Micael Chapter 2

By Glarryg

Whatever peacefulness he may have experienced while asleep was quickly tainted by the vertigo that shook his frame as soon as he tried to stand up from the chairs he had used for his slumber. The treetop hut swayed violently, and Esmeralda stumbled groggily into the borrowed living room of the Windcalllers’ chieftain. She, too, flailed her arms and grabbed for the nearest solid object to steady herself as she snapped to attention. As she clamped onto the doorway from the main hallway, Micael scrambled over to the chair that held his clothes. As he returned his tunic, gauntlets, and belt, the youth glanced over at his traveling companion, who nonchalantly followed his eyes behind her as if she thought he was looking into the room from which she emerged. Micael buttoned his cloak around his shoulders and asked her if she was ready to go.

She nodded and held her ground until the wind stopped pounding at the hut. Reflexively, the two of them rushed for the front door, hoping to exit the lofty house before another gust of wind decided to pass by. Throwing the door open, Micael waved Esmeralda past him and onto the deck of the modest hut. She faltered on the patio, gazing over the edge to search for any locals that might be able to help the two Jumi down to the ground. Nobody was within eyesight; the sun had barely found its way over the horizon. An unsettling quiet had congealed in the village below. Esmeralda peered around the hut, examining the foot of the tree supporting the tribal head’s dwelling. She leaned over the edge, and Micael crept up behind her. “Do you see him?” he inquired; the suddenness of his words jolted her, and she lost her grip on the rim of the deck. Micael reacted quickly and grabbed her by the arm, puling her back towards him.

Esmeralda recoiled, then grunted her annoyance as she turned back towards the heart of the village and cupped her hands around her mouth:

“Can anybody out there help us down?”

Her yell stirred a few responses in the form of startled and irritated cawing from the nearest houses. One front door opened, not ten yards from the chieftain’s house, and a villager poked its head out. After disappearing into its hut, the Windcaller emerged with a partner, and the pair flew up to the deck that held the Jumi. They hovered at about an arm’s length from the patio, and one of the villagers spoke. “We value our silence in the morning; see to it that you avoid defiling that sanctity,” the creature reprimanded.

“Sorry,” Esmeralda apologized with little more emotion than the high-toned avian.

The Windcallers hovered for a moment, keeping their vacant eyes fixed on the two young people. Without warning, they advanced and seized the Jumi by the arms, dangling them while they descended clumsily to the foot of the giant tree. Esmeralda caught sight of a figure trotting up towards their landing spot. As they neared the ground, the green-robed chieftain wagged an irate finger at the Jumi and hissed: “Do be quiet!” At the sound of this, the other two Windcallers dropped Micael and Esmeralda.

”Sorry about that,” Micael said, brushing his coat off as he stood. Esmeralda shot a look up at the creature that had helped her to the ground as it and its partner lazily flew back to their hut.

Staring at them for a moment, the chieftain folded his arms and declared: “We’ll give you enough food to last until you reach the next town. Head east towards the largest hill you can see from the outskirts of our burg. You’ll see a path on the other side of it which shall take you the rest of your way.”

”How much longer will it make the trip?” Esmeralda queried, wrapping her arms around herself to ward off the mountain breeze.

The tribal head kept looking at Micael and answered. “It will add half a day to your travels if you keep moving. Bear in mind that without this detour you would have to cross the mountains and spend a night in the snowfields.”

Wrenching her face in a mock smile, the female Jumi glared at the Windcaller and very audibly thanked him.

Micael flashed an embarrassed smile and proceeded to usher his companion out of the town. She resisted, even when he resorted to twisting her around by the shoulders and pushing her gently on the back. Clearing his throat, the village chief stated: “You have not yet taken your supplies.”

”That’s right,” Esmeralda declared to Micael.

The male Jumi sighed and faced the Windcaller, who had beckoned for an approaching villager. Aiding its travel with its wings, the creature brandished a large sack as it raced dutifully towards the chieftain. As it handed him the sack, he said: “This is enough food to take you to Lumina in the east. We have included a small supply of antivenin; you must pass through a forest on your way, and I’m told that poisonous creatures live therein.”

Esmeralda slowly turned back towards the conversation and snuck a glance at Micael. He returned it, and rolled his eyes with an apologetic frown. She folded her hands, rested them against her stomach, looked straight into the Windcaller’s eyes, and recited: “We’re Jumi. Medicines have no effect on us.”

Frozen, the Windcaller chief made a few guttural sounds as if he was about to speak. Finally, he pronounced, “Very well,” and proceeded to remove three vials of a thin, brownish substance from the sack. Blankly thrusting the bag at Micael, he said: “Be careful.”

Micael’s face lost all of its sympathy, and he narrowed his eyes slightly. He then retrieved the sack from the chieftain’s grasp, muttered barely sincere thanks, and spun around on his heals towards the east. Esmeralda followed. The sun sat just to the side of the hill towards which the Jumi headed. A couple more houses had awakened, and the pair of eyes that stared at the outsiders’ departure bounced off Micael’s skin, never impeding his pace as he marched out of the village.

Within an hour, the two crested the aforementioned hill and reached its other side; a good deal of care had to be taken to avoid upsetting the beds of loosely situated rock on the eastern face. Micael took it upon himself to lead, and barely escaped slipping down the hill under a bed of stones. They stopped at the foot of the hill and agreed that the cloudless weather had rendered them quite dry; Esmeralda proposed that they examine the contents of the Windcallers’ care package. Most of the food was fruit that only Windcallers were said to be able to grow, Citrisquid, Orange’opus, and Bellgrapes, but a hefty supply of Rocket Papayas took up about a third of the bag. They sat down and shared a couple pieces of fruit, tasting the foods they had only previously heard about, and took advantage of their refreshment to hurry into the forest ahead.

Whatever animals they heard on their way into the woods uneasily ceased their chatter as the Jumi navigated the neglected path. The quietly unfriendly atmosphere of the Windcaller village paled in comparison to the air in the neighboring forest. Small streams cut through the floor around the trees, and their trickling quickly became the only sound that accompanied the youths’ shuffling steps. What little fruit was still hanging from the limbs of the trees was withered and rotten; it was clear that the woods were heavily populated, even if nothing was presently making itself known.

Once she was aware that they could not see any end to the forest, Esmeralda cleared her throat. Micael, still ahead of her and studiously examining every side of the path around them, made no sign of acknowledgement of the sound. She watched him for a minute, then spoke up:

”So, I guess those Windcallers aren’t that easy to deal with.”

He slowed down a little, scanned the forest too quickly for her to take notice, and chuckled a little. “Yeah, kind of. At least we don’t have to go back that way.”

”Yeah,” she answered, letting her eyes wander around her and up to the treetops. The sun had nearly reached its apex, and she gazed at its assault on the space between the leaves above her. She let her view settle back to the path, followed him for a while longer, then cleared her throat again. “You know, you seriously don’t have to come along with me. I don’t want you to have to deal with people like that again.”

Absently he replied, “I don’t want you to have to...” and started wandering to his right as he trailed off. He stopped and peered through the congestion of trees. A sizable area had been messily cleared out some ten yards in the direction he looked; slaughtered trees lay scattered around the edges. Before she could ask, he pointed at what he saw. “Look at that,” he whispered.

”What do you think did that?”

”Beats me,” Micael replied, still focused more on the clearance than the conversation. Although she made no noise, he chopped at the air in front of her in a halting gesture and began to creep into the trees towards the opening. “Something sees us,” he said plainly, no longer whispering. She watched his careful approach, noticing that he was cautious not to disturb any twigs or dead leaves on the forest floor. The dead silence slowly wrapped around her, taking hold of her windpipe as she made herself follow Micael with her eyes. She clenched the bag of fruit she had been carrying.

Suddenly, the Jumi tossed his cloak back with a quick jerk of his shoulders; immediately after, a faint pounding noise emanated from beyond the awkward clearing. As soon as the sound grew loud enough to be unmistakable, Micael was running towards the opening in the trees, crossing his arms in front of himself and grasping the handles of the twin weapons at his sides. Esmeralda started after him, but tripped and fell at the very instant a huge shape emerged from the source of the noise. The surrounding trees exploded as it rushed right at Micael, halting abruptly right in front of him with a sickening clanging sound. The female Jumi could see that Micael had drawn both of his swords and caught a pair of sickle-like claws aimed right at his head. As the two combatants stood, frozen, she could hear a harsh clicking sound, diminishing in frequency, that had previously been drowned out by the noise of the forest smashing around the monster; it came from the beast itself.

Esmeralda pulled herself to her feet, nearly thinking that Micael and the beast had actually been temporally frozen. The creature was easily a couple feet taller than its opponent, and sported a quartet of stout, jointed limbs in addition to the long, serrated forearms that grappled against Micael’s weapons. As she studied it, its segmented body began to heave slowly as the monster breathed, and its thick hide reflected the sunlight in a few spots that were either damp or not yet as scarred and worn as the rest of its skin. Huge eyes sat at the sides of an oblong head, and remained fixed on the male Jumi as the monster tentatively fidgeted its warped mouthparts; antennae twitched anxiously at the top of its head.

Micael did not even seem to be breathing. He kept his statuesque posture until Esmeralda thought he might never move. Without warning, he threw all of his weight towards the beast’s left forearm, pushing it up and away using his swords. The right limb dug into the ground where Micael previously stood, and the creature stumbled along with the Jumi’s escape maneuver. Micael twisted away from the beast, dropped, and rolled further towards the edge of the clearing. Before she knew it, Esmeralda had backed up, almost all the way to the road, and clutched a nearby sycamore as she gazed at the battle.

The monster steadied itself and lurched at Micael, swinging both forearms wildly above its head. It hissed sharply and pitched its right arm diagonally at him, then arced the left straight down at him as he dodged. He crossed his swords in front of his face, catching the left arm in their vertex and deflecting the attack. Taking advantage of the creature’s upset balance, he hopped back one step and spun forward, aiming a backhanded, horizontal slice at the beast’s left arm. The blade dug halfway in, catching sickly before it could follow through. A strangled grunt jumped from its throat, and the monster’s forearm convulsed until Micael could retrieve his sword. The Jumi danced backwards, waiting for his opponent to regain its composure. Wheezing for a moment, the creature brought its spasmodic arm under control, but could not move it past the shoulder. Esmeralda glued her eyes to her companion, unconsciously balling her hand into a fist and covering her mouth with it.

Micael coolly assumed a fighting stance, extending his left arm in front of himself and aiming the blade upwards as he drew his right back and quickly tossed the blade so he could catch it upside-down. The beast started to circle him, and the clicking sound began again, starting slowly and ominously building up. With a shrill bark, it crouched and leapt at him, smashing through the scant branches that still crossed the clearing. Micael charged forward, towards where the monster stood, and spun around. Winding his right arm up for a strike at the creature’s back, he paused, distracted by something on its hide as the monster turned itself around. His hesitation gave his opponent a chance to attack, and its right-handed swipe would have decapitated a slower fighter. Micael’s dodge gave up a handful of his hair to the sickle-limb’s assault and left him completely open to another strike in his unbalance. The monster twisted at the waist and threw its injured left limb at him; the blunt upper edge of the forearm caught Micael across his chest and hurled him out of the clearing, far enough into the trees that Esmeralda could barely tell where he had landed.

The beast shuffled back and forth for a moment, aiming itself at the Jumi while Micael caught his breath. Its working right arm seemed to be tracking him. Rearing back, the creature barked sharply again and ran at him. He mirrored the charge, and Esmeralda’s throat seized as the combatants froze again for a moment.

Gurgling, the monster let its raised arm go limp, and fell backwards. As it collapsed, Esmeralda could see Micael pushing against it, holding a sword with both hands. The weapon had plunged to the hilt into a space between the plates of the creature’s armor. With his face nearly pressed against the monster’s hide, he could not see the descending sickle, and it scraped across his left shoulder. He bellowed hoarsely and rolled away from the beast’s corpse.

Esmeralda rushed to him, kneeling at his side. He clutched his injured arm and rolled onto his right side, clenching his teeth and eyes. She hesitated, hovering her hands over him, then spoke:

”Are you okay?”

Startled, he scrambled to his feet, dodging away from where he had heard her voice. She backed away as well, and their eyes met. Her surprised expression nearly matched his; while it startled her that he appeared to have forgotten that she was with him, it startled him that there was someone with him. He stammered for a second. “I-I’m fine. I mean, I’ll be fine... I should wrap this up,” he said, nodding towards the wound. After a pause, he let go of his arm and fumbled for the pouch hanging from the back of his belt. Untying the small sac with a wince of pain, he retrieved a length of wide, off-white cloth. With hesitation, he dropped the pouch and proceeded to take the cloth by the ends while attempting to wrap it around his shoulder. While he struggled with it, Esmeralda quietly approached.

”Let me help you with that.”

He looked at her before handing over the cloth. She gingerly wrapped it around as much of the wound as she could, tying it underneath his arm and adjusting it a little at the edges. She flashed him a quick look, fidgeted with the bandage a little, and looked at him again.

”Is that too tight?”

He blinked. “No.”

Esmeralda stepped back, pretending to admire her work, then bent down to pick up the pouch. Quickly tying it up, she handed it to him. “If I can’t heal it, the least I can do is dress it up a little,” she remarked with a forced giggle.

Micael smiled weakly, then stalked back to the monster’s corpse. With a violent yank, he retrieved his sword and sheathed it. He then proceeded to the edge of the forest and began scanning the trees where he had been thrown. Esmeralda followed him. “Why did you stop when you could have hit it from behind?” she asked.

”I knew I couldn’t stab into its skin as deeply as I wanted to,” he explained, “but I noticed a split in its skin just then. It’s some sort of insect; do you know what kind?”

She looked back at it. “I think it’s a Mantis Ant. They’re supposed to grow big sometimes, and the largest ones are heralded as omens. They say that Chobins worship them as some sort of good luck charm.”

Almost pouncing, Micael seized his other sword, lying among the felled branches, and shoved it into its sheath. “So you think there are Chobins in this forest?”

”The way our luck is running, I wouldn’t be surprised,” she sneered, gazing back to the cadaver.

”I guess we’d better head back to the path, then,” Micael pronounced, quickly ushering his companion back to the beaten trail.

The pair walked along the road-- maintaining a more hurried pace than before-- for a while before Esmeralda asked: “Why did you attack that thing anyway?”

”I think it was following us,” he replied. “Something was walking along the path not too far from us. I didn’t get worried about it until I saw that opening in the trees; that’s when I knew that whatever it was, it was big, and it was aiming right for us.”

”What if it that clearing was its nest, and it was just protecting eggs?”

”There weren’t any eggs there,” Micael said. “But now that you mention Chobins, I wonder if they’re the ones who made that opening.”

Esmeralda shot a few looks around herself and declared: “Maybe we’d better hurry up a little.”

Saying nothing, Micael increased his pace, casting a suspicious glare to the trees on his right, and the female Jumi rushed to keep up with him. They kept their near-jog up for about half an hour, at which point they determined that they could see the edge of the forest. Slowing down a little, the pair found themselves watching their surroundings more closely. It was as if leaving the woods too quickly might incur the wrath of the inhabitants. Greeting the sun with squinting eyes, the Jumi continued for another hour or so before stopping to rest their feet. Micael leisurely tossed his boots off his feet and stretched his legs as he sat himself on a boulder not far from the road. Esmeralda found another rock large enough to sit on not far, but hesitated. She looked about her, then called to Micael:

”There’s a stream over there,” she pointed out. “We could get a drink.”

Micael could not see it from where he sat, but rose and followed her anyway. The stream in question was a few minutes’ walk away; its shallowness was countered by the clarity of the water in it. He watched Esmeralda as she tossed the bag of fruit to the ground beside her and knelt down, cupping some of the water into her mouth. Following suit, he drank his fill, as the openness of the environment warned him that the rest of the day’s travel might not be very providential. When he was finished, Esmeralda found a grassy spot and sat, removing her thick-soled shoes. Slowly, she dipped her feet into the creek, sighing in relief as the cool water enveloped her fatigued ankles. Micael did nothing for a while but watch her, and she eventually looked up at him. Her mildly beaming face was the most inviting look he had received from her, and he decided to sit down and soak his own feet as well. The stream was barely deep enough to carry them up to their tired calves, but that was plenty for the young Jumi.

Although he enjoyed the cool soak, Micael remained stooped over his feet, studying the flow of the refreshingly clear water. Esmeralda leaned back, propping herself up with her hands, and inquired:

”Do you really want to go to Geo to meet the others?” He turned his head towards her, but she aimed a palm at him and spoke quickly before his eyes could meet hers. “I don’t mean it like that, it’s just that... well, it seems like...” she sat forward, “I think you can take care of yourself pretty well.”

He waited for her to say more. “Yes?”

”Well, if you wanted, you could probably live wherever you want. You don’t need a whole community of Jumi to live with.”

His brow furrowed. “I’ll pretend you didn’t mean to say I’m not welcome with the others.”

”No,” she blurted. A sigh filled the silence while she gathered her thoughts. “What I’m trying to say is you seem more independent than most of us, and that you’d probably do as well anywhere. You could probably join the human society pretty well.”

Micael pondered this, then leaned back on his hands and gazed forward into the field beyond the stream. A snort of laughter burst from his nose. “I suppose there won’t be any shine coming from me to give me away,” he sneered, stealing a glance at his dull core.

”I didn’t mean--”

”I know,” he interrupted with a halting gesture. “But you don’t quite ‘have me’ about all of that.” A pause as he looked up at the sky. “I’m not quite that independent.”

She leaned in towards him a little. “What do you mean?”

”Well, I do want to go back to the others; I need to. I need to show them that I’m better than they think. I have to prove that they were wrong about me.” He glanced over at her; she was till listening. “Rubens had faith in me; he let me become a Knight. I want the others to know that I earned it.

”But, without a Guardian, I’ll never really be a Knight. It’s just a title right now. I want to go back and find someone to be my Guardian.” He paused, mulling his own words in his head. “I know this all probably sounds wishy-washy or something, but I can’t let the others tell me what I am and am not good enough to do. Pretty sad, eh?” he asked, finally looking at Esmeralda.

She sat back, facing the same direction as he once did, and frowned slightly in thought. “Not... really,” she replied. “I mean, don’t take this the wrong way, but I never thought Rubens was all that much of a Knight himself. What I mean is, I think you could be as good as him someday.” His face turned quizzical. She grunted in frustration. “That didn’t come out right either. I meant you could... probably be a Lucidia someday.”

Micael studied her almost apologetic smile for a moment, then stretched out on his back, facing the cloudless sky. “I don’t know about that... maybe,” he mused.

Esmeralda watched him a little longer, making sure he was not angry with her, then she, too, lied down and stared up at the expanse of blue above them. Far off in a bush, a few birds chirped among themselves, never disrupting the two reclining Jumi. The silence about them was finally comforting.

Chapter 3

Legend of Mana Fanfic