Episode 21 of Bite of the Amphis

As the dark green canopy closed in overhead my lungs tightened and a powerful urge to run back out into the safety of the sunlight slowed my pace.
I longed to take Solen’s hand in my own in an attempt to drive away my fear. But I had to settle for keeping my gaze fixed on his broad back instead, forcing myself to pay no attention to the deep impenetrable shadows on either side of me.
I had always felt a little unsure of the thick heart of the jungle, preferring to stick to its larger pathways and clearings whenever I had to venture further than the village’s boundary.
It was silly really, in fact, I wasn’t even sure what it was that unsettled me about it? The strange musty smell of the decaying leaf litter perhaps? Or maybe the way that the tightly packed greenery seemed to press in upon you with every step? Whatever it was I knew that my feelings were even more irrational now that I found myself a disembodied spirit.
Nothing could even see me let alone do me harm. I repeated those words in my mind as we passed the gateway stones, and again as we crossed in front of the dais. My skin crawled but by force of will, I kept my feet moving.
Solen paused at the smaller stones which marked the way to the Priestess’ dwelling, allowing me to catch up before taking his first tentative steps up the forbidden path.
I don’t recall anyone from the village ever treading the soft moss that covered the floor of the winding overgrown trail. It was called the forbidden path for good reason after all.
From the moment that a young girl was chosen as priestess, she started out on a life of almost complete solitude. All family ties were broken the moment the Amphis’ mark appeared on her hand and the entire tribe was forbidden from even so much as speaking her name for fear of bringing down the wrath of the Goddess.
The only time that the priestess was allowed to re-join the tribe was during the ceremony. Even then no one was allowed to address her and upon concluding her part in the ritual she would make her way straight back down this very path to Gods know where.
Some people said that she lived in an ancient hollowed out tree, others that generations of priestess’ had carved a grand temple to their beloved goddess from the very ground itself. No one knew for certain.
Three days ago, I would have likely mocked all of this. Just another silly superstition. My current predicament was making me rethink a good many of my seemingly naive former beliefs. I just hoped that we would be forgiven this day’s desperate transgression on account of the unique circumstances that had led us here.
As we walked, the path became more and more treacherous. Tangled roots rose up from the dark soil in chaotic abundance, and our progress was made even slower by the several large rotting tree trunks which had fallen to block the path completely.
We could have detoured into the undergrowth to bypass them entirely but when Solen had suggested as much the look of horror and panic on my face had clearly been enough to convince him to cross them the hard way. With a small sigh, he clasped his hands together and motioned for me to put my foot on them so that he could boost me over the slippery mass.
By the time we finally stumbled out into the clearing I felt like we had been walking through the choking green mass of foliage for days. But when I raised my eyes, and finally saw what the clearing held, it was all I could do not to turn around and dive right back inside again.

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