Somewhere in the mountains, far from any town or village...
It smelled like rich dirt and clean water; at first thick and choking but refreshing once gulped for the first time.
The sound of water gently lapping echoed through dark stone halls, carved roughly and undeniably by nature yet holding the essence of some great cathedral foyer.
There was a large, flat, smooth stone slab leading into the water like a vehicle ramp. On this slab, with his bare feet tickled by water, was a boy. He was lying on his back, eyes closed, seemingly unconscious. Light was spewing in through a small opening where the water left the cavern and seemed to go outside, and this sunlight bounced off the blue water, rendering the cavern walls bedaubed with brilliance.
Drip. A tiny, icy cold drop splashed on the boy's forehead.
Last Edit: Jul 20, 2009 9:42:12 GMT 9.5 by Treijim
Post by Ethereal Panda on Jul 19, 2009 9:49:22 GMT 9.5
The boy half opened his eyes, blinking groggily at the cavern's ceiling. He winced as the second drop of icy water splashed down onto his face. Sitting up he, he rubbed his eyes and let out a confused groan. Using the palms of his hands, he shimmied over to the side of the stream. Looking down into the shimmering water, he splashed some onto the rest of his face waking himself up.
While rising to his feet, Cliff attempted to discern where he now was. He inspected the cave gaining nothing valuable, and all the while, he searched his memory for an explanation of how he arrived here. The last thing he could remember was resting peacefully under the staircase. It was the only place in the chapel that he knew he could be alone. Reading some book that the title now escaped him, he must have dosed off around noon.
"Hello," he shouted. The echo rippled off the walls of the cave providing him no company but possible doppelgangers.
Had he been kidnapped? Again he searched the cave for any sign of another person with him, and again he was met with no answer. Shivering slightly from the cold surface, he patted his clothes and decided to try to find a way outside.
"Hello?" went the echo. Or at least, it seemed like an echo; it was a child who sounded like Cliff but it also sounded different. It also sounded close.
Opposite the stream, the rocky wall was very jagged and layered, and from behind a rock stepped a figure. It was a girl. Black eyes stared at Cliff, for a moment, wide, and then she moved forward slightly.
"Tex?" she said softly. Then she squinted, as the sparkling light on the water behind Cliff made it difficult for her to see him. Then she seemed angry and she rushed to him. She wiped her sleeve on his mouth, invading his personal space, and then pushed him back by the shoulders a couple steps.
"Did you drink the water?" she asked, her voice stabbing like a knife. "Well? Did you? Tell me you didn't!" Then she called out over her shoulder, "Larr! Larr! Come quick!"
She wasn't happy with the reply. She crossed her arms and stayed her ground. "Who am I? Who are you? How did you get in here without us seeing you?" She stared him in the eyes the entire time and twirled her blond hair with her fingers.
A boy came from wherever she entered and looked at them both.
"Joy? Who is..." The boy, presumably named Larr, observed Cliff and went and stood by her. Some moments of silence passed; Joy didn't seem to attack Cliff while Larr was there. "Did you come from the water?" he asked, his voice much kinder to hear than hers. "Or somewhere?"
"He was just standing there," Joy said, significantly calmer now. "I thought it was Tex at first. Or my brother. But it's this boy. I thought he drank the water, but he said he didn't. I don't trust him anyway." She glared at Cliff and looked back to Larr. "What're you waiting for, Larr? Are you gonna tie up his hands or not?"
Post by Ethereal Panda on Jul 19, 2009 11:27:16 GMT 9.5
Cliff's eyes darted between tho two children. He tried to hide the fact that he was a little bit scared, but his shivering bones seemed to betray him. "If you do not know who I am, why did you kidnap me," he yelled with frustration at the girl.
As quick as he could, he dashed to Joy's side in hopes of getting to the exit, but his bare foot slipped on the moist ground and he fell hard on his back, knocking the wind out of himself. Cliff laid there coughing and gasping for air. While still wheezing, he looked up at the figures now back-lite by the reflections of the water ripples on the ceiling, and slowly the realization that he was defenseless set in.
Post by Ethereal Panda on Jul 20, 2009 5:52:24 GMT 9.5
On his back, Cliff looked up in a stunned silence. He blinked rapidly a few times trying to shake the disorientation of this whole experience. The boy repeated to himself with a frown, "From the water?" His gaze darted between the two strangers.
"How could I have come from the water," Cliff stated in a matter of fact manner while propping himself up with his elbows.
He reached out his hand half way to Larr before retracting it a few inches untrustingly. Reconsidering his options, Cliff took the boy's hand in hopes of avoiding the girls plans of incarceration and execution.
Larr pulled Cliff to his feet but then withdrew his hand.
"My name's Larr, and this is Joy," he said with a smile. "There are others but I'll tell you later. There's too many names to remember at once."
He laughed and began to lead them out of the cavern. Behind the rock from which they entered was a tunnel which they had to bend over to get through, but on the other side of that, the tunnels were much wider and longer, more like the average cave. They were also, however, quite dark, but a torch had been left just outside the water cave. Larr picked it up and led the way.
"Next to me," he said to Cliff. "Where we can see you. This cave is one of the shorter ones, so you'll see everything soon. We live with others like us in a village called Gondarash. The water back there leads to one of the lakes, and the river which runs from that lake also runs past Gondarash. It's a bit hard to explain, but you'll see."
"Why are you talking to him as though he's going to be staying with us?" Joy asked from behind, keeping her distance. "He's a stranger. Remember the last strangers?"
Larr looked over his shoulder at the girl, "Yeah, I do. Of course I do." He turned to Cliff. "She's always like this. Don't worry about it."
Post by Ethereal Panda on Jul 20, 2009 9:58:15 GMT 9.5
Cliff crept along Larr's side through the cave quietly, responding now and then with a nod or somewhat agreeable grunt. He took the time to contemplate his situation more thoroughly rather than carefully listening to Larr. It seemed clear to him now that these two didn't know who he was and likely were not the cause of his arrival at this place. He also couldn't remember ever reading about or seeing on a map the Gondarash village.
Although he didn't have any reason to suspect them of kidnapping him now, Cliff found himself uneasy being followed by Joy. Vivid images of her hitting him over the back of his head with something blunt kept crossing his mind, but he refused to look back. It sent shivers down his back.
The walk to the exit was awkwardly long. Larr had elected to fall silent and Joy complained for most of the rest of the way. Throughout her complaints were many names which Cliff would not know, but she spoke so unclearly that many could not be discerned. The streaming sunlight of the outside world was a welcome sight to all of them. Larr placed the torch in a large, specially-placed ceramic jug. They climbed a small slope and emerged into the blinding white. After adjusting, it became evident that they were standing beneath a high cliff with sprawling trees before them. Behind the miniature forest were fields. A sparkling river went from their right and trailed off into the distant left view, cutting through a massive grassy field. Behind that were powerful mountains, seemingly sheltering the valley from every angle, though they only had about 180 degrees of view, if that.
"It's another couple hours until we reach Gondarash at most," Larr said. "I hope you're not very hungry, because we only brought this." He reached into a bag which was hanging from his waist and pulled out a small loaf which seemed dotted with herbs and fruits or something similar. It was enough for a small meal for one person. "But I'm not hungry, so you can have it." He handed it to Cliff.
"Larr! What if I'm hungry?" Joy said.
"But you ate the other half of it," Larr said, smiling wryly. He looked at Cliff. "Don't worry, it's not poisonous or anything." He reached out and broke a fragment off, and then popped it in a mouth. "See?" he said, with the bread inside one cheek.
Post by Ethereal Panda on Jul 20, 2009 10:32:08 GMT 9.5
"Thanks," Cliff let out quietly while looking down at the bread. He didn't realized it when trekking through the cave, but he was starving. As they began to walk, he deliberately ate slowly so as to not make his hunger apparent.
Observing the surroundings, he realized it would be futile to try to run away, at least at this point. Although it looked very similar to the forests surrounding Nighen, he could see no clear way out of the valley and figured it would be risky to wander the valley without a map. His thoughts were interrupted when he felt a sharp pain in his heel. Lifting his foot, he pulled a thorn from his skin suddenly remembering that his shoes were missing. Even though he made no noise, his pause had raised the attention of the others. Quickly, he put his foot back down and proceeded on. The thorn served as one more reminder that this was not his home, and that at least for the time being, he was dependent on these two.
They both stopped and watched Cliff when he stopped. Joy seemed ready to pounce on him if he tried to run, but Larr just seemed concerned. The trees around them were tall and strong; a peculiar blend of bright conifers and what seemed to be oak trees. The undergrowth was mostly leaves and sticks, but there were large bushes and lush bundles of tangling branches.
"Hey, he's got no shoes," Larr pointed out. "Did you step on something?"
He forced Cliff to a halt and Joy sighed and folded her arms across her chest. Larr sat on a stone and tugged off his own shoes, which actually seemed very well made; tall, sturdy boots made of studded leather and painted with red lines around the top. He tossed them on the ground before Cliff and stood up, shifting his feet in the soil and leaves.
"I don't need 'em," he assured the other boy. "Not for such a short walk, anyway. Come on, let's keep moving. We'll get there after dark at this rate."
He took the lead again. The forest was small in comparison to others which were visible from the bottom of the cliff but it was large enough to be able to get lost in for at least a couple of hours. Larr seemed to be heading south constantly, which was clear due to the sun -- apparently the afternoon sun -- being on his left. Eventually the forest began to thin out a little, and there were clearings off soft grass, glowing green in the sunlight. Larr stopped at one of them.
"Either of you want to take a break?"
Joy dropped to the grass and lay on her back, resting immediately.
Post by Ethereal Panda on Jul 20, 2009 11:01:57 GMT 9.5
Uneasy about taking the boy's shoes Cliff hesitated, but his pragmatism quickly won out. He snatched the boots and quickly put them on, fortunately they fit. "Thank you," he said again, this time with a little embarrassment.
When they reached the clearing, Cliff quietly sat down initially trying to study Joy, as though staring at her would give him some insight into what was going on. But, his focus gave way to habit, and he started staring at a beetle on the ground. As it journey across the top of his boot, he realized that the bug one was unfamiliar to him, and he wondered if that meant he was very far from home. Although he was not one to be home sick, this was unsettling; he shook the beetle off the shoe.
He looked over to Larr and contemplated making conversation, but he had never like small talk, even if it might have provided useful information. When he realized Larr had met his gaze, he quickly glanced away pretending to be observing the landscape.
Larr smiled and dropped himself beside Cliff. There was another bag strung over his shoulder, and there was a long capsule attached to the back, like a quiver. He pulled it around, undid the cap, and drew out a parchment. On unfolding, it could be seen that it was a map. Joy's eyes widened when she saw Larr show Cliff the map but she said nothing.
"This is a map of our valley. We're in here," Larr said, pointing to a collection of squiggles that supposedly represented trees, just to the right of the word "Gondarash". Just above where he pointed was a line -- possibly a cliff -- and it had numerous indents which could have been cave entrances. Larr didn't point out anything else, but simply let Cliff observe the map for a few more moments. It could be calculated, however, how long it would take to reach the only visible way out of the valley; a river to the southeast. If it took two hours through forest to reach Gondarash, it would take several times longer to reach that corner of the map... possibly between seven and nine hours.
"We only have two maps," Larr said as he rolled it back up and placed it back in its case. "One is here and one is at Gondarash. Soon we'll see the river and then we can cross Salleg Bridge. Just as a warning, not many people will like you coming into our community. Just assure them you didn't come out of the water and they won't throw you off the Rains... I hope." He forced a smile and looked up to see Joy standing near the edge of the clearing, staring into the forest.
Last Edit: Jul 20, 2009 11:22:38 GMT 9.5 by Treijim