Chapter 3:

Chapter 3 Veiled Resolution

Zero to Hero

With the wind howling and my modest wooden hut rattling as if it might shatter at any moment, I stirred from my slumber and greeted Yami, the young wolf, who whined softly. As I rose from the hard wooden floor, my stiff back protested, and I noticed Candace sleeping peacefully in my bed, completely unaware.

Shaking my head at the naive girl, I made my way to the door to let Yami out. The wolf pup smartly waited by the door, signaling her intentions. As I turned the handle, the freezing wind snuffed out the fire, instantly chilling the hut.

Yami darted into the wilderness while the abrupt cold breeze startled Candace awake. "Good morning, Ken!" she greeted with a yawn.

"Sorry for waking you," I responded apologetically, wondering if my new wolf companion had vanished forever into the vast wilderness of Chelmswell forest.

"Got a shower in this tiny place?" Candace asked, taking a dig at my tiny wooden shack.

"Nope. I usually teleport to the woods to freshen up in the river," I confessed.

"You mean you haven't bathed all winter?" she asked, eyeing me skeptically.

"Think it’s been 3 months since I last took a bath," I replied jokingly.

"EWW!" Candace shrieked, sniffing my bed.

"Why are you smelling my bed now after you already slept in it? I bet my bed smells better than your stinky self anyways. You probably wetted yourself from the encounter yesterday?" I joked, as Candace nearly hit her head on the low ceiling while jumping off the bed.

"SMELL me and I dare you to say I stink again!" Candace charged toward me, pressing my face against her.

"I’m just joking Candace," I chuckled, attempting to keep a distance while I had to try my best to not give into my lust.

"Alright, here's my bath. You can enjoy and relax here. How long before you need me to pick you up?" I asked, after teleporting Candace to my wooden bathhouse by the river.

"Answer me! Do I stink?" Candace persisted.

"Not even close. You smell like a blooming lily in this wintry landscape," I replied, admiring her sudden bright smile that weakened my knees.

"See, you can be nice! Come back in an hour," Candace said happily, lighting the logs to heat the water, shooing me away as she began to disrobe.

Returning to the hut, I found solace by the fireplace, petting Yami, yet fear and doubt seeped back into my mind. Should I abandon this safety? What awaits after taking her home? Can I shield her from the new threats out there?

Self-doubt clouded my mind like a dark mist, leaving me in a daze, uncertain of my next move. Yami's nip jolted me back. "Thanks, Yami. Hope I haven't made Candace wait too long," I murmured, teleporting back to the bathhouse unaware how much time had passed.

"KEN! Why are you here? You said an hour!" Candace exclaimed, catching me off guard, her nudity obvious in the bath.

"Sorry. I dozed off, lost track of time," I explained, still grappling with leaving my isolated haven.

"If you wanted to see me naked, just ask," Candace teased.

"Not my interest. Got bigger things on my mind," I deflected.

Unhappy with my response, Candace's hair flared as she ejected me from the warmth. Unprotected by my fur coat, the biting cold set in, and I started shivering.

"Don't take too long. Even I'd freeze in this cold," I shouted at the bathhouse, conjuring a fire magic within to ward off the freeze.

Despite the frozen forest, the river flowed, unstoppable. Watching its unwavering flow, I resolved to confront what lay ahead.

"You'll freeze standing there without magic to keep yourself warm," Candace snapped me back to reality, almost frozen solid from my absent mindedness. Quickly, I teleported us back to the hut, preventing myself from freezing over completely.

"What were you pondering? It's about a girl, isn't it? Is that who you wanted to see?" Candace probed as I gathered my resolve.

"Will you come with me today or stay?" I asked, ready to face my past.

"Where? And for how long?" she inquired.

"To a village in this forest. We won't return tonight."

"Then I'm coming with you! No way I'm stuck here alone," Candace asserted.

After packing essentials and deciding not to return, I teleported us a distance away. As we trudged through the snow, Candace's attempts at conversation were luckily drowned by the ferocious wind as I was in no mood for small talk.

How long since I discovered their hideout but lacked the courage to visit? Why Chelmswell for my hideout? Will she forgive me? Has she moved on?

"KEN! Slow down!" Candace's shout broke my reverie.

"Sorry," I murmured, adjusting my pace. "Need to focus."

"You're too distracted," Candace chided, catching up. Hours passed until we halted at a colossal tree in the forest.

"Why are we stopping?" Candace asked, puzzled, as I searched the tree.

After circling the tree, I finally uncovered the inconspicuous entrance I sought, motioning Yami and Candace to join me as I vanished from their sight.

"Wow! I can't believe this tree was hollow inside!" Candace's excitement resonated in her voice as she and Yami stepped into the immense tree's interior. The concealed opening was a well-guarded secret, its discovery reserved only for those privy to its existence.

Foregoing the tree's carved wooden stairs, I instantly teleported us to the level where the exit awaited. Walking out onto the wooden bridge connecting the myriad trees, the dense canopy of branches and leaves shielded our clandestine world from prying eyes above and below. This secret realm thrived unseen amidst the colossal trunks, a hidden tapestry woven between the towering giants.

"Why didn’t you just teleport us up here?" Candace questioned.

"It won’t be pleasant if someone randomly teleports next to you when you are taking a bath, now would it? Some reasoning here," I reasoned, but before I could elaborate, a wolf beastman girl appeared, blade against my neck.

Raising my hands to show non-aggression, she accused with disdain, "How dare you show your face here after what you did!"