Before heading into the Liriath forest, they made one final stop. The small village on the outskirts of the forest was a common stop for travelers on their way into the forest. Very few people came back from the forest. Besides the forest being a very dangerous and mostly unmapped part of the country, not a lot of travelers came from north of it to visit Blueyerd. And those who did generally took a ship and went around. So Miranji didn’t see a lot of traffic, but there was an inn and a general goods store as well as a local bakery. Cassandra had gone off to judge the bread, as she was a baker’s daughter at heart. Mana and Cobal were bent over a map of the surrounding forest, debating what their best path into the forest was going to be.
“I think our best bet is to enter at a northward angle going ever so slightly west in the meantime. We’re quite coastal right now and the chances are slim that this elven city is coastal as well.” Cobal scratched his head. “Why couldn’t it just be on the map, that would make life so much easier.”
Mana pointed at a spot on the map. “How about over there? It looks like there might be a bit more elevation there. Perhaps they chose that point to build their city. If not, it could at least be a good place to search from.”
Cobal thought about it for a moment. “I think you’re right. It’s not that far from here either, and matches with the north-east direction we were already considering.” He measured the distance on the map. “If this map’s scale is correct it’s about three days from here. That’s not too bad. If we do get lost it’ll only be a couple days back to Miranji.”
Mana took a few steps back. “Is there a name for this elven city? We know the forest is called the Liriath forest, but so far you’ve just been calling it the elven city.”
Cobal nodded. “Milinia. It’s said to have been there since before Blueyerd even became known as Blueyerd. Since elves live much longer than humans there have only been a few generations of leaders there as far as I know. There’s very little we know about them other than they avoid contact with the outside world as much as possible. When they do talk to outsiders they seem to be friendly from what I’ve heard, which might be why they’re mostly left alone. That and the natural defenses they have. There’s no real benefit in trying to take over their land.”
Mana stared off into the distance. “Imperialism is a blemish on this world too, then?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“In my old world, country leaders would often try to expand their lands for the sake of having more land. They’d pretend this was good for the country, but more often than not the people suffered as a result. It’s bad practice either way.”
Cobal thought about it for a moment. “It’s the natural cause of things. Kings want to expand their kingdoms. That’s just what they do.”
Mana laughed. “It’s greedy people thinking they have a right to do what they want with the lives of normal folk with no regard for their wants. The kingdoms around Blueyerd don’t want to be taken over by your father, nor does Blueyerd want to be occupied by a kingdom to the north.”
Cobal shrugged. “That’s not something we have to worry about right now, we should worry about finding Milinia first.”
Mana nodded. “You’re right.” As they finished up their decision where to go, Cassandra and Kimi both returned together. “We got a plan yet?” Cassandra asked.”
“That we do, let’s leave before the day is over.”
“Do we have everything we need? There’s no easy going back after we leave,” Cobal said.
“Ready as can be,” Cassandra said smiling. The forest was looming ahead of them while the sleepy town was slowly moving along behind them. The next few days would be trees, shrubbery and leaves and maybe a stray clearing every so often if they were lucky. They’d packed waterskins, food and knives, camping equipment as much as they could carry and some spare clothes to boot. A lack of preparation wasn’t what was going to take them down. Unfortunately the weather was slowly taking a turn as gray clouds were covering the sun. “Let’s hope it doesn’t pour,” Mana said. They all agreed.
“Well then, let’s go,” Cobal said. One last look behind him before he entered the forest, the other three in tow.
Because they didn’t depart until midway through the afternoon, they only got three hours of traveling done before it started getting dark. With the canopy blocking out the sunlight it got dark in the forest faster so they had less time to travel. As the sunlight disappeared, the rain softly started. They’d found a small area where they could camp and be somewhat dry for the night. A fallen over tree provided a place to rest their weary backs against. They were all eating. Some of the food they got was fruits, which wouldn’t last all too long, so they would finish them first. “This is my first time seeing a forest this large, it’s more cramped than I expected.” Cassandra said. She was biting down on a pear while lounging as if the forest floor was a comfortable hammock. “I could sit here all week.”
Mana smiled. “Perhaps we’ll just leave you here if you don’t wake up in the morning.”
“You wouldn’t do that to me,” Cassandra replied with a pretend shocked expression on her face.
“I would never.”
Kimi was floating up to a tree branch and sat down there.
“That must be so convenient, being able to fly,” Cassandra said. “I bet I could climb up there though,” she quickly followed up.
Kimi looked down. “Floating takes a bit of energy, just like walking does. I could probably walk for longer than I could float, but I have short legs so this is more efficient. At least in this environment.” She pointed at all the branches and bushes in their way.
“Fair enough,” Cassandra said.
Cobal was the first to take watch. They had a small fire going and the forest sounds were accompanying him on his watch. About an hour into his watch, Mana moved before sitting up.
She nodded. “Anxiety.”
Cobal stared into the distance for a while. Eventually Mana added. “I wonder if Might had these kinds of problems too.”
Mana nodded. “Yeah, anyone who has that much pressure on their shoulders is bound to crumble eventually. That or they’re a sociopath.”
“What’s a sociopath?”
“Right, that’s probably not something actually talked about in your world.” She paused for a while. “I wonder if they exist here. I would assume so, but it would be interesting to find out if they actually do. Either way, a sociopath, from my understanding, is someone who doesn’t have empathy. This means they don’t care how their actions affect others.”
“So a selfish prick?”
“Yeah, more or less, but in a more extreme way. I do think it’s more complicated than that, but we just don’t know what to do about it to help these people.”
Cobal thought about this for a while. “I definitely know some people who do not care about others at all. They’re often very successful.”
Mana laughed. “It’s funny how the less you care about others, the easier it is to abuse them for your own gain.”
Cobal smiled. “I think the best leaders are those who are compassionate though.”
“Where do you think the king of Blueyerd falls?”
Cobal’s smile vanished.
“I’m sorry, that’s a rude question,” Mana immediately added when she saw his response.
“No, it’s a fair question, we’re technically working for my father, after all.”
Cobal thought to himself for a moment. His father was his father, he’d never really put too much thought into it. “I think the king cares a lot about his kingdom. Both the lands and the people. Not everyone thinks he’s doing a good job, which is more apparent now than before I started traveling with you, but I think he’s trying his best.”
Mana nodded but didn’t reply. Eventually she stood up and stretched her arms and legs. “I still haven’t decided if I want to work with the kingdom. But the people of these lands have been kind to me, and since there doesn’t seem to be a way back, I might as well do what I can for the people around me.”
Cobal smiled. “That’s good enough for me. Eventually we’ll go back to the capital and perhaps we’ll have the chance for you to get to know my family and the ministers a bit better. Maybe it’ll change your perspective.” He trailed off at the last word of the sentence when he saw Mana’s face shift upon bringing up the capital. “What’s wrong?”
Mana turned away from him. “Nothing, just some bad memories popping up. Let’s focus on finding this Dionil, the sage.” She walked around the camp a little bit before she went back to her sleeping spot. “I’ll try and sleep a bit more before it’s time for my watch. I don’t want to be too tired for tomorrow’s trek.”
Cobal was about to wake up Cassandra for the second watch when he noticed something. The sound of branches being tread upon lightly hit his ears and he immediately poked both Cassandra and Kimi awake. “What’s wrong?” The commotion seemed to have also woken Mana up.
“There’s something out there.” In mere seconds everyone was wide awake, their weaponry at the ready. None of them knew how to fight except for Cobal so if it was something dangerous this would be a problem. Finally the threat came into sight, revealing what looked to be two large wolves. “Oh shit,” Cassandra exclaimed.
Kimi was the one to respond the most calmly. She grabbed her focus from under her small pillow and rotated it in front of her before it turned into a small pink, purple and white drum. “Let me handle this,” she said, as she started softly hitting the drum.
Like the sound of a heartbeat, the drum started sounding throughout the small clearing.
Badump, badump, badump.
The pace increasing quicker and quicker as Kimi kept hitting the drum rhythmically. All three of them were entranced by it as well and Cobal almost forgot about the wolves for half a second before he snapped out of it and turned his attention back to the creatures. The wolves, who had looked menacing only a moment ago, where now calm and sitting. As the performance increased and increased in pace until it reached a crescendo, the wolves eventually turned around and walked away to the drum slowing down. A bead of sweat rolled down Kimi’s chin as she put the focus away. “That should do the trick.”
“That. was. Amazing!” Cassandra had a big smile on her face and looked at Kimi in awe. “You just made them leave by playing music, that’s crazy.”
Kimi blushed. “I’m the spirit of music after all, I should be able to do things like this.”
“Well, I’ve certainly never seen anything like it,” Mana added. “Will they not just come back later?”
Kimi shook her head. “The music should have calmed them down and made them think we’re friends of theirs and this territory is ours.”
“This is crazy, well done,” Cobal said.
“Time to go back to sleep then,” Cassandra said.
“Not so fast, it’s time for your watch,” Cobal replied.
“Oh,” Cassandra said, disappointed. She went over to where he was sitting and sat down on the log. “Go to sleep then, I’ll handle this.” She puffed up her chest.
Cobal smiled. “If you see anything even slightly off, don’t hesitate to wake us up. I’d rather sleep poorly than be killed in my sleep.”
“Thanks, that doesn’t make me more worried at all,” Cassandra replied.
“Goodnight Cass,” Mana said as she laid down.
Luckily for Cassandra, nothing happened after the wolves’ appearance and the rest of the night went by uneventfully.