My eyes snapped open when I heard the slight jingle of the bells. I felt my heart beating in my throat, and I heard it in my ears. I breathed in the silence and listened. I heard the snapping of twigs and the pushing of rocks and earth.
Jingle jingle jingle
Again, I heard it. I slid my hand over my spear and wrapped my fingers around the rugged branch-handle. I could see a silhouette moving outside my tent. I couldn't see a shape; all I could see was movement. I very slowly and carefully removed the covers from my body and pulled the spear close.
The tent ripped from the ground and two enormous fangs came sinking down on me. I don't know how, but I was able to roll away before they got to me. I caught my balance and stood with my spear to face whatever creature was attached to these fangs. The creature stood to face me as well.
It was a giant serpent. And, maybe, “giant” isn't the right word, as it was no less than 30 yards and about 6 feet across. Its mouth was large enough to swallow me whole and those dreadful fangs were about 20 inches.
It was the only words I could muster. The serpent hissed and growled and struck at me again. I jumped backwards this time, and again, I narrowly avoided being impaled and eaten. I had fallen on my back, and another series of strikes came like lightning. I kept rolling and dodging and it kept missing.
The creature erected itself and roared at me. I knew this was my chance, so I gripped my spear with both my hands and thrust it with every ounce of strength I had into the serpent. As the blade met the scaly flesh there was a loud “chinkg” and a flash of sparks as the blade bounced off the scales.
The serpent's mouth again came rushing towards me, and I held my spear lengthwise to interrupt my death. It worked; however, the creature bit down on the branch-handle splitting my spear into pieces. I rolled towards the monster, and it's bite came down behind me. I grabbed its body with my right hand, and then pulled the rest of myself onto it; hugging the serpent. I pushed off with my right hand and flipped my body to the other side of the creature. When my feet hit the ground, I jumped and flipped forward towards the bladed half of my now broken spear. I felt another strike land directly behind me.
I brandished the broken spear, and stood to face the massive serpent. I now knew my foe, and I patiently waited for another strike. I gripped the half-spear in my left hand, and as I predicted, the monster opened its mouth, reared its fangs, and struck towards me. I was ready this time, and I slid under the bite. I wrapped my right arm around the serpent's neck and twisted myself onto its back. With a sideways thrust, I rammed the blade into the monster's eye.
The serpent hissed, screamed, roared, and tried to buck me from my position. I held on and continued to push and twist the blade into the monster's skull until it finally quit struggling and fell limp on the creek's shore.
I fell from the serpent's back and was on my hands and knees near the bank. I was breathing heavily and my eyes were closed, but I knew I was covered in blood and sweat. I looked into the night and yelled, “What was that all about? Huh? Seriously? What do you want?”
I didn't expect anyone to answer. I had been talking out loud since I had been in the woods. It was an attempt to try and preserve some of my sanity. It was lonely and frightening, and this situation only escalated my on-edge behavior. I was almost to a breaking point. I continued to yell, “All right! What do you want? Why did you bring me here? Answer me!”
“I have my reasons, Marcus.”
The voice made me stumble backwards into the water of the creek. I reached behind me and grabbed a stone. I was terrified, and I frantically began to look around. I said, “Who said that? Who are you? Show yourself.”
“Calm down, Marcus. I am not here to kill you... yet. If I wanted you dead, I would have killed you when you got the axe.”
At this point, I couldn't form a coherent thought in my mind because I was so horrified and frightened. I stumbled over my words as I spoke, “Do.. show... what is it... I... who... what... at least...”
“Who am I?” It asked.
“Yeah.” I answered.
“I am the Watcher.”
I was looking for some evidence of this being – this watcher – but I couldn't see anything. I tried to listen for the direction of his voice, but it was everywhere; it was like it was floating around me.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“I'm around. I'm here with you right now. This is my world, Marcus, and I only allow you to see what I want you to see.”
Two yellow eyes appeared across the creek and stared at me. I was frozen in fear, but I was able to ask, “Your world?”
“Yes, Marcus, my world. This is my dominion, and you are here now.”
“How did I get here?”
The Watcher laughed at my question and said, “You brought yourself here. Ahhh... we have many of you pathetic humans wandering into my world. Interrupting my balance. Corrupting a world that I carefully constructed. I loathe your kind. You're here to disrupt and destroy. So, tell me why you're here.”
I was taken off guard by the question and the fact that I couldn't answer it if I wanted to. I said, “Look, I really don't know. I woke up in those woods. I don't remember anything. My memories begin there.”
The eyes narrowed and the voice said, “But, you knew your name. You know how to survive. How to fish. How to kill. But, you can't remember how you came into my world?”
I was getting annoyed, “Look, I don't know. I don't know how I know those things, I just do. I'm telling you the truth.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“I have my reasons.”
The voice chuckled again at his answer and continued, “You killed my guardian. He was appointed over these woods to protect them with his life.”
“What was I supposed to do?”
Now, I was really confused and asked, “What? What do you want from me?”
“Marcus, I find it impressive that you killed my guardian, so I'm not going to kill you right now. However, I don't want his death to be in vain. I'm bringing his body to 'The Hospital'. Meet me there later, and you will know what to do. Don't even consider not showing up. My guardian's death is your responsibility, and, if you try to run, I will kill you without question.”
“What? What are you talking about? Where is this 'Hospital'?”
“Before you go, you need to rest.”
The Watcher wasn't even listening to me anymore. I still tried to get some information from him and said, “Watcher, where do I go? I don't know where I am!”
When I woke it was day. The sun's rays licked my face, and my ears were greeted by the gentle sound of the creek.
“Was... that a dream?”
I had hoped it was. I had hoped it was like what happened at the campsite the previous day with the fire. I surveyed the site, and it was as I feared. There was blood everywhere, my tent and pack were strewn about, and my spear was still broken.
“I fought a big snake last night, didn't I?”
I groaned and rubbed my head. I was shocked at what I felt. I reached again to feel the gash above my eye, but it wasn’t there. With fervor, I began to feel all over my face with both hands, but I couldn’t feel the wound. My face was smooth. I grabbed the knife and used the polished stainless steel blade as a mirror and searched for the cut. Nothing was there.
I searched for the body, but it was missing. Accepting what had happened last night and remembering what Watcher had told me, I said, “I guess this is real. Watcher has the body, and I need to find this 'Hospital'.”
As I was gathering the rest of my belongings, I saw my notebook and pen sitting on a rock near the creek bank. I opened it and saw that Watcher had drawn a map to the Hospital. It was only a few miles east, so I decided to make haste.
I traveled as quickly and quietly through the woods as I could. Before I reached the Hospital, there was a small clearing and hanging from a tall tree was a rotted corpse. I stared at it for a few moments, and I tried to convince myself to leave it alone.
“It looks like he's been up there for months.” I whispered out loud to myself.
“Marcus... really? C'mon...” I said to myself again.
I sighed because I knew I was going to climb the tree and cut him down and loot his body. I put down my pack and put my multi-tool in my pocket. The climb was about 25 feet, and it was fairly easy. The tree was sturdy, and I had several good footholds and branches to brace myself. I shimmied to the end of the branch that the corpse was hanging from and cut the rope with my multi-tool. The body went crashing to the ground and made a crunching sound as the old bones shattered from the impact.
When I got down, I sifted through the pockets. I was glad I listened to my instincts and cut the body down. In his pockets I found another pocket knife, a few C-clips, a pulley, another pen, a small notebook filled with notes on the area that I would have to read later, paper clips, and sunglasses. He also had a belt that fit me perfectly, a bullwhip, a haversack, and a side pouch. However, the greatest find, thus far, was what was strapped to his back.
He had a Damascus Steel katana and wakisashi complete with sheaths and harnesses for travel. I was beyond amazed at the quality of this long and short sword. Damascus Steel is the strongest steel known, and the folds of the metal were so many that it appeared as a solid, polished surface. Swords of this quality would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This was a priceless find.
I packed and equipped my new supplies and weapons. I removed my notebook and mapped out the area and noted what I had found. After I was finished, I continued east towards the Hospital.