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A Road Less Traveled

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Journeymen have only recently marked the lanes of the Amathine forest, its canopy of leaves denying the ground beneath any light. Their broad leaves soak in the warmth above and leave beneath them a humid, greenish landscape through which thick roots interlock in complicated knots as above as they do beneath the ground. In the absence of torches, their landmarks became sensory experiences: start where the frogs ribbit the loudest, take a left until you find the bark with the sticky moss and if you feel the mud caking your ankles and a trail of rocks under your bootsoles, you’re on the right path. Humanity, better suited for concise maps and coordinates, called it a lost cause. What was there to plunder if even the lanterns were snuffed out by the nose-clogging humidity of Amathine? Dwarves, sunk waist deep in waters and unwilling to waterlog their armors and risk rusting their picks, decided the time it would take to find the mines superseded any profit they could make from them. Above all else, none could make sense of the shadows at the corners of their eyes, bristling leaves before evaporating like panthers in the undergrowth. Panthers, they presumed. There wasn’t a spear sharp enough or will stout enough to fight prowlers in this suffocating dark.


Not with their expiry date. In their longevity, a displaced group of Elves bound themselves to trial and error and heeded the native journeymen's words until they too joined their ranks. Pointy ears twitched tither and dither to find ribitting toads, and lithe feet delicately – albeit knowingly, – padded against mud and stone. Bravery, and the appropriate losses to match it, were the only remedy to the nightprowling threats just out of light and sight. Their skeletal remains, today overgrown with colorful moss and their marrows painted with the tattoos that once dyed their flesh, still refuse to be eaten by the forest: the ancestral will is strong and committed to guiding its descendants to the shore. Some of them fetter shark-toothed spears between their ribs, a somber reminder that though the ancestors have forgiven the symptoms of those trying times – they can never be allowed to come about again.


The path is gentler today. Nets swing from one thick branch to another, jars containing terrariums where generations of fireflies have comfortably thrived hang from them to light the way. Foreigners call them capricious, only lighting the right way forwards when a bit of their rations are sprinkled inside; but those who first ventured these lanes know the fireflies only brighten for the noblehearted and well-intentioned. Complaints, then, have long-fallen on deaf ears for better wayfinding. The Illivirans know better than to damage nature’s protective mantle. Still, with enough perseverance, anyone can find the light at the end of the tunnel.


When the forest clears and roots diverge, and the distant roar of a shore tickles the ears, and the air starts to thin and smell of salt and barbacoa, and in what gaps the canopy of leaves above has allowed, the smoke of cookery and ceremony is in view and saliva pools in the mouth – the heavenly sunlight, possible only through the harmonious living between Elfkind and the oceanic elements, welcomes wanderers with a maternal warmth and an open sky whose wind whispers: ‘it was worth it, wasn’t it?


⋅ •⋅⊰ ₊ ⋆  ☽ ༓ ☾ ⋆ ⁺ ⊱⋅• ⋅


Few people have gone there, and fewer still have left. Those that have speak of bejeweled, tall Elves who jingle like wind chimes surrounded by cross-legged apprentices, dyeing seaweed papers with the words of a foreign tongue. In Ancient Elven, those sparkly-eyed wanderers speak of a great missive to come; of an impossibly large and colorful map, artistically sewing together visuals of islands untold and treasures to the ground tethered. Of men streaked in orange and black smears of paint, standing vigil over the tidepooled shore; of women with wide collections of mortars and pestles, their innards containing pastes that seal wounds and make food tender. 


The most important reports stem from the outside, though. Navymen of Kingdoms abroad speak of mossy ropes underwater the fish avoid, stretching impossible distances – miles and miles into the horizon and back, and the almond shaped canoes with colorfully-tattooed Elves who occasionally arrive to sink beneath the waves and tend to them. Descendantkind hammers signs writ in Common with directions to their capitals into the ground, and a fleet-footed Elf of these makes a net instead, dotted with a variety of knots that none seem to understand – and someway, somehow, with the help of one of these strange children of Malin, always leads them to a pearly settlement by a shore, standing on sandstone.


Have you come through the sea, or by the land?” 


Ready yourself to be asked, and to answer, say the journeymen.

It is all Illivira, that rumored patch of sand and culture, will ask of you.




Credit to @champ for being my personal ghostwriter.


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"You have quite a saga, for someone so young."


Ithwen glances at Medli and wonders, not for the first time this evening, if her mentor is mocking her. The sun is setting and a woman passes through the street in front of them. She is carrying a basket full of brightly coloured threads, fresh from drying. A small fortune in future textiles. "I had not thought of it that way."


"The decisions were made for me when I was too young to interfere. Those decisions have carried me here. Very little of it has been my choice — " until now, Ithwen thinks, but does not say. Ahead, the woman with the basket catches the toe of her sandal on a crooked stone and a winding of saffron-yellow thread spills from her arms. A boy who is passing catches the thread before it lands in the sand and hands it back to the woman, who takes a coin from a purse hidden inside the folds of her mantle to give to him in thanks. Enough for a piece of fruit or a fried sweet from one of the village vendors, though they will all be closing soon. Ithwen watches silently.


The woman and the boy part ways. An ordinary exchange, soon to be forgotten. Only when they are gone does Ithwen turn her attention back to Medli. " — until now. I am greatful to call Illivira home, and I hope my people will make you proud."

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A curl of the bicep brings tightens a knot, in an island somewhere over the distant horizon. Baratii's forearm, bristled by sun-kissed strands of hair and made glossy by the thin veneer of sweat Sirea cannot protect him from spilling, wipes over his forehead, reflecting the sun right back at whatever obnoxious deity deigned its rays ought to be focused on him. His eyes swivel and with a loose-lipped yawp and hand beside his mouth, he musters down to the deck of a wide canoe from his place atop a boulder by the shore with gusto: here, he's drawn a broad knot around the stone from algae-sewn rope.


"Pull her taut and let her sing, so they'll hear her at home!"


Men and women alike, decorating the hollow of their almond-shaped canoe -- the rope tethered to the boulder tied to it as well, -- sink their oars and sing seafaring hymns; enigmatic melodies that clash with the sea-shanties of foreign Kingdoms' military vessels. This, sounds like a siren's song; and already makes the minds of distantly-landlocked children blossom with superstition. They drift from land until the rope at the south end of the boat is taught. The northern rope has long-been taut, suspended for miles and miles just a foot above the water.


A woman plucks at it at odd rhythms. The rope quivers back. When she turns, her jewelry acts as the score to her voice, brightly grinning and thankful:


"It's tied down to the Sealyre, Sirea's accepted her!"


Baratii smiles, and sinks tooth into a handheld orange slice, citrus dribbling down his jaw. Illvira learned something today. Ithwen might thank him. He can smell the fish-roast, already. He'll aggrandize the journey to her this time, sprinkle in some lie about a pirates. She won't believe him, and that's fine.

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The waves lapped at the sandy shore, the sun's warmth was gentle and the cool winds stirred the chimes she had hung up the other day.  She was cross-legged upon the sand and faced the sea, yet her eyes were closed in meditation.  Somewhere far, yet within, she gazed upon another shoreline; dreary and swathed in a mist that turned the waters gray.  Two others gazed with her, silent; as quiet as any wreckage would be after a raging storm--it would be many years before they could heal from the wounds of grief of that old home lost.


Yet a small shadow danced over Ilaria's eyes, and she opened them to regard that shimmering coast of sapphire waters, no longer flanked by that duo. Gliding through the winds was an Albatross, an omen.


"Perhaps now is our time to heal, and begin anew."

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There was a time when she was terrified of the ocean. Born into the forests, cradled in the shade of boughs of trees stretching endlessly into the sky, the thought of water stretching just as far beneath her feet filled her with roiling dread. She had to let that fear go when her home became an island and the perilous depths were the only thing keeping her safe from the terror and violence of the mainland.


Hundreds of years later, she found herself on the shore of Illivira, the rough sand between her toes tethering her to the earth. I am here I am here I am here, the endless ebb and flow of time hadn't washed her away. She watched Medli—first her apprentice, now her daughter—combing the beach for sea glass to turn into a great mosaic on the cliffs. Pride sparkled through her, so powerful she almost tried to reach out and touch it, to take it in her hands like the fireflies that drifted through the trees at nightfall.


Illynora felt at home at last.

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