Meet Marin, a cartographer and brave, experienced adventurer from Ikantha City who is seeking to be the first to complete a map of The Great West - everything from Ikantha gardens, up to the northern forests of Angor Thorn, and west to the Legendary City in the Fog: Ophir.
Staff in one hand, parchments in the other, Marin sets off from Ikantha on her her great quest, hoping to come back with her legacy in hand.
North was the safest route there, not that anything about this journey would be safe - Marin's set for uncharted territory after all. However, the outer forests of Angor Thorn are well travelled, by traders from the north. It's the Tal-Mirds, the great towering guardians west of the forest, that poses the danger. That and the fog that hides Ophir, the fog from which no one ever returns...
Thick Angorian Trees choke the path, and soon there is little for Marin to follow. The path finally fades at a fallen evergreen (no longer ever-green). The waxy leaves of the Ako plants are so wide and thick that they form a wall - as if willing Marin to turn back. It’s efforts are futile - Marin does not scare easily, she’s seen the Dragon in Skye Forge and not quivered. But then again, the dragon at Skye Forge wasn’t trying to trap her.
Treacherous eyes come towards Marin, glowing brightly, piercing the dark and vegetation between them and her.
“Wolves,” Marin whispers; “surely they must be wolves,” They’re the only animal that the rest of the forest would fall silent for, right?
She’s seen the city defended from wolves - it didn’t take much, wolves are as afraid of people as people are of wolves. These eyes are not afraid; they are old, knowledgable, and do not want Marin in their forest.
Without warning, from between the wax leaves, a mysterious figure on a beast of scarlet fur steps out into the clearing.
“Weary traveller, where is your rest? The forest is a dangerous place,” red fur of the beast shimmering as he speaks with a gravel tone. “You should not be here, the forest is hungry and does not welcome savages from Angor Thorn,” Every red eye retreats as if the figure now commands the forest around him, yet Marin can still feel their gaze on her back.
Bodly, Marin says “I’m going to Ophir, simply passing through here,”
“Ophir? Can it be found?” the rider says as he removes his mask, awe on his face.
“If anyone can find it, it’s going to be me!” Marin replies, she’s nervous on the inside but doesn’t let it show.
“Then let me come with you!”
“Well, I, uh…”
Cutting Marin off, the rider, clearly just a boy, un-mounts and states, “Then it’s settled! I can provide the only safe passage out to the west. Follow me!”
Before Marin could ask why he left his strange beast behind, the boy darted off into the forest. She followed, running, dashing left and right, under a low branch and over fallen logs. Eventually the pair came to a clearing, in the middle of which stood a great and very old, and very purple, tree.
“The Magnificent Magna Tree,” the boy announced proudly, as if Marin should know what that is, “If you’re going to have a chance to make it past the forest guardians, you’ll need a forest mask - like mine. Then the forest itself will let you pass through, and the guardians will at least ask what you’re doing before they eat you.”
“Any mask?” Marin asked.
“Any. This is the only place you’ll ever find them. Some say it’s the guardians that make them, others say they were left here by an ancient tribe. I reckon they grow out of the tree.”
*I reckon that’s stupid,* Marin thought to herself, but instead said, “Masks don’t grow on trees.”
Reaching out, Marin places her hand on one. “This one.”
The boy says something in his bold tone about the Magna Bird Mask being the first one to appear, yet Marin isn’t concentrating on him, she’s instead fixed on the vividness of the painted wood - glowing much brighter than anything Marin had seen elsewhere, and the citizens of Angor Thorn had pretty much perfected decorative paints, you could get anything in almost any colour; but not this colour.
Something booms in the distance and a low rumble shakes the forest floor.
“We must go, and now!”
Hastily, the pair dash behind the nearest tree and wait. Listening.
Marin peers from behind her tree, a great purple beast with twisted antlers is also leaning from behind the trees. It checks behind each tree carefully, thick purple fur occasionally getting caught on a branch. No visible mouth - one could assume this monster was no threat. Marin, however, was not one for assumptions. Assumptions got people in trouble. Marin wasn’t in trouble - she was in the midst of an adventure.
SNAP goes a twig to Marin’s right, she turns to see the boy is running off in fear. As she does, and without warning, thick fur starts to surround and grip her. Marin is then whisked above the tree canopy and is greeted, face-to-open-mouth, with the purple monster.
Struggle as hard as she might, the monsters grip is too tight!
“Ahhhh Don’t eat me!”
No response, the hand simply moves her closer to the gaping hole of a mouth.
“Please! I don’t even taste good!”
"RRRrrrrreeeealllly?" The shaggy purple mass asks.
“Quite so!” Marin replies, with hope in her heart.
“Ooh. NnneveRRRR I ask meal befoRRRRrrrre eat iiiitt,” the purple mass continues, “Eat firrrRRRssst, rrrRRRRegrrrret taste lattterrRRRRRR. Howwwww I help thennnn?”
A little bewildered at the request to help, yet grateful nonetheless, Marin starts “I’m travelling to Ophir wi-“
“OOOOOppphirrrRRRRR it is thennnn! I take usss as farrrRRRR as forestttt goooes.”
A few thuds through the forest and they arrive at the edge, the open Tal-Plains lying before them.
“Need hand, calllll outtt. I’ll hearrrRRRR.”
Marin waves farewell, the forest guardian turns and thuds back into its green home.
“I found you!” It’s the boy, out of breath and excited as ever, “though it wasn’t hard, as an expert tracker.”
“And the loud thuds of the Forest Guardian through the forest didn’t give anything away did they?” says Marin, with only a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
Marin thinks to herself, the Tal-Plains should be easy travelling, it’s the Tal-Mirds that might cause trouble. They are not known for their hospitality.
“I’ve never seen a Tal-Mird before,” says the boy.
“Oh, so you’re coming with all the way?” Marin raises an eyebrow.
“Of course!” He chirps.