastating trajectory for another mile, shredding apart everything in its way!
Falling to his knees, Zen let out a large breath. His face had become incredibly pale and soaked with sweat. Zen could feel his blood boil from a large amount of Arcana that he burnt. Zen started to feel the effects of burning too much Arcana. He was becoming light-headed and nauseous, while his legs struggled to correct themselves.
“Even though my wind magic is incredibly powerful…It takes way too much out of me.” Zen could only smile bitterly and stand back up, as the surviving members of the pack shook themselves from the hurricane that tore through them. Their eyes immediately latched back onto Zen, his pitiful form encouraging them to attack.
But before they could strike, the horn sounded once more! Tearing apart the sky with its earth-shattering noise! The beasts looked around in fear before fleeing from Zen and headed directly towards Maya and Clover!
“Damn it! You will not get away!” Zen bellowed out, strength exploding back into his body as he charged towards the fleeing pack. Although Zen was tired, he still felt confident that he could eliminate the rest of the mutants; his previous attack having decimated their numbers.
“No, you don’t!” A raspy voice sounded out from behind, surprising Zen!
Immediately, a large earthen wall obstructed Zen from the fleeing beasts. Instantly turning his head toward the intruding newcomers, he readied himself for another battle!
“Bastard!” He yelled out, unable to contain his fury, as he gazed at the new figures.
“You meddlesome Seekers have caused our plans to go awry…” Rasped another shrouded man, his figured covered by an extravagant plumage.
“Plans? I don’t know anything about your plans!” His head was buzzing with many emotions. Rage, fear, concern, and hate. After staring at the arrivals for another second, he noticed the horn in the black cloaked man hands.
“You are responsible for this?!” His eyes began to gleam with fury as he yelled. “Where is Michael?! If he died…Then I will personally kill you both!”
“Hmmm? I know not of this Michael, but if you’re talking about that pitiful blonde boy then I’m afraid that I can’t say for certain that he is alive…” The plumaged covered Centaur muttered, his voice containing a noticeable air of mockery.
Zen’s jaw clenched with fury as he strung another arrow. Pulling the bow to the extreme, he launched another devastating hurricane! Its gale-like winds shredded the environment, flying directly towards the two figures!
“Gareck… Take care of this nuisance, I will proceed onwards.”
“Yes, Sir!” Gareck yelled out, handing his master the horn.
“Hah!” Gareck bellowed as he slammed his spear into the ground, causing a large earthen wall to rise up to meet Zen’s hurricane!
The arrow blasted the wall, causing shrapnel to launch everywhere! The previously unstoppable hurricane was quickly suppressed to nothing but a light breeze, unable to penetrate through this unbreakable wall!
Falling to his knees once again, Zen could only gaze at Gareck’s master as he quickly ran into the direction of Maya and Clover. Grinding his teeth, he painfully stood up and glared at the foe in front of him.
“I’m going to make you pay!” Zen yelled once more, his voice seething with anger!
“Haha! How about you try to stay alive before you make promises you can’t keep!” Gareck jeered at Zen’s pitiful body as he pointed his spear at him.
In the blink of an eye, the two figures dashed at each other! Bow met spear as they both clashed in a battle to the death!
Next Chapter: Chapter 6