In your dream, you look back into the shadow. The Shade you had just fought stared at you as you stared back. It did not move a single inch. You are frozen in place yet you don't feel any fear. It won't hurt you at all. You can still hear its low hum. You can see yourself walk away from it. Slowly, that walk turns into a run. Your jog turns into a sprint. You can feel the darkness tickle at the back of your neck. You can see the blackness already taking up half of your body. How much longer do you have?
You trip into the darkness. You find yourself falling but somehow, it's not so bad. You feel at peace. Like you can go to sleep anytime. You wouldn't mind giving up right now. It was all futile anyhow. A smile came across your face. "Just like this…" You mumbled to yourself. You stop struggling and let the black consume you from the bottoms of your feet upwards. As you feel your descent, it feels like you're floating down.
You awake to a light shining in your face. Now that you are back in reality, things seem much more glum. You look out the window. It's sunny. How long where you asleep? Was that all a dream? You look at all the cuts and scrapes that you received in battle. No. It was real. If you could fall back into that darkness, that would be nice but you made a promise to yourself to help Kein find that tree.
"Big bro! You're awake!" Melodus pounces onto you. You cringe in pain. You still feel sore. You were still bruised a battered after all.
"How long have I been asleep…?" You ask quietly. You feel the same morning stiffness you always have. You feel grimy and dirty too though.
"You slept for a whole day yesterday. The sun rose and you didn't wake. Auntie said to leave you alone. Kein woke up sooner than you did. You fainted after the battle. I carried you and Kein back home. Auntie helped me bandage you."
You look out the window again. It's probably about late afternoon to midday. It would be a good choice if you took a quick bath, cleaned all your bruises and bandages and leave right away. It's not safe here either. It's almost as if the Shade were following you.
Melodus began to cry. Her tailed swayed back and forth. There was an uncomfortable stillness to the moment. You look to her. She sniffles and you feel helpless to comfort her. You know exactly why she's crying.
"I-I" She stutters and it's hard to make out her words.
You ruffle her hair and smile. "I'm going to take a bath," you announce. You gather your things and take it to the bathroom with you.
While in the bath, you spend some time thinking. Knowing Melodus, she would try and force her way to travel with you and Kein again. Of course, you'd never subject her to any more fighting than she has already been exposed to. Kein would agree with you. You feel sad. Your nose gets drippy. You decide to finish up quickly and leave.
You have Kein help you bandage yourself again before you leave. Leona approaches you as Kein is dressing your wounds.
"You guys had a rough night. Are you sure you wanna leave now? I'd be happy to let you stay a few more days. After what you did for us, you're practically family now," She said casually as she hovered over the two of you.
"No thank you," Kein is quick to reply. "It'd be a danger for not just you guys but for Melodus and even the whole town." She smiled half-jokingly. "They'll be talking about this for days, huh? Where is Melodus?"
"I honestly don't know. But-" she was cut short when Melodus enters the room and hugs the two of you.
"I don't care what anyone says about the Cursed. You two are the nicest people I have ever met." She nuzzles Kein's hand. "I really wanna go with you but I know you would never let me go any farther."
You take a moment to think to yourself. You want to leave her a memento. Something to remember you by. A legacy.
Kein, like always, seemed to think the same thing and was faster than you. She gave her one of the charms on her staff. "Pray every day. May you have the highest blessings from the Goddess." She seemed to make a smear on Melodus' forehead with her thumb.
Without you, she leaves the scene. She doesn't look back. You take your things and follow her lead. As you approach the front gate, you can still see the murmuring faces of those who witnessed your entrance. You also can see the gossiping ninnies of those whom you think might have seen you fight the Shade. This time they only seem to be bystanders. You take no time to look back even still. You walk even faster and replace Kein's lead.
It isn't until you leave, that the two of you look back at the gates one last time.
Kein begins to bawl. You share the same sadness. Especially considering there is no way to comfort her. You'll never see them again. It's not like you haven't felt this pain before. You turn away before you break into tears. It was time you moved quickly before any more of the Shade returned.
You spend most of the day heading North. While you were making your way from Haceddar to Excellsia, you had heard rumors about the Forest of Grief being home to this particular tree that you had been questing for the past months. Your plans since then were to head North but making a detour to Excellsia just ended up as part of your adventure. Your real destination was the Forest of Grief.
However, to get there, you had to pass through the mountains. According to your map, Disarest is a town built into the mountains. If you can stop by, you can pick up provisions before going into the forest. On your map, there was no labeled town in the forest. There were very slim chances of you finding anyone living in there. And if there were people, they probably would be unfriendly non-human creatures.
Going from Excellsia to the base of the mountains of Disarest was not that difficult. The road was very easy to follow. For a couple days, a kindly merchant offered you and Kein a ride in the back of his cart in which you took him up on. Riding in a kart made you reminisce of your boyhood days living out in the fields born from the sweat and work of the whole family, including you. You remember a particular story of a time when you were young and had forgotten where home was. Your mother, having invited the neighbors over, convinced them to trick you into thinking you had wandered off in your sleep and that you had gotten lost. Kein laughed herself a fit hearing of your childhood. But when asked about hers, she seemed to avoid it. It must be a sensitive topic.
"I'm sorry. I don't have any really fun stories to share. Most of the time, I was bed-ridden. My father and mother would pamper me. I was also an only child. But we were not very wealthy because of my medications. But I guess that's not the reason why I don't like talking," she began to ramble. "I think it's because I know they aren't my real parents. I was adopted. They never told me what happened to my real parents. Nobody did. And I never found out. Maybe I never will. But who knows?"
After that conversation, you wanted to be more sensitive but weren't sure how.
"Oh don't feel bad. It's all in the past, right?" Kein constantly reminded you. "We threw that out the second we…" She could not finish her sentence but at the same time, you knew exactly what she meant. The bright mood clouded over.
Of course, you eventually had to part ways with the traveling merchant. You thank him and continue your journey on foot. In a way, you feel that it would have been faster to travel by foot in the first place. It would be better to travel as fast as you can considering your time limit. The faster you find the cure, the better it will be for the benefit of the world. With that in mind, you feel encouraged to push on in your journey.
So, you and Kein venture onwards. The weather has most definitely gotten colder. Even Necestia had never reached temperatures are biting as the ones in the mountains. As you climb further up the mountains, camping has become more and more unbearable for you and Kein. Here and there, you find cabins to stay in for the night but the floor remains cold and even the fire does not provide enough warmth.
Besides your physical strength that drains, you can also feel your morale slipping. You barely know what day it is. Half the time, you aren't even sure where you are and how long it will be before you will escape this mountainous maze. The more you concentrate, the harder it becomes.
Your dreams continue to get worse. At times, you begin to hallucinate. Kein seems to be worried but you try to reassure her that you will be alright. At least, that's what you keep telling yourself. As the days go by, you feel yourself getting weaker. Sometimes you blur the vision between reality and fantasy. It seems to get worse with each passing day.
After a month of traveling upwards, you finally reach the peak of the mountains. The air is thin and the wind is just as blistering as it is down below. You take a deep breath in what little fresh air you can get. You feel satisfied despite your exhaustion.
"We made it," Kein puffed. She was just as tired and out of breath as you were. She looks out into the valley. Her jaw dropped at its natural awe. "I can't believe the view from up here."
You stand and watch from behind her. Her growing hair and clothes flap in the wind. She looks elegant in the wind. You find yourself staring at her. You feel embarrassed as you climb to her side.
And then you look down and understand everything.
Below you there is a river that you can see flowing as well as a thick forest. But you can also see the different wildlife living comfortably in this winter wasteland. You don't remember the last time you saw anything living since your climb up. Unconsciously, you hold onto Kein's hand while you look out with her. You feel so insignificant yet now that you are looking at things from a different view, you also feel alone. Although you are on top of the world, it's as if you are only watching from a distance only. You're whole being here feels too surreal.
"C'mon," Kein beckons you. She slips her hand out of yours before you realize you were holding hands. "Let's go down. That was phenomenal. I didn't believe such a thing could exist, huh…" She spoke quietly so it was a little difficult to hear. Not like she could help it. The view was surpass shocking. It really was phenomenal.
"yeah…" you mutter. You climb downwards but you catch another glimpse of the peak of that mountain. Just so you see what it looks like from below. Any higher, and you might have gone into the territory of the gods. It seemed divine. You reach your hand out instinctively. Why would the gods curse you like this? If you could only reach their territory and ask them why, that would be all you need.
You continue you travel through the mountains. The warming climate is a grace to you. Kein suggests that you stop by the flowing river to rest.
"Wow! I never imagined mountain climbing would be so difficult. But that's what you'd expect living in the plains most of your life, huh," Kein remarked. You smile in agreement. It was then that it occurred that not much was known about the next town you were coming to. You ask Kein if she read anything. She seemed to know a lot of things you don't. Especially since she was better educated than you were.
"Hmmmm. I don't think there's much to say about Disarest. But hopefully we'll get there soon. I'm exhausted. Disarest is an isolated city-state, I hear. It's pretty self-sufficient and very independent," Kein explained as filled her and your bottles.
You check your map but it doesn't seem to help at all because it is a world map. You ask Kein if you can rest for the night and she agrees so the two of you rest.
Because there is a river, you and Kein take turns bathing in it. As much as you wanted to peek, it took all of your effort to restrain yourself. As soon as she finished, you leapt into the river.
The river was smoothly flowing through your filthy body. The water felt good in your hair. Ever since you left, keeping up in personal hygiene has been incredibly difficult. In the next town, hopefully, there's a bath. You wash up as quickly as possible. The river's too cold for you to stay in for too long. But the cold bath was just what you needed.
You recommend to travel down the river in hopes to find Disarest. Kein agrees and you walk along the river bank. Where there is water, there typically are people. You can feel yourself getting more hopeful as you travel down the river.
Of course, you didn't expect to find the town in one day but you do see traces of civilization as you grow nearer. The two of you camp out again. Hopefully, it'll be for the last time.