From Ashes - 09/08/20

[Blue]

It had been a few weeks since the Sylphlands had burned a fiery red. Great flames had ravaged the local wildlife, destroying homes and lives spent in relative peace. Ancient trees that had once stood the test of time had finally fallen, while saplings in their prime became nothing more than a scattering of ash.
But as things die so to must life go on. With the voidsent destroyed by four certain do-gooders, the Sylphs and the villagers of Hawthorne slowly began the recovery effort. New saplings would be planted in the ashes of their brethren. Beasts would slowly wander back into the woodlands when they sensed safety once more, only to find that baskets of fruit, vegetables, and meat had been left for the creatures while they sought out new dens and hunting grounds. Hawthorne and Sylvan residents would even manage to keep a temporary truce with the tempered to properly honor the sylphs and beastkin that had passed.

Blue looked to her two companions with a small smile as she led them through Little Solace. She carried a small bag at her side, having wrapped a particular yellow ribbon around the opening and tying it securely to her belt. Her demeanor, usually quite playful and energetic, was effectively dimmed upon approaching the village. A lot had happened, and with a solemn air about her, the Xaela would walk to one of the elder sylphs who seemed to have been waiting for the trio.

“This one is so happy to see Walking Ones arrival!”
Vinalo might recognize the sylph to be Argaxio when they drew closer. If they didn't, they would certainly identify Moroxia, the sylph that the healer had saved early on before their trek through the blazing flames, who fluttered to Vinalo immediately, spinning and dancing and giggling in the air as if to show the lalafell how well their wings had recovered.
“Walking Ones return!”
The sylph sang out merrily, weaving around Vinalo before doing the same to Pipino, its dark eyes going wide with wonder.
“This one doesn't recognize this walking one- is friend?”

Blue speaks up at last, the antics of Moroxia encouraging the Xaela to laugh with delight in spite of herself as she nods to the both of them.“Yes! That over there is Pipino. You told me that you wanted to commission an artist for something?”

Argaxio muses.
“Ahh, the Artsy One! These Ones do indeed wish to enlist Artsy One's aid. And Walking Ones wanted to go into the Sylphlands today?”

The Xaela pats her bag gently with a hand.“I've been asked to collect some Minor Banestools for a client. Do you think there's still some to find out there?”

[Vinalo]

Another trek through the Sylphlands wasn't what Vinalo had intended to do so soon after the fire and the void, but Blue's insistence that it'd be a much calmer and safer adventure convinced them. Additionally, the idea of investigating the surviving flora of the usually-forbidden region piqued their curiosity. With Pipino along, it was almost like one of their explorations for their book. Regardless, the healer was carrying a new wand with them, just in case. As Blue provided the introductions, Vinalo's face lit up as soon as they saw Moroxia twirl around them.

“Moroxia! So wonderful to see you in the air again! Looks like you've been resting like I said,” they mused. A small chuckle as Pipino was introduced as the 'Artsy One.' They nodded in her direction before turning back to the Sylph. “Yes, this is my dear friend Pipino. And she isa great artist!”

[Pipino]

Pipino followed after Blue and Vinalo as they tread familiar ground, Pipino feeling like this particular journey was nearly uncharted territory. It was true that she had explored a little bit of the Shroud on her own, now that she was comfortable with what to expect, but the prudent Lalafell tended to keep to the road more often than not, afraid of what might happen should she and Pinion manage to get in a spot of trouble farther away from help. She felt a little nervous, having heard a bit about the rather eventful happenings they had gone on, so she did not know quite what to expect, but at least Vinalo was there, and they seemed comfortable, and Blue was certainly a capable fighter from what she had seen in the Grindstone. All would go well. This would simply be a peaceful day.

Pipino was a bit quiet as they walked, clutching the strap of her bag rather tightly with a bit of anxiousness as they approached the Sylphlands, blue eyes going wide and body going tense as the excitable creatures fluttered over to them straight away. She seemed even more flummoxed about what to do as she was examined so closely by Argaxio, taking a tentative step back to keep a bit of polite distance. She had never interacted with the Beast Tribes before, and the stories she heard in her youth took over her logic more than her trust in her friends did in the moment. Her fear was quickly allayed, however as Blue and Vinalo took the lead in communication.

She managed a tense smile and tried to rearrange her features in something that didn't resemble existential panic.

“O-oh! Y-yes, pleased to meet you,” she said giving a little curtsy while looking up to the eager Sylph, blushing as she wasn't familiar with the etiquette at all.

[Blue]

Moraxia looked from Vinalo to Pipino at their words, growing all the more curious. They didn't seem capable of understanding Pipino's cautious motions, and fluttered closer- if only to be called back by the elder.
“Now Moraxia, give Artsy One some space! This may be her first time here.”
Addressing the three visitors now.
“This One understands that much wariness is still directed towards These Ones. These Ones are different. These Ones wouldn't feel very safe going to Walking Ones settlement either. Hopefully that changes in time, when understanding is reached.”
Argaxio looks away from the group, briefly staring out over to the entrance of the Sylphlands. It is bustling with activity as both Sylph and Eorzean make their way into deeper into the Shroud. It used to be impossible what with the tempered playing tricks and causing mischief.

Blue gently prompts Argaxio.“What do you require an artist for?”

“Ah, Some of These Ones haven't taken the fires very well.”
Argaxio gestures to little homes that dangle from the tall trees above them. The faintest sounds of weeping could be heard.
“These Ones have never encountered such destruction before. Some cannot process the damage to the Sylphlands and have hidden away. This One knows that art can bring forth emotions..and what is needed is remembrance of the homeland and hope that these recovery efforts are not in vain. That These Ones may once recognize the beauty of the Sylphlands once more.”
The elder looks to Pipino and nods warmly.
“This One knows that it is quite the request the make but if Artsy One desires, the job is there.”
They direct their attention to Blue and Vinalo again.
“These Ones will always be thankful for how Walking Ones helped rid the Sylphlands of the great flames. These Ones made a contract with Those Ones - All are given safe passage through the homeland for the time being.”

[Vinalo]

“A mushroom search should hopefully be simple enough that Those Ones'll hardly have to pay attention to us,” Vinalo said, quickly taking on the vocabulary of the Sylphs.“And so should some drawing.”

They looked up at the hanging homes in the trees, thinking how terrible it must've been for the Sylphs. Even after the fires were quenched and the voidsent defeated, the region was still littered with the bodies of their kin. Lives forever lost. Vinalo sighed and took comfort in the knowledge that at least the Seedbed was spared and eventually the Sylphs would recover. They turned back to Pipino, kind of a half-smile on their face.

“It was, erm… quite an adventure. But today'll be much quieter, I'm sure of it.”

[Pipino]

Pipino looks to the Sylphs, relaxing a bit as she is given a bit more space.

“O-oh, certainly, I am always happy to provide art and… well, given the circumstances, I imagine I would not need compensation for such a thing. I am afraid all I have on me now is a sketchbook, but I could always take a few sketches and make something larger or more colorful should you need something more stirring than a black and white charcoal sketch.” She pauses tapping her chin.“Now, what exactly is it that I am attempting to depict? A memory of what had once existed, or the beauty that can be found change?” she asked pensively.

She looks to Vinalo and nods.“Well, that will be much appreciated! Not that I came unprepared, of course.”

[Blue]

Argaxio taps their chin a moment at Pipino's question before giving a nod.
“Perhaps the beauty that can be found in change. These Ones memories are full of what once existed and much of that is no longer the same. Walking Ones and These Ones have been working to fill the rift and bring back what once was but nature takes time to recover.”
The wizened sylph looks off in the distance.
“Charcoal…soot like ash. Perhaps the best medium for what These Ones might wish to see. That from ash comes beauty and creation.”

Blue flicked her earfins at the Sylph's words, nodding along with them. Something about it resonated with her, and she looked from Vinalo to Pipino.

“Seems a bit of a task,” The Xaela would tease gently to the pair, softly brushing her fingers along the ribbon that held the bag at her hip.“Think we can handle that?”

[Pipino]

Pipino smiles at the sentiment, finding some kind of commonality between her and the foreign creature at last.

“You know, that is quite poetic… I rather like the sentiment behind that. And I feel confident I could provide a bit of a hopeful vista to bolster morale! It would be my honor to depict such a thing for you all.”

[Vinalo]

“And we'll do our very best to make sure you get that chance, right?” they say, looking back up to Blue with a grin.“And doing my part with the mushrooms, of course!”

[Blue]

Blue nods to Vinalo with a smile of her own as Argaxio responds to Pipino with a happy flutter if its wings.

“Good! These Ones look forward to seeing what entails from Walking Ones journey through the forest!”

They hovered back and gave a gesture for the three to proceed through Little Solace and what lay beyond. Blue gave the Sylph a merry bow and briefly looked for Moraxia to do the same, but they flittered in and out of her line of vision, seemingly busying themselves with play.

The Xaela looked back to the duo, nodding her head over in the general direction they were to take before starting to walk past both tents and hanging homes. Once out of earshot of Argaxio, she'd murmur out to her friends,“They've taken this whole event a lot better than I'd feared they would. I'm glad!” She'd twirl around and start walking backwards, pulling a small note from her pocket.“Looks like I just require a dozen Minor Banestools. I don't really know much about mushrooms compared to flowers- I hope they grow in bunches!”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo nodded back to Blue. She was right; the Sylphs were looking ahead to the future in a way that was impressive even to an optimist like themself. And they'll be able to look ahead even better with Pipino's art.

They followed after Blue, noting how much more pleasant it would be to walk this path when not surrounded by fire and smoke. After a few moments, Vinalo looked as if they suddenly realized something.

“Wait. Blue, did you say Banestools? Your contact wanted Banestools? Those… aren't normal mushrooms; they're a kind of leafkin. We can't just… pick them.”

[Pipino]

Pipino trailed after them, looking all over as they traversed, taking in the details of the scenery, the differences in the foliage, trying to get an idea of how this place felt as their home. She listened to Blue and Vinalo chatter away, not fully paying attention, but her ear caught the lastest exchange.

“Oh, I suppose I do not remember drawing anything called a Banestool. But there are so many species of mushroom growing about, I am not surprised we did not get them all,” she contributed quite pointlessly and obliviously, unaware as to what the problem truly was.“How does one go about gathering them then if not picking them? Are they like that shelf-like species that grow along the rocks? The height was a bit of a challenge…”

[Vinalo]

Pipino's commentary caused Vinalo to pause and look back at her. They realized neither of their companions had any idea what they were sent after.

“No, no. Banestools are an odd sort of dangerous fungal leafkin. Or at least some people thinkthey are. It's a bit unclear if they're active enough to count, and it's right hard to study them properly,” they explained. Vinalo then turned back to Blue.“Either way, they're almost always spewing poisonous fumes about. Getting anywhere within a yalm or two of them is dangerous.”

[Blue]

Blue tilts her head at Vinalo's words.“Really? They never said anything about it being a type of monster…just that they're sorta hard to get to. Maybe there are different types of Banestools!” She tapped her chin thoughtfully.“I'd imagine slaying them would ruin the effectiveness though huh? Maybe I need a bigger bag..Oh well!” The Xaela didn't look as perturbed as she might should have been, wiggling her earfins at the same time she shrugged her shoulders.“We'll find out when we get closer!” She'd hand the note to Vinalo for them to examine proper. At the very least there was a little sketch of the creature/plant they were looking for so it would be easier to identify when spotted.

Through and past the bustle of Little Solace the trio would go, towards the entrance of the Sylphlands that began with a familiar bridge crossing. It would feel almost surreal to Vinalo and Blue as they walked across the very bridge where burning and dying creatures had fled for their lives weeks prior. There were still heavy scorhmarks scarring the bridge and everything surrounding it, the ravine below spotted with ash and withered flora.
Yet, at the same time, they weren't the only ones crossing the bridge. Ahead of them, a Hyuran woman and her two children were carrying an assortment of gardening tools- a bucket full of dirt, a pouch of seeds, and a shovel for digging. The woman hummed softly as she marked a spot for them to stop- a scorched clearing marred with black plantlife. Indiscernible commands were given to her brood as she'd begin digging into the earth. Seems some planting was to be done.?

[Pipino]

Pipino followed after them still, staying quiet as to the banestool mission still as she assessed the damage and thought of ways to properly depict the inspiring change the Sylphs might like to see in their new reality. She stopped here and there to move to examine a particularly scorched area to see what type of land lie beneath it, and paused yet again to examine possible vistas, placing her hands on her hips and surveying the area in a panoramic gaze, deciding what might be worth placing to paper. Not wanting to hold up the other two though, she started to make a bit of a list in her sketch book of places with a little rating of how they compared to one another, keeping track of the scenery as she went with small descriptions scrawled in an an elegant, but rushed hand.

As they came to the bridge, Pipino spotted the Hyuran woman from a distance. As they kept walking, she had no qualms in pausing to survey their equipment.

“Ah, excuse me, ma'am. I am sorry to bother you in your work, but, well, I have been tasked with an artistic project of sorts from the Sylphs who live here, and I am hoping to depict the beauty in the land after this disaster they have undergone and… well, I know this is a bit out of the blue and sudden, but I was hoping to learn about what you might be planning on doing here - what vision you have for what this place might become through your assistance.”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo took the note from Blue, giving it good look as they followed along. The shape and general appearance seemed close enough, but there there wasn't really any size description. No matter, banestools are rather hard to miss. They stowed the note away for now and kept moving.

It felt somewhat odd to be following the same path they did not too long ago, unobscured by a wall of smoke. Vinalo glanced back and noticed Pipino observing the damage in that artist way they'd gotten used to while working on their book. A small sigh. They were glad she was only seeing the aftermath.

Like the others, Vinalo paused when the group came across the Hyuran woman, and simply watched as Pipino asked for assistance in her task.

[Blue]

The Hyuran woman wiped her brow as she watches her children make a good, honest attempt at clearing the area of withered plantlife. She looked away from them at the trio's approach, a warm smile resting upon her lips at the inquiry.
“Ah hello there! Pleasure to see other folks come and visit the Sylphlands in their time o' need. As for us, we just be doin' what Nophica wills. The lands here are scarred. Many a creature fell or fled or were in flames in this very spot. We don't dare dwell too deep into these woods, but thought a small flower garden could be made to commemorate those who lived.”
“Even the scary monsters?” One of the children questioned. She was a little girl, a few years old, with a straw hat covering messy brown hair and simple overalls for working in the dirt.
“Especially the monsters.” Her mother replied.“Leafkin, vilekin, beasts and Sylphs. They're part of this world just as much as we are. We may not understand them, we may fight them, or think them as pests. But we all view death in the same manner. We all approach it the same. And if we are similar in that way, what other bits of understanding can we gain from them someday? We all just want to live.”

[Vinalo]

The woman's response brought a smile to Vinalo's face. Even a small garden would be a wonderful memorial for everyone who fell that day. And her sentiment on life and death was refreshing to hear from someone who could've easily been soured by this incident.

“I think it's a great idea! Having a garden right near the crossing'll remind everyone from both sides of what we still have to cherish and such,” they said, fighting the urge to join them in their garden work.“I'd be happy to come back and help sometime later, but we've an errand of sorts farther in.”

[Pipino]

Blinked a bit at the exchange between the woman and her children, feel a pang of guilt as she remembered that she had heard this same lesson only in a bit more of a twisted way from a certain foreboding red-headed Lalafell man whom she was quite glad to be rid of for the time being, but tried to internalize the sentiment as much as she could. She still found it difficult to adjust to such an equality-based mindset as far as beasts and aggressive creatures were concerned, but she kept her thoughts to herself.

“A wonderful gesture, to be sure,” Pipino states.“So you just plan to do this area then? I am trying to pick a location where it will be best to envision the positivity of the changes that have occurred here and… well, this area seems to qualify thus far. Or perhaps are you aware of any other restoration efforts that are taking place deeper within?”

[Blue]

Blue carried much the same mindset as the woman did, albeit from different experiences herself. The Xaela beamed.“Yes, that's very kind of you! We'd been there when the animals had begun fleeing the woodlands. Perhaps it will bring peace of mind for those who return.”

The woman nods to Blue, then Pipino respectively, turning and pointing out further into the woodlands.“I'm just one of several who are playing a part in bringing back the Sylphlands- perhaps not to its former glory, but hopefully to something better, where maybe my children might be able to play someday. I've seen some Sylphs leading a band of hunters deep into the woods- for what I'm not sure. You might find them on your way in.”
She then smiled at Vinalo.“The more the merrier, friend. May you find what you seek and join us later on. This is quite the project for just the three of us!

Blue blinks a moment and interjects,”Actually, you wouldn't know where we might find some banestools, would you? I need to collect some for a client.“

The woman begins to speak before her other child, an adolescent boy interrupts excitedly.”Banestools used to be all these woods! I don't think they fared very well with the fire though…but I think the Sylphs use them for stuff, maybe they'll know!“

[Vinalo]

'A band of hunters?' the Lalafell thought to themself. Suppose there might be a problem with some beasts being a problem after so much destruction. Regardless, Vinalo gave a friendly nod to the gardening trio. It would be nice to lend a hand when this little journey was done.

They were about to answer Blue's question, as they haveseen banestools growing before, but the youth's response did have a bit more useful information.

“Ah, that's good to know. Thanks much for the advice!” Vinalo responded to the boy. They looked over to Blue.”If the Sylphs have them in a less… actively spewing poison form, that'd be right helpful.“

[Blue]

Blue nodded over to Vinalo, clapping her hands together.”Let's hope that's the case! Wouldn't be fun if we all got icky and poisoned from this trip! Though, still easier to handle I imagine.“ The Au Ri would bow to the gardeners and begin to make her way back to where the path truly begin to form, beckoning the others to follow at their leisure. She could just make out some voices throughout the trees, and quick glance would identify sylphs flitting and observing the trio of friends but also the other residents of Hawthorne making their way through the Sylphlands as if it had become a popular road to travel.

[Pipino]

Pipino gave a polite curtsy to the woman.”Thank you very much for your help and for your efforts. I imagine we shall return this way, so I cannot wait to see the progress you have made! Anyway, I suppose I ought to follow after them lest I get left behind. Do take care.“ She looked to the children and gave them an extra little grin and a wave, finding it strange to find that she had grown such a soft spot all of a sudden.

She jogged daintily a few steps to catch up to the others.”Oh…. poison? Are they that caustic then?“ she bemoaned in a cautious tone.

[Vinalo]

Vinalo gave one last friendly wave to the gardening group before following after Blue. The sound of Sylphic movement above momentarily distracted them from the task at hand. After seeing so many bodies during the fire and encounter with the voidsent, it was a relief that there was still so much life in these woods. A sense of calm came over them as they walked along.

“Caustic? Not too much, don't think,” they answered, still looking ahead.”Still wouldn't want to get too much on your skin. The biggest problem is inhalingthe poison it sprays into the air. Banestools can be nearly eight fulms tall when full grown, so… it really would be helpful if the Sylphs had smaller and safer samples around.“

[Blue]

Blue raises up a finger, adding to Vinalo's words.”Well, the client did request minorBanestools. Maybe there are smaller versions then you're accustomed to seeing!“ Truthfully though, as much as the Au Ri wandered through the Shroud, her only excursion through these lands were not at the best of times, especially in terms of observing the local plantlife.

She twirled around and began walking backwards, smiling over at Pipino and Vinalo.”Isn't it nice to just take a stroll with friends? Seems like forever ago since we just celebrated Moonfaire, and too easy to get caught up on all the craziness the rest of the days have to offer. I can't wait to see what you end up coming up with as a drawing piece, Pinino!“ She paused, blinking, before waving her hands wildly.”No pressure though!“ A merry laugh rang out before Blue turned about face again, not wanting to trip over anything in her desire to bond with friendos.

[Vinalo]

“Mhm, maybe.”

Vinalo continued to watch and listen to the life fluttering above and around the group. It wasnice to have a calm trek like this, simply seeking a (hopefully) safe sample of a fungus and making sure Pipino can do her artistic magic for the Sylphs. They smiled and nodded to Blue as she addressed them and Pipino. After Blue twirled back around, a thought popped into Vinalo's head.

“Did the client say what they needed the banestool for? There's plenty of poisons and such that can be used for making medicine, but I can't think of one specific for banestool. The flesh isn't much edible either, unless you were reallydesperate.”

[Pipino]

“It really is a great day for it,” Pipino says, dawdling behind them.”The way the sun is filtering through the leaves is quite lovely, and since some of the foliage was burned away, you can see these beam-like larger patches of sunlight that will create some interesting dynamic contrast…“ she says, clearly in art mode. She was just as pleasant as always, but just a bit focused on her goal.

“I have been looking for the next project to get involved with before we start work on the second book, after all, and it is nice to be able to do it in nature. A bit of a bridge to my eventual goal of setting out and painting larger vistas in more far-flung locales. I certainly feel quite safe with present company at the very least!”

[Blue]

Blue brought a hand to her chin in thought at Vinalo's question.”Uhm…she didn't say what for, just kept mumbling and murmuring something about reuniting with her lost love. A nice lady though!“

A little bit more wandering down the path would yield little results for the mushroom hunters but perhaps plenty for Pipino and her artistic vision. It would appear every which way, where fires had ravaged the plantlife, seedlings and sprouts were beginning to grow over the wreckage. Though it would take a great deal of time, these tiny successors would eventually replenish the Shroud, with and without the aid of the Sylphs and the Villagers.
Ahead of the group a small gathering had formed in front what looked to be a goobue holding something in its little wiggly arms. Sylphs were peering over its huge shoulders at whatever it held while those in front seemed to be a mishmash of Hyurs and Elezen, all garbed in hunter's attire. They seemed intent on whatever the trio still could not see, and Blue, ever curious, would run up and see what it was that had everyone's interest.

”….What's going on?“ She'd ask, hopping up and trying to peer over the taller figures without too much success, ears flicking at the sounds of conversation and direction a stern hyur was giving out to the rest of the group.

”-will need to be quick about it, the marsh is several yalms away. They're very fragile, don't bump them against things.“

Still unable to see anything and impatient to wait, the Xaela would duck down and begin crawling down between the legs of the onlookers.”..Scuse me..just wanna see. Ow~ No kicking! Just lemme shimmy here…“ She'd disappear from view of her two companions, though a loud gasp would sound soon after from the middle of the crowd.

”…Ooooh!“

[Pipino]

Pipino took the scenery with great interest, making a few more notes in her book as they went, drawing a very basic picture of the path to remind her where along their journey her ideas were linked to, but she did not stop yet and followed Blue up until a few fulms away from the gathering of people. Being that Pipino was not the kind of girl who was willing to push her way between the legs of tallfolk for fear of being stood on, she looked helplessly up, moving her body from side as if that might help her see over the gathered crowd better when in all actuality it did nothing. She turned to Vinalo with a little annoyed noise at her lack of being able to be in the loop.

“Any guesses on what the commotion might be? I swear, people have no consideration for those below their own line of sight…”

[Blue]

The hulking Goobue can be heard snorting as it lowers what it has carried to the ground, the sound of splashing heard soon after, multiple somethingsbreaching water. A nearby hunter near the lalafells would grumble to his companion beside him,”Oy, I know we gotta help the beasts of the Shroud, but why them?“ Blue can be heard squealing with delight.”Babies!!!!“

[Vinalo]

“Reuniting with a lost love? That doesn't make any sense…” Vinalo thought out loud as they followed along. This oddity stuck in the back of their mind like an persistent itch. Banestools… banestools… reuniting? Though they didn't wander off-path while thinking, it did distract them from taking in much of the recovering flora and Pipino's quick sketches. Only when the commotion became apparent did they regain focus.

As they got to the large crowd, Vinalo stayed behind with Pipino, as they too were not too keen on wedging between tallfolk's legs. They gave her a small shrug as she voiced her annoyance at not being able to see anything. At least the goobbue wasn't attacking anyone, from what they could see.

“Suppose we'll have to wait an-” Vinalo started before being cut off by Blue's very excited voice. They looked in the direction of the crowd for a moment before turning back to Pipino. They chuckled a bit and smiled.”We've an answer, I reckon!“

[Blue]

It was around this time that an Elezen man would notice the pair at the back. With a chuckle of his own, he'd ask them of the excited Xaela who'd snuck in into the group,”Friend of yours?“
He'd tap at the shoulders of the person in front of him, who'd shift and move to the side, he too following suite soon after, forming a small pathway for Vinalo and Pipino to get closer or at least finally get to see what what resided at the center of the gathering…
Buckets…lots and lots of buckets, filled near to the brim with water that seemed to slosh about on its own accord. Blue sat on her knees in front of one of them, peering down into the depths with a grin and a wag of her tail.
A closer inspection would reveal that each bucket hosted dozens of tadpoles, splish-splashing about in the water. These were of the large variety though…
Another hunter grumbled,”You know how many times I've been near grabbed by their tongues though? Of all the-“
A frown from the apparent leader of the hunters was all that was needed to quiet the man.

[Vinalo]

“You could say that,” Vinalo said to the Elezen man with a grin. They watched as the man's actions gave the smaller pair a clear path ahead. Though Blue's squeal gave away the surprise, seeing the buckets full of life kept the smile on their face. They walked through the pathway, getting close to the very excited Xaela.

“Things really are recovering, aren't they?” they asked to Blue, looking into the bucket themself.”So much burned, and yet… here we are.“

[Pipino]

Pipino inclined her head in thanks to those who parted for her and let Vinalo lead the way, the mysterious splashing a lot less inviting in her mind than it seemed to be to everyone else's. She stayed back a healthy distance, putting a foot forward and slowly shifting her weight to her toe to crane her neck over the thriving pools and she widened her eyes as she saw all the creatures swishing about.

“My…there are so many… were the waters that affected by the fire? I suppose I am a bit… ignorant about the way the ecosystem works here. I suppose they are amphibious so… But surely, many would escape to the waters, yes? I would think most of them would be safe, given they were in water but… was there much in the way of harm done?”

[Vinalo]

“Mhm, ones in the water didhave an easier time staying safe,” Vinalo said to Pipino, still watching the splashing tadpoles with a smile.”But… there was so much fire and such that the waters were being smothered with fallen trees and beasts. Became unsafe right quickly. Seeing these ones here, though, means that plenty didmake it to safety.“

[Blue]

Blue beamed over at Vinalo and nodded happily. She was semi-distracted by all of the little tadpoles, but thankfully it seemed that the leader had been listening to the newcomers more intently.

“Aye lass. Those who resided in the water were safe at first- however, little ones like these dwell right by the riverside, where they could be crushed. It seems also that a part of the river further up the bank had been contaminated with some kind of oil that boiled the water- and many of the living things with it.” He gestured over to one of the sylphs who seemed busy with playing keep away with the goobue.”The little one there went out of their way trying to save all these bloody babies off the banks. Been keeping them in these buckets for the first few weeks.“ He smiled wryly.”Thankfully these big'uns seem to take longer to grow up, else we'd have a bunch of giant toads causing all manner of mess. But, its time for them to get back to where they belong.“

Blue stood up and brought a hand to her chest, expression one of utter determination.”Can I help carry a bucket? Seems there's plenty of them to go around and I wanna see them be set free!“

[Pipino]

Pipino attentively listened to all the descriptions, the city-girl finding it all rather intriguing and new. Sure, she had seen a lot of nature at work in her little ventures with Vinalo here and there, but it was never quite so alive as it was in this moment. She tentatively stepped forward a bit more to get a closer look, cautiously viewing them with a curious tilt of the head.

“I think I should like to be there to see them off and all. An exciting new journey for them, a new world to explore. I suppose I did not know that such a large fire could occur in someplace so lush, or that that there was much that could be done to quell its fury once started but… well, it is nice to see that if the numbers are on the proper side, there is enough that can be done to secure a thriving tomorrow for so many of these creatures.”

She sized up the two buckets as Blue declares her wish to carry one herself. Pipino looks about sizing up the bucket and deciding how heavy it would feel after being carried for a distance.

“How far must they be carried to go where they need to be?”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo looked to Pipino, happy to hear her enthusiasm at helping these young ones. It wasamazing that this kind of recovery could be happening despite the raging inferno not so long ago. They noticed her sizing up the bucket before she even asked the question.

“I'd also love to see them off safely. If the bucket's a bit heavy, we could probably manage together.”

[Blue]

The leader looked amused at the enthusiasm and gave a laugh before looking to a couple of the more wary hunters and shooing them off with the wave of a hand.”Likes like you two don't have to mess with toads-to-be after all! Go on back to the village. They'll find something for you folk to do.“ The pair who had complained earlier grumble under their breath and stalk off while the former nods to the newcomers.
“You're certainly welcome to help carry them to the river. It is a bit of a hike however- across a couple ravines before you begin to see the river itself. Thankfully the bridges have been rebuilt so there's not much obstruction there.” He took the bucket Blue had been staring at and gently guides it into her hand before crouching down before Vinalo and Pipino as if to size them up.”It would probably be safer for the babies if you both carried one. Less water sloshing about. They are still pretty vulnerable at this stage as you can see.“
He rose and clapped his hands together in the attempt to gather the attention of everyone else in the small group.”It's time! Walk together or close by at the least, it's still relatively safe for now though, we've yet to reintroduce the big child-eating beasts!“ He winks at one of the children who'd taken a bucket but looks as if he's about to cry. His assumed mother nearby casts a glare in the man's direction, before taking up a bucket as well.

Blue would let the group thin out a bit as they trudged further into the woods, slowly shifting the bucket to her side as she looked to her friends thoughtfully.”You know, it's kind of strange that hunters would be leading the charge on conserving the life around here.“

[Pipino]

Pipino looked to Vinalo as they suggested their course of action, only to look to the leader as he confirmed the option as the best course. Putting away her sketchbook in her bag for the moment, Pipino straightened her gloves and then grabbed hold of the handle, waiting for Vinalo to join her before hefting it between them and starting off after Blue.

She looked slightly uneasy at the quip about the child-eating beasts, being rather child-sized as far as the taller races go herself. Surely they might be child and lalafell-eating beasts. She tried to ignore the comment, her heartbeat picking up in tempo as she tried to distract herself with conversation instead.

“I shall try my best to shoulder my portion of the load. If only we were to do this when Gair was having me practice fighting with my fists. I was probably at my peak strength back then! Langston thought I was particular adept at kneading bread back then, so I imagine carrying a bucket like this might have been a bit easier.

She turned to Blue and tilted her head.”Well… a good hunter should only take what they need, yes? Otherwise it is a bit wasteful. I would imagine not helping is wasteful in a different sort of way. I would imagine they would know more about the food chains and other such things than I do, but that they would be sensitive to these changes in their livelihood.”

[Vinalo]

“Experienced hunters I'd reckon would know enough about the land and beasts to maintain balance. It'd only be poachers I'd worry about,” Vinalo said as they joined Pipino in hefting the bucket full of water and tadpoles. They took care to get a solid grip before giving her a nod that they were ready to move. They chuckled a bit as they lifted.“And I'm sure we can manage this together. Twelve know I'm not a great example of muscle, but our combined strength'll get these young ones to safety just fine!”

Though Vinalo was focusing on keeping proper pace and balance with their fellow Lalafell, the client's odd request slipped back into their head. It bothered them. Different thoughts crossed their mind, none of them terribly encouraging. Some more answers would be needed. Perhaps when the group wasn't carrying some very precious cargo. Vinalo mentally set it aside for the moment and refocused on the task at hand.

[Blue]

Blue nodded in understanding.“I might just be used to more of the poachers in my neck of the woods. Tret and I are always trying to ward them off and its a real pain to deal with them. They're so mean and greedy…nothing like these hunters though. At least we can help bring life back to the Sylphlands too!” She peers down at her bucket and giggles softly.“I guess I shouldn't start giving them all names..should I?”

Ahead, one of the hunters could be heard yelling out suddenly.“Watch out, Gnat Swarm!” A distinct buzzing would be heard encroaching upon the group as giant flies would fly into the gathering of people. Thankfully they didn't seem interested in attacking, preferring to cause a nuisance for the group as they drew closer to the riverside.

[Vinalo]

Vinalo's gaze shot upward upon hearing the call out. The previous encounter with the gnats came to mind, and they briefly wondered how quickly they could get the bucket settled down safely and be prepared to ward the giant insects off. The lack of any real offensive actions on the gnats' part instead made them feel lucky that they and Pipino were that much closer to the ground. Still, they remained alert.

“Keep calm and steady, and they shouldn't cause any real problems!”

[Pipino]

Pipino watched the gnats cautiously, clearly quite jumpy at every little danger that popped up. She seems to visibly relax at Vinalo's assurance though, but still cast a wary glance their way, scanning the landscape for hidden dangers now.

“Yes, I think naming them would be a bit premature… unless you plan on raising them, wild things ought not be given names, I should think. Perhaps they already have a name and do not appreciate it being replaced,” she mused a bit playfully, mainly just making conversation, not necessarily believing it.

[Blue]

Blue nodded to Pipino reluctantly at her answer, though her brow furrowed and she pouted a bit.“I guess that's true..I definitely wouldn't want to be given some weird other name after being born- Ah…after being called Blue for so long. It's not my real name though…I guess I was too young to notice when it was replaced.” Her voice wavers only slightly, as if trying to recall something from long before- only fragments and pieces that remain to be picked at.

Thankfully for the trio, aside from the gnat population growing thicker the further they traveled through the Sylphlands, their adventure to the riverside would be quiet and safe. A maiden up ahead who carried her own bucket laughed in jest at the hunters as they swatted the bugs away with a fervor.“See? Just wait for these babies to grow up some more and we'll have mighty less insect problems as a result!”

They would all make it to the riverside without too much trouble, and Blue hastened her pace upon seeing the villagers lower their buckets onto the shore carefully, letting the tadpoles glide and wriggle their way into their new home. She dipped her own down, a dainty little giggle escaping as she watched one tadpole warily swim out of the bucket, if only to soon be followed by a dozen more.

“I can't see their expressions..but I hope they're happy!” She can't help but blurt out to no one in particular, watching the parts of the river filling to full with new life.

[Vinalo]

Though they were focused on both keeping the bucket steady with Pipino andkeeping an eye on the gnats flying overhead, Blue's pondering caught Vinalo's ear. Names given. It was something they've had reason to think about in the past. It pinged something in their mind, and they found themself defending Blue from her own words.

“Doesn't matter when you were given the name, Blue. If you've made it yours, then it's real as anyone's name that was given to them,” they said with a soft, but serious tone.“No one can take it from you.”

Vinalo continued carrying the bucket with Pipino, perking up once they saw the villagers and Blue start the process of releasing the tadpoles to start their new lives in the river. They looked to Pipino with a smile and a nod towards the river.“Shall we?”

[Pipino]

Pipino nodded at Vinalo's suggestion.“Well, I see no other reason to delay! If they are home, then there is no sense for them to remain acquainted with the confines of this bucket when there is a whole world for them to explore.”

She crouched low to the ground, lowering her side of the bucket to rest upon the ground before kneeling down with her typical grace and control, feet neatly tucked under herself as she settled in a position where she could more easily tip the bucket with Vinalo.

“On the count of three then, yes?” she suggestsed placing two hands on the bucket and getting ready to tip it forward.“One…Two….Three!”

[Vinalo]

“Mhm! Maybe when they've grown, the tadpoles'll remember the ride we've given them!” Vinalo joked in response.

Vinalo crouched down to match Pipino's motion, making sure to kick out the skirt of their robe before settling into a crouch and positioning their hands on the bucket. A quick affirmative nod and they were ready. On her count, Vinalo joined Pipino in freeing the tadpoles into the river, watching them wriggle their way to a new life. For the healer, this was proof of the Shroud's resilience. Even if it needed a little help along the way.

[Blue]

Once her bucket had been emptied of both tadpoles and water, Blue sat the pail at her side and did a big, full body stretch, reaching her arms up to the sky and enjoying the sunshine that breached through the canopy. She flicked an ear and looked over to where Vinalo and Pipino were, hoisting her bucket and herself over to them with a skip and a hop.

“Truthfully, this is just the start of an adventure for these little guys. There's plenty of danger along the way. We just gotta hope that they make it through the worst of it and pull through with their friends!” The Xaela smiles, and her words seem to have drawn the attention of an elderly man who had just finished releasing the contents of his own bucket. He manages a gruff chuckle in response but shakes his head.

“Hope is a frayed little thing, girl. Gets called upon way too much by foolish folks like you, wishy washy youngsters who don't understand that to hope is just to dream. It doesn't do anything for you or others in the end.”

Blue's smile fades slowly, and she looks away, unsure if she's being chastised or belittled or a little bit of both.“I….um..”

[Vinalo]

“You're wrong.”

Vinalo turned to face the elderly man once they'd finished releasing the tadpoles alongside Pipino. They stood up and crossed their arms, an uncommonly serious look on their face. His words seem to have triggered something in them.

“Hope is powerful. Changes lives. I've treated and healed so many people who were on the edge of losing everything to despair and pain, and sometimes death. Seeing the faces of them and their families when they realize everything isn't lost, knowing that I've given them something to hold onto and dream about, it's impossible to believe that hope is useless or somesuch.” The Lalafell sighed as their expression softened, and a half-smile appeared.“Don't know what you've gone through that's made you think that way, but I'm sorry you have, truly. But… I'm going to keep hoping and dreaming, so I can keep helping others do the same. Suppose I might be a bit stubborn, but that's just who I am.”

[Pipino]

Pipino stands, dusting her gloves off and brushing some of the sediment and soil from her boots, listening to the impassioned declarations from both of them. She furrows her brow a bit, wondering why such a sudden ethics conversation was creeping up all of a sudden, but she rearranges her features into something a little softer, looking over her shoulder at the man, feeling he doesn't quite deserve her full attention.

“Well, what does it matter what attitude you approach a situation with? Hope at least helps you spend your time more profitably. Cynicism might be the more realistic approach, but what purpose does it serve if it just makes you feel miserable all the while? What does your cynicism do for you, I wonder? Make you see the bottom of too many bottles and glasses? Repell others so you ensure you spend your miserable time alone?” She lets out a little laugh and turns to face him at last.

“It must do at least that last thing, otherwise you would have no business intruding so desperately on the conversations of strangers. Perhaps if you adopted a bit more of a hopeful outlook, you would find yourself surrounded by more kindred spirits so you did not have to pester those attempting to mind their own business,” she chastises, clearly annoyed by his interruption.

[Blue]

The old man's eyes widened and he took a step back from the two lalafells. Blue too, would appear rather surprised herself, earfins flattening back against her face as she listened to them both deliver two pointed views towards the same subject- hope. And while Pipino's was the more piercing of the two and deflated the elderly man to the point of being speechless for an awkwardly long amount of time, Vinalo's words were ones she herself carried. She wouldn't be where she was herself without the hope and dreams she carried in her own heart.

After what seemed like an eternity of this stranger trying to mutter some semblance of a rebuke, he instead lowered his shoulders and grumbled out to Pipino,“Says the one who looks like she's never had to do a day's work in her life. Must be nice, that. Never having to look down the other end of the bottle at a life that ent worth livin', or a family that 'ent worth keepin'. You ent even worth arguing with- I bet you don't even know what struggle is. Go back to where you belong.”

Blue narrowed her eyes, fingers tightening around the handle of the bucket before she marches up to the old man, dunking her bucket onto his head and leaving it there. Her hands are on her hips as the man sputters in surprise.

“Don't talk about my friends like that! That's just mean and rude. And you're upsetting the plants!”

A shout rings out as someone else seems to have noticed the commotion brewing just as the old man gets the bucket off his head, his face turning a bright shade of red.
“Oy, Bayard, you okay mate?” The midlander who had come up to the group was trying terribly hard not to laugh.
A younger midlander female follows, smirking before gesturing for Blue, Vinalo, and Pipino to follow her a little ways away from the bank and the ensuing yelling.“Sorry you ended up being his targets. Bayard's a foul but lonely man. He hasn't had a fair life, and will involve anyone he can reach out to in the hopes of bemoaning his own misfortune for a while.”

[Vinalo]

Pipino's cutting retort seemed to strike the elderly man harder than their own more diplomatic response. Regardless, Vinalo seemed satisfied with the situation, until the man finally responded by insulting Pipino and how he perceived her lot in life.

“Hey! You don't know wh-” Vinalo started to say, before being cut off by Blue's sudden bucket dunking. That wouldn't have been their preferred way of doing things, but it didn't keep them from snirking a bit as the man stood there on the receiving end of Blue's physical and verbal assault. When the midlander woman came over to pull the trio away from the commotion, they simply followed along with a small grin on their face.

[Pipino]

Pipino looked very satisfied about Blue's swift karmic retribution, unable to stifle her light giggle as the poor fellow dripped in his humiliation. She rather felt like she was getting some just desserts just by gazing at him.

She turned to Vinalo and held up a hand shaking her head.“You need not defend me. Much of what he spoke is true, and my upbringing affords me a narrow perspective. It is easy to be optimistic when one has never had want of the most basic needs in life and has lost little except the precious commodity of time.” She looked to Bayard and tilted her head in consideration of him.

“We must commend him for his honesty though. That is a refreshing trait my family and I, as well as my peers, lacked quite a bit of.”

[Blue]

Blue was pleased with her own actions. She wasn't the sort to take action often, but when it came to defending her friends, the Xaela knew no boundaries. She looked over to Pipino as she went on about her upbringing, shaking her head softly.“Makes no difference from what walk of life you come from. So long as you strive to do the best you can and be the better person.”

She kneels down and places a hand on Pipino's shoulder while looking to her and Vinalo.“There were times in my life where I wished I could have had a better upbringing with less worries and less struggle. But then I probably wouldn't be here now. I wouldn't know or have the friends I do. And I wouldn't have the knowledge I do from going through the hard stuff early.” Realizing she'd probably been spilling out her opinions on the matter a bit too much, she smiles softly and stands up again, looking to the woman who'd guided them away.“You wouldn't happen to know where we could find some Banestools would you? Of the lesser variety. We're pretty deep into the Sylphlands now and I haven't seen anything resembling them.”

The midlander tilts her head.“What would you want to do with those things? Can't even cook them, they're so toxic. I haven't seen any myself- of the larger variety anyway. You might look to stop by the Moonspore Grove. The fire ate away a lot of the forest but the grove remained protected by the sylphs. It's pretty much the only area untouched. I imagine banestools might till be thriving there.” She nods over to the bridge the trio had crossed with buckets full of tadpoles mere minutes before.“Go back across the bridge and make a sharp left turn. It's a bit less traveled- you'll see more sylphs making trips there than anything else, but they won't mean you any harm.”

[Vinalo] Blue's outpouring of opinions made Vinalo smile. They knew well the feeling of trying not to regret past actions due to how they could change what they've done. They simply gave Blue an approving nod before she turned to ask the woman about banestools. The answer made the itch at the back of their mind come back, and they couldn't help but ask more about the client who requested such a thing.

“Blue. Your client's request's been bothering me for a bit now. I just… can't think much of any use of banestool that'd we'd want to be part of,” they said, a look of concern growing over their face.“Is your client an… alchemist of some sort?”

[Pipino]

Pipino tensed at Blue's touch, her shoulders rising a bit as she took a little inhale of air, holding her breath. Her eyes darted in a panicked sort of way for a moment before she took a moment to process the situation and slowly eased into the action after beating the beast of her anxiety back, able to summon her logic to aid her as her mind spiraled into infinity with needless worries for just a second that lasted a near eternity for her. If she was to be honest, all the effort it took her to focus on not looking like someone who was greatly disturbed or repulsed by Blue caused her to miss the entire first sentence of what she was saying, the blue-haired Lalafell checking in partway through her utterance and forced to use context to piece together the mystery of her sentiments.

She seemed relieved as Blue ended up focusing on the Banestool mission in due time, Pipino shaking her head to herself, clearly disapproving of the old familiar reaction. It had been awhile since she had new faces in her life and she had gotten used to the trust and companionship built between the usual crowd, so much so that she thought perhaps this particular specter had left her. She had come so far with so many others, especially with Langston, and yet it lingered, causing the woman to knit her eyebrows in momentary frustration. Taking a quick deep breath and releasing it as the others talked, she took a moment to master herself.

[Blue]

Blue didn't seem to notice the tension oozing from Pipino at first, distracted by her own reverie of things she believed in- and then soon after by Vinalo's question of her client. Canine intuition however would lead the woman to chance a glance at the woman once more, offering a curious smile that would devolve into a frown.“Is…something wrong? Did I do something wrong?” Her eyes widen with concern, and she shifts her gaze over to Vinalo with worry, drawing back and away a bit, if her close presence was causing alarms to go off.

[Pipino]

“Oh! N-no,” she replies quickly, almost too quickly, her face forming into a very fast smile.“No, nothing wrong at all. It is not you, but me. I will be fine though! No need to dwell on it.” She moves of a few steps as if to further stress the point that everything is totally fineas she surveys the landscape and makes copious amounts of notes in her sketchbook again.

[Vinalo]

Just as they finished asking the question, Vinalo realized the position Blue put Pipino into. Her reaction and Pipino's very rapid response all but confirmed their worries. It'd been some time since it'd come up, but they were still a bit annoyed at themself that they didn't say something right as it happened. Watching as Pipino quickly pulled out her sketchbook and frantically started writing, it was obvious that she had no desire to dwell on it right now. Vinalo let out a short sigh and turned back to Blue.

“Yes… right. The client. Do you know if she's an alchemist or something like it?” they restated, worry still present on their face and voice.

[Blue]

Blue is just all the more concerned by Pip's reaction, tail coiling about anxiously on the ground. Much as she'd normally want to comfort, the Xaela restrains herself and chooses to hug her own shoulders instead. She lifts her gaze to Vinalo at their questions, thankful at least for the distraction.

“Ahh..she might be an alchemist. Fact is she was kinda odd. Hoisted a big bubbling cauldron all the way to the stables! Said she'd been planning to head over to some Manor but had forgotten some key ingredients for whatever she was brewing up. I told her I was pretty good with finding plantlife, so she requested some banestools. I imagine she's still waiting out by the stables for me, stirring that bubbling pot….”

[Vinalo]

A cauldron? A manor? A lost love? Vinalo's mind raced trying to put the pieces of this puzzle together. None of this made any good sort of sense. They could see clearly that Blue was still upset with what just happened, but this just seemed too important to let go.

“Only manor I know of in the Shroud is the old one malms west of here. It's… probably abandoned now, but years ago the Wailers had to deal with a group of voidsent that'd infested the place,” they said, starting to look a bit more stern.“Blue, I don't like this. Gathering up a dangerously toxic mushroom for someone who's planning to head into thatplace? And… and something about a lost love to reunite with? It's just… not adding up to anything good in my head. Just isn't.”

[Blue]

Blue frowns at Vinalo's assessment, humming thoughtfully to herself.“But…she's still at the stable just kinda waiting for me to bring back something. I'd feel bad if I just said no after all this work of going here and stuff!” The Xaela taps her chin.“I don't suppose there might be some bit of plant or mushroom that might looklike banestools in appearance?” While the woman herself was well versed in her fair share of plants, Vinalo was the botanist expert out of the three, as far as Blue was aware. She chances another glance at Pipino as she busies herself, still feeling her heart sink a bit at the thought of possibly being the cause.

[Pipino]

Pipino finishes making her notes that are definitely actually notes and totally not just her pretending to make notes, putting the charcoal in the book to mark her place yet again and closing it, turning back to the group, just as fine as she had ever been except for slightly pinkened cheeks.

“Yes, this all does sound rather suspect. The last time I got involved something that seemed so shady, well…. Let us just say I wish I had not. Would there be any consequence to just… not getting them at all? I am concerned if you lie or try to deceive this person, more harm would come you than if you simply decided not to engage at all.”

[Blue]

Blue pouts softly but listens, humming lightly in thought.“She didn't seem like the sorta person who'd be all vengeful and stuff but I imagine if it were me I wouldn't want to be deceived either…” Clearly this is still irking the woman somewhat. She did promise to bring something back after all, it wouldn't be a good thing to just bring back nothing and proceed to kick the alchemist out of the stable. After a moment, Blue lifts her hand up as if asking for permission to speak…before literally just speaking anyway.

“How about we at least see if there isn't some mistake, that perhaps this type of banestool isn't toxic or dangerous. If it is, I'll just go back and see if I can let the nice woman down gently and we can just focus on getting Pipino whatever subjects she might like to cover for her art piece?”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo sighed and gave Blue a bit of a half-smile. They did not look terribly confident in the idea of a non-toxic banestool.

“Suppose it's possible,but I've never heard or seen anything like that. It's why they have that as their common name, after all. And that's just part of what I'm worried about at this point,” they responded to Blue's idea, voice still a bit on the stern side.“But, since Pipino needs samples to draw anyroad, we'll keep going. And… I've no intention on delivering something that your client's going to hurt herself or someone else with. So, like you said, if we're not completely sure it's safe, then we won't be coming back with any.”

[Pipino]

“Honestly, I have an idea of what I would like to capture already, so it is not all that imperative to keep going if you truly have any misgivings about these banestools, but I will go along if you feel it is worth the effort.” She looks between the two.“Truly, if it is my name being used to investigate something dangerous, I would rather it not be used! But I will go along regardless in the event some cranky old man wishes to call into question the hardships I have or have not experienced,” she intones with a grin, clearly still a bit salty about the earlier situation.

[Blue]

Blue couldn't help but giggle at Pip's words, shaking her head softly.“Goodness, I do hope we don't come across anymore rude men like that on our journey!”

Blue shrugged her shoulders a bit and smiled.“It can't hurt just to see. Plus, I wouldn't mind checking out this Moonspore Grove. It seems like it would be awfully pretty, especially if it remained untouched by the fire!” And while there's a truce with the sylphs to get to explore these places freely, it could hurt to explore the lesser seen areas, Blue thought to herself quietly. She cast a momentary glance over to the riverside where the pleasant clamor of people were conversing as they watched the tadpoles dance and dash in their new homes before making for going back the way they had come.

Over the bridge and on a lesser-walked path through the Shroud, the group would notice that as the woman had noted the only travelers zipping back and forth from MoonSpore Grove would be sylphs. They busied themselves with carrying little bits of luminescent pouches to and from the area, and while a few cast suspicious looks in the party's general direction, there were just as many who laughed and giggles and hovered around them, buzzing with curiosity and interest.
“Walking Ones are joining These Ones in the festivities?”
“It's been so long since Walking Ones danced with These Ones, surely good fortune will be had!”
“This Walking One is so blue!”
“No, nono, look how this Walking One's eyes glimmer so bright! Like gemstones”
“Surely These Ones can see how pretty this Walking One is, so regal and refined!”
The sylphs giggled and twirled around them before branching off to do their duties for whatever 'festival' they seemed to be going on about. Brilliant pink glowing mushrooms would begin to lead the group towards their destination proper.

[Vinalo]

“It wouldbe good to see a place that the fire never got to,” Vinalo said, relaxing a bit.“We'll probably not get a better chance to see this much of the Sylphlands.” They looked to both of their companions with a confident grin.“And if there isa problem of rude men in the forest here, I reckon we're equipped to deal with it!”

Vinalo followed along with the group, managing to recognize a few of the local landmarks before they presumably take a route not in the direction of the Seedbed. Looking above and about, the sight of so many Sylphs at work again put a smile on their face. The Shroud truly was resilient, they thought to themself.

As the group got further in, Vinalo couldn't help but overhear how some very curious Sylphs were commenting on their appearances. The frankness of the descriptions made them chuckle.

“Far from the first to comment on my eyes, I suppose,” they said with a bit of a smile. They looked ahead with those gold-amber eyes, wondering where the giant glowshrooms were leading them.

[Pipino]

Pipino seemed a bit on edge as all the Sylphs evaluated them and commented on her, but she managed to not seem too alarmed as she began to get accustomed to their spontaneous nature and zest for amusement. She started to find the behavior a bit quaint and endearing after a time, even rather smiling at the compliment sent her way.

She followed the two of them, marveling at the various luminescent species of plant, eyes trained on her surrounding as she sought out various things include in her art.

“I should think these honest ones would be quick to call him out should one venture this far!”

[Blue]

Blue found herself giggling at Pipino's remark, bringing a finger to her chin as she thought to herself and attempted to mimic the sylph's strange but wholesome speech patterns.“These Ones don't like the grumpy one too much. Grumpy one shouldn't harass Loveable Ones with depressing talk.” Blue smiled and shrugged her shoulders gently.“But I truly do hope he finds some means of recovery from what he's been going through, whatever it is. I hate seeing people seem to give up.”

The closer the trio drew near to the clearing, the more their path would be lined with the tall glowing fungi, painting their line of vision in hues of vibrant purples and pinks. After trekking up a small hill, the pathway would give way to an overlook where they could see the Moonspore Grove proper. Blue couldn't help but gasp.
In the center of the clearing, a massive glowing mushroom bloomed, more like some fantastical flower only to be found in some fairytale rather than in reality. Brilliant white spores floated around this pink-hued structure, lighting the area around it. They drew attention to the many flowers and fungi that formed an asymmetrical ring around the giant plant. More noticeable than anything else, even more than the glow these strange plants produced, was the feeling of life pulsating within them. It gave the briefest inkling that these fungi might be alive in another sense, self awareness?
These were all just feelings though rather than actual fact however, and while the extraordinary plantlife would hold one's attention for quite the while here, Blue and the rest would begin to notice the decorations scattered amidst the base of each plant or strung on silken thread from their tops- pretty crystals and glowing moss and star-shaped fruits. Around the fungi in the center a large group of Sylphs were twirling in the air in pairs. Gentle laughter and soft noises of joy could be heard. A bit further away from the festivities, a small gathering of hyuran children were playing tag around the glowing fungi under the watchful gaze of their mothers. An elezen reached up to pat the side of a goobue, in deep conversation with a sylph nearby - all of which in high spirits.
This was Moonspore Grove. And it seemed like the festivities were going quite well so far.

[Pipino]

Pipino seemed quite distracted by all of the unusual flora as they walked further in, the world becoming more and more dreamlike with every step she took. It felt surreal, being here. She'd long heard that outsiders weren't always welcome in these sorts of places, so to be on the outside looking in, walking in…. It felt like quite a privilege. She simply took a moment to take in everything before making a few notes, a few sketches, easy, small things the adept artist could manage while walking as to not forget things she could add.

“It is places like these that cause me to mourn having lived so much of my life in a synthetic city of stone. They always say Ul'dahns are a passionate people, but clearly they have no sense of romance in the artistic sense…,” she muses as they move on.

[Vinalo]

The healer's eyes darted around as the group made their way into the clearing. They'd seen small glimpses of the bioluminescent fungi from a distance when wandering the Shroud before, and a rather prominent one during the voidsent incident. But to see so many in one place was something else entirely. Everywhere Vinalo looked, there was another beautiful display of the Sylphs' distinct flora and fungi. For someone like them, this was nigh overwhelming. Being this deep within one of the Tempered's territory usually meant something terrible had or was about to happen, but to be here with little care was special.

“I can hardly believe we're here like this. Last time… last time was different,and it still felt unreal,” they said to the group, gaze still fixated on the wonderous surroundings.“Blue. Do you think that some of this is because of what we managed to do? I've a feeling that, well, Ramuh could've taken care of that vile beast, but… maybe us being there helped the truce.”

[Blue]

Blue found herself laughing with delight at the sights around them, spinning around to take it all in before she'd dart off- not far, perhaps only a yalm or two- in the direction of one of the nearest flourescent fungi- if only to look back at her friends, give a little antsy whine, and skip back to their side.

The Xaela acknowledged Pipino's words with a bright, happy smile.“Tret and I, we traveled around before we settled here in Gridania. We'd seen a lot of interesting sights and places, but chose the Shroud because of all the trees and flowers and plantlife here. Still…I hadn't expected to ever see something quite like this before!”

They'd inevitably wander closer to the gathering that were scattered about the clearing. Blue's eyes remained fixed in wonder at the little trinkets dangling off the tops of the looming plantlife, but if Vinalo or Pipino were to glance behind them, they'd notice that they were far from the last to enter the grove. Residents from Hawthorne, some recognizable from earlier encounters, carried the same awe-inspired expressions as they drew close.

It was only at Vinalo's words that Blue looked away from the decorations and to them instead, earfins flicking at the sounds of merriment all around them.

“..I think it's less that we defeated the demon and more that we cared enough to try.” She motions to the residents as they continue to filter in.“The villagers worked hard to drive off the flames while we delved deeper into the Sylphlands. They didn't have to do that. It wasn't their home. Sometimes terrible things bring people together.”

The children and their mother who had been busy building a garden at the forefront of the Sylphlands earlier in the day spotted the group and came closer. The little girl with her overly-large straw hat gave them a polite curtsy followed by a giggle while her brother waved but stayed a fair distance away. One would be unsure as to how he managed to get dirt and grime all over from simply gardening, but he seemed rather proud of this feat. Their mother offered a bow as well before remarking to them with a mirthful grin,“Ah, it's nice to see you all again! Hopefully you all have been having a nice, restful time in the Sylphlands?”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo nodded and smiled at Blue's response. It was true; their group might've been the ones who dived into the heart of things and dealt with the voidsent, but it probably wouldn't have mattered if no one else cared. It was enough for even the tempered ones allow visitors, something that Vinalo didn't think they'd ever see at such a scale. 'Such a wonderful event,' they thought, gazing back at their surroundings. It was only the approaching familiar voices in that snapped them back to awareness.

“Oh! Good to see all of you again, too!” they responded with their usual grin.“Reckon it's been rather nice, though helping some tadpoles to the river might've pushed it out of restful. Now we've just managed to make it to this fest of sorts. Really is beautiful here!”

[Pipino]

“Yes, I cannot say I have seen anything like it, truly. Peaceful might be a better adjective though,” she suggests in reply to the mother politely.“I daresay my feet will yet need a bit of relaxation after the adventures today so they would and are surely protesting at the idea of something restful. It is an inspiring thing, seeing everything come together like this… As I was just remarking to my comrades here, I have rarely seen such things living in the thick of Ul'dah. It is a punishing sort of place that devalues teamwork at the best of times. It is good to know it thrives elsewhere and that I may draw on its example.”

[Blue]

The woman smiled at their responses, nodding to Vinalo.“Aye, they roped you in for some tadpole hauling then? Hope it wasn't too much for you. At the very least, give it a few weeks time and we'll have plenty of toads to help deal with these nasty bouts of gnats flying around here. Of all the beasts who suffered through the fire, the gnats have just multiplied in response. It'll be nice to have them under control again.” To Pipino the woman raised her brow.“Ah, Ul'Dah. One of the cities I don't think I could live in. Been a denizen of Hawthorne since my grandpappy settled here and just haven't really had a reason to leave. The Shroud's my home, though I can't say I was aware I've lived so close to such beautiful plantlife. I never knew!”
She placed her hands on her hips and shifted her gaze over to the dancing sylphs within.“Truthfully, as is the way with most things throughout history, this truce probably won't last terribly long. One of the villagers might traverse where they aren't supposed to go- a tempered might grow restless and cause their own mess of trouble. It's easy to come across a peaceful moment in time- but much harder to keep it.”
The little girl and her brother, bored with the conversation, ran off and approached the twirling sylphs. There was a tittering of laughter amongst the beastkind before they made room for the siblings to join in.
“..But I live for times like these and for sharing them with my children. Who would have thought we'd ever get the chance to be here? No talk of differences. We're just existing together.” She nodded to the trio once more before hustling on over to the gathering within. There was some hesitation to join in the dancing from the matron, but she too couldn't resist the pull of the sylphs urging her on.

Blue seemed thoughtful, musing at the woman's words, but carrying a pleasant smile on her lips all the same as she turned to Pipino and Vinalo.“I'm gonna go see if I can find some more information about our banestools, I'll be right back!” Before either could say anything to stop her or slow her down, the Au Ri bounced off, skipping towards an elderly-looking sylph and beginning to question.

[Vinalo]

“Too much trouble? Not at all! Just needed a little teamwork, but it worked out just fine,” Vinalo said, gesturing to Pipino with a grin.“Reckon that things'll balance out again soon.”

The healer joined the woman in watching the ongoing celebrations as she spoke. It really was a wonderful sight, though they too were well aware on how quickly the truce could break down. They thought about adding some of their own commentary after she left to join the festivities, but Blue's sudden declaration redirected their attention.

“Oh! Right! Make sure yo-” they started to suggest, but the excited Xaela woman was already zooming off.“..Oh well. Hopefully she'll get the answers we need.”

[Pipino]

Pipino let out a little sigh as the energetic woman bounded away. Strangely, Pipino found that her energy level much rather matched the mother's temperament, so she was more than happy to stay and continue the conversation for the time being.

“It truly is a beautiful place, the Shroud. And your children are fortunate to live in such a verdant place, to see life and consider it in all the ways it appears. Not that Ul'dah is not full of its own charms and life, but it is easy to view the desert as something that fixed that never grows or changes, and I feel like it is easy to ignore life in all forms. Without things to tend and nurture, that negligent attitude only seems to pass on to its denizens… Or perhaps that is simply my experience. We are a passionate people but we lack in the ability to look out for one another. Scenes of cooperation such as these are something I find rather stirring,” she offers, looking over the scene.

She looks to Vinalo and laughs lightly.“Here is hoping! I rather do not like the sound of this quest for banestools now, truth be told.”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo gives a weak smile and nods.“It's worried me ever since Blue said a bit more about the client, and nothing since has really made me worry any less. Giving a very toxic mushroom to someone who 'wants to see their lost love again?' My first thought was that she wanted to…” they begin, sighing before continuing.“…Wanted to kill herself, using some sort of mixture with the baneshroom. But… now with carrying a cauldron around and wanting to enter that mansion…”

They look over in the direction Blue skipped off, idly flexing their fingers.

“This is a time I hope we come back empty-handed, Pipino.”

[Blue]

Three sylphs would flutter on over to Pipino and Vinalo after a few moments, holding what looked to be loose strands of neatly-woven vines. The soft glow of what looked to be small fragments of lightning shards dangled from the necklace haphazardly, but made for a neat if not fragile little piece that the sylphs would offer to both lalafells with a smile and a merry giggle.
“These are for walking ones!”
“Won't walking ones wear them?”
“Come dance with these ones!”

Each sylph said their piece and hovered before the group, and while the duo made their decision whether to accept the gift or not, Blue bounded back to them as well, a frown on her face.

“It looks like they've never heard of minor banestools before- and only have ever used the normal ones, which like Vinalo says is very toxic and dangerous to get near. The fire didn't kill them off but there's very few now and the sylphs seem to need them to stay in the woods.”

The Au Ri sighed and spread out her arms helplessly.“I'm sorry, I really didn't think taking this job would be so much trouble.” As she speaks, the third Sylph sneakily flutters on behind the lizard and drops her necklace over her head with a tittering laugh.

“Dun be sad, walking one! Celebrate with these ones too!”

[Vinalo]

“Ah, hello! …What's this?” they asked to the newly-arrived Slyphs and their offerings. Vinalo carefully took the necklace and held it up to take a closer look. They could feel a tiny amount of levin radiating from the shards, but just barely. Instead of putting it over their head, the healer simply held onto it for now.“This is very pretty, thank you! And… can't say I'm very good at dancing.”

Vinalo looked to Blue as she returned and tried to not look too relieved at her report. They gave a weak smile as they shrugged.“Suppose that's that, then. You'll have to tell your client that there just wasn't any to get. Probably for the b-” They were cut off by the Sylph's sneaky assault and couldn't help but chuckle a bit.

[Pipino]

Pipino took the little crafted necklace, examining the craftsmanship of it and skewing her head a bit as she silently judged it as something quite awful looking, but she kindly accepted it anyway and slipped it over her head for lack of anywhere better to put it. She blushed lightly feeling like it was a bit of a foolish thing to be wearing.

“Th-thank you. It is… um… very unique,” she praised diplomatically, unable to hide her true feelings all that much.

She turned to Blue as she came back and visibly relaxed in relief.“Well, it certainly has not been as much trouble as I thought it might be venturing this far into things. And it certainly sounds like less trouble than the lot of you managed to get into last time you had come here, so I for one am quite grateful. To be in a place like this is something I had never thought I might do. It is nice to have taken a first step into doing what I set out to do after Papari had given me advice on how to transition my artistic career - to go out to the places the regular Eorzean is incapable of going and bring the beauty of the world to them.” She smiled as she looked around at the celebration and fiddled with her necklace.“I certainly think this outing qualifies, so an apology is hardly in order in my opinion.”

[Blue]

Blue smiled and looked over her shoulder at the Sylph, sticking her tongue out at them playfully.

“We're already celebrating, no worries!” The Au Ri assured the Sylph kindly as the other two came to join them with the gentle tittering laughter.

“If Walking One says so… These Ones will be dancing all night!”
They fluttered off and Blue redirected her attentions over to her friends, bringing her fingers up to toy at the admittedly less-stylish necklace laced with levin. She flicked an earfin and nodded with a smile over to Pipino.

“You've got quite the chance to do just that!” She'd reply concerning sharing figments of the world that the normal person might not ever see in their lifetime. She glancing around a bit before noticing some more commotion at the entrance to the grove. A parade of Goobues with little flower crowns lumbered in a line down from the mouth of the clearing and to the dancers, waggling their slippery arms to and fro. Blue giggled and sat herself down across from Vinalo and Pipino to take in the sights herself.

“I'm happy we could all witness this together. Sad as some of those Sylphs might be about the destruction to their home, everything I've seen anyway promises that the woods will come back to life. Maybe not in the same way as before..but hopefully better.”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo smiled as Pipino spoke of her creative spark being lit by the group's journey, and her intent on bringing this beauty to the masses. They fiddled a bit more with the necklace in their hand, genuinely appreciating the Sylphs' gift and the effort put into it. Wrapping it around their hand to hold onto it tighter, they watched the festivities as Blue sat down.

“I'd seen glimpses here and there of the Sylphlands proper before. Just a peek across the rivers, or the distant glow of their mushrooms from a hill. But sitting here in the heart of it all, during a big celebration! Never'd cross my mind that I'd be sitting here with friends watching it,” they said, eyes still taking in the fantastical sights.“During the last… 'visit,' when we were dashing through the flames, I was a bit worried that'dbe the memory I'd have of the Sylphlands. But after everything today, with everyone helping, even if the truce fades soon, the Shroud's resilience has really come through. And we're here to see it.”

Vinalo turned back to Blue, a grin on their face.“Thanks much for bringing us along, Blue. Regardless of the… erm, banestool request, this really has been a wonderful trip. And Pipino's art will make sure everyone knows how wonderful it was.”

[Pipino]

Pipino sat down beside Blue and extracted her sketchbook, exercising her life-drawing abilities that she had not had a chance to employ recently. Landscapes and plants were easy for her, but capturing the spirit of people in motion, the zest for life, it was always more challenging, but she loved that challenge more than anything. She worked quickly and her sketches were more vague suggestions than detailed works of art, but she wanted to capture the life that already found the beauty in the newness after change, the lives that would continue to persist and adapt to their new normal. She needed to capture it as best she could now, while it was happening, before it would disappear in the blink of an eye as the family had mentioned. The beauty of a picture for Pipino always lay in its unchanging optimism, how one could portray the best of a land or a person or a situation heroically and have it never change. Perhaps hope could be found in adding some of these moments to her new piece - to reflect on why their home was resilient, and how it would always remain as such.

“I shall certainly try my best. It is a taller order than I ever could have imagined, and a greater responsibility than I knew. But…well, I shall attempt to do it the greatest justice I can. I already know it shall pale in comparison, but it if I can capture even a fraction of this optimism and joy, I will have done well for myself.” Without looking from her subjects, she addressed Blue.“Thank you for entrusting me for this task. And you too Vinalo, as I am sure you recommended me highly. It means much to think others see my skills in such a light to handle such a delicate request. It is truly an honor and much closer to the work I have always wished to do. Something that has actual meaning.”

[Blue]

The festivities within Moonspore Grove continued well into the evening and through the night. With the ever-constant glow of the surrounding plant life, it was almost difficult to keep track of how time had passed in this whimsical area hidden deep within the recesses of the Shroud. The adventurers were welcome to food and drink and invited more often than not to be merry and join in the fun and candor of a place where, for several bells, beastkind and humankind treated each other as not only equals…but friends.
While the fires that razed the Sylphlands were still fresh in the hearts and minds of those it impacted, there were slivers of hope that formed from that moment after. Bound together through the desires of those that dreamed of a better tomorrow, this celebration would be the first of many before the truce would inevitably come to an end. But with every end comes a beginning, birthed in the hearts of those who had the chance to experience what life could be like in harmony.
When the celebrating died down, Blue, Pipino, and Vinalo would find themselves offered a wagon ride back to The Hawthorne Hut by members of the community. Likely tired by this point, their journey back the way they came would be uneventful, lit by the warm glow of the foliage before fading into the more familiar plant life that graced the majority of the Shroud. If one looked up, they could spot a vibrant night sky filled to the brim with stars that blinked and twinkled between the thick canopy.
Not every journey need be fraught with danger. Sometimes wonder, beauty, and companionship is all one needs to have a memorable evening amidst the Sylphlands.

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