Chapter 2: Conflict

Thick cumulonimbus covered the rising sun, hindering its beam lights from peeking through the grayish bulk of clouds. The heavy downpour that plagued the forest yesterday had morphed into a harmless drizzle, though from the looks of it, it wouldn’t have lasted for too long. Waking up was a hard task for the group members that were currently occupying the cave, everyone had gone to sleep completely drenched and mentally exhausted, plus their beddings were not as comfortable as the soft mattress they were used to. Fortunately, it was a new day, so despite the sleepiness, they were pretty much in high spirits. 

“Good morning, guys!” Frank cheerfully greeted as he stretched his stubby limbs before his line of sight fell on the girls who had just woken up, “Ah, of course. Bonjour to you too, ladies.” he crumpled up his face in what he thought was the most charming smile he could muster.

“Haven’t you died yet?” Natasha coldly snorted before she attempted to cover a yawn that escaped from her lips, “Mornin’ guys.” she sat down near the exit of the cave, tiredness oozing out of her body.

Frank instantly looked crestfallen when he noticed that Daphne had ignored him too, his only relief was that at least Sarah waved her hand at him, but she was way too young for his tastes.

“Still harassing the girls, Franky?” Stephen smirked as he leaned his back on the damp rocky wall behind him, earning an accused look from the potbellied man, “So, how are you all faring?”

“My back is killing me, ugh..” Sarah protested with a frown, her hand futilely trying to alleviate the ache, “I wanna go back home!”

“We will… just be patient.”

“Should we report to the authorities about that dangerous animal we came across yesterday?” John who had been silent thus far suddenly chimed in. It was something he had been wondering for minutes now, however, he also couldn’t shake off the feeling that it would be kind of useless, if there really is such a creature lurking in the forest then how the hell didn’t the local authorities notice it? Something was clearly wrong with the whole situation, yet he couldn’t figure out what it was.

“I don’t know man… I doubt they’d believe us anyway,” Stephen sighed, and it seemed that everyone else was also thinking on the same lines as him if their silence was anything to go by.

“I guess you’re right…”

Nobody spoke after that, however, the rumbling sound of Frank’s hungry stomach echoed out, reminding everyone that they hadn’t eaten anything for quite a while. With everything that happened, it had completely slipped off their minds. The problem was that they didn’t even have crumbs, let alone food. Hunting in the forest was an option, especially now since the rain had waned drastically. But it was just that, an option. The encounter with that behemoth was still a fresh experience. Who would dare to go hunt for animals when that monster was skulking in the shadows?

“Uhh… don’t you guys have anything to eat, I’m starving here.” Frank held his belly as he asked.

“Nothing.”

“Nope.”

“Zero.”

“No.”

“I don’t have anything, sorry.”

The rest of the group answered in unison. Frank wasn’t the only one hungry, and truthfully they were a bit displeased at him for brazenly asking for food when they themselves wanted something to munch on. It would have been more appreciated if he actually tried to come up with a solution to their needs instead of whining.

“We should go out and check if we can capture something, even small animals will do. If we don’t gain some sliver of energy then getting out of this forest will be nigh impossible.” Stephen offered after much consideration.

Natasha passed a hand through her hair in frustration, “I agree with you, but… our manpower is rather lacking, and…” she looked hesitant as she voiced out her honest thoughts, “That… thing, is out there Stephen… I…” she felt ashamed for feeling such fear when Stephen and John looked so composed, but it was the bitter truth. She didn’t have any skills that could provide a smidge of help to them, she felt so useless.

“It’s okay…” John interrupted her with a raise of his hand, “We’ll scout the perimeter of this place, whilst avoiding to go further away from it.”

“I’m sorry guys, that… I’m of no help.” Sarah said apologetically, her eyes lowered.

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Daphne took a deep breath as she also confessed, “Yeah… me too, I haven’t done anything helpful since we…” she bit her bottom lip as her heartbeat accelerated, but she continued nonetheless, “got here… and I’m deeply aware that I-I’m a hindrance…” she averted her gaze after that, her difficulty in dealing with people showing up.

“Okay, no need to make the atmosphere so gloomy and depressing all of a sudden,” Stephen started with a smile, “No one is blaming no one, the situation is shitty as hell, we can’t do anything about it but strive forward and get out of this mess.”

“Stephen, language!” Natasha reprimanded.

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“Whatever…” he rolled his eyes, which prompted the group to burst in chuckles. Everyone was tense, so the laughter was very welcome, even Daphne had a small smile on her face. Overall, their mood improved, so they became more active during their subsequent discussion.

However, just as they had started to get engrossed in their debate, a mixture between a rattle and a gurgling sound wafted into the cave, startling everyone into silence. Then the faint sound of bare skin slapping on the ground at regular intervals became clearer and clearer. Someone was coming, that was what they thought.

Could it be the infamous short-sized men John and Stephen talked about?

Nervousness gripped their hearts as they stood up, anxiously waiting for the mysterious cave owners to make their entrance. Their shadows burgeoned in, followed right after by their bodies. The air seemed to coagulate. Nobody was willing to believe what greeted their eyes.

The so-called ‘short-sized’ men couldn’t have been taller than 3 feet, with sickening greenish skin color. Jagged teeth and a wicked-witch kind of nose adorned an incredibly unsightly face, and the only piece of clothing they had was a worn-out loincloth that covered their genitalia. Furthermore, one of them was holding a crass and rusted sword on its wrinkly hand, while the other was gripping an ax.

Black beady eyes stared at the frozen group before the sword-wielder short-sized man belched out that rattling sound anew, this time it was fiercer, one could even feel the hostility pouring out of it.

“Ehm… I-I apologize in the name of the group for the intrusion, w-we’ll depart immediately.” Natasha stuttered out, she felt immense fear looking at those humanoid creatures. They were like a foreign concept to her mind, she couldn’t fathom how such little and weird-looking humans were born. Were they even humans?

The green humanoids didn’t seem to register her words as they kept growling at them, almost ready to pounce. It was at that point that the group knew that the situation was spiraling in a bad direction.

“Calm down, my little friends, we’re about to go away… no need to get angry,” Stephen tried to placate them, but he was having a hard time placating his own heart, “I think they don’t understand our language.” he whispered to his groupmates once he noted the little humans not answering him.

“What should we do?” Frank gulped, his lips dry, “They… they’re about to attack us!”

It was at that moment that the other little humanoid went for a jump at Stephen, its ax-holding hand in mid-air, aiming for a swing towards his head. He didn’t have time to think as survival instincts kicked in, allowing him to swiftly sidestep and dodge the attack that without a doubt would have cracked open his head. Nonetheless, the quick movement his body did caught him by surprise as he fell unceremoniously onto the ground with a thud.

“You asked for it!” angry beyond words, Stephen quickly picked himself back up as he grabbed a medium-sized rock before throwing it at the green-skinned creature that had charged at him. Although it was shorter – and certainly weaker – than him in terms of strength, it was currently holding up a weapon, so he could only play it from a safe distance.

The rock smacked on its face with a crunching noise before ricochetting off, revealing the damage it did upon impact. The ugly nose was even more grotesque now, with a section of it bending in a weird angle, blood flowing freely from its nostrils.

“Guargh!” it rattled out in agony as it tumbled down, flailing around from the acute pain besieging his injured appendage.

“You deserved it!” Stephen spat out venomously, yet he couldn’t shake off the fright upon realizing his bunt could have killed it. He didn’t know if it would have been murder or not, but at this point he doubted it. There was no way those things were even remotely human beings, yet they somehow resembled it, so it was rather disturbing watching a pool of blood slowly forming around his attacker’s head. It was ardently trying to breathe, but the blood was blocking its airways. It didn’t take long for it to die with a final spasm.

Everyone was astonished as they watched the short confrontation take place. However, the remaining green creature had a different opinion as it rushed at Stephen in a fit of rage, wanting to mow him to revenge its fallen comrade. Stephen, though, was distracted, as if there was something in front of him that was enrapturing his attention, and when he noticed the approaching creature, the blade was already coming close to his belly.

Fortunately, John was quick in his movements as he drew out a revolver from a holster inside his jacket, aimed, and shot.

A deafening noise reverberated in the cave followed right after by the clink of the sword whacking against the ground. The bullet pierced through its head, leaving a hole behind from which blood started gushing out. The creature slowly slid down into a prone position. John, who had just killed it, stared dazedly ahead of him as if in a trance.

Soon, dizziness hammered him, his surroundings spinning, his limbs felt weak and devoid of energy, something that was shared by Stephen as he noted peculiar changes occurring inside his body. The last thing they saw before both of them flopped down was something akin to a computer-like screen with words they couldn’t understand the meaning of.

[You have awakened.]

Then their bodies made contact with the hard ground under the surprised vision of the group who had still to come to the facts of what had just unfolded.

“How are they?” Sarah worriedly asked.

“Fine… they’re just unconscious…” Natasha replied after she checked out their conditions. She was still shaken, as were the others.

Then their eyes shuffled over to the gun that was on the ground, near John’s legs. Apprehension became evident on their faces, but nobody uttered a word. However, it was tacitly consented that they’d ask about it when he’d eventually wake back up.

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