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I took the spear I had used for fishing earlier and I left before anyone else, aiming to go to the top of one of the mountains and use that to look around. But just a short way up the mountain, after fighting through thick vines, and observing how many of them had thorns, I decided that plan wasn’t as good as it had seemed at first. So I went back down, into the valleys between the mountains, and began to explore lower.
The air was clean, and there was no dust visible despite the forest around me being dense. But, I still kept my facemask on. Just in case. Getting sick from the dust would be even harder to deal with out here this far from the village than it was back in the village… I didn’t want to take even a single risk. As I walked, I noticed every branch snapping under my feet, every leaf brushing against my tail and narrowly avoiding getting stuck, every bird taking flight. Part of me wanted to see if I could catch one, but I had no bow and no arrows with me, and even if I had, I wasn’t as good with them as I was daggers, even while hunting.
Having shadow magic helped with that; what Storm and I had said to our father earlier… wasn’t the total truth. Neither of us knew how to fully control our magic, but the worst of it seemed to have died down since the dungeon fell. That much was true. But both of us did still use it. We could sense shifts in shadows, and detect the shadows of living beings if we focused. We could hide ourselves in the shadows completely and disappear from everyone’s view. We could sense when someone else was doing the same- most of the time, anyway.
Neither of us had tried to do what we had done when the dungeon fell. Neither of us wanted to. None of our siblings questioned why- they had all seen why. Our mom didn’t question why but told us every time we spoke to her about it that nobody could blame either of us for it, and had pointed out that the humans we killed had never shown remorse for anything they had done, had beaten everyone in the dungeon at one point or another for showing emotions. Really… the humans had what happened coming for centuries.
But Storm and I couldn’t help but fear. What if something happened and we ended up hurting those who didn’t deserve it…? With anger, and with fear, we both lost control of our powers. And there was a lot of fear in the village, even now that we had settled, and were surviving well.
We both still had the magic that we used to- we felt it in ourselves, a black flame that burned in our hearts and veins. And we didn’t like it.
I couldn’t help but feel… everyone around us would be safer without us.
A flock of birds nearby took off out of a tree and flew desperately towards the ocean, snapping me out of my thoughts. I didn’t have time to let myself fall into a spiral of self-hatred; that could wait until I got back to the village, and could find somewhere to hide with Storm until it passed. I needed to look for anything useful… anything interesting. I kept moving, focusing solely on my surroundings.
It wasn’t long into the night when I had reached the ocean from another angle. The new beach I had found had similar sand to the other beach, but also had wooden debris and human bones and decay scattered around it from a few years ago. The humans had known that the dungeon fell, and tried to come after us. Storm and I had been farther in the mountains fighting them, but we had come to this beach once our fight was over to help their fight. The humans had brought boats and were throwing the largest balls of fire I had ever seen at us from them. There were still craters on the beach and on the mountain sides from it; however, there had been enough of our mages on the beach to hold the humans back and stop them from reaching the rest of the beaches. On the other side of our territory, there was a similar old battlefield, covered in the remains of humans. Some of us wanted to have more frequent patrols on those beaches, but it was pointless to do so. There had been very few ships since those battles- none of which had come past the horizon. And the only humans who had come into the mountains either quickly died from the dust, or they fled the moment they saw us, sometimes screaming, sometimes running too fast to waste their breath doing so. We generally let them go.
Something about the beach… felt off. I didn’t know what it was. Nothing seemed to have changed. But… I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something around there that I needed to see. I walked up, a little farther into the hills to get a better look at the beach. When I reached the top of the hill though, I didn’t need to look back down at the beach: there was a cave that I hadn’t noticed before that had something glowing and shimmering inside it.
Something to do with the dust. Almost acting on an instinct, I tensed up a little bit and focused on the cave fully and the shadows within. There was a large being- who was acting strange… probably infected fully with the dust. There was a much smaller thing, hiding farther back, afraid. It was wounded badly.
I approached, hiding myself in the shadows and night as I pulled out my dagger, ready to fight if that was necessary… and mentally bracing myself for what I might see.
The cave itself smelled of blood and rot, and the blood dried everywhere had a thick shimmer to it. There was dust in this cave- a lot of it. And there was, in the center of the cave, a large creature with a stocky build and swollen, scarred legs. It had a long, slim face and hooves much larger than mine, and its fur seemed to have become thorns over time with exposure to the dust. Blood had dried on its maw and flanks, forming a shimmering plate that seemed to protect its skin. It was gnawing on the bones and meat of a large goat… and in the back of the cave was a baby goat… with a similar scent to the goat that was being eaten…
The baby goat was wounded, but not fatally. There was some shimmering blood on it, but it didn’t seem to be aggressive yet. So… I decided to save it. Besides, it was small enough to where if it turned aggressive, I’d be able to kill it quickly. And if it didn’t turn aggressive, and survived, maybe it could help us figure out something about the dust…
I held my dagger a little more tightly, and crouched in the shadows, tensing my legs, ready to jump. And I leaped onto the large beast’s back, quickly stabbing it just at the base of the neck, and then again, and again on the other side. I jumped off of the beast as it reared up onto its hind legs and fell backwards, trying to crush me under it. As I got away, I stabbed it one more time in the side, digging my dagger under the plate of blood protecting it. It roared out in pain, before falling on the ground and snapping its dripping red jaws towards my torso. I jumped back, and out of its range, and picked up the smaller goat, which started crying out and struggling, not understanding that I wasn’t going to hurt it.
I didn’t need to kill the beast. It wasn’t a direct danger to anyone; it seemed to be just preying on animals, not people yet. That would change, but we could deal with that later. I just needed to get the baby goat out of there.
Especially as the air around the ocean began to shimmer and give off an eerie glow that changed colors- just as the dust did.
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