But when our journey finally reached the point of no return? It was beyond our expectations.
We believed that when we reached the edge of our maps, the expanse in front of us would be sand, or the land on the other edge. But what was there in front of us was not barren, nor the dessert terrain of Sand Nymphs.
Calder step towards the expanse of wretched trees. Towards the crisp limbs entangled in each other, and the sensation of threats. Being centuries old, he knew when a forest was sick, he knew when it was cursed, he knew when it was a warning from Nature herself.
But when he turned to me, the fear of sickness, the sadness of cursed, nor the look he had when it was a warning turned his features into the customary positions.
"This forest is as it should be," he said. "It is content in its state, it desires to stay as such."
The Derkan inspected the wood on his own, then the white vines flickered in a color pattern of blue, grey, burgundy, then lilac. It had taken Calder and I time to learn the color language of this species, but we soon learned that blue meant "yes", grey meant "it" in every term, burgundy meant anywhere from invite to welcome to thank you, and lilac meant us, we, and our.
Should we enter? I asked. Can we… trust it? Calder turned back to the twisted forest and the Derkan watched me.
Grey, blood, pale umber. The Derkan believed it to be my choice. Calder glanced towards the creature when he heard the clicks that came with the color change. Grey, blood, pale umber. The Derkan repeated his sentence and Calder glanced towards me, up despite being five feet in front of me. I ran my fingers through my now long, oily hair and stepped towards the forest, then through.
The leaves underfoot crunched as I was joined, then the Derkan clawed at the gun on my back. I took it off then tossed it out after the creature gestured to. Soon following was Calder's sword, my butchers knife, and our packs. Calder and the Derkan could find food if necessary, and it was easy to find water… if it lived here.
Grey, it; baby blue, safe. The Derkan twitched its nose, suggesting he meant the air. I touched my mask, to be certain, and he nodded. I exchanged a glance with Calder, then pulled my mask off. The hood of my coat fell back and I began running my fingers through my hair. Calder watched me a moment, then removed his.
The air was fresh, clean. I could smell fresh sap, wild onions, and the fertilization of leaves. I closed my eyes and took it in.
There. There was a bird's chirp. There was a flowing brook, a ribbet from a frog. A wild horse herd was nearby, a wood pecker hammering for food. There was the buzz of bees, and the sound of leaves underfoot as the Derkan sat. I opened my eyes and we continued our exploration.
The trees grew more twisted and crisp as we went further. We soon began to climb high to pass through a certain area, and up high the limbs were slick even with the roots of other trees aiding in our ascent and descent.
Few flowers poked through the leaves, few leaves were left to fall. No fungus grew, no critters scampered away. Everywhere we looked, the scene described disease everywhere, but no scent filled the air, no emotion filled our hearts. The forest was healthy, it just did not look it and only if you paid close attention could you hear it. The Derkan bounded ahead, slipping were we couldn't, to search for coming dangers, but found nothing.
An hour passed with no sign of life. Then….
We froze in our steps, the Derkan's hackles rose as the rumble of a growl escaped his throat. Slowly the trees in front of us separated their limbs and glowed with sudden life.