The Piggyback Acorn (Chapter 1-5: Maiden Quest)
Q'uonan moves slowly in the dark, pulling his knees high to gain better traction over pokey spidergrass and murky puddles.
WOODBERRY: "Do you know where you're going? It feels like we've been wandering for hours."
Q'UONAN: "It is said this land is cursed... Perhaps the wood changes shape to lead men in circles. For many days and nights, I have encountered no one."
WOODBERRY: "I see humans all the time. Granted they aren't always alive, but they're... y'know, fresh."
WOODBERRY: "Maybe they're hiding? You look pretty scary with that axe on your back, after all. Used to swinging it around?"
Q'UONAN: "...It is specialty of my people."
WOODBERRY: "That's good. I'm pretty good at hiding, myself. You could say that's the specialty of my ."
A twig snaps ten meters away, behind thick brush.
Q'UONAN: "Be no fear, Wood-Daughter, for I have your blessing! HAAAAAAA!"
In one smooth motion, Q'uonan pulls the axe from his back, and throws it mightily at some nearby bushes. Leaves and twigs explode everywhere. From that exact spot, a GIANT RAT leaps forward and bites at Q'uonan with jagged teeth!
Q'uonan raises his right arm to protect Woodberry, and receives minor lacerations. The Faerie grips Nugget with both arms and legs, fluttering high toward safety.
WOODBERRY: "Why in the world did you throw your axe into the bushes?!"
Swinging his arms at the dark, Q'uonan grasps for anything within reach. In the blind violence, as if by accident, he wraps his thick arms around the Giant Rat's very ribs! The beast snaps its jaws backward in vain, then side to side. It claws at the man's legs with malformed feet.
Q'UONAN: "ANCESTORS, GIVE ME STRENGTH!!!"
Q'uonan squeezes, wincing in disgust as his nostrils are filled by the stink of fur rubbing against his sweaty chest. The Rat twists and writhes for another few seconds, then goes limp after the hollow clonk! erupts through its open mouth. Q'uonan drops the limp beast to the ground. He raises his head high and takes a deep breath.
WOODBERRY: "Wow! Disgusting!!!"
Q'UONAN: "Victory is all thanks to Wood-Daughter."
Glowing dust falls from Woodberry, hovering overhead. Q'uonan probes the nearby bushes for his axe.
Q'UONAN: "And to honor the nature, let us not make waste..."
With surprising care and accuracy, Q'uonan grips the heavy two-sided blade from its neck and carves the Giant Rat's pelt from its body. Woodberry observes without a word, only making an occasional squeak. Once the pelt is fully liberated, she looks away in revulsion.
WOODBERRY: "Do you see that...?"
Q'uonan stretches to his full height. In the distant darkness, there appears to be a bright orange light floating in mid-air.
WOODBERRY: "Someone's been watching us..."
Woodberry's glowing ceases. She lands on Q'uonan's shivering shoulder while he extends his axe toward the light. He takes a half-step foward.
Q'UONAN: "Who is?! Present yourself!"
Among the sound of crickets, we hear the creek of a rusty lantern swinging. It moves toward us very slowly. Deep in shadow, a hooded elderly man comes into view, stopping about ten meters away. He speaks as if measuring each word.
FIGURE: "Be not alarmed - I kept my distance, for I did not wish to startle you."
WOODBERRY: "A-are you a spirit, too?"
FIGURE: "I say... a Faerie? Resting on a man’s shoulder? Do my eyes deceive me?”
WOODBERRY: “W-what're you doing, wandering around these spooky woods?”
FIGURE: “Hmm, hmm… I am not a Spirit. Not yet, at least. I am a Lantern Keeper.”
WOODBERRY: “...Isn’t it dangerous to be out here in the dark?”
FIGURE: “Quite - though it must be done. It is a custom of this land for roadside Lanterns to remain lit at all times. To guide those who have passed on, you see.”
Q’uonan shivers, startling Woodberry.
FIGURE: “Please consider it no more than the tradition of a restless old man on an evening stroll, should that comfort you.”
Q’UONAN: “I… I am Q’uonan. Your customs are good, for my ancestors watch over me at all times.”
FIGURE: “Do they? That must be wearisome, especially when you visit the outhouse, hmm-hmm… I suspect you are not from these parts, then?”
Q’UONAN: “Nay. I come on a quest of truth, to prove mineself and seek a worthy trophy for my people.”
The old man nods and scratches his beard. His thin, veiny fingers seem twice as long under the lantern.
FIGURE:“In that case you may wish to visit Bryn Colledig, a hamlet Northeast of here. Are you traveling on foot?”
Q’UONAN: “I am, for I leave my horses at the border.”
FIGURE: “Alas, then I am afraid your journey may tax your strength for another day or two. Regrettably, there are not many settlements between here and there; leastways not the civilized variety. What say you? Would you trust the words of a stranger? If so, perhaps I may interest you with some work?”
Q’uonan glances at Woodberry, who shrugs. Q’uonan responds to the question by inflating his chest.
WOODBERRY: “Like a Quest?"
FIGURE: “Precisely. I wish to have a letter delivered to my friend in Bryn Colledig. I would happily reward you, if the task is not beneath you?”
WOODBERRY: “Not at all! Adventure is what we crave!”
Woodberry flutters forward, leaving the acorn balanced on Q'uonan's square shoulder. The old man removes a roll of paper from his robe, which the Faerie accepts with both hands.
FIGURE: “When you arrive, kindly bring this to my friend maintaining the Wreath, on the town summit. His name is Abacus. He will be very easy to find.”
WOODBERRY: “Abacus. Got it! I’ll remember that for you, Q’uonan. I have the best memory.”
Q’UONAN: “Very good. I thank you.
FIGURE: “Undoubtedly, these woods have been most tiresome for you. Should you wish, there is an old trade road nearby that would make your journey more pleasant – about an hour’s walk East of here.”
WOODBERRY: “How will we know when it’s close?”
FIGURE: “Follow the lanterns, of course!”
The old man smirks under his unkempt beard. Q’uonan shivers again.
WOODBERRY: “But what about you?”
FIGURE: “Bless you for asking! I must see to my errand – though I am certain we will meet again. In the interim, perhaps you will allow me to offer an advance bonus, for accepting my request? Something, you might say, to ensure and hasten your success?”
The old man reaches into a small shoulder bag made of cloth, producing a cookie wrapped in wax paper. Q’uonan steps forward this time, extending a cautious arm, accepting the gift.
FIGURE: “I wish you safe travels.”
Q’UONAN: “We thank you, crone.”
Chuckling, the Lantern Keeper turns and steps back into the woods. Q’uonan remains in place until the squeak of the lantern fades out of view. He unwraps the cookie. It, too, vanishes - with two hungry bites.
WOODBERRY: “Jeepers, walking around by himself like that? I’d never have the guts.”
Q’UONAN: “Mmmff… grrff… worry not, Wood-Daughter. He is surely protected by the blessing of the Forest, as we are.”
WOODBERRY: “…Ehh… yeah...”
Q’UONAN: “This hard-bread is most delicious! My strength is refreshed. Let us travel East, to the road."
WOODBERRY: “After you.”
Q’uonan lifts his knees high once more, marching through the thick wilderness.
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