The blackness faded as if someone slowly pulled away a curtain of darkness revealing a forest. We are lying face up in a clearing with a metal table in the center, and a path leading out of the clearing. “Ugh.”
I think we can all agree with that statement. I don’t know where that portal took us to, but the aftermath of it left us aching all over. I gritted my teeth and stood up trying to get my bearings. There were three sets of equipment on the table. Each set is labeled with our names.
Ciris’ Equipment: Light chain and cloth armor with a short sword as well as a set of a longbow and arrows.
Alraith’s Equipment: A padded cloth jacket with hardened leather vambraces, and finger-less gloves with a studded metal plate on the knuckles.
Ilossa’s Equipment: A hardened leather cuirass with a long sword, and a belt covered in pouches and small vials of alchemical ingredients.
It was quite easy to guess what the equipment is for; so we sorted though our designates armaments. Under all of the armaments was a note with elegant yet spidery hand writing. “Welcome to the forests of memory. You were sent here on a scouting mission to search for the bandits that have been harassing the nearby town. Assess their military strength and eradicate them if deemed profitable. P.S. Watch out for the wyrm wraith. ~NS”
Suddenly the forest’ silence seemed less welcoming. After passing the note around even Alraith is pale with dread. How much effort does the director put into making his tests as torturous as possible? “What is a wyrm wraith exactly?”
Ilossa is clutching the alchemy belt like it’s a totem against evil. “Wyrm wraiths are spirits of vengeance born from ancient dragons.”
Alraith’s statement is calm yet filled with a sense of condemnation. “We know what to do so we’d better get going before something finds us. Alraith you lead in front. Ilossa you support Alraith while I guard the back.”
I pull three arrows from my quiver and knock one while waiting for the others to proceed ahead.
The path continued on for miles without end. The forest is too thick to thoroughly explore, but I’m getting the feeling that the path will lead us where we need to go. I can’t shake the thought that the forest is listening and sifting through our very existence. “Didn’t the director say that this is a thought plane? I’ve only heard rumors of thought planes but this feels too real to be made so casually by one person.”
“Whatever this place is I don’t like it. I have a constant chill running down my back.”
While Alraith and I were bewildered about our situation; Ilossa was walking along between us as tense as a hare in a wolf’s den. Her right hand on her sword hilt, and her left hand clutching a glass bottle that she had prepared when inspecting her gear. She suddenly stopped walking and stared through the tree canopy. “I see campfire smoke. It’s too contained to be a wildfire.”
I couldn’t see well enough to distinguish anything through the leaves, but doubting a warning is nothing but foolish. “The path probably leads directly into the camp. Lets sneak through the trees and scout out their fighting power.”
There are many large trees unnaturally clustered together wherever you look making it hard to navigate quickly. This hinders our movement although it also provides perfect cover. Without taking too long we found the source of the smoke. It’s a medium sized encampment that can house around thirty people. The clearing edges are lined with ramshackle tents surrounding a bonfire, and a dining pavilion. “I’ll get a closer look. Stay back and if something bad happens you need to get out as quick as possible. Our main priority is scouting which means we need to get out with as much information as possible. Key point being to get out; after all dead men tell no tales.”
“Why are you giving out orders? Anyway how can you derive so much from that short mission briefing! It was barely even a note in it’s simplicity!”
Ilossa appears to be having a hard time figuring out the directors style of organizing things. “It’s because it’s so simple that I can figure out the intent. There is no ambiguity in that note when it comes to orders. No formality, no riddles. He gave us the mission priority, and an optional objective. I took the lead because no one was steering the mission. The director gave a path that we need to promptly follow before the orders get negated by a larger priority. We needed someone to take the initiative and no one was volunteering.”
My blunt speech took Ilossa by surprise. I don’t know if she accepts my words or not but I took it as an affirmative, and start stalking towards the encampment. The tents provided convenient cover with a perfect view into the encampment through the gaps between tents. I can easily view the random hustling of the bandits through the camp. The bandits are acting tense and don’t show any signs of slowing down their movements. They are moving through the camp like worker ants moving stores of food and merchandise that is presumably stolen. I count an even number of thirty bandits. All of them are working fast without giving any signs of having any form of individuality. Yes they have their different movement patterns and facial features. The odd part is their lack of persona. It’s as if they are all copies of the same machine but they each have a different pattern painted on the surface.
This mission just keeps getting stranger. Now that the scouting is done I need to get out of the area and regroup. As I’m walking away from the camp a cacophony of raw sound ripped through the dense trees. Following the deafening noise was the rumbling of movement of some creature in the distance. My walk shifts into a sprint. A larger priority has presented itself. Ilossa and Alraith are rather easy to find as they haven’t moved since I left. “I’m guessing that’s the wyrm wraith.”
Alraith’s remark though probable is unhelpful. “Our options are run, seek help from the bandits, or strategize. The bandits number roughly thirty strong, and we have a wyrm wraith heading our way. Any suggestions?”
“Use the bandits as bait?”
“Set the forest on fire as a distraction?”
Under these circumstances such things would normally make the situation worse. “The director wouldn’t happen to have any hint’s would he?”
Ilossa’s terrified remark surprisingly yielded a response. A note floated from the canopy of leaves landing in between us.
“One simple twist and you’re already in knots? You even had such wonderfully simple answers to your dilemma! You’d be surprised how even the most well thought out trap can be thwarted by your first instinct.” ~NS
“Did he seriously just tell us to set the forest on fire, and use the bandits as bait?”
“He kinda did.”
“Ilossa you wouldn’t happen to have any alchemical explosives handy would you?”
“I have bottles of alchemist’s fire. It’s not on the level of wiping out the camp though.”
“That will do just fine.”
Our plan is simple. We each have a few bottles of alchemist’s fire and we’ve spread out on the side of the camp opposite of the oncoming monster. We’ll throw down the fire creating a wall simultaneously drawing the wyrm wraith’s attention and limiting the bandit’s escape route. “Here goes to first instinct. Sorry creepy forest.” (AN: Please don’t follow their example. My characters are bad role models.)
The little bottles exploded letting loose streams of white hot liquid. The flood of heat instantly started consuming the surrounding trees. The alchemist’s fire is expanding leaving me in awe over how it was possible to fit that much fire in such a small bottle. I retreated away from the fire and curved towards my companions. We’d made it clear that we’re immediately running, so our priority is staying together and surviving. We’re slowly but surely converging on each others paths. We aren’t in the clear yet as I can see the bandits scattering through the woods. If one of them gets to close I shoot an arrow at them. I have no evidence whether my aim was true or not, it wouldn’t surprise me if I hit nothing but trees.
Regretfully I’ve gotten used to the rumbling of the wyrm wraith’s steps so I didn’t notice it closing in. A sudden blur of trees flashed through my field of vision as a skeletal tail shredded the trees around me. I don’t think it appreciated our fireworks display. “Ciris!”
I could hear Ilossa scream my name as a mass of tree based shrapnel blasted into me. The spare alchemical fire I had in my bag must have shattered due to the sudden conflagration surrounding me. My ability of sight is noticeably disappearing. This phenomenon is either due to oncoming unconsciousness, head trauma leading to blindness, or death. My chances aren’t good are they?
“Congratulations on passing the test. You even beat the record of the least amount of squad deaths. Only one fatality is quite remarkable. Most don’t even complete the mission on their first try.”
So it appears I died. At least we passed, though it doesn’t help my forewarned headache. Beside me are Ilossa and Alraith who are acting very punch drunk. The director ignores our obvious discomfort. “You managed to complete the mission, you’ve even partially destroyed the group of bandits. Maybe I made it a little too easy?”
The director continues his review of our mission while walking around his office systematically making a mess of his papers scattered about the room. After he finished his nonsensical office work he pulled three sheets of paper from a drawer in his desk. Handing on to each of us he gives us a simple dismissal. “I’ll be expecting you three in the training hall tomorrow at dawn. Welcome to the enforcers.”
Spells Used (AN: Due to the large amount of spells in this series I will be adding a “spells used” section at the end of the chapters. It will provide the name of the spell as well as it’s effects.)
[Create Mindscape]: Creates a personal thought plane that can be molded by the creator at will.
[Mindscape Door]: Creates a pseudo door leading into or out of a thought plane.