Chapter 11:

Trial of the valley

Dive into the Night

“Come on, let’s go!”Bookmark here

Kaz urged the team forward as another rod impacted the group’s previous location. The rods were thinner than the pillars, yet they flew at a much higher speed. The team eventually reached the other side of the valley as they saw a break in the mist. As they ran out of the valley, they heard the sound of another pillar slamming into the mountain behind them. While the area outside of the valley lacked the heavy mist, the mountainous terrain and low clouds greatly reduced visibility. Kaz performed a headcount once everyone was out of the mist.Bookmark here

“Alright, good. Everyone is safe. Just keep your guard up, everyone. Our enemies may still be lurking around.”Bookmark here

Leon closed his eyes as he concentrated. The low rumbling sound continued from the direction of the mist, but otherwise this side of the valley was also silent. The group proceeded further past the valley before they began another strategic meeting.Bookmark here

“Can you hear anything else of note Leon?” asked Kaz.Bookmark here

“There is one thing I can confirm, that rumbling sound is coming from within that misty valley.” Leon said as he pointed in the direction of the valley. “I believe we should be somewhat safe out here, I can’t sense anything watching us out here.”Bookmark here

“Well what do we do then?” asked Saya. “We can’t exactly fight something we can’t see.”Bookmark here

“You are certainly right about that,” said Kaz. “Touma, how did your mapping go?”Bookmark here

Touma opened his book and summoned another map in front of the party, it showed the group’s current position and the path they took through the valley.Bookmark here

“Here is the distance that we traveled through the valley … before we were attacked, anyway.”Bookmark here

Touma pointed at the path and then gestured at the other parts of the valley.Bookmark here

“If this valley resembled the ones in reality, the trajectory of the pillars and rods would suggest our attackers are on the other side of the valley. We have no explanation of how they are able to locate our position so easily, but again we don’t have a lot to work with. We still don’t know the layout of the valley, nor do we know how many enemies we are dealing with.”Bookmark here

“Well what do we do then?!” asked Hayate. “This Nightmare or Nightmares are just hiding and throwing rocks at us!”Bookmark here

“The other issue is how we can’t see or hear inside the mist,” added May.Bookmark here

Leon turned and looked at Kaz.Bookmark here

“Well then leader,” Leon said to Kaz. “What’s your call?”Bookmark here

Kaz pondered for a moment as he looked over Touma’s map of the mountain region.Bookmark here

“Alright, we shall make our way back into the valley as we attempt to find our enemies,” declared Kaz. “Of course, we shall make some preparations before we enter again. First we shall make changes to our composition. We shall proceed in a line formation, although with ample space between us so we have room to avoid attacks. Make sure that you can still see the others ahead of you so that we do not become separated in the mist. Since it appears that Leon can hear the approach of the projectiles, I would like you to be in the middle of our formation so you can warn us of any threats. I will stay at the front and I shall move Saya to the back to act as a rear vanguard. Once we located our enemies, we shall switch back to our planned combat formation.”Bookmark here

“Sounds good,” said Leon.Bookmark here

“Aye!” saluted Saya.Bookmark here

“If everyone is ready, let’s go hunt these things down!”Bookmark here

Kaz led the group back into the misty valley, Touma continued to plot the valley as they circled the side of the valley they did not explore. Upon entering, Leon could already hear distance rumbling, although they did not come from the direction they were heading in. As he listened closer, Leon believed that the rumbling was coming from somewhere in the centre of the valley. After the party walked a short distance, Leon heard the distinct sound of the pillar approaching.Bookmark here

“There’s one falling in front of us!”Bookmark here

As the first pillar smashed into the ground in front of the party, Leon heard more sounds through the rumbling through the mist.Bookmark here

“Wait! We have to run past that pillar, there’s another one coming!Bookmark here

A second pillar fell behind the team as they ran past the first pillar, Leon realized there was a third sound that was approaching.Bookmark here

“There’s something else flying in from the centre of the valley!” Leon yelled.Bookmark here

As the party turned their heads in response to Leon yelling, two rods broke through the mist as they flew towards the group. Kaz and Saya leapt forward to intercept the attack. Kaz slammed his greatsword into one of the rods while Saya struck her shield at the other. While they managed to stop the rod from hitting the party, the force of the attack knocked both of them back to the ground. As Kaz looked up after hitting the ground, he watched a third rod emerge from the mist. At the same moment, Leon’s spear pierced straight through the projectile; shattering the rod to pieces. May and Touma helped Kaz and Saya up as the party continued to run.Bookmark here

“It doesn’t make sense, regardless of where we are, the angle of the attack is always from within the mist,” Touma said as he continued running.Bookmark here

“Same with the sounds! They always seem to originate somewhere inside the mist,” responded Leon.Bookmark here

Another pillar landed in front of the party.Bookmark here

“Every time these things land in front of us, those fast moving rods are not far behind,” said Kaz.Bookmark here

Leon walked to the front of the group with his spear at the ready.Bookmark here

“Leon?” said Kaz, puzzled.Bookmark here

“There is something else I noticed as well. I’ve had a strange feeling ever since we entered this valley. Like something is here. So what if…”Bookmark here

Leon twirled his spear and threw it at the pillar, striking it dead centre. The pillar shook for a second before it raised up and came back down several metres behind its original spot. A cluster of eyes opened up just above where Leon’s spear impacted, they looked down at the party and stared.Bookmark here

“So that’s it huh?” said Leon before he turned to Kaz. “Take everyone and begin running to the centre of the valley, I’ll catch up after! Just watch out for the rods!”Bookmark here

Kaz nodded and gestured for the rest of the party to follow him as he ran into the mist. Leon turned back around and tossed another spear towards the eye cluster on the pillar, but his attack was blocked by another pillar. As the second pillar’s eyes opened, Leon was already leaping towards it with another spear materialized. He swept his weapon to his side, instantly destroying the eye cluster and dissolving them to black mist. Leon kicked off of the dazed pillar before he landed several metres away from the mysterious creature. Seeing the creature distracted, Leon ran off towards the centre of the mist. As he ran, he heard the distinct whistling of the rod flying towards where he was fighting.Bookmark here

“I think I might have a clue what’s going on now.”Bookmark here

After a short run through the mist, Leon eventually caught up to the rest of his party. As he approaches the group he can already see Hayate arguing with Kaz.Bookmark here

“If that thing was the Nightmare, we should go back and take it down!” Hayate yelled.Bookmark here

“Leon was confident in his judgement, so I believe he had some sort of plan in telling us to come here,” Kaz said calmly. “We have not encountered any more of those pillars either, so perhaps this was the right call.”Bookmark here

“Yeah? Or maybe he just wanted all the action to himself!”Bookmark here

“What can you even do with that flimsy sword of yours, let the pillar crush you?” May asked Hayate.Bookmark here

He angrily turned over to her.Bookmark here

“What?! It’s not like you can do anything better.”Bookmark here

“That’s why I followed Kaz,” May said as she pointed to Kaz.Bookmark here

Kaz walked in between the two as he tried to break up their argument, he then noticed Leon approaching. Kaz waved to Leon as the rest of the party turned to look at him.Bookmark here

“If you’re here ya must’ve took down those pillar Nightmares. That means we can leave this stupid place now, right?” asked Hayate.Bookmark here

“Yeah, about that,” Leon began to explain. “Now this is just my hypothesis for now, but I’m fairly confident it may be true. With everything that we’ve seen so far, I believe we are fighting a single gigantic Nightmare. Its size may be far larger than even the bird golem.”Bookmark here

“How can you be so sure that those pillars were not the Nightmare itself, or at the very least one type of them?” Kaz asked Leon.Bookmark here

“Well to begin with, the way they act is very strange. These pillars always fall from above the mist and cloud cover, what’s more is that they will fall in a delayed pair. Once two of them have fallen, that’s when the rods start flying at you. Considering those pillars have eyes, I want to believe they are arms or perhaps extensions of the creature’s main body. It is from that main body that the creature fires these large projectiles, but it requires a precise aiming method; resulting in the pillars dropping first.”Bookmark here

“If that’s the case … where is the Nightmare?” asked Touma.Bookmark here

Leon slowly pointed up, the party followed by looking up where Leon pointed. While they cannot see anything through the thick mist, they noticed that the rumbling sound came from directly above them.Bookmark here

“So my conclusion. Whatever this Nightmare is, it decided to use the low clouds as cover when it arrived on this mountain. It then settled here and is using the misty valley as a hunting ground. That, or it is the cause of both the low clouds and the mist here in the valley.”Bookmark here

“Alright so we’re directly below it, but we don’t even know what it looks like,” said Saya. “Besides, our only ranged attackers are you and Touma.”Bookmark here

“What can we do here?” Touma wondered. “Kaz … do you have a plan?”Bookmark here

“Surely, there is something we can do here,” Kaz responded.Bookmark here

Leon stepped up and patted Kaz on the shoulder.Bookmark here

“Perhaps there is. I’ll see if my jump can take me through the cloud cover. Hopefully if this thing is like an artillery platform, it’s close range defences won’t be that strong.”Bookmark here

Kaz nodded.Bookmark here

“We will try to back you up should something go wrong,” he said before Leon walked a couple steps away from the group. Touma turned to Leon as he crouched.Bookmark here

“Leon … I can create a second platform for you to jump off of. Farthest I can place it … is fifty metres in the air.”Bookmark here

“That’ll help greatly, thanks Touma,” Leon replied.Bookmark here

Leon leapt up to the platform that Touma created, he gathered his strength as he looked in the direction of the rumbling sound. Leon jumped and quickly disappeared into the clouds. He rose through the cloud for a couple of seconds, before he finally broke through and saw the orange light from the fake sun. The light illuminated a gigantic octopus shaped creature, its arms stretched down into the valley below. As he looked up at the creature, Leon saw that inside its mouth was a small glowing sphere.Bookmark here

“That’s a definite weak point right there.”Bookmark here

Leon realized he was almost about to reach the peak of his jump. He quickly took his spear and tossed it towards the core. Just before impact, the octopus Nightmare’s mouth closed and blocked the spear. It then swung multiple gun batteries into position in front of its mouth and pointed at Leon.Bookmark here

“Ah s- “Bookmark here

The batteries began firing at Leon, who quickly summoned another spear to defend himself. He managed to parry one of the rods before a second knocked his weapon out of his hand. As a third rod flew towards him, Leon summoned a second spear before his first had fully dissolved. He parried the third rod as a fourth rod slammed into his body, sending him flying back down to the ground.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, the rest of the party began to worry about the rumbling sounds coming from above them.Bookmark here

“Is Leon going to be alright?” Saya asked.Bookmark here

“Unfortunately, none of us can match his jump height. So the best we can do is hope for his success,” said Kaz.Bookmark here

As Kaz finished his sentence, Leon crashed down beside the party; his shield cracking from the impact. The group rushed over to help.Bookmark here

“Touma, get us some cover!” yelled Kaz.Bookmark here

“R-right!”Bookmark here

Touma deployed a Mana barrier above the team as the octopus Nightmare continued to fire rods downward. Kaz quickly helped Leon up.Bookmark here

“Come on, we have to move, I’ll explain on the way,” Leon said as he pointed forward.Bookmark here

The party ran under the cover of Touma’s barrier as rods continuously feel around them. Leon healed his own Mana barrier as he described the Nightmare.Bookmark here

“The core’s there, but there’s no way we can attack it from below. I don’t know if we’re out of options here."Bookmark here

As the party reached the entrance to the valley, another one of the octopus Nightmare’s tentacles slammed down and blocked the path.Bookmark here

“Seems like leaving isn’t an option,” said May as she deployed her arm blades.Bookmark here

“There has to be some way for us to attack that thing,” Kaz said as he looked around.Bookmark here

Another rod struck Touma’s barrier, cracking it. Leon finished repairing his Mana shield and summoned his spear again.Bookmark here

“There has to be something we can do!” Saya yelled as she held up her sword and shield.Bookmark here

Touma looked around at his teammates, he then looked at Leon before looking at Kaz’s greatsword.Bookmark here

“Kaz … I may have a plan,” he said to Kaz.Bookmark here

“I trust it is a good one,” Kaz replied.Bookmark here

“Only one we got.”Bookmark here

“Then let’s hear it.”Bookmark here

Touma took a deep breath as he swept his hair up as he explained his plan to Kaz, who nodded in agreement.Bookmark here

“Leon! May! Get over here!” Touma yelled.Bookmark here

Leon and May quickly ran over to Touma while he began to yell orders at the others.Bookmark here

“I need Hayate and Saya to act as interceptors, both of you need to stop any rods from hitting us!”Bookmark here

“Uh, alright!” Saya said as she ran in front of the others.Bookmark here

“Who died and made you leader?” Hayate asked.Bookmark here

“Just shut up and go!” Touma snapped at Hayate.Bookmark here

Hayate and Saya stood at the front of the group as Touma attempted to execute his plan at the back. He directed Kaz to lift Leon with the flat side of his greatsword. May stood behind the greatsword with her arm blades materialized, but not deployed. Another pillar landed to the side of the group.Bookmark here

“If this works, I’ll have Leon far higher than where this thing supposedly is. We just need to buy enough time for me to cast this. When I give the signal, I need all three of you to work in unison.”Bookmark here

Touma began to channel an aura around Leon, who stayed in a crouched position on Kaz’s greatsword. At the same time, the first rod flew at the party. Saya leapt up and deflected the projectile by knocking it to the side. Another followed shortly after, with more rods flying towards the party in short intervals. Hayate and Saya alternated between intercepting the rods, but their number continued to increase.Bookmark here

“You done your little plan yet?! Cause we can’t hold this much longer!” Hayate called out to Touma.Bookmark here

“I’m a bit busy channeling here, maybe you should ask me later after YOU DID YOUR DAMN JOB!” Touma screamed back at Hayate.Bookmark here

The aura around Leon changed colours, signifying the completion of the spell.Bookmark here

“May, now!”Bookmark here

May swung her fist towards the back of the greatsword, she deployed her arm blade right before her fist collided with the blade. The force from the arm blade helped push Kaz’s greatsword, as he also swung forward the moment May’s arm blade made contact. The swing propelled Leon far into the air, with Touma’s spell also activating during his climb. Leon soared past the octopus Nightmare as he eventually reached the apex of his climb, several thousand metres in the air. He quietly gazed across the horizon of the Dream, places like the village just barely visible in the distance. He looked up and admired the deep blue darkness of the sky. As Leon began to fall, he aimed his body towards the Nightmare far below him. He pointed his spear downward and plunged towards the creature at a forty-five-degree angle. Impacting the top of the octopus, the force of the impact parting the clouds around the mountains. As he continued to push, the octopus Nightmare began to lose balance from its legs and its entire body fell down into the valley. When the Nightmare crashed into the ground, the shockwave cleared all of the fog and mist in the area. As the dust settled, the party looked up to see the Nightmare had landed on the ground on its side. They rushed to where the creature had landed and saw Leon standing on top of the creature. He ripped his spear from the Nightmare as he jumped down and gestured at the party.Bookmark here

“All yours,” he said with a slight smile.Bookmark here

Kaz nodded and dashed forward, performing an upward slash as he reached the octopus Nightmare’s mouth. The slash destroyed the closed mouth and completely exposed the core inside the Nightmare.Bookmark here

“You want the honours, Touma?” Kaz turned around and asked.Bookmark here

Touma channeled a single light arrow and fired it at the creature’s core, piercing and shattering it in one hit. With the core destroyed, the octopus Nightmare finally began to fade into black mist.Bookmark here

“Good work everyone,” Kaz said to everyone. “We would not have won that if not for Touma’s plan.”Bookmark here

Touma swept his hair back down as he looked away, slightly flustered.Bookmark here

“I … didn’t really do much. It was thanks to everyone else’s strength that we won.”Bookmark here

Kaz patted Touma on the back.Bookmark here

“Don’t put yourself down like that. It may have been a team effort, but you too are part of that team.”Bookmark here

Kaz turned and addressed the whole team.Bookmark here

“Alright, let’s head back. Our job here is done!”Bookmark here

He looked down at his arm.Bookmark here

“Ah, I hope none of you made plans for today. Depending on how well you handle overexposure, you may or may not be able to move when you wake up.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.