He knew exactly where he was. He had spent hours etching every detail of the region’s maps into his mind, and as he closed his eyes it appeared before him. Wernian Gully was the place. He knew he was getting close. As he trudged along, Tibi recited the words from the journal of the great frontiersman Morty “Roughskin” Hiton, who travelled this land decades ago:
When traversing the woodlands of the Strangeground I found it necessary to use the well-traveled paths of animals native to the region. Stray from the path and the trees here will scatter your direction and wits.
Snapping any branches that got in his way, Tibi charged deeper into the woods. The days of old Roughskin were far gone, Tibi reasoned, and the wood had now been carefully cartographed by his predecessors. He knew exactly how to reach the center of the forest.
Roots caught at his feet, vines snagged his limbs and neck, but even so Tibi pressed onwards.
“It is fine and right to oppose nature,” Tibi muttered, “for such is the task of humanity: has our history not been one continuous struggle to survive nature’s cruelties?” Gaddius. Not his favorite writer, but a convenient enough one to quote now.
After some time Tibi drew his sword. A bright, sharp thing that he liked very much, it was given to him a long time ago. Modeled after the short swords of an empire long past, it was designed best for piercing unarmored flesh. But he used it now to lop the more knotted branches from the trees around him; the wood had grown too dense to let him through without a fight. Once or twice beasts slinked from the thickets to strike him: small, quick things whose teeth scraped against his metal greaves. They disappeared as quickly as they arrived.
Night fell suddenly, and between the suffocating darkness and the visor of his helm Tibi was finding it hard to see. Hacking a clearing in the branches and brambles, he kindled a small fire. Tibi sat near the fire, laid his sword across his lap, sat up straight with his hands at his sides, and with the warmth at his front and the cold at his back he strove to divorce himself from earthly burdens and negative influences, as he did every night.
After some time Tibi found inspiration from the depths of his mind and scratched out a letter with his ink and a dwindling supply of parchment. His writing was small and close together to save space, and danced uncertainly in the flickers of the firelight:
As you have queried, I have had the pleasure of reading your Connections and Revelations. I took great inspiration from your take on the status of the soul, and I see good prospect in your political ideal of the secluded hamlet-commune. We must meet sometime and discuss this in greater detail. On your sense of spiritual connectedness with nature, and your writings on channeling the energy of the earth I simply diverge with you; throughout the course of my experiences and observations I have concluded that there is no great force, earthly or cosmic, that one can channel or connect through via meditation or spiritual harmony with nature. You have heard, no doubt, of the recent movement of “evidentialism” that has seized hold of many of our fellow philosophers and thinkers. I’m afraid I have been turned as well, my friend; to use your-
His hand swept a violent black stripe across the parchment as the monster tackled him.