“It’s simple really!” Stocastin prattled on as the five heroes walked down a dirt road lined with lush trees and verdant grass nestled alongside the green foliage. “The chemicals that certain metals are comprised of interact with oxygen and water to form a new substance! It is called oxidation, but you need more than just oxygen to make it happen! The air is made of oxygen, so it’s always around it, but if there’s any moisture in the atmosphere, it-.”
“When I said I’m probably rusty with sword work, it wasn’t an invitation to blabber on about actual rust!” Akintos told Stocastin. “I just meant that since we haven’t had to use our swords in so long that I’m probably gonna be a little slow with it when we do gotta use it.”
Narcius sarcastically remarked, “You? A little slow? No!”
As Akintos glared at Narcius, Kefalia attempted to buoy Akintos’ spirits up, “Don’t worry, Akintos! I’m sure we’ll run into a monster that requires sword work soon, and you’ll get plenty of practice then!”
“First of all,” Exelda put in, “if you had just practiced regularly like you were supposed to, you wouldn’t be rusty!”
“Don’t act like you didn’t skip practice more than we did!” Akintos argued. “That baby in your stomach is proof that you were too busy playing with Dason’s ‘sword’ to do much with your own!”
Kefalia puzzled, “What does it matter whose sword she used?”
Stocastin piped up, “Technically, infants don’t come from a woman’s stomach! It’s another organ that-.”
“We didn’t do it all the time! We’re not animals!” Exelda refuted. “Okay, Dason’s a bird right now, but still! We did practical things too!” She mulled it over for a second and then added, “But I guess I haven’t spent enough time with you guys lately, have I?’
“Wait, playing with Dason’s sword…!” Kefalia looked as though she caught on to Akintos’ euphemism, but then she frowned again. “No, no, I still don’t get it!”
Narcius responded to Exelda, “We used to think you were too strict, but when you’re not around, Impusa takes charge! She’s mean! So, yes, we would prefer to have you around more often!”
Exelda could see that they missed her more than what they voiced out loud, and she got touched. “Aw, I’m sorry you guys! When we get Dason back and save Chaos from Mercinon, I’ll schedule more time with you, I promise!”
“You always say when it happens, don’t you mean if it happens?” Akintos posed to her.
“No, she doesn’t!” Stocastin differed. “We have a hundred percent success rate so far, and unless we encounter a monster with significantly more skill level than what we’ve faced so far, odds are we’ll continue to flourish and achieve our end goal!”
Narcius shuddered. “What if we do run into a monster that’s harder to beat than the ones we’ve faced so far? Oh Kratos, we’ll be doomed!”
Exelda admonished him, “Don’t talk like that! We’re not gonna encounter anything we can’t handle!” They came across a group of trees with a large scorch mark on them, and as they stared in apprehension, Exelda assured them, “That’s not necessarily from a dangerous creature! Look at Akintos! He can produce fire and he’s not all that dangerous!”
Don’t say that so loud! I don’t want to sound weak to the dragon!” Akintos fretted.
“There’s no dragon!” Exelda insisted. “That probably came from something else!”
Akintos, Narcius, and Stocastin seemed doubtful about her claim, but Kefalia busted out in laughter. Stocastin queried, “You now understand Akintos’ comical reference about the sword, don’t you?”
She nodded as she continued her fit of giggles, and then she froze. “Oh great! We’re about to face a dragon and we just lost our person who could meet them in the sky!” Narcius complained.
“There’s no dragon!” Exelda repeated as she picked up Kefalia and draped her over her shoulder. “We’re going to a paper mill to see if they’ve seen one of the golden feathers, and that’s it! Nothing too crazy! Who knows, maybe it’ll be as simple as them handing it to us when we get there!”
Akintos, Stocastin, and Narcius traversed down the path nervously, their eyes darting everywhere as if they expected an ambush to occur at any moment. The trees above Narcius rustled, and Narcius screamed, “Aah! It’s the dragon! Hide me!”
Narcius hid behind Exelda, and with her free hand, Exelda pushed him away from her. “It’s just a squirrel!” she crossly informed him.
“So? Just ‘cause it’s small doesn’t mean it can’t breathe fire” Narcius bit his nails as he warily walked.
“I thought with your noble ancestor’s blood running through your veins that you’d want to show off your innate prowess and defeat any monster that dared to come your way!” Exelda prodded him.
Narcius’ stance and demeanor changed completely upon that characterization. “That’s right! I come from the most decorated soldier in Greece’s history, so I can conquer anything put before me! By myself if I wanted to! I’m that strong and brave!” Akintos stepped on a twig, and the sound of its snap made Narcius let out a high-pitched yelp. Exelda rolled her eyes but otherwise chose not to respond.
They came across a cozy building with a water wheel that churned into the nearby river and a sign that read: Chartikano Paper Mill, so Exelda reminded everyone, “Alright, we don’t want these people to turn us away for any reason, so please no more talk about dragons!”
Akintos probed, “What if they bring it up?”
Exelda shook her head exasperatedly before knocking on the front door. After a small wait, a tall, beefy man with a gruff appearance came to the entrance. His bushy mustache covered his lips, so they couldn’t tell if he had a genial disposition or not. He noticed Kefalia on Exelda’s shoulders and raised an eyebrow, so Exelda hastily explained, “She’s injured… Anyways, we’re here on an important quest, and we were wondering-.”
“I don’t have any money!” The man huffed as he tried to shut the door.
“That’s okay, her boyfriend has loads of it!” Kefalia regarded him through gritted teeth.
The man clearly got confused by the whole situation, so Exelda clarified for him, “We’re searching for an important object that may save our polis, and we just wanted to know-.”
To their surprise, the man’s ears perked up as he listened to something in the distance. “Did you hear that?”
“That might’ve been me,” Akintos admitted. “I didn’t think it was noisy enough to-.”
“You better come inside!” the man barked. He had an aura of authority to him that made them immediately obey his word, and they hastily followed him into the paper mill.
They entered a small but active workshop, and the employees were busy enough that no one acknowledged that visitors were now present. The man who let everyone in stood before them wringing his hands, and he apologized, “Listen, I’d love to help you guys out, but we’re not making a profit right now! We lost a lot of revenue after the attacks.”
That last sentence got Exelda’s attention. “Attacks? Who’s been attacking you? Villagers?”
“No,” the man reported to her.
“Damn!” Exelda expressed in dismay.
Akintos questioned him, “So, it was a monster! Was it a dragon?”
The man shook his head. “It’s not a dragon…”
“Told you!” Exelda emphatically conveyed to the other heroes.
“It’s so much worse than that!” the man revealed.
Exelda and the others’ eyes widened in dread to receive that message, and Akintos chided Exelda, “Still feel like taking that victory lap?”
Narcius was practically shaking at the concept that the man raised. “How could it possibly be worse than a dragon?”
“We do not speak of it!” The man shivered from the memories of it. “All I know is that it’s destroyed a lot of our trees, and no man has been able to slay it! It’s injured a number of my workers too! So, I’m sorry we can’t support your project! I’ve had to pay out too much money already for protective measures. I can’t spare anymore!”
“We don’t need your money!” Exelda iterated. “We’re just looking for-.”
A man who appeared as though he worked for the paper mill burst the door open, and he tried to quickly shut it behind him, but something pushed against it and prevented him from doing that. He cried out, “I’m sorry, Mylos! I tried to stop it from getting here!”
Mylos ran to a bell handing off of the wall and clanged it loudly. All of his employees stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to him. Mylos ordered, “Everyone hide! Now!” He faced the heroes and addressed them, “We’ll find a place a place for you to hide too!”
Narcius and Akintos nearly went with him, but Exelda pulled them back and declined Mylos’ offer, “No! We’re monster hunters, we can take care of this!”
Mylos seemed doubtful as he left them there, and Akintos, Narcius, and Stocastin appeared just as scared. Kefalia slid off of Exelda’s shoulders and rejoiced, “Yay! I can move again!”
Exelda drew out her sword, and the others followed suit. The man at the door let go of his barricade, and the heroes prepared themselves for the worst. To their great bewilderment, they discovered that the creature behind the door was an ordinary-looking chicken! “It’s the monster behind the rooster?” Kefalia inquired.
“Don’t underestimate it!” Mylos warned them from beneath a worktable. “It’s more powerful than it looks!”
“Oh, yeah, sure!” Narcius cockily strolled towards the fowl. “If this bird really frightens you that much, I’ll take care of it for you!” He ignored Mylos’ urging him not to approach the beast, raised his sword, and challenged the chicken, “Alright, birdy! Do your worst!” The rooster opened his mouth, but instead of clucking, it let out a huge cloud of fire! Narcius let out a high-pitched scream before using his super speed to evade the flames. “I didn’t mean it that way!”
Exelda commanded, “Narcius, hurry! Get some water and put that fire out!” The chicken struck again, so she added, “And that one too!”
Kefalia, Akintos, and Exelda attacked it from three different sides but could never reach it as they avoided its fiery breath. Stocastin turned invisible, and after the other three got it to where he could strike it, an unseen hand beheaded it! The heroes exhaled in relief, but Mylos cautioned them, “It’s not over yet!”
“What are you talking about?” Akintos retorted. With horror, they watched as its head grew back onto its body! “Oh, that’s what you’re talking about!”
Akintos, Kefalia, and Stocastin resumed lobbing off its limbs while Narcius expediently fetched water to put out the things that the chicken caught on fire. Exelda shouted to them, “We can’t kill it that way! We need to do something different!”
Stocastin hollered back, “It’s a little hard to think right now!”
Exelda grabbed a sledgehammer and waited for it to pass her. When the rooster did, she dropped the sledgehammer on its head! The creature didn’t die, but it couldn’t get up! As it flailed on the floor, Exelda exclaimed, “There! Now, how do we kill it?”
“Maybe water would put it out like it does with its fires,” Kefalia suggested.
“Good idea!” Exelda praised her.
Kefalia puzzled, “It is? Gee, I’m not used to hearing that!”
Stocastin sagely asserted, “We’ve gone over this before! It’s not like you’ve never had a good idea. It doesn’t happen often, but wisdom comes from experience, and with-.”
“We could try throwing it into the river,” Exelda interrupted his longwinded talk. “If we keep it tied to…”
Mylos halted this plan, “No! Hold on!”
Akintos raved, “Are you serious? You guys wanted it gone a minute ago, and now you want to save its life? Why? Why? Why?”
“It regenerates itself, and it can’t move, right? Well, that means it could be butchered continuously! We could harvest its meat and sell it at the market! Maybe it’ll make up for the profits we lost from the damage it caused!” Mylos grew excited at the prospect, and his employees agreed with him.
“Well, if it ever escapes, try water!” Exelda relented. “Come on, guys! Let’s go!”
Stocastin requested, “Wait! There’s a book there that-!”
Exelda reproached Stocastin, “The Chemistry of Paper? Oh, Stocastin, when are we ever gonna use this?”
Stocastin shot back, “Hey! I don’t reprimand you for your sordid hobbies! Besides, I actually didn’t intend to have a literature discussion! Behold what he used to mark his place!”
“You found a feather! Way to go!” Exelda lauded him.
“Oh, you were looking for that feather? Why didn’t you say so?” Mylos commented to them.
Exelda grew incensed by that, but she chose to let it go. “Thank you for your time! Good luck with your paper mill slash butcher’s shop!” The workers all merrily waved to them as they exited the building.