Bryx

TWO FOR MIRTH

As the small group walked down the path, following Rivsk's nose, Gartroth began helpfully pointing out dangerous plants and animals, as well as non-dangerous plants and animals, as well as interesting plants and animals. Also interesting rock formations, and self-proclaimed interesting factoids about the section of the woods that they were apparently in, and was that butterfly a Xynnia Ravlia, or an undiscovered species? Maybe she should start thinking up names, just in case, huh? She wished she had brought her sketch pad.

It was clear she was not taking her audience with her, but she didn’t notice.

Eurillya had made an effort at first, but her attention wandered quickly to the surrounding foliage. She turned her head slowly, taking in the wildlife, occasionally drifting back to the lecture when the subject matter happened to line up with the current object of her scrutiny. Rivsk, sniffing at the head of the group, was intensely focused on the wavering scent of Magpie in the air, and didn’t seem to register the troll aside from the occasional twitch of a nostril as he attempted to compensate for the copious clouds of carbon dioxide emanating from Gartroth’s position. Rathin was the only person really listening, but with an unconcerned air that suggested he was largely doing so because she was the only voice in earshot.

Of the four, Rosort seemed to be having the most trouble tuning Gartroth out. After fifteen minutes, the polite, waxen smile glued to his face began to look a little strained. Already walking briskly to make up for the height of his legs, he picked up the pace, catching up to Rivsk and putting some distance between him and Gartroth. At the half hour mark the smile had started visibly shaking, and he was barely three steps behind the Caniloper.

The impromptu guided tour had been going on for forty-seven minutes, and Rosort looked about ready to pop, when he found his concentration broken by the tail whipping across his nostrils. “Pthatbpth!” he sneezed, loud enough to interrupt Gartroth, in the middle of a convenient lull.

Rivsk had stopped suddenly, turning his head to the right and sniffing hard. “The trail starts heading off the path here. Into the woods.” He stood up carefully and pointed his nose as high into the breeze as he could. “It doesn’t smell like it’s going to join back up with it any time soon, either.”

“Well, that’s a shame,” said Rosort. He sounded like he meant it. "We’ll have to continue on as a smaller group, and leave Rathin and Eurillya here."

“What, just like that?” asked Eurillya, incredulously. “Are you being serious right now?”

“I don’t think we should split up, brother,” Rathin agreed.

"I feel the need to remind you two that we are in the Ravelwoods. This is not a charming jaunt through the forest!" Rosort's heels clicked together, and, seemingly without being aware of it, he began to pace, slowly.

"Consider the well-worn path beneath our feet!" he declared. "These clearly mark the safest route through the woods, and our quarry has turned off of it. Unknown and unpredictable dangers await, and it can be assumed that the Magpie is far more familiar with them than we are. Our streamlined group will include our most capable fighter, a mage, and an expert on the local geography. Rathin, you can make camp just off the path here. Guard and sustain yourselves as you await our return."

Eurillya, who had been listening with her mouth open, closed it. "Okay, so you were joking. I couldn’t tell. That is the most—

—unwise decision you could make right now, Rosort," Gartroth chimed in. "Even assuming we catch the Magpie, without a clear trail to follow back, we'd just get lost."

"Please, dear scholar. I'm sure a trail can be arranged. You could… uproot a sapling every ten yards or so, or perhaps our mage friend can do something."

"Brother, this is unwise," Rathin ventured.

Rosort spun around. "You too, Rathin! You've been on just as many marches as I have, you know these tactics work!"

"We had a clearer destination on those marches, and greater resources."

"It's not as though we're chasing an army, dear brother."

"You admitted the path ahead is unpredictable. We may be needed. 'Unknown problems may have unlikely solutions.' Cheiftain Soo Chee Lin. Remember the Art of War."

"Soo Chee Lin was the enemy in the accounts we read! His tactics were underhanded and his personal fighting style lackluster at best!"

"But he won, brother. He wrote the rest of the book."

"You read ahead!"

Eurillya chimed in, "These are all very good points, Rathin and Gartroth, but I was trying to point out that we don't know any Way out of the woods. I thought the whole plan was to catch up to the Magpie and make it tell us how to get out of here. Are you going to come all the way back for us, then travel all the way to whatever exit you learn about?"

Rosort turned to face Euryllia with his mouth open, raised his finger, closed his mouth, looked away, lowered his finger, looked back at her, opened his mouth again, paused, and finally made an about turn towards the Magpie trail. "We will group ourselves as follows! Myself and Rathin will bring up the front, followed by Rivsk at a distance of two meters, who will scan ahead with his sense of smell for the trail and any dangers! Eurillya will stay directly behind Rivsk and Gartroth will bring up our rear, remaining within one meter at all times! Are there any questions?"

"How long is a meter?" asked Rivsk.

"Slightly below my height," Rosort replied.

"Could you lie down for a second, I'm having trouble visualizing—"

Gartroth said, "Your concern is understandable, Rosort, but I studied the Ravelwoods for a significant amount of my adult life. The Walkers do a very good job, but their paths are far from the only safe ways through the woods."

Rivsk piped up, "I also did a good amount of digging on the woods to prepare for my commission, and I can verify that. The Walkers' Paths are not the only way of navigating the woods."

"Exactly."

"They’re just the only ones that reliably last, most of the time."

Nobody said anything, but the group suddenly became aware of just how long they had been stading at the edge of the path.

"Well, it sounds like we should get a move on!" said Eurillya, walking up next to Rivsk.

They all turned into the brush, and began walking quickly through the dense trees.


The days in the Library were… difficult to pin down. People slept, they woke, sometimes more of them were doing one than the other and things were a bit quieter, but time was largely a matter of location and consensus.

The sun currently orbiting whatever twisted multidimensional honey glazed torus of spacetime this particular section of the Ravelwoods happened to exist on, however, beat down the seconds exactingly, striking the leaves of the trees with photons at a slightly different angle every moment, plowing through tower after tower of chloroplasts, exciting electrons, jiggling atoms, and ultimately providing the energy by which all life sustains itself.

Excepting, of course, the five creatures trudging through the ferny undergrowth, to whom the sun was nothing but an occasional annoying glare through the leaves to serve as a reminder of just how long ago had been

There was no sound but a light shivering, as the light grew on the small group, and the leaves of the trees began to change shape. Mossy, bearded pines mingling with jagged-leaved oaks gave way to smooth green ovals and translucent maple leaves.(learn more about deciduous forests) While the five stared up at the sunlight dappling through the warmer air, the endless bosk, without ever appearing to change in any way, developed some grassy patches. An errant flowering bush appeared a long way off, and a clearing was suddenly apparent some distance away.

“Gartroth, explain please,” said Eurillya, more than a shade apprehensively.

“Huh,” said the troll, who had been resting her voice for the past hour, “so that’s a shift, then. Nothing to worry about, everyone.”

“The trees changing species suddenly seems rather significant to me,” said Rosort, distracted by the rambling branches trailing far over his head.

“It’s really not. Trust me, before you know it you won’t even be noting it when it happens.”

“Well, my nose doesn’t lie,” said Rivsk as he to and fro along the trail. “We’re in the exact same location, there’s our trail behind me.”

“And the Magpie?” Eurillya wanted to know.

“Dead ahead. The trail’s stronger than ever now.”

Rosort took his eyes off the leaves to face Rivsk. Rathin’s head perked up slightly a second later. “Really? said the shorter of the two Desthari. “About how long would you say it took our Magpie to walk the next… 10 meters or so?”

“9 Rosorts? Uh, it’ll take a second to work that out. He’s definitely been letting his scent soak into the environment more for the last hide or so. I’d say he’s slowing down. You thinking he’s settling in for a long journey?”

“We’ve been off of the path for the better part of a day without encountering anything more threatening than a hand slug. I believe it’s safe to assume that our target thinks itself safe. And, so long as we have a clear trail to follow, there’s no point in racing the Magpie to its nest.”

“No problem there,” said Rivsk. “I don’t even need to follow the magic in the book. Whatever mojo those Magpies surround themselves with, it lingers.”

“So we can make camp?” asked Eurillya, fiddling with her belt.

“Well, some areas of the Ravelwoods have a fairly high concentration of sacred water features-“ began Gartroth.

“We can make camp,” said Rathin quickly and finally.


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