Not as close as they seem

33 kilometers past from the walls.

He never quite understood why it was so difficult to explore this far. He wasn't even a seeker, yet traveled this far with ease. The most senior seekers hadn't gotten even gotten past 62 kilometers. A wave of pride and anger overcame him, maybe anger towards the system that stopped so many in their tracks, made them contempt to never reach beyond and "honorable" 45 kilometers, after which they could advance to a senior rank in the guild.

Anger subsided as he heard the soft glow of the jellies, the mysterious yet motherly light that he had discovered on this most recent trip, one of many things to tell the others about.

The way back was always his favorite part, when going forward you needed to focus, making sure not to damage the trail-string, momentum to get past the ever-growing mushroom bushes, sneaking past the joking lions. But now he knew exactly how to get back, how long it would take him, what supplies he had. His consciousness was free to be in awe at the forest. Man-like shadowy shapes hopping through the canvas of ancient trees, many-colored birds twirling through falling pods, those large-eared rainbow-colored creatures engaging in their mating dance.

That's what he loved about the forest, always a new trail to find, always new things to see. There was some pattern, aye, but always unclear and hard to pinpoint. Every time one ventured in, even 15 or 20 kilometers away, they'd almost certainly come back with a tale that was hard to believe, even by those that had journeyed into the depths themselves.

He always wished he could bring back a piece of the forest with him, alas that was usually not possible. Most things you tried to carry faded away as you got back, lost their luster and animation, shrank, stopped, died.

The next morning he was idly twiddling his mind, while his eardrums were being swayed by air ripples correlated with his mentor's repetitive complaints. Danger, too inexperienced, plenty of time, need to learn more, bigger groups... etc, etc, it had gotten to be a routine at this point.

Arkios walked him through town, he has expecting they'd go to the guildhall, maybe to hear a story from one of the elders, instead they reached the gates of the hospital. After a bit of chatting with the doctors, Arkios was escorted by a short-armed man past a locked door into a dark wing of the clinic.

They were indeed surrounded by insane people, some locked away, most simply waddling about, or sitting motionless in odd positions with empty-yet-focused faces.

People screaming at walls, people speaking with God, people scratching at imaginary insects, wrestling with chains that did not exist, and whining about events that weren't happening.

A middle-aged man, bald and clean-shaven, was holding a sermon with what seemed to be an old and empty vase as his only audience. He was going on about the words of gods flowing through his mind, about the beauty of paradise, about the laments of Tartarus, about the hidden codes written on the wall.

Arkios made a pause as if to think, but he rolled his eye, he well knew Arkios was just doing it for effect. Finally, Arkios thanked the nurse and started leading him away from the asylum, then he spoke again.

He was rather annoyed, Arkios was starting to insinuate that seeing the forest for your own sake was pointless. That unless you could bring something back, or at least share the stories with others, there was no point in exploring. He tried saying as much, but Arikos interrupted midway through his point:

He looked down and was mad at himself for not being able to hide away the mix of remorse and shame from his face.

A month had passed, a month in which he worked tirelessly to scrounge up as much coin as possible. He had bought a mule, supplies of dried food, and waterskins to last for 150 kilometers.

It was enough to venture deeper than anyone who could have ever returned and the conversation with Arkios had only reinforced the idea that this was indeed possible for him, not a matter of skill, but of will.

It was enough, together with a bit of coaxing, for him together with his more adventurous friends, to go as deep as he'd ever been. To show them the soft-singing jellies, the shades, the giant fluorescent flowers, and the crystal lake.

Published on: 2020-12-10



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