Solo Fumble through the Jungle

Antelokes ventures into the jungle for the first time, with some help.

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Syka is a new settlement of primarily humans on the east coast of Falyndar opposite of Riverfall on The Suvan Sea. [Syka Codex]

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Fumble through the Jungle

Postby Antelokes on April 8th, 2022, 4:26 am

29th of Spring

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A faint air of melancholy suffused the Syka Commons. A blanket of clouds cast the colony in gray tones, and the energy was further diffused by the light but constant drizzle of rain—the dregs from a much harsher storm that had just barely abated. Antelokes didn’t mind the rain too much. It was fresh, clean, and in this tropical climate he wasn’t in any danger of freezing to death. The larger worry had been the tools back at the smithy, but he’d packed away everything he could in oilskins to protect them from the moisture.

Conditions likely wouldn’t be right to work the forge for a little while, and he had relatively few projects at the moment anyway. That was just as well. Antelokes loved his work, but since he’d arrived in Syka he’d spent almost all of his time in the forge and the Commons. Despite the wide ocean and seemingly endless jungle, he’d begun to feel trapped.

Antelokes cast his eyes around the Commons as drops of water ran down his hair and fell across his face. He caught sight of Syka’s naturalist striding across the clearing.

“Ho, Uta!” he called out, raising his arm to her in greeting, walking to meet her. She looked over and smiled.

“Hello there,” she replied. A brief expression of concern crossed her face. “You wouldn’t happen to be carrying any…”, Antelokes remembered the curse the woman had mentioned at the Tenday sometime back. Held out his hands as if to display they were empty.

“No metal,” he said “I’m not working at the moment.” Uta chuckled, then moved to shake his hand.

“That’s good. Since the Veronica landed metallic substances and I haven’t exactly had the best of relationships.” She cocked her head, “In fact, that’s done a pretty good job at keeping me away from the forge, and so I don’t think we’ve had the chance to talk all that much. I’m Uta—as I’m sure you’ve heard. You’re the new blacksmith, right?” Antelokes shook her hand, nodding.

“Yes, my name’s Antelokes. I’ve been trying to get settled in, though to be honest I haven’t gotten out of the Commons too much. I can’t say I’ve ever spent much time outside the bigger cities, so frontier life has me turned around a little bit backwards. I’ve stuck pretty close to the forge so far.” Uta laughed.

“Well, for your own sake that might not be the worst decision you’ve ever made. The wilds can be tricky for people who don’t have much experience with them. It’s very easy to get yourself killed if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“But you do know what you’re doing out there, right?” Antelokes asked.

“I better,” Uta answered, laughing again. “It’s kind of my job to know what’s what in the jungle.” Antelokes perked up. She was right, it was easy to get killed in the jungle. But if he went with someone that knew their stuff than maybe he could get out of the settlement a little and see some fresh sights.

“Could you show me then?” he asked. “I live surrounded on three sides by jungle. I feel I should figure out how to walk a few hundred paces from where I sleep without dropping dead.” Antelokes’ gaze shifted uneasily to the high wall of trees that seemed to stretch ad infinitum. He feared those depths, yes, but giving into that fear would mean stagnation and maybe even death. If this place was to be his home then he would learn what he needed to in order to thrive here. When he turned his attention back to Uta she was beaming, the twinkle in her eyes defying the gloomy clouds.

“That’s an excellent idea,” she said. “I was meaning to poke around for a few new samples around now, care to tag along?”

“Now?” he responded, glancing up at the skies and weak but consistent rainfall.

“Well, yes,” said Uta. “If you want to wait for the rainforest to dry out before you explore it then you might as well move back to the city young man. Now, did you want to see the jungle or not?” Uta gestured towards a trail leading between the trees and out of the Commons. With a shrug, Antelokes moved to follow her. She clapped him on the shoulder with a laugh. “Good man. Don’t worry, I don’t bite. The snakes do, but I don’t.”



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Fumble through the Jungle

Postby Antelokes on April 8th, 2022, 4:30 am


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As the pair set off along the jungle trail Antelokes marveled at the great trees rising on either side of them. They held up the canopy like a second layer of green clouds. These “clouds” even rained, dripping with the moisture that seeped down from the true clouds above.

“Antelokes,” Uta said, calling his attention away from the canopy and back to the ground. “I want you to pay attention to the jungle around you. Look, listen, smell, and feel. You need to actively pay attention until it’s instinctual for you to do so. What can you tell right now?” The naturalist looked at the blacksmith expectantly. He shifted his gaze as they walked. Was there something specific she wanted him to see? Something hidden or special? Nothing seemed particularly out of place.

“I see the trees, moss, ferns…” Antelokes trailed off. “What else? Am I missing something?”

“Well, you’re missing a lot of things, but don’t worry. There’s a lot to miss. Don’t focus on just your sight. There’s a lot going on out here, and you can’t afford to ignore your other senses. This isn’t a test, I just want you to get used to paying attention to your surroundings. Tell me things you notice as you notice them.” The corner of her lip quirked up in a smile. “Don’t worry, nobody else is out here but me, so nobody will think you’re crazy.”

Considering the visions he’d been seeing lately Antelokes wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t crazy. He sighed, and tried to pay attention as he walked, thinking about the sounds, the smells, everything he could.

“I can still hear the rain. There’s chirping… I think those are birds, but they could be bugs. Everything is wet. Well, more wet than normal. I think I can hear—

“Watch your step,” Uta interjected, yanking Antelokes to the side with a firm tug at the back of his shirt.

“What is it?” Antelokes asked, perking up in alarm.

“See that plant, right there?” Uta pointed at a thin mass of stalks and leaves than jutted into the air a pace or two ahead of Antelokes’ prior path. He nodded the affirmative. “The oils on those leaves will give you a rash like you wouldn’t believe. It’s annoying, painful, and lasts much longer than you’d expect it to. You’d best stay clear.”

“Yes ma’am,” Antelokes said warily, casting a sidelong glance at the plant as he gave it a wide berth. He scanned the forest floor for any similar plants. He didn’t spot any, but the thick carpet of mottled green made it hard to pick out any specifics. “Are there many plants that do that?”

“At least a few,” Uta answered. “Some are much worse. Others are the exact opposite. This jungle grows some of the most potent medicinal herbs in the world. I suspect we haven’t even discovered the very best of them yet. Come along, there are some samples I’d like to collect from a grove over here.” Uta led Antelokes down what looked like a small game trail. Antelokes picked his way through after her, trying not to touch anything unless he saw Uta do it. He didn’t fancy the thought of picking up any persistent rashes today.

“It’s a shame those medicines grow out here then,” he said. “With them in such a dangerous out of the way place its hard to get them to the people who might need them.” Uta turned around, frowning a little.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “It’s the nature of the world—and of the gods—that things be this way. This place is extreme. Not completely evil or completely good, just extreme.”



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Fumble through the Jungle

Postby Antelokes on April 8th, 2022, 4:35 am


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Antelokes considered the older woman’s words. He could not deny she was right about the extremity of this place. He’d never seen anywhere with such a great density of life—and in such diversity as well.

“That’s true, but you can’t deny that those medicines would be able to do more good if they grew somewhere less hostile,” said Antelokes. Uta tutted.

“You might as well say that life would be better if rocks were soft, or if the ocean were dry. There isn’t anything malicious about this jungle Antelokes, it simply is the way it is. Think of your own work in the forge. In order to refine metal and work it you need fire. That fire is very hot and very dangerous. It burns people, especially if they aren’t careful. The wilds are the same. They produce nearly everything we need here in Syka, but they’ll burn you if you aren’t careful. This jungle is a crucible. It can be dangerous, yes—and there may be a few things in it that can seem hostile—but if you learn the laws that govern the jungle then you’ll be able to take advantage of the great bounty it holds.” Uta gestured him forwards again, leading him down the gentle slope of a little ravine.

Antelokes stepped carefully, trying to place his feet on firm ground to avoid slipping and twisting an ankle. Stepping on leafy or mossy plant growth could be treacherous, and he found that roots provided surer footing. Some were slippery though, so he advanced slowly. When he finally caught up to Uta she was in a squat, clipping leaves from a heavy flower-laden stem.

“What’s that?” he asked. Several similar plants clustered together in this hollow, though Antelokes didn’t see anything particularly unique about them. Uta stood, slipping the leaf into a pouch at her waist.

“Just a sample,” she replied. “I’ve noticed that ant colonies are quite fond of these plants. I want to find out why.” Sure enough, on closer inspection Antelokes saw lines of ants marching along many of the stems. He bent over to look at one, reaching out to touch it.

“Watch that hand!” Uta warned. “Those things bite.” Antelokes snapped his hand back, retreating a pace.

“Are they venomous?” he asked. Uta inspected them quickly, then shook her head.

“Those ones aren’t, but some are. The bites wouldn’t be pleasant though, and the next ones you touch might be a lot more deadly. Unless you know exactly what you’re touching I’d recommend keeping those fingers to yourself.” Antelokes nodded, keeping his eye on the marching ants for a few moments longer.

“It’s interesting,” he said, “that things so small can be so dangerous.”

“Size isn’t always the most important factor out here” Uta said. “You better hope that’s true, because there are plenty of things in this jungle that are much bigger than you or I.”

“Like what?” Antelokes asked. Uta took a moment to think.

“Snakes, Ixam, some jungle cats, some apes… there’s even a chance you could run into a hungry Dhani, though I don’t look favorably on your chances should that happen.” As Uta spoke Antelokes inspected the jungle closely. Other than insects, the only animals he spotted were a few birds flitting through the canopy. “Come on,” Uta beckoned. “We aren’t going into the really deep jungle today. There’s a place I’d like to show you.”

Antelokes followed the woman for quite some time. He noticed the way she picked a path through the foliage. At times it seemed meandering—but in the end they always avoided the worst of the jungle’s obstacles and were able to maintain a decent pace. Uta periodically spoke out suggestions for Antelokes. Some were more immediately helpful than others, though a few of the notes were outright scary. He didn’t mind remembering to look up and be aware of his vertical surroundings, but the reminder that snakes could disguise themselves as trailing vines made his stomach drop.



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Fumble through the Jungle

Postby Antelokes on April 8th, 2022, 4:41 am


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“What is it about this place that makes it like this?” Antelokes asked as they walked.

“I’m not sure if you could make that question any broader if you tried,” Uta answered. “Can you maybe be a little more specific?”

“Why are the wilds here so dangerous? Why do so many different things grow here when they don’t in other places? This is a very crowded forest. Surely it would be easier for species to live somewhere with less competition.”

“That isn’t an easy question to answer. Many people could spend their entire lives trying to understand it fully. I’ve certainly spent a good chunk of mine doing just that.” Uta could tell Antelokes wasn’t entirely satisfied. He walked in silence for a few more moments before continuing.

”It just makes me uncomfortable. Mathias mentioned to me that we’re right next to the ruins of some old city… and we’re right in the middle of an incredibly dangerous jungle. I don’t like not understanding the world around me.” Uta froze in her tracks.

“Antelokes, stop,” she said.

“What, the questions?” he asked.

“No,” she continued in a soft voice. “Don’t move. Look up, slowly.” Antelokes followed directions, feeling his muscles tense with nervousness. As he raised his eyes to the branches above them he noticed a large jaguar perched in the fork of a tree. In its jaws was a mass of bloody feathers that had probably once been a tropical bird. The jaguar’s eyes bored into Antelokes. He had gotten fairly close to its tree without even noticing the big cat hiding just above his plane of sight. He itched to run, but Uta had told him to stay put. He decided to trust her.

“What do we do?” he whispered.

“Move away, but do it slow,” Uta said. “This way. No sudden moves, and don’t raise your hands. We don’t want her to think we’re threatening her. She has her kill, so she should be content so long as she doesn’t think we present her with any danger. Antelokes thought it was more likely the jaguar would see him as prey than as a threat, but he followed instructions. With slow, deliberate movements he backed away, not taking his eyes of the cat. With his peripheral vision he followed Uta until they had put some distance between themselves and the jaguar’s tree. Then, the cat seemed to make a decision. Taking its eyes off of the humans it turned and scampered farther up the tree. Antelokes tried to follow its path but quickly lost sight of the predator.

“Are we clear?” he asked softly.

“As clear as we’re likely to get,” Uta answered. “Come on, we’re almost there.”

The pair continued in the fashion Antelokes was starting to grow accustomed to, weaving through the jungle. They quickly came back to what looked to be the path they had started on, then followed it for a few more minutes. Eventually it opened out onto a beach.

“Wow,” Antelokes said. Uta smirked.

“I think that may have been my first reaction too,” she said. The beach was beautiful. Even in the flat light from the overcast sky the scene was impressive. Rolling swells crashed against a sandy beach with occasional stony outcroppings. The jungle pressed up close against the sands, and sea birds wheeled overhead crying out in a cacophony of persistent avian screams.
.


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Fumble through the Jungle

Postby Antelokes on April 8th, 2022, 4:47 am


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“This is Treasure Point,” Uta said, “people come here often to search for artifacts from the civilization that used to live here. They wash up on the beach sometimes.” Antelokes turned his attention back to his guide.

“Why? Why this beach?” he asked. Uta shrugged.

“Don’t know, I’m no oceanographer. Things just show up here. It’s a tiny bit strange, but a far cry from the strangest thing you’ll find in this jungle, if you look hard enough.” Uta clapped her hands together. “Well, I’m going to collect some samples of some coastal grasses that seem to like growing in the sand here. Care to join me?” The proposition didn’t sound particularly enticing to Antelokes. While looking around for an excuse to do something else, he remembered the little hunt that the alchemist T’aidell had set him on—for various types of stones.

“Actually I’d like to poke around those rocks down by the water a bit, if you don’t mind.” At this Uta raised an eyebrow.

“Hoping you’ll find jewels just laying about?”

“No,” Antelokes answered. “I wouldn’t mind that to be sure, but I’m more interested in the rocks themselves.”

“Suit yourself,” Uta shrugged. Then, true to her word she walked over to a small dune that a growth of coarse grasses seemed to be holding together. Antelokes walked down the beach, keeping an eye out for anything unsavory that might happen to choose this moment for a walk along the coast. As he reached one of the stony outcroppings Antelokes frowned. He had been charged with finding five rocks of all different types. He hadn’t thought much of it in the moment, but all the stones here looked pretty much the same when it came to composition. Their shapes varied—sure—but their colors were a fairly uniform gray and the edges were smooth with ocean weathering.

He took one of the small, smooth stones then continued on across the beach. He’d never paid much attention to stones before, other than the ores him and his father had worked sometimes when he’d been younger. There didn’t seem to be that much practical use in the study of such things, but T’aidell had promised that there was something about stones and the mechanics of the earth itself that flowed from Ivak. While she was strange, T’aidell didn’t strike Antelokes as a liar, so he intended to learn what he could from her. If that involved collecting rocks, so be it.

Antelokes thought he spotted something down b the water’s edge. He got just as close as he could without soaking his footwear, then bent down to pick it up. It was lighter in color than the other, stones, and seemed to have a similar texture to the sand…
As he picked it up it fell apart in his hands. It was just a clump of normal sand, sticking together with its own moisture. Antelokes snorted, barely containing a laugh at his own expense. Still, now that he was by the water there did seem to be some interesting things out there. After a moment’s thought, he removed his boots and took a few tentative steps into the surf. He caught Uta giving him a strange look, but she didn’t say anything.

Now with more conviction he rolled his pantlegs up and stepped deeper into the sea. There was a particularly dark shape he wanted to investigate. He made his way to it. He bent down and fumbled around for a moment before closing his hand around a sharp stone. It was jagged, and quite different from the other rock he had collected. As he examined his find he caught a glimpse of what looked like it could be a shark fin out in the deeper water. With a surge of motion and some unsightly splashes of seawater Antelokes burst free from the surf and back onto the beach, tucking the jagged rock away to keep as well. At this point Uta stood up from her work and called out.

“What’s wrong?” she said. Antelokes fought back a blush of embarrassment.

“I think I saw a shark fin…” he trailed off. Uta smiled.

“That jaguar in the jungle made you a bit jumpy eh? Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. Now go get your boots back on, we’ll be heading back soon and I imagine you won’t want to do it barefoot.”

Antelokes certainly did not want to make the trek back to the Commons barefoot, so he did as she suggested. By the time he was ready to go (and mostly dry) Uta seemed to have gathered all the samples she intended to collect. They started back along the trail. They walked in companionable silence most of the way. Every once and a while Uta would point to some herb or tree and comment on its usefulness (or lack thereof). Antelokes doubted he would be able to remember most of what she told him, but she seemed to enjoy talking about her work all the same, so he listened and tried to absorb what he could.

Evengtually Uta led them off the main trail again.

“Just a quick stop,” she explained, following a lightly worn path through the trees. It ended up leading to her home. Antelokes marveled at the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the structure, built over a small stream.

“Impressive,” he commented.

“Thank you, I did much of the work myself, though not quite all.” As Uta arranged her samples and stored them in various places Antelokes wondered about the stream below.

“Is that water drinkable?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” came her reply. “At least not as is. Rainwater is always better, and if you’re diligent about collecting it there is no short supply. If you need to you could try purifying the stream water by boiling it, but it’s prone to cause disease if you do it improperly. It’s better than stagnant water though. If you value your life then never drink water that isn’t moving.”

“Good to know,” Antelokes said. He was a little thirsty and had fancied taking a drink from the stream. Considering her advice, he could wait.

The walk back to the Syka Commons from Uta’s home was short and uneventful. As they arrived, Antelokes shook Uta’s hand.

“Thank you for having me along,” he said.

“It was a pleasure,” she replied. “Anytime you care to come with open ears I’ll be happy to teach you what I can. Who knows? Maybe I’ll persuade you to trade in the hammer and tongs for a career as a naturalist.” She winked. Antelokes laughed.

“I don’t know about the change of profession, but I may just take you up on the offer to see more of the jungle sometime.” With a friendly nod the two parted ways. By now the clouds had mostly dispersed and the sun was beginning to beat down on the little settlement more heavily. Antelokes could hear drunk, off-key singing coming from the forge. Artik for sure. With a sigh he followed the sound back to his place of work.

Duty called.



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