“Let’s see: first aid meds, rations, whetstones, a fishing rod? A bug net? A… BBQ spit? What does this guy think we’re doing? A camping trip?” I said to myself as I rummaged through the care package and Jaina scanned our surroundings. She would notice danger way sooner than I would after all.
“Oh hey, look at that.”
“Is there something useful after all?” Jaina asked without taking her eyes off the surrounding area while shielding her sight from the sun with her claw on her forehead.
I pulled out a phial with a cork stuffed into it. There were little sparks flying inside of it and when I looked closer, I noticed that it was something I’d seen before. “There are flash flies in here. Had many of those back home when they were gathering over the fields. My dad always used to tell me to never get too close to them.”
After being sure that there was nothing unusual going on, Jaina knelt next to the care package with me. “Why?”
“Well, when you disturb them, they flash up their lights. That’s what gave them their name. The light is so damn bright that it makes you blind for a while.” I twisted the phial, looking at the calm insects swirling around inside.
“That sounds… fun? But why would the commander put them in this glass and put it into your bag?”
I was wondering the same thing, but as I turned my arm along with the phial, my slinger came into view and it clicked in my mind. “I wonder…” I flipped the phial around and loaded it into the slinger. The string stretched all the way to the back until it was locked in and the phial fit perfectly. “There you go.”
Jaina was still a little confused as she gently tapped the phial. “So you can put it in the… stretchy thing. What’s the use in that?”
“Well, if it can blind me, it can probably blind a monster. I shoot it, it breaks, the flies get disturbed and boom, giant flash.”
Jaina’s face lit up in understanding. “Ahhh, now I get it. But won’t it blind us too? I mean you said it blinds you.”
“Just don’t look their way when they flash, it’s as simple as that.” I smiled cheekily as I playfully flicked her nose when she closely inspected the phial, making her giggle. The bag went back on my belt with all the stuff that was inside except the flash flies.
“It’s really weird how all that stuff fits inside there. I mean a bug net and a fishing rod fit in this little thing.” Jaina said as she admired the tiny pouch that looked hardly filled.
“Yeah, right? You’d almost think it was a bottomless pit. Eh, whatever, we should get going. Time is not really on our side.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Right this way, Kalaydus.” She announced chipperly as she proudly took the first steps towards the forest. She still kept an eye out and checked around every corner, but she seemed a lot more comfortable than last time.
She had a strut in her walk and took a deep breath as she led the way. “Hey, Kalaydus?”
“You know what’s weird? After seeing how stressful it was in Astera… I’m feeling kind of relieved to be out here again.”
“Heh, I don’t think that’s the standard. Both places have their low points. When we resolve this, it should be a lot calmer.”
“No, I don’t think it should.”
I raised an eyebrow in confusion. “Why? I thought you were relieved to get away from that.”
Climbing over roots and shoving brush aside, she slowed down to walk by my side. “I know, but I need to challenge myself a bit more. I’m strong already, but if I can’t even face a single conversation with a human I might as well be as weak as your kind is. No offense.”
“None taken. I actually kinda like that about you. God knows I have a lot more challenges to face.” I chuckled and walked closer to Jaina, giving her a little nudge. “Maybe we could be the survival guide for each other. Ya know? I show you how to survive social interaction and you show me how to get tougher. Deal?”
“Oh, it’s so definitely a deal.” She nudged me back and shot me a cheery, close-eyed smile. Her nudge though, almost knocked me over but as fast as she bumped into me, she caught my wrist and kept me from it. “Whoops, sorry. Hehe.”
I cough and smile as she pulls me back up. “Nah, I should’ve seen that coming. I forget how strong you are sometimes.”
After getting me back on my feet, we stood closely together with my hand inside of her massive claw. “Is that also one of the things you like about me?”
“Maybe it is. I’ll leave that for you to figure out.” I chuckled and signaled her to lead the way. With a little blush, she turned away and once again got back on track.
Man, did that really hurt though.
It didn’t take us long until we reached the far end of the forest. Lots of little critters were hiding in the bushes and weird, prehistoric birds in beautiful colors climbed around on the trunk of the ancient tree. The sunlight illuminated the undergrowth through the patterns of leaves and Jaina picked up the pace as we were apparently getting closer to where she wanted to lead us to.
“Just around this corner! Come on, Kalaydus! We’re almost there!”
I had trouble keeping up with her, since she was dancing through the thicket like it was her own personal playground. “Just wait a second, alright? I don’t know this place like you do!” I constantly kept getting whacked in the face by leaves and twigs that she brushed past. There really was no stopping her. I lost her sight for a moment as I was shielding myself from the attack of the greenery until we apparently broke past a thin barrier of vines and out into a large, open clearing.
Glad to not constantly get smacked, I took a moment to take a breather. When I combed back the hair that had messily fallen into my face though, I was awestruck.
“Tadaa! It’s right there! Just like I told you! I know this place better than the stuff that’s stuck in my hair.” Jaina proudly proclaimed with a flashy pose as my mouth was still gaping.
It was like a little paradise hidden within a chaotic landscape. The sunshine that formerly only faintly breaking through the tree was now beaming into this little area thanks to a circular, large hole in the branches of the ancient tree. It was thanks to this apparently that there were all sorts of berries and nuts growing here alongside herbs and fresh, green grass. You could’ve mistaken it as someone’s herb garden.
I could see Aptonoth and Kestodon grazing and eating their fill from the plentiful amounts of food around them. With a huge, empty husk of an old, dead branch of the tree closing up the path towards the beach area, there was just enough crawlspace left for smaller herbivores to come here and feed without being disturbed.
“I snuck in here sometimes when I felt hungry myself. It’s the perfect spot to hide from the other monsters and have a snack.”
“So you eat herbs and grass too?”
“Ummm… maybe if I needed to heal up a bit but… usually… y’know…” Jaina abashedly scratched her neck as she cocked her head in the direction of the herd of Aptonoth.
“Oh… I see. I mean I get it, Aptonoth meat IS pretty tasty.”
“I know, right! And when you get it all in one piece and the flavor slowly emerges in your stomach, it’s pure heaven!” She was almost drooling with her pupils nostalgically going cross-eyed.
“Wait… what? Emerging in your stomach?”
“Well yeah, I used to swallow them whole and then the tangy muscles and chewy fat would slowly dissolve in my belly. That’s where the real flavor kicked in. Ahh, I can still remember the taste. Mmmhh…”
I shook my head as I tried to shake the thought process out of my head where I saw her unhooking her jaw and managing to cramp a whole Aptonoth inside her. “So… when I was hanging in those vines back then… and you were pulling on my leg instead of biting pieces off of me…”
She immediately snapped out of her daze and waved her arms in defense. “I would’ve swallowed you alive, I know! Forget that that happened! In my defense, I thought you were dead.”
“Not sure if that makes the thought of being digested alive any more pleasant.”
“I wouldn’t try that again! I promise!” She clenched her claws near her chest and it almost looked like she had apologetic tears in her eyes.
“Ahh, stop looking at me like that. I didn’t think you would. It’s still a little bit chilling to think about though… rrghghh.” My body was shaking in discomfort when I had the image in my head.
Jaina clenched her claws even harder and shut her eyes as she blurted her words out. “I said forget about it! I wouldn’t have done it if I knew you like I do now.” Towards the end, she started sulking and crossed her arms dejectedly.
Her looked down at the ground, pouting and with embarrassment written all over her face.
I gave her a little smirk to cheer her up and unfolded her arms gently. “I know that. I’m just messing around. You’re about to be my personal hero now, so lighten up a little, okay?” I playfully tapped my finger against her chin and she met my smile with her own as her pouting lips melted away.
I felt her squeeze my hands and her beaming happiness returned once again. “Alright, the berries are over there, you can’t miss them. Right in the middle of the other ones.”
I followed her over to a patch of berry bushes with all sorts of colored berries. Nulberries were naturally blue, so I knew exactly what to look for when I found a row of bushes that they grew on. My pouch, among many other usually impossible to fit stuff, contained several cylindrical containers for the berries. It didn’t matter whether or not they were whole or mashed as long as the juices were intact., so I could fit as many berries into it as the space of the container allowed.
There were 5 containers altogether and I had no idea how many people were suffering from fire blight back in Astera. I decided that it would be better to pack too much instead of too little since we could always stock this stuff and use it later and set out to fill all of the containers to the brim.
“Here, Jaina. You fill these two and I take care of the other…” When I turned to her though, I was left speechless, seeing her prone on the ground, sneaking through the tall grass.
I must’ve made an expression somewhere between confusion and hilarity when I saw her wholeheartedly focusing on looking straight ahead towards the Aptonoths. “What… the… hell are you doing?”
“These things used to be really scared of me. I’ll just give them a quick reminder to not get too comfortable. All this talk about eating made me hungry. I’m gonna get us some nice, juicy meat.” I could see her salivating at her teeth as she snaked through the grass much like she used to move in her monster form.
A chuckle burst through my lips as I watched her, butt in the air, crawling towards the herd, completely undetected by them. I thought this was worthwhile to see turned my attention to her while I picked off berries on the side.
She moved with slow, smooth movements and came ever so close to the herd which was still busy with stuffing their cheeks with grass.
I finished filling up my first container when Jaina finally reached them. She was completely still, waiting until one of the smaller Aptonoth strayed a bit from the herd to chew on the patch of grass that she hid in. It was completely clueless, and came closer. Closer. And then…
“Raaahhhh!” Jaina jumped out of hiding and burst out in the most threatening roar she could muster. She lunged into the air as the Aptonoth could do nothing but stare in surprise and shock. I was impressed. She might actually would’ve been able to slay it.
She swings her heavy claw over her head, striking at the Aptonoth’s back and leaving huge gashes from there, down to its gut. Jaina had a look of ecstasy and excitement in her eyes as she struck down the herbivore.
The strike clearly left it weak and I was even sure that it was the only strike necessary to kill it.
But just before her prey fell onto the ground…
It left out a painful, echoing scream that panicked the other monsters. Kestodon and Aptonoth noticed the new threat and quickly spit out their food before stampeding out of the clearing. They were almost stumbling over each other as they escaped through the various crawlspaces.
The Aptonoth that Jaina hunted though, fell over and didn’t make any further signs of moving.
Jaina was breathing heavily as the rush of adrenaline went through her. When she snapped out of her rush, she dislodged her claw from the thick hide of her prey and a joyous smile appeared on her lips. With wide eyes she looked over to me and I greeted her smile with mine.
“I did it! I still got it! Yes!” She pumped a fist with an enthusiastic little bounce.
I was too distracted for a moment to even think about the mission we two were supposed to carry out right now. I just couldn’t bring myself to miss the radiant happiness she emanated. Never imagined that at some point in my life, seeing someone else slay a monster would send a sweet lightning through my heart. I guess it’s just one of these unexplainable phenomena that happen once in a lifetime.
In this happy moment though… we forgot something. This place was only so peaceful because none of the more dangerous monsters knew it was there. But with the cries of the Aptonoth having rung out into the forest, we had no idea who or what might have heard it.
We would know soon…
Heavy, thundering thuds vibrated in the air. Leaves were falling off the trees from being slightly shaken. The large empty husk of a log that closed off the area was creaking and cracking from something that approached it from the other side.
Jaina turned her head to said log along with me and I could see from her widening eyes that it couldn’t mean anything good.
“Jaina? What’s coming? Can you smell it? Jaina?” I hastily tried to call out to hear, suppressing my voice so that only she could hear it. But she couldn’t answer. Her legs were trembling and her eyes shaky as she stared head on into the direction where the thuds came from.
Some kind of large monster was coming.
A brief pause.
We didn’t hear anything…
…until the steps were back, grew heavier and came closer fast.
I almost faceplanted when I got up to my feet and made a run for Jaina. “GET DOWN!” I tackled her out of her petrified stance and jumped out of dodge with her in my arms.
A split second later, a huge slam could be heard, followed by splinters flying everywhere. Pieces of bark zipped through the air like razorblades and got stuck in the sides of other trees while we avoided most of the projectiles coming our way.
When we could finally look up again, there was a huge, wheezing wyvern looming over us. It was massive with two strong hind legs that it was standing on while its front legs were short and underdeveloped. It had a rose colored, hot skin with the exception of its back and its long, muscular tail which were covered in thick, black fur. It fletched its sharp rows of piercing teeth with some of them even placed on the outside of its lower jaw. The most unusual thing about this monster though, was that it had flaring nostrils that stretched out from the tip of its snout that was dripping with a sort of liquid-y slime.
Jaina and I laid next to each other, leaning on our elbows as we couldn’t do anything but stare at this beast.
A low rumble emanated from its throat before it raised its head to let out a gut-wrenching roar that made the earth underneath us shake.
“Run! RUN!” Jaina yelled at me as she pushed me to get up and book it.
Just in the nick of time, we jumped into the brush, barely escaping as this thing slammed its heavy head onto the ground and tried to smash us with it.
Disappearing into a thicket, Jaina and I had a moment to breathe before the monster would notice that we were still here. “Holy shit, what is that thing!? A brute wyvern?”
“Remember when I told you that I can’t spit poison, shoot lightning or breathe fire?”
“That’s the one that breathes fire. We can’t fight it, Kalaydus. I’ve tried so many times and it almost killed me. I can’t face it like this!” Jaina pushed herself against the trunk of a tree in a fit of panic.
I grabbed her shoulders. “Hey, look at me. Look at me! I need you to stay with me here! We have no choice in this. We need to get out there.”
“But… with her out there…”
“I just said we have no choice. We can’t stay here. It’s one against two this time. We can make it. We have to! People will die!”
“I know! I know! I just don’t know how!”
Meanwhile, the monster outside seemed to start looking for us. I could hear it tear up the clearing and knocking over smaller trees. We didn’t have much more time.
“Look, since we’re together, we can use that against it. We need to confuse it and strike it from different angles. Your strength alone won’t cut it, but if we strike one after another, we can wear it down and maybe even defeat it. Are you with me, Jaina?”
She gulped and shut her eyes but vehemently nodded. “But how am I going to hurt it? I don’t have a weapon and my claws can’t cut through its hide.”
I unsheathed my dual blades and pushed one of them into Jaina’s hand. She looked down at the sword and then up at me in bewilderment. “Now you do.” I said with a nod before we were finally caught.
The wyvern opened its jaw and lodged its teeth into the tree we were hiding behind, ripping out of the ground with roots and everything that was attached to them.
With the tree stuck in its jaw, it looked down at us like some uncovered insects. Its eyes narrowed angrily.
With a twist of its neck, it held the tree like a bat in its mouth and was ready to take a swing.
“Now should be the time where we split up!” I shouted at Jaina before we both bolted and ran in two different directions. Jaina up a plateau and me into the field of grass and greenery.
In between us, the monster broke the tree it carried in half by slamming it onto the ground and dragging it across. The tree itself was nothing but broken wood after that.
The wyvern frustratingly crunched up whatever was left of the tree and decided to go after me. I was cornered against a thicket that I couldn’t push through and was forced to face it.
I brandished my sword and tried to forget my fear of the massive creature. Wielding only one sword instead of two felt awfully uneven but it would have to do. The blade that I usually held with only one hand, I could now grab with both of them which put a lot more weight into my swings.
The wyvern growled as it faced me, ready to once again barrel towards me. Slime dripped from its nostrils and I could feel its hot breath hit my skin.
“Well, who’s gonna make a move first?” I asked it tauntingly as I waited for it to attack.
Apparently, it worked because shortly after, it lowered its head in preparation to ramming me with its hardened skull. This was my chance.
With brute wyverns that was the thing you could always count on. Aimless, unstopping moves that just had them run blindly in one direction, hoping they would hit something.
Well, I wasn’t going to let it.
I dodged out of its way as its head plowed through the earth. The moment it passed me by, I pushed my feet into the loosened earth and lunged back the way I came from and plunged my blade into the monster’s strong leg.
It cried out in pain as it realized that it was hit and with my sword stuck in its muscles, it cramped up, stumbled and crashed onto the ground. Laying on its side, it struggled aggressively to get up again, kicking its legs and scrambling about with its short arms.
Meanwhile I was sticking onto its upturned side with my sword twisting inside of its leg. It wouldn’t stay down forever so I had to strike while the iron was hot. I grabbed onto its black fur that I could barely reach so I could use my other hand to pull the sword out and repeatedly slice into it again.
It was seriously annoyed now and finally managed to kick me off. It sustained major injuries and was visibly hurting but nonetheless it got up with a vengeance and focused on me. Its eyes were bloodshot and its nostrils puffing with steam.
It wasn’t a good sign.
Suddenly, something unexpected happened. A pair of leathery sails extended from its back, fanning from side to side as it let out an angry, terrifying roar.
But even more worrying than that was that the slime it excreted was apparently flammable. Its throat, where the slime came from, glowed in a hot red that pushed through the already hot pink scales even. It was like a seething fire rested within its throat and I could imagine what it was going to use it for.
It dug its claws into the ground. Craned its neck up and shot steam from its nostrils. And then it opened its jaw, unleashing a beam of fire that quickly barreled towards me. The fire was already burning in my eyes as I had no way to get out of the way in time. I shielded my face and braced for the impact.
Even through my shut eyelids, I could see the red glare of the fire and soon afterwards its force knocked me backwards until my body was pinned against another tree. A burning pain went through my limbs and it felt like my very soul was being burned to a crisp. My armor must’ve had holed burned into it already. At the very least in the parts that were made from leather. The iron on the other hand, started to get hot as well and singed my skin.
The fire didn’t let up and kept pushing me against the tree. But then suddenly… it stopped rather sporadically. I caught my breath, hardly believing that apart from a massive burn, I didn’t die.
And then I looked up from my defensive stance. And there I saw something incredible.
“No, you fucking don’t! I won’t let you do this to him as well!” Jaina was hanging from the side of the wyvern’s head, her blade lodged into its skull while her free claw was stuck right over the eye of the monster. The wyvern, visibly infuriated, flailed around, trying to shake Jaina off its head.
I was weak, and my legs almost gave in after the hit I had taken. My armor was filled with burn holes and subsequently my skin underneath was partially charred black. Nonetheless I couldn’t collapse. Not now.
I put in all of my strength to move and aimed my arm at the wyvern with my slinger clicking into action. “Jaina! Close your eyes!”
Jaina hastily looked towards me and saw what I was planning to do. She nodded and tightly shut her eyes.
The phial of flash flies that was loaded into my slinger shot out of my slinger and zipped towards the wyvern that was aimlessly shooting fire into the air. Moving its head one more time to try and get rid of Jaina, it unconsciously broke the phial with its head.
I shielded my eyes with my hand and even through both my eyelids and my fingers I could see the flash of light.
“It worked!” Jaina’s voice alerted me that it was time to look again. And it actually did work.
The creature’s eyes weren’t focusing on anything and it was stumbling about blindly. Now was our chance.
“Hit it! Hit it one more time!”
Jaina understood and unlike what I expected, she didn’t use her blade… but instead brandished her claw.
“This is personal, bitch!” She scratched the wyvern right across the eye, making it panic and run ahead without seeing anything.
I jumped out of the way as it crashed into the tree that I was pushed up against. From the heavy impact, a net of leaves and vines dropped down from above and with the thorny vines hooking into the ground, the monster was pinned and the more it struggled, the more it got tangled.
Jaina jumped off the beast’s head and moved next to me. We looked at each other and nodded as we readied our blades. The furious monster glared at us, trying to spit fire to no avail. The vines were choking it, allowing barely any breath to come out.
Me and Jaina tightened our fists around the blades and raised them over our head before delivering an unhindered, heavy cross strike against the creature’s neck. The hit was hard enough to break the fire sac inside of its neck and made it weak enough to slump down and stop struggling. After that hard-hitting blow it was just lying there, breathing heavily.
Jaina looked over at me after we finished our strike and wordlessly handed me my blade back. It was the one that my father’s amulet was attached to. I moved towards the monster’s now calmly resting head, all signs of struggling seeming to have left it.
I flipped my blades around and like the sword in the stone, thrusted them into its skull. Just like with Jaina, it felt like the last strike didn’t hurt the wyvern, it didn’t even tear the hide. Yet it looked like the life left its eyes… and the body went limp.
It was defeated. It was over.
I was panting heavily when I staggered away from the monster. I looked towards Jaina who immediately fell right into my arms.
Her tears stained the leather on my shoulders as I gently put my arms around her.
“We did it.”
“We did! I was so scared!” Her voice was shaky and her cries heartbreaking.
“You did great, Jaina.”
“It was all my fault! She would’ve never hurt you like this if I wasn’t so damn stupid!” She hugged me even tighter and nuzzled my shoulder.
“I’m okay, Jaina. I’m fine. It didn’t even hurt that baaaaa…..” Suddenly a spike of pain shot through my body.
“Kalaydus! What’s wrong?”
I sunk to the ground as Jaina gently held me in her claws and lowered me down. I hugged my front, twitching from the severe internal pain. It felt like my lungs and heart were getting cooked inside of me.
“Fire blight…NHGHHH. My pouch! The berries!” I ordered her.
Jaina worriedly ripped the pouch off my belt and in a rush of panic rummaged through it to find the container with the nulberries. She carefully lifted my head, and put the rim of the container to my lips. The half-mashed berries slid into my mouth and I painfully swallowed what I could.
“Hahhh, gahhh, thank you!”
“How are they? Are the berries working?”
I took a deep breath now that my lungs didn’t feel like they were boiling anymore. “Yeah, they did. Heh, they’re actually a lot sweeter than I thought they’d be.”
Jaina’s worried expression loosened up and a soft smile formed on her lips. “Are they now?”
“See for yourself.”
I leaned on my elbows as I propped myself up and placed a soft, loving kiss on Jaina’s lips. She cupped my cheeks and closed her eyes as we enjoyed the feeling of closeness between us. For a second we could forget what we just went through and how stressful our situation was.
As we parted, Jaina laughed to herself. “You’re right. They ARE sweet.”
“Hehe, yeah. It is.” Jaina chuckled as she combed her claw through my tussled, slightly singed hair.
But all of the sudden, there was a weird noise that tore us out of our little, cheesy moment.
The skin of the monster was falling in on itself as if the inside of it was slowly shrinking, leaving only the hide behind. I knew all too well what that meant. My father’s amulet had once again released its effects.
I crawled out from underneath Jaina and checked on the loose, hollow skin. The spot around the neck, where we hit it with the cross strike, open now and gave us a chance to look inside. I stuck my hands through it, feeling something warm and alive inside.
Jaina curiously looked over my shoulder. “What is it?”
“Well, it’s the same way that I got you out of your old skin. Meaning that in there… is…”
I grabbed something that felt like armpits and pulled as hard as I could. The first thing that came out of the opening was an arm. An arm with a pink claw instead of hands. “Jaina, help me over here for a second.”
“Got it. HRRNNGHH!”
Bit by bit, the full body of the semi human version of this monster emerged. As we pulled it out in the open, I could finally see what she looked like. It was a woman of course, and just like Jaina she had features that were human and others that were residues from her monster form.
She had an almost Amazonian body and a skin that was more full and rosy in contrast to Jaina’s lighter, pale skin. Her tall body was very curvy, even more so than Jaina but I thought that could just be because of the size difference. Her hips were wide and thick which seamlessly translated into strong and muscular legs that transitioned into hard-scaled dark grey claws. Her breasts were also bigger, but if you count in the size difference, they were probably at about the same level. Her arms though were a lot feebler than I would’ve expected.
They were almost dainty and smooth up until her smaller, shorter claws. One other thing that she carried over from her monster form and that was the fur coat she had around her neck and a part of her back as well as the upper side of her massive tail while it had pink scaly hide on the underside. The black fur blended right in with her wallowing, long black hair that flowed out over it. There was a three-pronged scratch dragging across one of her eyes but; a wound that Jaina had caused her but I couldn’t make out her eye color since her eyes were shut too tight to open them.
“So that’s how I came out of my shell, huh?”
“Yeah, pretty much exactly like that.”
“Well, while she’s still knocked out, we should…”
“Don’t even say it.”
Jaina’s eyes widened in surprise. “What?”
“We’re not going to kill her, neither are we going to leave her here. She won’t survive for long in this state.”
“Are you insane? She almost killed YOU! And you want to take her with us?”
“Should I have left you, when you were in the same position?”
“Exactly, we don’t know what she’s like in her new form. We don’t kill for no good reason.”
I laid our sleeping monster into a patch of grass and let her rest. “She’s not the reason we’re here and she wasn’t a target. And if she turns out to be cooperative, she could become an ally to us.”
“I don’t like that idea, Kalaydus. She’s just violent! She’s going to hurt us again.”
I understood her worry and I couldn’t lie and say that I trusted her not to do that. “We’ll give her one chance to redeem herself. If she does, great, if not, we can handle her.” I walked over to Jaina, holding her claws gently and reassuringly.
Jaina sighed and sunk her head while still squeezing my hands back. “She’s caused me so much pain, Kalaydus. If she would hurt you as well…”
“That’s why we won’t let that happen, Jaina. Neither to me nor to you. We need to be above this. And I know you can do that.” I carefully wrapped my arms around her, receiving a reluctant hug from her as well.
But after her hesitation, she smiled. “Okay, what now? We still have stuff to do, right?”
“Yeah, like I said…” I handed her 2 containers and nodded towards the field of berries. “…you’re filling two and I do the other three.
She nodded with a smile and went about collecting as many nulberries as she could. But as I was about to do the same, I could feel the air blowing onto my skin. My armor was completely ruined and filled with charred tears and holes.
“Shit, I need to get these repaired.” My gaze wandered over to the hollow skin of the former monster. “Or…”
After Jaina was done collecting the berries, she turned around to me as I was about to join her. She looked behind me in confusion. “Hey, where did her body go?”
She nodded towards the sleeping semi woman. “Hers. Where’s her skin?”
“Oh that! It’s in here.” I said proudly as I tapped against the pouch on my belt that didn’t look any larger than it was before.
Jaina leaned down to take a close look at it. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope, bones, hide, scales, fur… all in here.”
“You want to tell me that her whole body. All that skin. Fits in there?”
“Apparently so. I mean I carved it up before into tinier pieces. It’s for the blacksmith. I really need a new armor. Leather evidently doesn’t hold out against the stronger attacks.”
“Ahh, now it makes total sense.”
“Yup, let me just get the rest of those berries so that we can get going.”
“I was being sarcast… nevermind.”
And so, I did my part and filled the remaining empty containers with berries and stuffed the five of them into my pouch right along the bug net, fishing rod, BBQ spit and whetstones.
When we were finally done, the only thing left was going back… as well as carrying our new frenemy. I had no idea how this was going to go. It could be another Jaina situation where things would smoothly work out or… let’s not think about the alternatives of bringing a fire breathing monster into a mostly wooden camp.