• Tales of Xalthia

    Chapter 8: Stalker in the Shadows

    Tsuki and Lynette remained at the makeshift camp that was set up by Georg's knights in the ruined courtyard of Prophet Castle. The search for any lingering cult members went on for about a day and a half. Unfortunately, they found no trace of the cult. Since there was no trace of the cult anywhere, there was no point in continuing the search. Despite not finding any trace of the cult or anything that could tell them where they went, it was the perfect chance for Tsuki and Nagi to catch up in the thirteen years they've been apart.

    The following day, the Knights took down their camp and packed up their things so that they were ready to move out. It didn't take long for everything to get packed. When everything was back in order, they used a Sealing Arte to close off access to Prophet castle. Since it was discovered that the cult practiced human sacrifice, the entire castle grounds has been closed off for investigation. The seal prevented anyone who didn't have a special symbol on them from entering the castle grounds. Once the seal was successfully set up, everyone began their descet down the mountain. After about two hours, they were finally out of the mountains and back onto the main road. The knights then stood in the direction of Eresseas while Tsuki and Lynette were facing the opposite direction towards Briswater.

    Tsuki walked up to Georg and held his hand out for a handshake. "Please take good care of Nagi. Make sure she gets the best medical treatment Eresseas has" he said. He wanted to make sure that she will be in good hands. This was going to be the last he sees her for quite a long time. His mission was far from complete.

    Georg stretched his arm out and took his hand, shaking it. "Don't worry. Remember, Eresseas has some of the world's best doctors. She'll be in good hands until you return from your mission" he said. He then looked at Nagi and gave her a thumbs up with a smile. "If the cult comes for her, they'll have to get through us" he added. He wasn't worried though. He had the strongest unit of knights in the kindgom. His unit of knights were infamously known as Dragon Rage, which has a reputation that spreads even outside of continent of Cayhill to different kingdoms.

    Tsuki nodded and looked over at Nagi. "I'll be back when my mission is complete. Until then, you'll be safe under the care of the royal family. If you bring me up, I'm sure that they'll open up to you" he said. If the royal family heard her story, there would be no doubt that they would do anything to help her. Although, he was sure that they would freak when they learn that not only she was from Tomoha, but Tsuki as well.

    Nagi looked at Tsuki and nodded. She was in a much more cheery mood. She was cleaned up and wearing a knight's apprentice armor set. It was a lot better than wearing the torn, ragged clothes that she had been wearing for years. "Just come back safe. I just found you and I don't want to lose you again" she said.

    Tsuki smiled at her, nodding. "Don't worry. I'm not the fragile boy from back then. I'll be fine. You'll be safer in Georg's care rather than mine anyway" He then looked over to Lynette. "You ready to get a move on?" he asked.

    Lynette nodded. "Yes, whenever you're ready" she said. She was hoping that there would be no more interruptions. She just wants to reach Briswater already. With the whole Moonlight Flower and Prophet Castle ordeals, Tsuki's been postponed enough as it is.

    Georg saluted Tsuki and Lynette with his knights following with the salute. "Be safe on your journey. A lot of weird things have been occurring lately. I'll be sure to tell Cheria about you so she doesn't worry" he said. Being an old friend of Tsuki's, he couldn't help but worry. Despite his skills with a blade, he tends to put himself in situations that are over his head. He doesn't want him to be doing anything reckless, for Cheria's sake.

    Tsuki returned the salute to Georg and his knights. "I will and thanks. Be safe in your journey home" he said. Unlike Georg, he wasn't worried. Georg is known to be one of the strongest fighters in Cayhill that can rival Stahler, who was the strongest out of the Royal Eight. He still doesn't understand why he doesn't take up a position as part of the Royal Eight.

    After several minutes of exchanging goodbyes, Georg and his unit of knights along with Nagi and the two cult prisoners turned around and started their long march down the road towards Eresseas. Tsuki and Lynette watched them for a few minutes before turning around and continued their journey to Briswater. They had another days walk ahead of them before they would reach the forest that surrounds the city.

    For the rest of their journey, nothing else really exciting happened to them. They went back to fighting off common monsters and thugs, took breaks, eat, slept and repeated the process. Before they knew it, they finally arrived at the forest that surrounds Briswater. They now had had to make their way through the thick, dense forest to reach their true destination. The entire area of Briswater, including the forest, is considered a holy land since this was the place where the War of Mana was put to an abrupt end. Since it was a holy land, nothing can be touched or removed. As such, there were still old, rusted suits of armor hidden among the bushes of the forest. If people didn't watch where they step, they could step on broken, rusted weapon shards that were still scattered everywhere, hidden under the thick brush. There was only one apparent danger hidden in the forest. The forest harbors something very unholy and quite dangerous. Tsuki was hesitant for a bit and wasn't sure where to begin telling Lynette so he took a bit longer to gather his thoughts on what he should say without having to scare her.

    Lynette looked around and all she could see were trees and bushes. The place was a lot bigger on the inside than the outside. She could hear the chirping of birds and various other animal noises. There was an eerie lack of monster sounds though but she didn't pay it no mind considering what the forest was known as. "Wow, this place is huge! I wasn't expecting it to be so big" she said. She was slightly worried that they might get lost. Considering how thick it appeared to be. the chances for that happening is quite possible.

    Tsuki walked into the forest a bit, seeing how far the trail goes. It didn't appear to stretch very far before it becomes impossible to see due to how thick the brush was. After thinking about their options and looking on the map, he made his way back to Lynette. "The trail doesn't go far before it becomes impossible to traverse. The forest is so thick that I can't see the trail past a certain point. Apparently, no one's used this path in quite some time due to the condition it was in. They must of made a new path so it'll be easier to reach the city. A path that they have no knowledge of, unfortunately.

    Lynette tilted her head. "I haven't been here for so I'm not sure what we should do. What do you have in mind?" she asked. She knows that if they walk aimlessly, they could get lucky and reach Briswater, get themselves lost or end up on the other side of the forest, completely walking past Briswater entirely.

    Tsuki crossed his arms and stroked his chin in thought. "Normally, when I come to visit Briswater, I'd follow the indicated path since it would take you straight to Briswater...but that was three years ago. Now, the path that I used to travel on is overgrown with weeds, making it impossible to follow. We could try and follow the trail through the brush" he suggested. Any other option was going to put them in trouble. If the monsters didn't kill them, their severe shortage of supplies such as food and water would. He was also hesitant about going off the path due to the unholy terror the forest harbors. Thankfully, their Barrier in the Camp Set would keep them safe at nights.

    Lynette nodded and started to follow the trail. "Let's go then. Standing here won't get us anywhere" she said. She wasn't aware about the hidden danger of the forest. Since this was her first time here, she really didn't know anything.

    Before she could wander off down the trail, Tsuki grabbed her arm to stop her. She needed to be wary of what comes out at night. "Wait, there's one thing you need to know about this forest" he said, shaking a bit just from the thought of it.

    Lynette stopped when he grabbed her arm. She turned around, tilting her head at him. "What is it?" she asked. She then saw that he was obviously nervous about something as she could feel the shaking of his arm. This immediately caused a bit of worry inside her.

    Tsuki released her arm and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "You know that I don't scare easy. If there was ever a time where I exhibit a hint of fear, it's when I'm up against something that's the true face of evil. There's a certain class of monster that prowls around certain corners of the world. Have you ever heard of a monster class known as Razgriz?" he asked. Just by mentioning the name makes him even more uneasy.

    Lynette thought about the name for a moment. She hit a blank after several minutes of thinking. "No...what are they? Should we be worried?" she asked. She immediately noticed how uneasy Tsuki was becoming. Whatever these so-called Razgriz monsters were shook him up pretty bad, which causes her worry to grow more.

    Tsuki had to take a moment of silence before answering her question. "They are incredibly powerful monsters far beyond the strength of normal monsters. They're scattered throughout the world in different locations. There are only twenty in the world, so it may not seem like a big deal. However, they're tough to kill. Not even Georg or Stahler, who is the strongest of the Royal Eight could take them down alone" he said. The Razgriz were a unique class of monster not to be taken lightly.

    Lynette knew the reputation behind Georg and Stahler. As such, she was surprised hearing that they couldn't fight these Razgriz monsters alone. She didn't even know how to react. "Wow...that's not exactly comforting news, is it? So, you're saying that one of the Razgriz are here, considering your behavior?" she asked nervously. The so-called holy grounds of Briswater didn't appear to be so holy after all.

    Tsuki nodded slowly. "Yes, exactly. The military had made a designated path to Briswater, which was the fastest and safest path to the city that went around it's normal pattern. However, the path is all but gone. We have no choice but to make our own path to the city with extreme caution. I just hope we don't have a run-in with the Razgriz" he said. He took another look at the overgrown path and thought of which way to go.

    Lynette tilted her head. "What should we do if we do encounter it?" she asked. She knew that fighting it was not an option so she already knew the answer he would give.

    Tsuki walked past Lynette and started to walk through the brush. "We run like hell. We would be fighting a lost cause" he said as he walked past her.

    Lynette chuckled nervously, uneasy with what he said. Tsuki is the only one capable of fighting. She can only heal wounds right now. "Run like hell...right" she said. She then followed Tsuki, keeping him within arm's length as they started to make their way through the forest.

    Tsuki and Lynette spent about three hours wandering through the forest. They now had lost sight of the path completely. Thankfully, they found no trace of Razgriz but they still had a ways to go until they reached Briswater. It was starting to get dark out which means that the Razgriz monster will soon start making it's move around the forest. They quickly found a small open area and wasted no time to get their camp and Barrier set up. They gathered enough resources to last the night as traveling outside the Barrier is suicide. As they sat down and ate inside the Barrier around the small campfire, they kept quiet most of the time. They didn't want to attract the Razgriz.

    About two hours after tehy had starting eating, Lynette had passed out from exhaustion. Tsuki remained awake for a while longer to stand guard. As he stayed awake, he took the time to write a letter to the royal family which he would send out once he woke up the next day. The following was written in the letter:

    "My King and Queen, thank you very much for sending reinforcements to Prophet Castle. Without the help of Georg and his knights, I would not of been successful in my infiltration. I'm currently making my way through the forest that surrounds Briswater and I'll be honest with you. I'm worried and a bit scared because of the Razgriz monster that resides in this forest. I haven't seen any trace of the monster but that doesn't mean it's not out there. Writing this letter, I can't help but feel like I'm being watched. I'll send you another report when I meet with Maxwell. Please, do not worry about me nor send any back-up to the forest. If I fall, I don't want other knights suffering the same fate.

    One last thing before I end this report. Cheria, I can't stress this enough. Please, do not allow yourself to be overcome with worry. You are the Princess of Eresseas and future Queen. You need to keep a clear head and stay strong. I want you to know that I intend to keep my promise to you. I will return safely. Keep me in your prayers every night and I'll be just fine"
    ---Tsuki Himura

    As he finished writing the letter, he folded it up and put it in his pocket. He then sighed heavily. As he wrote in his report, he did, in fact, feel as if he was being watched. He shook his head, stood up and used the bucket of water that he had to douse the fire. He then walked over to Lynette and picked her up. As he made his way into the tent, he heard tree branches being broken off with force in the distance behind him. The sounds of crashing echoed in the silent forest. He quickly entered the tent and set Lynette down slowly and pulled the blanket over her. He then took one last peak through the tent folds and noticed a pair of red eyes in the distance. Along with the eyes, he could see a monster-sized shadow walk around. Judging from it's shadow, it didn't appear to be a normal monster which could only mean one thing. He got the chills up his spin as he was a bit afraid. "Razgriz...it knows we're here now. We need to reach the city tomorrow otherwise we're not going to last another night" he whispered to himself. Even though the Barrier keeps out monsters, it can't hold back Razgriz. They could easily smash through the Barrier. The reason why it wasn't attacking now was because it observes it's prey before attacking. He then closed the tent flaps and laid down. He pulled the blankets over him and slowly and uneasily fell asleep.

    The next morning, Tsuki and Lynette quickly ate breakfast and packed up their camp. Tsuki did not tell Lynette about what he saw during the night before he fell asleep. After they gathered their things, Tsuki sent out his letter via carrier pigeon and continued to make their way through the forest. They walked around for several hours, climbing over broken trees, backtracking and over small rivers before they noticed a clearly defined path that lead out towards the edge of the forest. It was not part of the path they had been trying to follow as the path seemed to be well taken care of. It seems they found the newly formed path to the city. They walked along the path and after about thirty minutes, they saw what appeared to be an outpost that served as an entrance to Briswater. It appears that they finally found the entrance.

    Lynette pointed towards the outpost that was in plain sight. "Hey! I think we made it!" she said with excitement. She then took off running down the path towards the outpost. It was a straight shot there.

    Just as Lynette ran towards the outpost, a tall black shadow appeared in the brush. It then saw Lynette and immediately ran towards her. It was running at her so fast that it only took it seconds before it was within striking distance. Once it was, the shadow took it's claw and swung at her with no hesitation.

    Tsuki let out a sigh of relief when they saw the outpost. "Finally. Some light at the end of the tunnel" he said. He made his way towards the outpost, following Lynette. Suddenly, he noticed a familiar shadow quickly approach Lynette. "Lyn! Watch out!" he shouted. He then rushed towards her and tackled her to the ground just before the shadow swung it's claws at her. He could feel the force of the swing with the back of his head.

    Lynette didn't notice the shadow approach her at all. When she heard him shout out her name, she stopped and was almost immediately tackled to the ground before she could turn around. As she was tackled to the ground, she saw sharp claws take a swing at her where she was standing. She then looked at the monster and knew that it wasn't of the local variety. That means only one thing. "Is that...Razgriz!?" she shouted.

    The monster looked like a demon with a human-like appearance due to the fact that it can run on two feet. It had red eyes, black fur, razor sharp claws and appeared to be muscular underneath the fur. It was almost like it was originally a human but had changed completely due to being consumed by a massive amount of Aer.

    Tsuki quickly got up onto his feet, pulling Lynette up with him and drawing his sword. "Damn! We were so close too!" he shouted. The outpost was within running distance so they had to make a run for it. Lynette wasn't as athletic as Tsuki, however, so she would have to make the run first while he held off the Razgriz.

    The demon roared so loudly that the trees vibrated. It then took a swing with it's arm and directed it at Tsuki. Tsuki quickly blocked the swing with his sword but the blade did not pierce it's skin. In fact, there was a clanging sound on impact as if he hit a stone wall or another blade. He could feel the massive force of the attack as it almost knock him off balance. He wasn't sure why his sword didn't break from the attack.

    Tsuki examined the demon's skin and knew why his blade didn't pierce the skin. "It has stoneskin! Normal weapons will not harm it!" he shouted. He then looked at Lynette. "Lyn, get going! I'll hold it off until you get to the outpost!" he shouted at her.

    Lynette didn't want to leave Tsuki behind but there was no other choice. She then nodded hesitantly. "R-right!" she said. She then made a mad dash towards the outpost. She looked back towards Tsuki a few moments later and saw him holding off the Razgriz just barely.

    By now, the guards at the outpost noticed the Razgriz and had activated a similar barrier to that of the Camping Set only much stronger. The Barrier had surrounded the entire perimeter of the outpost within twenty meters. The guards were standing guard as they were gesturing towards them, telling them to hurry on inside.

    Lynette ran inside the Barrier and outpost then turned around, facing Tsuki who was still holding off the Razgriz. "Come on, Tsuki! Get out of there!" she shouted at him.

    Tsuki kept the demon's attention until Lynette was safe. All he could do was defend and block it's attacks. He did not have the necessary equipment to fight the Razgriz. When he blocked it's last attack, he could see his blade start to crack. One more hit and the blade would shatter. He then heard Lynette shouting from behind him. He took a glance and saw that she was safely in the outpost. It was time for him to start running. He then started his mad dash towards the outpost with the Razgriz chasing him. He could hear it get closer as he ran. It was going to catch up before he got to the Barrier. He had no other choice. He had to distract it. Just then, his sword was enveloped in electricity. Sparks covered the blade. He then gathered a bit of Aer, struck the sword into the ground and upon impact, created a small electrical explosion. The explosion had temporarily stunned the demon but also forced Tsuki into the barrier and up against the outpost walls. Due to how danger-close it was, he did take some damage but nothing life threatening. His sword did, however, break though. The force of the explosion had broke the blade where the crack was. It did give him the necessary boost to reach safety though. He slid to the ground on impact as his vision started to blur. He continued to watch the Razgriz as it started to move again. It stopped chasing him when he entered the Barrier and gave him a nasty look. After a few moments of staring him down, he then took off back into the forest. That was the last thing he saw before he blacked out into unconsciousness.

    To be continued...