Full Version: Heart of Darkness
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Black wings fluttered high among the tangled thorn-vines. The branches of the trees scrawled a series of dark and jagged slashes against the moons beyond, where they hung low in the sky; in silence, the crow flew to the highest, looking around with sharp, keen jerks of his head.

Ruby eyes studied the forest.

The pines were north: to the cold-place. He could see the distant wood where it rose on the swell of sweeping hills and cliffs, even see the brief glimmer of the vast lake many miles distant. It was a clear night; and turning west, he could see the clotted cluster of black foliage that thickened toward the heart of the Tangle.

"CAW. CAW. CAW." His voice rang out, a jarring echo in the stillness of the night, steam pluming from his black beak.

Feathers ruffled, and he flew to another branch, and then another still. He'd called for Elerrian all along the western edge of the forest, as loudly as he'd dared, and crows were hardly night-birds; his cries were out of place, difficult to not notice, or ignore. Likely, the Thornbeasts had caught wind of him, but they didn't fly, and so their predations didn't concern Matchsticks overmuch.

Another quiet flutter, and he'd returned to a branch a dozen yards back; on this hung a small, ancient, worn canvas bag and in this, he'd kept his few tiny treasures.

These consisted of a silver, finned cylinder--a space shuttle, of sorts, though Matchsticks didn't know that--on a keychain; a small and battered cardboard matchbox, with a few matches yet remaining; a rolled-up poster featuring a map of the Caldera; and a battered plastic or rhinestone necklace with half its glittering 'gemstones' missing or smeared with grime. The newest addition was a totem: a small thing he'd made himself, after Squirrus' direction. It was a small, black and twisted thing. 'Pray,' Squirrus had said, but Matchsticks didn't know to whom, or to what, he was to pray.

After long consideration, he'd decided that he liked shiny objects, food, and safety--staying hidden; and so he'd woven those concepts into his own, tiny totem. It was black--scraps of stick, of dead black leaves, of dark cloth he'd scrounged up in the city. A few Tangle thorns were jammed haphazardly into the little figure (a clumsy replica of the near-humanoid shape that Squirrus' had taken), and he'd taken two of the glittering rhinestones and stuck them on there, too. To represent food, he'd taken two small mouse-bones, and put those in; the result was a strange little cross of swathes of black, jutting bones and misplaced shinies.

Matchsticks adored it.

Where the hell is Ganymedes? Wasn't Viti coming? And where's Elerrian? I wonder if she got lost. I wonder if thornbeasts got her. Matchsticks took wing, flying a greater distance, this time, cawing as he went; the Tangle was large, and stopping to listen for replies simply wouldn't work. So he crowed, as he went, and when he finally settled near the western edges of the Tangle, he hoped that anyone hearing him might have followed.

"CAW... CAW... CAW..."

In the distance, as he settled in to wait--cawing on occasion, as a noisy beacon of sorts--he studied the western edge of the Tangle.

In the East--though Matchsticks did not know this--the world fell away in a cliff. In the West, however, the land abutted a cliff of its own: a high wall of rock that rose high above the black forest. But against this, at times--and more clearly now, this close--there was something else: a straight black spire, an unnatural shape, that rose towering against the cliff behind. It was this that Matchsticks wanted to investigate--and this for which he was calling his allies.

Anyone can join this exploration thread!

Ganymedes (and Elerrian, if you want!) Viti

After a lovely bath in Ganymedes's company, Viti had found a way to get through the treetops into the vast open skies where nothing could restrict his wings from being spread out to their full length. It was true freedom for the black and white crane.

Riding the wind with ease he made good progress moving faster than he ever could move on the forest floor. The stick legs were capable of performing swift menovers, but they weren't made for running long distances. Glancing down every once in a while Viti could see some movement, assuming it to be Ganymedes.

No, the crane wasn't going to slow down and wait for them. It was up to the shifter to keep up with Viti. Unless it was actually a Thornbeast he saw moving, then they could fall as far behind as they wanted. The crane would appreciate that!

A familiar call of a crow echoed in the air indicating that Matchsticks was way ahead of them and maybe even at the meeting spot already. Smiling wryly, Viti flaps his wings to maintain his current speed and decides to amuse himself by responding to the crows call. Was that a wise thing to do? Who knows but hearing those caws made the crane want to sing a little bit!

A rattling bugle call soon joins the chore as Viti opens his peak to let his voice out, letting everyone around know that he too was on his way. Viti felt good afterwards, it had been a while since he last had a good reason to sing. Doing it solo was so very dull.

Alas, all good things will come to an end eventually and so did Viti's singing once he was close enough to tell the crows general location. Landing on a tree branch strong enough to support him, the crane folds his wings and curiously inspects the surrounding area. It seemed like the birds were the only ones here at the moment.

"Good to see you again my dear Matchsticks. I see that we are the only ones here…" Viti greeted the crow, wondering how many others would join them.

Ganymedes kept up just fine with the crane. Their long legs ate up ground with ease, and they could (and had) loped for hours on end with a few water breaks in between. It wasn't easy, but that being said, it wasn't difficult to pick up the pace when they saw the bird above grow further ahead, having caught an updraft. Besides, it gave them exercise.

The crowing of Matchsticks alerted him to the fact that they were nearing him, and he saw Viti swoop ahead with his own call. He himself rose his face to the sky and let out a long howl, stopping for a moment before dashing forward that last couple meters. He stopped beneath them, ears perked up, nose twitching as he sniffed up at them.

"Is your friend coming?", he shouted up, and looked to the nearest tree, considering.

They grabbed the sides of the tree, snarling gently when the smooth bark gave no holds. They stood on their hind legs instead, arms hanging down, giving themselves immense height compared to before.

Climb the tree.

The mare had heard the caw from where she'd been walking, making her way towards the pines on her own time. Her head was low and the bag around her neck (white, to match the rest of her appearance), hung loosely, able to be slid on and off easily. She picked up her pace to a trot, then a canter, speeding along the plains to where Matchsticks was.

"Matchsticks!", she yelled, letting out a whinny before skidding to a stop, alarmed by the noise of a wolf.

She saw the crane and looked up at the crow, remaining at the edge of the trees.

"Is that a Thornbeast?", she asked nervously, "It sounds close..."

Elerrian saw a glimpse of grey and black fur through the trees, and stepped back, ears pinned, hind legs bunched up. A wolf. A weird wolf! With red eyes and hands!! Oh... it must be a Chosen. It spoke!

Well now she felt embarrassed.


One by one, the others arrived. Matchsticks was both startled to hear the crane's trumpeting bugle, and it took him by surprise; it sounded, to the crow, rather like one of those coastal seagulls he'd heard the few times he'd ventured as far as the western corner of the great bay. Except-... Louder, more insistent. When Viti landed on a nearby branch, greeting him, Matchsticks shuffled a little away with a wary eye--but nodded his beak, a little. "Hey. Hey. That was, uh--you?" he asked, unsure; and then Ganymedes had arrived.

Matchsticks had no sooner opened his beak to answer the werewolf (graciously ignoring whatever the hell they'd been trying to do to the tree trunk below) when Elerrian arrived. "Oh, yeah. ELERRIAN. C'MERE. This is Ganymedes and that," he added, pointing his beak to Viti, "is Viti. He's real big on his feathers. Tell him he's pretty!" the crow suggested, which--might've been wise in private, but the advice given so loudly might have just come across as bizarre.

Matchsticks then hopped to one side, pointing his beak west, deeper into the thickest of the Tangle.

"You guys see that thing-?" he asked, and then realized that the two on the ground could probably not. "Well, Viti, at least-? The big black thing, stickin' up outta the ground"

He ruffled his feathers again, peering into the dark, ruby eyes gleaming against the shadowed backdrop of his body.

The presence of darkness in the thickest of the Tangle was always a given.

Now, however, it felt as though something almost lurked; mild, as yet, and faint, but something that might (with the right activity, or attention) be stirred.

A mile or two further west, at the very distant edge of the Tangle, there indeed stood a "thing": tall, a couple hundred feet tall. It was square and unnatural, or rather, rectangular; slim, towering, tapering into a very narrow spire at its tip. It looked rather like a black hypodermic needle set on its end, point to the sky, and even from here the two birds could see that it was wrapped in the massive, thorned vines.

How it had come there, what it was, and what might lie at its base, were mysteries for now; but it wasn't too far off to explore. With the birds as their guides, the two land creatures should be able to pick their way through the Tangle and to this distant place.


If the crane had eyebrows, he would have been raising one right about now while looking at the crow as he shimmies away. What had gotten into him all of a sudden? Viti had opened his peak in order to ask, when a pretty little thought hit him and forced the thin tip shut with a snap.

Matchsticks must have been in awe after hearing his song! Confusion changes to pride and the crane takes a pose he thought to flatter his looks the best. Elegant, confident, yes, that kind of pose. ”Oh yes, that was I! Your calls were very inspiring and I simply had to join in.” No need to hold the praises, come now crow, out with them. The crane was ready.

The commotion down below interrupts the birds and even Viti seemed to forget what they had been doing just now as he spots Ganymedes and a rather pretty looking stranger in white. ”Greetings Ganymedes, might I say that your howl made for a perfect finale to our little song. Simply marvelous.” He chuckles and then focuses on the horse. Ah! Their eyes were so bright! Sparkling even. But the crow was right and his words were...rather pleasing to hear.

”Elerrian, was it? The white on my feathers can’t compare to the beauty of your pale back darling! To be born with such a pure hide, what a blessing.” Hadn’t he been the one complaining about how difficult it was to keep white feathers clean? And here he was complimenting the horse for being so white. In fact, the crane was flattering everyone left and right, it was because he was expecting some in return though-

Flattery to the side! It seemed like the time for focusing on the sole reason why they were here to begin with was at hand. Straightening his long neck while looking towards the direction Matchsticks had mentioned, Viti squints his eyes and remains silent for a moment. ”Hohoo? What a peculiar thing indeed.” He finally spoke after spotting the black thing, a cold chill caused by excitement creeping up his back, ruffling up some of the feathers on the back of his neck along the way. ”I’d say that this demands for a closer inspection. Come then you lot, we shall guide you to the right spot.”

Giving the crow one last look, Viti takes flight, eager to learn more about their target.


Ganymedes looked up at the two and nodded simply at Viti's words before turning their head to face the mare that suddenly appeared. With a white coat and blue eyes, she stood out greatly from the dark trees, like the moon did in the sky.

"... We should go," they said, turning towards where Matchsticks gestured, "I suspect that our journey won't be very pleasant."

They dug their claws into the dirt before scratching them on a tree like they'd seen forest cats do, sharpening them to dull points. It was better than what they had before. It would do.

"Elerrian... hm. Viti, keep an eye on her," they said.

Something so pure wouldn't have too much of an idea of how to defend itself. Despite the horse having powerful legs, she didn't know what she was even getting into. It would be a shame should she die because of her own ignorance, but she would learn... soon enough.

"Lead the way, Matchsticks," they said.

Elerrian looked up at Viti and then at Ganymedes, relaxing, "It's lovely to meet you both. I'm glad it's not just Matchsticks and I."

Admittedly, Matchsticks wasn't much help when it came to defense, though Elerrian could mostly handle herself. She looked up at Viti in surprise and flushed, pawing at the ground.

"Oh... you're too kind, thank you very much," she said, "Your feathers too, are very marvelous. The spot on your head especially! It's like the sun, it's very beautiful."

She was all too eager to return the compliment, oblivious to Viti fishing for one. She was naive, that was for sure.

"Ah- but we just got here?", Elerrian said to the wolf, unsure, "Are we not going to rest for a moment?"

She was nervous of the predator, that was for sure. Big teeth, big claws, though they were skinny and weak looking, which gave them a semblance of confidence. Sort of.


Head bobbed and tail flicked as the crow observed the new arrivals. "Good to see you all got here in one piece, anyway," he offered up, once all the introductions were complete. "I'll make noise on the way west but! But! There's Thornbeasts in these woods, so don't be too loud on the ground." Without explaining--he'd given, he thought, Elerrian the briefest description back in the Stone Forest--something about "big," "vicious," and "stupid" or... something like that. But he hadn't actually warned her what to watch out for, or what they could do, bar mentioning their likeness to plants.

Hopefully she'd figure it out.

The crow took wing, not realizing that poor Viti had been fishing for compliments; instead he launched himself up into the cold night air.

It was dark, chilly, each breath coming with a plume of steam, and despite the knowledge that Elerrian and Ganymedes were somewhere beneath the dark canopy below, and that Viti would be right behind him in a moment, he felt suddenly alone. Up here, it was high, clear, with the silvered moonlight flashing over the black leaves and thorns of the Tangle; for an instant all was cold, dark silence and stars wheeling high above.

Matchsticks let out one sharp caw, a sound that rang out, splitting the quiet, echoing; then he glanced back, banking. He felt the night air rifle his feathers from beneath as he searched with ruby eyes for Viti; then he wheeled back away, cawing once again as he beat his wings and angled for the heart of the black west.

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