It was something he couldn't explain to Seb, let alone show him. A fuzzy portal across a fuzzy expanse, where things exist until they don't and don't exist until they do. A field of chaos, where the air melts, turns liquid, solid, and then back again in mere moments. An eternity of noise, a friend to those who could bear it, a void of tinnitus weighing down on those caught inside. Kevin liked it mostly for its nachos, though.
He found it behind a book on glass-blowing: a fizzling, squishy spot in the old wooden supports behind the library shelf. Kevin grabbed it in his meaty paw and ripped to the side, throwing the void wide open. The edge of existence glowed slightly, and globules of shimmering, iridescent light leaked out of it into the open air. Kevin's eyes widened, and a low "ooooh..." emanated from his throat.
Trying to fit his oversized frame between the shelves, the aardwolf carefully climbed the hole into the bleed zone.
Kevin drifted softly downwards. Gravity seemed intermittent on the other side, but he made it back to rocky ground without injury. Bands of bright blues and whites flickered and faded over the void of the sky, a bit like the fuzziness you get when you close your eyes and push down on them. Kevin was grinning rather wide now; the bleed zone was once home for him.
Making a careful leap across the endless expanse, he latched onto the side of a floating island. His exposed fur bristled and spatial disorientation soon had him in his clutches. Such were the effects of a bleed zone on a sapient.
One leap lead to another, and off Kevin went into the abyss, looking for nachos.
"Hey, Miguel! Hurry up!"
"Awright, I'm coming, I'm coming!"
Marcela clung impatiently to the shoulder of Rocco's tunic as she watched the capybara lumber casually up the hill. He'd stopped towards the bottom to adjust the rawhide quiver around his waist, and frankly, he wasn't exactly the quickest of the three to begin with.
Rocco fidgeted with the contents of the satchel over his other shoulder. "Remind me to never buy anything in Dragonbridge again." Waterskins, jerky, berries, potions, dagger, map...
Miguel, at long last, made it to the top, slightly out of breath.
"Took ya long enough," Marcela mumbled.
"I made it up here, Marcy, calm down. Where are we off to now?"
Rocco unrolled the paper map from off its dowel rod and scanned it over. "Hm, southeast, I reckon. Should—be a path that gets us back on the main road."
It wasn't twenty paces away that a flash of light hit Miguel's peripheral vision. He turned to face it, and Rocco and Marcela turned in kind. Kevin stood at the bottom of a hill with a small paper bowl of nachos covered in cheese and sour cream in his hand.
Munching away at a chip, he waved at the party.
"Hi, multiverse people!" Kevin took a break from his snack and stumbled up the hill, not seeming to mind their confused glares.
Marcela squinted. "Excuse me?"
"Oh, you're an aardwolf too!" Kevin exclaimed. He stuck the bowl out at Rocco. "Want one?"
"I am—good, thank you."
Kevin couldn't help but admire the scenery of the shimmering strait and Dragonbridge in fog from atop the hill as he dug through the bowl with his other hand. "Are you guys roleplaying?"
Miguel cocked his head. "Roleplaying?"
"Yeah! Like sometimes, Seb and Penny go over to that badger's house and they pretend to be medieval people with spells and stuff."
"Where did you come from?" Marcela asked.
Kevin put a finger up to his mouth in thought.
"No, The City."
"Yes, but which one?"
Marcela interjected again. "And what are you wearing?"
Kevin looked down at his clothes. "My jacket! It's comfy." How out of place he looked among their leather armour, belted tunics, and bladed weaponry didn't occur to him until it was pointed out. Still, he liked his jacket more.
Still more than a little confused, Rocco backed away from Kevin. "Well..." he started. "We—best get going. Night falls on the unsuspecting."
"Oh, can I come with you?"
Marcela shook her head. "No way."
Kevin whimpered. "Please? You won't even know I'm here, I promise!"
"Listen, big fella," Miguel said. "We've gotta be in Freyvale in a week. If you're lost, I can point you back to Dragonbridge..."
"He can come," Rocco interjected. He was impatient; a fourth member of the party wouldn't matter much, even one too busy eating strange nachos to be of much use.
And so, Rocco and friends set off on the way back to the main road, confused and uneasy.
Marcela climbed atop Rocco's shoulder and hissed in his ear, annoyed. "What, is it because he's an aardwolf?"
About an hour out from sundown, and the party was stuck. Civilization was nowhere nearby. No place to take refuge after the long day spent following trails over wonky bridges, through grasslands, and listening to the strange, oversized aardwolf talk about a "Seb" and "Penny" some more.
Miguel squinted. "Mmmh. We should've hit an inn by now."
"You have no idea where we are, do you?"
Rocco growled at the flying squirrel hanging off his shoulder. "I do, I do, just—hold on." He yanked the map out of a side pocket of his satchel and scanned it frantically.
"...I have no idea where we are."
"Well, what do we do now?"
Kevin gasped, pointing into the distance. "There's a cave over there!"
Miguel and Marcela looked at each other with pulled faces. Nonetheless, options were few, and so, the weary trio set off for the relative safety of it. It was a big, wide opening over some rocks that descended into a space with an underground lake. It wasn't pretty—caves never are—but it was shelter.
Marcela glided down to the water's surface, and Rocco climbed down the rock facade after her, making sure things were stable and smooth for the others. It wasn't that steep of a decline, just enough to hurt greatly if you lost your balance.
"Um, guys..." Kevin said nervously. "It looks—dangerous..."
"It's not that far!" By the time he said it, Rocco's feet were back on solid ground. Of course, he was also busy backing away from the wall in case Kevin came tumbling. Miguel went next, and while capybaras weren't exactly known for their climbing ability, he made it down without error.
Kevin was frozen, anxious. He was used to fire escapes and maybe forests, not falling down craggy, fractured rock facades, and he wasn't exactly looking forward to the experience. Still, he gave it the old college try nonetheless, hugging the jagged stone as close as he could and only moving when he was sure nothing would crumble under his weight.
Getting back to the ground was a religious experience; Kevin would've preferred to never go through it again.
Most of the cave room was taken up by a huge underground lake, deep and mostly still aside from some waves and bubbles down below. The others didn't seem to mind it much, but Kevin kneeled close to the water's edge, trying to see what was stirring. For the most part, it wasn't much, and the lack of ambient lighting wasn't helping that, but then—something shifted.
Kevin leaned in closer, trying his best to see into the depths. Something inky came at him. A turtle-like beast, a sandy red aside from its dark, giant eyes and its slate-coloured, spiky shell, surfaced. Kevin only stared back at it.
"Mate, get away from it!" Miguel shouted. Plucking an arrow from his quiver with reflexes more fitting of a jaguar, he pulled it hard against his bowstring and fired it right at the beast, missing its flesh narrowly in the darkness. Rocco had his sabre pulled on instinct.
Kevin was unfazed. Despite Miguel's protests, he inched closer to it, reaching out a hand with which to touch its shell. It swam closer to the edge, over to Kevin before emerging from the water altogether and climbing onto his lap.
Kevin grabbed a worm from a small patch of dirt nearby and held it out for the turtle, who accepted it into its jaws.
"What the hell—"
Kevin smiled and held the side of the turtle's shell gently. "Guys, he's not dangerous."
Back to the story index on cammy.somnolescent.net...