I ran for three days, only pausing for brief periods to think about the events of the past few days. Going over what had happened, again and again. I ended up making a mental list of all the physical changes that had happened to me.
I no longer needed to eat, drink, sleep, and I felt no pain. Above all, what worried me most, was how much I had enjoyed fighting the two thugs. It was hard to describe, but when I snapped the second man's arm, it was the first time I can remember feeling happy since the days before I was abducted from my village.
My fifth day of running brought what I assumed to be the capital into view, at last. Compared to the previous town, it was terrific. Compared to the village that had once been my home, it was colossal. Everything appeared to be so clean as to be unreal. The roads were paved smooth, free of filth and debris, and even the armor of the guardsmen patrolling the streets seemed to be freshly polished.
Despite my new abilities, I found myself lost multiple times. Eventually, I made it to the building that housed the quest board.
Walking into the building, I immediately noticed a woman sitting behind a desk who looked knowledgeable. Walking her way, she greeted me as I approached. She then began explaining how things worked with a well-practiced speech.
There were different quests levels. The higher the level, the more the quest paid; but, an appreciably greater difficulty came with it. She concluded her presentation by indicating numerous stacks of papers nearby that I quickly skimmed through. Nothing caught my eye. 'Please weed my garden.' 'Nest of Goblins spotted nearby.' 'Llama wearing party hat stole my left hand.' They all just seemed so mundane.
As I turned to leave, I noticed one piece of paper stuck to the wall behind her, that had obviously been posted and ignored for some time by the looks of it. I questioned her as to what it was. "This is a quest that we had to put on hold because no one who took it was able to complete it," she explained. "For months, people accepted it, drawn in by the huge reward. No one ever came back. We assume they all died."
"Tell me more about it."
With a sigh, she continued, "Some monster is living in the caves to the north. It's only about half a day's travel, depending on how fast you move. Still, everyone has been avoiding going anywhere near there because no one has ever returned. It's listed as a 'monster' because no one who has seen it has been seen again, so we don't really know what it is."
I walked out the door with my mind already set, leaving the receptionist shaking her head behind me. I imagine she figured she would never see me again.
It only took me a few hours to reach the caves in question. Dead bodies and discarded armor scattered about, all but pointed to the cave I was looking for. The bodies were desiccated, and crows picked at them, but I wasn't bothered at all. If there was anything I was familiar with, it was the sight of death.
Finding myself at the cave entrance, I was about to cross the border from the light into the dark of the lair when I heard a female voice call out to me. "I thought they had stopped sending people to me. It's just as well. I was starting to get bored again." Slowly walking out of the shadows appeared the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
Wearing only an extremely tattered cloak, she had jet black hair that reached to her waist and piercing black eyes. I took most of this in automatically, as what drew my eyes was her most prominent feature: two horns, the color of obsidian, protruded from her head. A tail that I assumed protruded from just above the small of her back flitted from side to side behind her head like a metronome. I walked up to the monster and stopped right in front of her. She stared at me with a smirk and, with a mocking tone, asked, "I see you think yourself a brave one! Are you here to avenge all your friends I have killed?"
"Those were no friends of mine. I'm only here because I have nothing else to do. I couldn't care less if you kill people." I flatly replied.
The monster simply raised her eyebrow at this and motioned for me to follow her deeper into the cave, swinging her hips as she went. I don't know if it was her beauty or some skill that this monster had, but I was helpless in her presence and could only follow.
It appeared as though the light was being kept from entering the cave, and it was unnaturally dark. Even with my senses enhanced as they were, I stumbled more than once, and each time the 'creature' laughed at me. Our path was endlessly lined with even more dead bodies, until we reached an inner chamber of the cave, that was mysteriously well lit, with no apparent source of light. There was a large pile of hay covered with what appeared to be a silk blanket. She laid on the blanket and looked me over slowly, then asked with an annoyed voice, "So are you just going to stare at me? I was under the impression that you were here to kill me."
I became increasingly agitated with how she talked down to me, but words refused to leave my mouth, and I stared at her dumbly. She let out a long sigh and said, "It's a real shame you are going to have to die. You seemed different compared to most boring humans." Before I could think what her words meant, she suddenly disappeared from the blanket. Spinning around, she appeared inches from my face and hissed with venom heavy in her voice, "So, you thought you could come to 'my' lair and just do what you please? You are pathetic! Some of those others were missed, but not you. Who could ever care about someone like you?"
Hearing her words, I clenched my fist in anger. But before I could move, her tail whipped out and lodged its tip in my throat. I hadn't felt pain from the two thugs, but this was no human, and the pain I felt was excruciating.
I fell to my knees, doubled over, while the monster stood over me with a massive smile on her face.
Squatting in front of me, she gloated, "What did you expect to happen when you are this weak? I bet you have never protected anyone your whole life."
Her last words echoed through my head, and my thoughts went back to her. Rebecca. To all the times I took care of Rebecca but wasn't able to save her. Slowly bringing my head up, I stared into the monster's eyes while she mocked me, "Well, looks like someone has a little fight left."
My only response was to shoot my hand out and roughly grip her throat. She stared at me and smirked at first, but her expression quickly turned to worry when I continued to squeeze harder and harder. The tip of her tail dislodged from my throat and began to stab all over my body in a panic to free herself.
Staring into her eyes, I was surprised to see more anger and confusion than fear. I squeezed her neck with my superhuman strength until I saw her face turn red and her lips start to turn blue. Satisfied that I now had control of the situation, I released my grip, and she gulped in air. She muttered something under her breath that sounded like "Y... you should have died ... by now," with that, she went limp beneath me, completely passed out.
Getting to my feet with a grunt, I dragged the monster outside to where I could finally see it again. My rage seemed to be slowly subsiding at last. Looking down at the monster, I decided I didn't have the patience to wait for her to wake up on her own. I gave her a few slaps across the face to help bring her back to her senses. In a few moments, and with a few annoying groans, she stared up at me and said with a voice full of venom, "Is this where you kill me now, 'Hero'?"
Standing over her, I let out a forced laugh, saying, "I'm no hero," and began considering what to do next.