The Orc's Awakening c49
Chapter 49: The Insect Encounter
Layla: “Tsch! He escaped…”
Layla clicked her tongue in frustration and swung her sword once before sheathing it.
Her trusty blade has been a long time companion, but recently, the piece of sharp metal had felt much less reliable and brittle. She wasn’t sure about asking Orukus to reforge her weapon, but maybe it’s something she can ask Luz after she wakes up from her nap.
The image of Orukus holding the unconscious Luz resurfaced, and before she realized it, her sword was drawn once more and pulverized the image into a million pieces.
Layla: “Does he have a fetish for the young?”
She sheathed her blade once again as she let out a slow breath.
Plenty of men liked young women. Some preferred them even younger, but if they were caught, they were left maimed, staked and tied up in the wilderness. By evening, the [Trials] would begin, and they would be left at the mercy of the Monsters that came. At least, those were the proper measures to take.
Children are the greatest asset humanity holds to break the chains of the [Watchers]. Anyone found violating them should be removed from the Cities as a Capital offense. The [Founders] should have eyes and ears woven through the Cities, but criminals have proven to be crafty and resourceful. Regardless, any City with that much corruption and crime would only last a few years at most before it is [Reset].
Layla glances at her body and clothes.
Sure, “voluptuous” is not a word you would use to describe her, but she was confident that she could make 10 out of 10 men’s heads turn ー something she found quite annoying, but….being ignored by HIM was far more irritating to her.
The fact that she was thinking and feeling those things about him just now were exponentially more aggravating.
Layla: “ERGH!! No! I’m doing this to protect the others!”
Logically, if his attention is on her, she could keep him from hurting others, yes?!
Layla: “It’s a noble sacrifice. A selfless action…it’s nothing more than that…..”
She began mumbling to herself profusely.
The only problem was getting him to make the move. For some reason, he seemed more intimidated by her presence. Why?
“Men want firm handling.”
She forgot where what mother told her that, but it made sense to her ー or at least… it’s what she was best at.
Unlike her, Noir had that infectious look to lure men.
Ayse dealt with men frankly, but some preferred her straightforward personality. Plus she had the curves too.
Shana was just too cute ー like a newborn kitten that you couldn’t resist to not hold in your arms.
Layla: “......what am I doing…?”
Her thoughts were wandering again. She has been more prone to endless meandering in these cerebral corridors since coming here. Before she met Orukus, it was meticulous planning and hammering out details and squeezing out info from her opposition. Everyday felt like her insides were being twisted into cruel knots as too many things were beyond her control. Her plans seemed to all simultaneously spiral into chaos, and some days felt like she was watching a landslide slowly bury them alive.
Now, she spent the day looking forward to some time with…..
She scratched her head furiously making her straight hair flail out in madness.
The trees above her rustled as Noir playfully hopped down to the ground.
Noir: “He got away?”
Noir grinned mischievously towards her.
Layla: “It was just too much trouble to stop him once he decided to run.”
Noir: “You couldn’t have restrained him by force?” Layla: “As if. He can be slippery when he wants to be. Why didn’t you help me?” Noir: “You know why.”
Noir gave Layla a knowing look as she clicked her tongue in disapproval.
Noir: “You know he wasn’t doing anything.”
Noir: “But it wasn’t about if he did anything wrong. It was the fact that he was holding another girl, right?” Layla sucked in a sudden breath and averted her eyes guiltily.
Noir: “Look, he’s a man. ……...well, sorta. He’s a male, and whether we like it or not, he’s going to have some connection with girls as long as we’reーー oh never mind.”
Noir saw that the slight mention of the subject ignited a jealous fire around Layla’s aura.
Noir: (Seriously, I thought she would never get over her childhood crush, but I guess people can move on.)
It wasn’t long ago that Noir had to watch her dearest friend go through what could be labeled as the worst of romantic meltdowns.
That man was an exemplary tell-tale warning of the effects of psychosis. Apparently, he was more sensible, kind, and outgoing when they were kids, but something visibly “snapped” as he spiraled magnificently into the path of tyrannical dictatorship.
Noir: (As they say, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”…….)
His skills were unmatched among the Seekers, yet his heroic strength still couldn’t overcome the Watchers. It was like watching someone try to stop the ocean tide with a single pebble. Though the difference between some Monsters and people were no different than man and beast, the separation with higher Monsters were astronomical. The gulf that separated the Watchers from humanity's Heroes would make the truest of optimists into raging cynics. It was that bad.
Though she understood where Layla came from, in a sense, she was glad that he was the one that drew the dagger on them. They knew it was coming eventually, but it came sooner than expected. They failed to put together the full picture soon enough to save………..
……..a bitter memory struck her nerve.
They did indeed survive. All the Party members of the Four Blossoms pulled through at the end. But…….there was more at stake that night. In the end, they never got to know what happened to the children.
Noir: (My mind’s drifting again….)
Her mind wandered away and came right back to the forest fire of jealousy that was unraveling in front of her.
Noir: “Calm down, Layla.” Layla: “I. AM. PERFECTLY. CALM. THANK YOU.”
Noir should have known better, but the words came out reflexively.
Noir: “.......do you want to talk about it?”
Layla: “NO! I’m going back! GOOD. DAY!”
Noir: (It’s like talking to a 5 year old….)
She watched her leader huff and puff as the plants and outgrowth visibly shied away to allow Layla to pass.
Noir: (What is she going to do if he decides to go out with Ayse or Shana?)
She couldn’t say “me.” It would be far too close to a betrayal, and Layla was akin to family. They were closer than blood and tied together by bonds deeper than mere friendship.
She would just have to keep her private affairs with him away from prying eyes. That was her specialty anyways.
There were two jobs she mainly handled in the Four Blossoms. One was the dirty work and assignments Layla gave her to wade through the sludge of politics. The other was keeping her leader intact and sane.
Noir: (Fwew…….she should be okay though.)
Jealousy could burn a hole through someone’s soul or twist it into something vile. But Layla’s world was forged in fire ー through trials, pain, and suffering. This would just be another coal inside the bonfire of her life.
Noir: (And I’m the one tasked to clean up the ashes…..)
She looked into the direction where Orukus ran. He would be quite far by now, but she wasn’t worried. These kinds of events were just turning into a daily routine for the girls since the Spider’s Cave.
It was more out of instinct and habit that I ran. I’ve been caught before reading dirty magazines by my mom, and…..wait, that metaphor would be rude to Luz.
Orukus: (I don’t think I was doing anything wrong…..)
The last few days(?), weeks(?) have been a blur. It felt like that one summer camp I went to as a kid.
You met new friends and had fun for a very short period of time.
Once the week was over, you said your farewells, and then life went back to normal.
Orukus: (Will it be like that? Will I just wake up and realize that this was all a dream or something?)
It’s the typical trope and end to a life that was too good to be true.
Most Hero’s stories never ended.
Because when it did……...it was rarely happy.
Humans in general do not cope well with endings. But an open-ended ending is less painful than a terminal one.
Every story ends.
Every life ends eventually.
Orukus: (Or so I thought….)
I thought traveling to the Isekai was supposed to be more clearcut.
I thought you were supposed to be set in well-defined roles inside an unfolding story line, and well, you just progressed, got stronger, and defeated the bad guys. You would be thrown into a video game-like Skill and Magic system, and plot holes and plot armor protected the MC until……….you reached the end.
Orukus: (Is there an ending to my life in this world?)
[and WHAT, do WE, have HERE?]
My blood could have frozen into icicles at the sound of that voice.
I realize now that it’s due to my incredible Porky instincts. I can recognize danger when I’m neck deep inーーー
I was in a different part of the forest ー far from both my bases.
I never thought about this, but Gramps did say Guardian(s) ー plural. I thought the new pets might be the other Guardiansーーbut now, faced with a Gramps-level being, I was being far too naive.
The air around me buzzed as the leaves and branches rustled.
The sounds of millions of wings rang ー shattering the serene forest rhythm.
Bugs. Lots of bugs.
I remember being surrounded by hornets once at soccer practice. My mother forced me to join a few sessions, and I hated every minute of it. But the worst day was the last practice session I attended. We were kicking the ball and hitting the goal post more than usual. Before we knew what was happening, several dozens of red wasps buzzed around us. They nested inside the hollow goal post. The red demons hovered still in the air and surrounded the team.
Yeah, we screamed. All of us were terrified. None of us stuck around to find out what was happening or why. I was the slowest and got stung a few times before I dived into a nearby creek. A nearby plant dumped their sewage in the water, so the water was putrid, but the wasps didn’t care to stick around and wait for me to resurface either. That was the last time I did team sports.
Now, those hornets looked like harmless gnats compared to the swarm that rose up around me.
My Porky senses picked up a huge cloud of bugs of all kinds swirling a few meters in all directions from where I stood.
The dense fog of insects covered the skies, cutting off the sunshine, and soon, I was thrown under a hair-raising shadow.
Most of the insects went dormant as a small cloud gathered in one place a few meters in front of me.
The darkness bulged and wriggled.
Thanks to my Porky night vision, I could still make out my surroundings.
A cloaked figure stood there.
Well, he was [shaped] like a “cloaked figure.”
In actuality, his cloak was made of a swarm of dark brown insects that cling to each other like a grotesque cloth.
His face and skin underneath the hood were made similarly. Though he [shaped] himself like a…….a [human], every piece of his body was simply made of a variety of different insects that made it [look] like an eye, nose, or lips.
If my Porky Hero sense wasn’t bleeping “DANGER,” he might have been pleasant to look at, like some awesome, intricate mosaic art. The only problem was, I was smack dab in the middle, inside of this one.
Bloodlust filled the air.
I was like a ladybug being caught between the fingers of a child.
His presence was smothering and abrasive.
The insects chirped but the sheer number made the sound into a rattling chainsaw.
[And WHY, is-an ORC, passing HERE, a-LONE?]
His voice carried a strange rhythm and bounced eerily.
It didn’t sound human…...but…..
Orukus: (He sorta talks like Gramps)
If I had to guessーー
The figure stood inches away from my face.
A voiceless scream escaped my throat as I cleaved him in two with my hatchet.
The figure merely parted like a mist and appeared to my side at a careful distance ー slightly annoyed by my reaction.
[so ODD. yes ODD. very ODD, in-DEED.]
Like a mocking chant, he vanished and reappeared on a branch up high in a tree. The leaves were devoured and the branches withered as the bugs hallowed it out.
It happened so quickly. To the guy, it was like taking a sip of water out of a cup.
Another chill ran down my spine for the hundreth time since he completely surrounded me.
He cut off my escape routes. I would have to push through the wall of insects if I hoped to get away.
[is it LOST? does it KNOW? it should NOT. it should NOT. but WAIT. what HO?]
As it spoke, it disappeared again in a flash and reappeared in multiple places with every emphasized word, and finally settled on sitting on a log with his legs crossed and chin sitting on its elbow.
[so STRANGE. so STRANGE, in-DEED. oh WHY. oh WHY, is THERE, a whole SOUL, in-SIDE?]
As soon as it was done speaking, it appeared next to me whispering those last words.
I swung again, but it grabbed my wrists to stop the swing.
My Porky strength is no joke, but he's in an entirely different league!!
It’s shiny, hollow-dead eyes stared deep into mine with morbid curiosity ー never blinking, never looking away.
A waterfall of profuse, cold sweat soaked the cloth underneath my mask, but I felt a scorching heat pierce through my legs as it jolted up to my face.
A fierce light burned my retina as it simultaneously singed the creature’s eyes with blinding light.
The shrill scream of [PAIN] filled the forest air as the thing writhed and rolled as if branded with hot iron.
The air around me swirled as I felt the [Earth’s] heartbeat drum like a war march, and my [WILL] pushed against the smothering presence around me, pushing back the insects too until it made a perfect sphere that was about 3 meters (～10 feet) all around me.
Orukus: “(SNORT) WhーWhat is this?! What’s happening?!”
Panic rippled across the bubble as the sphere wavered into an erratic shape for a moment.
The Cloaked Figure’s presence would then crawl through the cracks, but another drumbeat later, the cracks and holes would be sealed, and the presence was pushed out.
An irate howl pierced the air as something grabbed a hold of the sphere around me.
Pressure began crushing against the surface of the sphere as I felt myself grow smaller… and smaller...until an infinite abyss swallowed the sphere whole, and I disappeared into a bottomless void.
[too DANGEROUS! too DANGEROUS!! what LIGHT, in SHADOW?!?!]
The creature shrieked as it sent a swarm of insects towards me. But the insects were now a cloud of shadows darting around the walls.
A black cloud shrouded my vision.
The world went instantly pitch black as every inch was now filled with shadows forming insect shapes.
I held my breath and helplessly held my eyes closed.
In the darkness, I was being pressed from all sides as if some sort of invisible wall was trying to crush me into an infinitesimally small atom.
It felt like the earth was trying to squeeze the life out of me and squish me out of existence.
[you RESIST?! though WHY?! just LEAVE! move ON, with your LIFE, oh CHILD, of LIGHT!!]
My consciousness began to drift as I felt this world slowly pass out from view.
The forest felt far. It was like someone was pushing me away through the clouds in the sky and out of the atmosphere.
The world was fading from sight.
I was being pushed out ー like being shoved out of a room. The Man Eating Forest looked so small now as I gazed at it through a tiny window.
Orukus: (..............is this……...am I dying……….?)
The last time, it all happened way too fast.
This time, it felt excruciatingly slow ー as if it was prying my hands off the edge of a cliff one finger at a time.
None of this made any sense to me.
Where was I?
What was happening?
If I had a mirror, I would have seen that my Porky features returned to human ー to the grotesque neet I was before.
[be GONE. oh SPIRIT. leave the SHADOWS. the LIGHT, a-WAITS.]
The millions of insect shadows clung to me like barbed wire digging into my flesh.
Searing pain coursed through my body as I cursed and screamed in agony.
A brief flashback of the past couple of days ran like a messy slideshow, a crude recollection of the people I just met……like fragments of a broken mirror, it shattered and scattered around me in random patterns….
Instead of my lonely dark room, lit by that single monitor, I saw people instead…
A kitchen table being set by a girl humming to herself.
What will happen to the girls if I leave?
The image of washing a battered girl’s feet flashed before me.
What’s she going to think if I didn’t come back?
A girl sitting on a log with mug in her hand and the moon hanging above her.
A girl throwing showers of rocks with a scarlet burnt face as I hid behind shrubs.
A girl whispering the words up close ー no sound came through but her dark hair and dark eyes looked hopefully, longingly, and with satisfaction.
Did she call me a Hero?
What Hero? Me?
A large shadow of <PAIN> crawled and nestled against my back and suddenly plunged its needle deep into my body. The tip of its sharp spike burrowed itself like a heated blade as the tip shatters and splinters and continues to splinter throughout my entire being.
The memories began to shatter and fade...
Orukus: (He’s trying to cut my ties with them……..!!)
Like cutting the lifeline, something ugly clawed and gnawed against the links I have with this world.
I grasp with both hands the jaws chomping down on the thin, red chain connected to my chest and force it open.
[.........be GONE. hu-MAN. let it GO...]
I knew response sounded childish ー like someone who is getting their toy taken away.
[......this is NOT where YOU should BE…….]
Orukus: (Have you even SEEN me in my previous life?!?!)
Nothing but a dark room only lit by a single computer's light.
Nothing but mindless clicking just to avoid living.
Nothing but the sound of a dying clock ticking.
Nothing but time to kill ー all of it was for nothing…. nothing to look forward to day after day after day….
Orukus: “Do you even know WHERE I’VE BEEN?!?!”
The words burned holes in my lungs as I spat them out with contempt.
My hands push hard against the jaws as they slowly part further.
For the first time in my life, I did something that helped someone else.
For the first time EVER, there are people relying on me to help them.
For the very first time in my life, I can tell my momーーI did something that would make her proud.
And most importantlyーー
Orukus: (THEY’RE. ALL. PRETTY. GIRLS!!)
If there’s any universal motivation for men to change, it’s a pretty woman.
Orukus: (And there are 4….no FIVE now!!)
[............some-HOW, you MANAGED to MAKE my PITY for YOU va-NISH…..]
The voice sounded dry, hollow, and exasperated.
The jaws faded as two hands appeared and pulled hard at my cheeks as if to protest my very existence.
The world grew back into view.
I flew back through the tiny window and shot through the clouds towards the Man-Eating Forest.
I slammed into my Porky body that was swarmed with bugs all over, and the impact scattered the vast cloud into ash and dust.
[ nnnnngggggghhh!!! inso-LENT, fool-ISH nitWIT!!!]
A raspy voice of a boy caught me by surprise as the insects faded away.
My hands clenched both his cheeks and pulled furiously as he returned the gesture in kind.
Tears welled up in both our eyes as the serene forest orchestra picked up around us again.
Orukus: “(snort) hm?”
What happened? Where am I?
The boy kicked me hard in the shins. That should have broken his toes, but I found a sharp pain rattle up my bones instead.
Orukus: “(SNORT!!) YEEEEOOOOWWWWW!!”
I let his cheeks go and rolled around on the ground as the boy harrumphed in sullen victory and crossed his arms.
Orukus: “(SNORT!!) THAT HURT, KID!!”
“It’s not ‘kid’ you disgusting pig!! I am Legios! The Insect King, Legios!!”