Cyrilla has been given her mission. To go and scout out the mysterious new city Dabin, first to find out if it even exists and second to determine if its situation is like that of the other cities.
“Still can’t believe she wouldn’t let me take this one alone. Almost feels like I’m being babysat by you,” Draego grumbles. He and Cyrilla have barely left the safety of their base’s territory, soon the creatures will be upon them and there will be no time to chatter.
“Well, it’s about time I paid you back for when you did the same for me,” Cyrilla goads, smile on her face.
“It hasn’t been that long since I showed you the ropes of being a runner! I could settle with a few more years of student-teacher admiration before being treated like a crochety old man,” Draego responds, grin just as wide. For all his complaints he’s excited to be out in the wilderness again. For him, it was never just a case of braving it, he always got a thrill when pit against the forces of nature.
Cyrilla analyzes the treeline to see which are safe. Around Echor, there are plenty of creatures that like to hide in or on the trees to get surprise attacks on prey and to keep safe from the subterranean predators. Burrow hounds will eat earthwinders without a second thought unless the latter retreats into the trees, for example. Not that the trees are much safer given the wakudya nests and the raider spiderwebs. Without a doubt the worst place to be is on the ground, though. There, you’re at the mercy of both the tree-dwellers and the diggers. For a runner, fire or lightning would be the most effective way to shock the creatures and make an opening but they can’t risk starting forest fires. Thankfully, Echor creatures are particularly sensitive to sound cues, so any loud burst of force can create the same shock effect. It means the runner has to avoid spiderwebs but the average runner’s reaction speed is more than good enough to do that even while going at high velocity.
As if she were a machine, Cyrilla’s eyes detect the safest path in a moment. She’s been in and out of the Echor forest countless times before, both during her studies and her runner training. She knows everything about the creatures; from the heights that raider spiders tend to make their webs to the types of tree the wakudya prefer to perch on. She knows the trees most likely to have earthwinders from just their shapes. After processing all this through her mind, Cyrilla responds to Draego’s moaning; “if you don’t want me to treat you like an old man then show me you don’t move like one!”
With that, one of her tattoos glows before she unleashes a heavy burst of sound that bends the entire treeline back for just a moment. Shocked birds launch out upwards from their nests and spiders skitter from the holes in the trees, the once-still forest becomes alive as Cyrilla launches herself towards it. Perfectly, she bounces from tree to tree, avoiding so much as grazing a creature or hazard. Draego’s muscles flare up as his years of experience come back to him. The scars he gained learning the ways of this forest burn, his body absolutely refuses to be outdone. Without hesitation, he determines a path of his own through the shifting illustration of life before him. Among this, the route Cyrilla just took isn’t an option. Not an issue for Draego, considering that isn’t the way he’s aiming for. He leaps between the trees and the force he exerts causes them to arc with each bound. This is how he always did things, with inelegant and reckless strength. He blitzes his way through, easily keeping pace with the constantly calculating Cyrilla.
Their path to the supposed location of Dabin took them through forest and jungle, rarely ever passing open stretches of land. Everything they expect, given that’s all the wilderness consists of. Fabula is a continent of trees, rivers and swamps; a minefield of obstructed views where any stalk could be hiding your death. The plants are poisonous but the vicious creatures needn’t eat them in a hierarchy of predators. The ones who know this best of all are people like Cyrilla and Draego, who live on this forsaken continent and experience its severity every day. In the minds of these two, the thought that reverberates loudest is a hope that Dabin isn’t real. That there aren’t more people consigned to the brutality of Fabula.
Then, the browns of wood and dirt transform. A phenomenon neither of the two have experienced before. Suddenly, they both do something that a runner should never think of. They come to a halt in the wilderness. In their minds they know their fault but their bodies reject the sight before them. They feel the magic in their skin and on every hair in their body. Something neither had felt since they received their first tattoos. A sensation that had just become a part of their everyday brought out by primal urgency. In front of them is a swamp. One of blues, greens and turquoise.
As they were running, Draego had it in his mind to jokingly scold Cyrilla for casting her sound spell without warning. That and all other thoughts were gone, instead the two took a moment to recollect every spell they could cast. What seems like a simple change in the environment gives off the aura of an inconceivable monster. The open maw of a beast impossibly tremendous.
“Cyrilla?” Draego breaks the silence with a crack in his voice. He feels like a young and immature boy again, no different from the day he was given his first tattoo.
“Yes?” Cyrilla responds with a struggling voice, reserved as she was before Draego saved her.
“Are you able to teleport?”
“No… I used it to get to Felle. I’d need another few days before I could teleport again.”
“Shit…” Draego swears under his breath. The wilderness is quiet here.
“The creatures feel it too,” Cyrilla claims, looking for any signs of life around them.
“Yeah. Looks like there’s only one predator around here,” Draego concludes. “Question is, do we engage with it?”
The two of them know it would be better to go back and report this to Anna but neither of them want to suggest it. Draego can barely contain his rush of adrenaline and Cyrilla feels closer than ever to the secrets of Fabula. Never before has she encountered an anomaly like this, an entire section of wilderness marked by such an unnatural palette. It’s like something straight out of the book of myths.
“I want to see what’s in there,” Cyrilla lets her thoughts leak out.
“Yeah, me too,” Draego replies with a widening grin fuelled by nervousness and excitement. “If you get into trouble, do you trust me to save you again?”
Cyrilla looks up at Draego with awe and then determination. “Like I said, it’s about time I paid you back. Teleport or not, I’ll be the one saving you,” she declares, stepping forward.
Draego releases a single amused breath. “I’m still far from needing help from a kid like you. C’mon, let’s show this swamp what runners are made of!”
For better or worse, runners are people who overcome fear with every outing. This decision was only natural for them as the two step into the turquoise territory. They don’t know what they’ll find but are empowered by the duty that all runners share. The duty to not die for the sake of those who rely on them.