Tyler awoke the next morning to see that Rin was already awake and sitting cross-legged where he had slept. He had his elbows resting on his knees with his fingertips of one hand resting on the others. His eyes were closed as if he were meditating. He got up and walked the couple of steps to Rin's pack to have a drink from the canteen that was sitting next to it. He took a big gulp of water, gave a refreshing sigh, and sat down resting his back against a tree.
He didn't want to disturb Rin if he was meditating. So he looked off into the woods back on the path they had traveled that night. Tyler thought to himself, "Is this Jinlan?" He started to picture himself in his game to try to get an idea of where they were. "If we are going to the plains that have the Jincocks that means we're on the Plains of Argola, which was really the southeastern end of the games playing field. Nestropia would be to the north, near the banks of the East River. Then there was the Hedgerick Mountains farther north that separated Jinlan from Omalin.
Thinking of what then lie out west was even harder to imagine; the Gosheck River. The Gosheck was a tame river here in the south. It made up the border of Jinlan and Maranal, and it was three miles wide at the narrowest point between the two realms. Tyler had never before seen the ocean. Living in the middle of North Dakota did not give him to opportunity to see great bodies of water. He had taken Rin in the game to the river more than once. "What a sight that must be," he said as he imagined himself standing on the bank of the river, not being able to see the other side.
“What must be a sight,” Rin asked, now sitting with his palms on his knees and his eyes open.
"Oh, I was just thinking of the Gosheck River. I've never seen anything bigger than the Red River near where we used to live."
“Yes, the Gosheck is very impressive. There are a great many sights and wonders to see throughout the realms,” Rin replied.
“We should go down to the creek so we can wash our garments, and refill the canteen before leaving. It's still plenty early, so we have the time.” With that said, Rin stood up and brushed the dirt off his legs, picked up the canteen, and started a little south east from their campsite through the woods.
Tyler got up, brushed himself off, along with a little spider that was crawling across his shirt. He skipped a little to catch up to Rin, and within about five minutes had reached the creek. Rin sat down on a rock and started to untie his sandals. Tyler found a rock as well and took off his shoes and socks. Then he just sat there and watched as Rin stood back up and unfastened the belt of his kilt that allowed him to unwrap it from his waist. He laid the kilt down on the rock he had been sitting on carefully, and was now standing in front of Tyler in just his underwear. Tyler chuckled a bit taking note they were surely not Fruit of the Loom.
"What are you laughing at," Rin asked looking to see if there was something about himself that Tyler was laughing about. "It's not polite to laugh at someone you know."
"Sorry," Tyler replied, "it was just something I thought was interesting. I wasn't laughing at you."
"Oh, okay then," said Rin. "Are you going to wash your skivvies or not," he asked as he pulled his down to his ankles and stepped out of them. It didn't seem to bother Rin in the least bit that he was now naked as the day he was born. He splashed his way into the middle of the creek and kneeled down to put his skivvies in the water.
Tyler was rather embarrassed at this point. He didn't like the way his body looked for a boy his age. It was one of the things that made school here hard. His friends back in his old school were used to seeing him underdeveloped, but the boys at the new school saw it as a way to ridicule him. They would point towards him and laugh to the point where he would run out and quickly get changed. He took off his shirt revealing his very white skin and his not much meat for muscle. He took off his jeans when he saw that Rin had his head down washing and wasn't looking at him. With his underwear still on he stepped into the water.
“Oh man, that is cold,” Tyler said in just the ankle deep water just two steps from the shore.
“Haha,” Rin laughed looking up at Tyler. “If you think this is cold, just wait until we have to fill our canteens from one of the Hedgerich glaciers. That will be cold.”
“Are you going to wash with them on,” Rin asked Tyler, who had now made it to the middle of the creek.
“Are you embarrassed about being naked in front of me,” Rin asked. He had stopped his washing and put his under-dressing on his knee.
“I'm sorry,” Rin said quickly pulling his under-dressing back on. “I'll take my stuff and put them back on a little ways from here to give you some privacy.”
Rin was making his way to the shore when Tyler said, "It's okay, Rin. You can stay. I've just never been naked anywhere but school and home. And the guys at school aren't exactly my friends." With a huge blush of redness filling his face, Tyler took off his underwear and knelt down to the creek. "Plus I kinda need you to show me what I'm doing. The creek is not exactly my mothers Maytag."
"Well, you are pretty pale," Rin said looking down at Tyler. "We are going to have to put some oil on you or you will burn to a crisp when we get to the plains. In the mean time all you have to do it like this." Rin pulled his under-dressing off again and knelt down facing Tyler. "You just take the area you want to wash in one hand, and another part of them in the other, then just scrub the two together for a few minutes.
"Yea, this way of washing is so old in my town," Tyler said scrubbing away at his underwear.
"You will have to tell me what a Maytag is some time," Rin said putting his back on for a second time. "You keep washing, and I'll take care of your, oh what did you call them?"
"Yes, your jeans. I'll cut them off just above your knees when you are done there."
Rin got back to shore and picked up his kilt, wrapped it around himself, and did the buckle tight. While he was sitting on the rock stringing up his sandals, Tyler got up and made his way back to the rocks as well. When Rin looked up, he could see why Tyler was shy to reveal himself in front of him. Even though he was a couple of inches in height taller than Rin, though a year younger, he did look very boyish. Even in Jinlan he would have been considered too much of a boy yet to have a man offer their daughter to him.
Tyler noticed him looking. He was always able to feel when someone was looking at him, and the jokes and jabs were about to come. But Rin just smiled and said, “Put your jeans on just for a minute so I can mark where to cut them.”
Relieved that he wasn't about to get made fun of, Tyler put on his jeans. Standing there barefoot, Rin knelt down and poked a hole in the side of each leg just above his knee.
“Don't stab me with that thing now,” Tyler cautioned. Rin may have quickly become his friend, but the idea of having a knife between his legs was still a little disconcerting.
Rin caught on to his joke and made a very short jab upwards at which Tyler jumped about a foot back. Rin stood up and said, "now take them off, and I'll have them prepared in just a few minutes."
Tyler took off his jeans again, and when he noticed that Rin had looked away to sit down on the rock again, he tossed them at him in an arch. When his jeans were about half way to their mark he called out, "Incoming," and when Rin looked up they hit him in the face. "Sorry about that," Tyler said as they both laughed.
“So how was it that you were able to come to Longstown from Jinlan,” Tyler asked as he sat down on his rock watching Rin starting to cut the legs off his jeans.
"That is a very good question, my friend," Rin replied has his knife made a clean cut through the front of Tyler's right pant leg. The sound of the tearing made him a little uncomfortable. They weren't expensive pants, or trendy, like most of the kids wore. But his mom had bought them, and she would have likely grounded him until winter if he had done the cutting himself.
“I know it was powerful magic that did though. I can only imagine that it was because of your friendship to me, and your mothers wish, that either the oracle or Great White Dragon opened the boundry and told me to go find you. Which, quite honestly, was not that hard.
“My mother wished for you to come,” Tyler asked, his hands resting on his palms watching Rin start on his left jeans leg.
"Not me specifically," her wish was for you was to have a friend to come to the door and ask for you," answered Rin as he sliced through the second leg. "At that moment I was the only friend you had in Longstown. That's when either the dragon or the oracle called me and opened the boundry. Fate is a strange thing," he continued as he made the final cut and the bottom of the pant leg feel to the ground. "I was already down in the area here, so it only took a few hours to find the bridge."
"Then there is always the prophesy," Rin said standing up and picking up the fallen pant legs. "Let's get going back to the camp. I'll rub you down in oil, so you do not burn, and then we will get going." Saying that, Rin turned and started walking back up to their camp.
"Wait a minute," Tyler called after Rin. Skipping a few steps to catch up, Tyler asked, "What prophesy? I'm not supposed to come here to save the world am I. That sounds to Neverending Storyish."
Rin didn't say anything about the prophesy until they got back to their camp. He went to his pack and pulled out a jar that was about four inches tall and maybe the same in diameter. Inside the jar liquid that was about three-quarters full and a pale green. "Put your shirt in my pack and then come sit on this stump. Inside the jar is the oil I'll put on you to keep you from burning until you naturally tan up.
While Rin took up a position facing Tyler at Rin's pack, he put rolled up his shirt and put it into the pack. He couldn't tell what other items that Rin had as they were all wrapped up in a cloth of some kind. He laid his shirt on the top of the other items and turned around to what to the stump that Rin had chosen. “You should teach the Boy Scouts how store their backpacks,” he said to Rin. “That's the neatest pack I've ever seen,” and then sat down on the stump with his back to Rin.
“Keeps everything well protected,” Rin said. “I don't want things breaking by clanging into each other when all I'm doing is walking. And then came a foul stench that nearly made Tyler gag.
"What in the world is that," Tyler asked turning to see that the stench was coming from the jar that Rin had just opened. "You're going to put that on me? People will smell me coming from miles away."
Laughing, Rin put his right hand on Tyler's shoulder. "It smells bad now, I admit that. The smell only lasts for an hour, little longer maybe, but not much. And yes, I'm going to put it on you. Otherwise, by the time we get to Nestropia you will be as red as a rose, and have to lay in a nursing chamber until your skin heals. Which one do you want?"
“'ll take the stench, I guess,” Tyler meekly replied.
"Good choice. Now close your eyes and mouth so I can do your face first." And as Tyler did as he was asked, he felt Rin's hands on his face. Rin started his forehead and then worked his way down over his eyes, across his nose, down his cheeks and over his chin. Tyler could feel the callouses on Rin's hands as he moved them next around his neck. Rin was gentle at applying the oil to his body, though he could tell that Rin's hands were a lot stronger and more experienced than his own.
Tyler felt a little awkward when Rin started to run his hands down his arms. Tyler knew he was taller than Rin, but in this department, he was much smaller. Everyone in school had to show off how big their biceps were, well mostly the sports guys he thought. They said theirs were sixteen inches or eighteen inches; Tyler had measured his and came out with a whole whopping eleven. He wanted to get bigger, but his mother wouldn't buy him a gym set for the house, and he was too embarrassed to go to a membership gym.
Rin quickly covered Tyler's back with the oil and then reached around under Tylers arm's to oil up his chest. Tyler gave a little start when he felt Rin's hands cross over his non-existent pectorals, and Rin felt him tighten up.
“Don't worry,” Rin said in reply to Tyler's reaction, “I'm not going to bite you.”
Tyler gave a little sigh of relieve though he knew that Rin wasn't going to bite him.
"I normally do this to small children who haven't spent most of their days in the sun yet," Rin said. He worked his way down Tyler's chest, stomach, and around his sides to the top of his now shorts. "But you shouldn't stand out too much when we get to Nestropia."
“What do you mean by that,” Tyler inquired as Rin moved around to Tyler's front and kneeled down at his feet.
Taking Tyler's right foot and placing it on his lap, Rin dipped his fingertips in the jar again and started to work his way up from Tyler's ankle. "Until you tan up some, most people are going to assume that you come from a wealthy family and don't have to work in the out of doors too often, if at all. Most people in our class," he continued starting up Tyler's thigh, "won't bother us because they will not want to get accidentaly obligated to a wealthy family." Reaching just under the bottom the cut-offs Rin said, "It's the low children that are going to have the most questions." Switching now to Tyler's left foot and repeating the process, he continued, "They will want to know who my new wealthy friend is, and what you're doing hanging around with the other low children. So we have a day to figure out what we are going to say."
"Can't you just use magic to tan me," Tyler asked. "I know there is magic here because of the game and the dragons and the oracle. Wouldn't that just be easier," he said as Rin's hands brushed just under the cut offs again.
"Your all done for today," Rin said putting the cap back on the jar and wrapping it up again. "And no, I can't use magic for that. It would be too dangerous."
"How so," Tyler asked putting on his shoes.
"Because tanning requires the burning of the skin," Rin replied packing up the rest of the supplies and laying the freshly refilled canteen on the top. "It would be instantly cooking your skin. Believe me, it has been tried, and with not enough success to try it on you.
So here then Tyler was. A boy that would be an instant outsider to Rin's friends in Nestropia. White as snow, wearing a pair of cut-off jeans that in Jinlan nobody had ever heard of before. He began to wonder if this was such a good idea to go right to the city. Maybe they could just stay in the plains until he got to look more like the locals. Surely once they got close enough Rin could go the rest of the way himself to the clothier, so he didn't have to look so strange to everyone.
"I know what your thinking, my friend," Rin said as he hoisted his pack up onto his back and pulled the straps tight. "You worry too much about how you appear to others, including me just a bit ago in the creek. You have told me many times about that. I promise you; nobody is going to shame you, or call you out just because of the way you look. The more you worry about it, the more the city folk are going to notice your trepidation and wonder what your up to. That's when you will get us in trouble. Just follow my lead," Rin said as he turned to the north on the path and began walking,
"At least I didn't decide to wear my pink Van's shoes yesterday," Tyler thought to himself as he started to follow Rin up the path again. He had picked a pair of older tan ones to wear then, and he thought that they at least looked liked they might be made of some sort of hide.
The cool morning air felt good against his chest, and gentle wind made both of their heads of hair flow back. He thought he could smell the scent of lilac in the air, not too strong, but just a hint. The path had become wide enough now where they could walk side by side to each other, and it wasn't but a few minutes when Rin confirmed the aroma.
"I love the smell of lilac," he said reaching to a bush that had the purple flowers and brought them to his nose and gave a great inhale. "These were my mother's favorite flower. I was down here going to collect some for her." He gave one more great inhale and softly released the flower.
As the boys continued the walk in silence for a minute, Tyler broke it with a question, “I thought your parents were....”
"Dead," Rin finished the question. "Yes they are. But not a day goes by that I don't think of them. At the end of each day, I want them to know that I still think about them and love them with all my heart.” They walked in silence for a few more minutes before Rin finished by saying, “I bring the lilac to the place that she died when ever I can. I want them to look down from where they are and continue to be proud of me.”
Tyler did not have any reply to what Rin had just said. Nothing he thought of seemed to be a good follow-up, so he remained silent for the next fifteen minutes, just taking in the morning freshness, the cool breeze. Listening to the distant birds in the trees, and every once in a while spotting one of those tree lizards that Rin had mentioned the prior night. They were about three feet long, and from his distance looked like pretty much any other lizard he had seen. It was a few moments later that they emerged from the little forest and before them were the plains.
“Welcome to the Plains of Argola,” Rin said with a huge smile on his face. He spread out his hands like he was welcoming the plains to them. “Off that way,” he said pointing with his right hand to the northeast, “day and a half is Nestropia. And if we go that way,” now pointing with his left hand slightly to the northwest, “and just about three days, is the village of Tasynaf, the place I was born.”
What Tyler saw before him put him at awe. The Plains of Argola were a lush, thick, green grass that stood about a foot tall. They stretched in every direction for as far as the eye could see, east, north, and west. He could see rolling hills off to the east, and a very flat stretch to the west, and both went to the north as far as he could see. He looked up into the sky, and it was so pure a blue that he could not imagine that somewhere in the beautiful world there was the War of Dalen Nah. There were just but a few whispy clouds in the sky, but it was also a day that he knew would get warm fast once the sun from the east started to get past the ten o'clock hour.
Tyler reached down to touch the grass and said, “Wow, this is so soft. And bouncy,” he added when he pushed some of the grass to the ground and watched it spring back up.
Rin had taken about a half dozen steps into the plains when he sat down cross-legged and told Tyler to join him. “Sit here, like I am, facing me,” he said.
Tyler immediately sat down, crossed his legs in front of him, and waited for the next instruction.
Taking Tyler's arms, he put his elbows on his knees and showed Tyler how to hold his hands together. "Just have the fingertips touch, but don't put your palms together, leave a space between them.
Rin then put his elbows on his knees and put his hands on top of Tyler's, very gently, barely touching.
“What are we doing,” Tyler asked looking right into Rin's eyes.
“We are asking the plains to restore our bodies power, for permission to cross them, and to give us safe passage until we reach Eln Desert.
“How do we do that,” asked Tyler. “I don't remember ever doing this in the game.”
“Not ever aspect of our world is in your game,” Rin replied. “There is no secret way to ask, but you do have to ask with respect, honesty, and with true belief. Otherwise, if the plains don't like you, it can be a dangerous journey.
So not exactly knowing what to do, but following Rin's lead, as he said to do before, Tyler started quietly talking to himself as Rin started his quiet chanting. As he started to ask for permission to cross the plains and for safe passage, he felt something inside him. He felt a small presence and quickly opened his eyes to look at Rin. Rin was still chanting away quietly, so he closed his eyes again, let out a deep breath, and murmured the request for safe passage again. Suddenly there was a strong gust of wind that blew over them, and when Tyler opened his eyes, he could see the grass roll in waves, as if it were water.
Rin took his hands off Tyler's and smiling said, “We have the blessing of the plains.”
“What would have happened had the plains said no,” Tyler asked.
“Then we would have probably had to walk around them to the east and follow the river to Nestropia.
“So we can go then?”
“Yes,” Rin replied as he started to undo the lacings of his sandals.
“Why are you taking your sandals off?”
"Because I love the feel of the grass on my bare feet," said Rin as he unlaced his other sandal. "There are not many places in the realms that you can go barefoot for long periods of time. Its either mountains, deserts or the weather is too cold." He was placing his sandals in his pack when he continued, "take your shoes off and put them in my pack as well, and you will see what I mean. The plains and the streets of the great cities are the best places to go bare."
Tyler remained sitting on the grass and took his shoes off. He examined his feet and wondered.
"Your feet may be soft now, as I noticed when I was oiling you up, but you will get used to it. A person's feet were meant to join the land whenever possible. It's part of what connects us. We can feel the land, and the land can feel us. Nature can get to know us, and us nature."
So Tyler put his shoes at the top of Rin's pack and then pulled it closed. Rin then took the pack from Tyler and hoisted it once again up onto his back, and pulled the straps tight.
“I can carry that for a while if you'd like. Seems unfair that you should carry it the whole time.”
"Oh, I do appreciate the offer," Rin said adjusting the pack to the right position. "But not until you have tanned up some, and gotten some strength in your legs. Your shirt and shoes haven't added too much weight, and I would have had to carry back to Nestropia anyhow."
Rin turned now toward the way to Nestropia, a day and a half's hike away. "You'll get your pack soon enough," Rin added.
“Are you ready to go then,” Rin asked.
“Yeah, I guess I am,” Tyler replied.
“Then here we go.”
And with that, they started off across the Planes of Argola, their sights set on Nestropia, and a beautiful day to guide them.