Reicket loved his horses. He knew all their names, which ones liked carrots and which ones liked apples. He knew who had trouble turning and who was the fastest. Reicket wasn't a fan of work, but it wasn't really work whenever he was helping his lovely mares and stallions. Every morning he got up far before dawn to get out their oats, shuck hay and manure, and then his favorite part - grooming. Today he got to put his cobbling skills to use.
"Come on Wix, you've been getting a lotta running in so you deserve some good pampering." Reicket opened the stall door for Wix and he trotted out confidently.
Reicket didn't need to even touch the stallion to get him moving. Both of them walked over to the largest corner of the barn, where all the cobbling equipment hung up, and Wix went right over to the little salt block Reicket had placed there.
He fell into his work happily then, easily lifting up the strong front hoof of Wix and beginning to check him over and give him some maintenance. They'd often ridden hard and fast through the woods and forests, and Reicket noticed a few nails had fallen out. The metal shoe seemed fine for now, but he'd need to ask his older brother for new ones in the next month or so. For now he fixed it up, gave the hooves a nice filing, and started to polish them. One, two, three, and he was just finishing up the last hoof, holding it tightly between his thighs, when an unusual knock came from the front of the barn.
Unusual because the doors were wide open, and everyone usually just came in when they needed. Also stange, because Reicket knew he was right in the middle of the front room, and if someone needed them they could just hollar.
"WHAT!" He shouted back, not looking up from his polishing. It wasn't as dangerous as cutting or filing, but he wanted to pamper Wix and keep him clean so that was exactly what he was going to do.
"You're never this attentive during training." Gilsa said, almost directly next to Reicket, surprising him.
Reicket glanced up for a moment, and then back down. "Yes I am. Besides, these nice stallions can't clean themselves, so it's my responsibility to make sure they're all prettied up, comfortable, and taken care of. Right, Wix?"
As he finished the horse lifted its head and let out a long pleased whinny. Reicket dropped down the hoof gently and stepped away quickly. Wix trotted around happily, turning so that he could watch both of them.
Reicket dusted off his hands. "What did'ya need? You've never come out here before."
"King Siegfried has an audience with an elder from one of the villages again. I read the introduction letter, and it sounds as if we'll be needed." Gilsa turned his attention from the horse to Reicket's outfit.
"So you're saying it's time to get ready to be Rainbow Knight?" Reicket grinned widely. "I can go and grab the Green Sword, right away."
"Is this what you always wear?" Gilsa asked suddenly, completely off-topic. He was as serious as ever.
Reicket glanced at his outfit. He had on his leather work vest, his favorite woolen shit that his ma made him, his thick work pants, and his big leather boots, and hard leather gloves. "Yes?"
Gilsa stepped closer and grabbed at the bottom of his leather vest, pressing it tightly between his fingers. He hummed, and his eyes narrowed in thought. "I should've got you better armor before, this is much too thin. New boots and gloves too, a utility belt-"
"Hey! Hang on, I like my boots and gloves." Reicket defensively grabbed onto his gloves. "They're worn in, and I've had them for years."
"Gilsa let go and stepped back, "You'll still need a new jerkin, something thicker, maybe studded if you can handle the weight." He thought aloud, and brought a hand to his chin. "Either way, come on, we have to get ready."
Reicket grabbed a hold of the bottom of his cotton shirt. "I'm keeping my lucky shirt too! You won't make me give it up!"
Gilsa was already leading the way to the barracks. "Come on stablehand!"
"Let me get my sword, lame-hair!" Reicket shouted back, distinctly not following and trying not to be embarrassed about his lame insult.
Gilsa rolled his eyes, thought he did stop and wait for Reicket to run inside. Reicket came back out immediately, Green Sword in hand, and made a show of putting it into his belt, trying to get Gilsa jealous. All it did was make him roll his eyes.
The words kept repeating themselves in his head. 'A monster that your father couldn't defeat.' 'A monster that your father couldn't defeat.' 'A monster that your father couldn't defeat.' Siegfried finished the final knot on his boot. He hadn't even bothered to listen to the poor frightened elder's next explanation. He demanded to know what type of monster, what beast it was, and no one knew as it consumed those who dared to face it. No one who saw it survived. For ten long years it had been hidden, but then one body was found and all knew it must have been the same monster. A man-devouring and evil beast.
Siegfried stood up, looking at himself fully dressed in the mirror. Hid hair pulled back, his braids settled neatly over his ears with the charms from the dwarves. His strong dark leather chest armor, his long sleeved thick woolen shirt for winter, with fine cuffs pinned neatly. His riding gloves, his thick pants for long travel, and his perfectly shined boots.
He didn't feel like he was in the clothes. Like they were too tight, smaller a size than he was. Which was impossible since these were all tailored. Siegfried wasn't sure why he felt so uncomfortable in this, even though he'd worn it every time he went out.
'A monster that your father couldn't defeat.'
Siegfriedd took a breath in, and snatched up the White Sword quickly, and left his dressing room.
Gilsa and Reicket were already waiting for him outside. With both of them were their horses, and none of the Royal Guards. Gilsa had a backpack on, and Reicket saddled all the horses with packs as well. On Reicket's hip was the Green Sword.
"You look professional!" Siegfried greeted, seeing Reicket's new outfit as well.
Reicket turned around, and flourished his cloak. "I hated it at first, but I gotta say. It does make me look strong, doesn't it?"
"Thank you, Gilsa, I appreciate it." Siegfried said, walking over to them.
"It was a pleasure, your Highness." Gilsa drly said, though he was smiling.
"So!" Reicket stepped in front of Gilsa, moving toward Siegfried eagerly. "What is it this time? Where are we going? Is it the dark wizard again?! What's the orders, King? White Knight!"
Siegfried blushed, happy at the praise, and a bit overwhelmed. "Let's get moving, and I'll explain on the way."
"Yes!" Reicket cheered, turning immediately to jump on top of his horse.
Gilsa paused a moment, giving Siegfried a curious look. "Just us three, your Highness?"
Siegfried nodded, and tried to lift up his chest and shoulders as he did. "Yes. Only us Rainbow Knight."
Gilsa looked as if he wanted to object, though he held his tongue. Instead he turned to help Siegfried get seated, and then mounted his horse last. Reicket tugged on the reins, and gave a whistled to make the other horses alert suddenly, and then the tree of them began to tromp away from the entrance gates of the Crystal Castle, and down into the city of Crystalandia proper.
In the beginning of the morning the city woke up quickly and harshly. People slammed open their shutters, reached up poles to douse candles, threw blankets over railings and beat them. Cook fires were lit, pies were put in ovens and bacon fried, and shop bells rang as the doors were opened for business. The people took to the streets in fine clothing for their early business and wore bright smiles as they greeted the day. One of the reasons everyone always wore a smile in the morning was the majestic show of lights that gleamed across every street corner.
Hanging on lines, raised on spires, lifted above doors, placed on door steps, decorating everything that there was - was gemstones. Jewels. Crystals. Everyone had one, and if someone were too poor to afford it their neighbors lent it to them in kindness. They all sparkled, and gleamed, sending out beams of bright light in beautiful sunbeams and streaks of glow. The entire world lit up like a chandelier, bringing an ethereal euphoria to everyone.
Even though there was no color.
"The King!" A citizen shouted, pointing for a moment before waving and offering a respectful bow. Quickly the shout was taken up by the rest of the people as they noticed. "The King! The King came out! It's the King."
Siegfried sat up straight where he was on his horse, smiling, and waved back to the people.
Reicket whistled, and he waved too. "That's right everyone, the Rainbow Knights are here! Never fear!"
Gilsa turned his eyes down, slipping his horse behind the other two, and trying not to die from embarrassment.
"Good morning everyone!" Siegfried called back, nodding to people as he passed. "Be well! May the Goddess smile upon you!"
"May your day be illuminated!" The people called back. They happily raced alongside his horse, scraping and bowing and trying their best to get a good look at Siegfried as they passed. Children chased the closest, adults scrambling after them quietly and trying to have more decorum about their movements. Siegfried would respond in kind, and the people would holler back again, and he would wave and they would bow. All they said was the religious greetings of the Crystal Goddess, and seemed to get more excited each time they did.
Reicket huffed, and let his horse trot back to be even with Gilsa. "It's like we're not even here!"
"Well…" Gilsa looked at the crowd with apprehension. "Ten years without a King proper is a long time. I was excited too, at his coronation."
"But still, you'd think they'd be more excited at me being a Rainbow Knight. That's been ten years too."
Gilsa huffed incredulously. "Are you jealous?"
"Aren't you?" Reicket responded just as incredulous.
Gilsa dragged his eyes over the crowd with a large amount of fright.
"Ah! You're scared of more than heights aren't you? Like my little sister!" Reicket laughed, and he leaned down and waved at the children who gazed up at him in wonder. He straightened on his horse. "Guess we'll just have to become more famous than King Siegfried, huh?"
Gilsa shook his head hopelessly.
"What? You don't want to be famous?" Reicket asked, and he jerked his head toward where Siegfried kept repeating the same wave and phrase over and over as they moved forward.
"I'm sworn to protect my King faithfully, to ensure justice is preserved, and with my whole being keep the peace in Crystalandia. That is enough for me."
Reicket rolled his eyes, "Yes, I know that soldier-boy, but don't you want to be famous? Wealthy? Don't you want anything?"
Gilsa sat silently on his horse for a moment, letting it trot forward as he thought. Reicket, having had a bit of sense smacked into him not too long ago, stayed silent too. He also didn't speak up because he wanted to know that about Gilsa. It was something he hadn't thought about asking, hadn't even considered before this moment that Gilsa didn't want to be rich and famous like him. He almost didn't believe that, so he had to hear what Gilsa actually thought.
"I want to protect my King faithfully. That's all." He declared, his voice deadly serious. Gilsa lifted his eyes up to the colorless sun. "That's all."
Reicket had words filling his chest, one's that could have said how that wasn't a satisfying answer, how that didn't sound like something to accomplish, or it was just Gilsa's work, but the way he had said it, like that was the final word on the matter, as if he had thought about it a thousand times and comes to the conclusion ten thousand more… Reicket thought maybe there was more to it for Gilsa. And, suddenly, he thought his dream of fortune and fame was small.
Siegfried had kept the three of them going forward, and finally after a long walk through the city they finally left all the celebrating crowd behind. As they passed through the exit gates Red Squadron greeted them formally with salutes. Siegfried played his part ceremonially, and moved from the exit gates without any other stops.
Gilsa kept his head turning, eyes on the city as they moved, and looked at Red Squadron. "No escort, your Highness?"
"No." Siegfried confirmed. "No, not this time."
"So is it the Dark Wizard again!?" Reicket said, jolting his horse forward to be next to Siegfried again. "I know we can handle that guy ourselves! Even though, last time, I think we got him. Right?"
Siegfried shook his head. "No, not the dark wizard. There's a village in Crystalandia, almost a city now, called Geodeom. It's on the other side of the Sleepful Mountains, and there - within the Sleepful Mountains - the people of Geodeom claim there is a vengeful hungry monster."
"A monster?" Reicket gasped in happiness, "A real monster?"
"The… Sleepful Monstains?" Gilsa repeated, "Your Highness, those mountains are cursed." He sped his horse up to come along Siegfried's right side. "It's said that no one who enters them never returns - alive or dead."
"Yes." Siegfried confirmed, "I know. Except, the people of Geodeom demand action - this monster furiously mauled someone to death, and I will not -" Siegfried's throat tightened with determination, and his hand clenched around the reins. "I will not have my people harmed."
"A monster on a cursed mountain!" Reicket happily sighed, leaning back in his saddle. "What a perfect adventure! So? What type of monster? What type of curse?"
"The Sleepful Mountains got their name from the curse." Gilsa began, "A legend has it that as you go deeper and deeper into them, you begin to lose yourself in a fog of dreams, which eventually lulls you to sleep. Then when you finally succumb to sleep, the mountain itself eats you alive."
Siegfried nodded, "I had heard of that curse too. The elder from Geodeom told me though, that this monster is different. It's like one that showed up ten years ago. That the Rainbow Knights faced then as well. And, according to the elder I spoke with…" Siegfried thought about how to say it. 'A monster that your father couldn't defeat.' "He said that the Rainbow Knights didn't manage to kill it."
"WHAT!" Reicket shouted, standing up in the stirrups. "What! Are you kidding me! Why aren't we racing there like mad men!"
"Because, Gilsa hissed, "it is a monster that the Rainbow Knights couldn't kill. We need to be careful."
"Exactly." Siegfried responded, "We need to handle it, with grace, poise, and dominance. This is a problem for us, the Rainbow Knights, our responsibility, and so we will smartly handle defeating this monster that escaped the Rainbow Knights ten years ago."
Gilsa glanced at Siegfried out of the corner of his eye, to check on him. He saw the determination there, for more than defeating the monster, for also chasing after the mystery of his father like he had sworn to. Gilsa tried to keep his calm as well, and his own desire about what happened ten years ago quiet. Except….
"Also," Gilsa began quietly, "The Sleepful Mountains is famous for being where Meda Ducere, Commander of the Royal Guard, General of the Crystalandia Army, and former Yellow Knight, disappeared."
"Meda Ducere?" Siegfried quietly repeated, looking to Gilsa with open concern.
"My grandfather." Gilsa breathlessly confirmed.
"Your Grandfather?" Reicket repeated, his voice full of empathy and grief.
Gilsa nodded, "He said that he too thought a clue about the Rainbow Knights, the former Rainbow Knights, was on that mountain. One day, he went to confirm it, and then he too never returned. Just like the legend said."
"Then we have to go." Reicket declared loudly, "We have to." He turned, imparting it like an order to Siegfried.
Gilsa took a strong breath, and he nodded. "Yes. And be extremely wary of danger. We have to be constantly vigilant. Alert. And prepared for every threat conceivable."
"Determination, dedication, and sacrifice." Reicket recited. "Whatever monster, or curse, or evil there is at the Sleepful Mountains, We'll defeat it together. For all of us. As the best Rainbow Knights of all time."
Siegfried couldn't help but smile and laugh at his optimism. "That's right. Whatever is there. We'll defeat it. As a team."
With the light of color being lost to the world, the Sleepful Mountains looked to be a dark and foreboding black scar against the sky, far in the distance. Its peak rose like a jagged tooth, almost curving in the sky. Around it built up rows of spikes, all pushed together like an angry child had made a castle of knives. Even staring at it one could see it was ferocious, though not steep. No, instead it was a wide mountain, one that painfully pulled up the landscape and spread like a sickness. That was barely visible, however, because around the Sleepful Mountains hung a white blanket of heavy mist.
Reicket walked alongside the massive wall of mist with his sword sliding through it, stunned. He watched how the white mist seemed to grasp onto the Green Sword, curling around it, and not a line could be cut through the mist before or after his blade. "This is unbelievable. How are we supposed to get in?"
Siegfriedgently brushed his fingers over it, and the freezing temperature gave him a shock. When he drew his hand back the air around it seemed to cling, the white trailing after him. "Maybe we can simply walk through it?"
"We can't see anything though." Reicket waved his sword carelessly through the mist, but it only seemed to spread. "We'll end up walking straight into bunch of rocks. Or off some. Which I would like not to do a second time."
"We could go slowly. Maybe one of us could go in, with a rope around them, and that was we can help them find a way back, or hold them steady if they walk off a ledge."
"Well, yeah, but what about the monster?" Reicket but his hands on his hips, his head tilting down as he thought.
"I think we'd hear it?" Siegfried wondered, gazing up at the towering wall of endless blank color.
"Gilsa?" Reicket carefully asked.
Standing far behind them, Gilsa was eerily silent. His eyes were closed, brow wrinkled in thought, and a hand on his chin. He wasn't as out spoken as Reicket, or even Siegfried, but he'd said less and less as they traveled closer. Reicket was worried he would say something that might upset him, or anger him, because he wasn't exactly sure exactly how Gilsa was feeling at the moment. He still asked the question, however, because Siegfried wanted to hurt Gilsa's feelings even less and wouldn't.
Gilsa very subtly nodded his head in acknowledgement. "I'm thinking."
"Maybe…" Siegfried looked upward, "it'll go away at night?"
Reicket paused, staring at Siegfried with a doubtful look.
"What?" Siegfried crossed his arms, denfive.
"We're fighting a monster, I kinda think we shouldn't move at night." Reicket shrugged, "Like, what's even stopping this monster from coming down here right now and eating us?"
Siegfried hesitated for a moment, because he hadn't considered that. He eyed the white mist nervously.
"The fact we'll keep moving." Gilsa said suddenly. He took a few steps forward, standing in between Siegfried and Reicket. "We need vision first, not just to get through the forest, but also because we can't be surprised by whatever monster is here. Reicket?"
"Yes?" Reicket immediately asked, standing straighter at being addressed, ready for adventure.
"Can you climb that tree?" Gilsa lifted a finger and pointed upward, far upward, so that they had to crane their necks back just to be able to see a fuzzy shadow. It was barely within the mist, very close to where they were, but inside the white nonetheless.
"That's a tree?" Siegfried wondered, squinting upward.
"I'm just about certain, and if it isn't, then we still need to try and get a vantage point. Even if it is just a rock, do you think you can climb it?" Gilsa's eyes were incredibly serious as he looked at Reicket.
"Of course!" Reicket happily agreed, "It'll be easy."
"We're still tying a rope to you. Just in case you do manage to walk off another cliff." Gilsa joked for a second.
Reicket grabbed the rope from the horses, and Gilsa quickly tied it securely around his waist. Siegfried watched with worry, feeling useless on his feet, and took the rope happily when Gilsa handed it to him. They both held it tightly. There wasn't much more fan fare than that, Reicket only glancing up one more time to check where the tall shadow was above them. Then he simply walked into the mist, being swallowed by it in an instant.
He couldn't see anything as he walked forward, so he went carefully. He kept both of his hands outward, extended in front of him, and he tapped his feet lightly on the ground before firmly stepping straight.
Siegfried and Gilsa waited with building apprehension. They could hear the subtle crunch of the leaves on the ground as Reicket kept moving forward. Still, even as their ears assured them he was still moving, and fine, not being able to see more than the end of the rope disappearing into the white wall was disturbing. After barely a minute they heard the distinct sound of Reicket walking head first into a tree.
"You okay?" Siegfried called out quickly.
"Yeah, yeah." Reicket grumbled, and it sounded as if he was just a step away, even though they still couldn't see him. "Gimme a minute to climb it, will you. Sheesh, this is a tall, tall tree."
Siegfried ran his fingers nervously along the rope as they waited. He couldn't very well help Reicket if he fell with just a rope after all. Not that he needed to worry, because instantly Reicket began grabbing branches and shimmying his way up blindly. He kept his eyes on his feet, barely able to even see those, and reached close to the tree trunk with both his hands to find sturdy branches. As he moved he looped his leg around a branch to pull up, and with no trouble at all ended up at the near top. He didn't need to go up that far.
"Woah! Guys, guys! It stops just a little further in!"
"The mist?" Siegfried clarified.
"Yeah, this is like - like - like a curtain! Or something. I mean, there's a little bit more fog on the ground, but I totally see the mountain now." Reicket called down, whistling after a moment. "Um… it's hard to see where you guys are right now, but I swear there's just a little slope. It's like a big hill, with some trees. There's like, no rocks at all? I don't think?"
"Can we go forward?" Gilsa demanded, eyes gazing upward at the tree's shadow.
"I think so!" Reicket called down. "But there's a lot of vines so be careful!"
"Let's try." Siegfried agreed with Reicket. He turned to Gilsa, wrapping his hand around the rope nervously. "Reicket! If we walked further in, do you think you could see us?!"
"We'll go slow, so if we're about to step into something hollar! And tell us when you can see us!" Gilsa reported.
He didn't waste another moment after speaking, bodly stepping into the white. Siegfried wondered if that was too brash for Gilsa, like he'd made the decisions too suddenly. Even if it was, Siegfried followed him just as quickly. Both watched their their feet as to not trip, even though they couldn't see what was in front of their faces, and with Reicket's loud assurances they managed to make headway through the mist, and suddenly stepped into an open rolling hill.
"I see you!" Reicket shouted, leaning down and waving his hand. "Can you see me?"
Siegfried looked around as Reicket shouted to them. There really weren't many rocks, not any paths either. The grass was dark, the whole area seemed to be darker than usual because of the blanket of mist which rimmed around the hill. A few vines seemed to be an understatement, however, because as the ground rose upward massive thorns curled between the huge trees and reached out down toward the ground everywhere, almost covering it as thickly as the grass. Above that, seemed to emerge from the dirt itself, were small spouts of the mist.
"Yes!" Gilsa shouted back, "What do you see further up?"
"It gets pretty steep! There's more trees, and they're like, five time the size of this one!"
"Any more mist? How steep? Is anything moving!" Gilsa continued to ask, glancing around to check the surroundings as well. "Anything but trees?"
"Trees, vines, and mist. It doesn't get really steep, like we won't have to climb. Can I come down now?"
"Are you sure you don't see anything else? Anything that if you mentioned it later I'll hit you for not mentioning it now?" Gisla called up.
"I don't think so! Otherwise I'd mentioned it now so you won't hit me!" Reicket shouted, "If you don't believe me you can come up here yourself!"
Gilsa made a sour face, and Siegfried nearly laughed, because Gilsa definitely wouldn't be climbing such a tall tree anytime soon. Reicket climbed down easily, and landed happily next to his friends. He brushed the leaves from his hair and turned to Siegfried.
"Ready to go find and kill a monster?"
Siegfried sucked in a breath, the words being put so bluntly sobering, and comforting. It made him feel like he wasn't here chasing after his father's glory or ghost, but just on another adventure of many with his friends. He let his breath out and smiled. "Let's go."
Siegfried led the way into the dark misty forest with Gilsa at his left and Reicket at his right. The blanket of mist the clug to all sides of the Sleepful Mountains made it dark, and the towering trees threw eerie shadows across the grass. Rocks pierced through the ground in spurts that were meant to trip, and fat knotted roots ripped through the dirt. The world was silent, but the air seemed to hum as they moved upward along the sloping mountain. Stepping upon the grass lightly, with eyes glancing for any movement, they made their way carefully toward the unseen peak.
As they moved deeper into the mountain, the shadows of the trees stretched farther, their peaks disappearing into the mist, and their trunks fattening. More of them grew wider, and thicker, with older bark, becoming larger than two arms lengths, then three, and growing to the point that their roots were the only thing which made up the ground, rocks being completely covered and the grass unable to grow.
"What is up with this forest? How are we supposed to find a monster in all this?" Reicket complined, dragging himself over one of the massive roots and landing on another.
"It think, because of the curse, people have left it completely untouched. It's been able to grow wild ancient trees from before Crystalandia was founded." Siegfried told him, sliding down slightly to balance along a massive root as he continued to climb upward. He was able to run his hand along another as he walked, and as he spoke looked up to where the massive trees disappeared into the mist filled sky. He couldn't even see the branches anymore.
"I think it'd be better to keep an ear out rather than an eye out." Gilsa responded, "But, scratches, prints, scat, and the such would be good too."
"Okay." Reicket responded, listening and understanding to what Gilsa said. He was trying to be serious about this, but that was difficult when there wasn't anything in front of him. He was getting jittery with Siegfried and Gilsa so grave, and having nothing to do but climb upward.
With little light to see all of them were listening carefully as they moved farther upward. Though the mountain seemed straight as they moved along, when they looked to the sky it seemed to stretch upward in an endless ethereal pull. When Reicket glanced backward his stomach flipped over in vertigo, like he was about to tumble forward off a spinning cliff.
"There's scratch marks up ahead!" Siegfried called, pointing to what he had seen.
He moved ahead by a few steps, but then quickly stopped. Gilsa did too, right next to him, and if Reicket was paying a little less attention he would have kept going. As it was, he couldn't quite realize why they had stopped at all. The tree Siegfried was pointing at seemed to be the first of a pattern where they spread out, the next one farther back, and that one father than the rest.
"What? Is there something else?" Reicket asked, bouncing on his feet to get a closer look, but not daring to. Not this time.
"Those aren't from an animal." Gilsa gravely whispered. "They're from a human."
"Human?" Reicket repeated, and now that he looked it was obvious - five straight lines, three thicker and deeper. Purposely put there.
"Look!" Siegfried gasped again, and he pointed up into the mist.
Hanging just above the scratch on a thin wire waiting to be tripped was a metal net.
"A trap?" Reicket wondered, his eyes following the wires on the ground where they could be tripped. "Who would set a trap?"
"Someone else also looking for the monster?" Siegfried wondered, stepping around the root with room to spare, so he didn't trigger the tripwire.
"No." Gilsa refused, "Then there would have been bait for a monster. This is bait for a human. Maybe it isn't a beast that was killing people."
"But the village elder said that the corpses had been eaten!" Siegfried gasped.
"We should expect anything, is all I mean to say." Gilsa looked at the trap suspiciously as he followed Siegfried passed. "Stay on guard."
"Y-yeah." Reicket agreed, also eyeing the net with worry. "You don't really think that a person would be..?"
"We faced a dark wizard twice, don't rule it out." Gilsa responded coldly, almost too coldly.
"But… then what about the monster the former Rainbow Knights couldn't destroy?" Siegfried wondered, pausing. He huffed, then stomped forward. "No, you're right, we should be prepared for anything."
Reicket nodded, instead of saying he'd like to know what to look out for. There was something dark in the way Gilsa spoke, and a strange desperateness to the way Siegfried responded that worried him. Neither sounded as if they were prepared for whatever monster they encountered in the next moment, but instead like they were talking about something much farther away.
As they moved onward the mist began to overtake the roots so it was impossible to see their feet. More of the trees began to separate from each other as they continued to grow to a giant size, letting crumbling rocks peek through the hidden soil that made the terrain rough and slow going. Now the ground began to slant upward as well, but it did nothing to actually stop them, only chose their steps more carefully.
It was when the massive trees began to thin that they once again saw the billowing white mist close to the ground. Much of the fog was more spread out like the trees, and through it they could see the ground once again. Through the fallen over blades of grass an old desire path wound upward toward the far off peak of the mountain. Beside it, heading in the opposite direction, was a hastily lain path of slate, looking like someone had simply dropped them there without thought.
"A deer-parth?" Siegfried checked, stepping toward it as he glanced at Gilsa and Reicket.
"Don't think a monster would use cobblestone." Reicket mumbled, looking at it suspiciously as he followed.
Gilsa simply followed quietly, eyes forward as he kept scanning for danger. The trampled grass led upward in a meaniless meander, sliding left and right like a curving river. Siegfried simply walked a straight line that followed it. Around them the trees thinned until they nearly disappeared, turning into massive black shadows, and the mist upon the ground began to steadily rise again.
"Hey," Reicket called out, "There's something over there." His eyes were still on the cobblestones.
The stones were just about to disappear, going off far to the west, but just before it disappeared from view there was a strangely uniform square diviot in the earth. The mist seemed thinner around it as well, almost highlighting the shape.
Siegfried had no idea what it could be, so he glanced at Gilsa. Gilsa had his eyes narrowed at it, and gave Reicket a brief nod to investigate it. Reicket ran over to it, not wanting to waste time. He came to a stop just before the dip in the earth and realized what it was now that he was closer.
"It's a pitfall!" He shouted back, stepping away just to be careful. For Gilsa.
There wasn't any grass there. Instead it was two pieces of wood which were laid across, covered in green paint and mist. Between them was a little gap where all the mist disappeared into. Three cobble stones also teetered in the middle for more camouflage. A shoddy path into the trap.
Reicket shook his head and started running toward them. "Good thing we didn't go that way." He said when he finally reached them.
"Why would there be a pitfall here?" Siegfried whispered.
"Why would there be a net?" Gilsa responded, "Your Highness, let me go first to keep a lookout. I have the suspicion we're not the only people here."
Siegfried nodded gravely, letting Gilsa take point and Reicket file in behind. Siegfried trusted both of them to spot any dangers. They had done so perfectly when searching for the wizard the first and second time, so they'd do so again. Siegfried kept his eyes out as well, but not for dangers or the path. He was looking for the monster. For any sign of it. A print, trampled grass, scat, something that would prove there was a beast here to be defeated.
Gilsa found another trip wire. It was close to the ground, hidden under the mist. By now there was not a tree in sight, the only sign they still existed was that the sky above stayed dark from their thick canopies. Had he not been looking for it, they definitely would have accidently walked into it as they continued up the forest path.
Siegfried and Reicket stopped as Gilsa knelt down. He carefully pulled the trip wire, then leapt back as somehow three spikes ripped up from the ground and pierced through the air.
Before they could move on or speak, from higher up the sloping mountain they could hear a low growl. They stepped closer together as the noise grew more angraviated and prominent. Then suddenly, the growl wasn't one at all, but instead a scream of rage.
From the mist a figure rose, the white fog billowing away as the person pushed up off the ground violently to stand.
"How dare you not let yourself be captured!" The man roared, the man who had been at the cliffside, the man who had been at the dark wizard's tower, the one who wore the long old tattered coat and top hat.
"You again!" Siegfried and Reicket both shouted at the same time angrily, glaring at the man.
"Can you do nothing correctly!" The man screamed, pulling at his incredibly long black hair. "You can't even walk into such a well-laid trap!"
"What are you doing here?" Reciket demanded.
"Who are you? Are you the one harming the citizens?" Siegfried shouted, hand going to the White Sword, and then away.
"I'd congratulate you on being smarter than last time, if I wasn't so angry." The man let out a growling sigh, and rose up, his gangly and long frame seeming to get taller. "Fine, I'll just take back the White Sword myself."
Siegfried felt his muscles tense when the man spoke, his shoulders lifted up and his hand automatically went to his sword, ripping it out from the scabbard with a thought. Gilsa didn't hesitate to do the same, taking out his blade and holding it ready in front of himself and taking an offensive step forward. Reicket reacted last, fumbling to get a grip on the Green Sword without taking his eyes off the man who dashed forward at them.
By a deadly fraction Siegfried just managed to catch the man's hand on the sharp blade of the White Sword, his speed and the surprise of the sudden attack making the block more luck than skill. The man raised his other hand, his nails suddenly growing into knife-like claws, and ripped them down toward Siegfried's throat.
Gilsa dove forward at the man, his sword aimed at the stranger's heart. The man noticed him and stepped back, only once, Gilsa's swing sliding past without even getting close. With an angry growl the man struck at Gilsa's hand, grabbing him at the wrist and clumping down on it, twisting to throw him toward the ground. Before he could, Reicket managed to slash at his arm, using the only proper technique he knew. Reicket's sword sliced into the man's sleeve and cut it open, yet he didn't even flinch. He tightened his grip on Gilsa's arm and simply threw him at Reicket, the two slamming into each other painfully and hitting the ground.
Siegfried stepped back, trying to get more room to attack with his swords, but the man took a step forward again to stay within arms reach. Siegfried desperately thrust his sword out to drive him back. It worked for a moment, him stopping as Siegfried skidded backward on his foot to get solid footing. Then Siegfried tried taking the offensive, attacking in a series of quick swings, leaning on the length of his sword to defend against the man's quicker grabs, needing to keep the distance.
Gilsa and Reicket regained their feet then, and Reicket charged in first with his Green Sword. He came straight at the man's back in a sneak attack, but as his sword descended the man dove to the side skillfully, putting him aside both Siegfried and Reicket. Not wanting to lose his momentum Reicket ran forward, lifting his sword above his head for a long deadly strike, and as he did the man's eyes narrowed and he leapt forward along the ground like an animal. He rolled beside Reicket's legs to get behind him, swinging a leg back to trip him again and then continued to charge at Siegfried.
Gilsa moved to stand beside Siegfried quickly, his eyes locked onto the lanky man as he ran at them. "Follow me."
Siegfried had only a moment to comprehend his words before Gilsa moved forward, lunging forward and sweeping his sword across the ground. Siegfried moved forward just after, readying his sword as the man hopped to his feet and landed just away from Gilsa's sword tip. Siegfried was already there. With a perfect opportunity Siegfried hefted his sword above his head, straining his arms to lift it and his muscles tensing in anticipation of bringing its full weight down upon this stranger's head.
Just then the man looked up, straight at Siegfried, and he saw the man's eyes, black and wholly black, but they were red and glimmering with lights.
Some real person.
Siegfried didn't even know the man's name.
His face split in a grin, showing evil shark-like teeth in an incredibly pleased and overloading expression.
Siegfried unfroze, the weight of his sword suddenly too much and making him teeter backward. He stumbled back a step, chest tight and unable to do more than let his arms fall.
The man had no inhibition, springing forward at Siegfried with a clenched first. His knuckles slammed into Siegfried's face, cracking painfully and twisting his head to the side, knocking him out instantly. Siegfried fell to the ground in a heap, the White Sword bouncing free from his hand.
Reicket got to his feet, hand still on his sword and itching to move. He ran quickly forward in s sprint, but then Gilsa threw up his hand to stop him, and Reicket jumped back angrily. This was the time he really, really needed to listen to Gilsa, and he did, even though every fiber of his being screamed at him to move. To act. Do something, but Gilsa's signal held him tightly in place.
Gilsa was frozen exactly where he had crouched before, knuckles white on his sword and eyes blazing with fury and a profound fear. He couldn't make a bad move here. He couldn't afford to anticipate a movement incorrectly. If Gilsa did something wrong, even stepped in the wrong way, it could cost Siegfried, Reicket and himself their lives. So he didn't. He waited.
"Always the little coward." The man sighed, his head swinging away from where Siegfried was collapsed on the ground to where the White Sword landed nearby.
Like it was a casual thing, that he had put no mind into, or fought over at all, the man in the tattered coat and top hat bent down to pick up the White Sword. His fingers opened up and reached down toward the stark snow-white hilt. The moment his fingers tips struck the steel, bright flaming sparks exploded along the blade, and when he didn't withdraw it fast enough a huge flame combusted across his hand. That was when the man took his hand back, not in a flinch or reflex, but slowly with a deep growl of annoyance.
The man flicked the flames off his hand, showing black and bloody and blistered skin from the powerful magic flame. "Not this time then." He grumbled, glaring at the sword with personal offense. Then, as if hearing something, he lifted up his head and glanced over his shoulder at where Gilsa and Reicket were still frozen. "It's Victor. Since you asked so politely."
Reicket lifted his shoulders, rolling them as they cramped, and his eyes flicked over to Gilsa with a desperate question. Gilsa didn't move his gaze from the man. Not looking away for a moment from how closely he remained to Siegfried.
The man turned his back to Gilsa and Reicket. He started leaving, moving faster than a walk, but not appearing to run. As he did it seemed the mist thickened around his legs, getting less transparent and almost growing higher as if trying to hide him.
"Stop!" Reicket finally screamed, "Don't think you can just get away with this!" He took a running step forward, needing to follow the man who had attacked him and his friend.
"Reicket!" Gilsa hollard back, getting to his feet and immediately going to Siegfried's side. "Leave it!"
"No way! I'm not letting him get away!" Reicket responded back, still running after the mysterious man.
"Reicket!" Gilsa hollard again, in his most commanding voice, but this time Reicket didn't even give him a response, chasing after the fading form of the mysterious man. He cared, Gilsa felt keenly that Reicket was about to charge into danger he couldn't handle, but Gilsa didn't have a single thought to follow him.
He grabbed Siegfried by the shoulders, lifting him up gently, and the moment he was upright Siegfried's eyes snapped open. Siegfried tried sitting up more, jerking awake, but then saw Gilsa and froze.
"You were punched in the face, your Highness. Get to your feet, Reicket ran off and we have to follow him." Gilsa grabbed Siegfried's arm strongly and began pulling him up.
"Victor? Victor? I don't know a Victor, who is he?" Siegfried babbled, trying to stand up but leaning on Gilsa.
"The time to think is later. Right now we have to-" Gilsa turned, looking to where Reicket had ran off, and seeing instead only a dense white wall of mist.
All around them was white. Not even mist, not fog, but something thicker that didn't part around Gilsa's fingers when he reached out toward it. There was still that constant shade from the trees which must have been there, except it was impossible to tell. Everything had just been swallowed in an instant by this impenetrable whiteness.
"We have to find Reicket." He finished in a breathlessly hopeless tone.
Siegfried looked around as well, staying close to Gilsa as he took in the endless nothingness. Then he gasped, glancing around frantically before blindly reaching into the fog, and quickly pulled out the White Sword.
"Okay. Okay." Siegfried nodded, holding his sword, going to put it away, and then deciding to hold it. "Where…?"
Gilsa took a breath, not going to say it was useless. He was not going to throw up his hands and say he knew Reicket was going to get himself in danger. Gilsa was not going to say he had no idea how to get themselves out of this. No. He was going to think this through quickly.
"If he actually paid attention to that wilderness book, he'd know to stay in one place once lost. He ran after the man who attacked you, so we should hear something, the sound of fighting or anything, and if we get nothing else… the mist thinned as we walked deeper in last time. It could do that again."
"O-okay." Siegfried nodded, though his voice was shaking and unsure.
Gilsa glanced at him with a concerned look.
Siegfried shook his head. "Nothing. It's-"
"Don't worry about losing. You're safe, I am, and whatever trouble Reicket's gotten himself into we can -"
A resounding deep hiss cut through Gilsa's words, silencing him and making the mist vibrate with its tenor. Gilsa and Siegfried both jumped at the noise, turning around in a circle as the noise continued, the hiss seeming to come from all directions. Except no shadows appeared, nothing moved, everywhere they looked was only white.
For a moment the noise stopped.
"Get ready!" Gilsa urged, lifting his sword up for defense.
Siegfried swept his eyes around again, desperately looking for the danger. The barest outline of a shadow appeared, and he raised the White Sword quickly. A massive snake thing lunged up out of the mist at him, writhing and shaking with a long serpent like head. It was covered in teeth and spikes, a massive maw opening up and clashing against his sword. The monster snapped its mouth shut around the blade, and as it did the curling thorny teeth splintered and broke, then simply feel out as it withdrew back into the mist.
"W-What was that?" Siegfried gasped, backing into Gilsa.
"Don't know. But it's coming again."
Gilsa stepped forward with his blade, meeting the sudden appearance of the monster, green and red and snake-like as it pounced at him to strike with an open and fang-lined mouth. It gnawed down on his sword, pulling and jerking it widely as it kept striking forward at Gilsa.
Siegfried slashed at the monster, his blade cutting deep into its side. The monster hissed and let go of Gilsa's blade, lifting itself up high and straight, showing off the long serpent body covered in thick pointed spines. The thing was massive as it rose upward, towering over them with its full triangular head almost as big as their torso. As Siegfried pulled his sword back out to strike the monster, the thorns shot out, striking Siegfried along his arms and side.
Gilsa moved to attack as well, but just as he lunged forward a second monster leapt at him from the white fog. Gilsa dropped to the ground, letting the mouth snap shut where he'd been standing and striking at the monster's neck. When his sword sliced a line through it the thorns shot out again, landing along Gilsa's shoulders and head before he moved away.
He scratched the thorns away from his face to pull them out, staying close to Siegfried as both of the monsters rose up in front of them. As he did, his finger found the shape of the thorns, and he was struck by their familiar feel. "Briars?"
"Move!" Siegfried cried out, diving to the side quickly.
Both of the serpents struck. They dove forward with their massive mouths, trying to maim and bite. Gilsa dove the other way, trying to get away from both. Siegfried watched Gilsa disappear into the mist, and he tried to take a step to follow and stay together, but the serpent's writhed, its tail appeared, slapping down the ground in front of him and letting loose a torrent of spikes. He tried to look around it, tried to see where Gilsa had disappeared to, but only could see the second monstrous serpent darting into the white fog.
Siegfried tried to step forward again, but the serpent he was fighting slammed its tail against the ground again, then swept it straight toward Siegfried, making him run away to dodge. He barely managed to escape the thrashing tail when the serpent lunged at him. Siegfried attacked the monster's flat head, cutting it and forcing it to recoil when it tried to strike at him.
The beastly snake-thing hissed at him, shaking its head against the pain. It's eyes narrowed into sharp slits as it regarded Siegfried, and it hissed and spat at him, its body slithering backward and melding into the whiteness.
He was panting, his nerves ready for another attack from the monster he could still hear hissing in the mist. Nothing appeared though, and the noise began to fade into a directionless taunt, the hissing filing his ears with the hum, and the world stayed invisible around him from the endless white mist.
"Gilsa!" He hollered, looking around. "Gilsa! Reicket! Where are you!"
All of the noises faded, leaving Siegfried's voice to echo across the mountain. In the white fog not a single show appeared.
"Hello?" Siegfried whispered, his voice quiet and scared.
He backed into the mist, into nothingness, and swept his eyes side to side trying to find the monsters again despite the silence. The only noise was the pounding of his heart in his ears. This was a monster, some cross between a snake and a thorn bush, but was it the monster? Could it be the one, the one which his father and the former rainbow knights had not defeated? The one he needed to fight, to prove himself. To prove the Rainbow Knights.
Siegfried couldn't tell. He thought if he saw it, then he'd know. He thought it would be like the dark wizard, evil looking with shades of black and an imposing aura. This monster, the two of them, weren't like that. They were massive, cored with worn muscles and plant spikes coating them all around. There were two, and he'd been told the monster the Rainbow Knights couldn't defeat was one.
A monster his father couldn't defeat… that would prove it. That would show he was destined to be King. It would fulfill his reason for being here, it would make him certain that he could be the White Knight. If this was the monster, if it was, Siegfried would defeat it.
Siegfried took a breath, lifting his sword up, and kept his eyes opened as he listened carefully for movement. Strong enough to survive his father, the former Rainbow Knights… it didn't matter he had to focus on the fight at hand.
From the ground Siegfried heard the crunch of grass. He stepped back, raising his blade as the head of the serpent appeared. He stuck down at it, slicing across it, and the serpent rose up toward him. He saw a shadow approaching him from the side and leapt away. As he moved the Serpent dipped closer to the ground, and the mist over the earth began to churn. Quickly the long body of the snake began circling him. It encircled him, tightening toward his legs.
Siegfried charged toward the brair's serpent head, making it lean backward and hiss at him. He cut down with his sword, slicing a massive wound through its tough skin. The long body of the snake snapped around his legs, the thorns ripping into his pants and piercing his legs in thousands of little needles. At the same time the briar's around the wound launched out at him as well. Siegfried managed to catch most of those on his sword, crying out against the tightening of the thorns into his legs, piercing deeper and deeper into his skin.
He couldn't move, he couldn't avoid this, but he could still attack. The serpent reared back to strike again, but Siegfried threw himself forward at the deep wound he'd just made. The blade of the White Sword sunk into the wound, a spurt of blood dirtying the blade, and Siegfried leaned all his weight on it, howling with effort as he shoved the weapon deeper, and then with a grunt of effort the sword sliced clean through, a found of blood exploding outward for a moment and sending him tumbling forward.
The serpent hissed and spat, writhing, and falling immediately. The thing rolled and thrashed widely, the mist darkening with blood as just its head and neck shook with throes of death. All of the briars still on the body shot out like arrows, striking anything and everything nearby, piercing Siegfried's face, eyes, hands, and clothes. Hehad to stay standing through it, brining his arms up quickly to cover himself and ducking down. The lower half of the serpent was still tightly coiled around his legs.
The serpent thrashed and rolled, writhed and bled out massive pools, and then with one finally haunting hiss it collapsed on the ground and stayed still.
Siegfried let out a breath of relief. He'd killed it. Successfully. He hadn't even thought of hesitating this time, facing something so clearly monstrous.
He stabbed his sword down into the serpent's dead body, tearing his leg up and cutting himself along the thorns painfully as he did. He hobbled outside of the tight circle of the serpent's tail, falling onto his behind happily so he wasn't standing on his wounded legs anymore. His arms were covered in the sharp wooden thorns as well, and his face stung and started to swell from the hooks caught in it.
Siegfried carefully put away the White Sword, making sure it was secured to his belt. The last thing he wanted was to lose it in this thick mist. He squinted one eye open, pulling at the thorns that were embedded in his face, ripping open small scrapes.
"Gilsa!" He shouted out again, being met with only silence.
Siegfried sighed hopelessly, picking out the briars out of his eyebrow. He knew Gilsa wasn't nearby. If Gilsa was nearby, he would've joined the fight. And Reicket… he didn't know what had happened to him. He'd run off after that man, Victor?
Siegfried shook his head, and started carefully taking out the ones deeply embedded in his legs. There were deep holes and long cuts up and down his skin with the briars stuck in them. He wrapped his fingers around the wood and ripped them out with an uncomfortable hiss, his skin pulling painfully and when he ripped them out the cuts flared up with a fiery ache.
He had to find them. He had to still find that other monster too. And… and the one his father couldn't defeat. Not this one. His father was stronger than that. Siegfried glared at the dead serpent thing.
Siegfried sighed and angrily pulled out another of the thorns. He hadn't killed the monster the Rainbow Knights could not. He hadn't even fought it well, he was covered in wounds. He'd lost to that man -Victor? - as well. Gilsa was gone. Reicket was gone. This was going horribly. He wasn't acting like his father at all. He wasn't leading like the White Knight should. He was failing here.
Siegfried pulled out another briar from his face, his eyes swelling with tears. He was alone in these mountains, surrounded by silence, and white fog for miles. He had no idea what to do next. He couldn't tell where to go. He had no idea where his friends were. He didn't know what to do.