Art By Lia Dimalanta
Art By Lia Dimalanta.

Deep in the Scorpion Grass

There were only the two of them, but at the back of their minds, they felt as if not all things were at their place in their room for four.

By Jorel Magistrado | Thursday, 2 May 2024

Lucien wiped the sleepiness away from his bleary eyes. He stood up, abruptly hitting his horns on the bedframe of the upper bunk. His pained wail woke up the druid, Alastir, with a jolt. Her pointed ears twitched, mouth hung open as she was about to scold him. Then, her gaze shifted to the mattress atop his.


“Why are you sleeping in a bunk bed?” She stood up, stretching her lithe form. Peering outside the cabin’s window, she was met with nothing but thick, tangled wisps of fog. She could barely make the outline of the trees outside, hues of green that faded as soon as they showed themselves. 


“I could ask you the same thing,” Lucien pointed towards her own bed. Alastir’s gaze landed on the top bunk, narrowing at the amount of clutter laid on top of it. “Don’t you ever clean your side of the room?”


The tiefling ducked as he stood up, careful to avoid the metal edge this time. As he set his foot down, he was met with uneven ground, sending him off-balance. With a yelp, his body crashed against the hardwood floor.


Behind him, the elf stood in laughter. She strode over to him, bending down to pick up the object that made him trip. In her hands was a lute, made of varnished walnut wood, embossed with gold details. A flash of recognition briefly flashed across her face, before she knit her eyebrows in confusion. She brought her gaze back to Lucien, who has now used the dresser to prop himself up. 


“Do you remember bringing this here?” She held up the instrument. Lucien shook his head in response. 


“I’m not skilled in such things. Maybe you overpacked, or the bard brought it…” he trailed off, eyes finding their way back to Alastir’s upper bunk. Something about it magnetized him, his hands itching to sift through belongings he somehow knew weren’t the half-elf’s. Mindlessly, he brought himself up the wooden ladder, plopping on the blue covers. 


“We don’t have a bard. We came here together, remember?” Alastir twirled the lute slowly, spotting a set of golden initials on the back: E. L. Subconsciously, her grip on it tightened, a lone tear rolling down her cheek. She blinked after a moment, wiping at it with the back of her palm.


“How long has it exactly been since the fog came? Didn’t the quest board say that the deadline was on the fourth moon?” Lucien came across heavy books bound with twine and adorned with various sigils. Stacks of them occupied the top bunk, and wedged in between were vials of shimmering liquid. Bits of leaves and powder were scattered across them. He bent down to get a better look, catching a faint whiff of sage and thyme instead.


“It’s been three days.” Alastir placed the lute gently on Lucien’s mattress. She traced the tally marks on the wooden bedpost, her eyes drifting further down to where the word “song” was crudely engraved. She spun around, just in time to see Lucien hop off the bed. 


He held out a spell book to her, a nervous frown etched on his dark lips. She took it, quickly flitting through its contents. It was a collection of healing spells, the 6th edition for the divine warriors of Asclepius. What was weird was that it was annotated. Cursive penmanship written in red ink filled the border with notes. Scraps of parchment paper and pressed flowers were sandwiched in between some of the other pages. She flipped back towards the first page, finding a name written in the corner of the paper. 


“Do you know a certain Sikkari Hirinn?” She asked Lucien. The book enamored her, a possession of a cleric, no doubt. From the sound of their name, dragon-born, too. Yet she didn’t recall anyone of note. It was only she and Lucien who came upon this cabin three days ago, she was certain of it. No one had occupied it before, but it was suspiciously sound, save for the dust that covered its furniture. That was the same day the fog rolled in. Dense enough to smother anything in its path. One couldn’t walk three steps outside before vanishing into thin air. 


When she landed on the last page, her eyes widened, dread pricking at her stomach. The scripture was hastily written, the strokes heavy enough to cause indents on the other side of the paper.


Don’t Listen. 


“Lucien, something isn’t right,” she whipped her head up, only to find him a short distance away from the window. His eyes were narrowed, as if striving to make out a silhouette from within the fog. His fingers curled to grab the dagger hidden under his leather forearm wrap.


She shifted towards him, stopping when she noticed the barely perceptible way he mouthed “no.” Slowly, she began to reach for her wooden staff, which was propped against one of the bed’s ladders.


Before she knew it, black talons splintered the window, sending a hail of glass flying across the room. She screamed, seeing it swipe against Lucien’s chest, rivulets of blood starting to seep through the fabric of his shirt. The impact sent him hurtling backward, colliding against the wall by the foot of the bed.


Without thinking twice, she grabbed her staff, lunging in front of the tiefling. She reached towards her belt, grasping the handaxe. With a swift swing, she brought it down the claw, hearing a shrill shriek before it retreated. 


“Lucien!” Alastir knelt beside him, pressing her free hand on his wounds. A steady stream of blood flowed from the deep gash. His eyes were starting to glaze over, small gasps coming from him as he struggled for shallow breath. She was torn between healing him and defending the both of them. But, at that moment, hearing him at the precipice of death, she couldn't bear to hear him continue to anguish.


Quickly, she muttered a healing spell. The head of her staff glowed a dim chartreuse, and so did the bottom of her palm, pressed against her companion’s wounds. The jagged skin beneath it started to bind back together, the blood flow steadily halting. Behind her, a haunting song came from the forest.


She turned back to the opening in the wall, lips still moving to completely seal the wound. The singing was getting louder and louder, a mixture of the sweetest hymn and the most terrifying croon. That’s when its gaze pierced hers. 


It was one face at first. From the fog came a contrast of pitch-black sockets, sunken into pale skin thinly stretched across bone. Its jaw unhinged into an open-toothed smile, tendrils of mist and saliva dripping from rows of yellow incisors. A pointed tongue unfurled from its mouth as it drew nearer. Beside it, more faces emerged, all of them connected to long, rigged necks—reminiscent of hydras they once encountered.


It was singing.


Frozen in fear, her words dwindled to silence. The nearest of the heads slipped through the opening between the logs, knife-like teeth steadily making their way to her. She was sobbing before she knew it, the song pounding at her eardrums.


Behind her Lucien helplessly watched through blurry eyes. He no longer felt like he was bleeding, but now it was as if he was floating. He could barely make out the sound of muffled yelling amidst the grim melody.


Then he heard a clear crunch. The monster withdrew soon, slinking its way back into the fog. 


When his vision finally adjusted, he came to see a ruined room. Glass shards littered the floor and his chest ached. He glanced down to see his torn shirt, three large scars sprawling across his chest.


Just a few inches away from him was a staff. It might have been a druid’s, based on the crow engraving in the wood. Puzzled, he glanced around the room, finding a spell book on the floor and a lute on one of the bunk beds.

How odd,” he thought. He swore he came here alone.

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