Invitation wrote:King Kadomos the VI of Alania requests your presence at a ball to honor the heroes of our time. Please, don your finest and come to the palace by April 5th, New Royal Calendar 547. Your immediate family is welcome to accompany you.
Thank you. We do hope to see you then.
King Kadomos the IV
Parn, former Free Knight of Lodoss
Alanian Royal Courier base camp, near the wilderness of Mt. Sol...
"Var, we drew straws. You lost. You go in next."
"But, but Kish..."
"Please, Var. His Highness was insistent. The invitations are to be delivered. 'At all cost.' "
Kish hung his head. They'd been trying to penetrate the accursed wilderness for a week now, all for the sake of trying to deliver a message to some ghost of a ranger. Ghost was right. This place was haunted. He could feel it. The trees menaced their every step. At times, the traveling was impossible. Sheer cliffs, thickets and dense forest all blocked their passage. They had settled on setting a base camp near the edge and would draw straws as to who would have to go into the deep forest and look for a day and a night. One of them already hadn't come back. He just vanished. Haunted. Blasted forest.
Var packed and ventured in at daybreak. No directions and no instruction aside from deliver the message. Kish had already explored the North face a little so Var followed a stream South and could only pray. No trails. No address. No signs. He was weeping into his lunch, fearing that he would never make it back out. He could almost feel dozens of eyes watching him. Ghosts. Spirits. Unwholesome things. Probably goblins and ogres, too. A grasshopper buzzed by his face and he screamed. By afternoon, Var was convinced that the stones were plotting against his boots, conspiring to twist his aching ankle with every step. The forest, in his opinion, was unnaturally silent. At most, a raven would send out a rattling caw, laughing at his plight, he was sure.
"I beg of you, noble ranger, please! Show yourself! I have a message from His Majesty, King Kadomos the Forth!" Var was yelling, hoping against hope that this phantom he was ordered to find would appear. Of course this ranger would be a phantom by now, he thought, no one could survive in this infernal forest. "Noble ranger, I have a message for you from His Majesty, King..." He screamed. The sun had just set and the eyes of the forest demon glared yellow at him and shrieked in a voice that told of souls being tortured. Var dropped the invitation, the creamy white parchment fluttering onto the forest duff. He ran off in a panic.
Miraculously, he followed the stream back to base camp and did the greatest crime a courier can perpetrate: he lied and said he had delivered the message.
The raccoon shrieked a second time as the human ran off in a panic. Sniffing the air, the animal lumbered over to the white thing and sniffed it. Queer odors. It was near food, but wasn't food. it wasn't a threat and it wasn't a female. The white thing was nothing. He plodded off into the night to look for eggs and grubs.
From her branch high above, Berry crouched and considered. There were a lot of people coming to the forest lately. Three in as many days. She watched as the first one fell down a slope and was killed. The wolves were grateful for the easy meal. Hunting was hard for them as of late. She cocked her head and leapt from tree to tree, eventually coming to rest on a branch directly over the slip of paper. She dropped soundlessly onto the forest floor. She sniffed the letter. It smelled of sweat and perfume and dust. It gleamed in the pale light of the stars. Curious, she broke the wax seal and saw her name in graceful script. It was difficult to read the letter. The letters were very curly and they spelled out big words. But her name was in the letter. Was this for her? Is it was, someone had gone through a lot of trouble to get it this far.
It must be important. Maybe she'll go and investigate. It's been a while and she could use new boots. She hadn't gotten new ones since the last time she'd left the wilds, what, twenty seasons ago? Maybe it was time.