“Yeah, you’re right, I’m just the intruder right now.” She’s stubborn about this, that’s pretty clear. Can’t say I blame her; in her position, I’d probably be a bit difficult to handle myself. “Can’t rightly ask you to do much more than let me roam around a bit for winning, you’re right about that. I’d still like your help, though. It’d make things go a whole lot quicker for me, you know?”
“I’m sure it would. But I’ve still got no reason to give it.” She finally lands, still with that smug smile, and starts twirling around a little. Got a few fireflies trailing after her now too, little streaks of light from outstretched hands. “I think it would be much more fun to watch you wander around and get lost.”
“Oh, probably. That’s always good for a laugh. Getting lost, though, I don’t see that happening. ‘Up’ doesn’t change direction all that often.” I’m walking over to the tree as I’m talking, and end up leaning against it a little, knock on it a little for emphasis. “And really, if I want to be lazy about it, I can just walk around the edge for a bit. Plenty of trees here. So you’d miss your show, and a chance to get something out of it.”
“Oh? Really?” She stops her impromptu little dance and gives me a pretty hard stare. “I don’t see that I’m missing much. You haven’t offered anything.”
“Well, I’ll admit, I can’t give you much in the way of goods. But that’s a pretty human way of thinking anyway. Service is a more suitable one for us, don’t you think?” Her expression isn’t changing, but I think – or at least hope – I’ve got a little traction here. “You could call it a favor. On second thought, though, maybe you shouldn’t. I don’t really expect you feeling too friendly, cooperating or not.”
“So you want to trade? I do this, you do something for me?” She flutters over to me through the air, stopping just a bit more than an arm’s length away. “What do you even have to offer?”
“Well, that depends, doesn’t it? No point doing a thing you don’t need done. But for instance, there’s the thing you mentioned with the villagers, and how -”
“No. That’s mine.” Her stare just got a whole lot harder. I think I preferred that smug little smile she had before this. “Try again.”
“Alright, sure, you can handle your image problems on your own. But if you want something done in the village, I’m still good for that.” Wry little smile of my own now. “You’re not the first one to slip up and think I’m human, you know? I can pass pretty easy.”
“So you’re saying you can just do something in the village for me? When I want? Whatever I want?”
“I wouldn’t say whatever, but yeah, floating favor. Bit of debt, if you want to think of it that way. Call it in at some point, I’ll do an odd job or whatever, we’re done with it.”
“Really now. And who am I doing this favor for, exactly?”
Oh hey, that’s right. I got her name, but she didn’t exactly get mine. Ever. Not in one of those books either, so she wouldn’t even have a guess, I bet. “Call me Orange. Tucked up behind the shrine, if you ever need to find me. That work?”
She doesn’t say anything at first. Just keeps staring at me for a while. Long enough I can start to notice some things about her. She looks pretty human at first, couple quirks aside, but when I get a closer look… the way the starlight is catching her eyes almost makes them look kind of… bug like. Fitting, I guess, but it’s starting to get a touch creepy. Am I imagining that? It’s hard to say.
And then she just breaks out this big, cheerful smile. “Right! I’ll give you the best tour you’ve ever had!” She swings back to serious just as quickly, getting a pretty stern look. It’s kind of funny, actually, given how childish she looks otherwise. “But there’s a condition. We’re doing this my way. You’d better listen.”
“What, just listen? Fine by me.” To swing that suddenly from trying to give me hell to cheerfully showing me around, she must have hit a pretty good idea for what to make me do. But I’ll worry about that later. For the time being, I’ve got a guide through part of the Forest, and all I have to do to get a few good trees pointed out is listen to her a bit. How bad could this be?
To Wriggle’s credit, she delivers. More than delivers, in fact; I’d expected just a few, maybe a dozen or so, but she goes an extra mile and then some showing me around. I have to cut it short, in fact, and she’s still got more to show me after that. But it’s not like I didn’t have a reason. It was taking up a fair bit of time, and we’d been at it for a few hours by then…
“This is another good one. It’s a couple centuries old, and there’s a termite nest that’s gotten set up thanks to it. It’s kind of beautiful! It’s high quality wood, and the tree’s pretty resilient, so the nest has gotten pretty big and it’s had a whole bunch of really successful flights, you should really see what it looks like when all the new queens and consorts take off in spring…”
“This one’s pretty good too. It’s a real favorite for the fireflies, and I have to say I’ll be pretty sad if you take it. If you could peel back the bark a bit in a month or two, you’ll find a whole lot of larva just waiting for it to warm up again. It’s great! All these beautiful little glowworms just beneath the surface, a lightshow just waiting to happen once they can get out and grow up a bit…”
“…so you’re showing me somewhere you might have grown up? You do know I’m cutting some of these down at some point, right?”
“Yeah, no, don’t take this one. Forget about it. Actually don’t, it’s still great and you should know about it and respect it but you still can’t take it. Got it?”
“I have to admit, this one’s a little questionable, but I think you shouldn’t mind anyway. A lot of bugs want to avoid this kind of tree, especially since it’s this deep in the forest, but I think it’s kind of got its own charm, don’t you? You said she’s a vampire, right? I bet she’d like this kind of tree, it’ll add a little character to the house.”
“…is it moaning? I think it’s moaning.”
“Oh, it does that sometimes. When it thinks there’s people around, I think. Probably a way to lure them over.”
“Holy shit is it bleeding?”
“Yeah, I have no idea why it does that. Kind of weird. Sometimes it just oozes that stuff out everywhere. Pretty nasty.”
“This one’s pretty good, actually, even if it’s kind of a pain to get to. You do have to watch for those mushrooms, though, but you’ve got fire, right? That shouldn’t be a problem for you.”
“I don’t usually come here since those things are kind of hell to get around. Even bugs like me have trouble when the spores are dense enough, you know? But we got through them pretty okay, so, you know, it can be done.”
“Wriggle, I can’t feel my face.”
“Oh, that’s probably just the spores. Mushrooms in the deep forest, right? Got some funny effects.”
“I think we’re done here.”
“What? No, I’ve still got a lot more to show you! Come on, Orange, it’ll be great!”
…okay, it might have been a little bit more than just the length. When she wasn’t going on about how many ants or termites or gods know what else this tree or that could support, there was the occasional moment of disgust when I realized just how weird the deep forest got, or even a tiny, tiny bit of existential terror around this one tree she showed me that I’m pretty sure went youkai more than century ago and was trying to screw with my head to entertain itself. Dick move, tree.
Even cutting her off, it took a while. I’d say we got started a hair before midnight, and the very first hints of dawn are starting to creep over the horizon as I leave the forest. I’m starting to get tired, so I’m tempted to just head back to the mountain for now, but I could probably keep going for a little while. Pretty good at staying awake a long time if I can rest up afterward. If I do rest, though, I’ll probably be up before the afternoon is done, so I can still get some stuff done that would need daylight. Just not as much.
[ ] – Rest: I could keep going, but that doesn’t mean I need to. I’m doing this all as a favor, no need to get myself too exhausted…
[ ] – Stay Awake: On the other hand, just get as much done as possible. Why not? I still need to figure out some other stuff…
- [ ] – Tools: I’ve got two main choices here. I could just go to the village and figure out how to buy – or steal – some, or I could go looting. Bodies galore, if you know where to look.
- - [ ] – Village: Easy choice. Chance I can get stuff done on the side, too.
- - [ ] – Looting: There’s bound to be someone who dropped something useful. Or dropped with it.
- - [ ] – Elsewhere: I’m not too big on some of the other options, but if I have an idea for it…
- [ ] – Knowledge: I still have no idea how to build a house. I should probably fix that. Library’s the first choice, but if I can think of another, maybe it’s worth trying…