Chapter 32: On the Road
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We had been on the road to Cerus for a little while when I noticed that Berla kept looking down, as if examining the dirt in front of her.

“Everything okay?” I asked her.

“Yeah, it’s nothing.”

After my question she stopped doing it, but I did feel like she had looked at the road for a reason. All I saw was a well-used dirt road, however. I was expecting Miles to chime in and say something about my observations, but instead he said ‘We should test the black stone tonight.’

You’re in your own little world again, aren’t you?

“I am curious about it as well,” I said, while gesturing to the others that I was talking to Miles, “but don’t we have more important things to worry about?”

‘You mean the mana? That script we can test as well, I just finished the prototype.’

“And you’re onto the next one already,” I said with a chuckle. I could hardly blame him. He enjoyed scripting a lot and it was probably pretty boring up there otherwise. It wasn’t like he had anything else to do. I was wondering once more what it would be like to be just a voice in someone’s head, when Berla suddenly stopped, pulled out a dagger, and turned around, letting one of her crutches fall to the floor.

I quickly glanced behind us as well and saw a beast standing in the middle of the road, about ten meters behind us. Just like the two times we had seen beasts back in Alarna, it was just staring at us, unmoving. It even looked like the ones we had seen in town. Me and Riala each grabbed a blue stone and raised our arms, when a voice came from the beast’s mouth.

“You are the anomaly?” it said in a raspy voice, looking straight at me.

Even though I had heard from Miles that the second beast back then had said something to him, actually hearing it yourself was still mind boggling. I glanced at Riala and Berla, who were similarly staring at it with wide eyes and open mouths.

“Did... that beast... just say something?” Berla said, unbelieving.

It was good to know that this wasn’t common and surprised a seasoned Fighter just as much as it did us. I had a clean line of fire, but I was so startled that the thought of shooting had momentarily disappeared from my mind. I felt a tuck at my clothes from my right and looked down at Riala, who had turned around again. Glancing behind us I could see another beast staring at us.

“I asked you a question, Human,” the first beast said.

A question? It hadn’t even really registered. Still in a daze, all I could say was “What was the question?”

“Why is this beast talking!?” Berla blurted out.

It snarled at her for just a moment and then turned to me again. “Why do you smell like that, Human?”

Riala was aiming at the second beast, while I was still pointing my arms at the one in front of us. It might’ve been smarter to simply kill them, but curiosity overcame me.

“Smell like what?” I asked.

“That’s what I want to know. You do not smell human, Human.”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to that, I am human.”

I had no idea what was happening right now. I briefly considered whether it was talking about the mana, but Miles reminded me that we didn’t have it yet when he heard a beast talk for the first time.

‘The other one said we “smelled funny”...’

The beast’s ears perked up when Miles said that. “That’s why... How did you get in there?” it said.

Just like the “god” before, this beast was apparently able to hear Miles. Is this good or bad? I wondered. The god didn’t seem happy about it, but a god being able to hear him at least seemed reasonable, unlike a wild beast.

‘Before I answer that, would you mind answering a question of mine? How is it that you can talk?’

“You’re in no position to ask questions,” the beast snorted.

‘It would help if we knew what kind of position we are in.’

“Can we just take care of them and be on our way?” the other beast suddenly said.

Great, they can both talk... and they do want to kill us.

“Riala,” I whispered, “aim carefully.”

She nodded and prepared herself.

“Just a moment,” the first one said in response to the second one. “You, why were you in that town? And inside a human no less?”

“We don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said in place of Miles. “Where should he have been?”

The beast became quiet as it looked us over. It knew something we didn’t, but it wouldn’t freely share. I considered ways we could make it talk, but we didn’t have the right scripts prepared for immobilizing such a strong enemy.

‘Maybe we can help each other out, we both have questions.’

Reading the facial features of something with a snout wasn’t as simple as with a human, but if I had to guess, I’d say it looked like it was smirking.

“If you don’t have an answer to that particular question, your answers have no worth to me,” it said, before addressing its partner. “Let’s get this over with.”

No sooner had it spoken these words than both beasts launched and ran straight at us. Riala and I both used our scripts, but only one of them reached its target. She had hit the beast straight in the face, leaving a hole that it wouldn’t recover from. It fell to the ground before reaching us.

The other beast, however, managed to evade my water stream. In the split second before the attack would’ve hit it, it moved a step to the side and kept coming at us. I froze in surprise and the beast was upon me in no time. The only reason I wasn’t killed on the spot when it tried to go for my throat was because Berla shoved me out of the way. I stumbled over Riala and we both fell to the ground, but the beast had missed us.

It immediately tried to go after me again, but Berla jumped onto its back and repeatedly tried to stab it with her dagger. This didn’t appear to do much damage, but it was enough to distract the beast. Riala and I got to our knees and tried to shoot it point blank, but a fraction of a second before we fired, the beast jumped out of the way, with Berla still on its back.

‘Damn it!’ Miles said in frustration.

We had been at full capacity and we weren’t using our strongest scripts, but if we kept missing, we would quickly run out of mana. We had never had a situation where a beast managed or even just tried to evade our attacks.

‘We have to catch it off guard!’

“Riala, stay here and shoot it when I tell you to!” I instructed.

The beast tried to shake Berla, who was still doing her best to stab through its thick hide. By the looks of it, she was only managing to cause shallow wounds, however. When the beast ran straight at a tree and tried to ram into it to hit Berla, she finally jumped off and the beast ran into the trunk alone.

“Now!” I told Riala. With Berla out of the way she had a clean shot. Meanwhile, I was distancing myself from her, in an attempt to cut off the beast.

When it saw her shoot, it immediately evaded again, turning away from both Berla and Riala, in the only free direction, where I was waiting for it. With what looked like a shocked expression, it saw a stream of water shoot at it from my palm, unable to change its direction quickly enough with its current momentum. The water shot through its face and parts of its body, leaving a twenty centimeter wide hole. It dropped dead in the grass at the side of the road.

I was panting heavily and quickly looked around to make sure Berla and Riala were uninjured. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” said Riala, while Berla just nodded, both panting as well.

We all checked our surroundings, but we seemed to be alone with the two dead beasts. I finally let myself fall to the ground as well.

“‘What the fuck was that!?’”

***

We decided to rest for a little while and talked about the attack. Everything about it seemed strange. Even putting the “talking beasts” part aside for now, these were the first ones that had attacked us directly out here. During our four days in the woods, we had only seen three beasts. Two we had evaded and the last one was the bear that had attacked Berla.

“What category was this one?” she said, confused, looking at the one we had struggled to kill. “It looks like a cat three, but it was way too tough. I couldn’t slash its throat and my dagger would barely penetrate its flesh. This isn’t normal.”

“Talking beasts aren’t normal either, right?” I asked her.

“I don’t even want to think about that part... I’ve heard of intelligent beasts before, but never about ones that could talk! And why were they looking for you?”

It seemed like the beast had been specifically interested in Miles, as if it wanted to correct some mistake, because he had been supposed to be somewhere else. Not in Alarna and especially not inside my mind. I told Berla about the second water source incident, where Miles had heard a beast talk before, as well as what he had said to the beast, because she had only heard the beast’s part of the conversation.

“You said you weren’t dangerous, but you do seem to attract unusual and dangerous problems,” Berla said with a frown.

“‘That’s not exactly our fault,’” Miles said and I forwarded it.

“Maybe not... but at what point does it become a problem for others?” she said. “An entire group of soldiers died, trying to catch you. Guards died during the beast incidents. Little Riala over there got roped into everything, and she could’ve died very easily as well just now.”

She was telling me that it might be better for everyone if I was gone. If I had become a Mad One, I would’ve been killed, but none of this would’ve happened. All those people might still be alive. As well as Mother. And Riala would still be safe within the town walls, with her sister.

I looked over to the young girl, who was... petting the dead beast...?

“It’s all fluffy!” she said with a bright smile. It was a surreal scene.

“We can’t change any of it anymore,” I said, chuckling at the absurdity of what we were looking at. “If”, “Maybe”, “Perhaps”, none of it really mattered. We had done our best, and we would keep doing so.

“Are you really okay with dying for the greater good?” I asked her. “I’m not ready for it yet. And what would become of Riala? Or do you want her to kill herself as well?”

Berla looked at the girl with a sad expression. In a way, we were three dead men walking. Back in Alarna, Riala and I would’ve probably been executed already. And if Berla was to go back, they would thank her for her service and then “put her to rest,” whatever that meant exactly. We would have to fight to turn our life around, but I believed that we could do it.

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