Chapter 33:

An Old Foe

A Tour of the World Between Worlds

I steadied my breath and drew my blades. The golden tips pointed to the myst where the shadow moved. The rest of the space was clear and silent. Some grey grass was up to my ankles, but I did not hear the slightest rustle as I slowly backed up.

I recalled the device the others used to signal each other, but it only just now occurred to me that I had never obtained one. I suppose I should have asked, but I doubt I would have thought to without this exact circumstance. Whether I would ask after wasn’t clear, that is, if I got out of here.

The creature emerged, seemingly slicing out of the myst smoothly and slowly.

A familiar fleshy form stepped out, its body arranged into the shape of a human, though no distinct features marked the otherwise smooth skin. Whatever we had fought after what seemed like so long ago was back, or maybe this was another one. The fiery person, Cherry, had killed the first, after all. There was a significant difference, the humanoid form was disturbingly similar, but it stood at least twice my height.

Its smooth face looked around the area, seemingly unaware of me standing below it. It seemed almost comical, but perhaps the creature didn’t know how to look down. I might not have even considered it if I hadn’t watched the odd movements of its body. It was like it was unfamiliar with the human form.

This was an opportunity; I could give it one slice and pull back. Targeting the legs should at least give me time to put some distance between us. After which, I suppose I would have to get a hold of Lerato and Pythagoras for the next steps. The plan seemed promising, so I didn’t waste another moment. I lunged forward and closed the gap between myself and the monster.

It must have heard me, though without ears, who could tell. Either way, it took a step to the side as if to get out of the way; fortunately, the movements were clunky, and my attack easily slid through the fleshy left leg. The blade cut clean and with little resistance. I might have been surprised by that alone, but what came after was more shocking.

The cut burst with flames, and the smooth skin of the monster was burnt around the region. It let out the most horrible sound one could imagine before falling down. Now it learned to turn its head downward, and the smooth face stared at me. If this thing had emotions, I could not tell, but I felt a pressure like all its anger was forced down on me.

Dwelling on the fiery attack would have to come later. I spun the blades in my hands and readied for another blow. I could take this out on my own if the attacks were this effective.

“Careful, Kiko, this opponent isn’t going to go down easily.”

The blue dragon chimed in from atop my shoulder. Either he could read my mind, or my expressions and stance were giving away too much. If it was the latter, then I was letting my training slip, or at least I felt I was.

I ignored the thoughts and rushed forward for another strike. My blades were going to be driven into the creature’s chest, but it had other plans.

Several parts of its arm exploded into vines or something comparable to them. They wrapped around my arms and waist, locking me in place. I struggled to move as the creature awkwardly stood back up. I couldn’t break free as more of the amorphous body seemed to grow around my own. In a matter of moments, my arms and torso were encased—and it was clear it was headed to my mouth and ears.

I was forced to move like a puppet. My arms jerked around, and my waist turned. My grip tightened on my blades, but I had no way to attack.

As the creature moved up to my neck, Azul made an odd sound. It seemed somewhere between a sigh and a chuckle, but maybe I imagined things in my panic.

He bit down on the clay-like flesh around my shoulder. The monster let out what I could only figure was a yelp. The body was immediately pulled back and the blob reformed into a humanoid shape. It scratched the section the dragon had bit. Meanwhile, Azul spat several times as if he had gotten some dust in his mouth.

I turned back to the monster and held up my blades. It surprised me, but that would not happen again. Before I could move, the form shifted closer to something with four legs and charged back to the myst.

I ran after but stopped just short of entering the foggy wall. It was a breath's length away from my face, and I could feel something shaking in my core. A cold sweat began to form, and I could tell that only one who wanted to die, or someone extremely powerful, would be able to walk in without a care. As far as I could tell, I was neither, so I backed up.

It occurred to me that I started holding my breath, and I let out a gasp. With that realization, I fell to a seated position and stared into space for a moment.

Azul was the one to bring me out of it.

“I do believe the creature has been driven off, but only for a moment. It would be best to leave here in case that moment is short.”

I didn’t argue with the dragon and quickly sprinted through the woods.

“What is that thing?” I asked as I pushed past grey trees and bushes. There was a moment of pause before Azul gave an answer

“It’s a bit past what I expect you would understand. I suppose the best way is to consider it an unformed… dragon. Unlike myself, it has been stunted in growth and never developed a charming or witty personality.”

“So, it’s like a relative to you?”

“Yes, but very distant. Some of you humans have a concept called evolution. Are you familiar?”

“No,” I answered.

“For the best, I suppose, now that I think about it, that would have been a misleading analogy. I’ll see if I can think of anything else.”

Despite his words, the dragon around my neck fell silent. I didn’t bother adding anything as well. The dense grey trees were beginning to thin, and I could hear loud banging coming from up ahead.

I pushed out of the woods and entered a clearing.

What awaited me was a sight I did not expect.

Several oddly shaped metal sculptures were positioned around a circle. At one of the shapes lay Lerato, who held a long metal bar with giant disks on either end. He moved it up and down in a motion that seemed more likely to exhaust than anything else.

“Four hundred forty-two,” he grunted as he moved the bar in the air. As he lifted, he must have noticed me out of the corner of his eye. My pink clothes were likely to be a dead giveaway. They were the opposite of stealthy. Why I wore them, I had no idea. “Ah! Hello Kiko,” Lerato said in a casual voice as he moved the heavy metal bar onto some hooks of the sculpture. He sat up and smiled.