15 May

After leaving the safety of our small cave, we began our trek in the early sun’s light to the other side of this so far horrifying land.

I looked at my two companions I found myself traveling with. Leesa, an energetic but mysterious traitor to the Pouli --  Choosing instead to work with Hope, the one who’d sent all of us on this quest. As well as Rak-li, a prince from an undersea kingdom of fish-like people on his own quest to map the world and finish the mission his kingdom started so long ago. While he had become my best friend throughout this journey, there was still far too much I didn't know about him.

As we walked along the rough terrain of the lush jungle, I wondered what all secrets they could be hiding, and what they think I might be hiding. I felt guilty questioning their loyalties, but my gaze wandered to Leesa more than a few times. 

Surely, she was being truthful. Right? She had been so straight to the point and caring so far; providing for our needs and making us comfortable around her. But maybe it was about time Rak and I started asking questions for once. 

Rak coughed to clear his throat, and I snapped back to reality. For the first time since arriving on the beaches of Rao, I had a moment to truly admire the new world I was now in.

The canopy were incredibly beautiful, some triple the size of any tree I'd seen back on my home island, with a variety of colors: red, blue, purple, green, orange, with shades and mixes of them all. What seemed to be endless leaves on branches hung above like a roof made from nothing but nature, natural skylights sending beams of warmth and light to the ground sporadically around us. 

Massive vines and roots buckled and folded about the forest floor, some as thin as rope, some as big as the largest tree trunks I’d ever seen. 

The roots were covered in plenty of green and brown moss along with bright flowers. I could see tiny colonies of bugs living out there day to day life when my face was close enough.

Flocks of birds with lush black, white, purple and blue feathers weaved through the tree trunks as gracefully as trained dancers. They were the size of a dolphin, had three eyes as well as gray beaks that looked akin to a blade. They dove down into a nearby river on our right side, opening their mouth vertically, catching fish and water before flying back up. 

Big white cats with green spots ran along the other side of the river heading the same way we were. 

Round red potato-looking animals bobbed their heads out from in between a group of trees to the left to check for danger, popping back down right before a small black wolf-like creature ran by looking for a bite to eat. It continued on when nothing of note seemed to be near. It gave us a glance, but did not seem to care. 

We were too big of prey for the little guy to hunt alone, I guessed.

This land was breathtaking. I looked at Rak, who was just as mesmerized. Leesa, pointed out the names of everything we seemed to get focused on. “Oooo, that's a Diving Sword Bird… and those are Spotted Wanderers… thats a Moon Fox! They usually only travel at night so that's really rare!”

I only vaguely paid attention, enjoying the new information as we walked into a clearing where the river flowed and the earth below us took an abrupt drop in height. Before us was a massive lake previously obscured by the lands and endless trees.

Leesa’s rambling fell into the background as I looked on in awe. The early sun shining though the multi-colored leaves made me and Rak stop in our place. Birds flying everywhere, water so clear you could see the fish eb and flow with the currents around the lake bottom.

This moment.

This view, with these two people, made everything up to this point worth it. 

I have to stop them, Goltri and his followers.

Not only for my people, or the enslaved, or the Pouli forced to follow leaders they despise, but also to protect the beauty of this world at all costs. 

I couldn’t let it be stained by these bastards, who will destroy everything to achieve the power King Goltri craves so badly.

We walked down and sat on the rocky shore, dipping my toes into the cool water. I was truly content, savoring this moment for a little while longer, soaking in a feeling I’d nearly forgotten, something that had drawn me to the jungle of my homeland long long ago. 

Here, there was peace.

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