The stench of rot fills our noses as Siddha and I struggle to make our way through the dense brush of the forest.
The air is thick and uncomfortably warm, I can tell by the dim light coming through the tree tops that the sky must be overcast. I grip my kata and swing with as much strength as I can muster.
I do not remember the brush being this thick, I think to myself. The path we follow is covered by overgrowth and looks completely unkempt, as if it hadn’t been cleared in months.
I don’t understand, this is a main line to the village, how could it possibly be this blocked? We continue to push our way through, the deeper we go the more distracting the smell becomes.
After a certain point, the ground becomes softer and forgiving on my bare feet. The soil feels moist and cool in comparison to the air, it is a relief.
If we had the time to rest, I would lie down and cover myself in it to escape the heat.
“We must be close to the river,” Siddha pants. He is tired, his normally bulky frame has significantly slimmed down since our departure.
His skin which use to be soft and flawless, as rich in color as the soil beneath our feet, now houses scars and appears rough like the bark of the bush we so desperately cut through.
“Shall we rest?” he heaves.
I hear the strain in his voice and have no choice but to yield to his request. You should have eaten, you shouldn’t have given the last of your rations. I think this selfishly.
Of course he would give his rations, Siddha was always thinking of another before himself, and it was a trait I revered but also caused me great anxiety for his sake.
On a journey like ours we could not afford to be completely careless or selfless. We passed through small village some days ago.
The people had little to eat, but had the kindness to offer what they could.
We were immensely grateful of their generosity, I traded my shoes for a pocket knife and Siddha exchanged a medallion for a compass.
There, he gave his rations to a young girl who fed what little she had to her pet, it was a sweet gesture but not smart.
We had watched while the girl had been chastised by her father her decision.
The man may have taken it too far however,
Slapping the girl across the face and telling her if she were dumb enough to give her rations away to the pet then she could sleep outside with it as well.
I begged Siddha to not get involved, as it was none of our business, but his temper flared and he struck the man and began to berate him for being a terrible father.
He then proceeded to pull out his share of food and feed the girl.
She was hesitant at first, but Siddha had convinced her that her actions would lead to good reward someday, even in times like these.
She ate happily then and proceeded to tell him stories about their village. While he continued to speak with her, I examined our new goods and assessed their craftsmanship.
The knife would be good for when we hunted some game, it would be easier to cut and clean with a smaller blade,
My kata had begun to rust and grow dull at the tip due to leaving moisture on it for too long, too often.
The compass would work well for our travels, a sea navigator in the town was kind enough to teach me how to read it.
Siddha began to pick up the pace, I wondered what caused the sudden change in his stride when I faintly picked up the sound of gently running water.
Strangely enough, the closer we got to the river the more unbearable the rotten smell had become.
Perhaps someone left their game lying around? That would be quite irresponsible, one of the rules our people had was to never waste food.
Perhaps a predator had gotten bored of its prey then?
I settled for this last thought and continued to move, attempting to catch up to Siddha who suddenly began to move at the pace of a jungle cat who’d set eyes on its dinner.
He didn’t seem to notice or care that the stench was practically enveloping us, every step he was taking was less cautious and hurried than the one before it.
We both knew that being on course with the river meant several things: One, we’d be on a more direct path to home.
Second, and most importantly, we would be able to stop for water, due to the heat we were way past the point of dehydration. Third, we could hunt.
Creatures of all kind would gather at our river to drink and take rest, some more dangerous than others...
It was an understanding between our people and them that no harm would come as long as they stayed out of our territory.
Our land had been ours since the beginning of the Solis, denoted to us by Centras and was a divine gift.
It was understood that this land was to be cherished and respected. Any desecrators would be punished, there were no exceptions.
Moving forward, the ground had become increasingly soft and began to break apart at my toes.
I held my nose and inhaled deeply through my mouth, I was so distracted that I did not notice the branch which had fallen and rooted itself deep into the ground.
I felt myself fall forward and pushed my hands out in hopes of catching myself, dropping my kata in the process.
My hands sank deep into the soil which was so soft and unnaturally wet for the location we were to the river. I got to my knees and pushed myself upward grabbing my kata on the way.
I placed the weapon into its holder at the base of my left hip and proceeded to rub my hands together to get rid of the excess soil when…
A scream. A panicked, gut-wrenching, screeches had come from directly in front of me. I was frozen, until I recognized the tone of the scream and who it had come from.
Siddha! I took off running toward his hysterical voice which had devolved into inhuman wails.
I was running so fast I didn’t bother to take in the scene around me, I simply concentrated on getting to where Siddha was, when I tripped over something else.
I face planted right into the soil, the stench overtaking my nostrils full force. I turned my head to the air to gain some relief when I caught the stare of another on the ground.
Their eyes an unbelievable shade of amber, but something was off.
The persons head seemed to be turned at an unnatural angle, and jaw was ripped out, a maggot crawled their way through the nose and burrowed itself through the yellowed eye.
I looked above the body only to see several others like it piled on top of one another, all skewered through.
I felt myself gag reflexively…the stench…Siddha’s scream…my red dyed hands…I…suddenly, the world went dark.
One thing did stand out.
A simple carving to the forehead. Something I had seen long ago…
A third eye.