The drive was just as unbearable as Albert had originally thought it would be, which wasn't surprising since the place his father had chosen to move to was just about the furthest location in the U.S. to drive to from California. Gloucester, MA.
He spent most of his time staring out the open car window at the rapidly changing landscape, enjoying the feeling of wind buffeting his long black hair and deflecting most attempts at conversation that his parents threw at him with withering looks.
As the dry fields of California morphed into the deserts of Nevada and the snow capped peaks of Colorado, Albert imagined the time when the settlers and natives travelled these vast distances on horseback or on foot. Back then, the horizon held nothing but mystery and adventure and the roads were non-existent. The settlers had believed that the unknown lands held creatures ranging from monsters and demons all the way to Wooly Mammoths. The natives had their own beliefs, and stories of giant birds of prey and shapeshifting animals were still spoken among their descendants to this day.
Albert was shaken from his thoughts and brought back to reality when his father had asked him what he wanted to eat from the drive-through, his visions of traversing through untamed forests and fighting off a massive eagle like how old European tapestries depicted knights fighting dragons turning to the cold reality of old, beaten, asphalt, the stink of the nearby dumpster and the static-filled voice of the drive-through attendant asking if that completed their order.
"Just get me a burger or something, I don't really care," Albert said, arching his back and stretching in his seat. He hadn't moved in hours and he was beginning to go stir crazy. "Can we at least stop and eat here so I can stretch my legs? I'm going to go crazy if I have to sit here for another few hours."
"No time," Albert's father said, shaking his head as he pulled further up the line as the car in front moved. "We need to get there as soon as possible so I can meet with the contractor."
"Jiang, dear, surely taking a few minutes to eat won't cause much of a delay. I need to use the restroom as well," Albert's mother chided from the passenger seat.
"But," Albert's father stammered, faltering under the steely green eyes of his wife, the same green that occupied Albert's left eye; his right was the same dark brown as his father's. Jiang always had the tendency to go overboard with his projects, especially when it involved something that interested him. His mother served as a balance, slowing him down and leading him in the right direction when she could.
"Yes, okay, we can stop and eat here," he said, glancing at the digital readout of the clock on the dash board and tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. "But we leave as soon as we're done!"
"Of course," his mother laughed, placing her hand on his. "I don't have any plans on camping out in the parking lot of a Mc'Donalds."
When they finally reached the end of the line, his father paid for the food quickly darted the car into a nearby parking spot. While his mother dashed inside to use the restroom, he and his father unwrapped their burgers and fries on one of the brightly colored plastic tables outside and began eating without waiting for his mom to get back. Albert scarfed down his burger and ate a couple of fries without really tasting anything and then stood up.
"I'm just gonna go take a look around," he said abruptly, heading towards the copse of woods across the two lane road that they had been driving on for the last hour or so. He had first seen it when they sat down and had been eying while eating. There was a set of boulders that looked like he might be able to climb and head further up the mountain overlooking them. It'd probably just lead to another road and a shopping center or something but he may as well explore while he had a chance.
"Don't go too far," his father called out to him, dipping a fry in one of those paper cups that fast-food joints always gave you that barely seemed able to hold the weight of whatever you put into it. "We're leaving soon!"
"3 more days of this," he muttered, shuddering as he glanced both ways before crossing the road.
He reached entrance to the forest and wandered around the boulders that were the only climbable looking area of a sheer 10 foot cliff. After a few minutes of examining the base of the lichen covered rocks, he realized that the boulders didn't have many hand holds, but he might be able to use one of the nearby trees as leverage to make up for it.
Putting idea into action, he pushed his feet firmly against the bark of the towering pine tree, and Albert walked his hands up the rock, pausing every few moments to re-orientate his feet on the tree. A few minutes later, he reached an outcropping of rock that he could take a rest on. He walked his hands up the cold stone until he had them firmly on the flat of the boulder as if he were about to do push-ups and kicked off the tree, jabbing his knee painfully into a sharp point on the edge of the outcropping as he did so.
Sweating and hands covered in green and brown filth, Albert sat down and looked down at his knee. The fabric on his pants had torn and the frayed white edges of his bluejeans were stained red with blood that oozed slowly from a scrape on his knee. Albert spat on his hands and rubbed them together, then wiped them off on one of the cleaner portions of his jeans. Hands as clean as he could get them, he gingerly wiped the blood off his knee to take a look at the damage, wincing as he rubbed dirt further into his wound.
"Fuck that hurts," he swore, whipping his hand back as if it had been burned. From what he could tell, it was just a small scrape. He'd had worse falling off his bike. He waited a few moments for most of the burning sensation to dissipate, then stood up and stepped back to contemplate how to get up the final section of cliff face. He didn't really have a reason to be doing so, and his knee was sore, but he was committed now and he would be damned if a scraped knee stopped him from reaching the top. Luckily, this section of rock was jagged, as if a large portion of stone had cracked and broken off from the rest of it. As such it was an easy climb compared with earlier. In no time at all, Albert reached the top of the cliff and the entrance to the forest proper.
The scent of pine needles wafted into his nose and Albert enjoyed the mottled shade that greeted him as he took his first few, crunchy, steps over a carpet of dead pine needles. All around him, trunks of trees older than both him and his parents combined towered over him and led further up the mountain in a smooth slope. He turned around and gazed down the cliff and across the road to the bulbous plastic of the red umbrellas at the restaurant, looking more like strange mushrooms than protection from the elements from this distance. Knowing he had only a little time left to explore before his parents went looking for him, Albert began trekking up the slope, thighs burning with exertion before long.
As climbed higher, the trees seemed to get closer together and the mottled sunlight that leaked through the branches above lessened until it seemed as if dusk had fallen early. The calls of birds that had been loud and pervasive before had shrunken to the occasional caw of a crow. The forest floor, before wide open with little else to see other than the usual covering of dead needles and the occasional pinecone was now thick with brush that scraped uncomfortably through the hole in his jeans and brought another wave of stinging pain to Albert's scraped knee. Ahead, he saw a small opening in-between two large bushes that seemed just large enough to squeeze through without being stabbed by branches. Before he headed back, he may as well see if he couldn't discover a cool area to call his own.
Sidling sideways, Albert slid in-between the branches, spitting and beating his face frantically as a he walked face first into a spider web. After he had made sure there weren't any spiders on him, he continued carefully onward, making extra care to look for any other webs.
As he went, eagerness turned to unease as the passage stretched on much longer than he thought it would have. He still couldn't see the exit. Just as Albert was contemplating surrendering and turning around, he stumbled out into a dark clearing, separated and surrounded from the rest of the forest by a wall of trees and foliage. In the center of the clearing was a the corpse of a felled tree, branches dry and absent of any leaves or needles but covered in a strange, creeping, lichen that hung down off the branches like a curtain, obscuring something behind them. Albert crept forward, intrigued at what the large beige shape could be and then froze. His heart caught in his throat and stopped any breath from leaving his body, as if in an attempt to strangle him.
The large shape behind the mossy curtain shifted and uncurled from where it had been napping, unfurling large, bat-like, wings that brushed the lichen away, revealing the head of a lion that blinked sleepily, eyes narrowed as the scent of blood wafted over his nostrils. The creature towered up above Albert, his shoulders even with Albert's head. As if a giant winged lion wasn't scary enough, extruding from either shoulder alongside the lion's mane, were two heads of very different creatures that locked eyes with Albert. The rightmost head looked to be some kind of goat, it bleated at him, the rectangular pupils unmistakable.
The leftmost head was a creature that Albert would have said didn't actually exist, though he would have said that THIS creature shouldn't have existed before today too. A green scaled dragon's head snarled at him, smoke curling out from its nostrils. The lion breathed heavily, a sound easily audible in the quiet as it stepped forward. All three heads of the creature studied him for a moment and then roared, the three heads uniting and creating a cacophony of otherworldly sound that was much more terrifying than it would have been if only one head had made it.
Whatever spell that had held Albert before this broke and he broke off into a sprint back through the thin passageway between the plants, not even attempting to slide through sideways like before, and instead ran straight through them, branches and leaves scraping past his face unnoticed. Behind him, loud snaps and cracks of breaking branches echoed ahead, sounding as if the monster was tearing down forest and any tree that separated it from Albert. He needed no more motivation, Albert doubled down, ignoring the stitch in his side as the steady sound of muggy breath eked closer with every passing second.
Whatever Albert had expected to find up here, this was not it.
This was chapter two of Beast Slayer Saga! I hope you enjoyed! If you did, feel free to add it to your library as I plan on adding several chapters a week.
Feel free to comment on what you liked, what you disliked or just with supportive words! Anything helps and it will motivate me to write more often.
See you on chapter 3, which I plan to release later this week.
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