1. Scouting Prophecies

The brush is thick and lush this time of year, though its beauty goes rather unappreciated by the traveller shoving her way through it in search of something more edible than a bunch of bush branches. Boots caked in mud, Kel tromps her way forwards in search of foragables. It's been about two days' travel from Tilston thus far, with a few pockets of edible fruit marked down along the way as places of note, but nothing that will sustain the town for the coming seasons. It's hardly been enough to feed Kel herself. A basketful of berries are a nice addition to carried rations, but they're not anything of substance. They've got a peculiar aftertaste as well. Her face scrunches into branching wrinkles at the thought of it.

No, home needs something more substantial than some tart berries. It's been easy enough to find something on past trips. There's been gourds in the fall, animals in most seasons, the occasional tree fruits in summer- usually, it's only a week out at most before she finds something to bring back, and then the rangers take care of the rest. This trip seems to be different. She'd usually have run into something by now, but it's been days of nothing but leaves and bark. Maybe something's been eating it all? That would be something to report if she could just track it down.

There's bound to be something around here somewhere. Kel's noticed a few tracks as she's travelled, and large tracks at that: massive paws the size of her head. Whatever's out here is big. Something that size needs a lot of food, so there might be a lot of smaller creatures in the area or some enormous food store- though the presence of wildlife brings other problems. That last romp with a "deer" ended with a scar in her brow and a surprisingly large spatter of blood, and she'd prefer to avoid a repeat of that incident.

As the hours wear on, the woods stay as dead as ever. Occasional tracks make it clear she's headed the right direction, but there's not even a hint of noise beyond the wind and the leaves. It's eerie. Kel finds herself glancing back and forth more often, set on edge by the silence. There's absolutely nothing in front of her, but her eyes are open as wide as they'll go. It isn't right for the woods to be this quiet. They should be rife with animal sounds and the occasional snapped twig to keep her jumpy, full of life. These trees seem to be full of nothing at all.

The silence makes it a complete surprise when a creature sprints along to disturb it, teeth flashing. It's only a blur in Kel's periphrial vision that alerts her before the thing is upon her. Her back slams into the ground as it rams into her full-force, and it takes a few flashes of teeth and tail for it to sink in that this is somebody's dog trying to rip her throat out. A good kick knocks the canine off, but it surges right back as Kel rushes onto her feet to receive it. Its teeth snap shut inches from her throat.

A colorful figure in the trees catches Kel's eye, and she shrieks out a hurried "damn it, help!" to the stranger before all of her attention is redirected to keeping the dog's mouth off her face and neck. Seemingly unbothered by the scrap, the figure stands silently and watches- there will be no help from them. This stays between Kel and the dog. Seeing no other choice, Kel's hand scrabbles at the dagger sheathed at her belt. It catches on the scabbard then springs free, a flash of metal blazing through the air and ripping into the dog's flesh. It yelps and darts back, dissuaded by the blade's bite.

Unfortunately, no amount of bite will hold the beast back for good, and it lunges once more. A leap to the side sends it careening past Kel, and she takes the chance to get her footing and run. No food is worth risking her life with some jerk's dog. Four legs carry it faster than any human could hope to run, and a nip to the ankles is plenty of warning that the beast is close behind as she darts between bushes and trunks. It'll catch her if she doesn't think fast.

Springing forwards, Kel's hands grab at the low-hanging branches of a tree- but then they slip free, sending her crashing to the ground with nothing but splinters to show for it. The dog isn't far behind. Its jaws snap shut on her arm, and she snaps back with her blade, a spatter of blood marking her hands. Everything happens in a flash. As a flash of pain sparks up in her arm, Kel's knife strikes true, and the dog crumples to the ground with a pained whimper. The scout scrambles back as soon as she's free.

The dog may survive, but Kel's not sticking around to find out- she hauls herself back to her feet and takes off, limping somewhat as she jogs in the other direction. She hasn't the slightest clue where she's going, but anywhere is better than here. Hopefully she'll find more tracks wherever she winds up.

The trees seem to warp and darken as Kel runs, and eventually the air feels so clammy that she's forced to pause- partly because of a knarled cluster of bushes blocking the way, partly because these trees don't look like home. This definitely isn't where she'd meant to travel. Thankfully, a glance over her shoulder reveals no pursuers, so being lost is the only real concern for the moment.

A glance around the area doesn't turn up any landmarks. She hadn't run that far off course, had she? There's not even a recognizable track to follow home- her surroundings should be much more familiar than they are. Even her footprints are gone. The wind must have swept up the dirt and wiped them away. It's awfully quick to lose her own tracks, but the woods can be strange sometimes. It's not unheard of for people to spend days walking in circles, their footprints blowing away behind them at the whims of some entity.

Regardless, the area is wholly alien to the scout, and she finds herself tugging nervously at her hood. Home is the only town within a few days' travel. At this rate, she'll have to start climbing trees to find something that she's passed before, and that's if the stranger's dog isn't up and blocking the way back. It was their dog, wasn't it? Did they order it to attack in the first place? She puzzles over it for a moment before letting it drop. That mystery can wait until she's somewhere more familiar.

A few hours of walking don't turn up anything more recognizable. It's strange- she hadn't run that far, yet turning around and hightailing it back for easily twice the time hasn't gotten her anywhere. The scout swears that some of these trees are repeating. Even scoring their bark with her knife doesn't prove helpful; when that same tree passes by again, the mark is gone. Maybe it's not a loop after all, but then how is she still lost? None of it makes sense.

After another hour or two of walking, a flicker of motion draws Kel's eye. The trees seem to shudder, twisting in place in a way that wind can't account for. She freezes in place- the sight of something new is almost alarming after seeing the same branches time and time again. A stray branch grabs at Kel's hair and tugs, drawing a shriek and knife swing from the scout. She's quick to tie her hair back after that, doubling her pace forwards. Turning around doesn't seem any more helpful than continuing forwards, so despite her instincts screaming at her to hightail it out of here, Kel presses on into the trees. She swears they groan and whisper around her as she bats away clutching branches. Things she's done, people's thoughts about her, things only the trees could ever know- things that are distinctly uncomfortable to hear drifting through the air.

Those whispers only get more intimate as Kel continues forwards, and before long, she's slashing at branches with her knife just to make headway. The underbrush is just as dense. She swears that it's started breathing, shifting up and down her legs while she tromps through it. She'd turn around to get out of here faster, but there's no space to turn. The trees have pressed in too close. It's all Kel can do to forge onwards.

The close press of branches and thickets suddenly gives way to a clearing, and Kel's about to hurry through when something in the middle catches her eye. Despite being rooted in soil and shrouded in leaves, there's something uncomfortably human about the tree growing just ahead. It slowly twists to face Kel, warped bark melting and solidifying as needed to give it motion. It settles into stillness while the scout stutters to a stop and stares.

"You," it creaks. It's not a voice, not really- it speaks in the moan of an old rocking chair and the crackle of peeling bark. "You're the question to be answered, my question. A wonderful sort of question indeed."

Well, that's helpful. It's also exactly the kind of nonsense Kel's heard in children's stories warning people about various forest spirits, and those never end well. It's best to leave before anything else happens. She takes a hurried step back, only to feel the branches behind her blocking the way. It's too dense to go anywhere other than forwards.

"Stay," the tree urges, the branches writhing at Kel's back. She moves forward just to have them off her, throwing a glance back at them and shuddering when they twist like living hair.

"Beautiful question you are," whispers the tree. "I want a look at you. Come here." A sea of bark-encrusted hands reach from the branches above, grasping at Kel's hair, her face, almost gentle. The scout hurriedly swats them away, breath catching in her chest. Screw tracking down food- she'd just like to go home and report seeing some tracks at this point. This isn't what she'd signed up for at all.

"I have to go," Kel stutters. "My family- they're expecting me, you know, I have to bring dinner home, and my sister's waiting for me to carve her a new doll, and..." She trails off as the branches shudder and cling to her skin. They're not letting her go so easily.

"Can you feel the strings of Fate?" the thing creaks, torso twisting and folding in on itself as it stretches towards Kel. The air feels heavy and hot, suddenly tight in a way air shouldn't be. "Binding you, binding me, drawing us ever forwards? Can you feel the weight of it when you breathe? Can you see the chains that tie us?"

More vaguely unsettling nonsense. Hand tightening around her knife, Kel takes another step forwards, working up the nerve to stab and run. This thing isn't going to listen to reason. Before she can, the tree raises a withered arm, fingers splaying wide at the air. The sun catches gossamer threads of gold strung through the air, waving gently in the wind until they come to rest at Kel's hands. Eyes wide, the scout steps back in alarm and tries to shake the threads off. They're not budging. They're stuck like spider silk to every pore of her skin, embedded in it. As the sunray fades, the strings fade with it, but the feeling of something shifting under her skin remains.

"You won't be going home," the tree breathes. Kel's frozen in place, hands shaking as she looks back up to the spirit's gray-barked face. That face twists into a smile with too many teeth. "Listen: a question never answered, always seeking but never finding. A wanderer eternal. Wonderful, wonderful things for you indeed, but none familiar and none free." Its torso uncoils as it leans further towards her. "Walk with caution, little question. Holding still gets you killed."

A slash of Kel's blade answers the tree. It reels back with a screech, clutching at the gutter carved into its face as Kel turns tail and bolts from the clearing. Branches clutch at her clothes, her legs, but she's got the will and strength to push through and run.

The sound of the spirit's wails fade into the soft whispers of tree leaves in the wind.

Nitty Gritty Details

Dog encounter

Fate question: are there signs of wildlife in the area? Odds: very likely.
Roll: yes (65).

Roll for meaning (adventure tone): fierce, mundane.

Fate question: does an animal attack? Odds: likely
Roll: yes (58)

Roll for meaning (descriptions): excitedly interesting

Fate question: does Kel throw the dog off of her? Odds: 50/50
Roll: yes (14)

Fate question: is the dog accompanied? Odds: very likely
Roll: yes (67)

Fate question: does the person call off their dog? Odds: 50/50
Roll: no (79)

Fate question: does Kel successfully stab the dog? Odds: 50/50
Roll: yes (21)

Fate question: does the dog retreat? Odds: likely
Roll: no (73)

Fate question: does the dog injure Kel? Odds: 50/50
Roll: no (54)

Fate question: does Kel outrun the dog? Odds: unlikely
Roll: no (60)

Fate question: does Kel successfully climb the tree? Odds: likely (past experience, but there is a dog trying to bite her)
Roll: no (74)

Fate question: does Kel successfully stab the dog? Odds: 50/50
Roll: yes (25)

Fate question: does the dog retreat? Odds: likely
Roll: exceptional yes (12)

Fate question: Did the fight disorient Kel? Odds: very likely
Roll: yes (62)

Chaos factor +1; current factor: 6

Added to thread list: learn why a stranger sicced their dog on Kel

Added to character list: the stranger, wildlife

Tree spirit

Scene test: expected (7)

Roll for meaning (forest descriptors): combative, scary

Roll for meaning (cryptic message): fame, start (interpreted as the trees knowing Kel far too well)

Roll for meaning (forest descriptors): combative, scary

Roll for meaning (actions): control representative

Fate question: Does Kel spot the "representative" first? Odds: likely (she's on edge)
Roll: yes (24)

Fate question: Does the "representative" spirit deliver a prophecy? Odds: likely
Roll: exceptional yes (8)

Roll for meaning (cryptic message): unknown riddle

Roll for meaning (character conversations): delightful, mysterious

Fate question: Can the branches be cut through with a knife? Odds: unlikely
Roll: yes (21)

Chaos factor +1; current factor: 7

Added to thread list: prophecy, find a way home

Added to character list: forest spirits

<- Back | Onwards ->

Played on

Back to top