The soup was delicious! Creston hadn’t had it before and now he wanted more. He ate three bowls before his stomach couldn’t handle more. He was on the verge of losing it all, but he decided it would be worth it if it meant he could eat more.
After literally being wheeled out of Old Man Jenkins’ place, Creston followed Fox to his place. It hadn’t changed much since the last time he was there, seven years ago. The four post bed was still nestled by the fireplace in the living room where he left it. He sauntered over to it and laid down on the soft down comforter without even trying to get underneath it. He passed out the second his head hit the bed.
Sometime during the night, Creston woke up to find Fox’s arm draped around him, holding him tight. He smiled as he thought, Just like old times. He took Fox’s hand into his and drifted back to sleep.
The next morning, Creston woke up to find Fox making breakfast, baked beans, sausage, and scrambled eggs on toast- his favorite. He got out of bed and hugged him from behind. “And what have I done to deserve this?”
Fox smirked and asked, “Who says it’s for you?”
Creston feigned hurt feelings as he stepped backward into the dining area. He clutched his heart and frowned. “Ouch. Your words wound me.”
“I’ll do more than that if you don’t wash your hands and sit down.” Fox poured a portion of scrambled eggs on a plate next to the beans and sausage and set it down on the table. “Go on.” He watched Creston run to the bathroom and heard the water rush from the tap. His friend returned to the table, his hands dripping wet. “What are you, an animal?”
“I washed my hands! Now lemme eat!” Crestron didn’t wait to dig in. It had been a long time since he had a home cooked meal. He muttered his approval between mouthfuls, which Fox appreciated.
The two ate in silence, or as silent as Creston could manage, for the rest of the meal. Whenever he looked up from his plate, he saw Fox watching him. He wore an expression of bemusement mixed with concern. He was familiar with this look. A burgeoning question was just beneath the surface, waiting to be unleashed into the open. He had an idea of what it was, but he wanted to put off answering it for as long as possible. He didn’t want to spoil this wonderful moment.
Fortunately for Creston, the question remained contained until the two of them were packed and headed for the Valley of Bones.
“So, where have you been for the last seven years?”
Creston closed his eyes as he felt the sting of the question hit his heart. He heard the hurt in Fox’s voice despite the attempt to hide it. He opened his eyes and did his best to avoid Fox’s. He couldn’t give him a straight answer if he had to make direct contact.
“Well, I had originally intended to visit my village to see how life after the Skeleton King had been, but…”
“But what? You left without saying a word! If you were just planning to go home, you would have told me.” Fox tried his best to contain his anger, but it crept into his voice, causing his words to have a sharper edge than he intended. “You just up and left. You left me. You left us.”
It was true, Creston had just left without a word. He had been living with Fox in his village for a year after the defeat of the Skeleton King, and things had been a dream. The two had grown very close during their adventures and decided to move in with each other if they survived. During that year, a great unease had grown deep within Creston. The feeling that something wasn’t right burrowed deeper into his soul with each passing day before he finally had to do something about it. He needed to find out what it was and he couldn’t do it from the safety of Fox’s village. He couldn’t explain it then and he couldn’t explain it now. He desperately wanted this to be swept away so things could get back to how they were a mere hour ago. He supposed it was going to be impossible for things to be how they were before he left. The damage was already done.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Fox asked impatiently. Creston had just been staring ahead with a dumb expression on his face. If he wasn’t so mad, he would have kissed him. That dumb look always got him hot under the collar.
Creston finally turned to face his friend and said, “I had something important to do, and in doing so, I got captured by Galvadian soldiers. I was imprisoned for five years before I was released into a work camp, where I served for two years. I was just released two weeks ago.”
Fox searched Creston’s eyes for any signs of deception. He knew he could cast a spell to discern the truth, but he knew if he was willing to use his magic against his friends and allies, it was a slippery slope to misusing his magic whenever it suited him. Mistrust was a hell of a poison, especially when magic was involved. As he stared deep into Creston’s eyes, he couldn’t help but be taken in by them. It had been so long since he’d seen them, he didn’t want to blink for fear Creston would disappear again.
“I believe you,” Fox said, taking a step back. “I guess you had no access to a quill and parchment then.” He gave Creston a slight nudge and grinned.
Creston’s body relaxed as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “Nah. They didn’t want to take the chance of me coordinating a breakout.” Anxious for the conversation to be over, he said, “Are we done with the drama?”
Fox gave him some much deserved side eye. “Fine, I’ll try to keep it light and fluffy from now on.”
With that business behind them for the moment, they continued through the wooded area just outside of Fox’s village, Hamsted. It was a lovely day out despite the looming threat of the Skeleton King’s return. The sun was so bright that it seemed to cleanse the air of any foul spirits. The leaves were super green, the ground was flush with the softest grass, and the air was super crisp, cool and refreshing. This would have been the idyllic scene straight out of an animated film or nature documentary. All that was missing were sounds of wildlife frolicking about, whatever that sounded like.
That was when Creston noticed the lack of wildlife doing anything. They had been walking for a half hour and in that time, he hadn’t seen a single creature, not even a fly. Something was not right about this.
“Fox,” he started, but his friend was already two steps ahead of him, figuratively and literally.
“We’re being watched,” Fox said, surveying the area for their voyeur, but couldn’t find them. “Do you feel that negative energy?”
Creston felt it. It was slight and almost undetectable, but when he concentrated he definitely could sense it. Another attack was imminent. He drew his sword and activated its flames. He stood ready to kick some undead ass. He glanced at Fox and saw he was ready as well.
“They’re getting closer! Get ready!” Fox called out. His fists were clenched, ready to throw some magical mojo at the oncoming swarm. A minute went by and there was no sign of the undead. This confused him because the negative energy still crept closer and stronger. He squinted in the hopes of somehow honing his vision to precision, but this didn’t work.
The negative energy was all around them now, but there were still no corpses to be seen. The Fighters stood there ready, but confused. Did the Skeleton King find a way to make the rotters invisible? That wouldn’t be fair at all.
Suddenly a twig snapped in a tree above them, causing Creston to turn his gaze upward. By the time he saw it, it was too late. A small creature landed on his face and proceeded to claw it. He tore it off and stared in disbelief. It was a rotting squirrel! Its skeletal body had tufts of dry fur clinging to the few bits of meat it had left. Disgusted, he tossed it on the ground and sliced it in half with his sword.
“Incoming!” Fox shouted.
A squad of undead squirrels leaped from the branches and rained down upon the hapless humans. They attacked with an abundance of fury. Their bony and fetid teeth ripped into their hands like tiny razors. Their size made it difficult for the boys to attack full on. The best they could do was flail about in the hopes of tossing them off. The tiny creatures only jumped back on to continue their rampage.
“Burn them off!” Creston managed to rip three squirrels off his arm, only to gain four more.
“They’re in my eyes!” Fox tore a squirrel from his face with extreme prejudice. It tore his cheeks with its claws, eliciting a cry from him. “There’s no end to them!”
“Light it up!”
“And burn the whole forest down?”
“I don’t care!”
Fox didn’t agree with that plan, but he got another idea. If he could just get some distance away from the undead squirrels he’d be able to concentrate on the spell he needed.
Creston swung his sword wildly, hoping to take out as many squirrels as possible. He was successful enough to see Fox struggling to get free to cast a spell. This was his chance to be a distraction.
“Oy! What’s got you so mad? Did someone touch your nuts? Well, you can chew on these nuts!” Creston ran in the opposite direction of Fox in the hopes the squirrels would follow him. This worked perfectly. The squirrels abandoned their primary target and followed him.
Fox didn’t waste a single second. Now that he wasn’t being bitten within an inch of his life, he could concentrate on gathering the energy he needed. He summoned it and thought about how he intended to use it. A blue glow emanated from his body as the energy flowed through him. He chanted the ancient words that he’d memorized years ago, and with the final syllable, he projected a wave of flames that burst forth from his chest. It rippled out in all directions and burned every undead squirrel within a five mile radius.
Creston watched the ashes float to the ground and collect in small piles, only to be swept up by the wind. He wiped the ashes from his clothes and checked his cloak for any stains. There were a few smudges, but they’d easily come out in the next wash. Other than that, he was unharmed.
“Impressive power,” Creston said, rejoining his friend. “Too bad you couldn’t have used it on a more worthy foe.”
Fox, a bit lightheaded from expending his energy, only grinned.
Creston looked at the trees to see if there were any more squirrels hungry for their flesh. There was none he could see. Fox’s spell wiped them out completely. “Something worries me.”
“Oh, the Creston Dex worries about things?” Fox huffed between words. It had been some time since he used his powers twice in less than twenty-four hours. He was surprised how much it took out of him. He was also a little embarrassed by how little it took to wipe him out considering all the gardening he’d done.
“Yes. These attacks seem to be focused mainly on us.”
“Well, that’s reasonable since we are the ones who defeated the Skeleton King. You said yesterday that he’d want to target us.”
Creston stroked his dimpled chin. “I know. He hit us at both of our villages, but we’re not there now, but somehow he still found us. How was he able to do that?”
Could it be? Fox had an idea. “A tracking spell.”
Creston arched a brow in curiosity. “What?”
“Someone must have placed a spell on us the last time we fought the Skeleton King. It was probably that sycophantic sorcerer of his.”
“What was his name again? Riblet or something?” Creston chuckled at his joke. “How could that spell still be working? That was eight years ago. Surely, you would have noticed it.”
Fox shook his head. “No. He’s a sorcerer. His power level is way above mine. His spells could last forever if one didn’t know they were there.” He tried to think of when Rib could have placed the spell on them. If there was a tracking spell on them, they could be attacked at any time no matter where they went, which would continually put others’ lives at risk. He couldn’t sense the spell, so it was only theoretical at this point. But there was one way to find out for sure.
“I have a friend in Wilshire Village who might be able to help us!” Fox said excitedly. “In fact, I’m sure of it.”
“A friend you say?” Creston said suggestively. “Do tell me more about this ‘friend’.”
Fox dismissed the allegation and continued. “He’s a potion master who runs a gentleman’s club. If anyone could break a spell, it’d be Peg.”
Creston’s ears perked up when he heard the words ‘gentleman’s club’. “That’s an odd job for a potions master. I don’t care though! If I get a potion and get to see some titties, I’m all in!”
“What a horn dog.” Fox shook his head and laughed as they continued their journey through the forest with their new destination of Wilshire Village.