AVftS-14

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Setting the Stage
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Part of a series of archived posts in AVftS
AVftS-14
Author: Emily
Date Posted: July 29, 2019
Forum Post: Linked!
Word Count: 1,914
Characters: Rizali Corvus, Síne

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"Mr. Corvus, I don't know what you think you're going to find out there, but it's simply too dangerous."

The ambitiously-titled town hall lacked the lush regality and grand scope of communal spaces of the Inverted Spire or the wider city of Coxarif, it had no finery-wearing nobility or knights in splendid, sparkling armour, but in this moment it carried the same gravity expected of such a grand space. Approximately a dozen farmers, men and women from every corner of this hamlet, had enclosed upon the building. They had come upon hearing the secondhand rumours of the town newcomer's goal-- to cross the Kingfisher Forest and see what was on the other side. The news had spread in a rare bout of secrecy spilling, over lunch with the mayor. Rizali had come to the conclusion that sneaking out of the village in the dead of night and crossing into the treeline was... distasteful, especially considering he would prefer all travel on this journey be conducted during daylight hours. But it would be difficult to leave without alerting the townspeople, given a farmer's penchant for waking up in the pre-dawn or dawn hours. As such, he had brought it up to the extent of delicacy he was able while sharing a lunch with the mayor, Eoin, and his wife. The reserved and mildly disapproving reaction he'd earned from the man was expected, and a planned starting point for gaining assistance.

When he was asked to come to the town hall this afternoon, the mage had been curious of the meeting's purpose of course, but was mostly hopeful it would turn into a chance to gain points toward his ultimate goal. Seeing even more stern faces and disapproval centred squarely upon himself was slightly disorienting. But he had come prepared: he had his wit, his charm, and of course Lyndh was sitting in the corner polishing his massive sword should the worst occur. Rizali hoped the worst wouldn't occur. The woman who had just spoken had a face and hands weathered from long days of hard labour, a stark contrast to the smoothness of the same attributes on the mostly-interior Rizali. Her long, red hair was ratty and dry from the direct sunlight and harsh, dry winds. Judging purely by appearance, she had never left this village, and never would.

Upon entering the village and having a chance to bathe himself, Rizali had changed clothing. Instead of the travel gear from the previous morning, he now wore a simple, taupe button-down shirt with sleeves rolled back to his forearms. The shirt was soft, not quite silk but a more comfortable fabric than the apparent burlap the people he faced wore. The mage found himself to be self-conscious of it, wondering how much his appearance and obvious, relative wealth would affect his interactions here. Blue lines wound around his forearms, ending on the back of each palm. They formed no obvious images, but continued past his sleeves. His black cloth breeches were tucked soundly into comfortable walking boots. A dark gold cowl, like that of a monk, covered his head and neck, revealing only his face.

It had been in the journal of a centuries-dead mage that Rizali had found the information he held on what lay beyond the Kingfisher Forest. He prided himself on how thorough and complete his methods were, and had meticulously crosschecked the information with other literature and maps from the time period, deeming it accurate after several months. What he'd found to lie beyond the trees was something he didn't feel particularly comfortable sharing with the people of this village, nor the purpose of their original cultivation. It would not be prudent to share a discovery that the forest around which your village thrived was actually a barrier meant to keep you from seeing what was on the other side of it. A different approach would be needed. "I swear to you any danger would be upon those that tried to cause us harm within the forest. Lyndh and I are more than capable of taking care of ourselves, isn't that right Lyndh?"

The man at the back of the room looked up, his already-narrowed eyes seeming to narrow further. He gave a singular, assenting hmph, then went back to polishing his sword. "That being said," the mage continued, pushing off the wall against which he had been leaning until that moment, "I can also ensure the safety of anyone from this village that might be interested in joining our little escapade. The more the merrier, as it were. You there," he pointed to a young, stocky farmer standing near the wall, nearly as broad of shoulder as he was tall, with a patchy blonde beard and hair to his shoulders. "What keeps you in Ceadaichte Mòir?"

The young man seemed surprised to be picked, looking momentarily to the crowd for reassurance before regainint his composure and shrugging with feigned disinterest. "Helping take care of my dad's farm."

"Has your father no other children?"

"Counting me, he has three sons."

"Then your father's farm is no chain holding you here, it would be just as well looked after in your absence as if you were here. That's what I'm saying!" the mage exclaimed, excitedly approaching him. "The things that keep you all in this village are small and finite and, and challengeable. Farming is all you've ever known, and that is a noble pursuit, but all it accomplishes is maintaining the status quo. You plant, you harvest, you sell to the convoy who brings your resources to another place you've never seen, and then you start over again. Your actions serve no higher purpose, you are just living to survive. Venturing outside of your home is difficult, it's unnerving. It's leaving behind everything you've ever known and every safety you've ever been afforded for an unsure result. Say we walk into that forest tomorrow, and we travel a few kilometres. What's the furthest anyone here has ever travelled beyond the treeline?"

Eoin, the mayor, chimed in from the front of the crowd. "Ten miles, give or take. We had a search party, fifteen years back, go in searching for a young girl who had wandered in and got lost. Farthest out party reckoned they travelled ten miles before turning back."

"And what did they find?"

"Trees, more or less. No monsters if that's what you're getting at."

"So what's the danger? Ten miles is quite the distance, much further than I would expect dangerous wildlife to start appearing. Isn't it possible that this great wall of trees, this abberation of all sense and logic, has been actually protecting you all this time instead of being threatening? What if the magic of the forest is actually protecting the interior and those who walk through it? What's the harm in going in and checking?" He knew that wasn't true, but he'd told far worse lies for the sake of inspiring good in others, and to protect the things that would have him killed were they known to be true.

The group was silent, clearly mulling these new thoughts about in their heads. Rizali, for all the pride and bluster he could be at his worst, wasn't stupid. He knew that this was not the moment to show any pride, and kept all of the self-righteous cheer from his face. A lack of counterarguments was as good as a victory, it would just take some time to set into the mythically proud stubbornness of western Ustendelle farmers. But it wasn't to be. A door opened at the back of the room. A young woman with messy brown hair entered, holding a book as if it were the world's greatest treasure, and crossed to stand in front of Rizali, where she offered it forward. He began to open his mouth to speak, but she started first, her voice low as if she didn't want anyone else to hear it. In fact, given her volume, it was possible that she was successful in her goal. "Mr. Corvus, my name is Síne, I instruct the children in Ceadaichte Mòir. I was looking through the selection of books that the traders brought into town yesterday -I always look through their books, they usually bring a few for me since I'm the only one here who-"

She stopped and took a breath, focusing herself. "Regardless. I heard a rumour that you planned on crossing the Kingfisher Forest, and I thought you should read through this."

Rizali took the book and, before speaking, looked it over. The book had not been taken care of; the hard cover and front page had been ripped away, and the spine was frail enough that it seemed unlikely to hold together for much longer. The back cover was blank, merely adorned with more faded reds and golds. The first legible page, however, made mention to "the Empire" lasting for thousands of years. Ustendelle was a republic, and most countries surrounding it were run by monarchies. The only empire Rizali had ever heard of was the one across the forest. Was it possible that this was a more contemporary book from his goal? He resisted the urge to immediately open it up and start reading it, making eye contact with the woman, who herself quickly broke it. She was nervous- scared? Of him, or something else? She had clearly not gotten much sleep the night before, worrying him about the contents of what he was to read. She nodded quickly, then took a half step away. Her composure seemed to melt as soon as she had relinquished the tome, and she began speaking again. "I-I don't know why the identifying elements of the book are torn away; I didn't do it, and I don't know who did. When I looked in the cart I couldn't find the cover or anything, so I know it wasn't harmed in transit, but I d-don't know anything more than that. I read it last night but it's, um, it's really something outside of my sphere of knowledge and I just, I just, I just think it's better if you have it, as someone who probably knows a lot more about a lot of things than I do."

"I'll read it when I return to my room," Rizali answered calmly. He had dealt with more... manic mages and academics in his time, and even though this woman was far removed from any sort of centre of knowledge, she had the same demeanour about her. "Thank you Síne. May I come speak with you after I've completed it?"

"O-oh," she replied, shaking her hands in front of her face wildly. "I don't think that's necessary, most of the things in the book went over my head. I'm afraid that I-I don't really have anything to say on it. Not that I'm saying you're not allowed to do what you like, of course! If you really think that there's something I can, I can help you with, then I'll be more than happy to."

A beat of silence passed between them before Síne quickly and unceremoniously pushed her way back out of the room and out of the hall. Rizali looked back down at the book, and then to the crowd of mostly bewildered farmers now. "Please think on what I have said," he did what he could to pull back his hard-fought progress on these people. "Apparently I have been assigned homework."