“Yep, just as it was last time. Here, come look!”
Vaughn beckoned me over as he held some brush to the side, revealing the view that was hidden by the brush. What greeted us was a rather old, run-down church and the rubble of what looked like a few cabins strewn about. We saw inclines on all sides as we looked back around it, making this spot almost completely recessed into the ground. Just to our left, to the side of the church, there was a pond that stretched maybe a hundred meters the other way. Guessing the size of this depression, it was roughly a football field and-a-half in size. It was unbelievable that something like this had gone unseen for so long or that mother never mentioned it.
“How the heck did this get here? I could swear I never saw it before.”
I crossed my arms as I thought, stepping back for a moment to do so.
"On all sides, it just looks like the brush opens up some. you can't tell it's a hole until you're up against it. I found it on accident when I nearly walked straight in along the other side where the brush is kind of thick."
Vaughn pointed to a thicket just on the other side of the depression.
"Christ, Vaughn, you couldn't be more careful?"
The fact that he almost went headlong over the still traversable ledge actually scared me some. That he quite possibly could have disappeared a day or two ago was not a fun thought.
"You have to be a bit more careful around this place. Seriously Vaughn!"
"Jeeeez, it's fine. I'm alive, aren't I? C'mon, I wanted you to see inside!"
Vaughn pushed through the brush just in front of us and started shuffling down the wall of the depression, almost at a jog. He only stopped just as he reached the bottom and jogged to a halt on the lush grass at the bottom.
Jesus! Is this why the mortality rate is so high?
"Hey! Come on! I'm already down here; you gonna keep me waiting?"
Vaughn was now waving back up at me.
Haaahhh... fuck it, live a little. Some exploration won't hurt me.
Sighing to myself, I grabbed the brush by its base and uprooted it, taking advantage of my strength to clear up a good path in and out.
"Let me do something real quick!"
I yelled down to Vaughn as I tossed the brush to the side.
After roughly a minute's worth of work, I'd felled a pair of trees and placed them along the 'entrance' to our new 'hideout.' Doing all this gave a sense of nastolgia by itself. It reminded me of my younger years as a child and teenager when I'd been with my friends. We would go into the woods and build forts out of dead plants and trees when we weren't playing games or watching movies. It was something I never expected to relive.
Maybe Vaughn would want to build a fort with me?... It could add some variance to what we do... Yeah, I'll ask him if he wants to when we're done here.
Smiling to myself in satisfaction, my thoughts were interrupted.
"Are you done?!"
Oh, crap, sorry, Vaughn.
"Sorry, I was caught up with my thoughts!"
I ended up skidding down the hillside myself; thanks to my tail, my balance felt too off to run down the hill as Vaughn did. It was just as fast, and I even stopped right at the bottom, but I had quite a bit of dust on my trousers now.
"Aaaaw, frick, Maria isn't going to be happy... "
Looking back at the hill, it was quite similar in appearance to 'Georgia clay.'
"Awww, I hope this doesn't stain if it gets wet... Haaah, Okay, Vaughn. Where next?"
"Just over here... sorry about your pants."
I waved off Vaughn's apology.
"They were made for it; this is just the first time I've seen red clay here."
"Okay, well, I wanted to show you the temple. It looks stable, and there are no leaks. So we could definitely use it for more than some shade."
With Vaughn guiding me along, I took in the scene once more. In front of us was the church, faded stone with worn paint and the occasional moss; the church stood with only a handful of holes visible on its exterior and broken glass. Looking it up and down, it wasn't too grand, yet it also wasn't something to be passed over. The single-story structure was wide, making it look more like a temple in some respects, although the foundation looked tilted to the right slightly. Its top was angled, presumably to handle the weight of snow from the winters, and the steeple was barren of any color. It was made almost entirely of stone itself, minus the wooden railing and the patina copper bell, now green from the elements. Around the church's base was a large set of wooden double doors, one of them hanging on by a single hinge. Surrounding the building was what looked like the dead remains of various flowers and vegetables. Moving out from there, the depression was rather barren of any other brush other than tall grass littered around the crumbled wooden remains and the cat-tails of the pond.
This place actually seems nice... we could fish here too.
"Okay, you ready?"
Vaughn prodded me for a response, now standing at the door hanging on by a single hinge. Holding it with both hands, he was ready to move the door to the side but was waiting on my prompt.
"This is your tour, Vaughn. Treat me to a good one.~"
Blushing lightly in response, Vaughn nodded with a smile, forcing open the decrepit door. Forcing it open, the interior view greeting us as we entered was not what I expected to say the least. It was relatively clean, considering all that was left were empty wooden picture frames, decrepit-looking wood benches, and statues depicting the Gods along the far wall. Lastly, some wooden doors placed randomly along the walls. There had to be a hand full of rooms here at the very least. Giving the sweetest smile I could, I encouraged Vaughn to continue.
"Honestly, looking at it from the outside, I expected less."
"I know, right? I thought it would be kind of baren. It actually looks like it was abandoned in a hurry... There's plenty strewn about. But no grime, plants, bugs, or rodents... It's actually spotless."
Vaughn walked forward through the benches with me trailing right behind him, curiously looking around as we entered.
"First up, there's a big room just behind the center wall. We could use that as a private room; this big room can be for eating or prepping for our adventures. It would save us some travel time since we're already half an hour's walk from the city."
Maybe... he wouldn't want to build the base then... I can ask him something else? Maybe a bonfire pit.
I almost felt dejected before Vaughn immediately began telling me about his plans for the old building, looking as if he were a boy with a new game or friend. His smile was ear to ear as he talked, and it was actually quite fun to speculate with him, and his excitement was infectious.
"So, the private room in the back-"
Vaught crept the door to the back room open. Greeting us was a rather open room with stone walls, a stone fireplace on the end closest to us, a empty bed frame, and wooden chests that were strewn about were the only things giving an indicator that it was lived in.
"We could line some bunks here, either that or only one person could sleep here. It looks like It would barely fit two beds as it is."
"Yeah, bunks would be good. Though wouldn't that make us bunk-mates?"
Vaughn asked with a brow raised as he turned back to me before looking into the fireplace.
"Wha? How do you think that? Vaughn, the girls get their own bunk!"
I proked Vaughn in the ribs, causing him to move back some.
"Well, I mean, Beryl weighs a ton. She might actually need her own. That puts us in our own bunk."
This guy, is he trying to pull something? Hmmm...
Thinking back a moment, Vaughn may have been right. Beryl would need a larger bed than either of us and if her and my bunk were still the same, we'd need to make it complicated.
Shit, that's even if I could. I already have bad nightmares, supposedly. Would they sleep through them?
"Hmmm, fine, but I get bottom bunk. I don't wanna fall in my sleep, that, and I don't want you sleeping below me."
I brushed off the thought with a quick excuse.
"So, what's next?"
I nudged Vaughn's shoulder as I walked past him, pressing him on to continue his tour.
From there, Vaughn showed me a few storage closets, a bath and chamber, the stairway to the top of the steeple, and the entrance to the basement. Looking down into the basement, it was sealed off by another door at its base.
"Been down here yet?"
Vaughn shook his head.
"Nah, I didn't think that one would be smart to explore alone. It being so out of the way, and the only door that was actually closed when I found this place discouraged me."
Would you look at that? Vaughn has SOME sense of self-preservation.
"Want to open it now that I'm here?"
Conveniently enough, this is my chance to look tough for him.
Vaughn took a moment to think before nodding.
"Sure, how do you wanna go about it. I figure you'd probably be our leader when we start adventuring."
"Not Beryl? She'd be the backline and could see things easier."
Vaughn shook his head.
"Nah, we're both experienced in our own ways. But you have a two-year head start on us."
Vaughn gave a short thumbs up before leaning against the wall.
"So, what's the plan, 'Leader'?"
"Ugh, don't do that; it makes me want to cringe."
I ended up playfully nudging Vaughn and leaned against the wall next to him.
"Hmmm, I could drop my sword and use my strength to kick the door open. I'd have to use my fists if something was down there; I should be fine, though. I guess you would follow up behind me to grab my tail if I needed help?"
"On your word."
Placing my sword at the corner of one of the statues and tossing my cloak next to it, Vaughn and I psyched ourselves as we walked down the stairs. After bumping our fists together, we ended up getting caught in a giggle fit at how we sounded. A couple of kids talking like they were some experienced dungeoneers was a funny prospect to us at the time. Putting my ear against the door, nothing could be heard from the other side. It wouldn't hurt to continue being cautious, though, so I opted to kick the door at the locking portion. Kicking it correctly, the door should break just at the locking portion, and it would swing open.
"Alright, when I kick it, don't come running in behind me. Get ready to bolt, okay?"
Vaughn nodded confidently.
Mentally, I counted off.
I psyched myself up further, controlling my breath.
I propped my foot to kick off of the stair just behind me.
Kicking off, I forced the foot that came up into the handle of the door, pivoting my hips and transferring the force as hard as I could. A loud resounding crashing noise was heard as the metal mechanism, and locks shattered the wood that encased it, allowing the door to swing inward. After slamming into the wall, it slowly swung back, stopping partially open. Looking into the room, it seemed empty with just an inkling of light bleeding in through the floorboard overhead and some small windows. Figuring things were safe to check out further, I absentmindedly ignored Vaughns's warning to watch my step. This was a clear, regrettable mistake that was realized too late. Almost instantly, I felt a sudden weight grab onto my foot as I stepped forward, throwing my balance off and causing me to stumble.
Before I could even protest, my words were cut off by a loud resounding 'splat' noise.
I tried yelling, but some sort of thick liquid cut off my words. Pushing my body upward off of the ground through the fluid, I was gasping for air and desperately wiping my eyes.
"Ugh- what the fuck?- Gah, what is this stuff?"
I was gasping and coughing up the liquid for a moment before I could finally hear Vaughn and felt something grab my tail.
"Hey Kiyomi, you shou-"
I felt a shock of electricity through my body that nearly made me jump out of my skin after what felt like Vaughn grabbing my tail. The sensation was extreme enough to scare me and pulled out a shriek I didn't think I'd want anyone ever to hear. Snatching my tail from him almost immediately, I looked back to Vaughn and wanted to yell for some reason.
I ended up stuck there for a moment, unable to even voice my feeling. Vaughn looked genuinely worried, though, pulling me from my thought.
I ended up yelling anyway.
"Ah... uh... you might want to get up and run to the pond... you're sitting in a slime... "
Looking down as Vaughn pointed to the ground, I was sitting in what looked like foot-deep slime that covered the entire floor of the basement. It was a rather strange shade of orange, and it could be seen pulsating and lurching about weakly. Realizing what was going on, just at the moment, a light tingling started taking hold over my whole body.
"I'm going to the pond!"
I immediately shot up and almost fell back into the slime from trying to move against the vacuum of the weak monster.
"Do you need help-"
"Nope, just watch out for people! I'm getting in the pond!"
"But what about the River Craw-"
"I'll smash one of those overgrown crab-cows if I have to! I'm taking a bath! Give me a lookout!"
I screamed as I ran up the creaking wooden stairs.
Where'd she even learn language like that? I've only ever heard Pa and some of the soldiers talking like that.
Vaughn thought to himself as he sat at the top of the steeple, leaning against the still sturdy railing.
"It does suck that she fell into a slime... I did say they were out here. That one was kind of big, though."
Vaughn remembered the sight of the flustered demon as she realized what she'd fallen in. It was funny, and it definitely would be a story for the future. Unable to really watch out for her while she bathed, considering she would yell anytime he looked in her direction, Vaughn suggested he watch from the tower since he wouldn't be able to see her too well from there. Part of him couldn't help but feel bad afterward, as almost as soon as Kiyomi made her way out the front door, her clothes were already falling apart, and she was whimpering something that Vaughn couldn't make out. Watching from the tower, she was incessantly scrubbing herself off with the water to no avail. It took nearly half an hour of scrubbing for her to start running back into the temple for her cloak, the only part of her clothes to survive the ordeal.
"Crap... I'm gonna have to carry her back too."
Vaughn remembered that even the boots were nearly pieces of slop by the time she reached the door.
"Pa would kill me if he knew I let her walk back barefoot."
Vaughn looked down to his own feet for a moment.
"Can't give her these. They're too big."
Vaughn said, looking at his own shoes.
Ah well... I guess I'll carry her.
Vaughn sighed mentally before stretching.
"I was hoping we could play or something. Maybe fish or toss stones. Oh well... The sight was worth it."
Kiyomi yelled back up through the steeple.
"I've got my cloak on... can we head back to get some clothes?"
Vaughn yelled back down the steeple, slowly making his way down the steps that lined it.
Even if we don't come back here today... those smiles were worth it.
Vaughn thought back to his discussions with Kiyomi and her obvious encouragement as he walked. Just as he reached the base of the stairs, he was greeted by the very same smile that greeted him all day.
Kiyomi was now grinning at Vaughn; this one was different in nature completely from before. This one seemed controlled.
"Nothing happened today... right? Vaughn?"
Kiyomi's words were slightly confusing.
"What do you-"
"I fell into the slime... and you saw nothing... understood?"
Kiyomi was now grinning, her face flushed as her eyes were cracked open, just barely giving off an amber glow as she did so. It was taking a moment for Vaughn to catch on before he could hear Kiyomi popping each of her knuckles independently with her thumb and her tail started haphazardly whipping from side to side.
"Ah... yeah... I saw nothing."
Vaughn gulped as he scratched his neck, trying to think of anything else to kill the awkward air between them.
With that, Kiyomi and Vaughn made for the exit, stepping out onto the lush grass and making their way home.