Chapter 12:

At One with Nature I


Harvest Moon 20, AS 632. The Endless Wood, outside the Kingdom of Farrus, The Sundered World.

After travelling through the thick forest for over 20 hours, The Sunviewers and Cyton entered the large clearing in the forest that was filled with buildings. Naturally, they were suspicious. Throughout their journey through the woods, they had been repeatedly attacked by beasts and monsters. That meant that seeing a village hidden away in the trees was a strange sight.

The “buildings” only looked barely artificial. The hundred or so structures were built into trees, almost as if the trees had naturally grown into the shapes of houses. Walking amongst the tree-buildings were tall figures with fair skin, pointed ears, and impossibly beautiful features. It was immediately apparent that they were elves. The elf inhabitants pointed and whispered at the group when they stepped into the glade.

In turn, the five warriors stood at a loss, unsure what to do about this place. Appraiser said, “I suppose we should stay the night here?”

With a nod, Descartes said “I can’t use any more magic until I get a night’s full rest.”

The group of five were approached by an elderly elf dressed in a long green robe. Because of the ageless elven features that were still somehow wrinkled with age, it was impossible to guess the gender of this figure. “Welcome to the Heartwood Sanctuary. I am Lagosci, head guardian of this grove. Why have you come here?”

Rachel spoke for the party. “Hello there. We’re just passing through the forest. We mean no harm to your tribe.” She offered a winning smile.

Appraiser spoke up from the back. “Also, we’re tired. Can we sleep here tonight? Thanks.”

Lagosci smiled and gestured. As he talked, he sounded like an undergrown teen who was attempting to pass himself off as an old man. “Of course. Our advanced culture demands we offer the gift of hospitality to any that pass through. All we ask in return is a kind gift in return. I am certain such…adventurous…people such as yourself bare many gifts.”

Rachel said hesitantly “we don’t have much money…”

“Oh, no! Preposterous. Our society is far too highly evolved to have a use for such primitive concepts such as ‘money.’ All we ask is a gift, and we only ask a gift that the giver can easily give. So, travelers, what gift do you have for the Heartwood Sanctuary?”

Whatever answer the Sunviewers planned to give was interrupted by raucous laughter. “See? Elves are really assholes, eh?” Standing behind them was an enormous male fiendblood with red skin and two curling horns on his head. He wore tattered pants and a vest that accentuated his red pectoral muscles and carried an enormous battleaxe over one shoulder easily. He winked. “The name’s Jotun of clan Jormungandr. Pleasure to meet y’all, ladies.” He spoke with a drawl that lengthened every syllable. As he spoke, the sun glinted off of his perfectly chiseled abs, exposed by his vest.

All four of the Sunviewers stared slack-jawed at the handsome man. Appraiser reacted first. “Um, hey there, Mr. Jotun. The name’s Appraiser. What do you say we get away from this crowd and go somewhere special?”

Erenata elbowed Appraiser out of the way. “Listen not to my foolish companion. Well met, Jotun of clan Jormungandr. I art Erenata. As a fellow warrior, I insist that we exchange a valorous exchange of valor. Er, that is—”

“Hey, go ‘foolish companion’ yourself,” said Appraiser, elbowing Erenata back. Turning back to Jotun, she continued “don’t let the weirdo distract you. She has the ‘time traveler from the dung ages’ speech impediment. C’mon, let’s do something fun!” She tugged on Jotun’s arm.

“Nay, listen not to her!” said Erenata, tugging on the other arm. The two girls had the tall fiendblood in a tug-of-war at this point.

In the background, Cyton spoke to Descartes. “Come on, he’s not that great.”

She only replied “he’s so hot” with a dreamy look on her face. Frustrated, Cyton tried to flex his bicep muscles, only to realize that he had no bicep muscles. He might as well have been trying to flex a twig for all the good it did him.

Meanwhile, Jotun laughed amiably. “Ladies, ladies, please relax. I’d love to go out with y’all, but there’s one teensy problem.”

Lagosci the old elf, who had been impatiently watching the interactions, now cleared his throat. “Are you quite finished? Good. As I was saying, all we ask of guests is that they provide a gift. Now, there is a rogue troll clan wandering through these woods that makes it difficult for us to live our peaceful lives. As a gift to us, we ask you drive them away.”

Jotun interjected, explaining to Appraiser and Erenata “all them all’s been keeping me here prisoner till I help wipe out these here trolls. I told them I’d go an’ do it, but this soyboy over yonder” he nodded at Lagosci “said it ain’t just a task for one fellow. That means I’ve been stuck here waiting for more adventurers to wonder through.”

“We have not kept you prisoner!” snapped Lagosci. “We simply await your gift. And as for making you wait for reinforcements, why, this is far too dangerous a task for a single warrior. Our culture has evolved past the barbarity of allowing anyone to confront an impossible task.”

“And that there’s the shape of it,” said Jotun sadly. “Nothing sadder than a delusional elf. No offense intended, of course.”

“Oh, I agree,” said Appraiser, meaningfully looking at Erenata.

“As do I! Wait,” said Erenata, touching at her pointed ears that indicated her elven blood.

At this point, Rachel spoke up. “So, Mister—Miss? Something else?—Lagosci, if I understand correctly, you’ll let us stay here if all of us, plus Mr. Jotun, drive away these trolls?”

Lagosci nodded eagerly. “Yes, that is correct! Spend as long as you need to prepare, but please, drive away these monsters! Our culture has evolved beyond barbarity such as physical or magical violence.”

Rachel said “I guess we can do that. As long as we rest tonight, we’ll drive them off tomorrow.”

“Excellent!” Lagosci gestured to two other elves in similar green robes. In a hurried conversation, he explained the situation to them. The two silently escorted the six—the four Sunviewers, Cyton, and Jotun—to a small one of the tree-houses. Still without a word, they bowed and opened the door.

“These elf people put me up here,” Jotun offered helpfully. “I suppose it’s their guest house. It was jus’ fine for one of me, but all six of us might be a squeeze.”

The ‘guest house’ was really just three rooms divided by wooden walls and doors. Each room had padded floors that looked almost comfortable enough to sleep on. In each of them was a small, low table, but other than that, the rooms were empty of furniture.

Cyton said “three rooms, six of us—we’ll have to go two to a room.” The others nodded in agreement.

Appraiser, with a mischievous grin, clung on to Jotun’s arm. “I want to share a room with Jotun” she said coyly.

“Well, I got no objections—” the large man began before Cyton interrupted.

“I do have objections. As a guy, I’ll bunk with Jotun tonight, all right?”

“Oh my, Cyton,” giggled Appraiser. “I had no idea you swung that way.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

The squabble continued for some time. Eventually, however, Appraiser gave in, although her concession probably had something to do with the murderous expression Erenata gave her whenever Appraiser suggested that she should stay with Jotun. After unpacking all of their belonging and taking a short period of rest, the sun was setting. As the trees in the clearing cast long shadows across the open area, Rachel suggested finding food. Nobody had any objections, so Jotun pointed them in the proper direction.

The ‘food’ was easily found. In the center of the clearing sat a collection of wooden tables that seemed to grow naturally from the trees in the same manner as the buildings. About a hundred elves sat at the tables, but no food was served. Presiding over the event was Lagosci, who gestured to the approaching adventurers. “Excellent timing. I was about to send someone to fetch you. In honor of your visit, I have ordered a feast be prepared. Now, bring forth the feast!” In response to his words, several younger-looking elves appeared from the shadows, each holding several covered plates. One plate was set in front of everyone present, including the adventurers. “Now, partake of nature’s bounty,” Lagosci commanded, uncovering his own plate.

Erenata was the first to uncover her plate to discover the nature’s bounty: exactly three berries. Dismayed, Appraiser, Rachel, Cyton, and Descartes all uncovered their plates. All of them held the exact same paltry meal.

“Is this a joke,” asked Appraiser flatly.

Jotun roared with laughter. He had already popped his three berries into his mouth. “Y’all can see why I’m eager to get out of this shithole,” he laughed.

Appraiser unsheathed her knives and strode over to Lagosci, who was daintily munching on a berry. Descartes followed her, the tip of her staff beginning to glow. Appraiser reached the old elf with a knife out. “What is this?” she demanded. Descartes nodded in the background.

“Ah, well, as I explained, the trolls make it too dangerous to scavenge for berries in the woods. The trolls are omnivores, you see, and thus compete for the same foods we eat. But in a pinch, they will eat elf meat instead of berries.” Lagosci nodded wisely at his own words.

Appraiser was clearly trying to process this bizarre update, but Descartes spoke up. “Why not eat meat then?” she asked in her quiet way, the tip of her staff heating up even further.

“Barbarous! Our highly evolved culture finds the idea of eating another animal abhorrent.”

Appraiser now said “then at least let us go hunting for ourselves!”

“Absolutely not. Did you not hear a word I spoke? Consumption of meat is barbarity and I will not allow it in our community.”

Appraiser looked ready to tear her hair out. In anger, she pointed one of her knives at Lagosci. From the original table, Jotun called out “oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were y’all.”

Lagosci seemed totally unfazed by the threat. “While we may have abandoned violence, that has only given our culture time to develop more enlightened techniques.” He clicked the fingers on both hands simultaneously. Both Descartes and Appraiser froze for a moment, then collapsed to the ground, eyes closed and limbs sprawled out. Rachel rushed over to them in concern, but an enormous snore from Appraiser confirmed that they were all right. “They will awaken in 8 hours, remarkably refreshed,” said Lagosci in satisfaction. He waved his hand again, conjuring water from thin air that doused the steaming tip of Descartes’ staff with a hiss.

Rachel nodded in understanding. Appraiser, Jotun, and Cyton came over to help carry the unconscious bodies to their quarters. With nothing else interesting to do with the evening, the conscious members decided to get to sleep early in preparation for the troll-filled next day.