Chapter 2: For Mirth
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As the small group walked down the path, following Rivsk's nose, Gartroth began helpfully pointing out dangerous plants and animals, as well as non-dangerous plants and animals, as well as interesting plants and animals. Also interesting rock formations, and self-proclaimed interesting factoids about the section of the woods that they were apparently in, and was that butterfly a xynnia ravlia, or an undiscovered species? Maybe she should start thinking up names, just in case, huh? She wished she had brought her sketch pad.

It was clear she was not taking her audience with her, but not to her. She was too enthralled.

Eurillya had made an effort at first, but her attention wandered quickly to the surrounding foliage. She turned her head slowly, taking in the wildlife, occasionally drifting back to the lecture when the subject matter happened to line up with the current object of her scrutiny. Rivsk, sniffing at the head of the group, was intensely focused on the wavering scent of Magpie in the air, and didn’t seem to register the troll aside from the occasional twitch of a nostril as he attempted to compensate for the copious clouds of carbon dioxide emanating from Gartroth’s position. Rathin was the only person really listening, but with an unconcerned air that suggested he was largely doing so because she was the only voice in earshot.

Of the four, Rosort seemed to be having the most trouble tuning Gartroth out. After fifteen minutes, the polite, waxen smile glued to his face began to look a little strained. Already walking briskly to make up for the height of his legs, he picked up the pace, catching up to Rivsk and putting some distance between him and Gartroth. At the half hour mark the smile had started visibly shaking, and he was barely three steps behind the Caniloper.

The impromptu guided tour had been going on for forty-seven minutes, and Rosort looked about ready to pop, when he found his concentration broken by the tail whipping across his nostrils. “Pthatbpth!” he sneezed, loud enough to interrupt Gartroth, in the middle of a convenient lull.

Rivsk had stopped suddenly, turning his head to the right and sniffing hard. “The trail starts heading off the path here. Into the woods.” He stood up carefully and pointed his nose as high into the breeze as he could. “It doesn’t smell like it’s going to join back up with it any time soon, either.”

“Well, that’s a shame,” said Rosort. He sounded like he meant it. "We’ll have to continue on as a smaller group, and leave Rathin and Eurillya here."

“What, just like that?” asked Eurillya, incredulously. “Are you being serious right now?”

“I don’t think we should split up, brother,” Rathin agreed.

"I feel the need to remind you two that we are in the Ravelwoods. This is not a charming jaunt through the forest!" Rosort's heels clicked together, and, seemingly without being aware of it, he began to pace, slowly.

"Consider the well-worn path beneath our feet!" he declared. "This clearly marks the safest route through the woods, and our quarry has turned off of it. Unknown and unpredictable dangers await, and it can be assumed that the Magpie is far more familiar with them than we are. Our streamlined group will include our most capable fighter, a mage, and an expert on the local geography. Rathin, you can make camp just off the path here. Guard and sustain yourselves as you await our return."

Eurillya, who had been listening with her mouth open, closed it. "Okay, so you were joking. I couldn’t tell. That is the most—

—unwise decision you could make right now, Mr. Serrin," Gartroth chimed in. "Even assuming we catch the Magpie, without a clear trail to follow back, we'd just get lost."

"Please, dear scholar. I'm sure a trail can be arranged. You could… uproot a sapling every ten yards or so, or perhaps our mage friend can do something."

"Brother, no, this truly is unwise," Rathin ventured.

Rosort spun around. "You too, Rathin! You've been on just as many marches as I have, you know these tactics work!"

"We had a clearer destination on those marches, and greater resources."

"It's not as though we're chasing an army, dear brother."

"You admitted the path ahead is unpredictable. We may be needed. 'Unknown problems may require unlikely solutions.' Cheiftain Soo Chee Lin. Remember the Art of War."

"Soo Chee Lin was the enemy in the accounts we read! His tactics were underhanded and his personal fighting style lackluster at best!"

"But he won, brother. He wrote the rest of the book."

"You read ahead!"

Eurillya chimed in, "These are all very good points, Rathin and Gartroth, but I was trying to point out that we don't know any Way out of the woods. I thought the whole plan was to catch up to the Magpie and make it tell us how to get out of here. Are you going to come all the way back for us, then travel all the way back to whatever exit you learn about?"

Rosort turned to face Euryllia with his mouth open, raised his clawed digit, closed his mouth, looked away, lowered his finger, looked back at her, opened his mouth again, paused, and finally made an about turn towards the Magpie trail. "We will group ourselves as follows! Myself and Rathin will bring up the front, followed by Rivsk at a distance of two meters, who will scan ahead with his sense of smell for the trail and any dangers! Eurillya will stay directly behind Rivsk and Gartroth will bring up our rear, remaining within one meter at all times! Are there any questions?"

"How long is a meter?" asked Rivsk.

"Slightly below my height," Rosort replied.

"Could you lie down for a second, I'm having trouble visualizing—"

Gartroth said, "Your concern is understandable, Rosort, but I studied the Ravelwoods for a significant amount of my adult life. The Walkers do a very good job, but their paths are far from the only safe ways through the woods."

Rivsk piped up, "I also did a good amount of digging on the woods to prepare for my commission, and I can verify that. The Walkers' Paths are not the only way of navigating the woods."


"But they are the only ones that reliably last, a lot of the time."

Nobody said anything, but the group turned as one to face the forest that they had been standing at the edge of for several minutes.

"Well, it sounds like we should get a move on!" said Eurillya, walking up next to Rivsk.

They all turned into the brush, and began walking quickly through the dense trees.

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