Chapter Four: A Change in Scenery

I started my journey with this adventuring group, it is great that they bought my ruse that they so graciously offered up. The key to being a good liar is to always mix truths with lies and to not over embellish the act, and I learned that from when my aunt took care of me.

Johnathan walked up to me with stars in his eyes, “Hey, I know I probably shouldn’t ask this, but did you get to meet the Earl? Was your house recently promoted, because don’t ever remember hearing of a house called Wilson. Have you –”

“By the gods, shut up Johnathan! Sorry about my cousin Sir Wilson; for he has always wanted to visit the capitol and meet one of the famed Griffinknights,” says Otis.

“Yes, why I admire his energy the less I talk about myself the safer you all will be,” I say with an authoritative tone which even shocked me.

Another collective shudder runs throughout the party; good as long as they don’t ask too many questions I should be able to keep up this façade until I manage to find a road to civilization and away from this group. They honestly seem like a good group of people, but I am not gonna take the chance of my lie being seen through because so many things could go wrong if my true identity were to be revealed; not even as an otherworlder, but as someone that doesn’t even have a sort of noble prestige. It’s really surprising how people will suddenly flip their personality once they find out what that person’s social ranking is.

 “Where exactly are we going?” I asked.

“We are going to Wildwood, it shouldn’t be too far now Sir Wilson.” Said Sophia.

I turned away from the group to hide my expressions; I knew that the path out here was uneven but since we are near this village the road should at least be flattened out by people coming to and from the city.

“There it is!” said Johnathan as he picks up the pace and jogs ahead of the group. Something feels wrong here, there is no sign of anyone being here as of late and this group has great teamwork from what I have seen. For all they know that manticore is still alive if Johnathan is running ahead of the group, then that should mean he feels comfortable enough to do so.

My heart started to pound as paranoia started to set in, then I slowly lowered my hand to the dagger on my belt if he is comfortable enough to do that can only mean that he really is just that naïve… or they are setting up an ambush.

A cold sweat starts rolling down my back. I am outnumbered and definitely outgunned here, and I ended up losing my spear to the manticore after Beau burnt it alive. I was foolish to just believe them about being nobles, so I slowly start to pull out the dagger, then all of a sudden I see Johnathan running back with a large grin on his face and I gasp in awe. 

The earth slowly trembles as the ground begins to open up like a maw of a giant monster. Loose rocks tumble over the opening and the tree roots are now exposed, as I gaze upon the mouth of the newly formed cave, and I could also see a wide cobblestone path on the inside of this cave, as it snaked deeper into the darkness, like a gray tongue. The cave opening had to be tens of yards wide and twenty yards tall.

I looked at the other members of the party after hastily recomposing to see their reaction, and of course, they were acting as if this was completely normal. It is honestly astonishing how something like this can happen. The party members went ahead and Sophia shot me a weird look, “Is everything fine Sir Wilson?”

“Y-yeah, everything is fine,” I say trying to not look awkward, but I could feel that I was getting slightly red from embarrassment as I followed them into the cave.

A series of spiraling stalagmites lined the sides of the cobble path as we ventured deeper into the underground. It was at this moment I realized that there were lights ahead of us and that the further we got away from the opening of the cave the more light from the outside started to fade. I could also hear something up ahead, as we got closer to the lights, and it sounded like a faint hum.

Then the lights started to move, like actually moving backward, and things got weirder when the light dispersed into multiple smaller lights that would move freely on their own. “What the hell?” I muttered as the lights began to all converge once again in front of a large stone wall not too far ahead.

Once we reached the wall Sophia stepped ahead and whispered something while touching the wall with her fingers. The wall began to open up and what was revealed shocked me.

The lights flew ahead through the doorway-sized hole and revealed a bustling underground medieval city. Just within eyesight, I could see the whole place was illuminated by these flying lights as well as the crystals that made me reminiscent of the cave I have been living in with Beau.

A smile broke out on my face that soon disappeared as a new emotion ripped through my body. Guilt, but before I could get lost in self-thought Sophia motioned for us to continue forward, and as we couldn’t hear her above the noise that was coming from the newly formed crowd that was cheering at the parties’ presence.

“They’re back, they’re finally back!” Shouted one man above all the voices. A short, balding, and pudgy-looking man scrambled his way to the front of the crowd, and as he was pushing his way through the crowd beside his appearance there was one other thing I noticed about him. His smell and dear God was it awful it was like some horrific mixture of rusting car batteries and molding wood. It was so bad I had to take a few steps back when he raced up to Jonathan and firmly grasped his hand shaking it fiercely.

“Sir Johnathan! You finally managed to kill the beast, right!?” He said with a frantic fervor.

“Unfortunately not, my friend, but we do have good news. We have reason to believe that it has been driven off.” Wait, how would Johnathan come to that conclusion, unless… Damnit! He probably saw the spines by the cooking pot! 

As I began to internally panic the pudgy man’s face seemed to shift momentarily through what seemed to be fear, panic, shock, and back to happiness.

“Excellent my friend! We shall celebrate!” He exclaimed with glee.

“Drinks and food are on me!” said one man in the crowd, and before I knew it the party was pulled in by the crowd of people to a nearby bar. I quickly followed behind keeping an eye on Johnathan as he and the party were quickly seated at the bar. He is a lot more perceptive than I expected.

“You again! Get out runt this isn’t a charity!” shouted a man sitting at the bar shoving a young boy away from getting a leg of chicken on the counter.

I stood by the entrance of the bar trying to keep a low profile, but then something interesting happened. “Ah, sorry miss.” Said the young boy who just got yelled at; he bumped into Sophia making her stumble on her way to the counter.

“Oh don’t worry about it, it’s fine.” She said, smiling back, shifting her attention back to the bar. The boy with his simple hand-woven tunic and pants blended in perfectly with the rest of the crowd as I watched him struggling through the crowd attempting to squeeze his way through to the entrance, and as he passed by me I ‘accidentally’ brushed myself against him.

The boy then started to head outside and down the street and then I began to slowly follow him outside. The boy hastily rounded his way around into an alley, not even bothering to look over his shoulder to check if someone was following him, and I could only internally shake my head at such a rookie mistake.

He stopped walking once he thought he was far enough only to turn out his pockets realizing that he had nothing, “Hey kid are looking for this?” I say pulling out Sophia’s coin purse. His eyes went wide and he began to turn and run, but before even I could think I had suddenly pinned him to the ground, pressing my knee in between his shoulder blades and pulling back his arms like they were reins of a horse.

“Now what did you have to do that for, I only wanted to ask you a question,” I said as I gritted my teeth, then he cried out in pain and I quickly loosened my grip after realizing that I was crushing the boy’s hand.

I got up, helping him to his feet, but making sure I was still able to grab him just in case he tried to run again. I took off my helmet allowing my dirty blonde locks to breathe and apologized, “Sorry kid, didn’t mean to scare ya that badly. Just to let you know you should be careful who you steal from.”

He mumbled something incomprehensible, “Kid come on don’t mutter, speak up if you’re going to talk.”

He looks up with watery eyes, “You mean you’re not going to turn me into the city guard?”

I had to stop myself from laughing at that, after all, I would have to turn myself in given how many wallets I‘ve had to steal in the past. “No kid I am not going to turn you in, I just wanted to know something.”

“Oh, what did you need to know?” He said nonchalantly.

“What did you need the money for?” 

He grimaced, “I needed food for my father.”

“Okay follow me.” I led the boy back into the bustling bar where the party sat at the head counter and went straight to the middle-aged man tending the bar and asked him, overall the ruckus, for nice helpings of the peppered steak and baked potatoes saw other customers having.

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He raised an eyebrow at the statement, probably why I wanted three cuts, but I was served anyway. On my back to the entrance of the bar, I slipped Sophia’s coin purse from my hands close enough that she could hear the coins clinking together. He followed me back into the alley as I gave him two of the wooden platters and said. “Take me to your father.”

He nodded and we wove our way throughout the multiple sub-branches of the alley, which gave me time to admire the silent walk to where his father lived. The buildings reminded me heavily of Frankenmuth, Michigan, and the cobbled pathway and the torch sconces set in that I was no longer home.

It wasn’t the plush dragon or the eldritch abomination that was the manticore, it was the city with its damp chill that hung in the air, the rustic architecture that felt like I was going back in time, and people that sounded and looked human, but somehow felt alien.

“We’re here.” He points to a small, poorly cobbled-together shack that is at the dead-end of the alley. I furrowed my brow and went ahead into the shack and saw how desperate the boy was. His father was laying on what appeared to be a makeshift hammock that was a bunch of burlap sacks woven together, and the shack was lit by feeble candlelight that barely illuminated the place. I set the food down by the door and walk over to the father to see his condition.

The man groaned and turned over revealing his visage, he resembled an older version of the boy perfectly, at least if the boy was in his fifties except for the fact part of his face was horribly disfigured. The left side of his face had three deep cuts on the side with part of his nose missing as well as his left eye revealing the pale bone beneath, and it was almost completely hairless and looked like he had some serious chemical burns. A pit-like feeling raised in my stomach as it resembled a similar burn from a former coworker of mine. When I was in Detroit working in a metal shop his ex came into the shop and threw industrial grade degreaser on him.

“What caused this?”

The boy began to tremble behind as he muttered out, “Monster… with an old man’s face, and… And.” He began to break out into a silent sob as he tried to get the words out.

I leaned over and hugged him saying, “It’s okay, alright. You don’t need to say anymore.”

Only allowed on

The boy nodded his head and wiped away the forming tears, looking at the plates of food that I had brought with me. I nodded to him and he picked up the plates for his father and him. I told him to take care as I left his home with my steak eating it with my hands and I went back to the bar.

As much as I wanted to stay and try to help them, I have my own worries to deal with right now, and I can only hope that my little bit of help can go a long way. I shuddered at the thought that the manticore or something like it did that to a human being, and I recalled one of the party members saying that the creature was made. What kind of sick bastard makes something like that. 

Well aside from the depressing stuff at least I know where some civilization is so I can come back here in case I need supplies. I just need to know how to get in and out of town and I’ll be good to go.

I walk into the bar again to see the party chatting it up and I go and say quietly, “Thank you very much for bringing me here, but could you tell me how to get in and out of here? I would like to get back to my dra-, griffin.”

“Of course Sir Wilson, just leave and come through the backdoor as we did, the main entrance is under repair after the dark alchemist decided to cause a cave-in,” said Sophia.

“Sophia, don’t forget to tell him the entrance word,” said Johnathan in a joking manner.

“Ah, yes the entrance word is, ‘Edgar the 13th’.”

“Thank you very much, for your assistance,” I say shaking hands with the party telling them farewell for now. I made my way back to the entrance we came through and I began to leave heading back to Beau and our cave. Hoping that she is doing alright, and hoping I can get to understand my dragon a bit better.

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