Within a certain distance upon a dirt road, there was an outpost of armored soldiers. It was an unusually hot day for a spring season, the heat did not ease the minds of those guarding the somewhat fortified zone. A soldier yawned and leaned on his spear to get some rest. After all, they were standing for almost the entire day and no enemy in sight.
There used to be so many caravans heading toward many towns across Thyderalis, but due to the recent outbreak of conflict between the Bandit King and the Kingdom of Damore, trading had gone to almost bare none. Morale was so low, the soldiers begged for a conflict themselves, whether their lives were at risk or not. The Captain of the Outpost tried to snap his men into shape, only for them to stand lazily about. Before the man in charge thought about doing the same, he saw someone in the distance.
It was a child with hair frosty as snow and a left eye blue like the spring sky above. He wore an eyepatch, which covered his right eye, and had a long red scarf that seemed to be light as a feather since it fluttered elegantly despite there was barely any wind at all. The soldiers saw the boy approach them and got into their positions. After a few minutes, the child came to the outpost and the Captain approached him with a stern look on his face.
“What brings a child like you out in these parts?” the Captain questioned. “Where are your parents, or the ones who hold responsibility for your safety?”
“I came here by myself? Why, is it a first for you to see a guy like me coming here?” the kid brashly responded.
“Hmpf, an energetic one. Very well, state your name.”
“Aren. Aren Damoder.”
“Aren Damoder…? A strange name, indeed.”
“Name doesn’t ring any bells? Doesn’t remind you of anybody? Like a hero or someone?”
The Captain raised his brow. “Only those with feats are known across these lands, like King Arthur! It is good to have dreams little one but being someone as great as the King won’t be easy!”
“Oh that’s great. Really great. Just making sure that you don’t know… Nothing suspicious.”
“So, Mr. Damoder, you are aware of the Damore protocol: we must search your belongings for the kingdom’s safety. There are too many bandits coming around and about, so I—”
Aren sucked his teeth and shook his head. “Listen, man, does it look like I’m carrying anything valuable. Just a little boy doing… Little boy stuff. Well, if you are into this stuff, I won’t stop you.”
The Captain expressed his disgust. “How dare you…! Ahem, Merlin, come search this man.”
A young mage came behind and made his way to Aren. The young boy raised his staff and a white ring hovered around its target and after a moment, it became bright yellow. Everyone gasped as the spell pointed to Aren’s satchel.
The Captain’s eyes widened. “What is this?! There’s a Divine artifact in your possession? Does that mean you’re…?!”
Aren chuckled nervously, running past the soldiers when he saw an opening. The Captain ordered a handful of guards to help him pursue the runner. They hunted their suspect into the forest, trying various spells to subdue the young boy. Despite his appearance, Aren was nimble and avoided all their attempts to seize him. He turned around, showing a smug face at his attackers.
“Suck it! You guys can’t catch—!” The white-haired boy tripped on a large tree stump and mud covered his face. He got up and spat out some of the muck. “Agh, it got in my mouth. Oh, fuck!”
Without him noticing, Aren cornered himself on a cliff and almost fell off from its edge. The soldiers pointed their weapons and the Captain stepped forward. “Stop right there! If you value your life, you will come with us!” he barked.
Aren looked down, seeing a thick haze covering the dense forest below. The boy turned around and saluted. “See ya!”
He emitted a barrier around him and jumped off the cliff without any hesitation. The Captain ran to the edge to see the child disappear into the basin below. He sucked his teeth and looked around to see if he and the soldiers can go down without any effort. The young wizard, Merlin, came up to his Captain, speaking with a trembling voice.
“I-I don’t mean to alarm you, sir,” said Merlin, “But that’s the Forest of Sorrows. Legend says that those who linger there for too long will die by the monsters who reside there!”
“Those are legends of the past, Merlin. That boy is carrying something of some importance, and we must have it under our grasp! Let’s go, we have no time to waste!”
The bushes rustled, and the branches fell under the violent strikes of a machete. The effort of making a path through the forest was wasted, as the trees and the grass looked closer and thicker with every swing.
It seemed a couple of days had passed since the encounter of the border party, though he missed when that was the only thing he had to face. Aren saw countless ghosts dancing among the bushes and demons crawling about when darkness fell upon the wood: the rumors and myths about the Forest of Sorrows are true. Since he came here, enchanted creatures and monsters constantly attacked him and during the nights, raided his camp. There wasn’t a single day where he could get enough rest, but right now, there was only the sound of breaking twigs and the sight of glistering leaves. The dense oak no longer obscured the light of the sun and a path was set before him. The magic which encased these woodlands had its limits, and the boy sighed in relief when he felt its power weakening. Aren climbed a boulder and laid his back. After days of escaping from various beasts, he was finally able to take a break.
He took out a golden amulet, holding it above him as its chains dangled near his face. “The Penwolf Star: said to be one of the most powerful items in history. Carrying power unimaginable by the mortal mind. I wonder how other people would react to find out it’s just a gift from you to me, Mizuki. Damn those border guards, I wish I can pass through without having any issues.”
Aren sighed. “My power is dwindling. No magic can help me pass them. Kinda strange for a former hero like me to run away like a little bitch. Atlas Reinhart, Hero of Heroes, runner from the free folk, the Great Coward.”
He furrowed his brows, an idea came through his head: if the stories about the forest were true compared to what others had said, then many would've died to its magic. It would continue if no one will take the responsibility to destroy the curse. Should he continue onward or dispel this great evil?
Aren took out coin from his pocket and flipped it. “Fate is like a flip of the coin: it’s either you get the good or bad luck depending on which face it lands. I wonder what fate will bring me when I get rid of this curse… Heh, I’ll take my chances.”
He felt the boulder rocking and moving about. Rolling to the side, the hero saw four legs under the massive stone, and two eyes glancing at him. It was an Ancient Boulder Tortoise. The humongous did not look fazed by the surrounding magic and seemed to care less about a small human upon its back.
From this appearance, the magic harmed people but not the wildlife that dwelled within. This sparked a plan in Aren's mind: tame the tortoise and let it guide the way. There was a little note he'd taken ages ago, so he scoured through his satchel to find his notebook, taking it out when he found it. "Let's see what I wrote. Stone tortoise analysis? No, I know the physicality of it but what do I… Ah, the ‘Mana Experiments’ section.” He glanced at what he wrote:
“…I found something interesting during my travels through the Eastern Empire. Creatures and animals alike are attuned to this mysterious force of Mana in our world, though some may be more connected than others (see Animals Section, specifically Rabbit Squirrels). Giving mana to a regular Cow made it understand what I wanted it to do, and perhaps this may work to any other animal. Maybe that’s how they communicate? (More studies must be tested)…”
“Welp, it’s worth a shot,” he pondered out loud and the tortoise gave him the stank-look when it turned its head to him. He energized his finger and tapped its forehead. After a couple of seconds, the creature nodded and deviated from its original path, walking deep into the cursed forest.
Time passed. It might have been minutes or hours, but the hero wasn’t in a hurry to finish. While the tortoise wobbled side to side in a rhythm, he slept comfortably.
The creature stopped at some point, waking the boy, and he lazily got up to see what the problem was. The beast grumbled; a fallen tree blocked its path. It turned and started walking back. Aren tapped its head, stopping the tortoise’s advance. "Oi, it's just a tree man. Can’t you walk around it? You’re the only one who knows the way and being lazy about it will not solve any problem. Jeezus…”
The animal was looking at the boy, narrowing its eyes and snorted as it saw the hypocrisy on his face. It tilted its head to the obstacle, suggesting him to take measures instead. He sighed, and he extended his arm to the tree.
"Levitate," he commanded. Mystical blue energy surrounded the fallen tree, and with a fierce flick of his wrist, Aren sent the tree high and beyond. Too high in fact, that it went above the stratosphere and twinkled in the distance.
Aren squinted and chuckled. “Hey, make a wish, it sure is going to make someone wishin’ alright.” The tortoise snorted, showing a distaste of his sense of humor.
The reptile continued its original path through the forest, as the plants and bushes kept growing and the darkness crawled closer. Yet, it wasn’t the terrors of the fading light what scared the hero, it was his grumbling stomach; it snarled, and he craved to end its vicious hunger. There was a delicious pastry a generous girl given him when he helped her village. He took it out from his pouch and gave it a good look before snacking upon its wondrous contents. It consisted of bread filled with sugar and honey, and any sweet tooth would have devoured it. Before he could take a single bite, something tugged his long red scarf. The tortoise stopped walking and stared at the bread Aren was about to eat, licking its lips as if suggesting an offering. He replied with a dumbfounded face.
"Life of a hero sure is hard: self-sacrifice is its key philosophy after all. Well, here you go, pal." He gave the bread to the stone tortoise. It ate the pastry in one gulp, and after a slow nod of approval, it resumed walking its desired path. Aren crossed his legs and sighed. Although his last ration went into the stomach of another, it was a courteous sacrifice to be done.
And for a gigantic creature, it sure walked fast after the quick snack.
Aren sank his head deep into the long red scarf. He pressed a button on the side of the amulet, which made it transform into a small music box. After cranking the tiny lever, two wooden figurines rose from inside and a somber melody played with their melancholic waltz. He hummed along, smiling while a tear fell from his eye.
Former hero at the very least, he thought.
Tragic memories flashed in streaks of red. He heard their screams, felt their pain, wishing to be dragged along the ride of death as he held the hands of the ones perishing before him. The guilt was unbearable to bear at times, sometimes insomnia and misery accompanied him through many consecutive nights. Yet, a gentle warmth rose from his heart and eased his suffering. A familiar presence embraced him every time, dissipating every time he turned to see who it was. Though Aren felt he sanity reaching to its limits, he had to continue not for his sake.
“No point lingering into memories… Though, I do miss you Mizuki. And the children too. Jason, Iskander, everyone.” Aren grunted. “Times were so simple back then, until I… It doesn’t matter.”
Aren looked up to the treetops. "What did you say before? ‘It matters not about what happens to the world. Be the hero everyone deserves. Be my hero.’” He laughed. “Corny as it sounds, Thyderalis does need a hero now. But, after what I’d done for the sake of the future, can I be a hero?”
Aren looked at the tortoise, who was too focused upon leading the path. “Hey turts, you think I can be a hero again?” It grumbled, and the boy laughed. “So, this is what it comes down to. Me talking to an animal. Hell, like anyone can take me seriously after seeing me like this. They’ll think I’m insane.”
The reptile cackled gleefully as if it agreed to the statement. He grunted and folded his arms. “Yeah yeah, whatever. I may be stupid but not that stupid I admit. Other people say I am daft… But I mean yeah, I could’ve gone anywhere else but here, but it the wisest of—”
The creature mumbled and clicked its tongue. The boy sensed a powerful energy source nearby, and several others as well. It was no doubt the place the curse of these woods had originated, and it was guarded.
He tightened his scarf and grinned. "At last the hero stands before the evil within these wretched woods. A hero’s work is never done, no matter how long the wait must be.”
- Somewhere in LaLa Land
- Ya Boi
Just writing stories. Might be a bit late on the posting schedule to be honest, but hey, at least it ain't dead, haha.
I also can do Chapter 1 reviews and my total impressions on your series. PM if you want me to or post a reply on the forum BOOK REVIEW.