Kel trudged through the fey wood, his breathing heavy as he searched for any familiar features. Behind him, his companions limped along, beaten, and battered from their previous battles. Based on the sun’s position, he was sure they were headed in the right direction. Yet, it almost felt like they were wandering in circles. In other words, they were completely and utterly lost.
“Kel, let’s take a break here and try to get our bearings,” Davi, the party’s swordsman and resident tank, called out from behind. Kel looked back at him and started to argue. The sun was rapidly setting, and they didn’t have time to loiter around. However, his protest died in his mouth when he saw just how exhausted everyone looked.
“Alright, get some rest. I’ll make sure the nearby area is safe,” Gritting his teeth, he forced out a reply before disappearing into the nearby foliage. He carefully checked the area, looking for any signs of danger, kicking himself all the while.
“How could I have been so stupid. I should have listened to Davi and turned back while we still had the chance.”
Kel kicked at a nearby tree as he remembered his foolish decision to press further into the woods. It was the party’s first real mission since they had become adventurers. It was nothing too crazy, a simple goblin extermination quest. All they had to do was bring back five goblin ears, but it was still far more dangerous than the usual herb gathering that they did.
Still, they had completed the task successfully with almost no trouble, picking off scouts that were isolated from their comrades. Unfortunately, Kel had let their success go to his head and insisted that they press deeper into the woods and claim some bonus trophies. Even though the quest specified five ears, the guild would pay them for any extras they brought back.
The rest of the party had been hesitant, but he had managed to convince them in the end. So, they headed deeper into the woods in search of more goblins to hunt. That was where everything went wrong. Since they had never gone this deep into the woods before, they weren’t familiar with the terrain. Before long, they walked right into a goblin trap, and Sylvia, the party mage, was pretty severely injured. In the end, they managed to fight off the goblins and make their escape but ended up lost.
“It looks like it’s all clear,” Kel returned to his party members, glancing over at the injured Sylvia, “How’s your injury?”
She smiled back at him, not a hint of resentment on her face, “It still hurts a little, but I should be fine thanks to Mary’s healing magic.”
The party healer, Mary, looked down at her with a concerned expression, “All I’ve done is close the wound. You still lost a lot of blood, so try not to push yourself too hard.”
“I’m sorry, this is all my fault,” Kel clenched his fists in frustration, his eyes glued to the ground, “If I hadn’t insisted on us going deeper into the woods, none of this would have happened.”
A heavy hand slapped him on the shoulder, “What are you saying? We all made the decision as a party. There’s no reason to blame yourself.”
“That’s right!” Sylvia chimed in, “Besides, I’m the one who let my guard down and got myself injured. There’s no reason for you to blame yourself, Kel.”
Kel could only smile wryly at his good-natured companions. No matter what they said, he knew that this whole situation was his fault. Still, it did give him some solace that they were willing to forgive him and shoulder the blame. However, just as his mood started to lift a little, it was brought crashing back down.
From somewhere in the foliage, he heard the familiar cackle of goblins, not just one or two, either. It sounded like a whole unit of them were headed their way. The others seemed to have heard it too. They all stared off into the woods, their faces turning pale. As beat up and tired as they were, there was no way they could fight off that many goblins, and with Sylvia’s injury, they probably couldn’t outrun them either.
“Davi, take Sylvia and get out of here,” Kel looked at his friend with a serious expression, “I’ll buy you guys some time and follow you after that.”
“Are you out of your mind!?” Davi glared at him, the anger clear on his face, “There’s no way you’ll get away on your own.”
“I have a better chance than we do as a group. Besides, I still have this,” From his satchel, he pulled out a small smoke bomb that the guild gave all adventuring parties when they first started out, “If I use it correctly, I might just be able to slip away.”
Davi stared at him, his expression wavering as he struggled with his own ideals and the reality of their situation. In the end, reality won out, “Alright. Don’t you dare go dying on us though,”
Turning on his heel, Davi grabbed Slyvia and threw her over his shoulder.
“Davi!? What are you doing?” Sylvia immediately started causing a fuss, “Put me down this instant!”
“Sorry, no can do,” He looked over to Mary who was already preparing to go, “We’re getting out of here. Whatever happens, don’t stop running.”
“Got it,” However, rather than immediately running off, she turned back toward Kel with a worried expression. After a quick chant, he felt some of the fatigue lift from his body, “I’m sorry, but that’s all I can do for now.”
Kel smiled back at her, confidently, “Thanks, Mary. That’s more than enough. Take care of Sylvia for me, okay?”
With a brief nod, she joined up with Davi, and the pair began their hasty retreat through the forest. The last Kel saw of them was Slyvia’s distressed look as they faded into the foliage, her eyes pleading with him to come with them. Gritting his teeth, he turned his back and faced toward the sound of the approaching goblins.
Slowly the cackling grew louder and was soon joined by the sounds of footsteps and foliage being forced aside. Kel drew his twin daggers and lowered himself into a fight pose. His heart beat louder and louder as the goblins drew closer. Then, as if it had never been there at all, the goblin squadron’s sounds disappeared.
Kel stood there, frozen, for a long moment, unsure of what to do. Then, he heard a faint rustling coming from the bushes in front of him. However, this wasn’t the sound of a goblin, but something much smaller. Curiosity finally getting the better of him, Kel slowly crept forward, drawing closer to the bushes. Slowly he reached out toward the bush with his hand.
Then, out of nowhere, a tiny humanoid figure with butterfly-like wings burst out of the bush, right into Kel’s face. He was so startled that he instinctively tried to swat the creature away. However, the sudden and unplanned movement caused him to lose his balance to fall on his rear.
The creature stared down at him for a moment before bursting into bell-like laughter. It was soon joined by a chorus of other similar laughs as more and more of its kind floated out from their hiding spots in the foliage. For a long moment, Kel sat there, trying to piece together what was happening. When he finally did, he flopped back onto his back and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
“Pixies! It was just pixies!”
The creatures were famous amongst adventurers who regularly visited the fey wood. They frequently played tricks on those that wandered into their territory. One could say they were a bit mean-spirited, but other than that, they were entirely harmless.
For a long moment, Kel lay there, basking in the sense of relief that he felt as the little pixies laughed at him. However, as he stared up at the sky, he noticed something that made his heart sink once more. The sun, which had previously been setting on his right, was now on his left.
“It wasn’t just the goblins,” He glared at the pixies angrily, “We’ve been going in the wrong direction this entire time because of you!”
The only response he got was more bell-like laughter. With one last frustrated glance at the pixies, Kel turned and raced after his companions, desperate to catch up with them before they got too far. After all, they were headed in the entirely wrong direction, deeper into the forest.