Pictures of Trees

Pictures of Trees

Postby Niabh » Fri Apr 21, 2017 4:18 am

It had taken her some time to grasp the concept of a map. Certes she had heard of such a thing before, had vague memories of even seeing one or two in passing, knew roughly what they were for, but otherwise had dismissed them as something only tultharian, with their deep love of abstraction, could or indeed would create. Why not just go out and find where things were? Was even that too difficult for them? What did it take to drag these people out from under a roof?

Perhaps, had she followed the notion of abstraction long enough, she might have discerned some insight to the mind of Glenn Burnie, but that, too, stood outside her ability to conceive. Or perhaps the game was too quick in her to care much for who set it.

A great deal of her judgemental grumbling stemmed purely from the fact that, as it turned out, not only could she not read a map, she could not conceptualize one. She knew North by instinct, but didn't understand how North could still be North when you could turn the paper widdershins and make it West. If she faced West, but the paper pointed North, which of them was correct? Her, obviously, but then how did the map still apply? And how did a whole league's walking compress to a fingerwidth on a page? Lugh'us Daanan, maybe that was why they never went anywhere, if this was all they had to rely upon: the moment you turned a corner, you wouldn't even know where the rest of the world was anymore.

She wasted the better part of a morning perched on a tree branch, legs crossed at the knee and feet dangling in the very posture of a tultharian woman propped upon a park bench and scowling at a scandalous broadsheet, as she traced a path again and again with her finger. The more she went over the thing, the more suspicious she became about it. She half-convinced herself that this Glanvarnie fellow had set out a spy for no other purpose than to report upon whoever happened turn up at the right spot, and that her better plan would be to wait a week until the spy either starved out, begged off, or something else happened on it first. She didn't know that she had a week, though.

The Dagger, as it turned out, became the key that unlocked the whole thing--the Dagger, rendered as a tiny red box on the page. She knew how big that was, where it was, and exactly where her own den lay in relation to it. She concentrated on that short distance as if it were written in runes. Dagger there, den there...and if she were imagining a path, Hok's cabin there...shortcut around the marshy bit there...until she found she had been not merely squinting but actually reading the thing for several minutes before it dawned upon her that she had cracked the code. Her heart squeezed in absolutely shameless delight. Take that, Glanvarnie!

At once she slithered down from the branch, dropping the ten feet to the forest carpet below. Her eyes were bright and eager, her face awash with the radiant, unabashed excitement of a child on the hunt for a glittering painted egg. Now she was ready to hunt. In the chancy morning light, the forest seemed to be a labyrinth overlaid with a thousand secret green and brown paths.
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Re: Pictures of Trees

Postby Glenn » Sat Apr 22, 2017 6:03 am

Despite what people might have thought about it, Myrken Wood, that is the Forest itself, was not sentient. The trees did not commune with one another. There was no overpowering spirit driving it all. Or at least, there was not more of such a thing than in any other forest. There were things of power that lived in it. There had been sacrifices over the century; dark things did grow. The Wood was not about to talk to you though. It was not going to take offense at your trespass.

Or at least, Burnie in his years in Myrken, found no evidence to point towards any of that. Still, it was the wilderness. It was wild and it was free. Whether or not it was surmountable by some human force, that force did not exist in the province. The resources to manage such a thing were not something this people could bring to bear. The effort was beyond them, beyond their will, beyond their ken, beyond their capabilities. So bandits hid. So cultists hid. So monsters hid. So the people of Myrken Wood were preyed upon.

That would have been reason enough to create a map. For Burnie, however, it was far more than what was needed. The Wood was the unknown. It was his goal in life, his very purpose, to push back against unknown, to classify it, to document it, to bring it into the light.

So existed the map that guided her. a fool's errand, for while the trees within the Wood did not get up and walk around, the seasons did change paths. Wind, snow, lightning, monsters and men, all of these things could alter one bit or another. No map could last over the span of decades. This was not decades, though. It was years, and she was adept at wandering her way through this place to begin with. Between those two things, it would not be an impossible task.

Would it take an hour? Two? Half a day? That would be up to her and how well she read the map, how eager she was to make a game of this, how distracted she might be along the way.

At the end, however, would be a clearing. At the center of the clearing would be a stump. And this stump? Well, it had been cut carefully and hollowed out. With the knowledge that one should be looking for something amiss and enough power, persistence, and ingenuity, it could be lifted up to reveal something inside. Of course, that was exactly what he had wanted her to do. If she wished to have her curiosity sated, then she'd have to play the game, at least somewhat, by his rules.
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Re: Pictures of Trees

Postby Niabh » Sat Apr 22, 2017 7:02 am

The woods she knew well enough, but to follow a set path quickly proved a nuisance. When she suspected she had gone astray, there was no reorienting herself via the map; the only hope was to backtrack to the last established landmark and start over--a tedious process that left her gritting her teeth and, on at least one occasion, flinging down her fists and letting out a tiny, frustrated squeak of the sort that would have left Hok doubled over howling at her.

In her case, pure tenacity made up for a lack of patience. Every doubling-back left her angrier, sweatier and grubbier, more stubborn, until her entirety of her purpose in life narrowed down to two possible outcomes: find this thing, or travel all the way to wherever the hell this Glenn Burnie was and kick in whatever remained of his teeth. Twice, if it turned out he had set her to thread a blind needle.

But the frustration, the calling of elaborate imaginary curses upon the head of one's tormentor, the getting turned around and going back to Start--all of this was part and parcel of the game. She would have been just as quick to curse had the challenge proved too quickly solved. No one remembers the easy hunt. And if you hadn't tumbled off your horse or scraped all the hide off your knees by the end of the day, how could you say you'd been there at all?

There was a goal, and a limit. She had to be left with enough time to get herself back out of the woods before sunset. If there wasn't that, she would have to start over the next day. And if there was no time the next day, or the next, before she and Hok departed, then Glenn Burnie would win. And since Glenn Burnie had already taken the day once with his swan envoy, it had to be today.

As it was, she was cutting the time very close indeed when her foot came down in a clearing and that electric trembling shot up her backbone, as it had a few times before in various spots in the Woods--places where she recognized on instinct she had no business being. In this case, the tingle did not drive her out, but tugged her forward by the navel.

The stump stood out black as a burned corpse, unmistakeable for what it was. She circled it warily, glanced down into its hollow, gave it a couple swift precautionary raps with her ash stick in a rattle of showering bark. She planted a foot on the scaly stump and pushed. It rocked. The base settled back with a thump when she left off. A huge, hot grin spread over her face.

In an instant, she was gone, dashing out of the empty clearing and into the woods.

When she returned, she carried a stout, heavy branch in both hands. She wedged the thick end under a gap near the base of the stump and gave it a few hard kicks to set it in firmly. Then she leaned all her weight on the free end. Slowly the stump began to shift.

Somewhere in the world, Glenn Burnie might appreciate the irony.
Anything can be magic if you're gullible enough.
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Re: Pictures of Trees

Postby Glenn » Sat Apr 22, 2017 9:47 am

There was some sense of professional respect and reputation. It was the sort of trick you could only spring once as a mapmaker, to make a map that went nowhere. Word got out and people tended not to be fooled in the same way twice, at least when someone else was fooling them and they were not fooling themselves. Even years removed from Myrken, he wasn't about to waste it on a stranger. Moreover, he was a bit of fraud to begin with. Best not to push his luck in that regard, no matter how well he had gotten to know the province over the years.

So it was that she found the stump and then that she applied the leverage. It was made to last, so that no one would find it by chance and so that nature itself would not easily undo it. A strong wind could not overturn the stump. No one would dislodge it by accident. It took concentrated effort, and apparently some knowledge of physics, though someone with enough brute strength, such as Catch perhaps, could have managed it with his bare hands.

Still, with a bit of effort and her stout and sturdy branch, the stump moved. It was hollowed from the inside out, with a small cavity built underneath. It had to be long enough, deep enough, to house the object within. The object itself was far more carefully bundled than the map itself had been. It was wrapped in cloth and parchment, certainly the work of someone willing to put in time and effort in but not to actually research the preservation of such things.

Were she to unwrap it, she would find a beautiful walking stick within. It was rather thick, sturdy enough to actually support someone who needed it, as opposed to something just for affectation or show. It was lacquering using some sort of technique that was not local at all to this area and reflected the light despite its time in hiding. Were she to examine it further, to run her hands over it, to poke and twist at it, she would find a small slot down the bottom, and that the top would twist. The motion, were she to try it, would, through some simple mechanism inside, press a metallic point through the slit. It was a rather remarkable metal, silver (no thought to the cost) mixed with iron, the first luxurious, a sign of nobility, the second completely ruining the visual effect. As practical metals to stab very impractical things, however, it should send a very immediate message indeed.
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Re: Pictures of Trees

Postby Niabh » Sat Apr 22, 2017 11:22 am

In all honesty, she had expected another map, or maybe another paper swan. The swan at least would have made her laugh in appreciation that somewhere, the man could think so far ahead. An improbable possibility, to be sure, but she wouldn't put it past him to pay someone to come ahead of her and plant it. He'd had half a season to plot, after all.

The prize unrolled itself in her hand, curls of parchment drifting away and she found herself stared stupidly in idiotic disappointment at a stick. Hardly a simple stick; she could tell that by looking. But a stick. It was almost so perversely simple as to be a punchline: he'd gone through all this rigmarole to have her find a stick in the middle of the woods.

It was a puzzle, then. Not the thing itself, mayhap. Did he expect her to know to whom it belonged? Or to find out?

She turned it over in her hands, took one end and swished it through the air,with the same flick of the wrist she'd used to swing her ash stick, in order to test it. It was heavy, but the weight was wrong for a weapon. It was pretty, whatever it was for. The satiny sheen caught the afternoon light in nebular layers, like cymophane. She stroked her hand down the length of it, being one of those creatures who cannot truly see a thing unless her fingers knew it, except...oh dear. It wobbled, not quite steady.

Broken? No. Something was loose. She found the seam around the grip and twisted the knob to tighten it.

Inside the cane was the faint vibration of a spring, like a bowstring, and the blade clicked out, full length.

One quick glance and she flung the thing down before her mind really even grasped what it was, heart knocking and eyes blazing. She smelled it. Her palm tingled at the thought of how close her hand had come. I could have...I might have...

A threat. A threat, just as sure as if he'd pulled the blade on her himself. Blood pooled up behind her eyes, half-blinding her as the world narrowed to a black tunnel of rage with no target at its far end. He dared. He dared.

After a time, when her heart slowed its wild bounding, she sidled closer to the fallen walking stick again--cautiously, as though it were a snake she could not be entirely certain was dead. Stooping, she picked it up, holding it as far from the bladed end as possible.

Being near iron was not the trouble; she could hardly navigate in this tultharian world otherwise. She hated it, hated its smell and the aura of bone-numbing cold that always seemed to hang over it, but as with her steel-headed arrows--and indeed, as with most things in life--she did not fear it when she was the one in control of it.

This time her inspection had a different air. No thoughtful admiration, this, but cold, pitiless scrutiny. A cunning thing, a dangerous thing. A thing deliberately designed. Someone had made this, or had it made. When they had made it, there had been a need. Then it had gone into the hole. To hide it until it was needed again? To protect it? To protect others from it? Or from weariness, the old warrior's vow: I will draw no more again in anger. This last made her snort in disgust and doubt.

Another twist of the grip, and the blade snicked back into place as if it never was. Another, opposite twist, and out it jumped--and even though she expected it this time, she still jumped, and her heart skipped a beat.

"Clever, clever," she murmured.

So the message was the thing itself, then, not the owner...although she suspected with near certainty to whom it must have belonged. Not a threat. At least not to her specifically. She didn't give him that much credit to have puzzled her out from afar, though now she gave him marginally more than she had when the game began. But the thing's very existence felt like a taunt. A slap in the face. See what we can make, little queen? See what all your glams and trickeries mean to us? It was ever so, little queen.

She recalled Gloria waving an iron knife under her nose for no more crime than admitting what she was--Gloria, who had committed far worse sins than simply being.

She twisted the grip again. The blade disappeared with a chilly snap.

She took it with her.
Anything can be magic if you're gullible enough.
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