17 base | 4 story telling bonus | 8 quest bonus | 10 event bonus)
10 base | 5 personal | 15 quest bonus |20 event bonus)
By the time the esk awoke, sunlight was pale and only barely seeping over the crests of the waterfall. It was cool now, though the stone he'd fallen asleep on still warm to the touch and granting him a some comfort against the breeze that made itself known. Still, it didn't take long before Foster shivered, eyes peeking open and adjusting to the blurry dots that formed along the water's serene surface from the star's reflections. He peered up at the sky, following the specks until his eyes were met with a full moon that continued to bathe the cascade in some light, though this was much softer and of cooler colours than that of the afternoon. But he could smell rain, albeit it was distant and perhaps not approaching for some time.
He still sighed, slowly dragging himself to his feet and stretching to wash away some of the aching in his body, the lull of sleep luring him back despite his lack of need for it.
As Foster grew to his full height, his attention turned to the forest that now lie dark and flickering with only specks of color from neighboring fireflies. Some of which he speculated were will-o-the-wisps. He knew better than to meddle with the woods at night, especially in a place far beyond his own home. Something lurking in the dark made his skin crawl, the itch of discomfort drawing his eyes away before they could begin playing tricks. It was when the first raindrop bounced against his nose did Foster make the choice to seek shelter, immediately casting himself away from the treeline and back towards the waterfall. In the darkness, the remaining light gave way to something waiting behind the falls, and Foster moved along the pool's edge with fleetfooted motions and little sound.
An owl cooed from the forest, and it only made him move quicker.
Despite the rush of water and the spray of the mist, Foster found himself inching along a narrow path towards the mouth of a cave just big enough for something like him to squeeze through. It was a bad decision on his part to explore something that might be home to a living creature, but there was nothing that told him the woods would be a better option, and thus he scrabbled against the smooth stone and let the dark, narrow passageway consume him.
On either side he could feel the press of the walls against his shoulders, loose pebbles echoing as they gave way and tumbled along his pelt and to the floor. The cascade grew quieter the further he moved, and eventually he was out in the open of a small, dark space with only two paths to take; one forward, and one back the way he came.
Beautiful things always seemed to hold darkness.
The lure of the falls hadn't been by accident, there were no such things as accidents. Only coincidences and the guiding hand of Fate, and for the little esk whose memory seemed to fail him far too often, Fate seemed to be calling to him from somewhere further than where he was. In the dark he could see the mist of his breath, and a slow, aching breeze was pulling it further from the falls, deeper into the tunnel.This
felt familiar; caverns, the cold. The mountains called to him from miles and miles away, but this would do for the night if it were all he was left with.
He continued on through the pitch black, feeling his way along the slick rock and letting his small paws take the first steps before allowing his head or nose to bounce off of anything. If he wanted, he could float through it. He knew that, but there was something terrifying about being ethereal in a physical world. It was part of why he wondered so much about who he was before.
A faint, blue light seemed to answer his questions as to where he was going.
It started off dull, but soon enough there were bobbing whisps of blue and bright cyan that floated like loose embers through the tunnel and towards him, guiding him into a space of openness with air that didn't smell of slowly decaying stone. No, instead he was introduced to a bath of vibrancy.
On every corner there were glowing yet archaic marks that pebbled the walls and the ceiling. But in the middle sat a pool still as the night sky, a comforting lull washing over him the moment his eyes met the crystal-esque surface. He was enraptured yet again for what must have been the hundredth time that day, and something told him that he was welcome to sink and bathe without worry of what was beyond.
Foster did just that.
Unlike the water outside the cavern, this was warm to the touch. It felt like a hot spring, soothing both the soul and senses and creating a bubble of warmth and mist that gathered around the glowing specks and made them flicker akin to the stars outside. Foster wanted to make a sound, but he felt himself at a loss for breath and let his eyes shut and his head go under and his features fall to the pool's claim.
When he opened them again he was still submerged, and below the surface... it was almost as though a lifetime was painted across the pool's walls. They moved as the surface did, always rippling, never ceasing, and they were faded and blurred but the brightness that illuminated every inch of the imaginary canvas seemed to draw Foster in. For a moment he wondered if he was dreaming, but no dream he ever had made quite as much sense as this did.
This was his
It was warmth. Home. Familiar. It was a man with rough hands and smooth clothes, a home with warm fires and gentle company. But still the pictures were incomplete, and only fractions of them seemed to make his brain tick and remember details that would have otherwise been lost. A good few of them were too worn to decipher, to draw emotion from, and as he spun in a smooth circle below the pool's surface he noticed how the water's canvas seemed to spiral until it ended at the very bottom, the most scarred and faded of pictures saved for last. But even there the claws of blue did not reach, and Foster forced himself downwards to reach the end of his tale.
And what an end it was.
At the bottom, the blue merged with a deep maroon, a soft red enveloping him from all sides and causing his senses to feel that same alarm he had felt at the falls. It terrified him, yet he couldn't move. The water wouldn't let him.
With his attention only focused on the scene below, he watched as the red gave way to the mountains where he lived, to the rise of jagged slopes and of half-fallen trees and snow, and as the pictures melted together one after another, he saw the stains. The marks. The face.
And it was only a moments worth of visuals but it was enough to dethrone the esk from his wonder, and his body resurfaced in the minutes that followed. With a rough splash did Foster break the crystal pool's stillness, the waves crashing and colliding against the blue stone and washing the glowing blue specks, distorting them. Foster's chest hammered as he staggered up and onto the stone, his tail remaining submerged while his chest met the ground with such ferocity that it shook him from toes to head. And then he sobbed. A dry, aching sob ripped through him, stormlike, and he burrowed his face into his limbs and let the quiet cave echo his cries.
For a time it was only him, alone, with nothing but the memories of what was lost.
Eventually he went silent, eyes half shut and mind blank as his gaze drew over the pool's surface, scorning it for its temptation and revelation of things he wished he never saw. It made him bitter, angry even, but not a chord of muscle in his body allowed him to do anything but brood and grow numb to the walls of the crystal cave."Sometimes your past should stay as such,"
the cave seemed to muse, though no voices aside from his own could be heard with such clarity. Foster knew it was his own grief playing with him, turning his head on his shoulders and forcing him to confront what he must've hid so deeply. There was nothing he could say or do to change that, but the pain in his chest made him feel sick with envy. He wasn't sure if he even wanted to return home knowing it was his place of death. But he couldn't stay where more darkness dwelled, where he could lose himself to this cursed pool and be fooled by physical beauty. No, Foster knew he would return to the mountains, but it seemed as though his time living in denial had caused him to spiral and ultimately, something larger than himself brought him here to face it.
Regardless of who or what sent him to this, to the pool, to his end, Foster watched the surface of the pool dance and flicker endlessly, guarding its precious secrets with such grace that he almost felt sorry for tainting it with his sorrow. But he knew there was no changing what had been done, and as the distant crack of thunder seemed to make its way through the cavern's tunnels, Foster sank against the farthest wall and let the light blot out everything.
Ultimately, he knew it didn't matter what the forest thought of him or he of it. He was a trespasser, and this forest was only a temporary change to something much larger than himself.
He sighed, pressing his nose below his tail.
In truth, his tale was only beginning. Foster felt himself fade from the cave in another bout of sleep, drawing him from the cave of memories and back towards home, the memories of the past marking him from there and onwards.
Truth, he realized, was not worth a walk in unfamiliar woods.