Book I Chapter XV: The Rekspedition
Heaven's Pillar Forest, Aensdoun
Reks bolted through the forest as fast as her powerful legs would carry her, leaping clear over low branches and shrubs and vaulting through tiny gaps in the mammoth trees, whooping triumphantly with every leap.
Her pilisaurs trotted along at her sides, skirting around and over obstacles as she launched herself over them. It was a game she had loved to play since she was a kid, swooping around through trees and around tightly-packed forests as quickly as she could. It had resulted in more than a few bruises and broken bones, but that was nothing Reks didn't know how to take care of, thanks to lots of basic medical training.
She tumbled gracefully into the middle of a familiar clearing, pulling herself upwards into a handstand, walking a few steps and rolling sideways into a cartwheel before flopping facefirst into the dirt. Blinking, Reks shook her head and laughed, reaching out to stroke the back of a nearby seraptor as she got to her feet and looked around.
The Trior Village was still intact—well, as intact as it had been the last time she had set up camp here. She knew the Silent Rose had sent an expedition here while she was away, but it seemed as though they hadn't upset too much in her absence.
A few new footprints, a rather hilarious-looking man-print (she felt a little better realizing she wasn't the first person to topple over in the village), and a few unimportant missing trinkets and bones. No biggie.
“They must not've stayed too long. I guess that was the same group Na'th led... did they leave early because he got hurt?” she considered, chewing on her lip and peering down her shirt at her dreamshard.
Frowning, she yanked the little chain off of her neck; the tiny metal links popped open easily.
“Kelan won't come here to look for me-- I bet there's prolly way too much mirajin for even him! It should be safe from everybody.”
Satisfied, she tightened her hand into a fist around the dreamshard and hurled it into the trees.
No one would be stumbling into this area by mistake; the toy dreamshard was useful for tricking people in Chimre who might ask too many questions if they saw her without one, but she could let her guard down here without worry.
“Home sweet home!
Well, other home. Other-other-other home,” Reks announced brightly, scooping up a pilisaur to hug and carry as she picked through the abandoned buildings, kicking stones away as she walked.
She dug through old, partially-crystallized bones and rotted clothes, watching strange insects skitter away into leaf litter and doing her best to mimic the calls of the mutant birds that sang out in the woods. Time mostly stood still here; she had thoroughly examined this village lots of times, but with no more people and few creatures capable of coming this far into the cursed Trior territory, there was little to upset the things that had fallen and settled ages ago.
Pushing into the woods again, Reks was delighted to find a bush teeming with fat little berries, their skins sparkling in the light like cut gemstones. She gathered a handful and popped them into her mouth, happily chewing on them as the pilisaurs swarmed at her feet, gazing expectantly up at her.
“What?!” She finally said, pouting. “You can't eat, stupids! You're constructs!”
Considering a moment, Reks sighed and relented, scattering a handful of berries upon the ground for the little creatures to snap up eagerly.
Oh, fine. I guess you can still pretend if you wanna.”
Having eaten her fill of the crystal berries, Reks filled one of the pockets of her bag with them before continuing on her way, carefully working into the dense woods surrounding the village.
All the trees had turned to crystal, too-- it looked a lot like Chimre, except bigger somehow. All sorts of strange sounds filled the air, setting the trees to vibrating and chiming, but Reks couldn't see any of the creatures that were making them.
With a dejected sigh, she hopped over a tiny stream-- squeaking as her shoes squelched into the mud on the other side. As she pulled her feet up from the mud, they popped one after the other as the thick goo pulled away, filling her footsteps in as soon as they were revealed.
The little stream seemed to swell into a river, which suddenly became a whole swamp just across the way. The earth was way too sticky on this side for attempting to check it out to be of much use, so she traveled around it, her feet squishing and popping in and out of the mud as she went.
“Whew,” she gasped, grabbing hold of a tree branch to pull herself out onto the grass and catch her breath.
“This is a lot of hard work! I dunno how the Mod'han managed to run around on the mud when I can't even walk through it.”
Eyeing her shoes for a moment, she shrugged, wriggling her feet out of them and stepping barefoot into the soil before continuing on her way around the water with only marginally more success.
The water was far too murky to see if there were any fish or alligators in it, so Reks kept her distance, urging the little leather dinosaurs to stay well away from the edge with her.
She had only just begun to walk around the bend when she saw the little hut, tucked neatly into a wall of tall swampgrass and reeds.
“Oh, ohh!!” she cried excitedly, all exhaustion forgotten as she headed towards the structure in a floppy half-run, her toes slick with mud and grass.
Pushing past the overgrowth and weeds, she admired the beauty of the little old swamp shack. Lashed together with wood and sinew and decorated with stretched and painted animal skins, it was a fair sight more primitive than the buildings found in the village. Fearsome, toothy skulls hung from each point of the roof, glowering accusatorily down at her.
She grinned back, enchanted; this was the best place she'd found in Aensdoun yet.
She pushed the ratty old fabric hung from the doorway aside and slipped in.
It only got better.
The interior of the little hut was not just well-lived, but something fascinating had happened inside.
Sparsely decorated, the little hut had a dirt floor secured by reed mats, with old furs and skins full of holes strewn about. A poorly-aged basket full of fish skeletons sat in one corner, and an enormous painted alligator skull accented with bird feathers sat proudly upon an otherwise bare wall.
The entire room had been splattered with what seemed to be ancient, flaking blood... along with a thick, iridescent green goo that had long since dried and hardened.
Reks squealed with delight, shuffling over to admire the alligator skull. Glancing over her shoulder-- just in case-- she leaned in close and snaked her tongue out to taste the funny green goop. It had a familiar tang; her eyes widened, and she snatched the mask from the wall, plopping it down upon her head.
No-- this was home.
Bristling with excitement, Reks looked around the room again, noting a panel in the floor was slightly loose. She shuffled over and pried it open, peering down into the darkness.
Her keen eyes made out stacks of books settled upon the floor, the walls covered in row upon row of jars and bottles. Disembodied eyes and well-preserved bits of meat drifted in clear amber liquid.
She dropped down into the room, running her fingertip over the dusty glass jars as she examined the contents of each one, wonder plain on her face.
A familiar, striped invertebrate drifted lifelessly inside one, the bottom full of bubbly egg-clusters.
She pulled it down and sat it atop a nearby pile of books, unscrewing the lid to take a closer look at the preserved dire worm.
Its tiny black eyes shone in the dim light-- and suddenly it wriggled, lifting itself far enough out of the goo to open its lamprey-like mouth and croak threateningly at her, its favorite flavor of meat just out of reach.
The lid went back on as quickly as she had removed it; tightly sealed, she wrapped the jar in a scrap of fur and slid it into her bag.
Glancing around, she saw more bones in the far corners of the room; Aeneski bones by the look of it, picked clean of flesh, crushed and cracked and scraped by sharp teeth in places.
Bounding over for a closer look, she tilted her head and whistled.
If the same creature was responsible for all of these bones, it had been an Aeneski, too.
“This place... this place is wicked cool,” Reks breathed, blinking to try and soothe her watery eyes.
It was probably just all the dust, even if she wanted nothing more to pick up the entire little house and carry it home with her.
Plopping down to sit on the floor, she upset the books; they toppled, falling into her lap in a messy pile. She plucked the topmost one up, glancing at the blank leatherbound cover before flipping it open and paging through. The entire thing was written in old Aengoch-- but she had been taught to both read and write it even before she had learned the modern tongue.
Something caught her eye and she stopped, leaning in close to read. The author was rambling at length about something called a “Philosopher's Stone”-- apparently an alchemical tool used for turning stuff into other stuff.
She wondered if it could turn frogs into ice cream, but the penman was too busy talking about what was needed to make one... and the fact that they hadn't done a very good job of finding the right ingredients.
I only have a fortnight to let the stone cure and form, and I've wasted much of my spare time scouring the area for components. I believed I had found what I was looking for out in the field, but upon returning home I now have second thoughts.
My life is forfeit if I fail this test; if I cannot become a full-honors Murkshaman, the Trior will surely take my life, and there shall be little my Master can do to dissuade them a second time.
I will hunt one last time around the shore of the swamp for a closer match to the herbs I require, but I must begin the crafting process on the morrow.
I despise the working of magic almost as much as I despise the Aen'och.
Furrowing her brow, Reks licked her finger and turned the page.
There was only a single sentence there, the rest of the book blank.
Her eyes grew wide.
... Something's gone wrong, it said.
“...This is seriously...!!”
Reks leapt to her feet, stuffing as many of the books into her bag as she could force inside.
Next Chapter: Volume II - Book I Chapter XVI
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