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 Nature Walk

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Ojaro

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PostSubject: Nature Walk   Wed Jul 27, 2016 5:21 pm

It was an early morning. Jhyn was awake and walking along the Edge of the Cormanthor, lingering off of the main path. The sun's rays had only just begun to peek through the canopy of the forest. Slivers of dull light filtered their way through gaps in the great boughs, while the sky beyond the green shroud was a muddied mixture of purple and orange. Taking a deep breath, the man paused and leaned against the trunk of a sturdy oak tree. He adjusted his pack and looked himself over briefly, making sure that all was accounted for. There were many supplies within the heavy pack and upon his person. Extra layers, food, water, flint and some kindling were mostly what filled the parcel. A hunting knife, rope, salves, snares and a small hatchet were bundled inside as well, along with a rough map of the Dalelands.

Ostensibly, all of these supplies were meant for a trip, and judging by the amount, a rather long one at that. Once he was satisfied and knew that nothing was forgotten, Jhyn folded his arms over his chest, wrapping a heavy cloak around himself while he adjusted his position against the tree. His clothes were different from the usual fine attire that was often on his person. Beneath the heavy cloak, he wore a quilted coat of leather and gambeson. Matched by dark gloves, boots and trousers, the entire outfit clung snugly to his form. The ensemble also seemed to subtly shift in color and texture, matching the bark of the tree which he leaned upon, as well as the greenery of the forest floor. His attire provided an extraordinary benefit to stealth and those not keen of sight would have a hard time spotting the silent figure that leaned upon the oak.

Teal eyes turned toward the River Ashaba and Jhyn gazed upon the running waters for a long while. He himself had turned inward, considering the many thoughts and concerns that flitted through his mind over the impending journey. The soft sounds around him helped to clear his mind soon enough, and he listened carefully to them all. The nearby rush of Ashaba’s waters, the buzz of insects as they flew about, various calls and cries of birds. Most notably was the occasional breeze that gently shook the leaves above him. It was all so calming and for this brief time, Jhyn felt connected to the land around him. Slowly, he closed his eyes and continued to listen, taking some time to remember this present moment before he finally chose to set out.
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Serebane

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PostSubject: Re: Nature Walk   Wed Jul 27, 2016 7:25 pm

Bare feet brushed through the tall grasses, stepping carefully but not so quietly as to be unheard upon their path towards Jhyn. With them a slight breeze blew, carrying the scent of earth and hints of crushed herb. The rustling continued before it stopped beside the tree upon which the he leant, a brief silence soon to follow before a feminine voice murmured audibly.

"By your appearance, am I to assume that you are prepared for your journey?" The gentle rasping of fingertips on bark grazed across the trunk of the tree. Silver eyes yet unseen rolled over his form scrutinizingly. "I would say that you should take very little, but it is preferred that my friend comes back in one, happy piece. The Cormanthor is as vast as it is fraught with danger."

Another pause followed, this one somewhat longer as the voice sought its wording of choice. They hummed lowly, barely above a whisper. "I trust in your ability, but if necessary, I can offer an observer to keep at an unseen distance should the worst come to pass."
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Ojaro

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PostSubject: Re: Nature Walk   Thu Jul 28, 2016 10:25 am

Jhyn hummed thoughtfully as he heard the approaching steps and tilted his head toward them to better place the footfalls. The earthy, herb-laden scent that he smelled gave him a good idea of what was approaching, but it was the brief silence that followed her approach that let him know it was Lhanir. Never one to speak hastily, he mused as a small smile twisted up his scarred lips. Upon hearing her voice, the man reached up to lower his hood and turned his gaze upon the druidess. Shocks of shaggy, black hair were tousled and, surprisingly, left unkempt for once. The dark mane had grown down to his shoulders and framed his face, although a red band tied around his forehead helped to keep the mess in place.

“As prepared as I can be, I suppose,” he replied to her query and a smirk was quick to replace his small smile when he heard the half-elf’s next remark. “I had considered leaving with only a knife and waterskin, but I thought that may have been a touch arrogant. I am still a novice, as far as being a Woodwalker is concerned,” he said while regarding Lhanir. “I still have much to learn and I hope to learn much during this trip. Hawkley, you and the other rangers have taught me enough to get by for a time. The rest is up to me, I think. I would rather not turn back before a cycle of the moon has passed, so most of these supplies are for an emergency,” he explained as rationally as he could.

Although what the druidess said next was grim, another smile still managed to work its way onto Jhyn’s face. He, of course, was the last one to want tragedy to occur on his journey, but he knew that Lhanir’s suggestion was born of concern. The man’s eyes narrowed slightly, while his smile became broader. He shoved himself off of the oak’s trunk and opened his arms in an offered hug to her. “While I would like to be truly alone, I would not argue if you thought that to be the wisest course of action. I would rather believe that I’ll return in ‘one happy piece’ as well, but that is no reason to abandon caution.”

After a brief pause, Jhyn would step back from Lhanir to dig through his heavy pack. From it, he retrieved the rough map of the Dales and began to unfurl the large piece of parchment. Stepping back toward the druidess, he tilted the map so that she might see the outline of his intended path. A dark line had been sketched along the River Ashaba, following the river’s path to the Southeast before turning away into the Southwest toward Lake Sember and the area of Semberholme. “I don’t believe I showed you my intended route before, but this is where I thought to go. I am not sure if the drow are lesser in these parts or not, but I believed the most of them to be congregated in the Northeastern Cormanthor,” he explained while looking over the map. Turning his attention back to the druidess, Jhyn arched a dark eyebrow to her, his expression curious. “What do you think?”
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Serebane

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PostSubject: Re: Nature Walk   Mon Aug 01, 2016 7:33 pm

The druidess listened patiently to his explanation, mirroring his smirk with a small one of her own. Whether or not it was from the practice of his newfound skills or simply the time of day to encourage particular emotions, the woman regarded him with a formerly nonexistent cordiality. He was becoming kin. Many were drawn to the wilderness directly from birth... while others required a lifetime to see the other side. Like watching a cub take its first steps without the help of their mother, she regarded her friend in an even more favorable light.

True friendship was difficult to come by in the Dales. It was even harder to keep. What tales to be told, she mused inwardly, of their times overcoming obstacles both arduous and pleasant. To look back upon the events that transpired was a bittersweet taste, but they swallowed it and progressed stronger than before.

Having stood before a troubled man in the past, she now observed one with experience beyond his years. Too much, she often thought, for one deserving of something better. While she did not say it, she secretly hoped - prayed to Silvanus even - that this path would bring such an opportunity. She wanted nothing more than this for her longest standing comrade. If she could offer any sort of warmth, it was in her own element.

"I understand," she finally said, watching his arms spread invitingly. It was submission to his words; acknowledgement. Lhanir had many reasons to debate his points, and yet none at all. He was no fool afterall. Thus, it was sealed with an embrace as she stepped in with what mild hesitation was habitually presented to receive his hug. The druidess was quite terrible with open affection, but others seemed adamant on changing that. She stepped back, transferring a leaf or two now attached to his attire.

Jhyn's map was an odd sight to Lhanir. Not due to it being strange in its rough sketch, but rather that she had gone for so long without ever seeing one of the Cormanthor, that it was bizarre to look at the bird's eye view in such a flattened style. Many days and nights she spent above the canopies, above the lowest clouds to see her home in a way that no other could. It was vast and green, textured and overflowing with life. A drawn picture could do it no justice. The halfblood leaned in to examine said map, eyes trailing across his chosen journey.

Her lips pursed as she contemplated his route before gesturing lazily with an index finger towards Semberholme. "Drow are just as common in those parts, much as the elves that protect the forest." The small, gloved finger trailed the outline of the lake as she continued to explain. "Aside from them, owlbears will be prominent. You should avoid them as best you can... they are extremely territorial." Lhanir glanced up to the tall man, her tone stern. "You will recognize their tracks quickly enough. Few animals will be living within proximity of them. If there is an active presence of termite hills, avoid those areas as well."
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Ojaro

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PostSubject: Re: Nature Walk   Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:58 am

Jhyn could only nod at the half-elf’s words. She likely knew the Cormanthor more intimately than anyone else he had encountered and her wisdom was certainly something to be thankful for. It was troubling to hear that the drow were still commonplace in Semberholme, but they were simply yet another danger within the wild territory. The man hummed once more and scratched at his chin while he considered these dangers. “Hmph. . Honestly, I’m more worried about running into Drow or offending the native Elves of the area than I am of the fauna,” he said while rolling up his map and placing it back with the rest of his supplies. “Still, I appreciate the advice. Thank you, Lhanir.”

There was a pause once he had stowed the map and adjusted his pack. "It will likely be a tenday or more until I reach my destination. . Until then, I’ll have several more things to worry about." The time had finally come to begin his journey, but Jhyn found that those first steps were not so easily made. While there was excitement and a new road ahead of him, his feet seemed rooted in the familiar place where he stood. Turning another small smile on the druidess, he dipped his head gratefully. “I do apologize if teaching me has ever been difficult. This has been quite the adjustment, after all. Again, I appreciate your patience and willingness to share with me. Thanks again, for everything. ”

While they were only words, speaking them at that moment seemed fitting. It helped ease his own mind and while he did not offer a proper 'good-bye,' he did not wish to. Furthermore, should the worst truly come to pass, those words offered more than a 'farewell' ever could. With a curt wave and yet another smile, Jhyn forced his feet forward. Walking along the edge of the woods, the color and texture of his clothes were ever changing to match the natural world around him; until he became a distant patch of green and brown within the wider sea of trees.
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PostSubject: Re: Nature Walk   Mon Aug 15, 2016 5:47 am

It was interesting how much one’s surroundings could change over the course of a day of walking. The sun was soaring high above now, well past its zenith, and began to wane into the west. The muddied haze of purple and orange had brightened into a wide blue canvas spotted with large, fluffy clouds that seemed to swell with the faint promise of rain. Along the path of the Ashaba, Jhyn walked still. He had strayed away from the cover of trees now, for the river had grown narrower and he plotted along its western bank. The path had taken him into an arm of the Cormanthor and would continue through for many miles yet to come. A light crunch of dirt and stone resounded beneath Jhyn’s boots as the ground beneath him shifted with each step. Branches, fallen leaves and even larger stones littered the banks of the Ashaba here, so every step was carefully placed. The path was hardly steep, but it was untouched by humans like the would-be Ranger that walked it now. Untrodden, without the comfort of packed dirt or a clear place to set one’s feet, a twisted ankle awaited the hasty and careless.

Once he could see the river widen to running rapids in the distance, Jhyn paused and glanced up to the sky. The sun sat behind him now, but its rays were still bright and warm. Likely another four hours of light left, he thought while his hand rose to scratch at his chin. He had not paused to rest earlier in the day, he could not afford to. While his feet ached and throbbed with a dull soreness, there was still much more walking left to do. A lengthy pause may even give time for one of the many dangers of the Cormanthor to find the wandering man as prey. However, despite his stamina, Jhyn was not tireless and still needed to rest. May as well setup camp here then. The remaining hours of light would give him enough time to find a suitable place and prepare for the coming night.

Taking a moment to scour the river’s banks, Jhyn gathered several long branches and carried a bundle of them into the forest. There was not enough time to survey a wide area for a natural shelter, so he would need to make his own. Camping along the Ashaba was tempting, but as it was a source of water, it would attract all manner of creatures. The further he went into the woods, the easier it would be to find a more secluded spot and be left alone by whatever else roamed about. Trees were dense in this part of the Cormanthor, but thankfully left enough space for movement. The forest floor was covered in fallen leaves, shrubs and other small vegetation. Boulders were strewn about sparsely as well, most of which seemed to be sprouting fungi or wearing coats of moss. It was next to such a large stone that Jhyn found a suitable place to rest for the night. With a shrub shielding its left flank and a pair of young oak trees growing only a few feet away, it provided a promising space to build a lean-to.

Jhyn tossed the bundle of branches he had collected before the boulder. He set his heavy pack down and rummaged through it for his small hatchet, leaving the parcel once he had the tool firmly in hand. Quickly, he scurried about the immediate area, searching for more useable materials. The man would not dare to needlessly fell a healthy plant for a temporary shelter, so he narrowed his search. A nearby tree that had fallen during its youth would serve as a sturdy crossbeam for the rest of his gathered branches. He only needed to sever the end which had split from the stump that still lay in the dirt; rotten and overgrown with lichen. A few strokes from his hatchet weakened the frail bond enough for the tree to be removed with a firm pull. Throughout the forest, a crackling snap echoed as Jhyn tugged the fallen tree and began to clean it up with a few more strokes of his hatchet. Shriveled branches were quickly lopped away from the trunk and the broken base was shaved into a fine point. Scooping up the remaining bits and pieces, the would-be Ranger held them bundled in the crook of an arm while he dragged the fallen tree along with his freehand back to his intended spot.

Once he had returned, Jhyn left his materials upon the ground and went back through his parcel once more. He dug through it carefully, reaching beneath many of his supplies to remove a coil of rope. Stuffing his hatchet back into the pack, he retrieved his knife and began sectioning off pieces of the cord, making sure to leave much of it intact. His eyes drifted about the area when he had quartered off some sizeable strands, the teal orbs settling upon the pair of young oaks that grew near the mossy boulder. With a thoughtful hum, the man lifted his intended crossbeam and wandered toward the oaks. He tentatively began to wedge the fallen tree in between them. To his delight, he found that his beam held. For some security, Jhyn tied this end tightly with a sectioned off piece of rope before tending to the other side. Angling the sharpened point of the beam down, he dug it into the dirt until it was firmly planted in the ground. With a sturdy base for the rest of his structure, he could now begin to finish the frame of the lean-to. It was tedious work, but it was necessary. After an hour spent tying knots and fastening branches to the beam, Jhyn finally had the frame of his structure. Now all that was left to do was to fill the gaps in between the ribs of the wooden skeleton.

Twigs, grass, leaves and the shriveled branches he gathered earlier were packed tightly in the empty spaces. Such material might not provide the best insulation, but it would do for tonight. At the moment, the sky could barely be seen through the canopy of the forest and a heavy shadow was already beginning to creep below the mighty boughs, shrouding the forest floor. Very soon, it would be dark. Tossing an end of his coiled rope over a nearby branch, Jhyn hoisted his heavy pack and left it hanging several feet in the air. He was tired now and glad to be finished with his shelter. The man removed his cloak then and crouched beneath his lean-to, watching the supplies that swayed in the breeze a short distance away. He feared that the rope might be tampered with or perhaps hung too low so that any wandering scavenger might get into it. It’ll be fine, he reassured himself with a slight smirk. A quiet chuckle escaped him and Jhyn spread his cloak over the opening of the lean-to. He laid himself beneath its roof and shut his eyes while, what felt like a thousand thoughts, passed through his mind. As the idle musings came and went he drifted off into a dreamless sleep. This rest marked the end of his first day within the Cormanthor and the beginning of his first night.

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Ojaro

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PostSubject: Re: Nature Walk   Mon Aug 22, 2016 5:17 am

With morning came the stiffness of limbs and a soreness which seemed to wash over the entirety of his body. Jhyn sat up slowly, a groan leaving him as he rubbed the hip he had been sleeping on. He peered at nothing in particular with bleary eyes that had narrowed to thin slits while he situated himself. “Dear gods,” he grumbled, his voice hoarse from disuse. “I think I’ve slept better in the Underdark.” Once the haze of sleep had cleared from his eyes, he was able to see clearly. He looked to the bed he had fashioned in a haste the night before; a thin layer of dead leaves and dried grass that merely kept the cold dirt from his skin. Sharply he inhaled and rubbed at his face, removing what weariness that lingered with a bit of friction. With a curse beneath his breath and a vow to use his bedroll from now on, the would-be Ranger finally crawled out of his shelter. It was late, or at least later than he would have liked to start this morning. The shadows of dawn had already fled from the forest floor and there were no other shades than those cast by the canopy above. Hanging a dozen feet in the air, his heavy pack still hung from a branch only a stone’s throw away from the lean-to. A cursory look of the immediate area showed that nothing large enough to be a threat had passed by while he slept. Whether it was luck or something else that kept any dangers away, the man was thankful for it.

As he shambled about his campsite, Jhyn fussed with the long strands of hair that swayed before his eyes and fell down below his chin. He tried to set the locks aside, but found that the dark mane was being particularly uncooperative this morning. Frustrated, he removed the band around his forehead and used it to tie back the unkempt, black mess. It was poorly bound and many loose strands escaped the bond, but at least his gaze was unobstructed now. With his hair taken care of, Jhyn retrieved his heavy cloak and pinned it back in place around his neck. The long garment wrapped around his shoulders and fell down to his ankles, its appearance gradually changing to match the new surroundings. Awake and dressed, it was time to set out. There was little time to dally, so he left the lean-to intact against the mossy boulder. He could always use the shelter  again if it still stood by the time his journey carried him back this way. Soon enough, Jhyn plodded along the Western bank of the Ashaba once more. A thick biscuit was set in between his teeth while his hands quickly adjusted and fastened the straps of his pack for the day ahead. The first few miles were bound to be rough, if the rapids were any indicator, so everything needed to be secure. The untrodden path started to widen the nearer he came to the rushing waters and the incline that led up into the forest grew steadily steeper as well. Carefully, the would-be Ranger made his way, nibbling upon the hardtack all the while. His brows furrowed while he ate, more out of strain than disgust. The biscuit was terribly hard and difficult to chew, but it was filling at the very least. “Better this than beetles and mushrooms,” he mused aloud. The mere thought of the grotesque meals he had eaten below the surface was enough to cause his stomach to gurgle in protest. Chipping a tooth upon this biscuit was a superficial price to pay compared to the slimy textures and rotten taste of slop used to feed rothe.

By the time he was finished with the hardtack, Jhyn found himself peering over a ledge where the Ashaba descended in a short fall. The river had grown considerably wider here and the waters ran quickly, but did not appear very deep. The heads of several stones could be seen poking above the rapids, some so large he could stand upon them. His lips curled into a smirk while he playfully eyed those boulders, fingers scratching the stubble on his chin as he quietly wondered. Jhyn’s eyes darted from stone to stone, measuring the distance between them. They seemed clustered at the bottom of the waterfall and remained so, gradually growing more distant from one another as the Ashaba ran on into the horizon. For as far as his eyes could see, there was a path upon the river itself. Clapping the crumbs of biscuit from his hands, he slowly made his way down a side of the ledge. The rush of the waters appeared much swifter once he had lowered himself down. The river pushed on relentlessly, a thick mist rising from the falls while a heavy spray flew into the air where water met boulder. Tentatively, the would-be Ranger stepped out onto the first stone within reach. It was slick and oddly shaped, but large enough for his foot to find a hold. After a moment or two, he took another step and then another. Jhyn found himself walking easily upon this path of stones and picked up his pace, only setting one foot upon a boulder before hopping to another. On he would go this way for a long while, coming close to spilling over into the Ashaba, but always managing to find his balance. Today’s journey started with a bit of mirth and raised his spirits as he continued into the horizon, upon the Ashaba's flow.
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Ojaro

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PostSubject: Re: Nature Walk   Sat Sep 10, 2016 1:12 am

Many days would pass along the river, within the forest and through fields of tall grass. Throughout the journey, Jhyn had become quite vocal. It was unusual, at least for him. For he had spent many years as an Assassin. A man of stealth whose only intended sound was silence. Yet, as he strode on beneath the mighty boughs, along the river’s path and through a vast plain, he spoke aloud to no one but himself. At first his musings were simple; what he saw, what he heard and where his feet would carry him. What he smelled, what he tasted and the sensations he felt. The bulk of these idle musings were laden with groans and grumbles, often in complaint. The more he spoke, however, the more thoughtful he became. He reflected, upon himself and the teachings that seemed all too recently learned. When he paused to fish, hunt or forage, his mind wandered to the days spent in the Grove and the woods, revisiting the words of wisdom shared with him. How to find game in the vastness of the wilds, identify edible flora and even how to properly prepare everything he would find. Perhaps it was the need to relive those moments of guidance for reassurance. Perhaps hearing his own voice broke the silence and eased the feeling of solitude. Whatever the reason, it hardly mattered.

It was during one lengthy pause, nearly a tenday after he had first begun, that Jhyn began to wrestle with some difficult musings. After parting ways with the Ashaba, he strode further into the heart of the forest and found himself in a peculiar place. The would-be Ranger had stumbled upon a small glade of tall grass and wildflowers. In its center, a ring of stones were carefully laid around an idol of the Forest Queen. Small, arboreal structures could be seen in the trees surrounding the glade, high up in the canopy. Each small home connected by bridges made of rope or the very branches they were built upon. Jhyn spent several hours stalking the perimeter and observed from afar for signs of life. He stayed crouched in the brush, teal eyes peering curiously upon this place. During his watch, however, he saw nothing. “Abandoned? Mm. . It doesn’t appear neglected,” he quietly whispered from the shadows. “A seasonal dwelling then? Hmph. .” It was difficult to say for certain. Regardless of his musings, skulking about would not provide any more information. The would-be Ranger crawled out from the brush and wandered into the glade then. He moved cautiously at first, but quickly let go of his apprehension. There was a serenity here. An air that seemed to ease one’s mind and strengthen their connection to the land. He felt welcome, as he did within the Druid’s Grove.

Squirrels, coneys, and other small critters called this glade home and were scattered about the area. Those closest to the interloping man were quite aware of him, but did not flee from his presence. He was regarded briefly, then ignored. Jhyn could not help but smirk while he watched the little creatures from afar, marvelling at the way they so easily dismissed him.  “Hmph. . Perhaps it’s better that they aren’t fleeing from me,” he muttered. “Gods know they have every reason to.” With a shake of his head, he wandered toward the shrine and stood before it, curiously looking over the idol in its center. Squared stones had been stacked neatly into a pedestal that provided support for a unicorn made of ivory. It was then that Jhyn stepped beyond the ring of stone to inspect the effigy more closely, a hand scratching at his stubbled chin all the while. “No real ornamentation, hand carved. . Plain and simple. A solid piece of work, really,” he remarked while appraising the small statue. The ivory unicorn may have lacked lavish panache, but the love and care etched into its sculpted form was evident. The attention to detail was astounding. Musculature had been subtly carved into the neck, limbs and flanks of the ivory beast, while its horn, tail and mane were very well defined. It may have been unpainted and unadorned, but it radiated a natural beauty. To Jhyn, the mere look upon the effigy’s face conveyed a strong sense of unrestrained freedom.

Some minutes were spent there, merely appreciating the statue before him. Many more passed as he became lost in thought and pondered the meaning of this place, so isolated in the wilds. “A home or place of worship? A lodge or some place of respite?” he wondered aloud. It was likely that the glade was all these things. Staring at the ivory unicorn, Jhyn felt a compulsion he had not experienced for a long time. It was an urge that he had felt on misty mornings and foggy nights in Luskan. The want to offer hopes and thoughts to the divine, the desire to pray. A frown twisted his lips as he lingered on this feeling that seemed to have been lost for so long. The Mist Maiden he had once revered seemed silent to him now and the desire to pray silenced as well. Now, as he stood within the serenity of the glade and before the ivory effigy, there were embers of that desire glowing in his heart. Setting himself upon the ground, the would-be Ranger crossed his legs and set his hands upon his knees. He bowed his head and closed his eyes, looking within himself instead of upon the idol that now towered above him. No thoughts rushed to him despite the desire to voice them to the Forest Queen. At first, he found himself unsure of how to begin his prayer. Confusion turned to frustration and annoyance followed soon after. What was he to say? What should he think of? A myriad of questions came and went and his thoughts were soon given voice to keep his mind on track. “Mm. . How do the faithful of Mielikki pray? Do they offer thanks? Or maybe. . They ask guidance of Her? What guidance would they need? What would they thank Her for?” To Jhyn, this dilemma was truly profound, even if the answers unknown to him were simple. This was a faith he did not know intimately and it seemed so much unlike the Leiran faith he had known. “Hmph. . I asked protection of Leira. I walked through mist and prayed for her shroud. To keep me safe, to make my embellishments grander and the truth ever more veiled. Deception, for mischief or malice. ”

The frown upon Jhyn’s face only broadened as a look of remorse soured his expression. He recalled those youthful years that were not so very long ago and remembered the mirth there was in mischief. The sense of accomplishment he felt when plying his former trade came back to him as well and made him wince. Everything seemed to return at that moment, smells most chiefly among the memories. The stench of the sewers, the scent of brine upon the night air. The faint fragrance of oil upon his swords and the aroma of the mask pressed against his face. The smell of blood flooded his senses. So sweet and pungent when first it spilled forth, only to grow musty and rancid once it dried up. A unique odor, one that seemed impossible to forget. It was, however, a smell that could be overindulged. The sweetness of the scent was lost to Jhyn now.  It was a pleasantness he had treated himself to until the sugary aroma had fouled to revulsion. “Never again,” he muttered to himself. There was a resolve in his soul when he spoke those words. “I’ll take the smell of pine over brine and leave those foul sewers behind. Honey smells sweeter than blood and I’d have my hands covered in dirt than all that grime.” A small smile came to replace his frown and the would-be Ranger quietly chuckled at his unintended rhyming. "Gods, what would Emrys think of me now?" he wondered. Rising to his feet, he sighed and gazed upon the ivory unicorn. “The forest is my home now and I’d rather follow the wild ways than the roads I’ve walked before. I’m not a shadow anymore and I’ve no use for deceptions, nor a mist’s shroud.” The remorse he felt washed away as he spoke and it gave way to a determination that wished to honor these new words. “My thanks,” he said to the effigy while he stepped out of the circle of stone and further along his way. Jhyn was eager now and the weariness of his travels seemed light as he looked forward to the rest of his journey and the miles left unwalked.
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PostSubject: (Three months in the making, holy crap!)   Fri Nov 04, 2016 6:43 am

After many days and countless steps, Jhyn had finally arrived to his destination. It was not the immense size of the ancient oaks and maples of the forest that told him this. Nor was it the heaviness of the air nor the humidity below such a dense canopy. It was the thickness of the underbrush that let him know. A sea of shrubs obscured long and sturdy roots that left the would-be Ranger stumbling often. When he did trip now and again, it always seemed to be upon a thorny bush that left him cursing beneath his breath. Worse still were the burs that hooked into his hair and upon his cloak, leaving him annoyed while he fussed with the seeds to remove them from his person. A noisy interloper he was, rustling through the understory with all the grace of a lame mule. The first few hours were a very trying time for the man, full of bruises and spat curses. As the trek slowed to a crawl, his patience became thin. He was frustrated and tired. The humidity made him sweat profusely and he soon shed his camouflaging coat to alleviate the heat that he felt. Daylight was waning and the overgrown forest would quickly become black as pitch, but here he fumbled and fell without a sense of direction. For a moment, Jhyn stood still. His coat of leather and gambeson was bundled beneath the crook of an arm while he took some time to observe his surroundings.

A pale mist had begun to linger upon the forest floor, but was steadily rising as dusk approached. “I need rest,” he managed to say in between deep breaths. “I’m not thinking straight and this gods forsaken place has me tearing out my hair.” With a grunt and some noticeable effort, the would-be Ranger pushed forward. He took care to feel around with the toes of his boots before planting his feet and slogged through the undergrowth at an even slower pace than before. His feet eventually came upon a rather large game trail running through the sea of shrubs. It was a wide path of trampled leaves that lay dead and amber among the greenery. With a grin, he stepped upon this path and walked it gladly, for it was far easier on his shins when the sturdy roots stood out starkly above the trail. Jhyn did not have to walk this way for long, however, as a suitable resting place was soon in sight. A large oak, whose gnarled roots had grown tall above the rich soil, possessed an empty hollow that looked more than large enough for a man of his size. Its convenient appearance was welcome and, in his exhaustion, seemed to beckon him forward. Trailing one of the twisted roots with the tips of his fingers, the would-be Ranger felt the aged surface of the wooden tendril and the odd marks that seemed to be notched along its length. He entered the ancient tree then and found that its confines were very generous; large enough that he could stand upright and spread his arms out twice over their regular span. The wooden walls were smooth to the touch, although an odd shift in texture could be felt here and there, as if shaped by beak or claw. “Mm, I suppose I won’t be the only one to have slept here before. This will do for tonight then,” he said while his fingers gently ran around the inner walls of the tree.

Before he could properly lay his head down and rest, there was the matter of filling his belly after a long walk. Jhyn dug through his pack, retrieving salted meat, hardtack, his waterskin and some leftover fish he had prepared the night before. The man wolfed down his meal with a hunger he had not known for a long while. It may not have been born of poverty this time, but the desire to consume was great. Never before had he spent his days in continuous journey, wandering through a land untouched by men. His appetite was reserved when first he set out, only ever eating enough to sate the growling of his stomach; but that soon changed after the first week. The man needed to eat, to fuel his energy and the desire to press forward. Every day of travel was another where his appetite grew heartier when he paused to rest and recuperate. He left no scraps, save for bones, and buried them in the dirt to keep scavengers away. Jhyn took some time to establish a temporary campsite once he was full and ready for the evening. He hoisted his lightening pack nearly a dozen feet above the ground and pinned his cloak around the opening of the ancient tree’s hollow. Thankfully, the garment was large enough to shroud the entrance and the camouflaging magic made it very difficult to discover with eyes alone. Once the last bit of preparation was taken care of, it was finally time to rest. The would-be Ranger spread his bedroll upon the floor of the hollow, along with the other warm layers he had packed for himself. Now there was a fitting spot for which to sleep and he wasted no time in making himself comfortable. Exhaustion paired with a full belly made for a rather lulling haze and Jhyn quickly lost his thoughts to dreams. Abstract and of little sense, many of these dreams were lost upon waking. They were pleasant, certainly, but left no lasting impression. What he could recall quite vividly, however, were the nightmares that would plague him during his stay in the foregone wood.

*   *   *

On that first night in the hollow of the ancient oak tree, after all the dreams had faded, a memory came to Jhyn while he slept. It was a memory of old, one from his time in Luskan, when the man was still a young lad. In it, he saw his own boyish face, gaunt and pale from a life spent without a proper home. His teal eyes seemed less sharp and were filled with an enthusiasm that seemed so strange to him now. The dark hair upon his head was just as black, but looked as if it had never been acquainted with a comb. A similar crooked scar ran through his lips, only far more red in its freshness. These images of himself came and went until suddenly he saw through those younger eyes once more. He was walking the cobblestone streets of Luskan’s central market now, following close behind a tall man whom he could not recognize. In fact, it was difficult to tell whether he saw a man or not, for the figure seemed indistinct, save for a thin and bony structure clad in gray. As he turned those younger eyes this way and that, Jhyn could see storefronts, people and merchant stalls, yet they too were murky. Sizes, shapes and colors were right, but details were inconsistent. He could not tell whether a man was wearing wool or leather and the walls of the shops looked as wooden as they appeared to be made of brick or stone. Signs were jumbled messes of color while the vaguest symbols resembling letters stood out amongst the hues. A tug on the boy’s shoulder stole his attention just then and his gaze turned back to the guiding figure. He was being ushered toward a particular building that looked more concrete than the rest of the world around him.

Three small steps were flanked on either side by potted daisies, as they rose up to meet a yellow door. A bell chimed as he stepped inside and fragrant smells assaulted his senses at once. Baked apples, cinnamon, sugar and honey. ‘A bakery!’ his lips mouthed, but made no sound, not even a hush. He could see in this place and all that he saw was plain in the haze. Four brown tables stood upon the wooden floor, two against the walls on either side of him. Each was surrounded by a trio of chairs with bright red cushions, while the tables themselves were all set with kettles, plates and utensils. Paintings of ships, the City of Sails and symbols of Waukeen lined the white walls, while yellow drapes were set upon the windows of the storefront behind him. A large counter was opposite of the door and leaning over it was a man who peered at the boy with gray eyes. A weathered face of middle age surrounded those steely orbs. Long crevices ran the span of his forehead as he furrowed his brow and laugh lines crinkled deeply around a bushy upper-lip that was turned up in a smile. He was balding, but what hair he did have was sandy-blonde and began to fade into white.

Words that Jhyn could not remember were exchanged between this stranger and the guide, echoing as a distant and incoherent muffle to his ears. Soon the lad was none to gently shoved forward and stood before the stranger. Once his guide had hobbled out, the bakery grew terribly still. The Baker stared at him, furry forearms folded over his broad chest, while Jhyn stared back with a blank expression. “Hullo,” he recalled greeting, yet his pleasantry did not lift the silence of the dream. The Baker simply smiled, rosy dimples framing his bushy mustache on either side. Lips moved and words were spoken between them, but all that was said had been forgotten. The lingering sounds of Anson, for that was his name, remained and lifted the deafening silence. It was easy for Jhyn to recall the sound of his baritone voice, which seemed to shake the wooden floor he stood on, or the delightful way in which Anson paused to hum thoughtfully while listening. There was also the faint echo of uncertainty felt at this moment in time. A fear that anything he said might come into question. There was no disguise, no mask. Only words to get him by, although the reason for deception escaped his mind. The worry soon passed, however, as the recollection of Anson’s laugh, a hearty sound that came directly from the man’s gut, reverberated off of the walls. Jhyn smiled brightly as more forgotten words were passed between himself and the Baker. He recalled bobbing his head up and down in understanding and rushing off to heed some instruction or another.

Around the counter, the boy found his way to the kitchen, through a sheet that hung in place of a door. The kitchen itself was not small, in fact it was the largest room in the store. It was packed full of things, stuffed to the brim with many odds and ends that overwhelmed one’s sight. The room was cramped. Counters lined the walls and looked to be littered with flour, cutting boards, bowls and tins. Pots, pans, spoons and knives hung from hooks beneath many cupboards along with other utensils. Rows upon rows of drawers ran beneath the counters where no doors for cupboards were hinged. The only bit of empty space was in the very middle of the kitchen, between the counters, cupboards, drawers and shelves. Its presence did very little to make the room feel less cluttered, but it did offer a place for one to move, at least. At the back, a large wood-fired oven burned with a warm glow. Jhyn could see the embers clumped together in a bright orange bed around a square space where balls of dough were baking. Bent over that warmly glowing cavity was a thin and womanly frame. She wore a dress with a simple floral pattern that marked the pink fabric with white petals, while a stained apron was tied around her waist and a blue kerchief held back her chestnut hair. The woman turned at the boy’s approach and smiled warmly, her hazel eyes gleaming with delight as she greeted the guest in her kitchen. The words she spoke had been forgotten, but the kindly tone and melodic cadence of her voice passed through Jhyn’s mind as sweet wind, both eager and welcoming. She looked young, far younger than Anson, and though her brow glistened from the heat of the stove, she was a fair and lovely sight. Annelle, he remembered, for that was the name of this young woman. The dream became a sudden rush of memory then. All at once, many images of that first day rifled through Jhyn’s mind. Dusk passed into dawn as the dream continued and the boy was taught and set to work within the bakery.

Time itself became a blur. Days, weeks and tendays passed, left far behind in the realm of this dream. Although he had never known a proper family, for a while, the boy was given a taste of what it felt like to be part of one. Tender moments, long forgotten by Jhyn returned to him in the dream. The firm hand of Anson that never struck, but always encouraged and reassured. The kindness of Annelle and her gentle touch whenever a scrape or cut needed mending. The boy learned much in his time with the bakers and entertained the fantasy of becoming one himself. Alas, it was not to be. As the dream unfolded further, Jhyn remembered his purpose for being there. Seeing such friendly faces after so long, even though they were mere specters of memory, clouded his foresight. It was denial, perhaps, that kept him from seeing the truth, but with a heavy heart he faced it. A mother’s scorn had spurred it all; scorn for the naive heart of her daughter. Despite age and a lower social standing, a simple Baker managed to charm Annelle’s heart. Treachery lingered from afar and scorn took many different forms after the two had eloped. Whispers, coin and contracts, for instance. At the center of it all was Jhyn, a dark-haired lad with bright eyes and a bashful gaze. Who might suspect that an urchin like him would be capable of a murder so foul? He would merely be the dagger that pierced on the scornful hand’s command.

Fragments of the deed flickered along the edge of thought, tantalizingly close to remembrance. The blur of time came to a gradual halt, set upon a singular image - the turned back of Anson Wellers, a burly silhouette in the dull glow of the kitchen. Smell was the first sense to make itself known, as the scent of raspberries became overwhelming. He remembered now his chosen moment, when the deed would be performed without error. Anelle worked the kitchen most days, but had little time to bake anything that would sate her own sweet tooth. On some nights, Anson waited for her to fall fast asleep before stealing off to the kitchen in secret. There he labored, plying his trade for the good of his young bride. Jhyn had taken careful notice of the affectionate routine and bided his time. Not a wisp of wind sounded as the Ninja’s apprentice entered into the Ethereal Plane from his chamber. Slowly, the boy phased through his cot and the floor beneath it, moving unhindered by the solid barriers as a ghost might. His gentle levitation in the gray sea of the ethereal lowered him down into the kitchen. Jhyn’s feet found the floor when he re-materialized and it was as if he had always been standing in that very spot, right behind the Baker. He watched Anson for several minutes as he labored, diligently shaping dough. A sullied whisk, stained with batter and the skin of crushed fruit lay unused on the counter near the man, while a bowl of custard sat above the bed of glowing, orange charcoal within the stove. Raspberry tarts, he recalled for those were Annelle’s favorite sweets. Hesitation crept at the back of the boy’s mind while he watched. He did not want to kill this man, but what choice did he have? Three months had already gone by. If the contract was not fulfilled soon, his master would come and dispose of him and the mark without a second thought.

A blade is swung by the hand that wields it, or so he had been told.

With cold resolve, Jhyn exhaled as quietly as he could and made his silent approach. He reached for a knife, dangling on a nearby hook from its tassel, and gripped the wooden handle firmly. It felt wonderfully smooth in his grasp. The tip was held aloft, poised to skewer the base of Anson’s skull and it gleamed terribly in the dull glow from the burning stove. As he drew closer, Jhyn could hear the Baker humming, to the tune of a shanty he had heard so many times before. Pausing less than a foot away from his target, the boy’s hand lowered to his side. “You’ll burn the custard,” he said and heard his youthful voice lift the eerie silence of the dream. Anson turned and looked to Jhyn with surprise, but dimples soon framed that bushy upper-lip of his in a smile.

“You’ve always had a hard time focusing on more than one thing at once.”

The Baker smirked and gestured to the nearby stove, his lips parted to say something, but the words became lost within a watery gurgle. The boy’s hand had flashed quickly, a deft stroke that drew a line of red over Anson’s throat. Morbid as it was, Jhyn recalled a feeling of pleasant surprise with the ease at which his knife parted flesh. As effortless as slicing through butter. The folds of skin seemed to leap away in opposing directions, fleeing the razor edge of his blade while a velvet curtain of crimson poured forth from the gaping wound. It sprayed out and marred the pale skin of his face, the warmth and smell of blood causing goosebumps and chills to run up the boy’s spine.

An expression of shock and horror consumed the dead man’s face as he stared into the teal eyes of his killer. There was no bloodthirsty glint in those bright orbs, nor was there a gleam of remorse. The boy’s gaze was as blank and naive as the day he first saw it. Blood frothed from the man’s lips and spilled down his shirt, staining the white apron that he wore. Panic had overtaken his senses and the Baker began to stumble, knocking over bowls and flattening the dough he had so carefully shaped. Unlike before, Jhyn heard everything that he witnessed. From the moist melancholy of Anson’s lost words to the crash and clatter brought on by the crumpling corpse. Several seconds passed by and every moment of the locked gaze was an eternity for the youth. After half a minute had passed, the burly man fell to the wooden floor in a bloody heap. Jhyn knew that Anson was not dead, not yet at least. The Baker had only lost consciousness from the severing of a carotid artery. Death would come soon, in another minute or two, while blood continued to spew from the yawning hollow with every beat of a living heart.

He pondered whether another stroke would be a mercy or a cruelty. With trembling fingers, the boy wiped the blood from his face and found that it stuck to his hands like sap. The blackness of the dream swelled and devoured the dull glow from the stove, but he hardly noticed. Jhyn stood within the dark, clutching a bloodied knife and scratching the drying gore from his cheeks. Soon enough, he could no longer feel the wooden floor beneath his feet and the sight of Anson’s carcass was swallowed whole by the dark. He was alone and the only sound he could hear was his own ragged breathing. His fingers scratched and clawed frantically to remove the blood from his face, but he was only greeted by new wetness. Jhyn felt as he appeared, a frightened boy clutching at a flimsy weapon, playing murderer. Furrows were dug into his cheeks while the blackness suffocated him and warmth poured down his arm.

Yet, despite the pain, his keenest feeling was a desire to flee.
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