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Monday, October 17, 2016

The Forest of Mystics

With the thunderous waters chasing them, the group soon burst from the dank, dark earth. They were high on a hill that overlooked the Forest of Mystics. After being in the shadowy tunnels, the bright afternoon sun blinded the stumbling cluster. Donny was bent over trying to catch his breath, while Dom patted him on the back. Neko had ungraciously fallen on his bottom, and was reaching for his canteen. CeCe had joined Bo as he looked out over the forest.

Brother Malakai edged close to the pair, while still glancing at the tunnel exit. “I am pretty sure of what you sought within the monastery tunnels, and I hope you found something that could aid in your quest. I would like to suggest that you may find some of the answers you seek hidden deep in the forest below. The mystics who reside therein, choose who they show themselves to. You might find favor with one.” That being said the brown robed monk bid them farewell, and began his climb towards the gloomy stone fortress looming not far away.

Bo glanced back out over the forest, he thought he saw a faint glimmer towards the center. Deciding it must have been his imagination, he turned to gaze around at his companions. “What say all of you? Should we take the monks advice and risk the curse of the forest?” It had long been a warning whispered to small children, and later an admonishment to adventurous youth; that the Forest of Mystics was cursed. All who entered became lost and were never seen again.

CeCe continued to study the destination in question, while Neko slowly got to his feet. Brushing off his bottom as he joined Bo and CeCe, he also cast his eyes out over the dense tree line. A mist hung over the lush growth giving it a mystical quality. “I think, if he says there might be clues there, then we follow his lead. So far it feels like we have been guided in some way. I for one intend to keep luck on our side.”
When he saw Bo’s raised eyebrow, he laughed. “Yeah, the tunnels flooded, but we all made it out, and with a clue. So in my book, I count that as lucky.” He was turning to go see how Donny was doing when he caught a glimmer out of the corner of his eye. When he turned back, it was gone. He mumbled “What the hell?”, as he joined the twins.

Donny had stood up, and seemed to be breathing easier. Dom continued to hover near him; a worried look on his grey and white face. “Are you sure, you are going to be able to continue this quest, my brother? I am worried for you.” Neko heard Dom say this, as he passed his canteen to Donny.

Donny gave his brother a long suffering look. It spoke volumes of how he had heard this litany many times before. He gave Dominic a baleful glare, before pushing the canteen away.  Where Dominic’s markings were a stark, bold grey with black stripes. Donny’s were a muted grey with brown stripes. His fur showed the ravages of the wasting disease, that he constantly battled. “I will be okay. How many times do I have to tell you that?” He growled at his over-protective twin.

Dominic stood with his mouth opened in shock, when he noticed that they had garnered the rest of the group’s attention he closed it. “Sorry for worrying about you. Didn’t know that it wasn’t allowed. I will never bother you again. As of this moment, consider our bond broken, twin.” The pain in Dominic’s voice as he stormed away couldn’t be missed. Donny watched his brother as he disappeared into the surrounding brush, then just shook his head.

It was a solemn bunch that descended the hill, making their way towards the faint trail that some of the hunters were known to take when they hunted the periphery of the forest. The twins stayed apart from each other which was a rarity. Usually Dom was always close at hand to where his brother was. Now he walked far ahead of the others in brooding silence. He did not wait for them as he entered the dense undergrowth of the forest.

Neko watched his best friend go on ahead of them, and had learned long ago when the twins fought it was best to let them work it out. This time though felt different, Dominic had never reacted so violently to Donny’s bad moods. He usually just brushed him off, and made a joke about it. He moved to where he was walking beside Bo and was getting ready to ask him a question, when Bo spoke.

“Let it go. You know as well as I do that they fight. Then when no one is around, they make up, and all is right in the world again. Let’s just concentrate on the task at hand. Keep your eyes open, and don’t let your guard down. I don’t want any of us to be added to the list of disappearances from the forest, if you get my meaning.” Bo glanced to Neko, and when he nodded his agreement, he moved on to catch up with Azereus.

Everyone kept conversation to a minimum as they followed the trail. The trail soon disappeared altogether, and they knew they had gone as far as any hunter had dared. The smells of the forest were heavy in the air, as they disturbed the debris on the ground. As they walked they kicked up old rotted leaves, mossy earth, and the remnants of small animals long dead. What little light that filtered through the canopy of the leaves overhead did little to dispense the gloom that they felt as they walked.

They continued to walk until the lateness of the day made them start scouting a place to camp for the night. When they came to a small clearing not far from the stream they had been following, it was decided that it was time to stop for the night. Neko started gathering wood for a small fire, while the others made camp. Dominic said he was going to go hunt for some dinner, and left the clearing with his bow slung over his back.

It wasn’t long before Dominic came trotting back into camp with a couple of rabbit carcasses. He seemed to be in better spirits since he was whistling a happy tune when he presented the rabbits to CeCe for preparation. He then went and prepared his spot for the night. Still keeping his distance from Donny.

Soon the smell of roasted rabbit filled the air, making belly’s rumble and mouth’s water. Neko kept asking his sister when supper would be done and she had just thrown a small log at him to get him to be quiet. It wasn’t long after she began filling everyone’s plate.  They all ate in companionable silence enjoying the sparse meal. Once the fire had been put out, they each found their bedrolls. CeCe caught Azereus’s attention, and beckoned him to come with her a bit away from the group.

Once they were out of earshot of the others, Azereus gave her a questioning glance as he asked, “Why did you want to speak to me? Why not talk with the others as well?” He leaned against a nearby tree waiting for her answer.

CeCe gave him an arched look before telling him what she had been thinking about ever since finding the scroll talking of the Heart of Cameria. “I wanted to run something by you first. You remember seeing the Eye of Mithral, right? I have been wondering if it, and this Heart could be related. I mean the description could be that of the Eye. Especially after finding the Mithralian written within the scroll also.” She finished and gave Az a look, waiting to hear what he had to say.

While Azereus and CeCe were off by themselves whispering to each other. They were being watched by the rest of the group. Dominic sauntered over and sat and a rock beside where Bo was sitting. Bo had been studying his old friend, and the woman he cared about having their little conversation. He had noticed them doing this before as well. Dom punched him in the arm, prompting him to look away from the two, and up at his brother. “What?” He asked his younger brother.

Dom pointed a finger towards the couple, and began harassing in his usual way. “Dude, why are you sitting here while that other cat makes time with your girl? I know he’s an old friend, but please. They are always snuggling up like that, if it isn’t personal why can’t they share it with all of us?” He looked down at Bo and waggled his eyebrows at the two across the way.

Bo thought about what his brother was saying. He made a decision, and stood up, almost knocking Dom off his perch on the rock. “You know, you’re right little brother. Whatever they have to say to each other ought to be shared with the group. I’m a bit tired of secrets coming out every time we turn around. Time to break up their little tête à tête.” With Dom close on his heels, Bo headed towards CeCe and Azereus.

Azereus had been telling CeCe that it had been too many years since he had lain eyes on the Eye of Mithral, but anything was possible. He had just asked CeCe where the Eye was at the moment, when he noticed Bo and Dominic headed in their direction.  Bo must have heard the question because as he joined them he asked “Yes, tell us where the eye is? Whatever that may be? We have decided there has been enough secrets, so maybe you can enlighten the rest of the party about what you were discussing.”

CeCe observed all the eyes now watching her. “You’re right, Bo. The time for secrets is over.  I was just asking Azereus’s opinion on a matter, before filling the rest of you in on it. It has to do with the Heart of Cameria and one of the royal stones of Mithral. It is called the Eye of Mithral.” CeCe stopped as she considered what next to tell the group. “The description of the Heart is exactly that of the Eye. When I saw the scratching in Mithralian it made me wonder if the two might be…”

Before she could finish, an arrow whizzed by her head barely missing her. If not for Neko’s quick reflexes it would have hit her. All hell broke loose from that point. Armed warriors dressed in the colors of their surroundings, rushed into the camp. With what little light was left as the sun set, the gang fought their assailants.

All of a sudden someone shouted and all eyes turned towards a huge warrior. His markings were those of a black and white forest cat. His long plush fur was in tiny braids all around his face. There was a long jagged scar that ran from his temple across his cheek to his upper lip. If his air of menace wasn’t enough, the knife he held at Donny’s throat stopped the gang in their tracks.

“I thought this might end our little squabble” Scarface said with a touch of a lisp, thanks to the injured lip. “I recommend you drop your weapons now real slow. Don’t anyone try and be a hero now.” This was said when Dominic made a move to try and get his brother. “You don’t want your friend here to lose his head or anything.”

Everyone lowered their weapons, as usual it took Dominic and Neko a bit to unburden themselves. Once they were unarmed, the warriors bound their hands together. Some of the warriors stayed behind to gather the weapons, while the ones guarding the gang marched them single file out of the clearing heading to who knew where.

As they marched Bo studied the attackers. He had noticed the superb fighting skills when they had been battling. Now he checked out other aspects about them. They all were dressed in the colors of the surrounding forest, making it easy for them to blend in. The colors were different shades of dark greys, mossy greens, and muddy browns. They wore hooded tunics that covered their heads to keep any whites or light colored fur from showing. Some even muddied their fur to blend into their foliage around them.

It was well into the night when they finally entered a makeshift village. When you looked up towards the two moons; one full, the other a quarter. You saw that there were tree houses built all around. Some lit inside, other dark. The group were led into the middle of the village where a shrine stood. A spring bubbling up into a pool before it. There were etchings or drawings on the walls, but it was too hard to see them in the light cast by only the moon, and some scattered torches.

A light appeared at the entrance of the shrine, and continued to grow brighter. Soon a figure could be seen silhouetted in the light. The figure grew larger as it came nearer. For a brief moment it blocked the light streaming from the shrine, and then an ancient seal point was standing before them. All around the warriors dropped to their knees, and then bowed down towards the old one. When Scarface noticed that they weren’t bowing, he grabbed Donny and pushed him to the ground.

Other warriors did the same with the rest of the gang. They stayed in their position until they heard a brittle voice command for them to be released. When they were once again in an upright position, the ancient mystic introduced himself as Shénmi and beckoned them to follow him. He did not wait to see if they followed. The warriors all slipped away, back into the forest.

Neko looked at his companions, and just shrugged as he followed the robed old guy. Dom whispered “Is he really what I think he is?” before closing in on Neko’s tail. Bo placed his hand on the middle of CeCe back, and led her inside. That left Azereus to walk with Donny, who was stumbling a bit. He placed his arm around Donny’s waist and helped him into the shrine.

Upon their entrance, everyone looked all around the shrine, which on the inside appeared much larger than it had from the outside. The domed ceiling looked like it was lit with a million tiny candles, but as they studied them, they realized the lights were identical to stars in the night sky. In the center of the room was a huge fire pit and there were stone benches scattered all around the area. The mystic stood near the fire, studying them as they studied the shrine.

He motioned for them to join him, “Come, my children, we have much to discuss, and little time for it. The pendulum swings, and the future awaits.” 

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