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Stranger Like Me

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Really… When the hell do towns just disappear off the map??

 

Apparently, all the time in Glenwood, according to their updated information -courtesy of the Shepherd’s ongoing journey. (Well, technically speaking, Mikleo’s updated information, as Elysia never got much news regarding the rest of the world. No surprises there, all things considered. Books saved overtime here and there could only get you so far, after all.)

 

Alisha had been directed to a small-but-holy plot of land not too far north of Pendrago where mythril deposits are said to have extraordinary qualities-- to which Edna had (with much obvious resistance) translated into “mythril possibly blessed by a crap ton of Normins, possibly bored out of their gourds.” Usually, she would rely on the strength of her friends, the silver flame, and her own spear during their travels but sometimes you just need an upgrade.

 

“And this mythril might just do the trick?” Rose tried to clarify, lifting an eyebrow. For once, she didn’t do it for the sake of haggling, or anything related.

 

She’s looking more and more the part of the strong-headed Squire. Lailah is doing her best at hiding how proud she is of her progress.

 

“Hopefully, if what the rumors Sergei informed us about are indeed true,” Lailah responds with a turn of the head.

 

“But we’ll actually have to get there first to see for ourselves before we can get our hopes up. How much further until we get there?” Mikleo looked over to Rose holding the map.

 

Tipping his hat forward to conceal his eyes, the tan exhibitionist in the group decides to voice his concerns as well. “Yeaaah, I hate to be that guy--”

 

“Zaveid, stop yourself right there.” Tap Tap.

 

Yeeesh… ” the usual comedy routine is gone as soon as comes, “but really, my wind’s not pickin’ up any signs of civilization within a good distance.”

 

“Hmmm… To be frank, I’m not sensing any sort of human settlement within the earth nearby, either. Rose, you are reading that map correctly, right?” The tapping of Edna’s umbrella on every other stone on the gravel path they tread on is becoming more noticeable and more frequent.

 

“Of course! Every member of the Sparrow Feathers has to be able to navigate whether during broad daylight or during the cover of night. Seriously, we’re going to right way,” her eyes don’t look up from the curling piece of parchment to face them all directly. The tone of her voice conveys what she needs to. “I promise.”

 

“We believe you, Rose. Let us keep our heads high, and look forward to our destination,” Lailah puts her hands to her heart, genuinely positive about the situation.

 

Mikleo felt a little bad for perhaps inferring that his teammate couldn’t handle the task of a map holder-- not because deep down he wanted to navigate for this minor mission, but because normally Rose… wasn’t always the best with what she claims to be good at, once you looked past that professionalism from being a merchant and an assassin.

 

On top of that, these forests weren’t unlike Aroundight, so the landscape was pretty simple for him to read.

 

Handling ghosts are one thing-- as is baking without setting the pots and pans on fire… ( Thank goodness either himself or Lailah was always there to control the flames. )

 

Edna’s tapping and her boots came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road.

 

Alisha is the first to react. “Edna…? Do you sens--?”

 

“Something’s coming. Two o’clock.”

 

Adrenaline started pumping through Mikleo’s veins the second it took to summon his staff. Everyone’s ready for combat beside him as well, no matter what it could be all the way out here.

 

“What is it?” His eyes dart around for any signs of movement in the trees.

 

“I’m not sure. It’s big though-- I’d say 8 or 9 of them.”

 

“Alright!” Zaveid punches his fist into his palm, sporting a sharp smirk. “You know what they say, the bigger they are the harder they--”

 

“Hold on, this isn’t right.”

 

Lailah, her papers ready in her slender finger, looks over to Edna confused. “What do you mean?”

 

Edna put a small hand up to her ear, her feet firmly planted on the ground. She paused for a moment, listening to the sounds of the forest around them for… anything.

 

“... We should be able to hear them from this distance. If they’re as big as I think they are, then there wouldn’t be a problem.”

 

This was getting too nerve-wracking for Rose. “And why is that?”

 

“... They’re coming fast, headed straight for us!”

 

“What?!”

 

Suddenly, the earth begins to tremor beneath their feet. Animals can be heard screeching, trying to evade… whatever it is that’s coming.

 

‘This doesn’t look good…’ Mikleo thinks to himself, before tapping down the smallest doubts in order to face the threat head-on.

 

Trees are crackling as they’re getting knocked down and stepped on, birds are flying away to escape, other wildlife is running over the path and past their group like they were just stones. There’s a distant, but distinct and powerful thudding as they stand together, awaiting what’s to come.

 

If only they had made it over a few more hills…



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Mikleo has to keep running.

 

There was no other way to help his friends, he told himself. He was tired; he was out of breath; his limbs ached from having to perform many defensive artes and physical attacks at close range. Pretty sure his upper right arm was cut, but he was still buzzing with adrenaline and did not really notice.

 

There were ten of them : some crazy type of hellion hybrid: part boar and part wolf. They were disgusting, hungry, and really big. A single one could easily tower over Zaveid and still have room to skewer him with a single fang… or tusk.

 

Alisha and Rose managed to take two out, Alisha was about to call for the Armatus before Lailah was knocked unconscious by a third. Without being quite used to the more advanced techniques of any Shepherd’s arsenal to revive a seraph, Zaveid was called to armatize instead while Edna did her best to hold a couple more down in place. It was insane keeping up.

 

Mikleo wasn’t okay with being of little help to everyone, these hellions having a high, natural defense against water, which didn’t make sense. Not even his seraphic artes were making a dent and only added to their fury.

 

So, head fuzzy with pain shooting up his body and his back as he got knocked down again, and with a sorry look over in everyone’s direction... he rouses three of the remaining hellions with a quick splash to their already wrinkled faces and takes off in the other direction.

 

‘Please, everyone…’ he prays in his mind as heavy thuds can be heard clearly following him, and fast, ‘trust me… and be safe…’

 

A lone tear rolls down his muddied and scratched face as he takes as much of the fight as he can manage further away from his dear companions, twinges of sorrow making their way into his system as he runs deeper into the forest… Perhaps more than he had meant to.



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The maddening roars of the beasts of the forest could be heard all over the foothills. The town had the waterfall and high ground, but that didn’t mean the rest of the surrounding area was safe.

 

He looked up from setting his trap in the direction he heard the roars coming from over the cliff. The sun wasn’t at its peak anymore, and the creatures only get hungrier at night.

 

He knew the dangers of the forest all too well, despite how the majority had pitied him for his upbringing. He knew that sound, though. Those beasts had found another unsuspecting meal, possibly trying to visit the humans.

 

He grabs his gear and makes his way to where he estimated they were going-- he could tell from the multiple flocks of birds popping up one after the other that they were on the move.

 

Maybe someone was still alive. Maybe they were hurt. Maybe there was still time.

 

They would need all the help they could get.



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Three against one… Three huge hellions with no business existing the way they did, hybrid and not mutant, with a bone to pick with little ol’ him-- or make him the bone to pick their teeth with after they were all done.

 

After effectively getting lost in the forest and still being high on adrenaline-fueled desperation, Mikleo is now backed into a corner, heavily panting. High walls made of off-white boulders were taller than three times the size of one War Fang (he isn’t exactly in a creative mood at the moment); not a chance to escape.

 

He has to think of something; they keep growling and drooling in his direction, those red eyes showing no fear or hesitation.

 

He has to think of something now.

 

Trying to catch his breath, his mind hasn’t set itself straight yet. The heart-pumping rush from before was gone, and the pains and aches all over his body were distracting again.

 

They know they have him right where they wanted him, and Mikleo can’t get himself out of this stupid bind.

 

He ran away to prevent his friends from being overtaken, knowing well that it was a stupid idea. Now, here he is in the middle of who-knows-where with little energy left and no plan.

 

How could he be so… so…

 

Mik cursed out loud to himself.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Just a hundred feet away from the boulders, a dusty mound that stood above the evergreen trees offers a perfect view of the clearing below.

 

Looking down and slightly to the left, a clear shot to one of the beasts would be fatal.

 

That was all it took.

 

Notching his bow with a single arrow, a shadowed figure carefully steps out from behind the cover of a lone tree, and swiftly takes aim...



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The War Fangs are soon becoming more visibly pleased with this outcome, assuming offensive positions in case the small morsel decided to get feisty. They’re growling almost began to die down as they prepared to pounce…

 

There’s nothing he can do now, other than hold onto his staff ‘till his hands turned white. There had to be something. It couldn’t end here…

 

His eyes shut tight, his brows furrowing together.

 

‘It can’t end here… by myself…’

 

… If only there was something they were weak to that he actually--

 

A whirring sound splits through the air, and one of the hellions falls without making a sound.

 

Mikleo, the other two, and even the trees had their attention stolen for a single moment.

 

… It was dead.

 

The object that made the sound was an arrow, sticking out of the corpse’s left eye. It lay unmoving on the forest floor, nothing happening for who knows how many seconds.

 

Without even thinking, Mikleo takes his chance to bolt right then and there… and dashes past the two stunned hellions!

 

Only after they noticed the whoosh of color and the scent of blood and fear zip past them do the War Fangs realize what had happened.

 

Their snack had somehow taken out their brother and was getting away!

 

While the scent of food and death masked the scent of a second foe off the arrow, the two remaining hellions immediately give chase to the small morsel. Once they had it in their grasp, they wouldn’t let him out of their jaws.

 

Their roars give a threat to any living creature nearby to run and hide if they valued their lives, following Mikleo by the edge of his ripped, twin capes… which allow another to track their movements, who just so happens to be as light on his feet as the water seraph.

 

Navigating a place you’ve never been to is one thing, but trying to run through a forest with low-hanging branches, hidden trip-falls, and dodging two raging monsters that are basically on top of you with very little reliable energy left-- a very different matter altogether.

 

‘I can’t keep this up for much longer,’ Mik realized before he saw a little stream just further ahead. Once he can feel the familiarity of his element nearby, he gains a sudden confidence boost and uses the breath he has left to reach the stream before the War Fangs catch up. He can feel the trembling dirt beneath his feet as they’re almost upon him.

 

He’s only got one shot, and he is sure as hell to not waste it.

 

He shoots his left arm out in front of himself, his staff plunging into the clear water, and immediately begins chanting.

 

“You’re fate has been set!

Regret your wicked acts!”

 

With the mana and seconds he had left, he aimed for the closest War Fang, and let the ice crystals fly.

 

“Rime Slaughter!!”

 

He spins his head around fast enough to give him whiplash-- and barely catches a glimpse of the wailing War Fang crashing into the nearest tree, defeated, the silver flame coming into effect on the thick fog of malevolence that once afflicted the poor creature.

 

“YES!”

 

The moment of victory is short-lived and gone in a near instant. There are claws slashing his side as a burning sensation clouds his mind.

 

A loud cry rips itself from Mikleo’s throat before he even hits the ground, his staff knocked out of his grip by the force of a coarse tail whip. He flails around for a moment to reach for it, but pain shoots through his arms as he’s pinned on his back.

 

Bad breath, drool, and red eyes greet him, and he sucks in what oxygen he can.

 

It’s growling at him! He’s panicking! He’s pinned, and he’s out of mana!

 

The War Fang roared its beastly cry to him, mocking his attempt at following his survival instincts, saliva flying into his face due to its close proximity.

 

His eyes shut tightly on their own. He’s terrified , his eyes leaking warm saltwater . He tries to swallow the lump in his throat down, but he can’t even scream…

 

There’s no one to save him, let alone hear him call for help...

 

This is it…

 

A huff of warm air ruffles his bangs. It’s growls come closer to his face…

 

‘I’m sorry, everyone…’

 

He cracks one eye open one last time-- just to get it over with, and there’s a small glint of something off to the side--

 

Someone leaps out from the treeline and plows directly into the hellion’s side, knocking it over and away from Mikleo.

 

He’s gasping for breath as he’s freed like he’s coming out of a daze, his wandering focus eventually locking onto the hellion and the person who saved him. It takes only a moment of stunned realization for him to understand it’s a human.

 

A human saved him, whom which he’s never seen before. That he doesn’t know.

 

He has some awkward type of sword going up against the War Fang, yet doesn’t seem to be pulling his punches. To any regular person, it might’ve seemed like a bigger-than-average-sized boar, but that wouldn’t explain why the human looked so desperate to win. Unless--

 

Unless--

 

He could actually see the hellion’s full strength, meaning he could see the malevolence.

 

Meaning he could see him .

 

This random human is actually standing his ground against a ferocious monster, and appears to be winning.

 

A cold shudder shot up Mikleo’s spine, suddenly not wanting to stick around staring like an idiot.

 

He gets up as quickly as possible without agitating his left side too much and runs away from the clashing of fangs, tusks, claws and the sword. His staff lies forgotten just a few feet away…

 

From what he could tell earlier while running through the forest, there appear to be ruins and caves that could make good hiding spots once he found a way to disappear from the line of sight. Even with the Spectral Cloak, the War Fangs could smell him out due to his pugnant fear.

 

Making a break for the closest cave he saw, he can hear the last sounds of battle in the distance as the War Fang wails out its final cry before…

 

Wait. Did the human actually manage to--?!

 

Mik doesn’t allow himself time to think about it. He’s inside the cave, and he’s got to find a safe place to hide, just until the human leaves the vicinity. Just until his heart calms down... until the panic goes away.

 

For a moment, it seems that he can make out a clear end to the tunnel. There are a few cracks in the walls allowing sunlight to illuminate along the inside of the cave, and gaps in the floor that he takes careful note to avoid as he feels himself slow down. He rushes past faded markings and briefly wonders if the caves were used as some part of the ruins passages.

 

… Until the cave floor begins to tremble and crack beneath his feet.

 

His eyes go wide as he flails for some purchase on the crumbling ledge, his heart leaping into the throat for what seems to be another last chance within the past hour--

 

A hand grabs him at the last second.

 

… Mikleo is still shaking from adrenaline, not immediately recognizing the hand that saved him. When he finally comes back around mentally, he slowly cranes his neck to look up and see who saved him, but the light from above is shining directly into his eyes. He can only see a silhouette, a warm hand, brown hair--

 

The ground around them ripples again like shards of crackling glass, and soon Mikleo found himself in freefall once more.

 

‘Oh come ON--’

 

Crash!!