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Aug 10, 2022 10:37 PM
The Lone Singer makes a deal with a Jalex
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This is not a friendly place.

The canopy high above is so thick it blocks out the sun, leaving the forest floor below dark and gloomy. Despite this, the forest floor is a deep thicket of thorny bushes and prickly plants, allowing vines and roots to go unnoticed underfoot. Any man-made path that once cut through the foliage is long gone, overgrown years ago, leaving only thin, stone-specked trails frequented the animals that dwell within - and any sane human would avoid those, in this place.

Even avoiding the trails, any human who strayed into these dark woods would soon be chased out by the eyes in the darkness, if they were ever seen again at all. The animals are unnaturally fierce there, those survivors say, telling of how they faced attacks from everything from bears to songbirds, seemingly driven mad by the aura of the place. It's so silent there, say those who escape, shuddering at the reminder. Even the trees turn against you, they say.

The ones who escape with their minds and souls intact, that is.

 

There is only one reason anyone would brave the dark heart of the forest: deep inside the ancient, cursed forest, it is said, lie the ruins of an ancient, cursed temple, where dwells an ancient, cursed spirit, so evil its very presence has warped the wood around it. Some of those who enter the forest and return, it is said, made terrible deals with this spirit, trading their very humanity for great strength, power, beauty, or vengeance. Thus, the locals rightly treat any survivors with wariness, and speak of the forest only in warnings to stay far, far away.

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Fortunately for this traveller, the only thing human about her is the blood splattered across her... armor? Body? It's massive, a mismatched mosaic of all colours and kinds of metal, scratched up and bent, either in battle or simply by a less skilled blacksmith's hammer.

With every heavy step, the machinery inside the armor screeches, begging for attention, but the traveler does not seem to pay it much mind—nor, for that matter, the animals preparing to attack and the vines getting closer and closer. If anything, she seems curious, but mostly she's just delighted at something completely different, looking down at her almost completely red hands and beaming, even as the featureless piece of metal in place of her face does not move.

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The beasts watch her, following her through the wood. Their eyes glow in the darkness, what little light seeps through the leaves reflecting back at her. Wary and riled as they are, they don't attack her. Yet.

The vibes do, however, grow closer and closer. They seem to wrap around her limbs when she's not looking, seeking to trip and trap her, inhibiting her path forward. She can power through it for a while, but it is growing thicker as she moves further inside.

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She gets a sense she's unwelcome here, but that's the case more often than not, and she would rather take her chances with the vines than with the village she just left. And she does have a sword, a broad-bladed, scarcely decorated piece of steel hanging across her back, which she draws now, seeming annoyed to trade her bare hands for another weapon.

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The vines shrink back from her sword at the first few cuts she makes, before apparently gathering their courage and redoubling their efforts. She's in for a fight, if she means to reach the center of this odd activity, for all that the animals are still hanging back, sensing little of nutritional value about her, perhaps.

Eventually, however, she can catch glimpses of... A structure, of sorts, through the trees. Ruined and vine-covered, collapsed in places, trees growing out of parts of the structure, but clearly man-made, despite that. Worn motifs of ravens and wild dogs decorate the walls, statues scattered here and there along the rooftops, and carved into the oldest trees as she nears the grounds.

The forest is silent around it, but for the sounds of her struggle with the unusually animated flora.

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Her moves as she slashes through the vines are practiced and oddly graceful, underneath her bulky form. She seems to be enjoying herself for the most part, taking risks when they allow her to use her hands instead of the blade, balancing in ways as unnecessary as they would be pleasing to the eye of anyone watching—all the way until there's a moment when the vines almost manage to immobilize her. Something changes then and suddenly she's not a playful wind, but a hurricane, tearing through the forest in something between rage and panic.

(And yet she's still moving further in, eyes darting to what glimpses of the structure she can catch.)

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The closer she gets, the more frantic the flora becomes. Roots seem to appear above her feet as she moves to take a step, branches appear out of the darkness to bar her path, and the ever-present vines twist and twine and cling, filling the air with creaks and groans. Her blade and her hands are effective weapons against all, however, especially once she really lets go.

Eventually, her steps produce the occasional sound of metal on stone, more and more, and tall statues loom over her, dogs with their leering grins and ravens with their staring eyes. The stone pavers of the path only stick out of the dirt here and there at first, allowing bushes and trees to grow over and around them, but soon they prove intact more and more, and she leaves behind the majority of her attackers, leaving only the eyes in the dark.

She can see the temple ahead clearly, now, if she looks up. A dark, vine-covered building situated on a rise several levels above her, it seems to shift as the plantlife covering it ripples in a soft breeze. The sight of it seems to open a pit in the stomach of onlookers, and raise the hairs on the back of their necks, even should they have no stomach to be pitted, nor hair to rise.

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She glances away on instinct, but then looks back at it, not because it's a good experience, but because it's an experience. She studies the way it feels, commits it to memory, just in case... Just in case.

When she was fighting her way through hordes of enemies, it may have seemed like she had a goal here – no one fights like this without something to fight for – but now that sense of direction seems gone. She's looking around, running her fingers over the curves of the statues, touching the young grass preparing to swallow the remaining pavers, a strange focus to her gentle movements.

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The grass curls around her fingers, more playful than menacing at such a small size. It's hard to tell if it's even attacking her, or if it's just, somehow, curious. She can extract herself easily without even hurting it. If she's capable of feeling it, she'll find the statues slightly chill to the touch, and a little bit damp. Despite this, no moss grows on them, avoiding the imagery sacred to the spirit of the temple.

The eyes watch her exploration. Some leave, and some new eyes replace them - not that she can easily tell this is happening. The ominous feeling does not abate, but nor does it grow stronger. She gets the sense of the aura... holding its breath, as she slowly spirals the hill, getting higher as she goes.

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The moment the grass responds to her touch, she pauses, a grind in her gears almost like a gasp of delight, and sits down right where she is, raising a cloud of dust when her heavy form hits the ground. Whoever or whatever is watching her is in for an extended period of her playing with the grass, experimenting, letting it climb, and at some point giving it a less load-bearing screw from her body to swallow.

And no, she can't feel the cold, but she half-closes her eyes with a silent sigh of relief all the same. (Only half, and the lenses of her eyes readjust underneath with a quiet buzz.)

She glances into the darkness now and then, curious, teasing, inviting, as she goes further in.

 

 

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The grass tries to poke into any cracks in her hands, tugging gently at her fingers, the longer blades wrapping around her wrists, but they remain too weak to actually do any damage. The screw she donates vanishes quickly into a thicket of taller grass, blades winding around it and attempting to tug it apart, ineffectively.

Some of the eyes leave. Some don't mind watching. Some circle closer, while her back is turned and her focus is on the grass.

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The grass is delightfully alive. Already worth having fought her way here.

...and yet she apparently has more important business to attend to. Even though here would not be the worst place to–

With a goodbye pat for her sapling friend, she gets up and turns around, hand tiredly resting on her sword.

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Caught, the creature creeping up on her stills.

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