The entire world seemed to have stopped as a standoff developed between us and Kashca Telis’ Beastmen, well, at least to my perspective. I froze on my spot while the Beastfolk—all of them had that primitive, intimidating appearance with their scant, animal-hide clothes and ‘canine’ tail and ears—surround me and Natasha.
“I sort of expected this…however, I didn’t expect that Lady Natasha would be the one to rescue you, Sir Kuro,” Kashca Telis gave her respects to the black-haired saint, “You sure have a lot of saints head-over-heels on you.”
“This is a matter between your saint and mine, Kashca Telis of the Fox,” Natasha told her as the former moved to shield me, “Now, we would like to pass through your Fox-kin unmolested.”
Oh, so those are members of the Fox tribe.
“Ah, that’s impossible, Your Holiness,” Kashca Telis answered, “Lady Ruro has strict orders not to let the human escape, even if it’s a saint that would attempt to get him.”
“Not even if I say please?”
The Beastman captain shook her head, “Please give him up peacefully, Your Holiness. We don’t want violence in a holy place such as this.”
“Ah…let me talk to Kuro for a bit.”
Kashca Telis nodded and delayed her men from starting the fight. I don’t know with them, but if it is me, I’d defer talking and hit as quickly as possible…but I guess this will help us.
Natasha then turned to me, “Looks like we won’t be able to convince this lot.”
“Yep. But I won’t be going back to that prison without a fight. Can you read my mind?” I asked in whispers. It’d be a problem if these guys hear the rest of our conversation.
‘Sure.’ Natasha responded to me in telepathy.
‘Just a question, can these guys run after me if I tried to dash?’ I spoke to her through my mind, since she’s reading it already.
‘They are from the Fox tribe so that’s a yes, and they can smell your tracks, too.’
‘So, these guys are like Earth’s foxes, only given a human form?’
‘As far as I know, it’s a yes. But I’m not that sure.’
‘Great. Got any plan in mind?’
‘Well, I can cast a spell to confuse them for a while. Please take note it won’t last that long since I’m using significant magic to keep my form visible already.’
‘I’ll take it. It’s a better gamble than nothing.’
‘Oh, and Kuro…’
‘I may not maintain my presence for long after fighting these guys.’ Natasha admitted to me. ‘In any case, there’s someone who’s coming over on this island. She’s got quite an attitude, but you can work together with her to escape. Find the only cove on this island; I think she hid a boat in there.’
‘Please say hello to Maddie for me!’
‘At the count of three, I’ll shout suddenly so that they would be taken off-guard. Then we’ll make our escape.’
Natasha smirked and nodded. ‘Heh, that’s what I like about rescuing. I’ll join you and cast a spell.’
I winked at her and counted in my mind, ‘1.’
“3!” “Illuminating Visions!”
We deliberately shouted the final count, to surprise the Fox tribesmen (foxes are easily surprised by shouts). Natasha quickly chanted a spell the moment we reached the third count, catching the Beastmen off-guard. That spell caused a vision to appear to our enemies and confused the Beastmen soldiers into fighting against each other.
“Hey! Our target is over there!” Kashca Telis cried out to her men.
“Kuro! This is your chance! I’ll hold them off!” Natasha blurted out.
It was chaotic, and a perfect opportunity to escape, so I obliged. I dashed towards the first ‘free’ place I saw, regardless of whether it was safe to run to. My priority was to escape, anyway.
When I determined no one was pursuing me and I had come to a sufficient distance from that cave-palace, I finally took my time to rest. I was quite hungry and thirsty from all the running I did, though I was still wary of my surroundings.
Kashca Telis and her men were from the Fox tribe, and as Natasha told me, they could track me through my smell…
So, I can’t risk letting my guard down.
In any case, it’s a good coincidence that this place was like a jungle. The copse of ancient trees obscured the sky, darkening the forest interior. Smaller plants were growing on the ground, and I could get some fruits to eat from those.
I know those are not poisonous; those are some fruits that Ruro would bring to me when I was her prisoner, after all.
For starters, I began eating the fruit of the nearest plant to me—that red, apple-like citrus fruit with a spicy-sweet aftertaste. Maybe Ruro took those fruits from this forest? I don’t know what it’s called, but I liked its taste.
You just have to peel its skin to eat it.
As it was a juicy fruit, I would wipe my hands full of its juices on my clothes. Yes, I knew it’s kind of disgusting, but now that I remember, I saw before on the internet that dogs and foxes were averted to citrus smells. I am not sure if it really works; however, I won’t take any chances.
I know hiding visually from my pursuers is a futile thing, so I’ll cover my tracks through smell.
And, just to make sure I was really well-hidden, I threw the peeled skin around.
Alright, I guess I have to get a move on before those foxes can trace me.
***Meanwhile, at the cave-palace…***
“And that, boys, is the reason you shouldn’t underestimate the demons,” Kashca Telis told her men once the chaos finally ended, Natasha’s form vanished, and half of her army were now dead or injured, “I saw their powers firsthand when I was in Chersea and Cherflammen, so I knew how to fight those illusions.”
“But Chief, it was the Demon Saint we’re fighting!” a Beastman soldier told her.
“Pfft! Don’t you know? The Demon Saint is the weakest among the six saints! Our dead and injured is because you guys are too simple-minded to resist her visions!”
“So, what are we going to do now, Chief?”
“Isn’t it obvious, you numb-skull? We’re going to run after that human our liege likes,” Kashca Telis drew her dagger, “Call the remaining men and leave the injured. We need to capture Sir Kuro as soon as possible.
“Yes, Chief! That puny human wouldn’t go far!”
“Stop underestimating him! I’ve seen personally how that human—powerless he may be—could use his head to turn the fight to his favor.”
“Don’t ‘oooh’ me! Get moving! We’re going to comb the entire forest to find Sir Kuro!” Kashca Telis beckoned at the sea of trees just right below the cave-palace, “Find his tracks and report any weird smell; he surely knows we could find him using our noses.”
Now that I’ve come down from the cave-palace, this was the first time I noticed that I was on an island in the middle of a lake.
It’s been a while since I escaped from the cave-palace with Natasha’s help, and while I haven’t dared to explore this entire place just yet, I already went around its shores trying to find the cove she was telling me. I could say that this was a quite small island, with no other sign of people save for my pursuers. The waters could be deep, for it was calm—unless it’s another physics-defying stuff like the rain that doesn’t get us wet back in Chersea.
In any case, I had to move carefully as I searched for the cove and the hidden boat. Questions were forming in my mind, like, ‘What if that girl Natasha is telling me about won’t cooperate?’
So, let’s say that indeed happened. I guess I have to build a boat?
However, I need to consider my options. Building a boat or raft would definitely take some time. And the escape itself—once I built the boat/raft—could lead my pursuers to me. After all, there’s no motor in this place that I could use to power my vessel.
“Hm? Could it be…?”
A few distances away from where I stood, I spotted something like a cove, hidden among the trees and moss that covered the rocks. I sprinted towards the place, only to find it was deserted. There was no one around, nor a boat that was my means of escape.
Can it be that Natasha’s mistaken? Or maybe the person who was supposed to be my ticket out already sailed away. After all, it took me quite some time to look for this cove.
In any case, I could use this place to hide in the meantime.
The only thing that’s left for me is to find the materials to build my boat. Now, if only I had some sharp tools to cut down the wood—
My breathing almost stopped the moment I heard noises from the forest shrubs behind me. As I knew I was being pursued, of course, I was jumpy. I didn’t know if I was going to check it or dash away to escape. It might be an animal…but, looking back, I’ve been going around in this place for some time, and I had encountered no wild animal just yet.
Is that the boat person? No. It couldn’t be. There’s not a trace of any boat left in this cove. It’s impossible that she’s still around. If so, then this noise could only mean one thing…
There’s another noise once again, and this time, it came from my left side. Naturally, I hid and prayed that my pursuers won’t find me.
A few more moments passed, and nothing happened. I was not sure whether that intruder was already gone, which could mean worse for me. He might’ve alerted his friends about my presence here.
Should I check the surroundings?
I readied the spicy citrus peelings I had with me. It’s my only weapon against these fellows; at least, to distract them with the smell, in case it’s necessary.
I slowly crawled from my hiding place to check. Nothing has happened so far. And then I looked to my left, and to my right…still nothing. How about a few distances away—
“You must think you’re one slippery fucker, eh?”
Imagine my entire world came crashing down the moment I heard those threatening words and felt a dull but heavy object being pressed at my back.
***Kashca Telis’ base, several distances away from the cave-palace…***
“Chief! We found the trails of that human!” a Fox tribesman reported to Kashca Telis as she waited for news of Kuro’s whereabouts. To thoroughly comb the entire forest below the cave-palace, she sent pairs of her men to track him. However, their relatively few numbers meant they had to cover a wide area per pair. She knew it would quickly exhaust her scouts, but the capture of that human was their priority.
“Good work!” Kashca Telis rose from her seat and fixed her dagger on her waist before turning to an orderly, “Call the others, we’ve got a hunt to do.”
“Yes, Chief!” the young Fox tribesman immediately set out.
The moment the young orderly left, however, another scout appeared before their chief and reported, “Chief! We found the human and his tracks!”
“What?” she blurted out, “Manu just found him, and you’re telling me you also found his trails in another area?”
The confused tribesman nodded.
“Damn it! Sir Kuro sure knows how to counter us!” the Beastman chief growled in frustration, “To think he would scatter his tracks so that we would be confused!”
“What are your orders, Chief?”
“We’ll continue our search for him; follow every track you find. Who knows what we may find on each end?”
The Beastmen scouts agreed and immediately prepared to set out once again. But they were not yet finished when another scout came in to report.
“Let me guess…” Kashca Telis was sarcastic, “You also found Sir Kuro’s tracks?”
“That, and I need to use the lavatory,” the scout replied.
“For goodness’ sake, Rishku! You should’ve just used the forest to relieve yourself!” she could only groan in frustration.
“Pardon me Chief, but I’m trying to be cultured like humans.”
“Uhh…why am I stuck with idiots?” Kashca Telis muttered.
The Beastman who caught me made sure that my hands and feet were tied so that I couldn’t escape. Good thing she didn’t cover my mouth, or I’d be having difficulty breathing. We stared at one another for a while before she seized a rock and crushed it with her hands.
An overwhelming demonstration of her physical prowess, I’d say.
“Just so you know, human, I have low patience in your race,” the Beastman—or Beastwoman—told me. Like the rest of her people, she was scantily dressed, and a knuckle adorned her left hand, “One wrong move, and I could obliterate your head.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t make an escape attempt.”
“It’s good that you’re quick to understand your place,” she searched my overcoat that she removed earlier, “I’m just wondering what do you plan with these…yeeesh! Smells bad.”
“Those fruit peelings?”
“Is there anything else I have in my hands?”
“Well, those are for self-defense.”
“If you don’t like its smell, then it works on you.”
“Oh, so you wanted to defend yourself from the bad smell. Pretty smart of you, huh?”
“…” the beastwoman stared at me like I was some oddity. I could tell that she was taken aback when I thanked her; but of course, anyone who could understand what I knew it was just sarcasm on my part. In any case, she asked me questions, “So, tell me human, what are you doing in a place like this? Your people aren’t allowed to set foot here!”
“Me?” I asked in surprise, “You’re seriously asking me that? Didn’t your saint kidnapped me and your friends are running after me?”
“Huh? What do you mean ‘my saint’ and ‘my friends’?
“Your fellow fox friends are trying to bring me back to that cave-palace up there, in that mountain in the middle of this island,” I said, quite annoyed, “You know, why don’t you just stop this question-and-answer, and just hand me over to the—!!!”
A small pebble quickly went past by my cheeks and hit the stone behind me.
“Didn’t they tell you, you’re so annoying with all your racket? Be quiet!” the Beastwoman told me, having thrown the pebble with such force it launched like a bullet from a gun, “Let me tell you now that I’m not a follower of that accursed saint, Ruro of the Wolf, nor am I part of the accursed Fox tribe! Be careful of what you say, human!”
“Sorry. I’m not that knowledgeable about the Beastman race.”
“You better remember this, human. Look at my ears; I’m a member of the Bear tribe,” then she turned around and flashed her butt, “You see I have a small, circular tail? That means I’m a member of the Bear tribe.”
“Very informative,” I sarcastically quipped, “Now I’m wondering if you have any shame to consider covering your butt.”
“What?” the Beastwoman from the Bear tribe angrily blurted out, “Do you think so highly of yourself you dare lecture me of such human conventions? I don’t even consider you as a mate!”
“No, that isn’t what I mean!”
“Hmm…regardless, you’re pretty different from a regular human,” the Beastwoman told me, “The males of your kind would quickly jump unto me once they saw that.”
“You mean your naked butt?”
She just nodded.
“Well, aside from the fact that you restrained me, I have no interest in you nor am I some ‘dry’ virgin human boy who’d jump at any naked girl he sees.”
“Y-You’re pretty direct, huh?”
“Why do I have to be indirect with you?” I chuckled. This beastwoman must be that person Natasha was telling me along. It’s a good thing that she found me first. I admit she’s got quite a tongue…
“What are you looking at?”
“Nothing. It’s just that, someone told me about you coming over on this island and helping in my escape.”
“Ha? I could tell you’ve got the confidence to tell me those,” the beastwoman smirked, “And who’s this ‘someone’ you’re speaking of?”
“Well, she’s a friend…” I don’t know whether she would believe me about my miraculous escape from that cave-palace with Natasha’s help. In any case, I need to be careful in letting out my secrets, “And hey, since you’re someone who’s not in league with those fox people, would you mind joining forces with me? I’m also running away from them.”
“Wow, what a coincidence, I’m escaping too.”
“What are you doing here, anyway?”
“I wanted to kill that accursed saint, Ruro of the Wolf.”
I was taken aback by her statement. Though she may have done something bad to me, Ruro still saved my life from those conspiring nobles. But, as I need this beastwoman’s help to escape this place, I think I should keep my thoughts to myself.
“I almost had gone past the Fox tribesmen guards in this forest, but then, I was surprised when they suddenly went on alert,” she continued to explain, “I thought they had detected my presence, but…”
“I think you came at the wrong time while I was escaping, and so your mission went bust.”
“Yeah, aren’t you one unlucky bastard?”
I could only laugh. Honestly, the Beastwoman looked so pissed, I don’t know if my attempts to convince her to help me would succeed.
“In any case, what would I gain if I help you, human?” she asked me.
“Well, what would happen to you if you got caught?”
“I might get killed. Or worse, they might throw me into a den of humans.”
“Right,” I smirked, “Now, here’s my offer. I’m a valuable prisoner of Her Holiness Ruro of the Wolf. Of course, I should be captured alive. Think of the moment you get cornered; you could use me to bargain for your freedom.”
“Hmm…sounds a good plan,” she commented, “But then, how could I tell that you’re telling me the truth? What if you’re someone that can be captured or killed instead?”
“Asking the right questions, are we?” I was careful about getting my identity known by someone I just met. However, if I’m going to ask for help, I guess it’s important that I gain her trust first, huh? “Alright, if I let you in my secret, would you promise that you’d help me?”
“Depends on who you are.”
“No. I need your reassurance.”
“Why am I the one being pushed into a corner now?”
“It’s just a yes or no,” if I remember, Ruro told me that Beastmen value their loyalty to their masters more than anything else. What if I could convince this bear-woman to help me? Would she value her words? I honestly don’t know; but, seeing that I have no other option, I guess I’d gamble now.
“Okay…you surely got me there,” the bear-woman shook her head while smiling, “If I told you my name, would you tell me yours?”
“I’m Ursura of the West Ursus, that is the Bear Tribe living in the Western Mountains. I’m a mercenary.”
“I gave more than what you gave me!”
“What, do I have to say more than my identity?”
“Alright, I’d leave you to your captors, then.”
“Wait! Wait! I was just joking! Okay, I know it’s going to be hard to believe, but my name is really Kuro. Also known as Kuro, the Rock of Chersea. Kuro the Commoner General. Kuro the Fist of the North Lands.”
Ursura’s face showed no emotion. She just dusted herself, and stood up, “Suit yourself. I’m going to escape alone!”
“Wait! I told you about my identity! Why are you backing out on your words now?”
“You’re one big clown, ‘Kuro’,” Ursura told me, “You mean to say you’re that legendary human hero that vanquished the undead and defeated the powerful Imperial legionnaires? Don’t fuck with me!”
“But I’m telling you the truth!”
“And pray tell me, what the heck are you doing in these forsaken lands, Kuro the Hero?”
“I told you before, didn’t I? I was kidnapped by Ruro!”
“Hey! At least remove these binds on my feet and hands!”
“Why don’t you escape yourself? Aren’t you humans capable of using magic? You’re a hero!” Ursura’s voice was full of sarcasm, “I promise I won’t kill you if you do…even if I wanted to.”
“Well, that’s unfortunate, because I can’t cast any spells. Not even a spark in my hands, see?”
Surprised, Ursura stared at me for a while and asked, “Is there even such a human?”
“I told you, you’re looking at that one human.”
“You’re really suspicious…you may act powerless, but that may be a ruse. The next moment I let my guard down is the moment you attack me!” Ursura continued walking away, dismissively waving her hands.
Well, I tried to ‘physically’ free myself, but the more I struggle, the more the ropes tighten that soon, my hands were bleeding.
Damn…an emo kid from my world would surely be delighted by such an experience (the bleeding), but not—
“Hey, behind you!”
I immediately called out to the bear-woman when I saw a spear fly from above a tree and targeted her. Fortunately, she reacted on time and evaded the sneak attack. Ursura then caught the spear mid-air and threw it back on the Fox tribesman that attacked her. It hit him fair and square on the chest, and he fell down with a thud. At that exact moment, however, his other comrades leaped from their hiding place and attacked her simultaneously.
The battle is on!
Ursura was swamped with several fox tribesmen emerging from their hiding places. Clubs and spears flew, bodies dropped on the ground, and blood and gore splattered all around as she tried to hold her ground against her attackers.
“Our priority is the human!” I heard someone shout from among the fox tribesmen.
“Call the others! Tell them we found Sir Kuro and another intruder!”
“Don’t let the bear-woman live!”
Amidst the chaos, I tried to roll away from the fighting. I wanted to help Ursura, however, as I am right now, I could do nothing but watch. I guess I need to find something sharp to free myself…
“You’re not going anywhere, Sir Kuro!” a Fox tribesman saw and ran after me. When he caught up, he grabbed me by my arm—which was painful, as it was unnatural for my bones to be pulled like that, “Don’t give us any more headache than—guh!”
At that moment, I was shocked to see a spearhead pierce the chest of that burly Fox tribesman from behind. Blood and bits of his flesh splattered on my face. However, as I am used to battles, the shock was temporary. Soon, I was back in my attempt to free myself.
“So, you’re indeed that human hero, Kuro,” I heard Ursura say from behind me. She took a spear and broke the head to use as a blade to remove my binds.
“Oh?” I blurted out not only because of her statement; I was also surprised to see that the battle was already over. The Fox tribesmen that attacked us were a gory mush of…well, flesh. Ursura sure made a short work of them, “What made you change your mind?”
“Well, these fuckers referred to you as ‘Sir’. And as far as I know, only high-ranking humans get that treatment,” she explained as she went to a nearby puddle to wash the blood off her body, “Also, they really wanted you alive.”
“I told you so.”
“And also, though you don’t look like it, your actions are like that of a veteran warrior.”
“What made you say that?”
“Well, you don’t mind blood and guts dripping from all over your body.”
Indeed. What she just said was true. If I was the old Kuro, I was sure I’d be vomiting ceaselessly right now. But, I don’t want these disgusting bits on me, so I joined her to wash ourselves. Silence ruled between us, maybe because we want to give ourselves time to think of what had just happened and to rest as well.
“Guh…” Ursura winced in pain. There was a wound on her shoulder.
“…” I stared at her injury. I wanted to check on it, but I was having second thoughts she might take it badly if I touched her.
“What? You going to attack me now?”
“No. I just wanted to see your injury,” I explained, “Though I may not look like it, I’m trained in treating wounds.”
“Well, it stings, that’s why I’m getting pissed,” she admitted, sitting near me and showing her wound. Apparently, it hurt so much that she disregarded her distrust towards me.
“It’s a light wound, so it’s like that,” I told her, “Hold on. Let me put a temporary dressing on it…unless you got an extra cloth with you.”
“Hmph!” was Ursura’s only response to me. I took that as a ‘yes’; tearing a part of my sleeves, I soaked the cloth in water and put it over her wound, fastening it with makeshift threads, “Remember this; I’m just working with you because you saved me from that sneak attack earlier. Don’t think you can do anything else to me. The moment I catch you lying about your magic is the moment you die!”
I only nodded. I was too tired to speak.
“Hurry,” Ursura reminded me, “This place would soon be swarming with those foxes. We don’t want to get caught, so you better prove your mettle by keeping up with me, Sir Kuro.”
Well, at least I finally earned Ursura’s trust.
Warning: Strong language