"I thought this forest would be more difficult," I blurt aloud. It only took a few minutes to walk from our base to our next destination: a rocky cave.
"The Midnight Forest isn't supposed to be hard," Amy answers, "But if you really need to have things get harder, you are going to get your wish."
Well, the name of this forest is quite accurate: for as long as we've been here it's been nighttime.
Cynthia groans at that, "Oh well, I guess that can't be helped."
My excitement rises, "This is gonna be fun!" I say.
"Well, anyway, we are sticking together this time," Amy informs, "This place is really dangerous, so be on your guard," she glares at me in particular, "Most Outsiders usually get killed here. Depending on how you die here, the Tower might regenerate you into the Outside World. However, there is a chance it will never regenerate you and your death is permanent."
Beneath me, Cynthia shudders. I can't help but shift uncomfortably, even if I am on Cynthia's soft head. Cautiously we enter the dark cave. It isn't as dark as the previous dungeon, but it is dark enough to have a creepy feeling. The air is somehow cooler in here, and I'm sure that's why Cynthia shudders underneath me. Blindly, Cynthia follows Amy. Out of excitement I smell the air for any signs of danger. Among the smell of water, rocks, and dirt is the slight smell of metal. Eagerly I lean down towards Cynthia's ear.
"Look out for those 'Killer' metal beasts," I whisper eagerly. Finally we are prepared. I got those things now.
"Okay," Cynthia says nervously and turns to Amy, "Ky senses a Fantiture."
"What kind?" Amy questions, releasing Fluffy from her jar.
I jump down from atop Cynthia's head to join Fluffy. She too, seems eager for the adventure. We gallop ahead of the humans, looking for trouble. The cave is quite monotonous compared to the other places. Luckily we don't have to wait long before our ears are itching with the sounds of tiny feet clicking against the ground. Both of us turn to face the danger: a flat, long, bug-like creature. It has the exact same smell I detected earlier. A ton of little bug feet jut out of its metal exterior. The horn-things on its head look the same as the fins on its rear.
Fluffy crouches down, awaiting Amy's command. I let my energy flow into my claws and await an attack. Instead of springing to rip our throats out, the Fantiture pulls the front of its body up and wiggles its horn-things, which exposes its soft underbelly. Suddenly a sweet aroma surrounds me, and my muscles relax on their own free will. Maybe it's friendly, I hope desperately as my will to fight diminishes. A glance at Fluffy informs me that the fluff ball isn't so willing to give in to the friendly gestures. She looks frustrated now, as if trying hopelessly to still appear aggressive. Our target remains a safe distance away from us.
"Fluffy, use pound!" Amy commands and Fluffy sprints towards the friendly Fantiture.
Maybe it's wrong, maybe I shouldn't, but I bolt ahead of Fluffy to shield the foe from her attack. I can't help it, it occurs to me that stranger situations aren't the same with friendly strangers as with those who will attack you. Well, the bug did nothing wrong! Just in time I'm there to block it from Fluffy's harsh, hateful paw. The pain stings my cheek as her paw strikes me across the face.
"Ky! No!" Cynthia shouts.
Anguish at Fluffy's attack breaks my heart, yet I lift my head up and look at Cynthia. She looks worried with her wide eyes. However, I know she will support what I am doing. After all, we are Sunnysiders and Sunnysiders are normally compassionate for others. Especially those who mean no harm. Old Man told me so. Fluffy stares at me, utterly shocked, yet it is obvious she is still waiting for Amy's order.
"Don't hurt it," I shift my eyes into Fluffy's, trying to make her understand, "It's innocent. It just wants to be friends. Right?" I turn to the Fantiture.
In response the Fantiture chirps sweetly at me and wiggles its horn things. On the other hand, Fluffy growls menacingly, and before I know it I am knocked to the ground. The attack leaves me feeling dizzy as the world distorts itself. What I once thought a lovable fluffy ball of fur starts to race towards the vulnerable bug. Through the loud ringing in my ears I can barely hear Cynthia beg Amy to stop the nonsense, but the pink haired girl disregards it. No, I won't allow this. Even with the ground shifting like water in a bathtub under my paws, I still get up and make myself ram into Fluffy before she can do the Fantiture harm.
Upon impact my head seems to explode into pain as Fluffy is hurled away, screaming. My whole body doesn't stop though and I end up collapsed on the cold stone ground. Nausea from the dizziness pins me to the ground, and I have to close my eyes. When I can finally pull myself back up I notice the Fantiture I protected isn't there. Gently a warm hand rubs my back.
"Ky, living things aren't called 'its'," Cynthia scolds, but I can tell from her warm voice that she's proud, "If you don't know the gender you say pronouns like 'ze' and 'zer' until you know. Also, that was a good thing you did back there. I am sure Silver appreciates you saving his life."
"Thanks," I reply and look back at her. She has a jar in her hand.
"Let's go," Cynthia calls back to Amy while picking me up.
Amy puts the whimpering Fluffy back into her jar, and we start heading further into the cave. As we advance the feeling of eyes on my back slowly grows. Again and again I look around for the danger, but there is only rocks and crystals. My ears turn to focus on all the small noises, nonetheless. I swear I can hear growling and snapping, but that could just be my excitement playing tricks on me. No one else seems to notice. Cynthia and Amy are busy talking about human things. In high hopes of finding some evidence for my sanity, I intently sniff the air, but there is no peculiar scents. Leaning my head against Cynthia's chest, I debate whether I should take a nap or if doing so means missing all the excitement. She scratches me gently behind the ears. It feels so good, and I start to purr.
An intense heat like no other causes my eyes to fly open just in time to see the flames from Cynthia's attack vanish. High pitched wails loud enough to wake the deaf scratch my ears. Sleepily, I look up at Cynthia, whose eyebrows are furrowed in a look of pure concentration, and then I glance ahead at the burning creature, who collapses into a heap of ash. Icy fear smacks the rest of the sleep away and causes me to scurry on to Cynthia's shoulder and leap away from the action. Wait, no, why am I running? Didn't I leave Old Man's house for this? I nag myself as the excitement finally registers. The ryg pushes me back with her heel accidentally as she backs up and away. Even so, I peek from behind her leg. The friendly bug (whose name is now Silver), Creepy, and Fluffy are all fighting this huge Fantiture that looks kind of like Princess, except ze is standing upright and zer body is made of rocks. Cynthia shoots another flame at two more Fantiures that are also rocky. Those creatures sort of slither on their four legs, have giant mouths, beady eyes, and no ears. Amy is doing the best she can to fight off more Fantitures by throwing rocks at them, yet she is making no progress.
No ones making progress. We are all slowly backing away, and whenever one Fantiture is killed, two more take their place. In only a moment we are trapped by the crowd of predators. By this time, I can smell the blood oozing from my Fantiture friends' wounds, and hear everyone around me panting. Cynthia's flames are getting smaller by the minute, and Amy is scraping for something to throw. All this time though, I haven't done anything, as everything seems to be happening way too fast. I catch on to this, though: if I don't do something, anything, we are all gone for. As my team fights, I slowly back up and channel all my energy. Ready...set...go! I burst from my position and launch myself onto Cynthia's back, which I race up. Once on her shoulder I hurl myself into the middle of our attackers.
"C@#*!" Amy exclaims.
"KY!!" Cynthia howls, and her beautiful, worried face is the last thing I see before I shut my eyes tight and curl into a ball.
I let the energy explode violently forward and around into a semicircle, so that my friends won't get hurt but our foes will. As the energy gushes out my world vanishes, and I don't ever feel the floor.
"Ky, please wake up," I hear Cynthia say.
Wearily, I open my eyes to look at her. She is cradling me in her arms with Amy peering over her shoulder. Groggily, I push some of Cynthia's hair out of my face. Even with my mind being unnaturally foggy, I still try to process what's going on.
"Thank Keys," Cynthia continues, "Thank you so much Ky. You saved all of us."
She smooshes me against her chest, and since that's all the attention I really need for the moment I start to drift back into sleep. Right now I don't care for the adventure, I'm too burned out for anything. On the other hand, the other human prods me with her thin, sharp fingers and I have to stay conscious. Trying a human frown, which I fail because its much harder than smiling, I glare at the pink haired girl. How dare she interrupt my sleep.
"Do. Not. Ever," she snarls, "Do that again. Do you understand? I may not be ryg, but I have dealt with them long enough to know that they can easily die if they fully run out of energy."
I simply give her an annoyed hiss. If I were more awake, I would've realized that that is the reason Cynthia constantly fusses about dying even if we are supposed to be immortal. Well, we are almost immortal.
"She's right," Cynthia agrees, "That was indeed risky, but it was still a good thing you did. I also don't want you doing that again if you don't need to. I love you Ky. I would not know what to do without you."
No words can express my feelings at that. I'd purr, but it seems like a lot of effort.
But then she totally destroys the feeling by saying, "Come on. We have to continue. I know you are worn out, but we are not far at all from our next resting point."
This is when I take time to notice the change in setting. We are still in a rocky, mountainous place, but it is much lighter here, and there are some plant life. Our Fantitures are back in their jars. Cynthia and Amy begin to tread forward. Amy explains something about a boss Fantiture that will be really powerful. I recognize that our new place is also quite tunnel like. Constantly I try to doze off again, but Cynthia won't let me; she keeps nudging me awake every single time.
Naturally the tunnel opens into a circular room which smells of dry grass. Preferring the sweet aroma over the dank odor of Cynthia's burnt, bloodstained jacket, I face away from Cynthia to deeply inhale the fragrance. Twigs, dead grass, and dead leaves litter the floor. Light pools into the room from the gap in the ceiling. My observing is suddenly interrupted by a loud, low, whistle like sound. Everyone's attention goes to the ceiling where a strange Fantiture swoops into the hole and lands in the nest of twigs. Xe doesn't have a legit head. Instead there is a huge orange tube on top of xer bizarre bird body. The body has a strange, almost like it was cooked, crispy brown skin. Xer legs are hairy human arms with hands for feet. Tail-like appendages writhe from behind this Fantiture. I almost gag when I see the puss oozing from each and every tail thing. Clinking and high pitched slicing sounds occur when the huge, bird-like Fantiture spreads the assortment of huge, gleaming, creepily sharp blades that xe has for wings.
Predictably, all the captured Fantitures come out. I attempt a tiny struggle to join them, but then instantly I'm stopped by my fatigue. I settle for moving onto Cynthia's shoulder so she won't have to worry about burning me. She rubs my back for a second before her hands spark into flames. The Boss faces xer "head" in our direction and makes a hacking sound. All of us tense up, and suddenly the boss spews us with with a foul smelling, milk-white liquid. It's no use springing out of the way, but I do it anyway. It gets all over each and every one of us. To our disgust, the substance is extremely sticky and hard to get off. Fluffy is ordered to slam into the Fantiture, so she does, but she's instantly sprayed in a dark plum gas that makes her start coughing hysterically.
"Fluffy!" Amy shouts, "No! Get back here!"
Despairingly, Fluffy cannot get herself up.
"Silver! You get Fluffy," Cynthia orders her Fantitures, "Creepy, use chomp!"
Silver scuttles to Fluffy's rescue, while Creepy hurtles herself at our enemy faster than I ever thought she could move, though of course this causes a lot of blood to poor out of her heart. Cynthia aims her hand to precisely shoot a flamethrower at Boss's right wing. We all scramble to cover our ears as this makes xer cry out the loudest, most obnoxious, ear splitting, high-pitched, deafening noise I've ever heard in my life as xe flails xer wing. Creepy buries her teeth in the Fantiture's leg, and that makes xer flog that as well. A tail smacks Creepy off the leg, so she goes after the tail-thing and completely bites part of it off. Like a blood replacement, puss squirts out of the thing. Not quite satisfied, Creepy continues to eat the tails. Against my will, I start slipping into unconsciousness, but then of course Cynthia snipes more fire. I wake instantly from the intense heat just to see that Cynthia got xer right in the chest. Oddly enough, even though the fire is indeed burning the monster, puss flies out of the wound. Because she is done feeding, Creepy returns to us. Long story short, we basically watch the enemy burn to death as it screams and covers us in a variety of substances. Of course, during this time Cynthia helps this go by faster by repetitively discharges more flames at xer.
This whole time Amy and Silver have been helping Fluffy recover from the coughing gas. As soon as all the Fantitures are back in their jars, we continue on our journey. I have to turn away from the icky mess of puss and fire. It reeks of an unclean death and burnt food of some kind. Little hot puss bombs fly out of the fire as we scurry past it. The hallway at the other end of the room doesn't have a wall on the right, so the humans pause, and we all look. Below us lays the whole map of the Tower's first floor in mostly green with pastel spots where puny towns settle. It triggers some kind of nostalgia inside, like, wait, this is kinda like how it looked when Cynthia and I waited for the bus that day. Even the sun is settling on the horizon like it did that day. That day seems like it happened decades ago, so much has happened. Even farther away was those days of being trapped and bored and being with Old Man. For just a moment I wonder how he's doing.
"That's where you were 'supposed' to go," Amy snorts.
"It's really pretty," I admit, for I've never seen anything so breathtaking in my life.
No, wait, no, I've seen something more breathtaking. I look to Cynthia's backpack, where my treasure hides from discovery. Cynthia never replies to Amy; her head is down and her arms outstretched. Knowing this is totally a sign for me to jump into her arms, I plop myself into them and try to human smile at her. Her cold red eyes widen in surprise, almost hiding the shame and depression that lurks there.