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The air was calm and the fog thinned considerably as they walked. Now the wetness of the swamp dissipated and the dreary forest surrounding them was swimming with a strange glowing dust. Balamor watched as the small specks of light drifted to the root festered soil and flickered away. Trees and plants were missing most of their foliage and what remained was drained of color. Twisted trunks stood tall over Balamor as he imagined them in their normalcy. Their bark was etched with deep grooves and coated in a copious layer of ash. The curious mapmaker held his hand out in front of him catching a few of the odd particles in his palm. At the touch of his skin they broke into gray flakes. He looked to Awkid who began to answer his unspoken question.

“The spirit of the trees, that’s what confounds you.”

“Fascinating… Unlike any trees I’ve ever seen.” Balamor replied quietly.

“That’s because they’re not just trees, they’re folk.” Said Awkid with a glance over his shoulder.

“Folk? Like you and I?”

“Rootfolk… That’s what the black robed man called them anyway. Some ancient spirits bound to the flora and its rotting soil.”

“These folk, do they speak?” Balamor asked while running his fingers along the bark of a towering trunk.

“No more than the wind whispers at night... Their days have long since passed, only their essence remains. The man told me this place was once more alive than the rainforests of Wynspur.”

Balamor looked around the dismal place trying to imagine what it once looked like,

“What happened?”

“War, blood, and death happened.” Awkid said disgustedly as he strolled his weakened body forward with the help of his new polearm.

The two of them finally made it to the next stone spire, Balamor’s torchlight swept across its border of signs, filling each with a cool shade of blue. Again the hobbit searched for the shadow with its flame. The light waved against the surface as he approached the marker’s leftmost side. A long shade grew from the opposite face and stretched across the ground beside them. Balamor was still amazed at the logic behind it when a long distant howl broke his attention and pierced his ears with a caustic and gurgling cry. It passed through the dying forest and slowly faded. Fear held Balamor in shock but Awkid quickly nabbed him and ducked them both behind a tree.

The End

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