Chapter 3 = Beware the darkness…
Disclaimer: Although all characters here are of my own invention, the original Yoshi is copyright of Nintendo, and I make no money from writing this.
They reached the other side of the forest by midnight, and took it in turns to keep watch while the other slept. However, Marcus’s dreams were fitful and full of nightmares, and he didn’t feel like he’d slept at all. After their encounter with the bandit they felt wary of letting their guard down entirely, and as soon as the sun rose again over the land, they left the cover of the forest and started crossing the open plains ahead of them, using the sun as a guide to point them north.
Neither of them knew much of the geography past the forest; they had reached the far end one day and turned back. But now, they were crossing into the unknown. When they stopped again to take a breather, Marcus looked around. Wide, open grassland spread out before them into the distance, and the long grass swayed with every gust of wind. It was quite a serene view, and the only audible sound was the wind blowing by. After a meagre lunch, -a few berries and some leftovers,- they continued walking, careful not to stray from a northerly route.
As the sun was setting they came across a major road, but no signposts. They opted to stay there for the night and hopefully find a merchant, or a traveller, or someone to get directions from. Marcus nodded off as soon as he sat down, and Manny snacked on their last few berries. He looked up into the dark sky, and gazed upon the stars; the cloudless night made it quite cold, but the heavens were perfectly visible to him. Hanging in the sky was Chyrus’s first moon; the second, larger moon would probably be around on the other side of Chyrus. The two moons that went over the land were in the same orbit, but swapped places every forty-two days. Manny was about to see if he could make any shapes by connecting the stars in his head, but Marcus’s delusive mumblings nearly drove him crazy, and he went in search of some more food.
Marcus woke with a start a few minutes later when a wolf howl cut through the darkness. He jumped to his feet, and readied his flail, taking it from the three leather rings bound to his saddlebags that he could slot the handle into. He noticed that his saddlebags seemed lighter, and discovered that the food pouch on his saddlebags was empty. He looked around again, and relaxed a little as silence prevailed once more. It’s nothing, he told himself. Just my imagin-
Marcus spun around wildly, clenching his teeth, looking for Manny. Someone just screamed! He thought. Unable to see in the darkness, he listened carefully for any further sounds, but only silence reached his ear holes. He heard a padding sound, almost like Yoshi boots… maybe it was Manny…?
Suddenly, something ran into him. Marcus’s feet were knocked out from under him, and he stumbled backwards, twisting his ankle. He collapsed to the ground, using his left hand to clutch his ankle. I let my guard down, and look what happened! His heart was racing, and his eyes darted around, looking out for whatever had hit him.
Squinting, he made out the indistinct outline of some creature running blindly along the road. It disappeared into the shadows, and Marcus crawled off the road, in case any more of them came. He heard heavy footsteps and panting, and the occasional cry of pain followed by a muffled curse. A shape staggered forwards, and it looked to be about the size of a wolf, or perhaps the creature that had smacked into him. Marcus let go of his foot and used both his hands to hold his flail, as prepared as he could be for an attack. But whatever it was stopped before reaching the cowering brown Yoshi. Hesitantly, it stood straight, and Marcus saw it had a sword. It caught its breath and held its sword ready.
Marcus guessed from the profile it was another Yoshi, and he assumed it was his friend. “Manny,” he whispered, “I’m over here.” The Yoshi moved forward, and the pale moonlight glinted off Manny’s short sword. Marcus breathed a sigh of relief. But he then gasped as the moonlight also showed blood dripping from three deep claw slashes on Manny’s nose.
Marcus tried to be calm about it, and pretend he hadn’t noticed. Manny, however, wiped some of the blood off his nose and whispered, “Don’t worry, it’s just a little scratch…”
“What was that creature?” Marcus said. But Manny clapped a hand over his mouth. “Be quiet!” Manny hissed, and he hauled Marcus to his feet. Marcus stifled a cry as pain shot through his sprained ankle.
Marcus spoke softly, pulling Manny’s hand off his face. “Manny, I can’t walk. I’ve twisted my ankle…” Manny thought for a moment.
“But we’ve got to move on. I think there’s a whole pack of them coming.”
As if to emphasise this point, another scream cut through the dark.
“Leave me here. I’ll hide.” Marcus murmured.
Manny shook his head. “Where? It’s just grass for a long way.”
Marcus had an idea. “I know. Turn around. You’ll have to let me ride you.”
“You’re a fully-grown Yoshi. I can’t carry you!”
“You’re stronger than I am, I’m a bit underweight, and I’m not fully grown yet, but I’m pretty close. You can probably manage.”
Marcus returned his flail to the leather rings, and Manny grudgingly turned sideways and let Marcus clamber onto his saddle. Marcus wrapped his hands around Manny’s neck, and Manny walked along the road, trying to balance Marcus on his back. His friend was surprisingly light, and once Manny was accustomed to the added weight he soon broke into a run. Marcus closed his eyes and held on for dear life.
Unfortunately, Marcus was the better runner of the two, and Manny could only run for about half a mile before slowing to a trot. The wolf cries were getting fainter, and after silence remained for a few minutes, Manny collapsed to the ground from exhaustion and blood loss, panting, as he lay sprawled on the floor.
Marcus let go of Manny and gently put some weight on his foot, and he only felt a slight prickle. Switching places with his friend, he walked forward. Manny drifted into unconsciousness, and Marcus moved onward under the far greater weight of the dark blue Yoshi, ignoring the stinging in his foot.
Up ahead, he caught sight of an old lodge. It was circular and small, and had several holes in the thatched roof. The stones it was made out of were slightly discernible in the dying light of a nearby campfire. Marcus hurried towards it, as fast as his exhausted legs would allow as he bore Manny on his back. He felt wary as he approached, and while he was looking about, he tripped over a body sprawled on the ground. Manny was catapulted off Marcus’s saddle, and Marcus fell forward onto the road. Marcus’s injured foot seared with pain as he got to his feet, and he found claw slash marks on the head, chest, and across the neck of what was a dead Birdo. A deeper red than most Birdos normally were, it appeared to have died only a few minutes ago after a wolf -or whatever it was- attack.
Wincing with pain after every other step, he grabbed both Manny and the Birdo around their necks and dragged them towards the ruined lodge. Once inside, he shut the broken door and collapsed onto a wooden chair. It appeared the Birdo had been living here, as a number of small objects were scattered around the room, untouched by the carpets of dust that covered the floor and windowsill. He got up and removed the Birdo’s pack, the reason he had pulled in the corpse, and sat back down to look through it.
Inside he found a handful of change, the total value of which was 67 coins, which he put in his saddlebags. He also found some cloth, which could be used as a bandage, an empty water canteen, and few pieces of paper. Intrigued, he unfolded one to find it was a letter. He held it in a beam of moonlight streaming in through a hole in the thatched roof, and strained to read the spidery writing:
I hope you’re doing fine. I know it’s difficult to live in exile, but I’m doing everything I can to have it overturned. I know you are innocent, and as soon as I have some proof you can come back.
Our little Sarennia is doing fine, she’s learned to read and write. But she always wants to know when you’ll be back, and I keep telling her you’ll come back soon.
I’ve sent you some money I earned; it’s all I can spare. Foryo is imposing heavy taxes on the populace of Sansata, but I don’t really want to know what he’s doing with the money. It seems he’s raising an army; he came back with a squad of horsemen this morning from somewhere south of here.
If I can’t get you back here, I’ll come see you myself. I’m paying for express delivery to get this to you, you’re worth it to me.
Loving you always,
Your husband Xavier
Marcus read it and re-read it. The letter was a mine of information; he now knew where Foryo was and the town he had to find. He wished it hadn’t involved the death of the Birdo, but he couldn’t help that. He opened another piece of folded paper, and it was a crude, hand-drawn picture of two Birdos, a green one and a smaller pink one, presumably the relatives of ‘Salistra’. He conjured up an image in his mind of the crestfallen pair, saddened by the loss of a loved one, and Marcus stifled a sob as memories of his own lover flowed back into his mind. The final piece of paper was a note of exile, signed by some high-ranking officials.
Returning most of the items to the pouch, he kept a strip of cloth, licked the ends to make them sticky, and stuck it across the cuts on Manny’s nose. He then took a dusty, moth-eaten blanket off of the bed and draped it over his friend. Marcus then sat back in the chair and fell asleep, troubled again by renewed nightmares.
To be continued…