Chapter Thirty Seven – Twisted Wronkle Woods
We left Bluebell Bridge in high spirits. All of the adventurers had to leave again, much to my chagrin. Fortunately, all but Bellcandy were already back from… wherever they went, when I woke from a wonderful nap in my room at the inn. The bed was even more comfortable than my glove had been! Before I developed a sense of smell at any rate.
Amy had given me a few round coins that disappeared as soon as she handed them to me, and then told me to use them to set Bluebell Bridge as my second home point before leaving. I apparently had to give them away to a Baron_Von_Pretzel, who owned Bluebell Bridge’s homepoint in order to do so, but all I did was press buttons on my interface.
I felt a little cheated. I didn’t even get to meet Baron_Von_Pretzel, but I still had to give him my round interface numbers?
Still, being able to return to Bluebell instead of all the way back to the Shady Woods Copse seemed appealing enough that I was willing to pay the owner of the homepoint. The last thing I wanted was to have to walk that whole way all over again.
I still felt a little terrified of Red Thorn, but I refused to let her mere presence dictate my life. I would not be her Jelly Delight! Never again if I could help it. I was going to make it to Variak, and become strong enough that she couldn’t scare me...!
…That seemed like a long way off though, because the twisted trees and gnarled roots of the woods before me were doing a wonderful job of scaring me without the knowledge that Red Thorn might be waiting for me there.
“What do you look so worried for, Gell?” Amy asked, noticing my pensive stare. “This is a low level zone. It might look intimidating but the monsters here aren’t very strong. We’re actually passed the hardest part already.”
“It’s not monsters I’m afraid of,” I said with certainty, staring at the notification that drifted across my interface as I entered the woods alongside my party. “Why is it called Twisted Wronkle woods?”
Dull Beauty pipped up, breaking her long silence for once. “The beasts here resemble wild boars. They are called Wronkles but they have knobby, twisted bone horns that they use to ram their prey. They like to ram players into trees. Don’t get hit by their charge and you should be fine, if we encounter any.”
I shrugged. As good a reason as any to name a woods. Boars though! Wild pigs? That sounded interesting! They sounded so sure we would be attacked though… Was that just an invader’s mentality?
I glanced with a reassuring grin at the names in the upper left hand corner of my vision, excited by the fact that I had a group of my own looking out for me. That excitement was a bit dampened by the fact that I’d recently been able to make one of these groups split up by just hinting that there would be a reward for it, but at least I had someone at my back.
For the longest time it had just been me. Oh sure, the Bugbears, Ghoul, Momma Bossbear, and the rest were all there in Dungeon Home, but they weren’t there for me. They were there for the instinct.
Now, I could be reasonably certain these people would have my back if we got in a fight. Reasonably certain. I trusted Amy and Iron, but Bellcandy and Dull Beauty were a bit more… untrustworthy. Dull Beauty being mad about her changed name was also worrying, but I didn’t know how I’d changed all their names in the first place.
They’d looked wrong so I fixed them. Or changed them accordingly. Was that so bad?
Only Dull Beauty seemed to think so, but for the life of me I couldn’t make myself think of her as anything else. She was Dull Beauty. It just fit her.
“Here,” the girl suddenly said, holding out a weapon. I blinked, surprised at her action. The bow she held for me wasn’t nearly as ornate as the one she wore, but it was a weapon. I grinned and took it, but it disappeared into my inventory.
I grumbled a bit, opening the interface and sliding the little bow image over to the picture of a human’s hands and grinned as the bow appeared on my back with a quiver at my side.
“Thanks! But… what’s this for?” I asked. “I thought you were mad at me.”
“I am mad at you,” Dull Beauty said. “But… if what Amethyst had to say about you was true, perhaps it's not entirely your fault. I’d rather not see you hurt.”
“Dawww, you’re just a big ole’ softy ain’t’cha?” Bellcandy said in an annoyingly strange tone. I immediately felt irritated on Dull Beauty’s behalf and apparently that was the right emotion because the girl glared at the healer like he’d stolen her Steak-and-Broccoli.
“I will so kill you someday, Bell,” she said exasperatedly before turning back to me. “Do you know how to use it?”
I pulled out an arrow and fitted it to the bow. It… took a little while. The fingers needed to pinch the end of the arrow and place it directly on the string. Once I did, I drew the string back like I’d seen so many adventurers do before and aimed at a nearby tree.
I let string fly, beaming in triumph! Then screeched as the string snapped my arm off. I yowled and flung the bow away in anger before glaring at Dull Beauty. “It bit me! Your stupid bow bit me!”
The girl was fighting to hold back a grin, while Bellcandy, Amy, and Iron were all laughing. I was beginning to notice a theme here and pouted. Was I really so funny? I… didn’t like it. Being laughed at.
“You… need to make sure to hold the bow away from your arm a tad. The string will catch your arm if you aren’t careful,” Dull Beauty said, schooling her features and not letting even a hint of her prior amusement show. She picked up the thrown bow and set it back in my hands, then placed my hands on the weapon gingerly.
“You see? Your forearm needs to be held like this, elbow bent just slightly. It’s harder to pull the bowstring but there’s less risk of being snapped by it. If you choose to become an archer there are more varied options available to you to further protect you, like this,” she said holding up her own left arm which was covered by a dull leather armguard that matched the rest of her clothing.
“That would’ve been nice to know…” I hissed.
She quirked a rare grin at me. “You do at least seem to have talent.”
She pointed towards the tree where the arrow stuck straight out. I didn’t mention that the tree it hit wasn’t at all the one I’d been aiming for. I’d had enough of being laughed at.
“I… guess. So.. is there anything I could tie around my arm to make it not bite me again?” I asked.
Amy piped up. “I prefer tailoring but I’m also a journeyman leatherworker. I always carry a few leather straps around. Here. Maybe these will work?”
She handed me over a bunch of straps. While they would technically work, the only way I could think of to secure them to my arm was to tie them, which looked clunky and strange. I did it anyway with three of them, making a makeshift armguard, but I didn’t have much confidence in its effectiveness.
Still, they were trying to help me.
“Thanks, Amy. Dull Beauty,” I said with a smile.
“My name is Zephyr,” Dull Beauty said, annoyed.
I opened my friends list and turned it to her. “It doesn’t say that here on the piece of your name that you gave me though!”
“I still don’t get how you did that,” Bellcandy said curiously as we continued walking. The covering of trees blotted out the sky above and my freckles glowed an apprehensive yellow orange color.
“Did what?” I asked curiously.
“Changed our names. My name was bee three one one c, at-sign, n, d, y. Now it’s just… Bellcandy. Which seems like it should be impossible because someone else definitely already has that name,” he said assuredly.
Looking down at him, I thumbed my chin, realizing that the pose felt natural for thinking. “I don’t know. I just… do it? When people’s names are wrong I fix them. So far, everyone has been better for it! But I’ve been naming things since as long as I could remember. I gave Bugbear his name after all!”
Bellcandy looked at me strangely. “And… I suppose, Bugbear is a… bugbear. Correct?”
I nodded. “Exactly!”
“Uh huh,” he said. “Very creative, Gell.”
Picking up on the sarcasm I grouched, “It was my first name. I got more creative with the others. But… Bugbear is special. He… talked to me. He ignored his instinct.”
The area around us was growing darker. Sunlight above was no longer able to penetrate the canopy and fireflies danced around in the air. I grinned watching them as they buzzed along their routes.
“His instinct?” Bellcandy asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I had been meaning to ask about that. Did… all of you break your instinct? To become invaders? Sorry. Adventurers?”
They all exchanged looks like they didn’t know what I was talking about.
“I… understand if you don’t want to talk about it. I don’t feel very comfortable myself. I just wanted to know if it was the same for everyone, or…”
My eyes widened in sudden shock as I spotted a pair of red eyes just behind Amy.
“Watch out!” I screamed, not a moment too soon. A great wolf pounced from the bushes and only barely missed cleaving Amy apart because Iron was quick enough to pull her out of the way.
Red lights blared in the corners of my vision and a strange fast paced music picked up in the background. We were being attacked! And not by Wronkles at all!
Iron drew his sword as soon as Amy was safe and Dull Beauty already had her bow drawn.
“No! Wait, what are you doing?” I screamed as Dull Beauty drew back her bow.
I grabbed the bow and yanked it off target, sending the deadly bolt careening off into the woods as the string went taut.
“Gell! What are you doing?” the archer screamed repeating my own words. “That thing is attacking us!”
“Don’t hurt him! He’s innocent! Just following the ins–! Ahh!” I screamed as the wolf pounced on me, it’s paws raking across my chest. I saw a short notification reading -44 hp, before the only thing I could see was the terrifying wolf’s jaws.
Suddenly the wolf was bashed off of me and I screamed again as it’s claws were not kind in releasing me.
I stood quickly, only to see that Bellcandy had smashed the creature off of me, and now stood protectively over me with his staff held defensively.
‘It’s instinct is making it attack me. I… I don’t need that. I don’t want that,’ I thought frantically, wishing I could make it see. I didn’t want to hurt this wolf! It was the same as me! It was the same as Avwren, Half Bold’s captive bat. It was following a directive that it couldn’t break free from. That it didn’t even know it was following.
Once I managed to get my bearings I saw that the wolf was one of a pack. Horrified, I watched Dull Beauty sink arrow after arrow into the approaching wolves before they could near her, felling the creatures with the same ease Red Thorn would cut through my Bugbears.
She wouldn’t stop. She wouldn’t stop unless they could, and they only could if...
I stared at the wolf that had attacked me. It was the largest. The leader. It’s title was Alpha Packleader, and it was glaring hatefully at Bellcandy who stood protectively before me.
Iron had huddled against a tree and was frantically warding off two snapping wolves with his sword while Amy was panting heavily, sitting against a tree. I didn’t have time to wonder about that though.
The wolf before me was huge and proud. A deadly hunter stalking those who would enter its territory. Not evil though. Just… following its instinct. An instinct that I had somehow helped Bugbear break. And that had all started with a name.
I glared at the impersonal name, forcing it into a new form. The image blurred and the wolf shuddered. Flickered. For a moment I thought the world had broken like it had after I’d shocked Momma Bossbear, but then I realized it was only the wolf that was… twisted.
A moment later, she growled like nothing had changed. But something had. Where before it’s banner had read Alpha Packleader, her name now read First Strike. She was a leader. A wolf who hunted in these woods, and fed on the Wronkles. A fighter who defended her territory, but did not just attack anything that moved as the instinct told it to.
Instead, it could defy the instinct. It could flee an unwinnable fight. It could disengage.
First Strike howled, and then fled. The rest of the wolves suddenly yipped in a frenzy, tearing away into the woods, leaving behind the corpses that Dull Beauty had already disposed of.
I realized suddenly that Bellcandy had not been idle while I’d been renaming First Strike. White light’s surrounded him as he murmured in that arcane language spellcasters used and just a moment later white light surged through me. I gasped in awe as the pain in my chest healed, idly noting that this was the first time I’d been healed by an adventurer’s spell. It felt amazing.
“What… did you do?” Bellcandy asked, looking at me strangely.
‘I… wish I knew,’ I thought, amazed.
“More importantly, are you insane!? Do you want to die? I thought you were trying to avoid that!?” the archer screamed, glaring at me.
I shrivelled away from her. Why was she yelling at me?
“I can tell you why she did that,” said the voice that haunted my nightmares. Slowly from the shadows, Red Thorn stepped into the path. Curiously… she didn’t look threatening.
She didn’t have to look threatening to be terrifying though. I trembled, as afraid now as I had ever been.
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I'm Materia-Blade. I've been a long time fanfiction writer, and have recently decided to toss my hat into the original fiction arena. I love fantasy, sci-fi, and Lit-RPG's and have read hundreds of books from each genre.
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