Staring into the bubbling potion in her cauldron, Thanamenti yelled, “You can’t be serious!”
Mercinon, who was sitting on the floor of the cave with a half finished lantern holder, took exception to that, “Oh my gods! I only asked if you could conjure some more twine for me! Sheesh!”
“I’m talking about what those overly powerful imbeciles did, not you! I wasn’t even listening to you!” Thanamenti disputed with him.
“So, how did this round go?” Dason, whose birdcage had gotten lined with a small, woven rug, queried with a note of derision in his voice. This caused Marcin, who now donned a macrame vest on top of his yoga, tittered at Dason’s quip, but when he saw that it caught Thanamenti’s attention, he hid his face behind the book he was reading.
Mercinon worked on tightening the knots on his current project and casually conversed, “So, they defeated the onocentaur, huh? How did they do it? Did the strong one throw rocks from the mountain at him?”
Thanamenti raged, “No! They got him drunk and he drowned! They really didn’t even use their skills this time! They cheated!”
“Why did you send a creature whose weakness was alcohol somewhere where they could get some?” Marcin probed. “You’re making it too easy for them!”
“They were on a mountain! An empty one! How was I supposed to know they’d bring alcohol with them?” Thanamenti argued. She grew saddened and ruefully stated, “They were all hungover too! This should’ve been a cinch! I mean, I know the strong one didn’t drink, but still!”
Mercinon got up and put a sympathetic arm around her shoulder. “There, there! It’s not over yet! We’ll find a monster that’ll maim them! At least you got to see them in agony for a while! That was fun, right?”
Thanamenti sniffled a little. “Yeah, that was nice!”
“And there’ll be other monsters, right?” Mercinon reminded her.
“Yeah, that’s true!” Thanamenti’s spirits started to lift up.
Mercinon told her, “See? Everything’s fine! Now, don’t you feel dumb for getting all worked up?” This filled Thanamenti with a blazing ire, but Mercinon didn’t seem to notice that he offended her. “So… How about conjuring that wine now, hmm?”
Thanamenti coldly regarded him, “OH, I’ll get you your twine!”
She aimed her staff towards the section of the cave where Mercinon had stationed himself, which conjured enough twine to bury Mercinon!
As Dason laughed uproariously and Marcin chuckled behind his book again, Mercinon stuck his thumb out from beneath the heap. “This’ll keep me busy for days! Thank you!”
Thanamenti looked irritated that her plan to punish him seemed to have backfired, but before she could react, they heard a series of thumps coming from Echinda’s chamber. “Ooh! Did she have a multiple birth?” Thanamenti wondered.
“Elysium forbid you check for yourself!” Marcin said under his breath.
“What did you say?” Thanamenti eyed him suspiciously.
Marcin grinned sheepishly at her. “I was just saying that I’m on my way to go check on her.” He scrambled to distance himself from her as she continued to glare at him while he walked towards Echinda’s cavern room. He didn’t glance back at her and instead focused on cautiously scoping out the situation. He peeked inside and reported, “She gave birth to ordinary people! They don’t seem very scary!” All of a sudden, something shifted about their appearance that made Marcin try to get away form them! A couple of claw-like fingers caught him and dragged him into Echinda’s territory! “Oh Aigea! She created more people eaters!”
The others ignored his terrified screams. Mercinon sifted through the pile of twine and questioned, “Where is my lantern holder?”
“Exelda didn’t drink any liquor? She kept her promise to me!” Dason celebrated.
“She didn’t do it due to your promise! She did it because she-.” Thanamenti cut herself off when she recognized that she almost let something slip out.
Dason prodded, “What? What are you hiding from me?”
Thanamenti replied honestly, “Lots of stuff! There’s loads of dark things in my past you don’t wanna know about!”
Before Dason could interrogate her any further, Marcin popped out of the room scratched up but otherwise unharmed. “Wow! You’re sure regenerating faster now!” Thanamenti remarked.
“No, I’m not! They didn’t want to eat me!” Marcin corrected her. “They’re not cannibals, just blood drinkers, and they passed on mine ’cause my dead blood is too cold for them! Huh! I think I actually feel a little hurt for getting rejected to get eaten by them!”
“I found it!” Mercinon declared as he held his project up in the air proudly.
Thanamenti rolled her eyes and then turned her attention to the image in her cauldron. “Okay now, you contemptible twits! Let’s see you defeat these guys!”
Marcin posed to her, “Are you sure you wanna encourage them to do that?” Thanamenti gave him a hard stare, and he figured out what she meant. “Oh, I see what you were going for there!” He quickly immersed himself into the book he had been reading previously, and Thanamenti gave an exasperated sigh as she continued to observe the heroes.
“So, have you thought of any names for you baby yet?” Kefalia asked Exelda as they traversed through a thick of mostly barren trees.
“I haven’t had time to think about anything but surviving this mission!” Exelda answered her. “It still doesn’t feel real to me! Well, except for all the vomit! And I can see a little bump now. I didn’t know it was a baby before, I thought I was just bloated!”
Narcius assured her, “Listen, I know you wanna name your son after me so he can mimic some of my stunning qualities, and you’re afraid to say it because you’re concerned that I would want to reserve that right for my future son, but I’m completely fine with you bestowing that honor the future prince! It’s okay, really!”
Exelda raised her eyebrows at that absurdity, and then she responded, “First of all, I’m, like, ninety-nine percent sure that I’m having a girl…”
“How do you know? A couple days ago, you thought your swelling came from gas!” Akintos teased her.
“Trust me, a mother knows!” Exelda remained steadfast on her conviction. “But secondly, I don’t wanna decide on anything ’til I can discuss it with Dason! Oh Eileithyia, I hope that we can get him out of his bird form so he can help me parent this kid!”
Stocastin reassured her, “I’m confident that the feathers we shall find will reverse the effects of his avian visage!” A deadened branch whipped him, so he vexedly tore it off its base and tossed it to the ground. “I’m not quite as confident about the odds of finding a feather in this arboretum of nothingness! Why are we even bothering to search this area? It seems highly improbable that the sympathies would choose this god-forsaken place to hide a sacred object!”
Kefalia knowledgiably let him know, “The Lofundasos forest dried out, but if we keep heading south, we’ll hit the Chartikano Papermill, and their river leads to Agrochorio, my hometown! Such a special village, there’s gotta be a feather there!”
“Well, let’s hurry up and get there ’cause there’s clearly nothing here! I hope! It’s sort of creepy like something might be hiding here though!” Narcius shuddered and then consoled himself, “Yup, definitely nothing here!”
“Look, there’s something over there!” Akintos pointed to something over Narcius’ shoulders.
Narcius dismissed that notion, “Nice try! I’m not falling for that trick again!”
Kefalia backed Akintos up, “Actually, Akintos isn’t lying this time! There is something there!” “Aah! Don’t let it hurt me!” Narcius shrieked. When he finally beheld what Akintos had referred to, he composed himself and poignantly asserted, “That’s not something there, that’s someone! More than one person, actually! Oh Adonis! What are they wearing?”
“Quiet! They might hear you!” Exelda cautioned Narcius.
Narcius differed, “I don’t think their hearing is that good!”
One of the mysterious figures announced to his comrades, “There’s people in the distance! I heard one of them talking about our clothing!”
“Oh great! Now they probably won’t help us!” Exelda threw her hands up aggravatedly.
“Go over there and help them!” a female in the group directed the male who had spoken up a second ago.
Narcius bragged to Exelda, “Ha! See! I didn’t hurt our chances for us to get help from them!”
Exelda brought up, “You said they couldn’t hear us! You can’t take any credit, I was the one who was proven right!”
An old man wearing a crude toga made from a burlap sack approached the heroes and greeted them, “Welcome, weary travelers! Won’t you sit with us by our comfortable fire?”
“A comfortable sit? I like this guy!” Akintos chirped.
“Wow! I love your clothes! So much fancier than ours!” the old man complimented them. “Yeah, you guys look good!”
As Narcius followed Akintos towards their camp, he soaked in the man’s praise. “Yes, I know I look good! I was just saying that this morning!”
Kefalia, who fell into the rearmost position in their group, didn’t see that the old man suddenly grew fangs and claws while he tried to bite her! She abruptly moved her head in a way that made him miss as she exclaimed, “Oh, there’s a feather! No, never mind, it’s a dead leaf!” The old man grimaced as he changed back to his normal appearance and joined everyone else.
They found a group of people whose ages all ranged widely sitting around a large bonfire with an extraordinarily long spit over it, and when they finally reached them, they all welcomed the heroes, “Hello, travelers!”
Exelda awkwardly waved to them. “Hi, everybody! We have some questions for you, if you don’t mind!”
“Not at all!” a middle aged man obliged. “Please, sit down.”
“Oh, that one is with child! Go bring her a seat so she doesn’t have to stoop so low!” a woman instructed a young boy.
As the young boy delivered their one and only piece of furniture, a rudimentary and somewhat holey chair, Exelda told him graciously, “Oh, that’s so kind of you! Thanks!”
The boy wondered, “So, when do we eat?” His teeth and nails sharpened, and he tried to take a bite out of Exelda.
As the other heroes settled themselves down, they failed to perceive that Exelda was in any peril. Coincidentally, Kefalia glanced over, which caused the boy to immediately turn back into his normal self. Akintos inquired, “What are ya cooking on such a large spit?”
“Oh, whatever we can catch!” A middle aged woman eyed them with a hint of voracity in her eyes.
“We’re on a journey to search for very distinct golden feathers. Did you guys happen to have spotted objects like that?” Stocastin posed to their hosts.
A young woman responded quizzically, “Golden feathers? What are you going to do with those? Add some ornaments to your splendid outfits?”
Narcius rubbed his chin contemplatively. “Hmm…! Gold feathers would look absolutely dashing on me! What a fabulous idea! I never thought I’d get good fashion advice from people who dress so terribly!”
Exelda put in, “It’s kinda complicated, but the feathers may help us stop the riots in the kingdom.”
“There’s riots going on in the kingdom?” an old woman questioned.
“You guys don’t know about them?” Kefalia reacted in surprise. “They’re happening all over Chaos!”
The old man they initially met shrugged. “We haven’t been anywhere besides this forest! Oh, we did go to a cave once!”
As Exelda explained the dilemma to them, a young man slowly crept up to Akintos. “Basically, a bunch of citizens have been radicalized to think that this dead criminal should be king ’cause they believe this sham about the royal family practicing dark magic and drinking people’s blood!”
Just before the young man took a bite in him, Akintos lounged back further, and the young man had to quickly shift back before he caught him. Akintos opined, “Who is disgusting enough to drink blood?”
The people in burlap glanced at each other uncomfortably, and Stocastin misinterpreted their expressions. “Quite abhorrent, right? But by retrieving these golden feathers, we believe that-.”
“Hey!” Narcius had pulled out his hand mirror from his toga pocket, and he caught a young woman with her pointy transformation right as she almost pierced his skin! “They’re trying to eat us!”
“Narcius, that’s ridiculous! They…” Exelda trailed off as everybody changed forms. Her opinion reversed, and she cried out, “Oh Zeus! It’s true!” The old man charged at her, so she used her sword against him. It wouldn’t pierce his skin! “Dammit! I’m so tired of that not working!”
Stocastin turned invisible, picked up a rock, and hurled it at the young man’s head. It didn’t phase him, but he did grow confused as to who did that to him. “Stone doesn’t work either!”
Akintos relayed to them, “My fireballs are working!”
“Throw them into the fire!” Exelda commanded. While Akintos continued to throw fireballs, Exelda used her strength to make the old man fly into their bonfire. Kefalia flew to the old woman, picked her up, and dropped her into the fire. Stocastin tripped the young man, and the young man fell backwards into the flames. Narcius used his speed to both evade the ones around him and apply enough force to push people into the fire quickly. They repeated the process until the area appeared empty. “Is that everyone?” Exelda surveyed their surroundings just to be sure.
“Yes!” Akintos replied to Exelda’s inquiry. A little girl appeared hanging off of the tree branch above him, so he changed his response to, “No!” He destroyed her with his fireballs, and then he affirmed, “Okay, now we’re good!”
Exelda asked Kefalia, “Do monsters run that paper mill you mentioned?”
Kefalia answered her, “I don’t think so, but I haven’t been there in a while, so…”
“Wait, were those people monsters, or do they normally haunt these woods?” Narcius’ eyes darted all over as he fretted about the possibilities.
“I don’t think so! It’s not like they have a representative in the Senate!” Exelda kidded. “Plus, if they were around longer, I’m sure ‘Konna’ would claim they’re from the royal family’s palace and let her loyal dupes watch them go after people!”
Akintos stated, “I hope the paper mill people are nice to us!”
Stocastin disagreed, “I actually hope that they’re more on the unfriendly side because lately the individuals who behaved kindly towards us have tried to assassinate us!” Kefalia, Narcius, and Akintos shared his sentiment and crossed their fingers for that outcome as they headed out.