The Eight-Day Ordeal

Caspian and Taalviel, lost in the woods.

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Center of scholarly knowledge and shipwrighting, Zeltiva is a port city unlike any other in Mizahar. [Lore]

The Eight-Day Ordeal

Postby Caspian on February 3rd, 2021, 11:30 pm

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    When Caspian wakes on the first day, he’s mostly sure this is a terrible prank.

    It’s the clothes thing that gets him, or, really, the lack of them, that makes him feel like someone has done this to him on purpose. Someone who knows that his complicated outfits are his facade, his armor, that even on a warmer day he’ll wear fabrics in plurality down to his wrists and button down tight. It’s hard to say why he’s of the proclivity; he supposes it has something to do with being born in snow, where being bundled up is a fact of life keeping death at bay. And in Sunberth, though much more temperate, it had felt just as necessary for his health to don as many barriers as possible against the city’s storms of filth and grime.

    So it’s a horrible and nauseating proposition, waking up naked on a forest floor. Without his clothes, his beloved magical transforming party suit, he’s just an under-grown, knobbly excuse for a man who looks painfully liable to being knocked over by a feather. He can feel every rock and leaf cutting up beneath his back and something like – bark? Ugh, what if it splinters – jabbed right up his –

    “Oh, petch me – “

    Caspian bolts up, his head snapping towards a grimly familiar voice. A few yards to his right is Taalviel, leaning against a tree and just as naked as he is. She presses a hand lightly to her head. There’s no blood when she pulls away, but from the way her head lolls back against the trunk, she’d somehow been struck hard enough to daze.

    “If this is your idea of a joke,“ Caspian begins, heaving himself up to his feet, “can I just say that no one expects you to have a sense of humor, and it hurts us all to see you try.”

    “Shut up,” she says, with an alarming lack of vitriol, suggesting that her injury isn’t a very good one.

    “Are you alright?”

    “What do you think?”

    Being a Kelvic, Taalviel cares not one drop for her nakedness, nor his own – but being a mongrel human, and a dermatologically anxious one to boot, he hesitates for a moment before approaching her.

    “Caspian,” she growls, reaching blindly for him, having guessed what’s holding him back.

    “Fine, fine.” Grimacing, he crosses the forest floor to her, wincing with every unprotected step. She takes his hand – doesn’t haul herself up as readily as he’d hoped.

    “My head,” she says. “I don’t know what happened. I must have flown right into a tree.”

    “Remember that time you flew right into the second-story window?”

    “That never happened.”

    “Um, I’m pretty sure that was you – “

    “Caspian – “

    “Yes, fine, I’m here. Can you get up or not?”

    It takes a bit, but she can. She has one arm slung over his shoulder, swaying unsteadily. He tries not to think about how much of her skin is pressed up against his own. Though family, they don’t touch even with all their clothes on.

    “Where are we?” Looking at the forest, at least, means he isn’t looking directly at her.

    “No idea,” she says, scanning the forest, though her eyes are unfocused and she near immediately sighs and shuts them again.

    The trees are densely packed here, the boughs twined densely overhead. Sunlight filters through, dappling them with soft light, and it really is a shame he doesn’t have his clothes on or any idea how he got here, because he might have found it rather pleasant instead.

    “What if,” he says, head tilted up towards the light, “you flew up through the top to see if there’s anything recognizable? So we can wander in a somewhat orderly direction?”

    “Flew?” Leaning back to match his eye line had her nearly toppling over. Again, if the situation weren’t so dire, he might have found this enjoyable, watching her in a rare moment of deep disconfiguration. “Flew – “

    “Yes, flew, that thing you can do that I cannot, or else I would not bother asking.”

    “I – “ She swoons, and he catches her just in time, hooking her arm around his shoulders once more. “Sorry,” she mumbles, and that’s how he knows she’s really in dire straits.

    He’s not going to panic. He just isn’t. He kind of already is because, first of all, he isn’t a doctor, and he’s never seen her this way and he can joke about it from dawn through dusk but the joking, really, is to hide the fact that he began panicking the moment he opened his eyes and felt something with too many legs scuttling across his lips. He’s going to find somewhere to set her down safely because it’s hard, thinking and holding her up at the same time. But where –

    A bag hanging on a low-slung branch of a nearby tree catches his eye. Odd. It isn’t his (it is now?).

    “Can I park you here for a second?” he says, and she’s unable to do much else but dazedly wave him off. She wraps her arms around a slim tree trunk and presses her forehead to the bark.

    He looks around quickly, as if the owner of the bag might return any moment. Though he’d welcome the intrusion, maybe, if only to find someone who could give them some answers.

    But no one comes, and in the bag he finds flint and steel, a bow, four arrows with stone heads, a clay mug, and a ruddy rabbit pelt.

    And, on roughly creased parchment, a map.

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    The Eight-Day Ordeal

    Postby Caspian on February 5th, 2021, 1:58 pm

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      The map is not as forthcoming about their situation as Caspian wants it to be.

      There are no words, for one, no denomination for the territory they’re stranded in, or whatever far-flung continent into which they’ve just been unceremoniously tossed. No hint as to where they would be travelling, or a foreign name that even if he didn’t recognize, he might have been able to deduce the general location of by syllables and vowels alone. There are two x’s on the map, one smaller, near the bottom left-hand corner, and one pointedly larger, towards the upper right-hand. The rest – from a panicked pass over, the other symbols on the maps seem to him like formless, meaningless scribbles.

      “This must be where we are,” Taalviel says, pointing at the smaller x. “And that one – “ she points at the larger X, “must be where we should go. Almost strictly northeast.”

      “First of all,” Caspian says, “I disagree with your liberal application of must and should, especially when dictated by the hands of a stranger we’ll likely never see. Second of all – “ He flips the map over, which confirms the worst to him, in that it’s just as senselessly illegible to him the other way around. “ – how do you know I haven’t been holding it upside down? What if we’re meant to go southwest instead? Third of all – and maybe this should have been my second point, because I think it takes foundational precedence – how do you know we’re the small x, and not the monstrosity?” He jabs his finger at the larger of the twin symbols.

      “I’m not going to bother answering your first point – “

      “That you deign to acknowledge it at all is a win enough for me – “

      “ – and to answer both the second and the third – “ She flips the map around to the way he’d initially held it, with the smaller x in the bottom left, the larger X at the top right. “There’s a stream by the smaller x. Isn’t that a stream up ahead? Whoever drew this map also made sure to draw the landmarks oriented in the same direction. This is – what, a tree?” She taps her finger at a drawing a few inches north of their presumed location. Now that she mentions it, he supposes the bulbous orb and twisty lines below it do in fact depict a tree bursting with foliage and its trunk. There were a few more like it scattered across the map, drawn in the same direction to heavily imply that he was, in fact, holding the map the right way. “And these are – I’m going to assume mountains?” All sketched with their peaks pointed skyward. “And this – “ She trailed off. Beneath her fingertip was a wolf’s head, howling up towards an unseen moon.

      With the landscape laid out before him, each rendering now unmistakable for what it represents, Caspian gut sinks. There are more drawings of wild animals, wildcats and serpents and something with tusks that leers. “Northeast it is, then.”

      Each animal drawing – they’re quite far. Though quite is – it’s his own way of mollifying himself because he really doesn’t know the map’s scale and whether to interpret the size of each drawing as an indication of its relative level of threat. There’s nothing, at least, in their immediate vicinity –

      Or so he thinks until he hears the crunch of branches and grasses behind them.


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      The Eight-Day Ordeal

      Postby Caspian on February 6th, 2021, 7:16 pm

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        Caspian and Taalviel whirl around at the same time.

        Or, really, Caspian whirls around and Taalviel pivots and in her concussive haze stumbles and catches herself against a tree.

        A dozen yards away is tawny cougar, crouched down in the grasses, its tail flicking animatedly from side to side.

        “Taalviel,” Caspian breathes. Reflexively, he reaches for a dagger that isn’t on his hip. “Taalviel – “

        “Yes, I see it,” she hisses.

        It’s bigger than him. That may not actually be true, because he perceives that about most places, people, and things – but it’s effectively true, because it’s all claws and sinew and fangs, and a total lack of interest in communicating with him in a way that doesn’t end with him in shreds.

        The bag across his shoulders is incredibly useless. He has no idea how to use a bow, and the most useful thing he can do with the arrows, or so he imagines as his mind races, is hold them all in a tight bundle-in-fist and, presumably, crudely stab down.

        The cougar creeps closer to them through the grasses, its whiskers quivering, its mouth baring wicked and yellowing fangs. It knows they’re useless – it knows he’s easy pickings, that without a scrap of clothing on he’ll fall to its mauling like tissue paper, and it takes another step forward –

        “Don’t run – “ Taalviel says at precisely the moment he does.

        Taalviel swears after him as they take off through the woods. But the path she takes is crooked, winding, and in her dizziness she catches herself on branches, crashes and scrapes against tree trunks. She can’t run with her head so recently battered but she can’t stay, staying would be worse, it would be certain death while running, at least, means –

        She swears again, and in the corner of his eye a dark flurry of feathers flaps up above.

        ”Petch you!” Caspian exclaims. He catches a glimpse of her in her Raven form before it disappears into one of the heavily needled boughs of an evergreen. Petching traitor. Of course she’d look out for herself and leave him to it. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

        Though it nearly has him tripping over his own feet, he casts a hurried look over his shoulder. He can’t see the cougar but the brush is rustling loudly behind him, and his own breath bellows brashly in and out of his lungs. The whole forest seems full of crashing sounds, waves of static amplified by his terror and adrenaline, and he can’t discern himself from the incidental, or the cougar from all of the above.

        It’s on a wave of terror and adrenaline that his next step isn’t where it ought to be.

        The ravine had been covered by rows of brush and briars. Even if he hadn’t been so distracted, he might have stumbled into it anyway. He tumbles headfirst, the drop-off shockingly steep, as if someone had carved a near vertical slash into the earth. Blindly, he throws out his arms, tries to snatch at any of the branches he rolls into, but grasses tear in hands, others rip themselves out completely by the roots. Without any clothing he can feel every slash and snick against his bare skin and he barrels onward and deeper, finally smashing ribs first into a rock.

        At the very bottom of the ravine, the land is cool and dark. Strange birds call to each other in the gloom. He isn’t sure how long he lies there. It’s not right away that he can uncurl himself, trapped in a shell of his own paralysis. The cougar couldn’t have followed him here; it probably wouldn’t have bothered. But has he broken anything in the process?

        With a groan, he rolls onto his back, tries to heave himself up. But he can’t get any leverage so he rolls back onto his side, gasps as feels a stab of pain at the motion. Slowly and carefully, he pulls himself up so he’s half sitting, half sprawled backwards against the rock into which he’d rammed. What the petch is a rock doing in the middle of a ravine? And more importantly, what the petching petch is a ravine doing in the middle of a forest? Whoever had drawn the map evidently hadn’t bothered to let them know.

        The map –

        He realizes he doesn’t have the bag. It must have slipped off his shoulder when he’d fallen into the ravine. If it weren’t for the map, he might have been tempted to leave it all behind – what good is a weapon he doesn’t know how to use, and a scrap of fur? But it does have the flint in it, along with the mug.
        On shaking limbs he tries to scale the ravine. Some parts of it are far too steep, and though there’s plenty of greenery to grab onto, some of it’s too flimsy and rips by the stems in his hands. But in a roundabout zigzag at least a bell or two later, he finally clambers out onto the top.

        The cougar is nowhere to be seen. Just as well.

        But his sister?

        Panic rises in his heart again. He doesn’t recall this part of the woods, hadn’t spent enough time in any part to remember it to any meaningful degree. Without her, without the map – he’s as good as gone.

        “Quit sulking.”

        Caspian startles, nearly falls back down the ravine. “How long have you been standing there?”

        Taalviel scoffs, tosses him the bag. “Wouldn’t you like to know. Come on. This way. Also – are you bleeding?”

        A trickle of blood runs down a particularly nasty gash on his leg. There are more scrapes, beginning to sting. But they’re forgotten, at least for the moment. What matters is that he’s not alone.



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        The Eight-Day Ordeal

        Postby Caspian on February 7th, 2021, 2:26 pm

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          By the third day, Caspian is fairly certain he’s never felt this terrible in his life.

          “That’s ridiculous,” Taalviel replies. They’re only about a quarter of the way towards their destination, maybe less, and by her estimation a map’s inch beneath a drawing of a wolf’s head, and an inch just above one of a bear. They had argued for most of the second day about not taking the path that would have them flanked on both sides by imminent danger, but had decided to go the way they were for the fact of its being far shorter than any attempt to circumvent. They only have so much energy, having made it so far on a bundle of cattails plucked from a riverbank. Had they not lived in Ravok, they might never have known cattails are a safe bet, as safe as they can possibly make with no wilderness experience between them. It’s a first, both of them being equally clueless. Though –

          That’s not entirely accurate.

          Taalviel, if one set aside the concussion, is faring on the whole much better than he. There’s no shortage of insects for her to scrabble after and seeds to peck at, and while her disorientation isn’t helpful, it’s not terribly hard for her to pursue a worm or some other less agile bug. Especially if Caspian’s stomped on it first.

          See, he does care.

          “It’s not ridiculous,” he says. “Look at me!” He holds out his arms, gestures at the cuts and gashes from his fall down the ravine, which instead of scabbing over have grown red and swollen. On his right side where he’d struck the rock, a large purple bruise blooms. “Have you ever seen me this torn up? Not even in Sunberth, I – “ He stops.

          “So you admit it wasn’t that bad – “

          “It was bad, a different kind of bad,” he snaps back.

          It hurts to bend over, as he’s doing now to take up the clay mug, hurts to straighten up again so he can hobble to the nearby stream and fill it to the brim. Doesn’t hurt any less when he kneels in front of the remains of the fire they’d lit the previous night when they set up camp. Nothing comes off the flint when he strikes it; nothing still the second time. But he can do this; he has to; it’s just like lighting his pipe except the stakes are so much higher and all he wants is water that’s safe for him to drink but his hands are shaking and each spark fizzles out before it even reaches the kindling and –

          “I got it – “ Taalviel begins.

          “Petch off,” he growls. “You can barely walk in a straight line.” Blessedly, beneath his attentions, a new fire blooms. He re-piles stones, sets the clay mug atop the little volcano he’s fashioned, and waits the arduously long time it takes for it to boil.

          Bathing his wounds in running water had not helped as much as he’d hoped. The cool water had been a balm, only for a minute, but something about the water that he couldn’t detect had seemed to encourage the swelling. After the mug of water boils he lets it cool for a minute, scoops trickles into his palm and presses it against the wounds, cleaning off what grime and scum that he can. The heat has him letting out hisses of satisfaction, worth the reddening burning of his fingertips. But it’s long work, with the mug only able to hold so much water, and he gives up once he’s attended to the worst of it.

          Taalviel doesn’t protest how much time he’s taking. She’s still dazed and disoriented, and they have to stop almost every half-bell for her to rest and regain her bearings. It worries him. Shouldn’t she be better by now? Or at least better than when they’d discovered themselves here on the first day? How hard had she hit her head, exactly? Perhaps not so hard at all, and their running from the cougar, the journey so far had driven the injury down deeper. He had suggested it when they’d gotten some ways away from the cougar, and he could stop looking constantly over his shoulder – that perhaps they could take a day, maybe two, to simply stop and rest. But she had vehemently opposed it and insisted they keep on moving.

          Given his own injuries, only worsening, and the fatigues and aches chipping away at his system so far –

          He’s afraid she’s right, that it’s as if he’s only got so many bells left, and if his hourglass is finite it would be worse to stay still.

          “All set?” he asks her, quieter now, their earlier squabble on the backburner. “…Taalviel?”

          She grimaces, slowly opens her eyes. It takes a disconcertingly long moment for her usually razor-like line of sight to focus on him. But true to form, she grits her teeth and nods, and follows him down the path they’ve chosen. If they follow the stream for a couple more bells – maybe three or four, with the pace they’re going – then turn sharply east, they should be able to avoid the wolves.

          “You don’t have to do that, you know,” she says.

          “Do what?”

          She points at the rabbit pelt hanging across the front of his groin. On the second morning he’d used one of the arrowheads to pierce two holes, one on either side of the pelt, and threaded a belt of knotted cattails through it, then tied it around his waist.

          “You know I don’t care,” she insists flatly.

          “I know you don’t, but I do. And I’ll have you know it’s not entirely for propriety’s sake. Let’s just say these aren’t the only scrapes I took falling down that petching ravine.”

          And perhaps from a latent sense of humor, or concussive delirium, she falls into such a full-bodied fit of snorting laughter that they have to spend the next few ticks in place, just so she can regain her bearings.

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          The Eight-Day Ordeal

          Postby Caspian on February 7th, 2021, 3:46 pm

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            By the end of the third day they aren’t laughing anymore.

            Despite looking after his wounds that morning, they aren’t doing much better. On top of that, he keeps discovering new ones, and after brushing through heavy foliage that afternoon which he now suspects included some strain of poison ivy, his body is almost entirely red and pulsing instead of his natural dusky brown.

            It hurts at all of his joints, between all of his creases. Even extending his arm or extending his legs more than a shoulder width apart from the other sends him throbbing, from his skin down to what feels like the veins themselves. On the third night, with just two of the cattails and only two mugs’ worth of water in his system, he sits in front of the fire with his head buried in his hands.

            “I don’t think we should stop here,” Taalviel says, emerging from the woods like a dark wraith, as if she had been made from the shadows themselves. If it weren’t for the moon above, for their input of flint and fire, it would be near pitch-black.

            “We’ve been walking all day,” he says, hates how shrilly and whiney it comes out. But he’s got the battered feet to prove it. The woods have thankfully been grassy, the ground loamy, but he’s scraped up from bark and branches and at several points needles from the coniferous trees had mercilessly stabbed. By tomorrow he’ll be hobbling. “And you, you need to rest.”

            “We’re too close to the wolves’ den.”

            It’s true, in a way. Due to her condition and his lack of shoes and their everything, they haven’t gotten very far. But the problem is it will always be true; he will never feel, as long as he’s out here, that he’s sufficiently far enough from danger. “What would you have us do? Wouldn’t it be a lot more dangerous, wandering around in the dark? And if neither of us can see, we’re just going to get lost. For all we know, we’ll wander right into the wolves’ collective maw.”

            She can’t argue with him; physically, mentally, however you dub a head injury, she doesn’t have the means to. But – sensing, perhaps, exactly how badly he’s battered down, she attempts to finish building the rest of the makeshift shelter they’d set up against a boulder. It’s made of dozens of branches, dug into the earth and leaning against the rock at a slant, and covered with as many wide-leafed boughs as they could find. Truth be told he had given up halfway, succumbed to huddling in front of the fire and imagined himself somewhere else. She patches it up now, stooping and dragging leafy branches over, and propping them up against the slant already formed. She manages a respectable two additions before succumbing to sitting down in a daze. The third falls slides off lamely to the ground. Neither of them bother with more.

            He doesn’t know how much longer he sits in front of the fire. Numbly, he crawls into the sorry excuse for a tent they’d fashioned, and tries very hard not to move, for fear of setting off any of the burgeoning welts and bruises across his body. He isn’t even sure he truly falls asleep before he hears something crunching around on the ground outside.

            Is he imagining it? Have exhaustion and hunger and his own brand of delirium gotten the better of him? He holds his breath. No – that sound outside is real, and it isn’t Taalviel, who’s lying on her side an inch away.

            More scratching. Shuffling.

            The fire’s dwindling down, the sky outside dark save for the moonlight.

            He nudges Taalviel.

            Perhaps she hadn’t fallen asleep either, for she immediately brushes her hand on top of his in answer.

            Heart thudding in his chest, he slowly eases himself upright.

            The shuffling is growing closer – close enough, now, that he can hear the heavy panting and sniffing of an animal.

            He grabs the bundle of arrows and the bow, which he’d left at his side. He’s no real idea how to use it, but if the animal, whatever it is, appears at the opening in the shelter –

            Fish in a barrel, isn’t it?

            But the shelter is already cramped enough without another person in it, without one of those two people now trying to pull back their arms and square their shoulders and nock an arrow to a weapon they can’t possibly use. It would feel ridiculous, though, to face danger without being armed. It won’t be said that he didn’t try.

            Something flits by the opening of the tent. Or so he thinks – the truth is he’s terrified and it’s sending his senses haywire and he lets an arrow fly at the slightest provocation. Only it doesn’t get very far, if it got anywhere at all, and all it’s done is set off their location to the animal stalking them at their camp. It snarls, scrabbles, and Caspian and Taalviel burst from their shelter through the side, sending branches and leaves flying.

            The explosion, and not the arrow, is what stuns the beast stalking them, at least for a moment. Beneath the moonlight is a dark wolf, approaching them with a snarl, its fangs bared.

            Caspian still has the bow and arrows. But they’re useless to him, and he’d known that long before he’d sent that first arrow flying. He holds the rest of the arrows in a bundle in his fist, returning to his earlier instinct, to use them for stabbing. The bow itself is blunt force. This is all contingent on the wolf getting close enough for him to make any of this relevant, and he doesn’t like the idea of that one bit.

            The wolf knows he’s afraid, and it lunges for him first. He backs away, stumbles, ducks behind a thick copse of trees and tries to lose it between the brush. But this is its home, and Caspian is the trespasser. It follows him as easily as if it had built the landscape itself. He trips over the roots of a great tree and goes sprawling. The wolf is close enough that he can hear its every slobber, mark the yellow of its eyes, and he’s going to die here in these unnamed woods, blotchy and slashed, carrion trussed up in a rabbit skin –

            From the woods comes a resounding shriek. A dark shadow follows, swiping at the wolf. The wolf forgets Caspian for a moment, snaps at the Raven that flaps wildly above it. But she’s not flying straight, crashing into the trees and painfully careening.

            Caspian turns and runs back to the camp, adrenaline leaving his aches and pains forgotten. Like the cougar – can he run again? How long can Taalviel keep it distracted? He snatches up the bag and its contents. The fire’s still burning.

            He drops the bow and arrows and takes up a stray branch. The end blackens, but it doesn’t pick up a flame right away, doesn’t hold that flame when he raises it too quickly and the breeze snuffs it out. He needs something that will burn, and burn strong.

            But there’s nothing else in the bag except –

            The cattails.

            The ends are drier, brushier than the branches. He rips off a length of its long stem, uses it to tie the head to one of the branches he’d tried to light. It immediately engulfs when he dips it into the fire, burns brightly when he straightens.

            He comes back into the woods screaming. Taalviel’s held its attention by abandoning the safety of her perch to dive-bomb it. She flaps up clumsily as he approaches, the wolf visibly startled by the sudden onslaught of fire. Without leaving any time to think for either he or the wolf, he slashes and stabs forward with the burning branch, shouting and swearing until his voice grows hoarse. The end of the branch swipes the wolf across the nose. Whether he’d truly hurt it, or just proven trouble enough, the wolf howls and scampers away.

            The Raven flutters, mostly falls back down to the ground. Taalviel appears there, crouched and holding her head, then looks up at him beneath the torchlight.

            “You okay?” he says, his voice raw.

            She nods.

            They light the fire again and find what rest they can lying still, with what little of their shelter they can find the strength to build anew. Neither of them sleep, and both wait for the morning.


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            The Eight-Day Ordeal

            Postby Caspian on February 7th, 2021, 4:46 pm

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              “You need to eat.”

              “I do, but I don’t need to eat that.”

              Caspian crosses his arms and grimaces at the worm wriggling in her palm. It’s the sixth day they’ve been out in the woods, with no sign of civilization or any other people in sight. His stomach gnaws at him incessantly. Even in Sunberth, even at the height of Taaldros’ anger with him, someone had made sure to feed him at least once a day. How pitiful he’d thought his life was at the time. He’d really had no scope for what true hunger was like. And instead of growing used to it, as one might with any situation of inconvenience, he’s only grown in his loathing for it. It’s not part of him, something to assimilate – but a pestilence, a curse, a condition he might hack off if only he had something more useful to him than a dead set of arrows.

              “Why can’t we find more cattails?” he adds on.

              “Cattails grow where there’s more water,” she says slowly. Her eyes are still a little unfocused and she isn’t as on when they’re having a conversation, the effects of the concussion yet lingering without any opportunity for real rest. He’s unsure if she’s speaking ploddingly to him now because of said concussion, or she intends to condescend. “This is the path we’re on. We can’t keep diverting or we’ll never make it to the end.”

              She’s right. The next marked stream – or is it a river? The cartographer hadn’t been very helpful in that regard – is more than two fingers’ width away, and would mean circumnavigating a mountain, the heights of which, again due to the cartographer, are at this moment left ambiguous.

              “They’re perfectly safe to eat,” she says, holding up the worm again.

              “Safe for you. I’ve seen you eat all kinds of trash.”

              “I don’t eat trash, I collect it,” she says. Had she been in a better state of mind, she wouldn’t have conceded to any degree of insult. “Come on. I’ll get more, and you can – I don’t know, smash them up, if the shape of it is what scares you. Heat it on the fire if you must.”

              They need to rest anyway. It’s midday, and his lack of energy has him trembling from his core. Something had swarmed and bitten him all of the previous night, adding to the collection of red welts and sores across his body. To Taalviel’s credit, she hasn’t mentioned it, but he has some idea of the damage when he looks down.

              “I really think you should eat,” she says. “You’re burning up.”

              He’s been feeling feverish these past few days. In some ways, it helps, being lightheaded enough that he can overlook the aching of his battered feet.

              Numbly, he shrugs, and sits on a fallen log, his backside and legs burning where they make contact. He eases himself forward, so there’s less of his afflicted skin touching the bark. When she returns she has four worms. She drops them unceremoniously at his feet, has to sit beside him for a few ticks while she holds her head.

              “You don’t have to do this,” he says. “Maybe if we find a pond, we can try for a fish again – “

              “There’s no way I’m diving at the water with my head like this. I’ll drown,” she replies flatly.

              “I could try and gut one with a stake – “

              “You’re not nearly fast enough. Especially not like this.”

              And it’s true. He’d only wasted precious energy trying to harpoon one yesterday.

              She gives the log they’re sitting on some consideration. She turns into a Raven again, hops to one of the open ends and peers inside. It becomes quite clear to him what she’s after, and he frowns deeply as she emerges with a fat beetle the size of one of the joints on his thumb.

              Horrifyingly – from her persistent mental disjoint and lack of coordination, or true Kelvic disinterest in propriety, she spits it at his feet while she’s in human form.

              “If you don’t eat them, I will,” she says.

              His stomach is so painfully, wrenchingly empty, and chewing on blades of grass isn’t getting him far.

              “Petching petch. Fine. But when this is over we never speak of this again, understand?”

              It hangs in the air as he scoops up the bundle of worms and the beetle, smashes the lot and drops them into the clay mug. The idea of an over, an after. They don’t talk about it, what would happen if either of them doesn’t make it. Or, more realistically, what happens when he doesn’t make it. In that case Taalviel might be just as happy to live the rest of her days in this forest, with a strapping young blackbird and a nest of her own.

              Maybe that’s what she really wants. Maybe that’s what she’s holding her breath for, and she’s only hanging about until he dies. Life would certainly be simpler in that case; it would be natural. In his hunger and exhaustion and illness, a wave of paranoia seizes him. What if these worms are toxic? This beetle? What if she’s in fact quite eager for him to keel over so she can be rid of him once and for all? He still has no idea how he ended up here in the first place and what if she –

              He stokes the fire and shakes his head.

              That’s crazy.

              She’s his sister, even if she is a bird.

              She wouldn’t –

              “Are you going to roast it?” She peers uncertainly over the edge of the mug at the grayish patty he’d dropped in.

              He blinks at her. He’d been so lost in his thoughts that –

              It occurs to him, with sudden, alarming guilt, how ridiculous his train of thought had been.

              Because, first of all, if she’d wanted him dead she would have done with him the moment it occurred to her. And she’d had plenty of opportunities since then to leave him.

              “Roast is a lofty word for what we’re doing here,” he says. He speaks a lot more quietly now, holding onto what little energy he has left. The smell that comes from the mug is –

              It’s not helpful, trying to name it.

              It takes a while for the clay mug to heat up, as it always does, and the patty he eventually tips out is charred at the bottom and edges. He doesn’t look at her as he swallows it in one bite, tries not to think very much about the grit that sticks to his tongue and between his teeth.

              “I can get you more,” she offers.

              “Don’t you dare,” he says without any real malice.

              They make it almost a full bell before Taalviel has to rest again.


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              The Eight-Day Ordeal

              Postby Caspian on February 7th, 2021, 5:16 pm

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                There’s no pride left in him. This is indicated by the fact that two breaks later he asks Taalviel if she might scrounge up more. Compared to him, she’s a hell of a lot less sickly. For vanity’s sake he had always envied her being a Kelvic, but beyond vanity, here it would have been life-saving.

                Another mash of bugs in his system. More hot water by the mug-full. And maybe it’s the guise of things going well – arguably edible protein, passable hydration, the fact that the wolves’ baying was softer that night than all the previous and he may have actually succeeding in getting a couple hours’ sleep – but he gets careless. He doesn’t boil the next mug of water as thoroughly as he has all the previous. The result is that in the middle of the night he hurtles himself out of their makeshift branch-and-leaf shelter and looses himself from both ends in the dark.

                He gets up twice more that night, vomits bile in the morning. Anything he’s been able to pass off as food to fortify himself with – it evacuates him, all because of something he hadn’t burned out of the water, leaving him more brittle and concave than he was before.

                They’re past being embarrassed about the smell. But they fret, the both of them, about the bells they lose by the frequent stops they take – doubled, now, with both their conditions. About the food he can’t seem to keep down.

                “I can’t,” he says when she comes to him with more grubs. “I’d rather petching die here than swallow any more of it.” The bugs go down gray, come up grayer. He’ll never forget the color as long as he lives.

                “You don’t mean that,” she snaps.

                “Yes, I do – “

                “No, you don’t, and you’re going to get over it because this is all we have! Caspian – we’re so close. Do you understand? We’re right there – “

                It’s been a hellishly long week. The weight of it compresses him, folds him at his mangled limbs and shoves him underfoot. Beneath his scabs, the yet-red wounds, some now yellow and swelling with pus, the fever that prickles at his scalp and flushes down to his throat – the ever-present woods that never seem to end – it’s all too much. The dam that he had built up inside him was only ever made of plaster, of papier-mache. He stalks off into the woods alone, going blindly, shoving roughly past branches that snatch and scratch at his ill-abused skin. A sob wells up in his chest, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. He wants to vomit again; he feels his stomach churning, tearing into nothing except his own intestines. He’ll eat himself from the inside out. He’ll burn in his own chemical waste. When he manages to sleep he only ever dreams he’s here, in the middle of endless dirt and things with too many legs and eyes and a dark that howls from all sides. No one is here save for them; no one will even find his corpse. Taalviel will forget him and her own offspring will pick at his carrion.

                It begins to rain.

                He shivers beneath it, shudders as it strikes his torn, swollen skin. The ground beneath him – that’s some relief to be had, at least, mud being softer to step on instead. But he feels the worms wriggling towards the surface and he remembers that he’s eaten them, and he should be happy, in a twisted way, that so many more have come up for his easy harvest. The thought has him retching again, the movement causing searing pain in his still-bruised ribs.

                Something approaches him.

                He means to yell, because Taalviel has no idea of boundaries, she never has, and all he wants to do is die without someone’s eyes upon him.

                But it isn’t Taalviel.

                Out of the trees emerges a small black bear.

                Caspian blinks, unsure if what he’s seeing, at first, is a fevered dream. But the bear lets out a high-pitched little yodel of a growl at him.

                Could he eat a bear?

                Why – yes. He very certainly could.

                He doesn’t move immediately – and then he moves very much towards it, with a stone in hand, and these are both enormous mistakes.

                In his wasted time, in his demonstrably aggressive approach, the bear cub’s mother appears.

                It looms monstrously in the darkening sky, beneath the rain, and its cub scampers behind it. The yards of young saplings between the mother bear and Caspian are nothing but matchsticks. Caspian stumbles backwards, slams painfully into tree trunks, strikes his head hard enough that for a moment he sees white. The bear has ambled towards him, growling and loudly sniffing at him. He backpedals wildly, struggles up to his feet. He makes another mistake – and that’s throwing the rock.

                It strikes the bear on the side – its heavy, densely furred side, which does nothing but anger it.

                Thunder and lightning boom above him. He runs blindly through the trees, great roots and rocks sending him sprawling. He scrapes his knees; a branch whips across his face, very narrowly missing his eyes.

                He doesn’t see the chasm in the earth until it’s too late.

                Rain-slick, the stones already loose, he loses purchase on the ground beneath him. He falls, catches a branch on a trunk jutting from the hillside. But the bear is upon him now, and with a great swipe, slashes him across the chest. Letting out a scream of pain, he drops from the branch, and plummets down.


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                The Eight-Day Ordeal

                Postby Caspian on February 7th, 2021, 5:49 pm

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                  Taalviel finds him at the bottom of the hill.

                  “What is it with you and ravines?” she says quietly, brushing his hair back from his rain-soaked brow.

                  It’s still pouring. His chest feels wet and heavy and –

                  No, it’s not just rain. His palm comes away scarlet.

                  “How bad is it?” he croaks.

                  “I’ve seen worse.”

                  That’s probably true.

                  She disappears. It’s too long, though it’s only a few ticks. When she returns her arms are full of moss. She applies it thickly to the slash in his chest, urges him to press it tight.

                  “Taalviel,” he says, “Taalviel – ” he just about screams when she tries to coax him into sitting up. “Petching petch, Taalviel, my arm – “

                  “You broke your hand,” she says succinctly. Still isn’t panicking.

                  And that’s –

                  That’s good, that’s her. That’s what he needs.

                  “I’m going to die here,” he says.

                  “No. No, you aren’t. Your legs aren’t broken. Can you stand?”

                  “I fell off a mountain – “

                  “Maximum ten feet, I promise.”

                  With the sky clouded over, his vision bleary, the height from when he’d fallen still seems towering.

                  But had it been any higher –

                  She’s right. His legs aren’t broken. He can still feel them, can still crane his neck to frown at her. So his back isn’t broken either.

                  She’s patient with him as he eventually makes it to his feet, then to a tight copse of trees. She makes another slanted shelter, fortifies it as best she can, though the rain yet drips in.

                  “This is the nicest you’ve ever been to me,” he says. He’s shaking in the cold, anchored only by his grip on the moss. All his skin is damp, the rain only doing so much to clean his wounds. And it does nothing for his ribs, which he’s grown to accept might be cracked, and given no chance to properly set.

                  “That can’t possibly be true,” she replies evenly.

                  “Be horrible to me, like old times,” he whispers. His head feels heavy. “Can’t you see I need the consistency?”

                  “You need to rest,” she says. She coaxes him into sitting against of the tree trunks she’d built the shelter against. “Just a bell or two. Okay?”

                  “You said we were close. Did you mean that?”

                  “I meant it.”

                  “I’m not very pretty, am I?” He tries and fails to lift his arms, swelling and reddened and rashed. What if he’ll never be pretty again?

                  “No, you’re really not,” she replies, “though again, I’ve seen worse. There was a purple suit, once, with yellow flounces at your wrists like rotten dandelions. I don’t think purple’s your color.”

                  “I beg to differ,” he says, brandishing his broken hand, crabbed and swollen like a sickening balloon.

                  She only leaves him to get more moss. They collect rainwater in the clay mug, momentarily soothing his burning throat.

                  When the storm clears, they emerge into a thick, soggy world.

                  The big X, their destination – it’s right around a river bend, one drawn prominently enough by the cartographer to suggest they can’t possibly miss it.

                  The river swerves sharply east, just as it’s drawn on the map. It’s swelled with the rain, the water creeping up onto the banks. There are more cattails here, and given his useless hand, purpling and swelling to an alarming degree, she hauls them up for him. It takes her a bit, and the sudden motion of wrenching them out has her stumbling over herself, but she goes on without complaint. He gnaws on several though his jaws ache from the strain. They have to change the moss he’s using to staunch his bleeding chest, and his hand – he tries not to think about it. Will he ever play the violin again? The blood loss isn’t helping how lightheaded he’s become but stopping – stopping is worse, stopping means more time for blood to flow and he’s not sure how much of it he has left.

                  “There,” Taalviel says as they round the bend.

                  Their destination – it’s a bit of a walk up a hill, craggy with stones, the dirt turned to mud from the storm.

                  He digs his swollen, battered heels in. Every breath burns in his lungs, every muscle screams under the strain.

                  “Taalviel – “ His voice comes out as a strangled sob.

                  As the sun breaks through the clouds, the siblings look at each other, bruised and bloodied, but still breathing, then towards the mystery that had been waiting for them all this time.


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                  The Eight-Day Ordeal

                  Postby Gillar on May 12th, 2021, 5:01 am

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                  “Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are,” were the words that Caspian heard whispered in his ear by an unknown source. As the words were spoken, the soothing scent of flowers filled his nose. The melodic songs of birds filled his ears. The sweet taste of wild berries tanged his tongue. The soothing tickle of dandelion seeds brushed his skin. Finally, his vision was filled with a myriad of brilliant greens, blues and reds that undulated slowly, blending together and forming new hues of striking colors. These colors soon begin to transform from amorphous pools to defined shapes. It was as if a someone had dumped different colored paint on a canvas only to then paint a picture from the chaos. As Caspian found himself floating in the middle of the “painting”, grass begin to form at his feet. Towering trees took shape around him. Flowers happily erupted outward into sight. Before his very eyes, an entire landscape came into being; created from what had been but a great splatter of color.

                  Within a matter of moments, Caspian found herself standing on a small hill surrounded by grass that gave way to a seemingly endless forest. On top of the hill, looming over him, was a tree. It was quite unlike any other tree he’d ever seen. The first sense was that the tree was incomprehensibly ancient. There were a handful of exposed roots covered in impossibly thick bark. These roots led to a series of six trunks that twisted around each other to form a single, massive whole. Although not incredible in height, the main body of the tree formed by the numerous trunks was easily twenty feet in diameter. It rose at least fifty feet in height with countless branches. Leaves, the colors of which could not be described by mortal terms, were interrupted in many places by strange clumps of thumb-sized constructs that resembled miniature bundles of bananas. What stood out most however was the color of everything. The sky was a blue that Caspian had never knew existed. The same was true for the grass, trees and flowers and even the birds and other small animals that came into being from otherwise moving swirls of color.

                  When the onslaught of his surroundings began to slowly normalize within his senses, Caspian then realized that any of the wounds, scratches, cuts, bruises or worse, were gone; it was as if they never happened. The accumulated filth and grime of the past seven days…vanished. In fact, it felt as though he had bathed in the most luxurious bath ever to have existed. His skin smelled of the best thing they’d ever experienced.

                  After a few moments of getting his bearings while trying to reconcile what he had experienced for the past several days with where he was now, Caspian felt a hand lay upon his shoulder. Turning to look he would see nothing. Turning back, he saw a woman sitting on one of the great tree’s exposed roots. The woman was as naked as Caspian was. Her skin was an especially pale green color while here hair was the deepest of green with the texture of moss. Her eyes were colored the deepest of brown. From her hair, it looked as though flowers grew from the moss itself. Her skin was flawless, her lips a ruby red. Her finger and toenails were an autumn orange.

                  Her head was lowered but upon being noticed, she raised it. In a voice that sounded like the best mother’s voice, carried on the wind, complete with the chill of long lost, cherished familiarity, she spoke.

                  “Saying that this is all rather odd…is not quite describing what you have just been through. For that, I offer my apology. Mortal words, no matter the language, do not fully encompass the experience.” The woman hopped down from her perch upon the exposed root and walked a few feet to stand before Caspian. As the woman took her steps, flowers grew where her feet touched the ground.

                  “Again, forgive me for any lack of civilized manners. I may not be as formal as you are used to. You may know me as Caiyha, the Goddess of Nature. To answer your next unspoken question, you have undergone what you could consider a challenge of sorts or a test. It was a test to see if one such as yourself was capable of surviving in a place devoid of nearly all the trappings of civilization. Obviously, you indeed survived, despite the challenges.” Caiyha spoke while casually walking around the area beneath the tree.

                  She stopped at one point to pick up something which was concealed in her closed hand. Turning back to Caspian, she smiled.

                  “I know you have many other questions. What is the purpose of this test? Why me? What happens next? Likely many others. First, the purpose of this test is simple, at least to me. Since the beginning, I have sought out those who show respect and reverence for all that I’ve created. Those who seek to protect it and nourish it, I show them my grace. Recently however, I began to wonder. What about those who don’t think about my creations or who don’t feel truly a part of it all. What about those who, with a little push, may discover on their own, that they are connected to me. This is why I chose you. There is something about you that peaked my interest. It isn’t something I can describe other than to say you have a quality about you. It was that quality I decided to test. Can this mortal, left with only a physical body, natural skills and talents and the least number of civilized connections, survive my creation? Obviously, you passed that test so what comes next. We will get to that in a moment. First however, I wish to offer you a moment or two to ask of me what you will, within reason.” Caiyha plucked a flower from her hair, brought it to her nose and took in its scent before raising it into the air. The flower then erupted in seed before the petals dried and fell to the ground; quickly consumed by insects and thus contributing to the greater cycle.
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                  The Eight-Day Ordeal

                  Postby Caspian on May 13th, 2021, 12:34 pm

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                    Upon entering the verdant, shifting world, Caspian wonders if he perhaps has finally died.

                    If so – he can think of more than a few people who’d say he deserves it. And given the ordeal he’s just gone through, no one would be surprised. He just isn’t made for the outdoors, for anything beneath his feet but cobblestones and brick, for anything more adventurous than a stroll through the park, intentionally placed by human-or-otherwise-hands. When the voice whispers in his ear, he wonders if they – distinctly, she? – might have him mistaken for someone else, someone who deserves the painted paradise unfolding around him.

                    The tree that forms before him, covered in strange fruit, the petching heavens above, the animals that come to flock - they’re hues the likes of which he’s never seen. He wants to wear them – he wants to swallow them whole. Some of them slip and slide across him, impossible kaleidoscopic shadows that grace him for a moment, before joining the landscape that floods his vision. It’s like he’s stepped right into Akvin’s magical painting, and instead of the storm clouds that usually occupy the canvas, matching his omnipresent dark mood – here he’s someone else. Folded from the light, born from it, collected the missing pieces of himself and let it all stitch him back together.

                    His stepfather, among many choice others, had made it very clear that were he to die, whichever form of afterlife he’d find himself in would be one of the hellish ones. Perhaps everyone’s been wrong about him all along. Beautiful landscape aside, if this is a form of eternal punishment, he’s sure Taalviel would be here.

                    Taalviel.

                    He gasps, looks around wildly. Where is his sister? After all they had been through, in their many years as family, and the last few days alone – the world around him loses some of its loveliness and warmth.

                    As if in some answer to his soundless call, he suddenly finds himself face to face with a strange woman. He’s never heard of a race with green skin, and though he’s wary of what might come next, he finds he’s too captivated to look away. She looks as if she’s made from the spirit of the woods itself.

                    When she reveals herself to be a Goddess, it doesn’t necessarily discount the theory that he’s died – but it does bring some sense and reason to what has otherwise been the most bewildering of experiences.

                    “Where’s my sister? Is she okay? Am I dead?” Caspian blurts out, when Caiyha indicates he should speak. “I’m sorry, I’m just – thank you? For choosing me. For seeing me, I mean. There are probably thousands of other people in Sylira alone who would have fared better, but – if you say there was something about me that was worth looking at, I -”

                    And with that, into hands miraculously healed and unblemished and smelling of astral blooms, he bursts into tears.

                    “I’m sorry,” he says, brusquely wiping his face. “I’m sorry, the last few days have just been - so much -”

                    In his stuttering, in his intimidation in suddenly being faced with what to him is unfettered and boundless power, he had thanked her. But is thankful really the right word?

                    He thinks back to when he had been, for lack of a better term, scooped up by Rhysol.

                    Thankfulness hadn’t been his immediate reaction.

                    But he had come away from it feeling shifted all the same, and had not regretted a moment.

                    “I confess I don’t know what to ask you,” he says, regaining control of his shaking voice. “Because, as you said, after Avanthal – I’ve lived most of my life as removed from nature as possible. But maybe – I don’t know if you’ll know this, but I always thought, to some degree, that you were intertwined. So – do you know where Morwen went? And how we can bring her back? Or do you think the world should move forward, without winter, that Avanthal should no longer be a land of frost and ice, but something else entirely? I… don’t even know what that would look like. But perhaps you do.”

                    And with that, no matter how he wills it to stop, he feels hot tears trickle down his face again.
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