Chapter 10:

Smoke on The Waters

The Symphonia of Erde (DISCONTINUED) (ARCHIVED)

It's been two days since the party left the riverside town of Smillia, and along with them was a newcomer, which was none other than the Storm Revenant of Smillia himself; Isaac Nikola. The party continued travelling south but their destination was not made clear by the head of the party; the former knight of Swetzia, Ryleigh. Bookmark here

"Tell me again Ryleigh, where the hell are we heading?" Jakob asked, restless due to his friend's anonymity towards their travels.Bookmark here

"I would like to tell yer Jakob, but believe me, 'tis better if I keep it as a surprise." Bookmark here

Jakob grumbled at the knight's response. Ryleigh and Jakob were sitting at the driver's box and shotgun seat respectively. With no horses to stir due to the magical property of the stagecoach, they could enjoy the outdoor breeze and focus on other needs without driving the stagecoach. Ryleigh stared intensely at the map in his hands while Jakob was wiping his double-barreled shotgun, ready to shoot any fools that dare get in their way. Bookmark here

Meanwhile, lying lazily at the top of the stagecoach was Isaac Nikola. He expected more excitement from this party as his mother would always tell exhilarating stories of his father's adventures. The bizarre foreign lands, the wonderful giant beasts, the thrilling dungeons he had dwell, yet so far their travel consists nothing more but wandering through the woods and helping out with the chores inside. This makes it no different then his daily life with his mother, save for the fact that his mother was not there and the 'house' they lived in moved on its own.Bookmark here

"Hey Isaac!" Jakob called from below, "Mind if you zip forward a few miles or so? See if there's any village or hamlet we could stop by for a while?"Bookmark here

"No nade ter chucker that, Isaac," Ryleigh intervened, "Cos we've almost arrived at our destination!"Bookmark here

"Oh wow, really?" the other two grew excited upon hearing the knight's statement.Bookmark here

"Aye, we should be there right aboooouuuut...-" Ryleigh looked at his map and back outside- "NOW!"Bookmark here

Ryleigh pointed forward at the destination of their journey. Jakob and Isaac eagerly followed their sight towards the direction of Ryleigh's pointing finger, but their excitement was cut short.Bookmark here

"Well darn, I didn't expect the Misty Woods out of all things to be blocking our way," Jakob commented, "looks like we have to spend a day or two going around that place."Bookmark here

"No silly! We're not gonna go around that place. The Misty Woods IS our destination!"Bookmark here

*BOOM*Bookmark here

The stagecoach's door violently swung open as Claude emerge from inside.Bookmark here

"THE F#!%ING WHAT IS OUR WHAT NOW?!"Bookmark here

"Aye, yer hear me right Claude! We're gonna venture into the Misty Woods!"Bookmark here

Claude immediately marched towards Ryleigh, grabbing his collar and pulled him closer to his helm-like face, "Haven't you heard? The tales and stories that place holds?!"Bookmark here

"As a matter av fact, I do! That's why we're 'eadin there."Bookmark here

As the two of them argued about the knight's surprising decision, Isaac went down and nudged Jakob.Bookmark here

"Uh, sorry for my ignorance, but what's the big deal with that place."Bookmark here

"Well, as the stories goes, that place is cursed or some sort. Misty all year round regardless of seasons, and those who venture into it never returned. Some time ago people said there used to be a village near it. Got consumed by the mists before being part of the woods itself."Bookmark here

"But I suppose what intrigued Ryleigh into exploring the place was the stories and sightings of a curious figure in the Misty Woods. A mysterious maiden whose hair was long and as red as the blood of men. They called her, 'The Maiden of the Mists' ."Bookmark here

"Ah, so this is like me and Smillia all over again," Isaac concluded.Bookmark here

"I guess so, more or less."Bookmark here

The two of them looked back at Ryleigh and Claude who had yet to resolve their conflict. It was the first time they saw the two arguing like this, throwing around hand gestures as both colossal men (one dwarfing the other though) exchanged their thoughts quite loudly. Jakob and Isaac end up placing bets on who'll end up throwing the first punch.Bookmark here

"I've tolerated you for years Ryleigh! I risked my stagecoach; my only means to serve the sick, to fulfill whatever adventurous desires you have for your journal!"Bookmark here

"But this has gone too far! I will not jeopardize everything I've built since the day I got kicked out of my clan! I WILL NOT LET THIS STAGECOACH ENTER THAT ACCURSED MISTY WOODS!!!"Bookmark here

"An' 'ere I thought yer not the superstitious type," Ryleigh scoffed, "Fine then, no need to follow me into that place. I'll go there me self!"Bookmark here

"Tsk."Bookmark here

Claude was disappointed by the former knight's arrogance. There were times where Ryleigh's curiosity towards local legends overrides his sense of preservation. He would willingly risk himself just to add some noteworthy tales for his "adventure journal" or whatever he calls it. Bookmark here

The Behemoth thought for a while and decided that there's no use stopping Ryleigh now, especially when they were this close to his desired goal. And so, he called them all in for a quick meeting. Inside, they gathered at the living room where Marie was woken up from her beauty nap on the sofa.Bookmark here

"I'll make this clear one more time, I am not joining you all into the Misty Woods," Claude asserted, "henceforth, I have something to give you four."Bookmark here

Claude took out a piece of wrapped cloth and placed it on the table. He opened the cloth wrapping unveiling three peculiar looking keys, seemingly made from bones.Bookmark here

"Woah! Skeleton Keys! Just like the ones we ha-" Marie's dialogue was cut short as Jakob quickly covered her mouth.Bookmark here

"Skeleton Keys? I've heard it before from my mother but this is the first time I get to actually see one. How does it work?"Bookmark here

"To put it simply-" Claude picked up one of the keys and pulled out a small chest- "these keys can be used on any keyholes, let it be from chests, locks, doors or cages."Bookmark here

"Once unlocked, the door associated to the keyhole will open an entrance leading to the place assigned to these keys, which in this case-" Claude opened the small chest using the Skeleton Key and dropped said key into the chest- "is this stagecoach." The key fell on top of Isaac's head, and bounced right back to Claude's palm.Bookmark here

"If the stories are true, the four of you might get lost in a matter of seconds. If that happens, then all you need to do is find some sort of keyhole from an abandoned house or anything and you will be back here in one piece. I'll be waiting here by then."Bookmark here

"Cool!" Isaac exclaimed, "But I only see three keys though and if I'm not mistaken, four of us would go out right?"Bookmark here

"That, I leave Ryleigh to arrange the distribution." Claude handed the three keys to Ryleigh and excused himself out, leaving the four of them to prepare for their venture.Bookmark here

In the end, the three Skeleton Keys were given to Ryleigh, Isaac and Jakob. The two bounty hunters were told to stick with each other at all times seeing that only the both of them did not possess any magical powers.Bookmark here

With that in mind, the four of them went out and head straight into the Misty Woods, in search of the 'Maiden of the Mists', while the behemoth doctor stayed behind.Bookmark here

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The sun shined high and mighty as the day finally reaches its noon. However, sunny as it is, it matters not inside the Misty Woods where the unnaturally thick mists made day as dark as dusk, and the night even darker. Many cautionary tales were told to put off any travelers from traversing inside the woods, but there will always be some daring curious folks who would ignore such stories.Bookmark here

Such as the case of Sir Ryleigh; the former knight wannabe adventurer and his three other companions, Jakob, Marie and Isaac the Storm Revenant. They moved together in close proximity to each other while Jakob walked slightly ahead with a torch in his hand.Bookmark here

"So this is the place those folks kept warning us about," Marie commented, amazed by the surreal atmosphere of the place, "all this mists aside, I expected this place to be more, 'maddening' , get what I mean?"Bookmark here

" Oho! We're gonna git yer 'maddening' soon enough me dear Marie. But for that ter happen we need ter encounter the Maiden first!"Bookmark here

"Yeah, don't forget Claude's advice people," Jakob interrupted, "we need to stick together at all times. Or else this place or whatever guardian here might screw us up."Bookmark here

"Aye, but if we're together all the time 'tis gonna take forever for us ter find that lady inside this MASSIVE woods!"Bookmark here

"I'm siding with Ryleigh in this one." Isaac spoke, floating pass the three of them.Bookmark here

"The mists doesn't even look that thick. I bet those wanderers must be a bunch of bad navigator for them to easily get-" Isaac looked behind and realized his friends was nowhere to be seen- "lost."Bookmark here

Isaac faced exactly the kind of situation the cautionary tales had warned about. He and the rest of the crew finally received a taste of what the mists of this accursed woods had to offer.Bookmark here

"Great, we just lost Isaac," Jakob remarked.Bookmark here

"I wouldn't worry much about 'imself if I were yer."Bookmark here

"Who says I am? With that powers of his he could just fly above and zip away from this place."Bookmark here

"Speakin' of zippin' away-" Ryleigh's face turned into a sinister smile, but was unseen underneath his knightly helm.Bookmark here

He took out his sword that glowed brighter than the torch held by Jakob. With one swing, he slashed the air at his right unleashing a powerful shockwave of white light. The shockwave cleared off the mists unveiling a clear path surrounded by withered trees and skeletons of past victims.Bookmark here

"Meet yer guys at Claude's place!" Ryleigh darted into the cleared path without a second thought, leaving behind the two hunters.Bookmark here

"I'll find this guardian lady an' I'll interview 'er there and then!" his voice slowly shrunk as he disappeared deeper into the mists. It only took a couple of seconds before the mists reformed at the cleared path.Bookmark here

"Yeah sure, leave the two 'mere mortals' behind," Jakob scoffed.Bookmark here

"Marie, seems its just the two of us we must not separate with each other-"Bookmark here

"What are you doing?" Jakob looked at Marie who suddenly clung to his arm.Bookmark here

"Oh? Uh..." she immediately let go of his arm and giggled awkwardly, scratching the back of her non-itchy head.Bookmark here

"This place... it makes me feel weird y'know. So devoid of life, and it's the first time I couldn't see clearly of what's ahead, aside from night time. But-"Bookmark here

"If you're scared just say so." Jakob grabbed Marie's hand and pulled her closer to his side.Bookmark here

Marie blushed slightly in embarrassment but her friend simply ignored it. Without further a do, they continued their journey into the woods without letting each other go. After all, among the two only one had the Skeleton Key, in which they'll use in case they found a keyhole and decided to call it a day after wandering into the mists.Bookmark here

And speaking of mists, somewhere amongst the abundance of it, a short skeleton was seen floating around aimlessly, confused by the almost non-euclidean nature of the woods. Although Isaac was more than capable of surviving alone but the familiar sight of his companions would surely put his heart in ease. Bookmark here

That, and he still had no clear idea of what to expect from the Maiden of the Mists. What if he were to accidentally stumble upon her? Should he punch her? Should he try talking to her? Should he try have a shot with her because under all that terrible tales of her she might turn out to be a sweet lady for a strong young man like him (now that's just plain ridiculous Isaac).Bookmark here

A million thoughts went into his head when he accidentally bumped into a thick branch and fell. Isaac rubbed his head and tried to get back up when a hand appeared out of nowhere, offering to help him up. Bookmark here

"Oh thank you mysterious... hand-" Isaac slowly looked up and saw the individual offering the help.Bookmark here

First, he noticed a worn out white dress, its wearer had the figure of a young lady and long was her hair that Isaac already noticed it since her hips. The hair was as red as the blood of men, and it was at this moment Isaac realized he had stumbled upon none other than the Maiden of the Mists herself!Bookmark here

Excitedly, his eyes moved further up but to his dismay, it was not a fair maiden's face that greeted him. Instead came a bloody horse skull, freshly decapitated and skinned from the animal itself, worn like a mask by the young maiden in it. Bookmark here

The poor aghast skeleton barely had time to react when he was dragged deeper into the mists by an unseen force, and the Maiden too disappeared not long after.Bookmark here

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Somewhere at the other end of the forest (or perhaps not far from where Isaac last stood), the two hunters strolled aimlessly trying to find at the very least some form of life, in which they had yet to encounter ever since they were separated by Ryleigh and Isaac. Their wander in the Misty Woods so far had only met them with withered trees and bones of men and beasts that had fallen prey to this strange place. But not long after, the duo ended up finding themselves at a ruined place that had played an important role in creating the infamous tales of this dreaded woods.Bookmark here

"I'll be damned. This must be the village that supposedly got consumed by the mists," Jakob remarked as they set foot to the newly discovered ruins.Bookmark here

The ruins of the village was not as foggy compared to the rest of the woods. Skeletons of men, women, children and animals littered the grounds along with chunks of woods and rocks from destroyed homes. The stories described the incident as if it was a mass murder, but the sight of this ruins resembled more of a village razed by a terrible hurricane. Bookmark here

"Well, if this place used to be a village, then there must be a door that we could use to get back home!" Marie suggested.Bookmark here

"Are you saying that we just ditch those two here while we hang out with Claude until all of this was over?"Bookmark here

"Would you want it any other way?"Bookmark here

"Yeah I see you're point." Jakob lit up a cigar to take a quick puff. "Those two could handle things well on their own. Us 'mere' mortals shouldn't even be here."Bookmark here

And so, the two went off to find a door, or at least its remains, or at least anything with a keyhole, to get back home safely and spend the rest of the day in that cozy little home with the Behemoth doctor. Who knows, he might be sipping hot tea while taking a nice bubbly bath as they speak. Bookmark here

Unfortunately for them, out of the many shrapnel of stones and woods left from the ruined homes not a single thing that had a keyhole were in sight. Instead, their eyes met a familiar sight. A proud knight donned in a not-so-shining armour stood in front, waving happily as he made his way towards his friends.Bookmark here

"Oh man, am I glad to meet you two!"Bookmark here

"You could say the same about us Ryleigh," Marie replied, "this place is giving me the creeps! You wouldn't mind much if we get out of this place first right?"Bookmark here

"Out already? But we barely scratched the surface of this place! Plus, I've got something cool to show you two. Something I found deeper in the woods-"Bookmark here

"Hold it!" Jakob suddenly intervened, "Now just why would you suddenly force us deeper into this place when you yourself said that we could feel free to leave the moment we felt something wrong before?"Bookmark here

"Y-yes, I believe I did said that," Ryleigh stuttered, "but you really need to check this one out. You won't regret it I assure you."Bookmark here

The moment the knight turned his back against them he suddenly heard a cocking sound coming from behind. He turned and saw Jakob pointing his revolver directly at his face.Bookmark here

"J-Jakob! What are you doing!" Marie was shocked to see his reaction.Bookmark here

"As much of a dumbass Ryleigh could be sometimes, he would never force someone into danger. That's one thing I've learned throughout our journey with him"Bookmark here

"Now tell me doppelganger! Who the f**k are you!"Bookmark here

"H-hey now, the mists must have gotten in your head. S-surely you wouldn't shoot y-your friend ju-just because he-" Bookmark here

Ryleigh' barely took a step a forward and immediately Jakob fired his gun. The bullet flew out of and headed straight for the knight's head, but instead of hitting him it simply flew right through it. Trails of smoke dragged behind the bullet as it left the knight's head. Like a statue, 'Ryleigh' stood unnaturally still before turning and disappearing as a cloud of smoke.Bookmark here

"F**king hell the mists could disguise now?" Jakob quickly reloaded his revolver, his instincts telling him that something worse will occur next, "We really need to get out of here now."Bookmark here

But before they could make their next step, the cloud of smoke that was once Ryleigh started to move aggressively. It shook and grew, fogging their surroundings almost immediately when several talons made of smoke suddenly emerged from it.Bookmark here

"RUUUUN!!" the hunter shouted grabbing his partner's hand as they both sprinted away. Bookmark here

They fled and dodged the talons of smoke as it swiped here and there trying to catch the two. Navigating through the woods was already a hellish task for them and now made worse with an unknown entity hot on their trails. It was not long before the nature of the place itself bent on preventing their escape.Bookmark here

*BONK*Bookmark here

Or for this case, Jakob ran into a tree.Bookmark here

"Jakob!!"Bookmark here

The talons pierced and gripped hard into Jakob's skin. Despite being made of mist, it felt like he was being stabbed by razor-sharp daggers. Immediately the talons started pulling him back, dragging him deeper into the woods. He tried to resist the drag but whatever entity was behind this misty talons clearly had strengths beyond human limit.Bookmark here

"Get out of here Marie!" Jakob threw the Skeleton Key he kept towards her, in which she swiftly caught it midair.Bookmark here

Not soon after, he was dragged further by the clawed hands and eventually disappeared into the misty abyss.Bookmark here

"JAKOB!!" Bookmark here

Her voice echoed the woods, but there was no life there to listen her horrified cry.Bookmark here

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*pant* *pant *pant*Bookmark here

Marie grasped for air as she sprinted aimlessly across the Misty Woods. She had been running for God knows how long; minutes, hours, probably more. The ever dark forest and its obscure paths blurs one's grasp towards time. She would need a miracle to find something to use the Skeleton Key with, or let alone escaping this accursed place. Luckily for her, a miracle did indeed came.Bookmark here

*CLANK* "GAKH!" Marie fell as she ran into an unseen obstacle.Bookmark here

"Ouuch... What the hell did I just ran into?"Bookmark here

"Well I'd be blessed!" the obstacle spoke, slowly revealing itself from the shrouds of the mists. "I thought a random critter bumped into me! Turns out tis' a friend!"Bookmark here

It was none other than Ryleigh, the knight in not-so-shining armour. He spoke joyfully unaware of the fate of his other friends, and still quite oblivious towards the danger of the woods.Bookmark here

"Hold it!" Marie stopped him from taking another step.Bookmark here

She pulled out her pickaxe and pointed it towards him, "How do I know you're actually Ryleigh, and not just another mimic!?"Bookmark here

"Did yer jist say mimic? Fascinatin'... So far I 'aven't 'eard of people encounterin' mimics of others in this woods."Bookmark here

"I'm not joking Ryleigh! You better prove yourself before I smash your damn skull!"Bookmark here

"Woah there! Calm down Marie, I'm indeed the real thin'. Look-" Ryleigh unsheathed his sword as it glows brightly in white- "no other creature in Erde wield this sword but me. Or at least no one 'ere could ever mimic this light."Bookmark here

"Ye-yeah. The doppelganger didn't had that sword when we met him." Marie put down her weapon after he proved his genuinity.Bookmark here

"Wait, where's Jakob? Shouldn't yer two be together at all times?"Bookmark here

Marie looked down to the ground without a word, her silence answering Ryleigh's question.Bookmark here

"... I-I see." Ryleigh patted her shoulder to comfort her.Bookmark here

Without warning, the surrounding mists started to swirl aggressively around them. Instinctively, Ryleigh pulled out his glowing sword and stabbed the ground with full force. A wave of light exploded from him expelling the threatening mists surrounding them, leaving a quite huge area clear for the eyes to see.Bookmark here

"We best crack on now." the knight sheathed his sword back. "Stay close ter me Marie. We're gonna find those two an' save them from whoever's responsible."Bookmark here

And so, they both went on journeying deeper into the woods. They both stayed close to each other not wanting to deal any further separation.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, outside the dangers of the woods, Claude drove his stagecoach across the muddy roads that led to a little village nearby. The village was not as deprived as most of the other places he once visited. The crops there thrived, basic necessities such as water are available in the form of a nearby stream, and rarely do bandits come to pillage as the place often had guards stationed there; a benefit gained due to being one of the common stop by for merchants and traders of a nearby capital.Bookmark here

But even the most wealthy of villages (the same could be said to towns) would welcome the presence of a wandering dispensary such as that of Doctor Claude's. By the time he arrived and made clear his purpose to the stationed guards, the village head himself came to him with open arms. His arrival was timely for sure as the village was currently facing a minor epidemic. Immediately on the day of his arrival, Claude earned a place for his mobile clinic and started his work.Bookmark here

"How long have you been doing this doctor?" his current patient asked during their appointment, "and you sure have a big place to work in."Bookmark here

"I've worked for quite some time now," Claude replied casually, "a big place for a big man like me right?"Bookmark here

"Yeah, I guess you're right. Say, have you ever thought of hiring an assistant?"Bookmark here

"Assistant?" Claude eyed at him curiously.Bookmark here

"Yeah, you know, like a nurse of some sort. You may be a big guy but I'm sure even you'll get overwhelmed by work once in a while."Bookmark here

The patient pointed behind Claude where the rest of the room were laid a dozen beds for those who were chronically ill. And because of the epidemic, all those beds are currently occupied.Bookmark here

"I see your point," Claude remarked, "but I've grown accustomed to this kind of work."Bookmark here

"Whatever you say then." The patient was dismissed upon finishing his examination where the results was much pleasing to him.Bookmark here

Claude closed his clinic for a while to take a quick lunch break. There he thought about what his previous patient just said. Indeed, it once crossed his mind about finding someone to help him in his work and he once considered asking the other four members of his travelling party. However, he himself dismissed the idea seeing how the four of them too had their own affairs to deal with.Bookmark here

"Come to think of it, I wonder how are they doing inside the woods?" Claude thought to himself.Bookmark here

《 To Be Continued...|/|Bookmark here

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