At Sonia's request that he stay at the camp, the old man calling himself Gideon gave the demoness a hard yet thoughtful stare, his grim wrinkles seemingly pronounced. After a few moments of contemplation and looking back at the camp, he turned back to her adamantly.
"They should be fine. Those sailors seem capable enough, and they've got that swordsman and that mage."
His expression softened for a moment, as if it never had before, as Gideon gazed at the woods with a hint of fondness.
"I used to be an adventurer, y'know. Kinda miss those days. They were simpler times. It'll be good for me to go. You all could use the help. We don't know what's out there."
So it was decided that the old man would join the expedition party, and after some preparation, the group headed off into the woods.
* * *
The forest seemed typical enough for a forest, though surely most everyone had noticed the peculiarities of the place, most notably the strange flora and fauna, ranging from oddly shaped ferns that resembled prehistoric plants to insect cocoons the size of forearms. There was also that disturbingly subtle whirling hum in the air, that didn't seem all that natural in the midst of a forest. The smells too, were mildly unfamiliar, albeit wholly wild, almost pungently so. Wyland had commented that the place reminded him of his aunt Olga's, though a tad tidier in comparison.
The female sailor, who had divulged her name to be Natali, was focused on the trek, though her curiosity seemed to get the best of her on more than one occasion when she would stop to observe something in equal parts wonder and disturbance. Gideon in the meantime showed no signs of being particularly unsettled, donning his typical hard grimace at every turn.
After traversing deeper into the woods, the group indeed found traces of a river, and soon enough the sound of flowing water was within ear's reach. The glimmer of the stream shortly made it's appearance, flowing from inland out towards the general direction of the beach. Fresh water came at a most welcome sight to the travelers, as they were eager to collect it between their hands to wash their faces and taste its wonderful ordinariness. Water was water and it was good.
Glancing down at the running stream with a smile, Natali was reaching down for a drink before she suddenly noticed something that made her flinch backwards with a gasp. Apparently, submerged beneath the shallow stream where she was reaching was the body of a human. Well, more like a skeleton at this point, as decomposition seemed to have taken its course quite some time ago. The person was wearing some kind of uniform-like outfit that seemed a bit ragged for modern times, but surely they had originated from known civilization. On the moss-covered coat of their jacket was a cryptic symbol--faded yet unmistakable--a stylized eye angled at 45 degrees, contained within a four-pointed concave star. The skeletal remains lay there unmoving against the force of the stream, as the group examined it with troubled expressions.