Chapter 37:

A Group Returns

A Tour of the World Between Worlds

Several more days passed without much occurring. Pythagoras spent his time in the mines with either of the two of us accompanying him or in his cabin. I doubt anything could tear him away from his work. When Lerato wasn’t helping Pythagoras, he would use his equipment to ‘train.’ Apparently, it was an effective way to build ‘muscle mass,’ or so he said, but the whole endeavor seemed like it would be a vain pursuit when fighting came.

I spent most of my time scouting through the grey world and talking with Azul. It seemed he was a storehouse of knowledge. I could walk up to any world-lake, and he would tell me about the world, what creatures lived on it, what magic they used, the ‘technology level,’ and so much more. I doubt I picked up on everything, but the serpentine dragon was patient with me, and I could increase my knowledge tenfold—or at least it felt like that. The only trouble I had was getting him to explain the grey world as I moved around it. He would always say he didn’t have a way to tell me yet and would later. I decided to let the topic go after a while.

Once or twice, we walked by the mountain where Cherry guarded the staircase; Azul hissed at the fiery being every time and warned me not to go near it. I decided to withhold the fact that the staircase guardian had been the one to turn my blades gold. I suppose of my strolls through the grey world that was the oddest occurrence for several days.

It was around the fourth day or so after the team left, during one of my random walks, when I happened upon a world-lake that was bubbling. My daggers were in my hands before I knew it, and my attention was fixed on the spot where the crystal blue faux-water was most disturbed.

I held my breath and waited for whatever might come out.

After a minute or so, something green came flying out of the water; the person was immediately recognizable as he shot from the lake. Orrin flew at least three times my height over my head, with Casey holding onto his left arm and Enas holding onto his right. He laughed like a child as they came flying to the grey shore—the other two did not seem as amused. Enas’ face was stern, and Casey’s eyes were wide.

To call their landing graceful would be a lie; the two hanging onto Orrin’s arms hit first and stumbled, Casey forward and Enas backward. The green man himself tripped and smacked his face into the ground. I could only hope there was grass in the spot and not a stone; nevertheless, Orrin was otherwise unfazed.

His green eyes were the first to spot me as he tried to push himself up from the ground.

“Oh, hi, Kiko!” he said. I could have sworn his eyes narrowed for a split second as he looked at me— as if he saw something odd—but if his expression did change, it happened so fast that I chalked it up to my imagination. “Well, we have bad news and really bad news.” Despite Orrin’s words, his tone was remarkably upbeat. I sighed.

“I’m afraid we have bad news as well… let’s just go to the camp.”

A short walk through the woods later and we emerged in front of the energy wall Pythagoras, and Lerato had whipped up. Orrin whistled at the sight of the fortress.

“Never thought we’d have to set it up,” Enas grumbled as he rubbed his bald head.

Fortunately, the other two were inside. Lerato was lifting some of his weights, and Pythagoras carrying a box of supplies to his room. I didn’t need to say anything to get either of their attention.

“Hey, guys!” Orrin shouted.

Immediately the other two set what they were doing aside and came over to us. The meeting started before I even realized it.

“Everyone, we have some bad news,” Lerato began.

“I’d imagine, given the wall was set up,” Casey replied. “Unfortunately, we don’t have much better news.”

They paused the conversation long enough to light a campfire and have everyone sit around it. It was questionable how bad the news could be, but I held my tongue and sat just outside the circle the rest of the group formed.

“Well, you guys go first!” Orrin said. Pythagoras took up the mantle to quickly explain the return of the monster I had seen several days ago. The others nodded; Casey and Enas showed concern about it, while Orrin seemed unfazed. “Well, that isn’t good!” he added at the end of Pythagoras’ story.

“Not at all, and the timing couldn’t be worse….” Casey grumbled. A pointed ear on her head flicked several times as she spoke.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Lerato said as he looked at each of the trio who returned. Orrin nodded and, with a smile, began to tell us.

“That world is in dire straits. To make a long story short, they have two major problems. The first is that there are more of that hunger we fought before… a lot more, and they are quite literally eating that world. The second is due to some political upheaval. It seems that the monsters began to run rampant right around the time a couple of royal big shots disappeared. There are many dueling factions which makes fighting the hungers even harder.”

“Bad, but what does it have to do with us?” Pythagoras asked. His words were cold but calculating. Monsters trapped in a world were less of a problem than the one at our doorstep. Lerato, on the other hand, seemed to shift uncomfortably in his seat.

“The problem is not with the little hungers, but with their source….” Casey began to explain. “They have some kind of… mother.” The tall beast woman stopped to shiver for a moment, “Everything the smaller hungers eat becomes… incorporated into her. If they were a hive, she would be the queen.” Whatever this monster was, it still didn’t make sense why we should be worried.

Enas rolled his eyes and took over, explaining.

“The long and short of it is that the mother won’t be staying too much longer, and when she passes to another world, you can guess where she will stop in first.”

Pythagoras nodded.

“I see, so a giant monster is coming. Will we have until that world is eaten?”

“We can’t just leave that world alone!” Lerato added. “We have to save them!” His words were only heard by the wind as Orrin continued.

“The smaller hungers can continue to eat the world indefinitely as long as the mother remains alive. They won’t stop until the whole world is consumed, but she can leave freely. If we stop her here, that world will also be saved.” He explained. His words carried certainty, even with his more casual demeanor. How he was confident in them, I could not tell, but the others seemed to trust what he said. I decided to let it go as Orrin continued: “So, we need to get prepping!” He seemed almost excited at the suggestion. The others nodded in agreement. They quickly made arrangements for what to do as the sky grew darker and darker.

I zoned out for most of it and, before long, was lying on my bed to turn in for the night.