Dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit!
"…Well this is certainly unexpected," Lukas said pushing you back even further as the enormous monster continued to glow.
Think of an eggplant—an oversized, glowing, wriggling, slimy, toothy, tentacle-infested eggplant. Add the element of obscene disgust, throw in a little nauseating scents in the mix, and sprinkle a dash of bubbling noises, and the perfect formula of a formidable and grotesque abomination of a monster is created.
"It's a netiss," Lukas groaned.
"A n-netiss?" you repeated in a shaky voice.
The dragon sighed. "Before you ask, all you need to be wary of is that once you're ensnared, you don't want to be caught getting close to its mouth." Then he elbowed you in the gut.
"Don't just stand there, you dumb goat! Run!"
Upon hearing that (rather unnecessarily insulting) command, you began to bolt, your feet losing some traction against the bones rolling on the cold forest floor. Apparently Lukas wasn't a match for the netiss either since he began to take off after you.
"If your plan was to have us run from the beginning, why in the world were we acting like sitting ducks back there?!" you shouted as the dragon's inhuman speed allowed him to run right beside you.
"Because we needed a good cliffhanger from the previous chapter!" Lukas answered back moving out of the way of an oncoming branch.
"What are you talking about?!" you asked completely confused at the content of the dragon's out-of-context speech.
"Never mind!" he barked. "Just don't stop running!"
Suddenly, the ground began to violently shake in place, and the trees began to tumble towards the ground like the forest had been situated on a fault line. Then, you heard a loud BANG only a few meters behind you followed by a slurping noise similar to one of the dogs back at the castle lapping up water. You didn't want to look behind you in fear of tripping on something ahead of you, in fear of freezing up in fright if you set eyes on the creature again, in fear of perhaps letting down Lukas and Emil.
"It's alright, ___________," you heard Emil's voice calmly assure you. "Remember, you are entrusted with my brother's care. You will not die."
That doesn't mean I won't lose a limb here and there, does it? you thought back feeling the burden of the dragon's soul catching up to your breathing.
"Ah, well, I can't guarantee you'll make it out of this journey in one piece, no," Emil reluctantly admitted.
Goddammit! you cursed. Just then, you screamed as something rose from the ground and kicked back the dirt behind you sending you tumbling forward in somersaults. After hitting your head multiple times on the Bone Forest's ground (which was also covered in bones), your senses were in such a daze that you couldn't even get up. You didn't know the difference between the sky and the ground, let alone which way was forward or backwards.
"___________, get up!" Emil shouted. "Come on, this is no time to be sitting around like a fool!"
"Stupid human," you heard Lukas' familiar, yet urgent voice hiss as the dragon picked you back up, but by the time he got you back on your feet, you just regained your senses to see him slip from underneath you and retreat into the dark blanket of the forest.
"Lukas!" you screamed.
"_____________, there's no time to waste! Keep running!" Emil commanded inside your heart.
"B-But he's your brother!"
"If we die here, then everything will have been in vain," the dragon's soul reminded you.
"I won't be able to last ten minutes in this place without him," you said aloud. "I'm going back."
"Idiot…" you heard Emil sigh.
What a stupid idea. You couldn't even see in the darkness. Lukas must've had nightvision or something because he never lost his footing when you had been following him through the forest. There were times when you stumbled across upturned tree roots and ruptured dirt from where the netiss' tentacles had plowed through to Lukas.
"Lukas, where are you?!" you shouted into the darkness despite the dragon's previous warnings to make as little noise as possible.
"Lukas!" you yelled again.
After waiting in the darkness for a few seconds, your voice was answered by a hollow groan like the deafening sound of the Dragonfall winds blowing at the top of the grounds back at the castle. Oh, how you wished you could have been back there taking of Lukas and Emil when they were nothing more than dragons and not an arrogant human-transformed snob and a soul using you as a vessel to climb to a mountain you had never even heard of.
"If you had listened to me, this wouldn't have happened," Emil pointed out.
I don't need you poking into my thoughts right now, Emil, you frowned and remained in place to see if you could detect the whereabouts of the monster and where Lukas had gone.
"If it's a netiss, then there's no point in us going back," Emil continued to speak in spite of hearing your aggressive thoughts. "Unlike the nightcrawlers, the netiss does not fear light or fire. Its hide is far too thick and slimy to be damaged with our fangs."
Shut up and let me think, you snorted.
"Easy there, boys!"
You turned. There was a sound—a human sound. How long had it been since you had seen anyone of the same flesh and blood as you? Lukas didn't count because he was a dragon.
"Strange," Emil said. "I didn't think there were still humans taking up residence in these parts of the forest."
Never mind thinking anyone could have been insane enough to want to live in such a damnable place, there were humans here. Perhaps they could help? Without sizing up your chances, you immediately began running towards the sound of the voice. The more you ran, the louder and abundant the voices became.
"Whoa! Easy there! Watch the arms!"
"We almost got him! Stay put, you guys!"
"Hey! Is someone over there?" you shouted into the forest. The forest began to glow with the same yellow-green cabbage-colored light. You must have been approaching the sight of the netiss.
"Eh? Is that a girl?" a voice asked.
Finally, after running just a little further, the netiss came back into view. You could smell something putrid and sour coming off of its skin like aged cheese that had been left under dripping water. There were pools of brown translucent sludge forming around dismembered tentacles. A small group of men had gathered around the netiss restraining the rest of its tentacles by impaling them on spears and sticking the main body of the monster with sharp weapons.
"Lukas…" you breathed. "Where's Lukas?"
As if in answer, you heard a faint coughing noise coming from a nearby tree. A sopping wet and smelly young man with light blonde hair and dizzy blue eyes was splayed on the ground.
"Lukas!" you gasped and ran over to the dragon.
"Damn it, stupid girl," the dragon groaned. "Why didn't you flee? If these men weren't here, then we would have both been done for…"
"Well excuse me, oh Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames, for actually being worried about you," you huffed with your arms crossed. "You know, I wouldn't mind it if you actually said my name every once in a while."
"Ha," Lukas tried to dryly laugh, but broke into a fit of coughs instead. He looked awful.
"It's open! We've got it open!" you heard someone shout from behind you. In the brief moment of seeing Lukas alive, you had forgotten about the other men who were here. When you looked back, you saw that somehow, the team of men had snagged ropes on the netiss' large teeth and opened its mouth. Then a man dressed in red with long sleeves took something small and round from his belt and stepped back a few steps. Then, with a soft grunt, he hurled the round object into the air sending it sailing through the air and into the glowing abomination's open mouth.
"Wh-What…?" you babbled. Then, the man continued to throw more things inside the netiss' mouth one by one until his belt was completely bare.
"How curious…" Emil murmured.
Interestingly enough, when the netiss ingested the strange little canisters, it began to gurgle. Next, it withdrew its tentacles and stopped moving altogether, and its cabbage-colored lights flickered and snuffed out like candles in the wind. Finally, it began to shrink, its teeth withdrawing and its form squirming into a sick mass of skin and foul-smelling flesh.
Guts and juices went flying everywhere in an explosion of heat, sound, and havoc. Sticky bits of skin stuck to your hair and splattered all over your heavy winter clothing staining it a bright, nasty yellow. Lukas hadn't fared any better as for the rest of the crew who had been tying the netiss down.
"Guh—That's gross!" you screamed suddenly feeling the contents of your stomach starting to come up. It was a good thing you hadn't had lunch yet.
"Ha ha ha!" one of the men laughed. "We got him!"
"What in the world…?" Lukas murmured shaking his head in disbelief. You watched as he got up to his feet and began to wring the netiss' entrails out of his hair. He didn't look too happy.
While you were watching him get up, one of the men patted you on your shoulder.
"It's a good think we were here, isn't it?" he laughed. "Your friend would have become netiss lunch before noon."
"Th-Thank you…" you managed to say despite having a chunk of netiss flesh stuck on the side of your lips.
"So what brings a young group like you into the Bone Forest?" the man asked.
"We're just passing through," Lukas answered before you could blurt out something stupid.
"You must be trying to get there fast if you wanted to go through the Bone Forest without any weapons," the man observed. "Either you two were really confident or really stupid. From the looks of things, it looks like you were stupid."
"No need to point that out, thank you very much," Lukas spat coughing up some yellowish liquid.
"Hold on…" You looked around noticing the abundance of small glowing lanterns dotting the area where the netiss had burst. "Isn't it dangerous to be carrying those lights around? What about the nightcrawlers?"
"Oh, there's no need to worry about that now," the man laughed. "Thanks to the smell of the netiss fat, nightcrawlers won't want to come within ten meters of you so it's completely fine!" Then he walked towards the middle of the fallen netiss that was nothing more than a blasted stump of a once intimidating creature. It was a gruesome sight to behold.
"Speaking of netiss fat," the man continued, "that's why we came here in the first place: to collect some netiss fat to sell back home. It makes for good repellant against nightcrawlers in these parts of the Bone Forest for travellers such as yourself. As a businessman, I'd ask if you'd like to buy some now that we've got a fresh batch, but you're already covered in the stuff!"
"We don't have any money anyway," you sighed now having mixed feelings about whether or not it was a good thing you were covered in the netiss' remains.
"I appreciate the offer, but we should be going now," Lukas grunted gathering himself together and straightening out his fat-heavy clothes.
"Yes, we should go," you agreed and followed after the dragon. Before leaving, you turned around and waved back at the group.
"Thank you for saving us," you smiled. "My friend and I would have been goners if it weren't for you."
"No problem," the man smiled and waved back. "If you're ever in need of traveling supplies, be sure to look for a bright red caravan cart on the main roads."
"We'll be sure to do that," you said and walked away with Lukas.
Once the lights from the caravan's lanterns faded, Lukas began to talk. Since the two of you were covered with netiss fat, there was no need to fear the nightcrawlers anymore.
"Ha," he laughed dryly without moving a muscle on his lips. "Friends? Let me make something clear, human: dragons aren't friends with humans."
You frowned. "What else was I supposed to call you? My brother? A guide? Because if I was, you didn't do a very good job of fending off that monster back there."
"If I was alone, I could have taken it by myself," Lukas insisted.
"Liar," you threw back.
To this, Lukas remained silent.
"At least we're all alive," Emil said. "That's all that should really matter in the end."
I'm glad someone is thinking positively during these rough times, you thought in mild annoyance. Then again, you don't have a body to get covered in netiss fat with.
"You have a point," Emil agreed.
There was a pause.
Hey, Emil, when I was asking you about how the Bone Forest got its name, you left out the part about the bones on the floor out of the explanation, didn't you?
"…Yes. I'm sorry. I did it so it wouldn't worry you."
You sighed. It was hard to stay mad at him with an honest reason like that. So where did those bones come from?
"Those are the results of the many victims that have fallen prey to the creatures lurking in the Bone Forest," Emil answered. "I suppose we should actually be fortunate that the team of humans back there had a way of dispatching the netiss so quickly." He paused. "I have never seen such weaponry before. The shape and results of those small objects are unfamiliar to me."
Looks like we learn something new every day, you thought.
"Indeed," Emil agreed.
"Speak of the night, we're almost out," you heard Lukas suddenly say. When you looked up, you saw a faint glimmer of light growing brighter and brighter.
"Oh, thank goodness," you breathed in relief. Lukas wasn't kidding about trekking the forest only taking a day.
When you reached the edge of the Bone Forest, the snow returned, and the icy winds began to cut through into your skin again. However, this time around, the netiss fat began to crystalize from absorbing so much snow. With all of the white suddenly being introduced to your eyes as opposed to the darkness, you had to squint in order to adjust to the light.
Lukas sighed. "It's back to this again. Try to keep up with me this time, human."
"It's ___________," you corrected the Demented Killjoy with Sick Fat of Netiss.