Of Moogles and Men Chapter 1
A Walk In The Woods
By Mike Thomas
Narshe was so beautiful this time of year. Locke had always thought so. The mountains seemed to never lose their snow crusted caps, but down here in the valley, the seasons ran their course. From the icy grip of winter, to the birth of spring, through the heat of the summer winds whipping up from the Figaro desert region, and finally to Locke's favourite...autumn. It was cool mornings like this that he could spend hours walking and leaving all his cares and worries behind. Eventually though, the tortured memory of his Rachel would creep back into his mind, and once again he would set himself to the task of finding the Lifgiver. The Phoenix.
There were rumours and legends that the Phoenix had been locked away deep in a cave. Still, no one seemed to know where. During his journeys, Locke would meet many adventurers and scholars who whole-heartedly believed there was a phoenix relic left over from the War of the Magi, but no one knew any more than that. All the libraries and the scrolls had proven useless up to this point. The information that he purchased from other explorers always ended up leading to dead ends, and Locke needed a break from the disappointment. He had received a letter from Arvis a few weeks ago requesting that he come to Narshe for a visit. Locke decided that a trip to his hometown might help refresh his resolve, and maybe even give him a lead on what to do or where to go next.
Sunlight streamed through the holes in the canopy overhead and played through the fog that hung lazily in the air. The tall trees on either side of the wide path were limbless until about thirty feet up where their wide boughs were covered with gold and amber leaves. The cold air from the north had not yet swept down to the lower Narshe valley, so the leaves hung on tenaciously as the occasional breeze chased and tumbled through the branches. It took his mind back to more innocent days when he himself had run like the wind through this very woods as his mother looked on from a picnic blanket. His father had chased him until they both fell exhausted into a pile of leaves. These woods were still full of happy memories.
Locke continued at his leisurely pace, replaying some of his happiest childhood moments in his mind. Lost in the euphoria of times gone by, he was suddenly jolted from his nostalgia when he heard a low mournful cry from somewhere up ahead. He swiftly took to what few shadows the trees provided and quickened his pace to find out what was going on. He silently made his way forward until the tree line ended at the edge of a large clearing. Locke could see a small spring fed pond with a tree that had fallen in and was being held afloat by its limbs stuck on the bottom. On the tree was something small and white, and it seemed to be the source of the noise. Locke waited and listened to see if there was any other movement in the area. When satisfied that he was the only one there, he made his way over to take a closer look.
The "thing" was only about as tall as Locke's waist and it had a pink pom-pom on top of its head. There also appeared to be wings fixed to its back. It had to be a moogle, but what would one be doing so far away from the caves? It was rare enough to see a moogle in the mountains of Narshe, but to see one down in the valley was unheard of! Locke was very cautious about approaching the creature since they were lightning fast and known for their ability to master all sorts of weapons. But, another little whimper caused Locke to throw caution to the wind. He had failed to be there for someone else when they needed him, he would not make the same mistake with this little guy.
Carefully, so as not to shake the moogle off the tree, he began to edge his way along the slippery bark. The pool of water was as deep as Locke was tall, and he was not ready for a swim. He called to the little moogle to warn it that he was coming and not to be afraid. The little creature didn't stir, only moaned. Locke moved on forward, and by the time he reached the moogle, he had decided that his first course of action would be to get it to dry land. Perched over the water in its current condition was probably as dangerous as whatever might be causing it pain.
Locke pulled his jacket off to wrap around the moogle. As he leaned over the little critter, he felt something sting him in the back. The pain was sharp enough that it caused him to gasp. The moogle sat up, took one look at Locke and jumped into the water. At this point, he knew he had been led into a trap. He twisted to try and pull the dart out of his back, but his muscles began to seize. Slowly his body started to lean backwards and his vision blurred. Time seemed to slow. He saw the green of the forest, the earth tilting, blue sky, then suddenly felt the jolt of cold water. His mind screamed for his muscles to move, but they wouldn't respond. His pack began to drag him down and his vision continued to dim. Darkness enveloped him.
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