Chapter Nine – A fiery start to the journey

Two days had passed since they left Ravadier. The road had been easy so far and they progressed quickly. The most time they even spent on anything was on Cassandra sightseeing. She was absolutely enamored by almost everything they encountered. Mana also seemed more comfortable to be on the road than before they came to Ravadier. Cobal didn’t mind the change of scenery either so they were just having a good time. He was still struggling to figure Mana out. She’d seem more comfortable than before at times, but then regress into a quiet state from time to time. As if something was weighing her down at all times. He wasn’t really familiar with this kind of behavior at all. People had always been cheerful around him and only sad when something had happened to them. They were going on foot since they had no wagon or anything available. When they initially traveled to Ravadier they’d gone most of the way by ship, but that ship then turned around and went back to the capital. They’d gone the last couple of days worth of travel by foot.
Luckily, Cassandra  didn’t mind at all. And since both Mana and Cobal were already used to it a little bit. That afternoon things took a turn though, as there was smoke on the horizon. They weren’t close enough to town yet for that to be it, but it was still alarming.
“Something’s wrong,” Mana said.
Cobal nodded.
“Let’s go check it out,” Cassandra said, already three steps ahead of the other two.
The smoke seemed to come from a building a little ways off the beaten path. 
Rushing over, they noticed a figure coming out of the house. It looked like a woman, running away from something behind her in fear. As she was only a few steps out, the house went from smoking to being covered in rolling flames. The sudden push of air launched her forward, rolling into the grass. From the crumbling, burning house stepped a large fiery beast like creature. Four muscled legs held up what looked like a lion’s body, but covered in flames. From it protruded a long neck, longer that of a lion would be, with a face at the end of it that looked like a lion, but different. Cobal had only seen a lion once, but it still looked strange to him. The tail was long and had a large flame at the end of it, which was currently setting things it touched on fire. It let out a loud roar and made for the woman that was getting up from the blast.
Mana immediately took a step in front of Cobal, as if it was the most normal thing to do, and with a few quick hand motions a gust of wind flew from her hands and pushed the creature back. Now it turned its attention to the three who just arrived and roared once more.
“What the hell is that thing?” Cassandra yelled.
“I don’t know, it’s your world,” Mana replied.
“You don’t have fiery lions in your world?” Cassandra yelled back.
“Surprisingly, no, we’re a bit more normal than that.”
“I thought we didn’t either,” Cobal interrupted, drawing his sword.
He’d trained with the royal swordsman many hours, but he had never fought against fiery beasts, or done any training aimed towards that.
“Can you beat it?” Mana asked.
“I don’t know, I have no idea what this thing is.” He positioned himself in between the creature and his companions. The creature roared at them as Mana pushed another gust of wind towards it.
“I thought you could only control a little bit of air?” Cobal said.
“It’s a lot easier if I don’t have to worry too much about where to aim it. Now do something about this, my little gusts of air look more impressive than they actually are. As a matter of fact, I think they’re only fanning the flames,” Mana yelled, looking at the creature’s flaming body grow in intensity.
Cobal charged towards the creature, slashing at its fiery mane. The heat emanating from the creature was definitely scary and he focused on defense, almost immediately pivoting onto his back foot as he got into range with the creature. It bit at him and he managed to dodge hastily, circling back around it. He slashed at it’s back, hitting it with a shallow cut. The beast yelped and jumped at Cobal. Mana used another gust of wind and pushed the creature off balance mid jump, causing it to roll over. She then brought down wind from above, slowing its movements just enough for Cobal to hit it once more. When his sword went deep into the creature’s body it let out a yelp before turning to ash. The ash immediately spread due to the large amount of unnatural wind. All three of them looked around for any other signs of danger as silence filled the air. It seemed like whatever this creature was, it was alone.

“Miss, are you alright?” Cassandra asked the woman, who had hobbled her way towards them after the fighting stopped. She nodded. She had some minor burn wounds and her ankle seemed to have twisted. Besides that she seemed to mostly be fine physically. She was trembling in fear though. Unsurprising, as the creature had looked absolutely terrifying. Cobal looked at Mana who was sweating profusely and breathing heavily. She had sat down in the grass. Noticing him look over at her, she got up and walked towards them.
“Mana, are you okay?” Cobal asked.
“I’ll be fine, I just underestimated how much energy that would take.” She looked weak on her feet and Cobal let her hand rest on his shoulder for some support. Mana turned her attention to the woman. “Are you okay?”
“I’m okay, I think. Y’all came at just the right time.” She sighed and sat down. “What the hell was that thing?” She asked.
“We were hoping you knew, because we have no idea either,” Cassandra replied. “Where did it come from?”
The woman thought for a moment. “I was just having some tea and all of a sudden it burst through the door of my bedroom into the room I was in. As you can see I was able to get out of the way in time, but my house is gone.”
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s salvageable,” Cassandra said, looking at the smoldering ruin.
“We can escort you to the town if you’d like, it’s only thirty minutes away,” Mana said.
“You don’t have to tell her that, she lives here.” Cassandra added.
Mana gave her a look as she giggled.
The woman nodded. “For now that would be the best.”
“Once we get situated in town, maybe we can come back here and see if we can find out anything?” Cassandra suggested. “I don’t think we should be touching any of this right now, it’s probably hot.”
“Fire tends to be hot,” Mana said mockingly. Now it was Cassandra’s turn to give her a look.
Cobal shook his head. “I don’t know what this could be, we’re too far from the Feral Wildlands for anything from there to come all this way. At least I don’t think that’s what this is. It would accidentally burn down the forest.” He looked at Mana. “You have nothing like this in your world?”
Mana shook her head. “We have lions, and we have fire, but I’m happy to say I’ve never seen them combined in such a way before and unhappy to say that I would have liked to keep it that way.” She thought for a moment. “There was that time in the circus, but that’s not really relevant here.”
Cobal helped the woman up and they traveled the last bit towards town.
“What is your name, if I might ask?” Cobal said, after introducing himself and his companions. 
The woman introduced herself as Carla. She’d lived here with her husband until he passed away a few years ago. She’s had to get rid of a lot of the farmland after he passed away because one person can’t work as big a field as two, but she’d never had any trouble here like this. No sightings of strange creatures, no weird people or fiery beasts, nothing. Just a peaceful life in the countryside. She was slowing down their pace because of her twisted ankle, but luckily it only took an hour for them to reach the town of Rashind. As luck would have it, Carla had a sister living in Rashind, and they brought her there. After dropping her off, and her thanking them again for saving her, they found the local inn.

“Good evening travelers, how can I help you?” A pudgy looking middle aged man with a receding hairline stood behind the bar.
“Three beds for the night as well as some dinner.” Cobal looked out the window. The sun was slowly setting and after a long day of walking they were all quite hungry.
“Very well, that can be arranged.” Cobal paid the man and all three of them sat down at a corner table.
“So tomorrow we’ll go back there?” Mana asked.
Cobal nodded. “I know we shouldn’t dawdle too much, but I think it’s important to see what this is about.”
“I agree, and isn’t Mana supposed to be a hero? What hero would leave people in need behind.” Cobal noticed that Cassandra was very eager to speak her mind, a habit he sure wouldn’t come to find annoying eventually. 
Mana looked from one to the other and sighed. “I’m all for helping out this woman, don’t misunderstand me, but I’m not the hero you people want me to be. I don’t think I’ll ever be the hero you want me to be. I want to make that very clear.”
Cassandra gave her a skeptical look. “You say things like that, but half the fight was done by you. You made air move with such force it halted a creature that big.”
Mana smiled shyly. 
Cobal nodded. “I understand what you’re saying Mana, but we are taking the journey to get you to become that hero. But, we don’t have to hurry too much, it’s your call to make.”
“Something wrong?” The innkeeper asked, putting plates in front of each of them.
“Do you know Carla?” Cobal asked.
“Aye, I do. She lives a bit out of town don’t she?”
“Not anymore,” Cassandra said under her breath, but only Cobal seemed to hear the joke in poor taste.
Mana nodded. “Her house was attacked by a fiery beast. She was lucky that we happened to walk by and were able to deal with it. We’ll be returning to what’s left of her house tomorrow to see if we can figure out what happened.”
“Oh, that’s a real shame to hear. Is she all right?”
“She has a few minor burns, but she’ll pull through. She walked here on her own with us, so she’s not too badly off.”
“Well, thanks for helping out one of ours then.” He smiled and returned to his seat behind the counter. He didn’t seem too interested in what was going on.
The meal consisted of some mashed potatoes, some freshly harvested carrots and a slab of pork meat. All things considered it was a very hearty meal.
“So, first thing in the morning we’ll go and check out the burned down house?” Mana asked.
Cobal nodded.
“Do you have any ideas what could have caused this?” Cassandra asked.
Cobal thought to himself for a moment. “I have some theories but none of them are much more than poorly educated guesses. If I was a betting man I’d put my money on some sort of feral magic gone wrong. But that would mean someone intended this creature to do something at least.”
Mana nodded. “From what I’ve read, this could be someone’s creation that was then summoned into the room. Magic is so diverse in your world that it’s hard to really say though.”
“And to think I almost stayed behind to bake bread,” Cassandra added.
They all chuckled.
After dinner they went upstairs. Mana and Cassandra shared a room and Cobal was in the room opposite of them. “Just knock on my door if you need me for anything,” he said, before wishing his companions goodnight. Inside his room he took a pencil and some paper out of his pocket and started writing a letter.
He wrote about where they were going and what just happened. He requested some soldiers to be sent from the royal capital to patrol these areas a bit more. He also wrote down that Mana was making solid progress in her study of magics and she’d already impressed him greatly. He did leave out that they went to Arana, the village below the ocean. He then signed the letter and while he read a book he used the wax from the candle he burned for light to seal the letter. He’d have to find someone to deliver it to the capital in the morning, maybe the innkeeper knew something. Proud of his exploits from the day, he went to sleep.

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