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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Folly Lives Within Your Bones (Solo RP)


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(OOC Note to self - Takes place a week prior to the "Butterfly on a Wheel" RP)

 

It didn't look intimidating from a distance. It looked beautiful. Shrouded in low lying mist, a stillness hung over the ancient oak tree, it's gnarled limbs lost somewhere far above the curling, silver tendrils that circled its trunk like a lover's last embrace. A hush mantled the forest in general; a thick, heavy cloak of silence. No sounds of birds disturbed the dawn air and no scurrying woodland inhabitants rustled the undergrowth. This was the beginning.

 

The solitary figure began walking again, moving up the track with a kind of grim determination until she was standing at the base of the great tree. She stretched slowly and with some care. Her muscles ached. Muscles she didn't even know she had. They were signalling defeat and begging for mercy. But mercy wasn't a commodity to be found in situations such as the Rangers were trained to deal with. That concept had been drummed into her head over the course of months. Not just by Owen but by every full ranked Ranger she'd met. At the last ditch, at the final throw of the dice, the Rangers would be the shield standing between the Wolfkin and annihilation. In that extreme, they could not fail.

 

Rhya sighed, aware that the knowledge was a heavy weight on Owen's shoulders. She could see the responsibility he carried every day...and the toll it took on him. Each decision, each road taken; they were his choices and if they went wrong, they were his faults too. She didn't see it like that. The rest of the 'kin didn't see it like that. But he did. And that was enough. Enough for her to make choices of her own. Duty to the 'kin would always play a part in training to become a Ranger but it was far from her only reason. Far from being the most important reason, Rhya could admit that in the secure confines of her own mind.

 

There had been such a need to feel useful, to have a purpose that would, in some measure, repay the acceptance and friendship she'd been shown since her arrival. But she could just as easily have elected the journey to becoming a Sage, a different but no less worthwhile way to protect her adopted home.

 

Except.

 

There was Owen. The heart of a rebel confined in the body of a leader. A lone wolf who couldn't leave his pack. Unapologetic, honest, flawed, tormented ...real.

 

The kind of man people believe in, have faith in. The kind of man people go to war beside. Not against. She had no doubts...none...that war was where they were all heading. Soon. All of the reports coming in pointed that way. Where Owen led, the Council, the 'kin and the wolves alike would follow.

 

And so. There was only one plan. Autumn Mist was going to make sure White Fang survived. To do that, she needed to be a Ranger. And to do that... she first had to survive this ordeal.

 

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Rhya's fingertips sought purchase on the rough texture of the bark, slipping now and then due to the accumulation of moisture from the mist and the thin film in places caused by lichens and mosses. She swung with careful agility from branch to branch, tested that another would hold her weight properly, scrambled up open sections of trunk where she had little more to hold than small knots in the wood and sent fervent imprecations skyward with increasing frequency. It was a treacherous and tiring climb, one that would defeat many people, but those people had not been drilled by Owen for months nor had they trained over this course for many weeks. Nor yet had they been scrambling about in a tree house every day.

 

Owen's initial description before he'd let her loose on the course came clearly back to her recall, "It all starts off with an 80-foot climb up the largest tree in the forest. If you make it to the top, there are several walkways to be traversed. Each one is a different length and width, and, if the wind proves strong enough, the sway of the trees will add to the difficulty you face."

 

He had a natural skill for understatement in Rhya's opinion. She'd had some nerve wracking hours on those walkways, lithe and slender as she was, that left her feeling battered and exhausted. Some of those wind gusts had been horrifyingly close to knocking her off her precarious perches and she wasn't sure that skill had anything to do with her survival so much as sheer determination and willpower.

 

Still, those first sections of the infamous course, known as Riverwind's Folly, were not the ones that concerned her most and today, there was only a slight breeze.

 

An hour later, reaching the end of the last walkway, Rhya calmed her breathing and steadied her nerves. Timing on this next exercise was crucial. She glanced involuntarily down and hastily forced her eyes back up. "Idiot, Rhy. You know better," she muttered softly, reaching for the rope slide, grateful that she wasn't afraid of heights. In truth, once underway, she loved this exercise, convinced that the 150 foot drop was as close to flying as she'd ever get. It was always over too soon. The difficulty, of course, was dismounting at the other end but Rhya had marked her points against permanent features in the landscape and knew to start her count as soon as she reached a particular outcropping that reminded her of a pig's head of all things. Her leap was accurate, landing her safely on the far side of the jagged rocks waiting to catch the unwary, and she was up and running within seconds.

 

 

 

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Two days later, Rhya had an early start once more. Well fed, sufficiently rested, and satisfied that her last run had been uneventful, she was ready and she had informed Owen so. Thankfully he was in agreement, or at least didn't question her statement. It was good to be going into the final test so soon, with no injuries to delay her progress.

 

Today, Owen would officially observe her run of Riverwind's Folly, and at the end would pronounce his verdict of a successful completion...or not. Quite the pressure to be judged by the one who holds the course record! she thought watching Owen's back as they approached the beginning of the course. Nobody had ever broken it. Naturally. A lop sided smile briefly crossed her face.

 

"There's one difference this time, Rhya, as I warned you when we started your training. An addition to the stalking part of the course which you may now hear about. At some point you must take up a thorn in your foot and remove it without breaking stride. You will know when. Do you understand?"

 

She nodded quickly. They had trained for that, along with most of the other common eventualities. He wasn't ever going to allow her in there unprepared. If the rocks at the bottom of the rope slide were a matter of timing, this exercise was a matter of timing, precision, and co-ordination. She'd landed on her face more than once when first attempting it! And there was no getting away from the simple fact that it hurt. A lot.

 

"Then you may begin..."

 

-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

 

Her luck seemed to be in as she navigated the first couple of sections of the course again. The mist wasn't spreading so high which meant the tree's bark was dry, granting better purchase, and the wind had lessened, which helped her negotiate the walkways with a bit more speed and a bit less energy wasted. Having landed safely at the end of the rope, if a little closer to the rocks than she'd intended, she took off like a deer towards the location of the stalking phase.

 

Owen's teaching voice floated at the back of Rhya's mind, his instructions like an accompanying commentary of the course. Strangely, it helped.

 

"It's in a part of the forest set aside particularly for this test. Only those that have qualified for the Rangers and know what to look for are allowed in there. It holds many traps, trip wires, hidden pits and the like, all designed to catch out an unwary Guardian."

 

As she approached the dark treeline, currently blurred by the ground mist swirling knee-high, Rhya had her eyes fixed on her chosen entry point. She ran one palm over her head, smoothing back nonexistent stray hairs. The full length of her hair was tightly braided and pinned. The action, one of pure anxiety. Then she was under the branches of the first trees and off upslope. Her focus shifted constantly, looking for obstacles. They wouldn't necessarily be on the ground.

 

The soft soles of her leather slippers made no more sound than a wolf's pads on the carpet of pine needles. A sudden exhilaration took her over as she flickered in and out of the weak shafts of light, falling through the canopy where it had thinned in the recent storms. She readied herself automatically to vault a thigh high branch followed only a second later by a jump over a well camouflaged pit, and veered left of a tree stump having glimpsed a shimmer among the plants at the opposite side that may, or may not, have been a trip wire. 

 

There was little concept of time on this run, every ounce of attention was on avoiding the traps laid for her. Another set of branches to pass over and under; half running, half leaping over a pile of twigs placed to create too much noise; another trip wire that caused a sharp intake of breath as she spotted it at the last second, brushed it with the very tip of one toe, and thanked the Creator when it held; then a clear run again over open ground and, in the very centre, a row of thorns placed evenly apart. Rhya shortened her stride, gauging her steps to pick one up in her right foot. Three more strides, a sharp, stabbing pain in her instep, and the thorn was in. A second later it was gone again. Her left hand swept down in an arc to remove it as her foot came up behind her. It was just as she had trained it in her practice runs. The cadence of her speed and stride in perfect synchronicity.

 

Less than fifteen minutes later, without further mishap other than tiring muscles and a burning in her foot, Rhya was out of the forest and into daylight. Face to face with a granite cliff.

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

This was the part of the course Rhya liked least. It was tough. Tougher than all the rest put together in her opinion. She'd completed it many times, and failed it many more. She'd never come to characterise it as anything other than exhausting and unpleasant; unlike the previous section of the Folly's trials which she so much enjoyed and regularly referred to as fun, thorns and all. From the stories told by the other Rangers, they each had their very distinct opinions on which parts of the course they loathed and which they would happily repeat regularly. She knew Owen, for instance, loved surfing the water flume at the end. 

 

She was about half way up the 200 foot sheer face and feeling the strain in her shoulders when the light rain started. It was that kind of misty damp, drizzle which one could hardly even see, let alone identify as rain. Somehow it managed to soak through to the skin in a matter of seconds and left the rock face slick. Finger holds became incredibly tenuous and every movement was a dance with death. 

 

Course time be damned!  Rhya thought in aggravation, her keen eyes scanning the granite outcroppings ahead for likely routes. It was more important to complete this round than to do it quickly. Getting herself killed in a cliff face dive was not part of the plan. Slow and steady wins the race.

 

By 300 feet, Rhya's calf muscles were objecting, the extra time holding positions to ensure her grips were secure was taking a toll, and now she was starting to shiver from the cold. Adrenaline and exertion were no longer compensating for the onslaught from the elements. She rested her forehead briefly against the rock, regulating her breathing as best she could and mentally preparing herself for a last concerted effort.

 

She'd no sooner begun her next pendulum-like swing, from a position of one handhold and a bare toe hold, attempting to reach a slim ledge that would provide a double handhold, than she found herself in a free slide downwards. Her fingertips slipped as easily as if they'd been attempting to grip ice and her toe was already free of its previous safety. The rock before her seemed, to her panic stricken mind, to fly past far too quickly, though in reality she'd only slipped about 10 feet before her other foot found purchase on a branch protruding at a strange angle and her finger found the tiniest of holes to wedge into. The jarring sensation along her arm told her she'd raxed the muscles and would pay for it later. Better some small pain than lying dead at the bottom of the cliff!

 

Bit by creeping bit, Rhya moved onward and upward, neither rushing nor delaying but certainly using much more care than before. Her nerves had been well and truly jangled by the incident, not to mention she was nursing the arm injury as best she could. Images of hot food and falling asleep safe in Owen's arms urged her to continue, sparking her natural determination. Her goal here, her reasons for facing this test, were still every bit as valid. One slip was not going to lead to failure. 

 

Twenty minutes later, Rhya dragged herself painfully up the final foot of the face and onto the top of the cliff. She lay there for long minutes, gratefully gulping in lungfuls of air, fingers clutching tightly at the grass in relief and waited for the burning in arms and legs to subside. She knew she couldn't stay so for too long or she'd risk getting ill from the temperatures. The air was thin up here as it was, and with nothing to break its path, the wind had picked up significantly. Best to get the whole thing over with. C'mon girl. Move.

 

Finding her feet and persuading her legs to hold her upright was no small achievement but as she finally made her body co-operate, Rhya headed unsteadily for the top of the water flume. Surfing down this turbulence was the only way off the cliff top so it had to be done, but it took some care and attention not to be simply battered off the rocks. She took her time finding the right spot to start from, keeping all of her limbs tightly clamped to her body in order to provide less resistance, and then took off. It was exhilarating, and terrifying at the same time. There was barely time to notice and avoid obstacles as the water moved at such a pace. In fact, time ceased to mean very much as she focused every bit of energy into navigation. 

 

Finally, movement slowed and the crazy tilting of the world around her stopped as she washed ashore at the usual spot...literally at Owen's feet. With a half laugh of relief and disbelieving shake of her head, Rhya took his offered hand, helping her up onto the bank, and demanded whether she'd passed.

 

Owen seemed to be considering, his expression giving nothing away and Rhya's heart began to sink. What mistake had she made and missed? Maybe she'd taken too long? Or set off another trap in the woods that she didn't even notice. And then that slow teasing smile she loved, appeared on his face and he nodded. "Yes, you passed, Rhya. Let's get you home and warmed up." Somewhere, she dredged up enough energy to take the two steps needed to sink into the safety of his waiting arms. 

 

"Thank the Light! I'm in no hurry to do that course again for a long time to come, Owen," she assured him with some fervour. One of his arms fell away while the other supported her waist and they began to walk towards home. 

 

"And I still hold the course record," his voice was smug enough that Rhya couldn't help but chuckle. 

 

"Course record or not, you're still making dinner. I could eat a whole horse!" she retorted. Another step on her path to being a Ranger fulfilled, and she wondered what challenge would next be set.

 

 

 

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