To his left, briefly illuminated amidst the shifting shadows, Orman spotted the silver vine, partially buried under fallen leaves. Approaching the clearing, he slowed his steps and carefully surveyed the surrounding landscape. Convinced he was still alone, he knelt by the mysterious cord and removed his glove. Taking a deep breath, he placed his hand on the vine and then abruptly pulled away, stumbling backward. The vine pulsed. It was alive.
The hoarse cry of a tulang from somewhere overhead startled Orman again and he sprang to his feet. As the massive bird took flight, Orman chided himself. Too many tales about the terrors of the Boska Forest have made you soft. The stories told around the evening fire are only that. Stories. You're no longer a boy. Or at least you won't be after today. Orman peered into the gloom and allowed his eyes to trace the vine as it disappeared into the forest. He knew he was close now that he had found the salapi vine. All he had to do was follow it to the heart of the forest and claim his prize. And then return to the village, of course. With one last look over his shoulder, Orman set off to complete his task, following the silver cord deep into the forest.
Jogging through the trees, Orman leapt back and forth over the salapi vine as it wandered over the path through the copac trees. As he stopped to catch his breath, he marveled at the silver vine. What sort of creature awaited him at the end? Images filled his mind, frightening creatures brought to life around the crackling evening fire, woven together by the village storyteller: the borgue, the vulturan, the kalaman. But, what about Styrga the Bold or Mirmark the Strong? Orman reminded himself. They conquered their fears and the creatures of forest. Their blood courses through your veins.
A shout from somewhere ahead stirred him from his thoughts. He recognized the voice as belonging to Remere, his boyhood friend. Unable to discern if the cry was one of victory or fear, Orman broke into a run, his pack thumping on his back, stumbling over the salapi vine as he navigated the last few yards to the heart of the forest. Breaking through the wall of copac, Orman was stunned by the sight. His veins turned to ice as he realized the fireside stories were true.
Clenching his jaw, the young hunter drew his dagger and charged the beast. And joined the legends of the evening fire.
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