Branda followed the footpath to the flattened field of dirt the giants use to launch their hollowed-out trees into the wide and open waters of Monksville’s Southern Expanse. This is not where she wanted to end up, this is the polar opposite of where she must be, but she’s here all the same.
The journey here was not a simple trek. The footpath started out deceptively flat and docile from Muskellunge Cove’s east beachhead, a straight walk into the dark forest which gave way to a massive uphill nearly as steep as the craggy cliff over which the waterfall spills into the Wan’. She had to resort to flight before coming to the halfway point of this hill; by the time she reached the fork in the trail, both her means of transport were spent far past their limits. So she sat there for a few moments, sat and dozed, fading in and out of consciousness as Existence spiraled around her. The great shine was not quite as high in the sky by the time she opened her eyes; high noon had come and gone, and the night drew ever nearer. Branda had to keep moving.
On the bright side, from the top of the tall hill the path ran flat until it sloped steadily down and spilled out at the corner of this dirt lot. She’s on the southern side of the snowcapped mountain, the very antithesis of where she needs to be, as she keeps reminding herself, but thinking about such things will not bring her any closer to her goal. Misery and positivity both go a long way; the difference is the direction they take you.
Branda turns to face the trail ahead of her. Instead of messing around and pretending it will be an easy walk, the footpath immediately goes up a hill, though the hill is not as steep as the first. The way the great shine’s beams penetrate through the canopy and the myriad layers of leafage below it bestow the trail – which is more of a dim tunnel through the trees, if Branda is being honest with herself – an ethereal yellow-green glow. The longer she stares into the tunnel the more entranced she becomes, and before long, all the strain in her legs and wings is alleviated. Branda starts up the trail one step at a time, the only way she knows how. Her webbed feet splash in the muddy puddle at the forest’s entrance, but just like when she crossed it hardly a few moments before, she doesn’t feel the sensation. The Minelands have her, and they will not let her go until she’s seen what she must see.
The first part of the path is a rut, a trench carved into the mountain as if the giants (or perhaps male whitetails in rut?) traversed it so many times the Earth crumbled beneath their feet. As Branda ascends the mountain, the divot’s trough rises until it finally comes level with the rest of the leaf-covered ground. Flowering berry bushes sprout in thicker and denser thickets with each feather’s length she climbs; were this summertime she could grab herself a cheeky nibble or two but lo, ‘tis merely spring, the time where no greenery has begun to fade from the harsh shinelight, the time when bees buzz and treefrogs chirp and the days are as warm as the evenings are cool. ‘Tis the time of The Hatching, the annual extravaganza of avian procreation which poor Branda will have to pass on again for the umpteenth cycle in a row now. It is her life’s mission to rear a healthy flock of goslings before the day comes when she shall pass through the great transition, even if doing so delivers her straight to the gates. Could she sigh, she would. Mayhap next cycle.
High Branda sees a denizen waiting for her as the hill plateaus and her feet find level ground, a denizen perched on a fallen tree suspended over the path. A denizen who may bring her tail to those gates himself.
As Highest Branda crests the smaller of the two hills she’s been made to climb today, she locks eyes with Sea Hawk Hilaetos, Lord of The Sticks.
‘Tred no further, lowly Bird of Lake,’ he sends warily across the channel, open wide enough for his thoughts to be intercepted by they who dread his return in the bowels of The Sticks. ‘You approach Bird of Prey territory; you’d do quite well to turn your soaked tailfeathers around.’
Branda cranes her neck back to find her tailfeathers drier than the dirt upon which she walks. She turns back to face the osprey. ‘Do you not recognize me, osprey? My flock gave you and yours quite a bit of trouble back in the early cycles, if my memory serves me correctly.’
‘If I do, I do not care to send on it,’ replies Hilaetos, the hunger in his eyes hoping the plump goose does not heed his warnings. ‘Turn back now or face the wrath of the Red Hawk Flock.’
‘The Red Hawk Flock, you send?’ High Branda sends inquisitively. ‘Whatever happened to the vultures?’
Hilaetos flaps his eagle’s wings thrice and shrieks a fearsome kee-aww. ‘Don’t invoke the filthy name of those traitorous blasphemes! They have long abandoned their keep, they with heads so blistered and red, th–’
‘All right, all right, enough already,’ the goose sends casually. ‘Your plumage was whiter when I was a gosling, much more pristine. I can almost remember your name, what was it… Harlot-something?’
Another booming kee-aww pitched to deafen any and all ‘munkies who may be meandering around the area, bringing the mood down with their presence. ‘My name is Sea Hawk Hilaetos, I am Lord of The Sticks and captain of the Dayguard! You shall bo–’
‘ You’re captain of the Dayguard?! What happened to the gull Choridae?’ Branda sends, clicking the claw in her beak.
Hilaetos, seeing exactly where this is going, does not shriek again. This time he merely lowers his gaze to the forest floor and slowly shakes his tired head. He hears a fluttering of feathers and decides to ignore it at first, but then it goes silent and he looks up, fearing the goose had fled. Hoping the goose had fled, that is, so he could give chase, make a quick meal, and bring a suitable offering to Highest Queen Jemcis, thus seeing his daily quota filled.
The goose is gone, the footpath is empty, and just as he’s about to take off and do the dirty goose like he did the leader of those pitiful interloping Early Bird mallards this past autumn, Lord Hilaetos hears a chitinous clicking to his left.
High Branda perches at level with Sea Hawk Hilaetos. The osprey doesn’t like it one bit.
‘Receive this thought and receive it well, goose: do not be seen wandering through The Sticks, nor in the greater keep of The Basin. I have done you a kindness today, one which shall not be paid forward by those who patrol the crown of the Northern Leg.’
With that, Sea Hawk Hilaetos takes flight, screeching victory despite the ongoing heartbeat of his prey.
High Branda watches him go, thinks to herself, ‘Well so much for that,’ fills a groove in the bark of the log with a steaming turd, then starts back along the way she came. It appears as though she’s out of options – it’s time to head for Dino Island.
This has been the eleventh subchapter of the fourth chapter of the book The Monksville Chronicles. Here is everything you need to know about it:
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