The Haunted Wood I - A Dark Quest
A Dark QuestBy SheepMomtherMocha was more confused than he had ever been. He had just arrived to City of Sol to leave some freshly harvested pumpkins when it was announced to him that Maja the witch requested his presence. He didn't even know Maja, he thought. But, as the city's chief sorcerer, it'd be only natural that she knew anyone she needed. His real concern was why she would need him.He didn't frequent City of Sol much, but even he had heard the rumors about Beacon: an ill Acerodon who screeched iller prophecies, and was under Maja's care; he just hoped it had nothing to do with the poor creature and the scary omens it carried.Mocha decided to go, partly because he's a well-mannered Stryx, but partly too because he thought that, if he could find answers anywhere, it'd be there.As soon as he saw Maja with the Acerodon in her arms, his hopes plummeted. He was ready to help, but he wasn't sure he'd be ready to fulfill Maja's request if it had to do with the ill creature.Beacon's prophesying ruffled Mocha's feathers in fear; he had never heard such screeching, let alone such prophecies. Whatever Beacon was saying, it wasn't any good, and Mocha had somehow gotten tangled in it now. Was he really the one? Wouldn't there be a chance Maja had called the wrong Stryx? Surely there'd be stronger, fiercer Stryxes that could help more efficiently than him. But of course it wasn't a mistake, Maja is chief sorcerer for a reason. The witch explained that she needed some herbs to heal the dying creature, and she was requesting Mocha's help to harvest and deliver them. Harvesting would usually be no problem for the Stryx; he was used to scavenging a lot, and with no one else harvesting them there should be plenty to find. However, these specific herbs were found in the Haunted Wood, which was currently plagued with corrupted Wisps. On top of Beacon's words, a haunted forest haunted by evil ghosts didn't sound like a good destination for a road trip.However, Maja needed him.His difficult choice was made even harder when a herald arrived to recruit able ones to defend the city. Maja immediately declined the royal request, leaving Mocha as the next potential recruit.The witch and Beacon foreshadowed dark times for the city, but they were times to come yet, and the Acerodon could be hallucinating from their sickness. Instead, the herald spoke of current dangers, and how the city needed them the most.Darkness loomed over the room. The city needed Mocha's help, and, was he to defend the city from its current, growing danger or to save it from the lurking monstrosities the decaying prophet spoke of, his first step was to choose.After a moment filled with indecision, Mocha turned to the herald. Sudden but fierce determination burning in him.He bowed in a display of respect."I apologize to you and your highnesses, but I will not be able to assist you in the defense of the city." He looked up with certain eyes, a mix of guilt and pride pounding in his chest. "The city is in danger, but it could surely be because of whatever, or whoever, put this poor beast in such a deplorable state."He took a deep, reassuring breath. He wasn't used to making big decisions without Avira's help, but Avira wasn't there, and Beacon's life was in danger, as well as many others."Please tell the king and queen that I apologize for depriving the city from my help, but I'll be taking on a quest that I hope will assist the city in a far larger scale. As chief sorcerer, I'm sure the king and queen trust Maja deeply, so I will trust her too." He trailed off for a moment, wondering how to word his next thoughts."If I make it back alive and manage to save the Acerodon, I will put my remaining strengths in defending the city."Mocha held the woman's gaze, searching for a sign of understanding in her eyes. He didn't find any.The herald stood there for a second, seemingly incredulous. "Understood" was all that escaped her mouth. She bowed her head quickly to Mocha, then to Maja in a more respectful pace, and readied herself to leave, giving the Acerodon one last glance.She walked to the exit with troubled air, and stopped before leaving, clearly fidgeting."I just hope you're right, bird. May the deities favor you."As the herald left the room, Mocha felt a life's worth of pressure lift his wings, although it had barely been an hour since this whole mess began."May the deities favor you." It echoed in his head. What could possibly need all three deities' pity to fulfill? Had he known it'd be this dangerous, he'd have probably weighted more his choices. Corrupted Wisps were surely going to be a lot to deal with, but if he needed Daius Galyx and Nokt by his side, he was probably going to deal with something bigger. And he was all alone.Maja's voice interrupted his thoughts before they could reach darker topics."Mocha dear, thank you for agreeing to help. I know Beacon's a complete stranger to the city, and I'm a complete stranger to you, but it was wise of you to choose to help us. Whatever is corrupting these Wisps must be related to what harmed our friend here, and you're the one who may help us."Unable to ask why she was so sure he'd be of help, Mocha sputtered the only important thing he could think of."I won't disappoint you."With a bow and a sorrowful but resoluted look, Mocha turned to leave the workshop.The crisp, chilly, autumnal night air outside brought with itself new hopes for the Stryx. Now more determined than ever, Mocha unfurled his wings and took flight to the nearest market to restock for his upcoming adventure, whatever he may need.He arrived to the market full of ideas, good and not so good. He had gone over the things that may happen, how he may perish under the evil doings of a Wisp; how he may die from starvation; how Daius Galyx and Nokt may curse him for not helping the city; how the Wraith may be only a myth; how the herbs may have been cursed by the Wisps and be inedible by now; how the Wraith may be real and bloodthirsty; how the pumpkins may have morphed into a giant Stryx ready for revenge; how Beacon's omens may be nothing but a fever dream; how Avira wasn't there to help him, and how much he needed his friend right now.Mocha's thoughts were overwhelming; even the dumbest of thoughts seemed to make him fear. He had tried to fight back tears, but he had never been good at switching off his emotions. He took a moment to cry; he wasn't sure of what was in store for him, and he had no one to turn to.Once he was feeling better, Mocha took a deep breath and took a look at the market's sign. If he wasn't gonna have someone to rely on, he'd need to be strong enough to rely on himself.Mocha packed some food, water, and bandages in case needed. His nerves tried making him bring the whole market with him, but he knew he'd need to stay light if he wanted to flee from any trouble quickly. He was not going to risk his life more than already planned; Beacon needed those herbs, and to get those herbs Mocha needed to get out of the woods alive.As he exited the market, Mocha glanced at the city; he could see the castle, and he wondered for the last time if he had made the right choice. But he had no time for what ifs, so he shook his head lightly and started walking towards the woods. Maja had given him an illustration of what the herbs looked like, and he was now fully ready to face whatever threats the woods may carry this Autumn.He walked slowly for a few minutes. Then for a few hours. He tried turning his attention to the pumpkins and the orange leaves piled up by the side of the path. Once he was feeling better about his quest, Mocha took flight to the woods.He had never been to the Haunting Wood, but he had flown past it before.He thought his first time going would be because of a dumb bet with Avira and the other birds, not because of an imperative quest to face off against some evil Wisps and gather some plants for a hallucinating living ( and almost dying ) fossil.It took him a few more minutes to get close. A threatening aura emanated from the forest's dark silhouette, and no welcoming sounds came from it. The full moon stared at Mocha's every move. The stars twinkled with hidden mischief. With the season fully settled in, the forest's trees had no leaves anymore, their sharp branches warning whoever dared enter.Mocha slowed down his wings, suddenly wishing time would slow down with them.Fear started dancing in his eyes to a desperate lullaby marked by the howling of the forest.Whatever was waiting for him was worse than anything he had fought before.He was frightened. Truly frightened. But he was going to save that diseased prophet.He took a deep breath.He stepped into the woods.