Hero’s Journey Chapter Three – Dace

Just Past Noon, Corday the 9th of Tanot, 674 AG (After Godswar)
The Toshiko Farm on the outskirts of Benbridge

As Jiro paid his respects at Ren’s makeshift grave, led a trio of horses out into the yard. Jiro watched with some confusion as Kiba gently stroked the sides of the unsaddled horses heads, whispering quietly. The three horses took off, charging in a circle around the yard before galloping off into the woods. After Kiba had picked up his pack and joined Jiro, he turned to the boy. “What was all that about?”

“Nothing,” he responded as he adjusted the straps on his pack, “I just told them to run as fast as they could and not come back because it wasn’t safe here any more.”

Jiro raised an eyebrow quizzically, “And they understood that?”

“Of course, horses aren’t stupid, they’re very intelligent animals,” Kiba answered with an indignant expression on his face.

“Have you got everything you need?” asked Jiro. Kiba nodded reluctantly. “Then we better get going.” Jiro turned towards the dirt track out of the yard and began to walk towards the gate. He stopped as he realised that Kiba was not following him. The boy was looking back towards the house, a nervous and apprehensive expression on face.

“I’ve lived in this house all my life,” Kiba began, “Gods, I’ve never been further out of the village than Sandown.” Jiro walked over to him, stopping alongside. He put a hand on Kiba’s shoulder and turned him so that the two were facing each other. Looking down at Kiba, and seeing the fear and worry in the boy’s eye’s, he was suddenly reminded that, whatever the manner of his birth Kiba was still half-human. That human side could feel fear just as much as any full-blooded human. However, right now there was precious little time to reassure the boy. Any minute now, Eldalan troops could arrive looking for their missing patrol.

“Kiba, we have to go. It’s just not safe to stay here for much longer,” The boy nodded his understanding, his eyes lingering on the mound of disturbed earth by the apple tree for second before he turned his back on his home and followed Jiro down the dirt track.

They walked in silence through the woods as they left Benbridge behind. Only the occasional word passed between the two as they skirted around the main road out of the village and kept to the little used dirt tracks and paths. Although they could have travelled faster on horseback, it’s easier to follow horse tracks than footprints and they would have had to keep to the better maintained roads. This way, they could sneak past any patrols without being spotted or heard. Jiro had not been happy about parting with his horse, they had been together for many years but every mote of his training told them they would have a better chance on foot. Kiba had grown up in these woods hunting with by himself and with his father and he knew every track and every path through these woods. Armed with that knowledge they managed to evade the patrols and leave Benbridge far behind.

—-

When the sun began to dip below the horizon later that evening, Jiro decided to call a halt and hunker down for the night. They made camp in a small hollow surrounded on all sides by dense woodland and nestled between several small hills far from the nearest track or road. While Jiro crawled through the undergrowth around the clearing laying down trip lines, Kiba set to work gathering firewood as the temperature started to drop. Jiro returned to the clearing to find the boy sitting next to a crackling fire, wrapped in a blanket and staring into the flames.

Kiba had been quiet since they had passed Sandown earlier that afternoon. The town seemed to have faced a similar fate as Benbridge, several buildings were burning and a number of fires had coalesced into a conflagration that threatened to raze the town to the ground. No movement could be seen and no attempt appeared to have been made to put out the fires. From their vantage point in the hills above town they had a seen a number of bodies lying in the streets and as they had circled around the town they had crossed the boot tracks of heavily armed soldiers. Jiro had surmised that they were probably left by Eldalan troops chasing after survivors that had escaped the massacre at Sandown. Kiba had wanted to go after them but Jiro had stopped him, arguing that it would be suicide to charge after them. Heated words had been exchanged between the two but Kiba had reluctantly agreed in the end. Since that incident, Kiba had hardly spoken a word to Jiro and as they sat around the fire sharing a pack of trail rations, the silence was uncomfortable but it was Kiba that broke it first.

“Where are we going?” Kiba suddenly asked.

Jiro looked up before answering. “I’ve got some friends in Galtea, if Eldala is on the warpath it should be safe there.”

Kiba’s brow furrowed in confusion and he looked up from the fire. “Galtea? But we’re heading east, Galtea is to the south.”

“That’s true,” Jiro said as he put his plate down, “but Eldala has the largest navy in existence. While we remain in northern Arcadia, their airships have a hard time spotting us under the trees. But if we follow the roads through the plains of southern Arcadia we’ll be sitting ducks. Even if we get across the plains, between Arcadia and Galtea lies the Desert of Geb and I’m not going to chance crossing it with … well it’s probably impassable this time of year anyway.”

“That doesn’t exactly answer my question uncle.” Kiba answered giving Jiro the look that all children give to adults when they know they are trying to avoid giving a straight answer.

“Heh, uncle, you haven’t called me that…” Jiro began before Kiba interrupted him.

“Don’t change the subject. And don’t treat me like a kid; we’re not heading towards Galtea, so where are we going?”

Jiro paused for a second before answering. “We’re heading to Freeport, it’s a coastal city state in the Sundered Kingdoms on the eastern side of the Hornspires. I’m hoping we can book passage to Galtea on a boat or airship from there.” Kiba thought about this for a moment before speaking again.

“But the only way across the mountains is the Daikenee Pass in the northern tip. Anyone planning to cross the Hornspires into the Sundered Kingdoms would have to go through there. The Eldalans would know this and would be watching it.”

Jiro nodded, slightly impressed at the boy’s surprisingly sound analysis. “True, true, but Freeport is directly due east of Benbridge. If we keep heading east, we’ll eventually get there.” As soon as Jiro had finished, Kiba jumped up in a shock.

“Whoa, hold on there. Ignoring for a second that the only way across the Hornspires is the Daikenee Pass in the north or through the desert in the south, between Arcadia and the Hornspires is the Deep Wood. If crossing over the top of the Hornspires is impossible, then crossing the Deep Wood is suicide. People say that elves live in the heart of the forest and kill anyone who intrudes. No one who enters the Deep Wood has ever returned.”

Jiro simply smiled. “Ok, there’s two things wrong with that statement. First, elves are just a story told to scare little boys into being good and as you said earlier, you’re not a kid any more. Secondly, if no one has ever returned then where do all the stories come from?” Slightly embarrassed now at his outburst, Kiba sat back down. “Look, do you trust me?” Kiba nodded, “then trust me when I say that I know what I’m doing. Anyway, we’ve got a long journey ahead of us. Get some shut eye, I’ll take first watch.” He passed Kiba a couple of blankets and, using his pack as a pillow, the boy lay down and tried to get to sleep. A few minutes later, he rolled over, looked at Jiro, and asked the one question that had been foremost in his mind since this morning.

“Why are the Eldalans attacking? Why are they doing this?”

Jiro found that he couldn’t look him in the eye as he lied and said he had no idea. Kiba rolled back over and was soon fast asleep.

—-

There was a light mist hanging low to the ground, rolling in great sheets along the forest floor. Above the treetops, the stars of the moonless night where hidden behind by the unbroken clouds, casting the woods below in near total darkness. When he had woken, Jiro was nowhere to be seen and the campfire was nothing more than glowing embers. Along with Jiro, their packs and weapons had also vanished as well as the supplies they had gathered. There had been little time to worry about this as somewhere in the forest, Kiba could hear the sound of a child whimpering along with something else, something animal.

Although he was armed only with a stout branch, he forged ahead regardless until be broke through the trees into clearing inside which was scene from a nightmare. In the centre of the clearing, bound tightly to an old and gnarled oak, was a small boy. No more than seven or eight, he resembled a younger version of Kiba with a splash of unruly green hair and brilliant orange eyes. Naked from the waist up, there were angry red welts under the ropes binding his arms behind the tree and across his chest where he had struggled in vain to free himself and his eyes were wide in terror. Circling around the tree was a pack of three animals composed entirely of shadows. Their form resembled that of giant wolves but no features, save eyes that glowed a hellish red, could be discerned. A row of horns or spikes ran down the length of their spines and every foul breath condensed into vapour, seeming to replenish the mist around them. When the boy noticed Kiba’s arrival, from behind a cloth gag he screamed a wordless cry for help.

Spurred into action, Kiba charged into the clearing swinging the branch like a club. Snarling, the wolf things leapt at him, fangs bared and claws primed to strike. Kiba’s branch connected with the head of one of the wolf things with a sickening crunch despite the wolf thing’s incorporeal nature. Its head dissolved into a cloud of fine black dust, its body soon following. Another wolf thing leapt onto him, its weight driving him to the ground and causing him to drop the branch. Kiba tried to throw it off but found himself trapped beneath it as he tried to hold its jaws away from his face while straining to reach the branch with his free hand. A second wolf thing came into view as Kiba struggled with the one on his chest and Kiba was certain that it was smiling as it approached. Its foul breath smelt sulphurous and in a sharp motion, its jaw darted forward and bit at Kiba’s arm. The shock of the bite caused Kiba to lose his grip on the other wolf thing’s head and it lunged forward, clamping its jaws around his unprotected neck. As it jerked its head side to side, Kiba was surprised that instead of the sharp pain and the tearing of flesh you would expect to receive when your throat is being torn out be a monstrous wolf, he instead felt a curious draining sensation. A deep coldness spread throughout his body as the other wolf thing started chewing on his arm and soon a heavy tiredness began to envelop him. His struggles seemed useless, soon there was no strength left in his body, and he just lay there, unable to move as the creatures sucked the life out of him. Eventually his eyes fluttered closed as his body began to surrender to the blackness.

A scream from the child bound to the tree brought him back to his senses and his eyes snapped open. The wolf thing on his arm released it hold and lifted its head to howl at the child. In that instant, with renewed strength Kiba whipped his arms up, grasped the head of wolf thing that was gnawing on his neck and plunged his thumbs deep into its eyes. The wolf thing howled in pain and tore free. It staggered for a few steps before collapsing to the floor, writhing and convulsing like a fish with its head cut off, whimpering in agony before dissolving. The remaining wolf thing span ran to face Kiba who had rolled over into a crouch and was reaching for the branch. Kiba managed to grab the branch just in time as it leapt at him through the air and he brought it up to impale the wolf thing on it like a spear, using its own momentum to carry its body over his head as he rolled on to his back.

As the last wolf thing dissolved, Kiba lay for several seconds on his back panting heavily before remembering why had charged in to the clearing in the first place. Despite the savagery of the battle, Kiba had no physical injuries, something he was very thankful for. He crouched in front of the boy and carefully removed the gag. Speaking quietly, he tried to reassure the boy as he attempted to untie the ropes.

“It’s going to be Ok, what’s your name?”

“D-Dace,” the boy stammered between ragged breaths, “hurry, they’ll come back. They always come back.”

As if on cue, in the darkness something howled, the same unearthly howl that the wolf things had issued only louder and deeper. Dace began to panic as the sounds of something crashing through the trees got louder and closer. He was pleading with Kiba who was cursing the fact that he had no knife and that the knots securing the ropes across Dace’s chest were tied too tightly to be undone. In desperation, he braced himself with his left foot against the trunk of the tree and pulled at the ropes across Dace’s chest with all his strength.

“Come on,” he pleaded through gritted teeth, “please gods, give me a break.” With a great heave, the ropes snapped and Dace fell forward into Kiba’s arms. He was shivering from the cold night air so Kiba took his shirt off and put in on Dace. It wasn’t much but hopefully it would keep the edge off the cold. He was about to ask Dace if he could walk but from the other side of the clearing, the sound of splintering wood heralded the arrival of the thing crashing through the woods. Picking up the branch, Kiba told Dace to stay behind him and turned to face the sound. A pair of trees crashed aside as a two headed, 20ft tall version of the wolf things from earlier forced its way into the clearing. Its howl painfully loud and echoing in the otherwise still night. Kiba took one look at the monster and dropped the branch. “Oh screw that!” he muttered as he lifted Dace onto his back and started running. With a howl, the monster gave chase, ploughing through the trees behind the two boys.

With the low-lying mist and the darkness, it was a miracle that Kiba didn’t trip on some hidden piece of undergrowth as they made their headlong flight through the night. Even so, Kiba’s skin soon became cut in numerous places as he forced their way through the woods, branches and bushes scratching him in the process. However, the constant sound of the thing chasing them drove any thought of pain or discomfort from his mind. After several minutes of blind flight through the woods, nature threw a barrier into their path. A wide, slow flowing river stood in their way and they had no choice but to cross it, the wolf thing was only seconds behind them. Making sure that he had a good grip on Dace on his back, he jumped into the water. The water was ice cold and it caused Kiba to breath in sharply as he began to wade across but thankfully it only came up to his waist at its deepest point. It was slow going and took nearly a minute to wade across it and when they finally made to the opposite shore, Kiba nearly collapsed on to the grassy bank. Shivering violently from the cold, he turned and looked back towards the other side where the wolf thing was pacing back and forth along the opposite bank, unwilling to enter the water.

Taking advantage of the lucky break, Dace helped Kiba to his feet and they half ran, half stumbled down a dirt track away from the river through farmland. Eventually, they had to stop as Dace could run no further and Kiba was too tired to carry him. As they rested against a tree, sitting close to share body heat, Kiba looked down at Kiba. “Who tied you to that tree?”

Dace turned and looked up at Kiba, a feral gleam in his eyes. As he smiled, Kiba saw fangs where none had been before. “You did,” Dace answered as he poked Kiba in the chest with a clawed finger.

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About blaster219

Suspect is a Caucasian male, approximately 5'7" in height with blue eyes and brown hair. Last known place of residence in Manchester, UK WARNING: Suspect is in possession of number of swords, knives, firearms and other weaponry as well as body armour. He should be considered armed and dangerous.

Posted on Friday, June 27, 2008, in Hero's Journey and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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