Labrynthian, Chapter 3: A Fork in the Road
rating: +3+x

"I thought I made sure we weren't followed…"

Capgras just slightly opened the front door as yet another crack came from outside, followed by a loud thud against the side of the house. As Capgras quickly shut the door again in response, Kosef peered out a nearby window to see a group of figures closing in on the house, their features obscured by the fog outside. Were they Cartographer scouts? Did the Republic send reinforcements to come and find them? Kosef glanced back over at Capgras, who was sewing a piece of fabric to one of the flayed human faces they had on their person.

"I don't know who these folks are, but they're not about to come in here and muck all of this up." Capgras pushed themselves off the floor and held the flayed face out in front of them, having sewn it into a crude, bloody mask. Kosef was disgusted by the sight of it, watching in near disbelief as the gray-skinned Entity actually began to put the grisly mask on their head. In another second, however, Capgras was gone. Standing where they once were was a familiar face, with ratty, tangled blonde hair, disheveled and dirty clothes, and a bloodstained gray coat.

"Hope you're not still mad at me about that exchange earlier…" Capgras had taken on the identity of Marc Lawrence, the exact same identity they had used mere hours ago to backstab the Cartographers and kidnap Kosef and Millicent. But that was one of the last things on Kosef's mind at the moment, given the situation. The only attention he paid to it was this weird nagging feeling he felt. He couldn't really put his finger on it, but he felt like he had seen Marc's face somewhere before Level 807

Peering out the door once again, Capgras confirmed Kosef's earlier suspicions. "Yep. Purple coats. Looks like your employers noticed you were missing." Millicent had been oddly quiet most of this time, only just now crawling across the room to get to Kosef's side and grab hold of his hand, clutching his arm out of fear of what was going on. "Alright, here's our battle plan. I'll head out front and try to distract them, most likely they came all this way because of Marc. They don't want to lose a potentially valuable asset like a M.E.G. deserter. You two, on the other hand, are probably expendable to them, so you gotta clear out of here. Head out the back door and get back to the path we were following earlier. Wait there for me."

Kosef and Millicent started to gather as much of their stuff as they could, packing their belongings up again and getting ready to move, when Capgras grabbed Kosef by the shoulder and looked him dead in the eyes. "I'm trusting you here, human. I know this looks like an awfully tantalizing opportunity to run off, but I need you to follow orders here. This whole thing is way bigger than you think, and while you're expendable to those soldiers, you're not expendable to me." Kosef barely nodded his head before shrugging Capgras' arm off his shoulder. "I'm just saying, if you know what's good for you, you'll listen to me."

"… And if I don't?"

"Then we're already doomed."

Simultaneously, on the same level…

"What's the situation?" A small force of Penumbras clad in red uniforms and iron armor watched from atop a hill as trouble was stirring in the distance. The cold wind was carrying the faint sound of shouting up the hill, barely discernible by the time it reached their ears. They knew something was amiss, they heard the gunshots before they had even found the site of the commotion. If the cracks of those swift and brutal weapons could be heard, it meant only one thing…

"Humans." Watching the commotion unfold below was a suprisingly short Penumbra, close to about 6 feet tall, whose hair was tied back in a long ponytail, kept behind her antlers and out of her eyes as she looked on through a spyglass. "About 2 dozen of them, maybe closer to 3. All surrounding that wrecked house down there." She watched silently for a few seconds as they encroached the building, trying to make out features through the snow and fog. "Okay, take notes here… They're all armed with long-barrels… Dressed in purple uniforms… And it doesn't look like they have any actual armor or blackfire torches."

"Heh, should be easy pickings, then." Another Penumbra jotted down all the info onto a piece of stained parchment before folding it up and handing it to a third member of their group. "Run this back to Captain Tollmares, request that the patrols be amped up in this sector effective immediately." The messenger saluted before bounding down the hill, climbing atop an elder Blurr tied to a tree below, and riding off into the fog.

The shorter Penumbra watched on below as a new figure appeared. "Someone's stepping out of the house… Another human, looks like. Blonde hair, gray coat, green pants… Looks like they're carrying an axe or something…" The blonde figure walked up to the group of purple soldiers, likely trying to talk to them, as the Penumbra spotted two more figures appearing from behind the house. "Another pair's running the opposite direction. Can't make out what they look like, but it doesn't look like they're armed."

"Alright, let's get down there and clean shop, while we still can. Konnach, you and Wintyse stay here and keep an eye out, send for reinforcements if things turn sour. Daemyla, you go take care of the two trying to get away, try to bring them back alive for interrogation. The rest of you lot, we're gonna take care of the apes in purple. Try to take at least one of the soldier-looking characters alive too, I don't think they're working with whoever's held up in that house."

With that, the Penumbra in charge started down the hill towards the house below, at least 9 others accompanying her. The short Penumbra stuffed the spyglass into her pouch as she went the other way, grabbing a spear she'd earlier planted into the snow as she raced down the hill after the two fleeing humans. As she picked up speed and started careening down the hill, she could've sworn she saw a faint glint of light flash from the two figures in the distance, like from something made of metal.

"Here's hoping I was right about them being unarmed…"

"Don't stop running, Mil!"

Kosef was nearly dragging Mil by the arm she struggled to keep up with him, the both of them moving as fast as they possibly could, trying to make sure they'd gotten too far away for the scouts to see them. Only a minute or two later, Kosef looked back to see that the fog had hidden the house from view. Taking it as a sign that they were in the clear, he stopped and focused on catching his breath. "Let's hope they… didn't follow us… or… if they did… let's just hope… it isn't like that damn Entity was saying… About us being expendable…"

Millicent had caught her breath by now, and was confused as ever. "Why does Mister Capgras want us to run from the scouts? We're scouts!" Kosef let out a sigh in annoyance, he wasn't too sure why they were running away, either. It must have been Capgras' hunch that they'd be treated as unnecessary, he kept reasoning to himself. If only they knew their precious ex-M.E.G. wasn't even human…

The next few hours seemed almost torturous. Kosef was sore from how much he'd strained himself to run at breakneck speeds earlier, and Millicent kept complaining that she felt about the same. The cold didn't do much to help, either. The freezing winds blasted against the two as they struggled to keep walking towards where they last saw the road. By the time they had finally found it again, nightfall was quickly arriving.

"Damn, where the hell are they?" Kosef glanced around trying to find Capgras, but there was no sign of them. Where were they? Had they been captured by the scouts? Killed, even? Did the scouts even know they were still out here?

Were they stranded?

Kosef's attention started racing towards finding some kind of shelter, somewhere to wait out the night. "Come on Mil, this way." The two started down the road, looking the entire way for anything that could work as shelter. An hour passed. Then another. Still nothing. No Capgras, no scouts, no hiding place. Nothing.

"Kosef? When are we going back to Station Secundus?" Kosef looked down to see Mil was shivering as she tried to keep up, exhausted, cold, and probably still pretty scared about all the mayhem that'd happened over the past couple of days. "Why did we run away from the scouts? That was dumb…" Kosef couldn't help but agree with her. Only now was he realizing how much of an idiot he was for blindly listening to Capgras' orders. Why did he trust that Entity in the first place? Why did his mind ever convince himself to follow along with the creature that just yesterday slaughtered his friends in cold blood?

Kosef's train of thought was lost when he spotted something just off the road. A rickety shack stuck out from the snow, likely having never been spotted by the pair if not for the light coming from within, stretching out from the cracked-open doorway like a beacon. The two quickly hurried over and ducked inside, where they found a campfire burning, along with two bedmats laid out on the floor. Kosef's mind immediately recoiled at first. It all seemed too convenient, too perfect, too… impossible.

Then he spotted something hanging on the wall, a crude drawing that looked like it had been made in charcoal. It was hard to tell what it was of at first, as it just seemed to be some odd flat box with a shape jutting out from it, the only other feature to the drawing being the word "Focus", written in the top corner. But then Kosef started to recognize what the jutting shape was. A tower.

Did the woman from his dream do this somehow? If so, how? Where was she? What was going on? Kosef's mind was racing a mile a minute, jumping from one thought to the next before he had a chance to process any of them. Eventually it just gave up, stopped questioning any of what was going on and decided the only thing that mattered was that they had shelter.

Millicent had already collapsed onto one of the bedmats, her back facing Kosef as she quickly started to fall asleep. Kosef plopped himself down on the other mat as he quickly grew more and more tired. There was way too much info he had to process, and he was too tired to do so. Trying to answer questions would have to wait until tomorrow.

Kosef started to doze off as he heard Millicent mumble something in her sleep, likely some nonsense or a bad dream. The wind made the shack creak as a draft of cold wind flew into the room. Mil loudly shuffled about, probably trying to brace herself from the cold air, continuing to sleep-talk as darkness enveloped Kosef's senses.

"H-hello? Who's there?"

A loud creak echoed from the opening door as a gust of wind billowed into the shack, blowing out the light and shrouding the room in darkness before Daemyla could get a glance inside. About to try and enter the room, she stopped when she heard something moving around within. Peering her head just barely past the doorway, she looked inside to see a room of near pitch-black, the only visible thing being a huddled shape on the other side of the shack, staring dead-on at Daemyla with a pair of almost luminescent blue eyes.

"What the hell is that thing?!" Daemyla whispered to herself. The shape in the corner was unmoving, still looking her in the eyes as she desperately tried to figure out what this… thing was that was sending chills up her spine. Was this one of the humans she'd been following from earlier? Couldn't be, it was too small, too eerie… Or was it just the dark giving it that effect?

"H-hello? Who's there?" The thing spoke English, it had to have been a human. Daemyla scanned the rest of the room real quick as best as she could. She couldn't make out much in the dark, apart from some pile of stuff slumped on the other side of the room, on top of what looked like a bedmat or something. The human was still staring at her, unmoving. Even if the dark was all that was responsible for the chilling sight of some shadow-figure looking on at her, why was this human so small? The only reason explanation she could think of was that it had to be a kid.

Was it?

"Hey, come here." Daemyla whispered under her breath, just loudly enough to make sure the human could hear. The human shifted around, trying to huddle itself as tight as it could into the corner of the room. She could tell they must've been scared. "Hey now, it's okay. I just want to talk to you, that alright?" The figure was unmoving for a second, its gaze leaving Daemyla to look at the floor, as if they were thinking, pondering, before they started to slowly climb to their feet. She was suprised that actually worked. "There you go. Can you come out here so we can talk?" The human started to make their way towards the door, Daemyla stepping away so they could walk outside.

Once outside, Daemyla could better make out what they looked like. It was a little girl, with pale skin, long brown hair, and dressed in a blue sweater, snowpants, and scarf. "W-who are you? You look like a Penumbra…" Daemyla knelt down to be eye-level with the girl, whose fear was quickly turning into curiosity. "Are you like one of those Penumbras who come by Station Secundus for food? Oh, wait, or are you one of those people who escaped Level 7? Or one of the Penumbras that live in Kavragost?"

Station Secundus? Level 7? Not much of this was making sense to Daemyla, although there was one part she recognized. Kavragost. Kavragost still existed? She could've sworn she was told about how the humans wiped out that kingdom almost 500 years ago. The human girl kept asking question after question, trying to figure out who this Penumbra was or where she came from. "Hey, hey, calm down. If you must know, my name's Daemyla, of the Kingdom of Alost."

"'All lost'? What settlement is that? I've never heard of a place called 'all lost' before… Well, it's nice to meet you, miss Daemyla. My name's Millicent." Daemyla started to notice a weird tinge of empathy for this little girl. What was she doing all the way out here in the kingdom's borderlands? Why was she being hunted by the purple soldiers from earlier? Where was the other human she ran away with? Daemyla stopped herself from starting a full-blown conversation right then and there, remembering her orders. She'd just have to talk to them on the way back to base camp.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Millicent. Say, why don't you come with me? Me and my friends would like to ask you a few questions, if that's okay with you." The little girl seemed hesitant, not sure about what to do. A shriek echoed in the distance, likely just a Deathmoth flying overhead, but nonetheless the shriek scared the girl into grabbing a hold of Daemyla's arm.

"O-okay… But can I come back here after I talk to your friends?"

"Absolutely, Millicent. Now, why don't you tell me about that Kavragost settlement you mentioned?"

"Wake up, dumbass."

Kosef was scared awake by the sound of Capgras yelling in his ear. Springing up from the bedmat, he could barely see them in the dark at first. Wait… Why was it dark? A quick look around revealed that the door to the shack was wide open, the campfire having been blown out, and… Oh no…

"Where's Mil?"

Kosef looked concernedly at Capgras as they simply shrugged, still quite visibly annoyed at him. "I don't know where the damn kid is. I thought I told you two to wait where we left the road yesterday, didn't I? Had to walk up and down the path a mile each direction before I found this wreck you chose to bunker down in." Kosef had stopped paying attention the second Capgras said they didn't know Millicent's whereabouts. Looking over at her bedmat again he saw her stuff still sitting next to it. What the hell was going on? Where the hell was she?

"Millicent?!" He shoved Capgras to the side as he rushed out the door to look around. Fresh snow was starting to fall around him, already covering up Capgras' footprints leading up to the shack. "Mil? Where are you?!" Kosef started running in a random direction, swearing to himself that the patch of snow he was following was sunken a bit, like someone had walked there earlier. He kept running until he nearly ran headlong into a tree, stopping and glancing around. No belongings maybe left behind in the snow. No footprints left to follow around. Nothing.


Kosef collapsed to his knees, his terror forcing him to gasp for air, ever so slightly rocking back and forth as he hyperventilated, desperately trying to think of some way to find out where she went. Once his breathing began to slow down again, he started tearing up, panicked, terrified, no clue what to do, no clue if there was even anything he could do. Losing people here wasn't like how he remembered it working in the Frontrooms. You wouldn't find them again later that week having ran off to a relative's house, you wouldn't even find them next month dead in a ditch the next state over. Unless you had the proper equipment to track them, then it was pointless. Once you lose someone in this place, you aren't seeing them again.

"Damn it all… Fine, I guess I only need one of you anyhow…" Capgras had already gathered up Kosef's belongings and thrown them at his feet, tapping him with the blunt end of their axe. "On your feet. The sooner we get to Level 827, the better." Kosef's mind was going blank fast. Who was that talking to him, again? Why were they going to Level 827 anyhow? You know what, why did it matter? His brain latched onto that objective. Get to Level 827. Seems nice. Seems like a good plan. Something to distract himself from what was going on, from the fact that the person he swore to look after was missing. Everything will be okay, just go to Level 827.

Kosef climbed to his feet and picked up his belongings, a whimper still in his voice from crying, tears still rolling down his face uncontrollably. "Wh-which way…?" Suddenly, something pushed into him. It took Kosef a moment to realize what was happening. Wiping some of the tears from his eyes, he looked on suprised as Capgras hugged him for a short moment.

Pulling themselves away all of a sudden, Capgras straightened their shirt out and adressed Kosef again, "Look, I'm sorry… You can talk about it later if you want, Okay? Right now we need to get off this god-forsaken level."

Kosef let out a sniffle as he started walking forward. "Alright… Where are we headed?"

"Just follow me, alright?" Capgras procured a flare from their satchel as they started to follow the path once again.

"And keep your guard up. We're not alone out here anymore…"

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