Orphans of a Dead Nation Chapter 3: At Death’s Door, A Stinky Embrace
“I can smell it. With every breath you take, I can smell the human off you.”
Alaina’s heart pounded. She tried to struggle from the grip on her mouth, and the arm wrapped around her body, but once she heard the voice, she went still.
The voice did not come from whoever held her from behind, but from the other side of the tree. The place he just grabbed me from.
Her captor turned to look, consequently pushing her forward, and her eyes were able to catch a glimpse.
Out in the moonlight, standing in the snow, was a tall creature. Its body was akin to a human in that it had two arms and two legs, but its face was narrowed like a lizard. Like the pictures of those creatures called dragons she had seen in some old folktale books at Old Marten’s Store Shack back on the block she lived on. But this was no dragon. There were no mighty wings or shimmering scales. It was not a huge creature, and did not radiate the power of the elements. No. It was skinny, dark, and frightening; not a fright derived from knowledge of its power and its search to snuff out her little life, but a fear birthed from the cold pressure that exuded from its body. And behind that pressure, amongst that dark and grotesque outlook, it had a particular trait similar to the creatures that killed Jole and the girl.
At its neck, right at the edge of its collarbone, pearl studded bones popped out of its skin; and a ghastly, whisky black vapor exuded from them. One followed me? That makes three. Just how many of these creatures are there? Is it a friend of the other two? Or was it lured here by all that noise? Just what did Dekaros and the leader try to hunt?
“Come out. Come out. Come out,” it sung. Its white eyes glowed as it jumped up silently, and moved through the trees. And they can talk. Yippy me. As Alaina saw the creature, she saw no words move, but she could hear the voice like a whisper upon her ears. It was soft, but commanding. It entranced her. It scared her.
Quickly, the figure holding Alaina moved. It dragged Alaina to the other side of the tree, beneath a branch and halted.
Leaves fell from above. The evergreens so rooted to the branch in winter, flew down, twirling till it landed lightly on the snow. Alaina held her breath. She looked up.
Right above them, the creature was there searching left and right.
The branched hummed as the creature launched itself to another tree, continuing like that until it disappeared.
The figure holding Alaina pulled at her from behind, circling more around the tree. Its breath tickled her ear and watered her eyes. This smell! I can’t take it!
The sound came unexpectedly.
The creature jumped down with a poof, snow scattering as it landed. “If you’re not going to come out, then I guess I’m going to have to drag you out!”
Suddenly the black vapors around its pearl studded collarbone grew more intense, and the head of the creature began to rise. The neck grew longer and longer, until it reached two meters high and slid off, the head and neck landing on the snow like a giant thick snake.
The whisky black vapor trailed with the snake-like creature as it slithered out of view in the opposite direction.
Alaina sighed with a bit of relief. But the figure turned quickly, pressing its back against the tree. It did not move. It did not speak.
Alaina could tell from the feel that it was human. She had been wondering who this person was. And though she could not see his or her face, but the moment that creature popped out, she knew at least that this person had saved her life.
Shifting out her free hand, from the person’s grasp, she reached up and pulled at the hand on her mouth.
“wha-” The figure slapped its palm over her lips again, shutting her up.
“There you are!” The creature roared.
Alaina jumped, her heart twisting. But she quickly realized that the voice came from a distance away. It really can’t tell where I am.
Alaina closed her eyes. How did he get behind us so fast? I thought he was gone. Alaina felt that she was stupid. The figure saved her life again. How does it know I am in the area? It can’t tell where I am, so how? Did it follow my tracks? The land was a bit elevated in the area, and the snow was light. The distance between her tracks and where she was pulled from, was not far, but somehow the creature could not use it to track her down. It could not smell her either, like it said. Or maybe it could, but could not determine an exact location. Or maybe it was not me who it was following at all. And Alaina thought back to the person who held her from behind.
Suddenly, there was a ripple in the air. A slight surge that made Alaina’s stomach flutter. The figure behind her pushed forward again. Not towards the direction the head was in, which surprised Alaina, but back at the main part of the body; and Alaina was able to take another peek.
A horizontal slit warped in the air in front of the body. Suddenly, a tiny black and green flame burst forth and a greenish glow descended. The glow subsided, leaving a shimmering paper.
Alaina could not read it from the angle she was in, but she was sure it had words, and whatever those words were, they were definitely important. The method shown in front of her was an ability that the archives in the Hunters Association said was extremely rare. He’s a follower. But who can command such a thing?
As Alaina thought back to the passage that described the tiny green and black flame, to her surprise, the arm of the creature’s body moved. It was quick, within a blink of an eye, grabbing the paper. It squeezed and the paper dissipated into a green smoke that eventually blew to nothing.
“No. No. No!.. How lucky you are, human.” The creature spoke. “I have orders, and I must leave you. That is, unless you want to come out now and spare me the trouble of finding you? No? Oh well.” The head slithered back to its body. The snake-like tail slid itself up the legs and over the chest, coming up to the collarbone and then going down the gaping hole where the neck and head should have been, digging itself back in, and reforming itself – when the head popped back into place, the creature shifted its shoulders, testing out its mobility, and then jumped up and ran off through the tops of the trees.
This time Alaina said nothing. The figure behind her just held onto her and they stayed like that in the quiet for what seemed to be ten minutes before he let go and pushed her away.
Alaina gasped. The figure stunk so bad she thought she was going to choke to death. She coughed and hacked, leaning her hands on her knees, spitting on the snow.
She turned to look, her eyes red, and found out that that figure was just… a boy.
He was the same height as her, and probably the same age too. He wore a cotton leather cap and a shabby old jacket. His feet were wrapped in cloth that was held together by rope.
Can someone even stay warm like that?
“Who are you?” Alaina questioned. She was grateful and all that he saved her life, but she put her safety above all. Just because he saved her now, did not mean that she trusted him. In the world she lived in, there were many reasons someone did something.
But the boy completely ignored the question.
He brought up his hand, and there, right in it was her short sword. The same short sword that Dekaros tossed her out of his self-proclaimed pity.
“I will be keeping this as payment.”
Alaina’s mouth twitched. Payment? He did all that- put himself in danger- all for that crappy short sword? Alaina’s grip tightened. She still held the crossbow in her hand. The symbols on it no longer glowed, but anyone could tell it was not ordinary. And yet he took that shabby thing as payment. Even though I have this thing in my hands. I wonder if he knows its worth. Well. If that’s why he did it.=, I’m fine with that.
“With this, we are even.” She said. The boy stared at her for a long time and then nodded. He walked past her, heading off north in the direction the creature left.
Alaina hesitated. That’s it? He’s leaving. Just like that. Alaina was a bit stunned. It was not unusual for someone to try and bargain more for saving someone’s life. But apparently the boy was content with the sword. But… His leaving had made Alaina hesitant for other reasons as well. She knew the only way to go back was to go by taking the northern passage. The north passage eventually curved west, heading towards the city. Same as for the southern passage. The problem was the creature that was just looking for her went north. If she turned back to take the southern passage as that boy from the group did, she would risk running into the two creatures that those six were fighting or any of the six themselves. They’re probably dead already.
Alaina looked at the back of the boy as he trudged north. She thought back to the boy’s actions. How he kept her alive. Somehow he can tell when they are there, or was he just lucky? He was able evade that thing as if he knew where it would pop up next.
Alaina sighed and steeled herself.
“Hey wait up. Let’s go together.”