Veaos is practicing as I walk up. He acknowledges me and tells me that for the foreseeable future, I'll be doing the same routine until I can do two hundred push-ups, two hundred crunches, and two hundred laps around the small field without needing a break. I can't imagine being able to do that. I start my workout while he continues his practice. He only stops to dump the water on me after I collapse. I went to bed that night, exhausted again.
My second lesson with Elle went better than the first. She seems to be less annoyed by my constant questions. We mostly went over wildlife and fauna I should look out for. By the time I entered the dungeon to meet with CJ, my brain was feeling fried.
"How have you been?" CJ asked.
"Good. It's a lot to learn and take in, but I'm enjoying it." I said
"Fantastic. You also seem happier after our last session. For today I shall present you with three possible activities. One: Learn how to track an animal through the forest. Two: I teach you how to decipher hidden messages. Three: we start a Revolution." He said while flinging his arms up.
Did he say "revolution"? I don't know what to choose. Is this a test? Just pick one, Tyler.
"Uhh, we can do-" I started to say.
"Hah, it was a trick! The correct answer is none of those. Follow me. We're going camping," CJ shouted.
I watched him leave before my brain caught up to his words, and I chased after him. We walked to the front door, and he handed me my cloak. We attached our cloaks, and I followed him into the woods. The same woods where Gabriel ambushed me. Is CJ going to attack me? I've been training and working out, but I still don't know how to fight.
I realize I don't have any idea what CJ's Word is. Helena said he's the same rank as me, but that means nothing. Relax, even if he attacks me, I can heal.
"Hey, whatcha thinkin bout back there?" He yelled to me.
"Nothing, just wondering what we're doing out here?" I asked.
He abruptly stopped, and I felt my fears come true.
"I told you before, we're going camping," he replied.
"Okay, the only time I've camped was on the journey here."
"We're going to be doing a different kind of camping. This won't be as fun as your journey here. We'll be sleeping up there," CJ said while pointing at the trees.
"I'm sorry, but sleeping in the trees? That's impossible."
CJ wagged his finger at me and told me to follow his lead. He jumped up and grabbed a branch before pulling himself up. He's like a squirrel as he claims his way up the tree. I have to shake my head in disbelief as I watch him twist and move his body in weird ways. It's like he's made of water or something else. This has to be due to his Word. What the heck is it?
"HEY! Come on up. The view is great!" He yelled.
I've never climbed a tree before; it isn't allowed back home. I walk over to the branch CJ used and get ready to jump. I haven't tested how high I can jump since awakening—no time like the present. I jump up and easily reach the branch. From there, I just pull myself up. Slowly creeping along until I get to the trunk of the tree. All that's left is to slowly but steadily make my way up to CJ. What actually happens is I fall flat on my back. Repeatedly.
"You're going to want to not stand on the branches that can't support your weight. Every good tree climber worth their salt knows you gotta test it first." He said to me in a singsong-like tone.
I dust myself off and ignore how irritated I am. I've managed to map out a safe route throughout all of my falls, and it doesn't take me long to get back to where I was. I'm probably only ten feet from where CJ is perched. I carefully select the next branch, and after testing it, I pull myself onto it.
After what must have been an hour, I reach the top of the tree. CJ is sitting atop a branch with his feet swinging. I plopped down and leaned against the trunk to catch my breath.
"Marvelous job getting up here, minus the twenty or so falls. We've only got about thirty minutes worth of sunset left, so enjoy the view," CJ said, waving his hand towards the horizon.
The sunset is dyeing the forest, varying shades of pink and red. Everywhere I look, I see dark green leaves. The castle sits to our left, and it seems so tiny amongst the trees. As large as the castle looks from the inside, it's nothing compared to the display of nature. I can see the entire town from up here. There are thirty houses, a couple of different buildings, and a farm at the very edge. Wonder when they'll let me go to town. Is everyone in town a Forchunae? CJ is correct. The view is incredible. I never realized how big the trees around here are. They're genuinely massive, each one taller than the castle.
"It's beautiful. It is like nothing I've ever seen.
“Who lives in town? Are they all Forchunae too?” I asked.
“No. The only Forchunae are those that live in the castle. The townsfolk are descendants or relatives of people that Gabriel has known. He promised to protect them, and as you’ve seen, Gabriel keeps his word. The town is self-sufficient. Everything needed to live and be happy is here for them,” Cj said.
“Can they leave? I can’t even see where this forest ends, so how would a regular person get out of here?” I asked nervously. Are they keeping people hostage here?
A sly smirk crossed CJ’s face. “Anyone born here is given a choice at eighteen; leave and never come back, or stay here forever. Everyone you see here has made that choice. But no, the only way in or out of here is by Gabriel’s will or Helena’s power. The danger of the forest isn’t due to its size. It’s because of what is in it. I won’t spoil the surprise of what’s out there. Just don’t go into it for any reason.”
“I won’t. I’m not the kind of guy who charges into dangerous situations. Did you bring food for our camping trip? I didn’t eat lunch.” I said.
“Lucky for you, I am a master of both improvisation and planning. So I brought us some ration mix,” CJ said as he tossed me a small bag.
I catch it and open it to find a collection of berries, seeds, and nuts. I toss the entire bag into my mouth and begin chewing. The berries are sour, and the nuts and seeds are dry. Thankfully the juice from the berries helps alleviate how dry everything else is. I choke it down and look to CJ to ask if there’s any more.
“Nope. That was supposed to be for both of us, but someone is a hungry little hog,” CJ said sarcastically.
Shame fills me, and I can feel my face heat up. “Sorry, CJ, I didn’t know.”
“Don’t fret! Any adventurer worth his weight in gold knows sometimes you may have to miss a meal. Tyler, there will be times you aren’t able to have the comfort you’ve grown accustomed to. One of the many things I will teach you is how to deal with that. Now get ready to sleep,” CJ said.
“Sleep? Here? Aren’t we going back to the castle?” I asked.
“No. There aren’t any beds in the wild, and inns can be few and far between. Tonight we sleep up here because sleeping on the ground can be a death sentence. Here put this on.” CJ said as he tossed another bag to me.
I open it, and inside seems to be some straps with hooks on the end of them. I don’t know what this is. What am I looking at? It seems almost like a safety harness. “What exactly is this, sir?”
“From now on, every day you have a lesson with me, we’ll sleep out here. That’s a hanging vest, and it’s to stop you from falling out of the tree while you’re asleep,” CJ answered.
“Do you have one?” I asked.
“No, I’m far too Nimble to ever fall out of a tree. Once you’ve gotten used to being up here, we can talk about getting rid of the vest. Put it on and get some rest,” CJ said.
It takes me a few tries to get the straps in place. They go over my shoulders and around my waist and torso before buckling together in the middle. Eight other straps hang loose with pointed hooks at the end. CJ instructs me to put the hooks into as many different branches as possible. I feel like a fly caught in a web. The hooks pierced or hung all around me. I can make slight adjustments but can’t move much. I wrap my cloak around me like a blanket, but it’s incredibly uncomfortable.
The forest sounds keep startling me awake. A cacophony of chirps and noises from all manners of insects ring throughout the night. My back itches and aches from the bark. The cloak does nothing to protect me from the bumps and ridges of the branch. I’m not going to be able to sleep at all. I just know it. And tomorrow I have physical training with Veaos, and it’s going to be impossible if I can’t get any rest. My anxiety, coupled with being unable to move, makes it hard for me to breathe. I whisper to CJ, but he doesn't respond. I guess I have to wait till morning.
When the sun begins to rise, my eyes are bright red and dried out. I didn't sleep a wink. The sunlight hurts my eyes but also fills me with relief. Finally, the night is over.