The woods turned dark and deep. The river narrowed into a rocky mountain stream, cutting through red clay soil, tall banks shaping each side. Blaring sounds crept closer by the minute. Her eyes confirmed what I suspected: a chase was afoot, and we were the prey.
The sounds amplified, gained frequency. I steered us relentlessly over an increasingly steeper terrain, closer to the mountain. The air became colder, a blessing for this marathon. We gasped for air and our legs were on fire. I could barely speak to ask a question.
"We ... need-" She panted for air between every word, "-mountain."
Something rumbled through the woods behind us. I didn't turn to look, but focused on every step to avoid protruding roots.
She glanced back. "Hurry!" The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Something was closing in on us, and fast.
A blare as loud as a freight train deafened and rattled me, we jumped to the side, and were hit in the back as if by a wrecking ball. We flew forward through the air, rolled and crashed off the top of the bank and down into the rocky stream. Adrenaline pumping, I didn't feel any pain, but our shoulders were raked to shreds. We groaned for air.
A multitude of yellow legs whisked by along the bank above, belonging to a giant centipede the size of a telephone pole.
We sprang forward, sloshing through the shallow cold water. The monstrosity came around for a second pass, skittered along the bank, then veered sharply ahead of us. It pounced, grasping only air, missing us. It bridged it's multi-legged body across the stream to come around again and again.
More arrived within minutes, their heads blazing red in contrast to their oily black-carapace bodies with a multitude of sharp legs. They threw themselves haphazardly as if in a frenzy, yet not once touching the water or the rocks. We barely managed to dodge their leaps. Were they blind? Did they navigate by sound?
We slumped lower to the ground, darting forward, mindful to be quiet. Warm trickles snaked down the arms, blood dripped from the finger tips. I could see the rocky slopes of the mountain terrain through another set of trees, many meters away.
The centipedes zipped across from one side of the stream to the other, large clacking pincers slicing through the air, seeking prey. Meters from safety, a smaller centipede failed to span the stream and slammed us against the bank. It stabbed with sharp pincers and pointed tips of legs. Estra's hand spouted a gout of flame into the creature's insectoid head. It shrieked and threw us.
We crawled the last ten meters, leaving a bloody trail behind. As soon as we reached the rocky mountain grounds, they veered away as if it was lava. They blared, they screeched, and then vanished back into the woods.
Collapsed on the ground, our chest heaved up and down with every one of our synchronized breaths. I was nauseated with fatigue. Pain arrived in full spectrum of misery. We were done for, if not the bleeding, than infection. What a way to live, to die, to live, and then die again. The sky spun gently, as if I drank too much.
"Can you heal us?" I asked.
"We'll be fine, we're only down to half health, and the bleeding effects are almost over."
"What do you mean half health?" I asked, but in response she looked at me like I was stupid. “Just ... a time ago I was at work. I was alive, and then I died. Did you also die? This can't be Earth.” It felt surreal to utter those words out loud. To be alive, yet knowing I had died.
She shook her head. “No ... I did not die." She paused. "I do not think I did ... and this land is Icredore.”
“Icredore?” Not a dream, not Earth, not an afterlife either. Maybe? What the hell sort of fantastical reality was this? The pain however was real, very real.
Our heart and breathing slowed, the sky stopped spinning. We sat up with a groan and looked over our injuries: wide gashes and deep punctures damp with fresh blood. Yet the bleeding had slowed considerably. Astoundingly, this body was more resilient than I gave it credit for. I would have been dead if this was my old Earthen body.
"What were those things?" I asked.
She glanced at me with a cold look. "You do not know about redheads?"
The name made sense - the centipedes had distinct bright red heads. "Not those sort of Redheads, no. Not nearly as ... violent."
"We need a cave, we cannot be here in the dark." Weak as we were, I didn't know if I had the strength to stand.
"Did you know they were blind?" I asked her.
"Really?" She sounded surprised.
"It looked like they navigated by those blares they emit. Is that the reason they don't like the rocky ground? Does it somehow interferes with their ... echolocation?"
"Nobody would be dumb enough to step into Mistwoods to find out."
The sky turned shades of red, signaling a setting sun. Despite the dizziness, I stood us on our wobbly legs, and we trudged along the rocky slopes, looking for a cave.
“Can anyone do magic?” I asked.
“As long as you learned the spells. Let me see your status screen.”
Status screen? Then it hit me -- this was some kind of a video game reality. I mentally thought ‘status screen’ and a window popped up in front of me, startling me. It glowed blue, yet none of the light touched the surroundings, as if it resided purely in my mind.
"Can you see it too?" I pawed at the opaque blue window to see if I could select anything with my fingers, but nothing happened, they simply slid right through.
"No. Just will it over to me."
I mentally moved the status screen, and the ghostly image whisked over to her and vanished.
"Good." She smiled briefly, but her delight quickly vanished and was replaced by a wide eye stare and a slacked mouth. Her brows furrowed as she scanned from side to side with her eyes, reading something furiously.
"What, what did you see?"
"Nothing ..." Her face turned neutral. "Just some odd spells I have not seen before," she said casually.
I sighed. I brought up the status screen again and examined it carefully.
Name: Kevin; Race: [t1] Two-Headed Ogre [Evolve]; Male
Age: 17; 188cm; 123 kg; Encumbrance: 0 / 48 kg
Essence: 0/117,584 [shared]
HP: 980/2,040 [shared]; MP: 340/1,810 [shared]
Mana Regen: 75 / hour; [mana / 24]
Hp Regen: 102 / week; [5% / week]
Str: 193 [shared]; Agi: 143 [shared]; Con: 204 [shared]
Spirit: 181 [shared]; Int: 179; Luck: --
Spells: Mist Cloud; Extract Substance; Infuse Substance
Racial: Darksight; Tough Skin
"What is Essence?"
"Look it up later. We need to find a cave before dark."
I closed the screen with a thought. As Bob would say, when you're going through hell, don't stop. We trudged north along the wide border between the mega-forest and the mountain.
The search proved faster than I expected, but it wasn't a cave. A ten minute walk into a mountainous gap revealed a hidden valley. Tucked in the back were the ruins of a courtyard to a sculpted entrance at the side of a cliff. Something set my intuition screaming and ducking for safety. To say the area looked ominous would have been an understatement.
"Are you sure? I think we're better off outside." I said, as we cautiously crept along, sneaking from one crumbled column to the next. The dimming light of dusk extended long shadows that stabbed through the courtyard.
I had played plenty of video games in my life, RPGs and MMOs. And if the forest was a high-level zone with the vicious Redheads, than what laid beyond that entrance had a distinct raid tier feel to it. I could almost taste the air of death and doom emanating from within.
"Trust me," she said, but I wasn't reassured.
"I have a bad feeling about this place."
“About the Nord Ruins? And why would you?” She rolled her eyes. “There is nothing inside but Boom Bats, Kobolds, Blood Spiders, Cave Trolls, Nether Demons and maybe a stray Dragon. We’ll be fine.” She chuckled.
"So, why are we going inside?" I asked, but in response she merely glanced back in the direction of the setting sun, and as if on cue, the last light of dusk dimmed and winked out into near pitch darkness.
The change was as immediate as it was stark. An oppressive atmosphere blanketed the area with a suffocating pressure. Our heart boomed through our chest, aching. Breathing came forced as if through a straw. I stared at her with bulging eyes, she stared back with an evil grin, seeming to take pleasure in my panic.
She slowly shook her head, frowning, then summoned a [Ball of Light]. With it came immediate relief. "It is only a matter of how you want to die," she said.
My intuition took a fast, sharp reassessment of what lay beyond the crumbling entrance, and decided it was sweet home in comparison to what I had just felt. The ball of light dimmed, as if attacked by the surrounding darkness.
We slinked past the wide stony entrance with columns that belonged in Rome, and the ball of light rebounded to its full radiance as soon as we stepped inside.
A long, cold corridor stretched out before us, seemingly endless. Cold and bare, a foreboding feeling nagged and pestered me with every step. If the bright light from her summoned light source didn't pronounce our arrival, than every slight move and step, that echoed down the solid walls, most certainly did.
"What the hell was it?" I whispered to her, pointing back outside.
"Still sticking to the same story?" she whispered back.
"I can tell when people lie, and if your lie wasn't so ridiculous, I would have said you're telling the truth."
I scoffed. "I am telling the truth."
We tip-toed forward in silence.
[Essence: the lifeblood of creatures. Is gained by slaying creatures, completing quests, etc. Used to purchase stats, upgrade skills / spells, and to evolve. A stat increase from 100 to 101, costs 101 essence.]
Stats - an adult human has a ‘starting’ average of 100, someone with 200 is 2x as strong / fast / etc.
[50s] Small sized creatures; Adult kobold
[100s] Medium sized creatures; Adult human
[200+] Large sized creatures; Adult ogre / troll
[400+] X-Large sized creatures; Adult drake
[800+] Giant sized creatures; Adult dragon
[1,600+] Enormous sized creatures
Strength: Muscle; how hard you push / pull / hit / throw; How much weight you can carry; Power of Parry / block ability.
Constitution: Max HPs (Con * 10); Pain threshold; Stature - bone structure, hide thickness; Disease / poison resistance; Cold / heat resistance.
Agility: Body Movement Speed; Dodging / parry chance; Flexibility / mobility; Reflexes (50%); Hit chance.
Spirit: Max Mana (Spirit * 10)
Intelligence: Reflexes (50%); Memory; Mental resistance; Perception; Critical strike chance; Aim; Spell damage / effectiveness.
Luck: Who knows?