Kalars Continent Book 2 Chapter 55
Volume 2: Growing Up Chapter 55 The Mines 4 Bonus Chapter
"It's too dark! I can barely see anything in this thicket!" Edgar complained as he cut his path through the dense vegetation of Thorn Forest.
"Just follow your needle-thingie! It can't have gotten far yet!" Elisa replied as she tried to free a part of her loose clothing that had gotten caught on the branch of a blackberry bush.
"It is a Leadstone, and I know how to follow it! I'm just saying we would make faster progress if we waited for dawn.
"Quit complaining and focus on the way!" Elisa retorted agitated, not taking well to the suggestion. Her husband was missing, abducted by a horrendous forest creature, and she was to wait for dawn? Not a chance!
After they had gotten a few hundred meters between themselves and the clearing around the outpost, the terrain was slowly becoming more accessible as the obstructing ground-vegetation receded, yet so did the traces of moonlight that made it through the airtight roof of the forest as it grew denser. A slight breeze carrying the smell of soil, decaying leaves, and a faint trace of resin was blowing past them as they left the thornbush-covered area and headed deeper into the forest through an alley of towering trunks on all sides.
It was dark and cold. A shiver ran down Elisa's back, but her conviction remained unwavering. She did not care if she lacked suitable clothing for this endeavor or battle experience; she would see this through till the end.
Edgar was leading the way and was slowly winning margin, but he did not seem to notice. He was entirely absorbed in the operation of his magical tool. More than a dozen meters behind, she still heard his dissatisfied exclamations from time to time.
"What's with this darn thing?! Why does it keep changing the direction it's pointing to? It doesn't make any sense!" he snarled at the small, metallic shard hovering over his outstretched hand, perfectly held in balance on top of a thin, icy needle.
Meanwhile, Elisa was battling to advance safely across the uneven forest floor in her inadequate footwear. Then she saw something move and stopped in her tracks.
She whispered into the nothingness around her and turned her head to stare into the darkness seeping in from between the trees that encircled her from all sides. But, all of a sudden, it was not as dark anymore. A good dozen meters away from her, a bit to the left, a glowing whisp of light was hovering in the air, exuding a faint shimmer of brilliance that vanquished the darkness around it.
"Edgar, I think I have found something!" she called out but did not receive a reply. Had he really moved on without her?! What a jerk!
"Edgar!" Elisa called out again, louder this time, but still without a reply. She clenched her fists and decided to observe this phantasm more closely on her own. It did not seem too dangerous. She took the first step in its direction, then another one, and strayed further and further from the path.
But it did not simply hold still as it hovered in the air, it bobbed and swayed in the gentle night-breeze and slowly drifted farther away from her as she tried to approach it. She could not put the feeling into words, but somehow she felt a connection to this glowing phantom. Something enticed her to follow it.
"Wait!" Elisa called out and quickened her pace, chasing after it.
Not paying any heed to her steps, she soon stumbled over a thick, barbed vine that had entangled itself with her right foot. Some of the thorns pricked her skin as they penetrated through the rough fabric of her pants with little effort, but she still managed to free herself after a moment.
It was getting further and further away.
She had only been following it for a few hundred meters, how could she lose it now that she was almost there?! She picked up her pace once more.
It was hard to tell how long she had chased after the light in this dim forest, but eventually, it stopped.
The small, glimmering orb was hovering peacefully in front of a narrow crevice that was part of a towering cliff a few steps in front of her. The bare face of rock stood in glaring contrast to the surrounding vegetation, and she could not see the end of it, as the upper parts were hidden behind the thick treetops of the forest.
Elisa had only stopped for a second to take a look at her surroundings, but the orb had already resumed its journey and disappeared in the open crack of stone.
"Wait!" she called out, but to no one's surprise, it did not show a reaction.
Elisa hurried towards the cliff face in front of her but hesitated to follow after her target. There was a breeze of air drifting from the crevice, and... was that the sound of a flute?
She was uncertain of how to proceed but finally decided to continue onwards.
The vertical crevice was narrow, but with her lean stature, she could squeeze through without much effort. Advancing like this, her back pressed against the rough, cold stone, her heart was beating like crazy. What was waiting for her on the other side? And why did she have this inexplicable urge to follow that light into uncharted territory?
Elisa paused for a moment to consider her doubts, but after decisively shaking her head to get rid of these thoughts, she continued ahead, unafraid of the darkness. She could already see the light at the end of this fissure now, and the faint sound of music was only becoming more audible. She was almost at the exit. Thank the gods; there was an exit.
Battered and exhausted, she fell on her knees as she stumbled out of the narrow opening. After a few deep breaths, Elisa raised her head once more to observe her surroundings; and gasped in shock.
The place wasn't exactly what she had pictured the interior of a mountain to look like. In fact, she wasn't even "in" the mountain. Strange trees grew all around her, and far overhead Elisa could see the dark, star-covered night sky, peeking over the high cliffs that sheltered the groove from all sides. The mysterious orb of light she had been chasing was hovering near her, right next to a burly tree; it must have been this one's light that she had seen from inside the crevice.
"You're quite hard to catch, little guy. What did you want to show me?" she softly said to the specter beside her, trying not to scare it. She was beginning to suspect that it was more than a light in the forest. And then there were still the melodic, high-pitched notes of a flute reverberating from the surrounding walls, that plunged the place in an eerie cacophony of faint sounds and echoes.
As if she had pressed a button with her words, the light zoomed into the distance again, dodging the gnarly trees to the left and right. Elisa chased after it and soon noticed that they seemed to follow a well-worn track. Progress was fast.
They did not come far when all of a sudden, the orb of light stopped and dissolved into tiny specks of lightthat seemed to carry dozens of inaudible, faint voices that drifted away with the wind. It was gone.
Shocked by the sudden disappearance of her target, Elisa stopped in her tracks too, but now that the only source of light in the area was gone, she could see a soft, orange glow reflecting on the nearby leaves a little bit ahead of her. She slowly advanced further.
She soon stood on the edge of a clearing where a small campfire had been kindled from a pile of dead branches. Small sticks had been set up around the fire, sizzling fruits of various shapes stuck to their ends. And there he sat, Rainert, her husband. Leisurely leaning on a tree trunk and staring into the fire, that big idiot. What was he doing here?
Elisa wanted to rush up to him immediately, but she was interrupted.
"Who are you? You're not allowed to be here!" a hoarse voice demanded to know. The flute had stopped, and someone must have been playing it after all. Elisa only got a good look at this new adversary in the dim light of the campfire after turning her head around to face it directly.
"Elisa?!" Even Rainert had noticed her now and reacted promptly, but was silenced with a gesture of the beast.
It was hard to describe, half man, half animal. It walked on two legs, hooves, and small horns adorned its head, but it was barely half her size, like a child. It brandished a long, wooden flute like a weapon, and held it threateningly in her direction.
"How did you find this place?" it demanded once more.
"I- I followed the light..." Elisa stammered in response, spooked by the sudden confrontation with this anomaly.
"What light? It's the middle of the night!" it retorted.
"I- I don't know. There was this glowing orb of light in the forest, and... and I followed it. It led me here. But it disappeared just a moment ago", Elisa tried to summarize what had happened to her today, but even she had to admit that it sounded far-fetched.
"You mean a whisp?" the magical creature asked, surprised. It contemplated for a moment, then lowered its unusual weapon.
"What's a whisp?" Elisa asked, intrigued by the unexpected reaction.
"Well, a light in the forest, obviously. They are also referred to as the guides of fate. They lead the pure-hearted creatures of this world towards their destiny." he explained in a grave tone.
"If one led you here, there is a good reason for that," he added after a short pause and stepped to the side, allowing her to enter the clearing.
She did not need to be invited twice and rushed immediately towards her husband, tears filling her eyes. How she had missed a hug like this.
"Sorry that I did not come home last night, it won't happen again," Rainert said and tightened his embrace. They were finally reunited, but what had happened?
"What happened? What are you doing here?" Elisa questioned after struggling free and slammed her fist against his chest in a childish fit of anger.
"Well, how should I say. Fil abducted me... I guess," Teo's father replied sheepishly and scratched his head.
"Who's Fil?!" She called out hysterically. She had had enough excitement for one day.
"He is. You already met him, remember?" Rainert said and pointed at the goatman that still stood a few paces away and watched them.
"Yeah, I did not get around to introduce myself. Hi, I'm Fil!" the creature said as he approached them.
Elisa was not yet ready to shake his furry hand and stumbled backward instead. "You have a name?!" she called out, surprised.
"Of course I have. It would be pretty unpractical otherwise, right? My name is Filifern Goatweed, but I usually go with Fil. Nice to meet you, human," it replied and tried to shake Elisa's hand again, this time with more success.
"Nice to meet you too, Fil. I'm Elisa," she replied in a daze, still unable to cope with the situation.
"So, Fil. How come you spouse-napped my husband, if I may ask?" she retorted threateningly after regaining her composure. She did not care what kind of creature had laid its hands on her husband, but it was best advised to start preparing for her reply.
"How about I explain that to you?" Rainert interrupted the tense situation again and began to explain straight away without waiting for confirmation.
Apparently, Fil had run away from a group of magical beasts that had attacked his village in the north a few months ago. The area was not as fertile as his original home had been, but he had managed to find a nice sanctuary that was surprisingly rich in primal Magic and had made it his temporary home. He lived from what the forest gave him, and as it was every Faun's duty, he protected it in return.
Around a month ago, he had started to notice more and more human activity in his territory. They burned the bushes, they fell the trees, they killed the animals... they were attacking the forest to quench their irrational thirst for blood and destruction.
He had never seen a real human before and was afraid, but Fil knew he needed to do something, so he tried to frighten them into leaving the place without success. Soon his attempts became more extreme and got out of hand quickly.
"You kidnapped people because they chopped down some trees? That's crazy!" Elisa called out, infuriated.
"Destroying the forest is crazy! I just tried to protect it!" Fil retorted mopingly.
They were both upset, but Rainert managed to calm the situation once more. As he had nothing else to do, he had spent the last hours thinking about possible solutions for this conflict and had already discussed some of them with Fil. After pulling Elisa into the discussion as well, they soon managed to come up with a satisfactory solution.
"Marking all the sick and old tree's with an X so that the miners know which ones to fell and which ones to leave alone... that could work! It's a compromise, but I think both sides can live with that. We just have to tell the miners, that as long as they don't mess with the forest, it won't mess with them either," Elisa summarized. "If you lead us back to the camp, we could take care of the negotiations right now!" she proclaimed.
"As long as they leave my tree's alone, I have no reason to bother them. But do you think they will listen?" Fil asked probingly, unsure of the plan.
"Just leave that to me! Bring us to the camp, and we will take care of the rest," Elisa proposed self-confidently.
The decision made, they talked a bit more about the details and began the preparations to head out. The other Miners who had been abducted were stashed in an improvised cell and fast asleep. It was made from living branches, probably woven together with Magic. According to Rainert, they had been put to sleep by a rhythmic flute solo since they would not stop complaining. Naturally, they could not leave them behind.
Elisa even found a small hill of discarded tools in the vicinity and remembered to search for the ax that they had used as a lure earlier today. With a smirk, she picked up a small metallic shard from the side of its blade and pocketed it.
"With this, that idiot will find his way home eventually. Serves him right if he spends the whole night searching for us," she whispered to herself and turned away to leave.
The matter as good as resolved, the small caravan of people set out together as Fil led the way towards the Miner's camp. The gentle night breeze brushed through Elisa's burr-covered hair as she looked back at the crevice one last time, then turned around to head home. She longed for nothing more but a warm bath right now.
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