Encounters in the Deep Wood
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Encounters in the Deep Wood

Corbenic Leander Atlas was a man used to running on little sleep. The life of a travelling historian and wanderer such as himself with rife was challenges and disturbances, such as the ever-present threat of starvation or dehydration, foul creatures, environmental hazards, unfriendly locals, and the gravest threat of all: knowledge. Knowledge is a thing, much like anything sufficiently valuable, that can do both good and harm to one who wields it. With the right knowledge, one can conquer anything. Though with too much, or if one drifts too far to the obsessive end of one's mental state, knowledge can lead one down a spiraling path of obsession and decline, as sure to kill as any of the former threats.

Atlas tread the line between obsession and occupation quite well, never letting his lust for knowledge drag him too far into the maw of danger, but sometimes letting that spark get the better of him, robbing him of an adequate night's rest. On this day, this spark had not taken hold of him, though he was exhausted all the same. Sunshine peeked through the open window of the tavern room, and Atlas begrudingly put away his map. He hoisted his heavy pack onto his back, and set off for the trail to Tuskini.

Below him, the trail stretched into an infinity, the ever-present blanket of mist hung over the ancient trees. Atlas had enjoyed his stay in Raven, far above the choking miasma permeating the air below. It had been here for as long as anyone could remember, and some said it was as old as three millenia, to when the Worm had come to the land. Against his better judgement, the trail returned to the lowlands of the continent. His mind filled with a million theories on which he pondered, as he took careful but meaningful steps along the trail. Gnarled roots accompanied increasingly rare patches of snow as he descended out of the biting cold of the mountains and into the shadowed forests. The wind no longer kept him company, its moans and howls replaced by the heavy silence of the trees. As the forest become thicker and older, the green of the leaves was replaced by the clouds of silk webbing amongst dead branches which was so emblematic of the Wormwood Thicket. Though Atlas saw no signs of life, he knew they were there, and held the grip of his hunting knife a little tighter.

Soon, the silk was no longer restricted to the treetops. It formed some sort of webbing jungle, each strand interwoven with another to form what seemed like an insurmountable barrier. Atlas begrudginly drew his hunting knife. The blade looked almost small in his hands, but this view was decieving. The knife was, in reality, as long as a man's forearm, and just as thick. It sliced through the webbing with ease, cutting a path through which Atlas carefully waded.

Atlas stopped dead in his tracks. He cocked his head to the side, and held his breath for a moment. This was not his first journey through the Wormwood Thicket, and he had already honed his sense to account for any predator which got too close. The hiss of hydraulics, so out of place in the forest, sounded from all around. With each hiss, Atlas brought his weapon further into fighting stance, ready to counteract any attack which might come his way.

As he waited, one of the creatures decided to make its move. With a great leap, a spider the size of a man sailed out of the webbing and straight towards the seemingly unsuspecting Atlas. With speed and precision rarely seen from a man of his size, Atlas turned to counter his assailant. The weight of the arachnid plowing into him nearly knocked him to the ground, but he braced himself on his back leg and stood firm. The searing pain of the spider's fangs piercing his thick leather pauldrons was matched by a swift swipe of his knife, cleanly severing two of the eight legs of the creature. As the spider fell onto its back, Atlas withdrew his sledgehammer, took aim, and cracked the chitinous abdomen of the flailing spider in one fell swing. Hissing was heard all around him, and though the venom coursing through his veins made it hard to concentrate, Atlas managed to chant a few words and an inferno ignited in his hands. He brandished the fire towards the dark webbing surrounding him, inviting any challengers to try their luck. None took the opportunity.

Atlas hacked and slashed his way through the rest of the webbing, the spiders of the Wormwood Thicket staying at bay. They did not wish to end as their comrade had, and although the man would have provided much meat for their nest, it was understood he was not worth the trouble. Though the venom seared inside him and made every step a painful experience, Atlas knew that his giant blood would keep him alive and mobile, at least until he could rest and recuperate.

As the webbing began to clear, and green leaves could once more again be seen, a massive wall constructed of upturned logs was seen through the trees. Holdout communities were common in the woods surrounding Tuskini, loosely collected in some confederation to the main city. People believed, falsely, that the woods offered some protection from the encroaching mist, although the mist was just as choking here as anywhere else. At least the people believed they were safe.

He was planning on finding this place. He had read vague notes of a holdout community in the Wormwood Thicket, and had learned of Valentina's adventures in the area. Though he did not know where it was, he did intent to keep walking until he found it. Luckily, he was able to locate it before the venom fully sealed his fate.

Atlas, exhausted and barely able to stay upright, approached the gate of the settlement. He raised his hand, still clutching the knife caked in spider blood and viscera, and called for a medic, before promptly collapsing unconscious.

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