An awkward silence greeted Dustin’s ears as the boar’s squeals came to a halt. One arrow protruded from the animal’s eye, jiggling when it fell sideways. The other arrow had intruded on its snout and dislodged tumbling down the hill.
Dustin lowered his bow and looked to his right. Jennifer had stopped breathing, staring down at the dead boar. A hand clasped her shoulder, drawing her from the stupor. She drew in a sudden breath and shook, looking around at the stunned students.
“It’s ok Jennifer, you had to do it,” said Ben, using his hand to push her quivering bow downwards.
Dustin turned his vision to Sam, the teacher who screamed for them to stop. She held a hand over her mouth and looked down at the boar, tears forming at the bottom of her eyes. Even Kantaro was silent, standing next to Dustin, the bat in his hand forming a hole in the ground as he pressed down, turning it side to side.
“I don’t think it’s safe to stay here,” Dustin muttered, pulling his bow back over his shoulder. Some students looked at him and took a step back, unwilling to admit that the swift killing was necessary.
“I want to explore the forest, does anyone want to come.” Dustin stood up and began to speak, but Sam cut him short as she pulled the hand on her mouth down and looked at him with fire in her eyes.
“I told you to stop!” She spat, her hands trembling. Dustin exhaled loud enough for the group to hear and continued.
“Does anyone want to come with me?”
Sam’s right eye twitched, and she stormed over to him, standing at about shoulder height with a fiery determination.
“I told you to stop.” She protested, jamming her right hand finger in his face, the tip of which graced his nose.
Dustin took a moment to compose himself, avoiding an outburst that might scare the students any further.
“No, you told us to wait.”
The finger pointed at his face tilted to the right and her face recoiled.
“That’s the same thing, you didn’t listen to me.”
Dustin grasped the tip of her finger with two of his own and lowered it away from his face, flaring his nostrils.
“Wait until what? The boar skewer-”
“I don’t know, something. Anything! Just not murdering an innocent animal,” Sam shouted at Dustin, ignoring the spittle that flew from her mouth and gave him a light spray.
Dustin ran a hand down his face and pointed downhill to where the boar rest. A trickle of blood emerged from its eye socket and pooled around its head, sliding along the terrain like a river.
“That isn’t an innocent animal. It’s a monster. An abomination. Have you seen or heard of any boars with bony spikes coming out of their necks? If we had let it live any longer, it could’ve seriously injured someone.”
He walked over to where he had left the dead rabbit and lifted its upper lip again.
“And this? You’re seriously telling me a flesh-eating bunny is normal?”
To hammer in the final nail for his argument, Dustin pointed up at the sky.
“And I don’t know about you, but a second fucking sun gives me the idea that maybe, just maybe, we aren’t on Earth.”
As his breathing began to heighten, Ben put a hand on Dustin’s shoulder and shook his head.
“I think you’ve made your point.”
Opposite them, Kantaro pulled the teacher away to talk with her, laying a hand on her back.
“She’s an animal activist, Dustin, you can’t just expect her to be ok with murdering animals,” Ben said, turning back to face Dustin.
Dustin held back his rebuke and nodded, running his tongue over his dry lips. After standing out in the open and receiving the heat from two suns, Dustin started to notice his internal temperature rising fast. Patches of sweat spread across his body, under his arms, on his back, and down his thighs.
“Still, that doesn’t excuse endangering human life. Regardless, I think we should move into the forest, at the very least it will get us out of this heat,” Dustin said, already tired of dealing with people.
It was easier when everyone knew of their impending doom and struggled with all their might to survive. He had to calm himself down, fighting against people who still thought life would continue as normal was pointless. They would come to understand.
“I don’t think she will share your thoughts. I’ll go with you, but you’ve not made a great impression on the other students.” Ben looked around at the various twisted faces, noses scrunched and eyes glaring at them.
Taking a deep breath, Dustin repeated his earlier question to the group.
“I want to go deeper into the forest and see if I can find anything. If there’s a river, it might lead to some kind of civilisation.”
The students looked around at each other, whispering quiet words to those closest to them, but none stepped forward. For Dustin, having the students stay on top of the hill and out of his way was the best-case scenario. The forest contained many unknown monsters, and even a small bite or scratch could get infected.
Ben gave Dustin a weak smile, walking over to talk with Kantaro and Sam. Dustin could make out a few of the words being spoken between the riled up teacher and his friend. They were defamatory, and Sam cast a venomous glare over to him every few seconds.
Ben walked back over with his tongue in his cheek a minute later, rubbing his neck.
“Kantaro, Jennifer, and Markus will stay here with the rest of the students. You and I will go exploring the forest.”
Dropping his own bag to the floor, Ben dug out his matching set of padded armour and put it on. Jennifer looked their way, forcing a smile. She avoided the fuming teacher by standing on the other side of the students, wary at her rage for partaking in the boar’s killing too.
Dustin did not care what the teacher thought, provided that everyone was safe, and he could still clear the dungeon. Carrying around the unskilled students would only slow him down given the difficult terrain. He had a modicum of trust in Ben’s abilities to handle a fight, only his will to end a life was unknown.
Helping his friend tie the pads together, the two of them prepared for their journey into the unknown. Whilst Dustin forced a worried look to overcome him, fidgeting his fingers and looking around the treeline, Ben’s nervousness was genuine. He slung a bow over his shoulder, leaving the black duffle bag empty.
“You ready to go?” Dustin asked. He gave Ben one of the spare bats and watched his hands squirm along the metal.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Ben replied, forcing some saliva down.
The students watched them leave in silence, afraid of drawing the teacher’s attention. Sam had calmed down after her previous episode and gnawed on her nails. Despite her protests and strong negative feelings, she was still a teacher first, and the students were her responsibility.
Whilst she couldn’t agree with Dustin’s methods, everything he said still made sense. If they could find a source of fresh water or a road, it might lead them to a village or town.
Dustin did not look back as he and Ben disappeared into the forest, hearing the sounds of wildlife picking up the deeper they trekked. All kinds of colourful birds lined the trees, watching them with interest as they passed. Some of them were reminiscent of a Macaw, a vibrant cocktail of yellow and blue.
Ben, caught up in the unknown world’s beauty, grew complacent, and did not watch his step, earning him a quick trip into the dirt as the root from a nearby tree jutted up, hidden by a large fern.
Dustin chuckled and pulled him up by the collar of his padded armour, dusting the dirt from his chest.
After encountering no hostile creatures within five minutes of the treeline, Dustin clicked his tongue. The trail of blood had been ineffective in drawing attention. Walking behind Dustin, Ben admired the lush green forest that surrounded them.
Adding to the alien feeling of the world and its two suns, the forest was nothing like Ben had ever seen. He had been on vacations to see some natural sights around the world, including some of the oldest forests in existence, but even those trees paled compared to the wood giants around him.
Larger than 14 metres in diameter, the trees dwarfed anything that could grow on Earth. Walking into something solid, Ben stepped back and rubbed his nose, realising that Dustin had stopped moving, and was taking the bow off of his shoulder.
With careful movements to mask his sound, Ben stepped aside to see where Dustin was looking, spotting the animal laying just ahead of them. Following the previous trend of herbivores-turned-carnivores, a young buck was stuffing its snout into the flesh of a small fox. The orange fur was dimmer, covered in a fine sheen of blood torn from the wound in its shoulder, of which the buck was tearing meat from.
Ben felt nauseous just watching the animal, dropping deer from his list of cute animals. He waited for Dustin to make the first move, reading his face. Had he spotted the animal earlier, he might have had time to draw his bow and nock an arrow, but any movement might draw its attention since they had entered its line of sight.
Dustin took his time to prepare the shot, letting the slight rustle of leaves or a birds song mask his sound. The buck determined to finish its meal, believing itself to be an apex predator among the smaller species that existed on the outskirts of the forest.
The gory sight of blood-stained antlers and fur gave it a menacing look, one that could deter other animals from intruding on its territory.
After a painful two minutes, Dustin drew his bowstring back without being noticed, and let his experience do the rest. Like a magical hand guiding his shot, he felt the slight shifting of the wind, waiting for the perfect moment that it died down to fire.
Before the buck grew weary of its food, his right hand let go, feeling the vibrations travel up his left arm as the bow swung to the left, releasing its arrow.
Ben took up his baseball bat in case the arrow did not complete its job and took a step forward as the metal tip pierced the buck’s neck.
The buck made a sound crossed between a grunt and a scream, like a low-pitched wheeze. It leapt away from the foxes carcass and turned around, tearing through the underbrush like it was nothing to escape its attacker. Dustin lowered his bow, content with letting the buck leave. He had aimed to hit a major artery in the deer’s neck.
Unless there was a veterinarian wandering around the forest with adequate supplies, the buck would die from blood loss within minutes. The speed at which it ran would dislodge the arrow enough for blood to seep out.
“Let’s keep going,” Dustin said, walking towards the dead fox. He knelt down beside it, inspecting it for any abnormalities. As a carnivore, the foxes sharp teeth was nothing of concern, given the need to tear and chew meat. Rather, the sight of not one, but two tails sprouting from its backside was an unseen phenomenon.
Ben almost forgot the horrific buck as he stroked the fox, feeling the orange fur tickling his fingers.
“Are we really not on Earth?” He whispered, dropping the limp tail.
Dustin looked at him and shrugged, standing up again. He did not need to hide the carcass this time and continued deeper into the forest.
As the amount of vegetation increased with their distance from the outside, so did the thickness of the tree canopy. The light able to filter through was minimal, leaving them in darkness like one might find at dusk for the two of them to navigate by.
“Are you sure we should keep going deeper? It’s getting dark,” Ben asked, swivelling his head in every direction. The possibility of something sneaking up and ambushing them was high, given the unfavourable terrain and lack of vision.
Although he wanted to see the centre of the forest, Dustin knew there was no point in heading straight there and nodded. They backtracked until the level of light sufficed to see their surroundings, and began to move clockwise around the forest, listening for the sounds of rushing water or the sight of cleared land, marking a road.
After wandering through the trees they heard the faint splashing of water and drew closer. A small creek was travelling down the terrains decline, winding around the hungry roots that sapped at it. Dustin knelt down, ignoring the rocks digging into his knee and dipped his finger in the water.
It was clear and cold, but neither was a sign that the water was clean of harmful bacteria. Ben licked his dry lips at the water but followed Dustin’s lead and kept walking. Despite their time spent within the forest, the level of visibility and weather hadn’t changed at all. The small glimpses Dustin got of the sun through the tree canopy revealed that they were in the same position as when he had started.
Ignoring the suns position to avoid confusing Ben, the duo followed the creek downhill, searching for any signs of life along the way. Dustin found plenty of animal tracks leading to and from the creek, but none were two-legged and human-like.
Dustin didn’t know if a civilisation existed within the forest, but the possibility they were alone there didn’t faze him. Rather than safety, he was looking for the dungeon’s boss.
A dungeon boss differed from the rest of the rabble that wandered the dungeon. They were strong, and the rest of the monsters respected them. Some wandered the dungeon with an entourage, and some alone. Others sat in one spot, protecting their territory.
The forest covered a large area, so it was easy for them to have missed the boss if it was one to move around.
Dustin imagined it was a stationary boss as the attitude of the monsters they had encountered so far led him to believe that they were free of its tyranny, knowing that if they avoided its territory, they would not come to blows.
Dustin could remember some information surrounding the dungeon, given that it was so close to him. It was an easy dungeon, by his standards, as the police that investigated it came out with minor injuries a few hours later.
Simple firearms built using Earth’s materials were effective to a point, and anything a policeman’s handgun could kill, Dustin could overpower with a team of decent adventurers. The friends Dustin had brought in were inexperienced, but he had confidence that they could survive the dungeon, even if he had to carry them through.
Drawn from his thoughts, Dustin followed Ben’s outstretched finger, catching sight of a thin clearing that ran through the forest. Whilst it didn’t hold a candle to any modern-day forest trails and could be mistaken for a long patch of mud, it was detectable as man-made against the heavy underbrush of the forest.
Approaching with care, Dustin felt the soft mud underfoot and noticed the problem straight away. The bushes were only clear up to his hip, and they left anything sticking out higher than that to grow wild. One might chalk it up to the trail falling into disrepair, but a much more likely result was that the trail owners were no taller than children.
Ducking down to look down the trail, nothing alive was visible down either direction, although a small pile of animal bones was peeking around the corner further along.
Heading towards the corner with a sinking feeling in his gut, Dustin checked for any signs of danger before investigating the pile of bones.
“Keep a lookout for me,” Dustin whispered, kneeling down to get a better look. The bone laid unorganised in a pile, but it was an unmistakable message to those who knew the signs.
Cursing his luck, Dustin pushed aside the bones to reveal a small marking carved into the skull of a boar. It was a rough carving, but they had etched two diagonal lines to mimic eyes, with a crooked smile underneath. Two bloody fingerprints on each corner of the face, with a pointed fingernail, resembled ears. They scratched a line between the mouth and eyes, jutting to the side like a crooked nose.
Closing his eyes and sighing, Dustin pushed the bones back into place and stood up. The carving not only signified that a humanoid race existed in the dungeon but gave him the impression that the leader of them was the very dungeon boss they needed to eliminate to escape.
He was familiar with the race of small green monsters that had created the marking. They lived in barbaric tribes, fighting amongst themselves for food and territory. The world knew them as popular monsters from fantasy, goblins.
Though cruel and able to bridge the strength gap by using underhanded tactics like poisoned weapons and traps, any competent adventurer could handle them with enough care.
The group of unarmed university students, however, stood a limited chance if they entered the goblin territory.
Looking up at Ben, whose back was facing him, Dustin considered the feasibility of eliminating the goblins with just the two of them. Killing an animal was one thing, but it was unlikely the students would sit by and let him murder the child-like demons. Perhaps witnessing the goblin’s brutality might change their minds, but it was too risky to try.
If just Dustin and Ben sieged the goblins, he could at least keep Ben safe from any traps the goblins might have set up. A group of people, however, could trigger many traps.
“Is everything ok?” Ben asked, peeking over his shoulder at Dustin, noticing that he had fallen silent.
“The pile of bones is also man-made,” Dustin said, clapping a hand on Ben’s shoulder.
“...Is that a good thing?” Ben replied, drawing out the last word. Dustin glanced at his friend and frowned.
“I’m not sure. It looks a little too cave-man’y for my liking,” Dustin said, tilting his hand side to side. Feeling something land on his cheek, he squinted and squished the mosquito by slapping himself before it could try anything. The longer they stayed in the forest, the less he could guarantee their safety.
Malaria was only one problem on the list of dangers they faced, and it would keep growing.
“Should we follow the trail then? We’ve been looking for one this whole time. It would be a bit of a shame to just leave it now.” Ben asked, lowering his head to peer down the empty trails.
Dustin looked at his friend, wondering if he had any idea what they could run into. Bodily harm was something Dustin could protect him from, but emotional damage was something Ben would have to come to terms with. The goblins were a horrible race that plagued many worlds, and their methods of reproduction were the scourge of all women.
“If you’re happy to continue, then we can check it out.”
Ben ran a hand through his hair and looked up at the sky, “Fuck it, I don’t think it’s going to be dark anytime soon, and I don’t want to return empty-handed. If someone lives in the forest that can help us then I’m willing to take the chance.”
Looking down at Dustin, Ben smirked and winked at him.
“And if they’re cannibals, I just have to run faster than you.”
The two of them laughed and continued down the trail, walking slower this time to observe the surroundings, watching for movement.