Chapter 11:

Two keys

The Symphonia of Erde (DISCONTINUED) (ARCHIVED)

How many hours has passed since the two of them wandered the Misty Woods? Four? Five? Perhaps even more, or perhaps it was lesser than expected, but none could tell for sure. Day and night became meaningless in that place little to no sunlight could pierce through the thick layer of the ever present mists. Bookmark here

But as long as both Marie Budgerigar and Sir Ryleigh had the energy to walk, they will traverse the woods in search for their lost friends. As they continued on their wander, Marie exclaimed out of nowhere.Bookmark here

"Yer alright Marie?" Ryleigh turned and saw her laying on the floor.Bookmark here

"Don't worry, I just tripped on something that's all," Marie replied and pointed at the thing she tripped on.Bookmark here

Apparently it was a skull but with an odd feature on it. It resembles perfectly that of a human's but with an addition of goat-like horns on its temples.Bookmark here

"Interestin'! It seems humans ain't the only things fallin' prey ter this place."Bookmark here

Marie picked up the skull and analyzed it closer. "Satyr's skull huh? Crap, if anything this means all the more reason we should hurry and find those two."Bookmark here

"An' why is that oh dear Marie?"Bookmark here

"Satyrs have great instincts to navigate and survive in the harsher side of forests. If even they could get lost and die here, that means-" her speech was interrupted when she felt someone tapping her back.Bookmark here

It was a headless skeleton, pointing at the skull in Marie's hand and back to him.Bookmark here

"Yeah sure, you can have your skull back. Anyways, as I was saying, if-" Marie suddenly realized something.Bookmark here

"HOLY F*#!!"Bookmark here

"MARIE GET DOWN!" Ryleigh unsheathed his sword and swung it at the skeleton. The undead swiftly stepped back and avoided the knight's blade. Its movement was odd as if it was a string puppet controlled by an unskilled puppeteer. Bookmark here

As they both prepared themselves to battle, the mists around them started to swirl aggressively. Knowing this was not a good sign, Ryleigh stabbed his sword to the ground, unleashing a shockwave of light to clear out the mist. Strong was the shockwave that the skeleton in front of them too collapsed to pieces.Bookmark here

However, their situation did not get any better. Now that the mists are cleared, they find themselves in an empty field, surrounded by hundreds of bones. Broken skulls, pieces of ribs, femurs and spines; belonging to beasts, humans and humanoid cryptids. Bookmark here

The surrounding mists reformed once more and gathered around the bony remains. Smoke entered through the skulls, swirled around ribs, spines and engulfing the other pieces of bones. Various skeletal parts started to rebuild itself into a proper figure, held together and brought to life by the mists. Just like the skeleton before, they moved like string puppets. Their empty eye sockets glowed dim blue light while smoke flows in and out from their agape jaws. Bookmark here

Thus rose an army of bones whose puppeteer was non other than the mist, while Ryleigh and Marie were smack in the middle of it all. Bookmark here

Immediately both sides sprung into action. The skeletons charged, or better yet, hurled themselves at the two while both of them fought for their dear life. Ryleigh swung, sliced and gave them an occasional face-breaking punch while Marie annihilated them with her pickaxe. However, for every skeleton they brought down almost immediately the mists rebuild it and threw it back into action.Bookmark here

"This fight 'ill go on forever Marie! If we keep this up we might end up joinin' them as well!"Bookmark here

"Then there's only one thing left to do."Bookmark here

"What'll that be?"Bookmark here

Marie looked at him annoyed, "What else idiot! Let's get the hell out of here!"Bookmark here

"Way ahead of yer lady." Bookmark here

Ryleigh channeled his sword's power and swung it horizontally. A huge arch of light shot out from his blade destroying all those in its way. The two immediately scrambled away while the remaining skeletons chased (or dragged themselves) after them.Bookmark here

Ryleigh held up his glowing sword turning it into a makeshift torch as they sprinted through the woods. As if misfortune was mocking them, they kept encountering more and more skeletons lying on the ground springing back to life. Bookmark here

"Ryleigh look!" Marie tugged the knight's cape while pointing at her right.Bookmark here

It seems luck finally decided to favour them as the object pointed by Marie was none other than a wooden door lying on the ground. And much to their delight, the door had a keyhole on it!Bookmark here

"Quick Marie, the Skeleton Key!"Bookmark here

"What happened to yours?" Marie asked as she struggled slightly to reach the keys in her inventory sack.Bookmark here

"I left it back at home, but now's not the time ter argue about me stupidity."Bookmark here

Finally, Marie pulled out the the Skeleton Key she's been holding all this time and inserted it into the keyhole.Bookmark here

*Click* Bookmark here

The door opened and the two immediately jumped in without a second of thought.Bookmark here

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Bookmark here

*crack*Bookmark here

*snap*Bookmark here

The dried leaves and twigs sounded as a peculiar figure wandered across the woods. The figure was not a man, but merely a silhouette of it made from the forest's mist. Its eyes maybe absent, but its senses wandered around searching for something, not for itself but for another who might needed it.
Bookmark here

The figure stopped as it finally found what it believed to be the thing it was looking for; an abandoned caravan, perhaps a few weeks old. Some bodies were lying near the caravan, motionless and rotting, though no smell of decay stained the air of that place. Bookmark here

The figure searched inside the caravan where more rotting bodies awaits. They were that of a child, a woman and caged poultry and birds. Crates of clothes, woodcraft and merchant goods were abundant inside, but those were not the object of the figure's search. In fact, there was none inside that could be deemed useful for the misty figure. Hence, it left the place as it be for time to consume it and return them back to the soils for the trees to feed on.Bookmark here

The figure wandered once more and stopped once more, as standing in front was the thing it had been looking for. A living horse, perhaps a stray, for it lacked a saddle and shoes. Bookmark here

The horse stared at the figure who stood so still. The horse blinks, and as it opens it eyes the sky greeted its sight next, before darkness consumed it forever. The figure left the scene carrying the decapitated horse's body on its shoulders as it made its way back home, to the little girl whom the reason it had wandered the woods all day long.
Bookmark here

The figure arrived at a green hillside once filled with dreary bushes now cleared and tidied and embellished with furniture of logs and stumps. The hill itself had a newly carved cave, housing the little girl who waited near its door for the figure to return. Placing the dead horse on the ground, the figure went into the carven cave to meet the child.Bookmark here

"Ah! Welcome back mister!" the girl greeted cheerfully as the figure patted her head in return.Bookmark here

She looked behind the figure and saw the headless horse lying on the ground. She looked back at the figure with a delighted look all over her face.Bookmark here

"Is that our meal? Oh joy! I always wanted to try a horse!" She grabbed the figures hand and dragged it to what seemed to be the 'kitchen' of the cave house. Bookmark here

"I made soup for both of us. Though, I couldn't find any good meat so I used the grubs I found inside the trees! You should really try it-" the girl scooped out a spoon of the soup and gave it a little taste, only to spit it out the moment it touched her tongue- "or maybe you shouldn't."Bookmark here

The figure ignored her warning and gave the soup a taste, "... I... like it... Anna..."Bookmark here

The girl's face turned joyous as the figure enjoyed the grub soup she made despite the horrific taste she felt just moments ago. Although, she still could not find herself eating such horribly made soup.Bookmark here

"I.. eat soup... You... eat meat..." the figure spoke slowly, still struggling to get used to the concept of vocal communication.Bookmark here

"Help... prepare... fire..." Bookmark here

"Aye aye sir!" the girl saluted before leaving the place to collect some wood. The figure chuckled in silence as it went back outside to work on the dead horse for its meat. Bookmark here

The figure recalled the day when it first took in the red-haired child as its own. Although they both acknowledged each other's existence way before the incident, it was the first time little Anna saw the mist taking the form of a man. It was only natural for her to be terrified by its appearance, especially after what it did to the villagers that chased after her, but the figure made itself harmless and convinced Anna to accept its hand. Bookmark here

The first few days was a little rough as The Mist had no particular idea of the necessities of living for a human being. It knew she had to eat something, so The Mist offered her a freshly killed rabbit, only for her to reject it almost immediately.Bookmark here

"I- I can't eat that raw," Anna excused herself.Bookmark here

The Mist grew anxious not knowing what to do next, but it seemed the girl was more independent than it expected. Anna proceeded to collect some woods and gathered it in one place. The Mist watched as she managed to light all of it on fire. Bookmark here

"We- we can cook the rabbit now, " she told the misty figure, "but we should remove its fur first."Bookmark here

The Mist obliged, removing the rabbits fur and watched the little girl cook for herself. It was the first meal they had together, or the first meal at all for The Mist who did not need to feed itself to remain alive. It became the most cherished memory it ever had with Anna ever since.Bookmark here

Over the years the two lived happily in their quiet home. The Mist cared for Anna like a loving father towards his daughter. Sometimes they would go out exploring the woods in which for The Mist was no different than exploring one's own backyard. It took pleasure of showing Anna the hidden wonders behind the curtains of smoke; ruined fortresses, ancient gargantuan trees, and lakes as big as the eyes could see. Navigating the place was never a problem as the surrounding mists is part of The Mist itself.Bookmark here

Though there are no creatures that dare to walk its land, birds however flew in and out of the woods as they please. Often, The Mist captured the birds and gave it to little Anna so that she may play with it like her toy or pet. Once she's satisfied, she would let go of the bird and waved them goodbye; an act that still baffled The Mist to this day. But so long as the girl's happy, it did not have any reason to complain. Bookmark here

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"GaAAAAAH!!"Bookmark here

"WAAAAAAHAAAAA!!"Bookmark here

*POOOMF*Bookmark here

Marie and Ryleigh fell and crashed on top of what seems to be a group purple pillows, cushioning their fall from the door above. Despite that though, it took them both a while to recover from the slight dizziness they felt after falling for who knows how long. Only after that they got struck by a sudden surge of realization.Bookmark here

"Where in God's name are we Marie? This doesn't look like home at al' !"Bookmark here

"You think I'd know better?" She replied, equally confused. Bookmark here

Ryleigh pulled out his sword that glowed immediately upon unsheathing. The slight illumination revealed stacks of crates, locked chests of iron and wood, and strange looking containers that doesn't resemble any known human craftsmanship placed neatly all around the two. Some were stacked on top of each other to the point it towers the two as far as their eyes could see. The room itself was huge as if it was a castle's ballroom. Bookmark here

"What even is this place?" The two thought to themselves. Bookmark here

Perhaps this is a secret storeroom within Claude's mobile home that he kept away from everyone's knowledge for reason's unknown. But even then, that would be very out of character of him as he barely keeps any secrets, or at least that's what Ryleigh thought of him up until now.Bookmark here

"Look! There's a door there!" Marie pointed and lo and behold, it was indeed a door quite a distance away. Bookmark here

The two wasted no time and cautiously made their way there. As Ryleigh's hand reaches for the doorknob, it suddenly moved on its own and the door immediately swung open.Bookmark here

"Well well well. If it isn't my favourite Icarus girl-" a curious looking man grinned at them- "oooh and what's this? I didn't imagine I get to meet you again after all this time."Bookmark here

"YOU!?!" they both shouted in unison. Hearing that, they both turned to each other.Bookmark here

"Wait you know him!?" they questioned at the same time.Bookmark here

The man chuckled at their reaction and invited the two inside. He ought to clear up the confusion the two had in their current situation, although, he too had several questions for them like how did they managed to get themselves inside his storeroom.Bookmark here

"Koma! Enough cleaning up that sword display! We've got some guests to entertain!" the man shouted as the three walked across a seemingly endlessly wide hallway.Bookmark here

The walls and roofs are unseen but instead galaxies of stars and cosmic bodies surrounded the three like the night sky. It appeared as if they were walking across the outer space. The floor itself was unseen except for the appearance of circular water-like waves for every step they took, like walking on water that reflects the space above.Bookmark here

The hallway wasn't the only thing there resembling the celestial bodies of the outer skies. The curious man leading the two; whom they both know for reasons elaborated later on, merely had the outline of a man with clothing of the desert people of Arabia. Within the yellowish-white outline is a pitch blackness so dark as if light itself had been consumed. Both his eyes resembled the last star to disappear at dawn and his ̶s̶h̶i̶t̶ ̶e̶a̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶g̶r̶i̶n̶ teethy smile glows whiter than polished ivory. Bookmark here

This man- no, this ENTITY is known by those who know him as "The Phantom Blacksmith".Bookmark here

"Or 'PB' for short. Though, I prefer if you call me something like 'Smith' or 'the Blacksmith' or anything that sounds more dignified, you get what I'm saying?"Bookmark here

For the sake of narrative consistency, we will be addressing him as PB.Bookmark here

"Oh well, I've tried."Bookmark here

*Clears throat*

Anyways, the three of them continued making their way through the infinite hallways until they reached a room where the sight of it sparked a sense of familiarity from both Marie and Ryleigh.Bookmark here

"You two make yourselves at home. Koma we'll attend you two shortly."Bookmark here

They both sat on rather luxurious chairs when a komodo dragon came crawling towards them with a tray of two cups of tea balanced on top of his head.Bookmark here

"Thanks Koma," Marie said as they both accepted the lizard's hospitality. The lizard nodded before leaving the scene to continue his work.Bookmark here

"So-" PB sipped his cup of tea-"I shall be blunt about today's meeting. Any particular reason you two showed up at my storage room?"Bookmark here

"To be honest we're about to ask you the same question" Ryleigh replied, "we don't even know how we got here."Bookmark here

"Ah, it seems you misinterpreted my question. I am asking as in a matter of why, not a question of how, which to me is quite intriguing considering you two didn't know how you end up here."Bookmark here

"Unless of course-" PB turned his face towards Marie, grinning at her as she sipped her tea trying to avoid eye contact- "one of you have been keeping secrets from the other."Bookmark here

Ryleigh was surprised to hear such statement. He changed his attention towards Marie silently demanding an answer of what's going on. With two men staring directly into her soul, Marie had no choice but to give in.Bookmark here

"Alright alright! I should've told you this sooner Ryleigh and believe me I do! But-"Bookmark here

Marie scuffled through her inventory pack and pulled out not one, but two Skeleton Keys.Bookmark here

"Jakob made me keep it a secret. B-but he has a good reason for it I swear!"Bookmark here

Ryleigh was surprised to see the two keys laid in front of him. He sort of anticipated that the two hunters would be keeping some secret relic of some sort. But another Skeleton Key? And one that leads to an obscure place like this? How did they even obtained it in the first place?Bookmark here

"Jakob Fowlhunter was a good customer of mine," PB explained casually, "I gave him a contract some time ago, even before he had a lady walking by his side, in which he executed it magnificently."Bookmark here

"The key that leads to this place was the reward, as you may have guessed. A lifetime discount for throwing knives and gunpowder-" he paused to take a sip from his cup of tea- "a suited reward for a hunt well done."

"Ah! I should've figured that out sooner. 'Oy else would yer man obtain such fierce quare lookin' pistols!"Bookmark here

PB simply smirked at Ryleigh's remark, "My oh my, those unique firearm of his are purely his design o' dear knight. I merely supply the means of shooting it."Bookmark here

"Then what about you two?" Marie interrupted suddenly, "you two act like you've known each other for some time. How did that happen?"Bookmark here

"Ah, such a simple question will result in a simple answer my inquisitive Icarus," PB replied, "as such, the powerful sword wielded by our knight in not-so-shining armour here once shattered, and it was I who seeked him to fix it."Bookmark here

"What do you mean 'you seeked him' ?"Bookmark here

"It is exactly what you had in mind little Icarus. Now I believe both of you ought not to stall here any longer, even when time bears little to no meaning here, for it seems you two have an important affair to deal with."Bookmark here

"Aye, you're right about that blacksmith-" Ryleigh got up from his seat and stretched- "our friends are in trouble. The sooner we get to them the better."Bookmark here

"Alright then, I guess we could conclude our little chat for today." PB sipped his last cup of tea before getting up from his seat as well, "Although we did not conduct any form of business of any manner, it was nice having to seat down, sip some tea and have a friendly chat once in while."Bookmark here

"But I ought not to stall you two further, thus if you wish to find yourself an exit from this place obscured from time and space, you may do so by entering the door on your left." PB pointed to said door which appeared out of nowhere from an empty wall.Bookmark here

The two did not question much about how such event occur as they both rushed to the newly created exit. As Ryleigh grabbed the doorknob however, his action stopped as a question suddenly pooped into his mind.Bookmark here

"Wait jist a second, where 'ill this door lead to lad?" Bookmark here

"The place where you are needed to be," PB answered simply.Bookmark here

"What are we waiting for Ryleigh? We should get to them hurry!"Bookmark here

"Well, here goes nothin'," The knight opened the door and they both immediately went through it without much thinking.Bookmark here

"I'll be honest Koma, I gave them a vague answer as an intent to portray a 'mysteriously cool' character towards them both." the Phantom Blacksmith turned towards his lizard assistant, "Truth is, I have no idea where the hell that door leads to."Bookmark here

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"I... found... it..." Bookmark here

"She will... be happy..." Bookmark here

Jakob woke up from his unwanted nap and found himself being dragged through the forest floor. One of his leg was raised and held tightly by a mysterious figure, most notably its incorporeal look. It was best described that the figure looked like a silhouette of a man made from the forest's mist.Bookmark here

Wait a minute- mist?Bookmark here

"Oh f##k is that the Maiden of the Mist Ryleigh kept talking about?" Jakob thought to himself, but the figure dragging him didn't look anything like a 'maiden' at all.Bookmark here

Either way, the fact that he is not dead yet is good enough for Jakob to plan out his next move. It seemed that the 'thing' dragging him had not yet realized the hunter's awakening. Because of that though, Jakob decided that it's best to let the figure maintain that mindset for now fearing that things might get worse if he tried to escape now. After all, it seems they are still within the Misty Woods. Any escape attempt right now would result in a guaranteed futility.Bookmark here

And so, Jakob proceeded to do absolutely nothing. He waited and waited, listening keenly for any words that might come out from the misty figure's mouth (assuming he had one), but the only thing that greeted him was a rather catchy hum as if it was having a leisurely stroll throughout the woods. Bookmark here

After a while, Jakob felt his legged being released as their journey has come to a halt. The hunter went on with 'playing dead' as not a single inch of his muscle moved. His eyes looked around as he laid still on the floor when suddenly he caught sight of a young lady approaching him rather excitingly.Bookmark here

The lady was quite tall, just an inch or two short compared to the six-foot Jakob. She sported a rather ragged long burlap dress with a rope tied at her waist; a common wear amongst lower class folks such as beggars and homeless peasant. Despite that however, her appearance rivaled the beauty of princesses and palace maidens due to her most noticeable trait; her long scarlet red hair, flowing gracefully along the forest breeze, its length reached down to her waist.Bookmark here

Jakob was mesmerized by this beauty, a welcomed sight after staring at nothing but dead trees and gloomy sky. He watched carefully as the lady stopped right in front him along with the misty figure by her side. Bookmark here

From the closer view it seems that she's no older than the bounty hunter who (surprise surprise) just turned 18 this year. Both the girl and the misty figure stared at him down like they were looking at a corpse, which means Jakob's charade is working much to his favour.Bookmark here

"He's not dead, is he?"Bookmark here

The misty figure shook its head and immediately kicked Jakob's hip.Bookmark here

"OH F#$K SAKE THIS SON OF A DUCK!" a sharp sense of pain tingled all over Jakob's body. He immediately woke up much to his displeasure.Bookmark here

"Oh good! Now that you're up, we could finally go on with our tea party!"Bookmark here

"Tea party?" Jakob was surprised to hear the lady's remark, "alright lady quit playing games with me. I want an explanation right here, right now!"Bookmark here

He unhesitatingly pulled out his gun and pointed towards the lady. The misty figure got angry from the hunter's provocation but was stopped by the lady herself.Bookmark here

"Now now, lets not make too much of a ruckus during such a fine day," she remarked.Bookmark here

An ominous aura was suddenly felt from her, "after all, do you really think a puny weapon like that could stop me?"Bookmark here

Jakob lowered his gun and placed it back to his holster, "Tch- guess I'm speaking to the Maiden of the Mist right now, am I right?"Bookmark here

"Ho! it seems you have heard of the rumours after all, yet you still come into this woods. Was it because of curiosity or stubbornness?" Bookmark here

"A little bit of both I guess," Jakob admitted honestly before taking off his hat and kneeled down before her, "the name's Jakob, pleasure to be in your presence."Bookmark here

"O-oh, stop it. You're making me flustered for no reason. It's not like I'm a princess or anything!"Bookmark here

"And? As a living folk-tale figure you deserve all the respect-" Jakob turned towards the misty figure- "and that includes you too of course."Bookmark here

"Anyways, since I've told you my name, it would be nice if I could-"Bookmark here

"Anna," the girl interrupted Jakob's speech, "my name is Anna."Bookmark here

"Well then Anna. It's a pleasure to meet you in person."Bookmark here

"Y-yeah. I think we should stop with this formality. It's not good to keep guests waiting for the tea party."Bookmark here

"Oh right, the tea party. About tha-" a thought suddenly crossed Jakob's mind- "hold up, did you just said 'guests'?"Bookmark here

"Yep! While mister brought you in from the east, I also found someone myself!" Anna replied proudly.Bookmark here

"Come, we could talk more inside the house." Anna pointed at a carven cave that was apparently her home. It was decorated creatively with hanged dried fruits and leaves, with a single window and entrance door made from the black woods of the forest's trees.Bookmark here

And speaking of black trees, near the carven cave lie a lone withered tree where apparently, the other 'guest' had been waiting.Bookmark here

"Yo Jakob! I've been waiting for you guys all day long!"Bookmark here

"Isaac!? You stupid skeleton, how long have you been hanging there?"Bookmark here

Apparently. Isaac was tied up and hanged upside down from one of the tree's branch.Bookmark here

"Besides, can't you just get out of there? Couldn't imagine the Storm Revenant lost to a mere rope."Bookmark here

"Of course I could get out of here anytime!" Isaac replied angrily, "but y'know, all this tying up and hanged under a tree waiting for rescue got me all excited."Bookmark here

"Are we talking about the genuine one or the kinky one?"Bookmark here

"Yes." Isaac replied simply.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.