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A few of the motes around the tree follow the motion, but most ignore her. One of the motes slips out of the fruit, but doesn't fly up. Instead it floats a little to one side, then the other, ever downward until it drops to the ground like a spark from a firework, glimmering on the grass for a few moments before fading.


She frowns slightly, her heart clenching. This isn't working the way she hoped. Everything is pointing more toward associative kaleidoscope LSD trip and less to direct manifestation of her thoughts, feelings, and actions ...

She has ever taken hallucinogenics and she does actually pride herself on never succumbing to a bad trip. She repeats the rules to herself: Take good care of your body, stay calm, remind yourself it will all pass and isn't real, then enjoy the trip.

Ok, yes. A mote dying is sad, but she can be here for it and this too shall pass.

She pockets the fruit, and considers becoming a little bit more pragmatic. She can't directly manifest the things she wants, so she'll have to gear up and go with the flow. What can she scavenge?

She looks at the tree again with a few branches missing. She pulls out her carving knife and starts sawing off an especially straight and sturdy branch. This might make for a good walking staff, and possibly a decent weapon. Ideally it's about as thick as half her wrist and as long as her body is tall.



There aren't any branches quite that long, and while some start that thick they taper rather quickly. But the branch will cut relatively easily, its wood soft and pliable, and wonder of wonders, it has no barbs she can see.

The most straight and sturdy branch has four fruit along its length. As she lifts it away from the tree, a handful of motes follow with it, and the upward spiraling dance around the tree adjusts to a slightly different pattern.


She looks at the fruit. Do any of them look especially interesting?


The first from the end looks much like hers, a shifting series of images that look like they might have come from someone's phone. A beach. A smiling face she can't quite make out. A cityscape. Some clouds. A dog.

The second from the edge is similar, though instead of photos it seems to be playing a film. As she watches, she can make out from the angle that it seems to be attached to the owner's chest, near a shoulder where the dark skinned arm is often in frame. Its owner seems to be traveling through some woods, occasionally stopping as the arm points at some trees or bushes. The image is too small to make out what specifically is being gestured at.

The fourth one near the cut is similar to the first, but the thirs... the images in the second are stranger. They look like images from some science fiction film, picgures of tall silver spires and massive derigibles above cities interwoven with more traditional pictures of flowers, landscapes seen from high above, and what looks like a pet ferret with big floppy ears and human-like hands.

As she stands examining the fruit, she realizes vaguely that the forest has once again become a little darker.


She picks the fourth fruit and makes a tiny hole in the skin with her pocket knife. A drop of juice wells up. She dabs at it with a finger and puts her finger in her mouth.


The juice is iridescent, and she feels it fizzing in her mouth like a drop of warm soda. The flavor...

She can't describe it with tongue-sensation alone. It's sweet, but a melancholy sweet. The sweetness of looking over an old teddy bear. Not quite nostalgic, more just a kind of sweetness that feels passing and faint. The echo of an emotion rather than one that still holds depth.

Another drop wells up from the fruit, threatening to drip down its skin.


It feels vaguely sacrilegious to consume what seem like someone's memories.

At the same time she is feeling increasingly light-headed and drained from the adrenaline fading from her system. She sighs. Sometimes you need to make choices, and those choices involve eating shards of cognition off rainbow colored Christmas trees in haunted forests.

She bites into the fruit, savoring the taste. If nothing earth-shattering happens to her in the meanwhile, she will eat all four fruit, while saving her own.

She will also experimentally test out her new branch by swinging it around. How long is it and how sturdy?


...something earth-shattering happens immediately, yes, on the very first bite.

A torrent of emotions surge down her throat, so strong it leaves her temporarily stunned by the flood of happy-nostalgia-wonder-joy-melancholy-excitement... she feels them moving through her body as she convulsively swallows, swaying on her feet as she experiences a dozen embodied emotions all at once, heart kicking like a mule and heat flushing through her face as she's left with her mouth agape and eyes glazed, glowing drops of juice dripping from her lips and chin.

She manages to hold onto her sense of self, but only barely. Just a little less control, and she would be singing, laughing, dancing...

Instead she just gasps every few seconds, or smiles, or gently weeps, as the warm pulp and juice trace a red glowing line down her throat and settle in her stomach. The emotions continue to spiral through her, like someone is turning the knob on a radio, taking her through one different mental state after another.

...The branch?


The branch.

It's... about half her height, and not particularly sturdy. The tree isn't quite an evergreen conifer, or even a spruce tree, but it leans in that direction, with thin branches that, if stripped of its pine-like leaves, would be more suitable as a switch than a cane, but less bendy.


She looks down at the fruit in her hand. She suppresses the urge to take another bite and instead decides to hurl the little emotion grenade deep into the forest. She pockets the remaining three, though. They might come in handy.

Next, she pauses a moment to enjoy the warm glow in her tummy. She feels full. Fulfilled. Content. Rich. Expansive.

Meals normally don't do this. Drugs might. Not any drug she knows though. But it wasn't like she was in Kansas anymore anyway. Or New York, for that matter. Or... is she?

"Wait a minute", she whispers, realization dawning. She cranes her neck upward and tries to look through the canopy to make out the stars. Then she realizes that she is standing next to a blazing Christmas tree that is obviously blacking out any night vision she may possess.

So she sets herself to finishing up her improv weapon by stripping the branch she cut from all leaves and twigs. It's not as long or strong as she had hoped. She looks at the tree and picks out another sturdy branch, saws it off, pockets the fruit, and strips it clear.

Now, to actually purposefully go toward the dark instead of the light. Preferably a dark clearing. Does she remember any such place from her brief vertical adventure, and can she make her way there?



She does not. It all seemed... kind of the same, illumination-wise, wherever she looked, actually.

Certainly some areas had more foliage overhead than others, and the glow from the mass of motes is what attracted her here. But perhaps due to the strange nature of light and mist and shadow here, none of the places she looked seemed noticeably more or less dark than others, and a clearing, dark or otherwise, wasn't visible through the dim forest she peered through.

Speaking of which, it's grown noticeably darker again by the time she finishes preparing the second branch. It's hard to tell in this strange place, but true night feels just a few minutes away, maybe ten at most. The pocketed fruit glow like covered lamps through her clothes, which is convenient given how hard it would be to otherwise see anything further from the tree.

 Which means if she wants to see the sky, she'll have to wander around and hope a clearing appears, or climb a tree again, higher than she did last time. She might have feelings about that, but it would be hard to notice them while her body/mind is still fluctuating between different emotional states.


"hmm, what if I talked to myself? Would that help with the manifestation thing? I can narrate my thoughts and see if that attracts good things. Or maybe the world will just give me solutions to my problems. For free. Please. Yes." She looks around hopefully.

"Gueeeeess not. Ok, not going to give up yet. Though please don't let the whole talking out loud thing attract big bad vine wolves. That would be bad. Very bad. Let's not think about the bad thing. Manifest good things. Good things. Cinnamon roles. Rainbows and kisses and unicorn farts. No, not farts. Aaargh, this is hard!" She bites her lip.

"Ok, finding the stars so I can orient. Or ... well, anything really. I should mostly figure out a way to keep walking in one direction and not get lost. Last time I couldn't find my way back to the entrance of this place. So let's retrace our steps to the big bad tree in the clearing and take that as my starting point."

She turns and starts walking the way she came. As she walks, she narrates everything she sees to herself.


It's dark enough now that she can't make out the tree in the distance, or much of anything beyond what's lit by her pocketed fruit. Still, she keeps a running monologue going of the various hedges and trees and bramble patches she passes by, occasionally noticing some feature of the forest above her.

What she sees are basically just more hedges and bramble patches and trees. The path is twisty enough that it requires her to turn slightly left or right to get by some hedges, resulting in her tacking back right or left the next time she can and hope she's going in a mostly straight line.

On the upside, it doesn't seem to be getting any darker.

On the neutral side, she starts to hear something else moving through the other-wise silent forest.

On the downside, it appears to be coming from behind her, and getting louder.


"Hedge, hedge, spiky thorn. Gosh this place is monotonous. It needs a gardener. A very sweet, kindly old man with huge hedge clippers and a straw hat, chewing a piece of grass." She muses out loud.

"Aaaand, another bush, another bush. Aaaand ... o... uuh ... sound? Hello?" She starts doubting herself. Should she really be committing to making this much noise in such a mysterious and dangerous place?

"Hello?" She turns around and looks down the path she came.

"Hi! I'm lost. Could you help me?", her voice trails off into the darkness in front of her.


The noise from the brush leading back toward the light tree slows, for a moment, as her words echo in the misty forest.

And then they start again, louder and more violently, like something is surging through the hedges, snapping and cracking wood along the way.


Her eyes widen as heat flushes through her body and her heart lifts off. For a fraction of a second her mind is entirely blank and then suddenly reboots into survival mode. She twists around and sprints headlong up the path, her muscles pumping, her legs propelling her forward faster than she ever imagined herself capable of moving. Air rushes past her face. Thorns claw along her legs. Air burns her lungs.

But she barely feels any of it as the world zips by.


The incline starts to steepen, and a few fruit drop out of her pockets as she scrambles up it. Her hands dart out to catch a couple, stuffing them back without losing pace as the flow state keeps her body moving without thought, until she emerges back in the clearing with the major tree.

Everything is still as she left it, except for one thing: the vinerope she left isn't hanging from the branch anymore. It's looped around it, like someone climbed it and drew it up.


She runs up to the tree and stops behind it, putting her back against the trunk. She catches her breath, trying to make sure she does so quietly. Then she notices the pain lancing out from her sides, and she doubles over, quietly retching. All her attention is on making no noise whatsoever while gulping down large breaths of air.


The heavy rustling through the bushes continues until something crashes through. She hears a series of snuffling, snorting sounds, and heavy footsteps moving toward the tree.


"Smell, smell, of course it's smell!", she realizes

She looks up the tree, trying to figure out if she can climb up. Could she poke the rope free with one of her two branches and scramble up? She'd never have enough time. Distraction. Distraction, she needs a distraction.

The fruit!

She grabs one at random, pulls it from her jacket, cuts off a slice to make it bleed juices, and throws it like a baseball pitcher as closely in the direction of the creature as she can manage without showing herself.

She then grabs one of her branches and pokes at the coiled rope in an attempt to pull it down.


The luminescent juices stain her hand as she cuts the fruit, and then there's a squeal as the fruit flights outward. As she reaches up with her stick, she sees the beast in her periphery, something like a mix between a boar and an anteater, rushing toward the light on all fours, huffing and slurping as it eats.

She just barely manages to snag the coil of vine, and with a flick of her wrist it drops back down to her.


She scrambles up the rope ladder heedless of the thorns.


She makes it halfway up before the monster finishes with the fruit, thorns piercing her skin a couple times. She hears it charging toward her, feels it grip the bottom of the vine... and then hears a thwump, hears it squeal in pain, and the vine goes slack again.

She manages to reach the top, arms and lungs burning, without any more deep gouges. Another piece of fruit drops from her pocket, and the beast immediately goes to eat it, an arrow sticking out of its back.


"You alright?"

Sitting in the tree next to her, legs wrapped around the branch below them and bow held carefully to one side, is a young man. Old boy?

It's hard to make out details in the dim light, but he's wearing a shirt that doesn't seem to have any buttons left, hanging open to reveal a muscular torso, and his hair is long enough to hang around his jawline.

He's also possibly cute. The low light makes it hard to tell for sure, but... yeah. Probably very cute.


She wants to collapse on to the branch and hug it for dear life, but instead she sits frozen in place, staring at the young man.

"Yes. Who...? What...?" She looks down, giving herself a moment to catch her breath. The creature is gobbling down the fruit, arrow sticking out of its hide.

She glances back at the stranger, suddenly feeling shy.

"Who ... who are you?", she stammers.

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