Novel Name : Remember The Name

Remember The Name - Chapter 68

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As a temporary measure, he cast magic to emit heat into his surroundings, evaporating some of the humidity off. This worked well enough to make the air a bit more tolerable, but the sight of the marshes, so gray and glum, was a terror all on its own. He wanted to get through this patch of land as quickly as possible.
Had the early inhabitants of Nox also gone through such marshes?
Lucid remembered what Mosla had told him. Early settlers had gone through “Labyn,” which was named “the desolate fortress of nature” due to its dangers. Was that place as smelly and dirty as these marshes? If Labyn was worse than this place, then those settlers must truly have had nerves of steel and unyielding determination to escape a place so filled with death and despair.
Of course, Lucid knew that his determination was also unyielding. But being confident had nothing to do with this endeavor, and he still hesitated to take his first step into the mashes.
As he fidgeted at the border of the marshes, a set of eyes locked onto him. They moved closer and closer to him. Quietly. Unfaltering.
Okay, Lucid thought to himself, there’s no helping it. He couldn’t possibly stop there. He stretched his foot out and carefully took a step forward. The thick, gray mud conformed to the shape of his foot and released a foul stench as it moved.
What was in that mud that made it smell so terribly? He wanted to know, but at the same time, his curiosity wasn’t great enough to prompt him to use magnifying magic on the mud itself. He was already overwhelmed and dizzy from the disgusting cocktail of smells and textures surrounding him, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to withstand knowing just exactly what caused all this. Smelling it was disgusting enough for him.
Frankly, he couldn’t even be sure he was stepping in mud at all. For all he knew, this whole marshland could be covered in excrement. Thankfully, if it so could be called, the mud (hopefully) itself wasn’t so deep that it came to his ankles. It was just enough to reach past the soles of his shoes onto the top of his foot, but even that was a bit too much for him to handle. The hair at the back of his neck was standing, and his whole body seemed to reject the very notion of standing there in that filth. Lucid took a step back again.
He couldn’t do it. Not like this.
His footprint on the mud turned paler and paler as it dried up. It was a temporary measure at best, but at least it would get rid of the unpleasant, squishy wetness from the ground. However, against all expectations, the stench seemed to get worse as the mud dried.
“Darn it…”
This was different from any other hardship he had endured in his life. No wonder people didn’t want to venture here. The marshes stretched maybe a hundred paces across, but here he was, struggling to even take one step forward. It would have been laughable under any other circumstance, but not this one.
Maybe, he thought, maybe it was called the southernmost land not because there was no more land beyond, but because that was as far as anyone could reach.
He glanced down, staring at the clear footprint he had left on the mud.
If people had passed through the marshes, surely they would have left footprints behind on the other side.
“Let’s go.”
He couldn’t afford to waste more time. That was all the motivation he needed to get his crumbling spirits back up. Lucid took out some old clothes that he had “borrowed” from his neighbors and covered his nose and mouth with fabric. Then he put one foot in front of the other and began to make his way across the marsh. More willing to sacrifice his sense of touch than his sense of smell, he forwent the magic and stepped on the wet mud as it was.
He was looking down, stepping carefully pace by pace, when he suddenly felt a presence there with him. As he raised his head, he met eyes with someone. Or rather, something. It was unlike anything he had seen before. Larger than an average adult, it was covered in feathers longer than Lucid’s own legs, and at its side, two large wings that looked more like enormous shields were folded. Its head was as large as two soccer balls put together, and its wide, ashen beak was sharp and pointed, which was quite intimidating. Moreover, at the end of that ferocious beak, some of the gray mud was smeared all over.
But the most threatening aspect of this creature were the pair of eyes that were looking into his. They were larger than his fists and looking at him curiously. Lucid couldn’t bring himself to move. Glancing at the creature’s legs, longer than all his body height, he realized what he was looking at. It was a bird, with its feet planted inside the mud, standing tall as it stared down at him.
“An… Ostrich?”
But the ostriches Lucid had learned about didn’t have such short, thick necks, though the neck was hardly the only difference between this bird and an actual ostrich. Still, there weren’t that many birds Lucid knew, and the closest thing he could think of was an ostrich.
The real issue was how and when this bird had gotten so close to him. Though it was true that he had been watching his step as he walked, the fact that he had allowed such a huge creature to get so close to him before he realized could present a real problem in his future endeavors.
He was too careless.
The bird, which was around ten paces away from him, was standing so perfectly still that it almost looked like a statue. If he didn’t know any better, he would have believed it to be some sort of landmark. Yet still as it was, Lucid couldn’t risk moving, lest it provoke the bird to attack him. So he simply studied the creature. Lucid stood still, and the bird stood still. The mud that had been pushed away by his feet also stilled, and the wind stilled. Somehow, it felt like the shadows made by the afternoon sun also stood still.
It was as if he had entered a strange illusion. Everything had gone still. It felt like time itself had stopped. Rather, it felt like this whole space had been removed from reality. Something… Something about this felt familiar to him, and he felt a tickling in his brain. What was it?
Was it magic? Had his movements been restrained through magic? To test this theory, he wiggled his toes inside his shoes. They moved without a problem, and as soon as he realized this, the tickling also disappeared. It felt as though he had lost track of something important, but he didn’t know what it was. The only thing he knew for certain was that it would do him no good to stay here like this, having a staring contest with a giant bird.
Because again, Lucid had no time to waste. There wasn’t a particular deadline he had to meet, but that meant that he had to divide his time as efficiently as he could. Standing on a pile of stinky mud and staring at a weird bird was not an efficient use of his time. Still, he didn’t feel quite so threatened by the creature, so he decided against attacking it with magic.
He would not be so reckless as to destroy any and everything that stood in his way. “Move away, you lowlives!” was something Hyung-geun often liked to shout as he ran across the field, avoiding all the other children, but Lucid refused to be so childish. Suddenly, he was very glad that Hyung-geun had stopped doing so once he had gone to middle school. It was a terrible habit.
For now, Lucid’s aim was to be safe and non-violent. First, he raised his left foot, careful to maintain eye contact with the bird in case it chose to attack. The bird showed no sign of movement. The mud stuck on his foot dropped down with a gross, thick squelch. He carefully planted his raised foot in the mud, exactly one step to the left from where he was standing. He was standing a bit awkwardly now, but his guard was still up.
The bird didn’t move.
This time, Lucid raised his right foot. His center of balance was thrown off, so he put as much weight as he could into his left leg. The thick mud clung to his foot and made it difficult to move, but his foot finally released with another squelch. Slowly, he moved his right foot next to his left. He stumbled a bit in the middle of it, but he managed to not fall over.
The bird moved.
It raised its right leg, much more fluidly than Lucid had. Its foot, which only had three toes (though it was more than enough to fully envelop Lucid’s whole head), moved to the side before being plunged back into the mud. Then it raised its left leg. Lucid had stumbled while doing this, but the bird was surprisingly well balanced on one leg despite its huge size. The left leg moved equally as fluidly and naturally as the right had and joined the right leg in the mud.
The bird maintained eye contact through all this, but Lucid felt as though it was making fun of him. Was this bird laughing at him? Annoying. He took one more step to the side, and the bird fluidly moved along with him. Knowing that he couldn’t keep walking sideways, Lucid made up his mind and bravely took a step forward. What now, bird?
The bird also took a step forward. There the two were, a child and a bird, standing eight paces from each other.
Determined to burn the bird to a crisp should something happen, Lucid took one more step forward, but when the bird also took another step, he saw its beak more clearly and couldn’t help but swallow in fear. Judging by its movements so far, this bird could move about the marshes more quickly and more easily than Lucid could. Still, regardless of what tricks the bird had up its… wings, Lucid also had a hidden weapon. His magic. Knowing this, he calmed his nerves a bit and took yet another step forward. But courage wasn’t the only thing he needed in this situation.
“Darn it all,” he muttered, unable to contain his frustration. The bird showed no sign of stepping back or going away, and it was starting to really annoy him.
“Gweeeeh!” the bird opened its beak and let out a strange cry.
Lucid quickly raised his hand towards the bird, but it showed no signs of wanting to move from its spot.
“Is it… copying me?”
Lucid tentatively raised his right hand, but seeing as how the bird didn’t react, he raised it even higher, placing it next to his ear. Still, the bird didn’t move, so he tried raising his left hand as well.
“Gweeeh.” the bird cried again, almost as if demanding to know what he was up to.
Lucid decided to stop wasting time being silly. After running some calculations at full speed, he began to run towards the rocky mountains, away from the bird. He made sure to use magic to lower the coefficient of friction wherever he stepped, though he had to adjust it a few times after stumbling a bit. When he finally got it right, he was able to run with much less resistance from the thick mud. However, the bird had begun to run as well, easily keeping up with him and staying by his side as it continued to stare at him, its head straight and tall. It legs moved gracefully along the mud, reminding Lucid of those ballerinas he had read about, but its fluid movements didn’t slow it down at all. Its legs were long enough that it could easily match Lucid’s running speed. After watching the huge bird for a bit, Lucid cast magic under its feet, reducing the coefficient of friction to zero. The bird stumbled, completely losing its balance for a moment.
Would it fall over? Though it seemed entirely possible, the bird flapped its giant wings at the last moment. They had been intimidating enough when they had been folded against its body, but seeing them outstretched was a whole other experience. One wing was bigger than Lucid’s whole body. The bird lifted up from the muddy ground, as if to take off flying, but it quickly dropped back down. Still, that must have been enough to regain its balance, as it managed to avoid falling over and rolling all over the mud. What a shame, Lucid thought to himself. However, the bird’s little tumble had allowed Lucid to gain a huge lead over it, and the distance between the two had been greatly increased.
Lucid was still tightly covering his mouth and nose with the old clothes from his neighbors. It made it difficult to breathe, especially as he was running, but he would rather sacrifice his breathing than his sanity. After all, a child and a giant bird running through the mud had caused the unbearable, disgusting marsh stench to waft and spread everywhere.
Behind him, the bird let out its screeching cry again, closer to the sound of rubbing metal pipes together than to that of an actual animal, but Lucid couldn’t afford to look back. He was angry at himself for having wasted so much time hesitating to enter the marshes, even though he could have reached the other side if he had only run like this in the first place, and he felt pathetic for having been so intimidated by the deathly smell. But most importantly, he didn’t trust himself to not trip over and fall should he lose his balance trying to look back at the bird.
Flap. Whoosh.
Wasn’t that the sound of… wings?
Lucid wanted nothing more than to turn around and make sure of what he had just heard. But there were only twenty paces left to go…
Just in case, he thought to himself.
Just one look, he promised himself.
And with that, he turned around.
Adventure (2)End.
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