Discovering Arden

The rainbow flashes before her eyes, and suddenly, she's elsewhere. A wave of smells assault her senses - rich loam, plants, forest life in general - which makes her realize just how sterile the castle apparently was. In some ways, the smells make her feel like she's back at home in Arden, and it's almost comforting.

Even more comforting is the fact that the silence of the prior experience is broken by the normal sounds of a forest - birds, bugs, beasts. After the oppressive silence and echoes of the dollhouse, the forest is refreshingly alive.

Previously unnoticed tension drains from her body almost immediately, leaving her feeling much better, lighter. Her unconscious frown eases into a more natural expression. This was far more like it.

Desta stretches her arms up over her head, then arches her back in a long backwards stretch before dropping her hands back down again. Turning around in one place, she takes in the whole of the clearing before approaching the standing stones to see what might be found.

As she's approaching the stones, she hears what sounds like hoofbeats in the distance. Theoretically speaking, it could be a stag or other hoofed animal running by, but if she had to guess, she'd say it's quite possibly someone on a horse. It sounds more like the sounds of life are rapidly approaching her current position, and t's all she can do to duck behind a nearby tree before the horse enters the clearing she'd arrived in.

And what a horse it was! Pure white coat, hooves that gleam like gold, and a mane of flowing pink… what sort of Shadow produces horses like this?

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Another shock comes when Desta realizes that she recognizes the rider. Dressed all in brown, the doll perched upon its back is one of those from the cards Desta saw in the library of the castle.

As the horse enters the clearing, it does a single turn, giving the doll a full 360° view of the area. Moments later, it calls out in a clear, warm voice.

"Hello? Would you kindly show yourself? I know you're out there."

Sounds of life, indeed. Apparently too much to hope for.

Desta steps out from behind the tree and gives a brief bow. "Princess Calandra?" she inquires.

Well, on the plus side, at least the HORSE seems real… and the few other animal sounds she's heard seemed to suggest there was at least some real life in these woods.

When she steps into view and bows, the doll on the horse gives a little delighted squeek, and slides off, almost skipping over towards Desta.

The word "bubbly" doesn't seem enough to adequately describe this one.

"You know my name! That's great!" She pauses for a moment, head tilted. "Wait. How do you know my name?"

O…..kay….

Desta isn't exactly the right sort of person to deal with bubbly personalities, but she stays put instead of backing away or whatever. She straightens up and nods to the first enthusiastic exclamation.

"I've met Prince Aiden, and he mentioned you," she answers, looking past the doll to the horse. Well, Shadow did allow for interesting things. She forces her attention back to the princess. "It was just a hunch, really. I'm Desta. Pleased to meet you." It's obvious the pleased to meet you part is purely a polite affectation. Not that Desta isn't pleased to meet Calandra, but that such polite phrases don't come naturally.

"Ooooh, Aiden! I like Aiden."

And then she almost bounces over towards Desta, grabbing her in a big hug. "I'm pleased to meet you, too!"

Desta's eyes get very wide as the doll bounces up and grabs her, her hands coming away from her sides instinctively. The bell rings basically by accident. Maybe. Or maybe from a not-fully-conscious move of self defense.

As the chime sounds, she feels the doll stiffen up, and stagger back a few paces. It stands there rigid, as if paralyzed.

"OW! Why would you do something mean like that?!"

The doll's voice seems to wobble a bit. If Desta didn't know better, she'd almost suspect it was about to start crying.

Desta's eyes remain wide, as she backs away a couple steps at the same time the doll jerks back. She appears quite surprised, almost having forgotten why the heck she was carrying the stupid thing around.

"I didn't mean to," she answers quickly, sounding a little defensive. "You surprised me. I release you."

As she speaks the words, the doll twitches a bit before settling down, as if returning to normal. She wraps her arms around her, as if hugging herself.

"You shouldn't do things like that."

"Um… I'm sorry," Desta replies, sounding a little uncertain. Perhaps uncertain she should be apologizing, or uncertain about the weirdness of apologizing to a doll. "I didn't do it on purpose, and I'll try not to do it again." As a show of good faith, she leans down and puts the bell on the ground next to her foot, though with the handle upright and right nearby so she could grab it again quickly at need.

"Well, okay, I suppose…"

Obviously, like the other dolls, this one doesn't have mobile facial features. Though Desta is almost convinced that, if they did, this one would absolutely be pouting.

There follows an awkward pause.

"So, um, this is a real nice forest here. Arden, is it? Do you mind if I look around some?" Desta asks. Compliments often work where other things don't.

"Oh, sure!" She does seem a bit more excited, now that Desta is talking about the forest. "Isn't it lovely?"

She bounces a bit, as if filled with energy again. "Is there something in particular that you want to see?"

Desta looks around the clearing, then nods to the ring of standing stones. "What about those?" she asks. "What are they for?"

"Oh, those?" She sort of shrugs. "That's 'The Door'. At least, that's what I think it's called. Honestly, it's been here for like forever, and I don't really know much about it. Except for one thing."

"Wanna see?"

Idly, Desta muses that she's never seen anything like this in her Arden. If this IS some odd reflection of her forest, then either this stone ring is something new in this version, or it's been kept hidden from her in the "real" world. Not that she's ever seen every square inch of the forest, though.

"Sure," Desta replies. She picks up the bell at an opportune/discreet moment, holding it by the belled end so it doesn't ring by accident again. She follows Calandra over to the stones, if the doll heads that way.

The doll does indeed head that way, glancing back towards her horse as she goes. "Stay here, Hesperus! We'll be back soon. And behave!"

And when she reaches the stones, she steps between them, standing fully within the circle, waving Desta over as if suggesting she should follow.

The blonde girl hesitates just outside of the ring of stones. She looks around the clearing again, gaze resting briefly on the odd horse before looking back at the even odder doll. Well, hell. Why not?

Taking a steadying breath, Desta joins Calandra in the ring of stones.

Calandra doesn't seem to notice Desta's hesitation (or, if she does, she doesn't comment upon it). Once Desta's inside the ring, Calandra walks from stone to stone, tapping them in some sort of order she apparently knows fairly well, but which seems more or less random to Desta. After she taps each one, faint runes begin to appear on them, glowing. The more stones that have been touched, the brighter the glow.

Soon enough, she's reached the last stone. Reaching out, she touches it the same way she's touched all the others. And then, suddenly, the runes on all the stones flare bright - so bright that everything seems to go white - and then, just as suddenly, Desta is plunged into total blackness.

For a moment, she must wonder whether or not she's gone blind from the flare, but soon enough, her eyes readjust to the dimmer light. From what she can see, it almost seems like they are in some sort of cave or tunnel, but instead of stone walls, the "walls" are actually trees that have apparently grown so closely together that absolutely no light can penetrate. The "ceiling" is a massive canopy of overlapping branches and leaves that form a solid barrier, and the "floor" is packed brown soil.

Desta and Calandra have seemingly appeared in an identical ring of stones set in the center of this "chamber", and Calandra has already left the stones, and is walking towards one side of the area, where the wall of trees seems to be broken by a large, metal-bound door. A large iron key hangs from a hook near the door.

Desta stands still at first, blinking rapidly a few times, eyes watering from the flash. As her eyes adjust to the light, though, and she sees herself being left behind, she jogs over to catch up to Calendara. She tries to take in as much of the look of the place as she goes, though it's hard to make out too many details in the dim light. A tree wall and an iron door? What was it with big iron-bound doors, anyway? They always seemed so forbidding.

Yes, um, this could be sticky, but at least hopefully her Trumps would still work so she would have some means of escape if things turned nasty instead. "Can the stones go to other places, or just here?" she asks.

"Just here, as far as I know." She shrugs. She reaches out, taking the iron key, and putting it into the door, which unlocks with a loud click. Slowly, the door creaks as it pushes open…

…and Desta finds herself staring at an intricate design burning on the floor, drawn in pure green flame.

As the door opens, Desta's attention is drawn away from the surroundings to take in the green flames with a sort of fascination. She feels a little shiver down her back. Though she'd never seen it before, she knew what it was, and it was almost as creepy as walking, talking dolls.

She hovers in the doorway, not sure she actually wants to be in the same room with the thing. "That's— that's the Pattern, yes?" she asks Calendra, though she knows the answer. "Um… isn't it usually kept in the castle?"

"Yep!" She bounces on her toes a few times. "And no, it's always been here."

Desta looks around the room from the relatively safe vantage of the doorway. She wished the glowing thing on the floor would shut up; it was very distracting. "Is there another way in, then?" she asks. "Up to the castle?"

"Huh?" She almost seems confused, though obviously, there's no change in facial features. "No, nothing like that."

"Huh," is all she has to say to that. She looks a the glowing thing for a few seconds before asking, "So what do you do with it? What's it for?"

"For?" She shrugs. "Does it have to be 'for' something? It just is."

"Well, I dunno," Desta says with a shrug. "I always thought it was supposed to be used for something. But it's pretty. Kinda creepy…" She trails off.

She trails off, and the doll doesn't respond. The cavern is oddly silent. The Pattern (if that's indeed what it is) just sits there, burning indifferently to the two standing there.

And yet… Desta can feel an odd warmth coming off the Pattern, unlike heat from a normal flame. Somehow, it's like comfort and welcome and pleasing tones and contentment all rolled into one. It's like everything she loves about Arden, like the simple wisdom and compassion of Alima, like all the best traits of Julian that have led her to follow him loyally rather than run off on her own somewhere.

She has, in the past, felt what she often describes as "wrongness". What she feels now is clearly something wholly opposed to that sensation.

Intrigued, she takes a few steps into the room, closer to the source of the feelings of well-being. She seldom had felt such contentment, and it was a little heady. She glances over to Calandra to see what the doll might be doing in the silence of the chamber.

Calandra seems to be merely standing there, admiring the Pattern herself. Perhaps that's understandable, if she's feeling the same thing Desta is - that sort of sensation could potential grow addictive, like a drug.

Speaking of that sensation, it grows stronger as she draws closer, as if beckoning her to come closer still.

She drifts closer in response to the impulse, trying to divine the purpose of the glowing, burning thing.

Purpose? Why must all things have a purpose, beyond simply existing? If nothing else, this radiant force seemed potent enough to defy all conventional assumptions about reality and concepts of meaning and reason.

And as she drifts in closer, the allure of the fire grows ever stronger, calling to her siren-like (a shame Desta's never heard any stories about sirens, or the sailors they lure to their doom - maybe she should have spent more time with Caine than Julian).

By now, most of her nerve-endings have started tingling (but in a pleasant way), and she finds herself drawn to a part of the burning design that comes to an end at the edge of the sigil. Some deep part of her almost seems to whisper that it isn't an ending at all, but a beginning.

Of course everything had a purpose, even if the purpose was devised by an individual. Otherwise nothing would get done.

She hesitates. Stops. Stands balanced at first on the balls of her feet, resisting for the moment. There is power here, and quite a lot she didn't understand about it or the world she was trying to navigate through. She twists the bell around in her hands in an unconscious gesture. "So, um…" she is daunted at how small her voice is in the strange silence of the cavern, and she clears her throat, just to hear an echo. "Now what?"

"Huh?" The doll seems almost confused by the question. The Pattern itself, however, seems to have an answer for her, as she feels the sensation of beckoning grow even stronger. Step forward… step forward…

She's getting the distinct feeling that the burning symbol somehow wants her to walk directly into its flames. Oddly enough, she also feels like there's at least some part of herself that wants the same thing.

Odd - she's never really had self-destructive impulses like that before…

Desta crouches down at the edge of the Pattern, at the end that was a beginning. "Have you ever walked on the Pattern before?" she asks Calendra. "You know, stepped onto it, onto the flames here?" She points in front of her.

"Nooooo. Why would anyone want to do that?"

"Because that's—" She pauses in an attempt to decide the right phrasing. A little voice in the back of her mind was perhaps telling her it was time to go; there were plenty of places and things to investigate besides this. That voice was difficult to hear amidst the beckoning from the Pattern, the feelings of well-being. It wasn't like a fiery doodle talking to her was at this point all that strange. "That's what it seems like I should do," she finishes her sentence as an afterthought, distracted. Standing up, her expression is touched with a more characteristic frown, and she deliberately takes a step backwards, watching it all the while.

"Well then, maybe you should." The doll shrugs. "I always do what it feels right to do."

Somehow, following the 'wisdom' of a doll doesn't sit well. Desta blinks, shakes her head as though to wake herself. She turns her back on the Pattern and walks to the door leading into the chamber. "Is there anything else here?" she asks Calandra. "Or can the Door take me back to Arden?"

"Nope, that's all. And sure, we can go back the way we came."

She shrugs. Desta gets the impression that Calandra hasn't spent much time pondering the deeper mysteries of life. For that matter, she gets the impression that Calandra hasn't spent much time pondering anything. "Impulsive" seems almost too weak a word.

Desta nods. "But thanks for showing that to me," she says as she walks back over to the ring of stones and waits for Calandra to close up and lock the door to the Pattern chamber. "Do you think you could show me which order to touch the stones so I could come back here?"

Calandra does indeed follow, closing the door behind her and returning to the stones.

"I probably shouldn't. I'm supposed to be the warden, I think. Keep people from just wandering in and out. You know."

As she speaks, she begins walking around the ring, touching stones again in some pattern, until they glow again, and the two find themselves standing back in the forest once more.

"Oh," Desta says. "So you have lots of people to keep out?" Having some notion this time of what's going to happen, she closes her eyes before the flash of light, to keep from getting blinded this time. "It felt really nice there. In the Pattern room. I might want to see it again."

"What, like right now?"

And she shrugs. "Not really. I mean, I don't really remember a time when someone came looking for it and wanted to see it where I was supposed to keep them away. But, like, I'm supposed to watch the door, so I watch the door. Duty, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," Desta agrees. "Who are you supposed to keep out then?" Because just being a complete stranger apparently wasn't enough to bar entry.

"I don't know." She shrugs. "I guess I would if someone showed up that I wasn't supposed to let in?"

She stares at the doll for a moment, expression becoming almost bemused. This was a silly conversation. She shakes her head, trying another tack. "Have you ever seen a device of a pink rose on black?" she asks.

"Pink rose on black?" Her head tilts in thought. "Noooo… not that I can think of. Well, there's Briana, I suppose. Though her colors are black and silver, not black and pink. She's got the rose, though."

"Why?"

"I saw it in the castle. I couldn't identify it, so thought you might know it," Desta replies. She shrugs and looks around. "I guess I should go back there now. See if anything's happened."

"Nope, no idea." She shrugs, walking back towards her horse, who was apparently polite enough to wait where she told him to stay. "Do you need a ride or something?"

Desta starts to shake her head, but then stops. "Sure, if you don't mind," she says instead. "To the edge of Arden, anyway." She walks over towards the horse, but stays a polite distance away until invited closer.

Calandra walks over to the large white horse, and brushes his pink mane with her hand, whispering affectionate words to him. Then she gestures Desta over, as if offering to help her mount. Considering the size of the horse (perhaps not uncoincidentally about as big as Desta remembers Morgenstern being), a little help getting up there and into the saddle might be a welcome thing. "Have you ever ridden a horse before?"

"Yeah," Desta replies. "But not one this big." She approaches the horse at Calandra's gesture, looking around to see if there's anything nearby she can stand on to make mounting up easier. When she gets close enough, she holds out a hand to the horse, trying to make friends.

"Don't worry, he's just a big baby." Calandra ruffles his mane, and the horse snorts as if dismissing her comment. As Desta holds her hand out to the horse, it seems to sniff at her hand and give her a lick just to show that he's willing to tolerate her if his mistress wants him to. Desta doesn't see anything close that she could stand on, but Calandra comes around to the same side, as if offering to help boost Desta up.

"If you get up in the saddle, you can help me up behind you," the blonde girl suggests. Desta was pretty sure she didn't want to be sitting in front, but riding pillion instead. If Calandra was already astride, Desta could use the stirrup and a hand up from Calandra. She braces herself mentally for the idea of touching one of the dolls again.

In response, Calandra grabs the saddle and pulls herself up, flipping herself into position fairly smoothly. She's quite dexterous for a doll, anyway. She reaches down, holding out an arm for Desta to grab on to so she can pull herself up. For a moment, Desta is forced to wonder whether or not she might pull the doll's arm loose (Just how are these dolls made? How much force can they handle?), but it's a brief moment as she's pulled up and manages to pull herself into place behind Calandra.

And then the horse is moving, and she can feel the power it has at its command even as trees fly by. Earlier, she noted that it was about the same size as Morgenstern. Now she can see that it would probably give him a run for his money in a race as well…

Desta holds on to the saddle as much as possible at first, but after a couple jolts, finds it easier to get a handhold on Calandra. Anyway, the weirdness of hard, warm porcelain had lessened already, sort of blending in with the overall strangeness of the day so far. She keeps a sharp eye out to mark their passage, in case she should need to come back the same way, looking for landmarks such as rocks, streams, clearings and such, and noting whether or not the course Calandra took was straight or turned.

As Desta holds on to Calandra to keep her balance, she realizes that, for the most part, the doll doesn't feel all that different from a flesh-and-blood person. Sure, the "skin" would probably seem hard if she was touching it full-on, but through the clothes, it felt almost normal. In fact, from behind, and with her hair obscuring the view of her face, it would be easy for Desta to fool herself into thinking Calandra was completely ordinary.

As they go, she's able to note landmarks here and there, and sort of plot a general path back to the circle of stones in her head. It's probably helped by the fact that she's spent so much time in the forest - someone raised in a city would probably be completely lost by now. Of course, Desta would probably have a hard time chasing someone through back-alleys in the city, so it all sort of balances out, probably.

In very little time at all, she notes that the trees are beginning to thin, and soon enough, they ride out of the bulk of the forest on what appears to be a well-traveled road. After a bit of looking around, she realizes that they must be somewhere south of the city, near Garnath.

As long as she can note the general direction and the entry point of the forest, she should be able to find her way back then… assuming it didn't move or otherwise do a disappearing act.

"Thank you," she says into Calandra's ear over the sound of horse's hooves. "You don't have to go any farther, though. I can get myself back on foot."

"Are you sure? I mean, it's probably something like 50 miles from here to the castle…"

55 miles, actually, Desta remembers - assuming this Amber conforms to her memories of the real one. Of course, that's assuming she simply sticks to the road itself. Cutting across open terrain, it's probably closer to 25 miles. While she's thinking of distances, it occurs to her that the Grove of the Unicorn is probably only about 5 miles northwest of where she is, the stairs to Rebma are about 70 miles to the east, and Kingsbridge is about 80 miles to the south.

"That far, huh?" she says. "But it's a nice day, and I can find my way now. I just didn't want to get lost in the forest." All true; not knowing where she was initially, she would likely have walked for quite some time before finding her way out.

The doll wheels the horse around, obviously planning to return to the forest. "Okay, if you don't mind walking. Come visit me again sometime!" And with that, and a thunder of hooves, she's gone, leaving Desta behind to decide on her next course of action.

Desta watches the doll and horse for a while until they both disappear from sight. Squinting up at the sky, it doesn't seem like the day has actually progressed nearly as much as it should have. Though the castle is a short Trump away, she was in this vicinity already. Turning northwest, she strikes overland in the direction of the Grove, trotting and walking along the edge of the forest, as someone accustomed to traveling large distances by foot.

Indeed, it does seem as if time is playing tricks… though whether that's because so much happening to her since she woke up this morning has skewed her subjective sense, or because it's another odd facet of this odd place, it's difficult for her to say. Idly, she wonders if the others would have the same perspective that she does.

Walking, she heads towards the Grove (or where the Grove should be), and will likely be there in just under an hour. Musing that the Grove is known as a holy place, where the Unicorn has manifested at least twice, she's forced to wonder, might that great beast see fit to visit her as well? And if so, will it be the genuine article, or some sort of simulacrum?

Here's a creepy thought - will she maybe find some sort of plastic toy unicorn or clockwork horse?

Coming to a stream that trickled from the cover of the woods to disappear into the nearby field, she stops to rest a bit, crouching to drink some chill water. She splashes some over her face, taking in the landscape. In her mind, she found herself visualizing a little pink unicorn with a sparkling horn cavorting in the sun. She shakes her head with a snort and takes a last drink.

She's not entirely certain what impulse sent her in this direction - really, what could she expect to find there? She had been to the Grove a handful of times, but never really experienced anything extraordinary before. Still, she was close by, and curiosity leads on. After a short while, she stands up and continues on course, looking for an approach to the Grove that would give plenty of cover… just in case.

She knows the route well enough that she won't get lost on her way, and nothing of any real interest occurs during her journey. She doesn't push hard or otherwise race to get there as fast as possible, but still, the miles fly by fairly quickly (benefits of a well-lived life), and soon enough, she finds herself drawing close to the slightly hilly area with the cluster of trees that Amberites call the Grove of the Unicorn.

Needless to say, the center of the grove is almost invisible from the outside - while the trees are more sparsely grouped than in the forest itself, they're still close enough to break up any straight-line view from one side to the other.

…which, of course, means all manner of things could be lurking in there.

Desta has no fear of what might be lurking in the grove. Two-legged beings are far more cruel and dangerous in her experience than anything she's encountered in Arden. And so far, though creepy and freakish, nothing in this Amber has yet shown itself to be particularly threatening. Still, she approaches the grove carefully and quietly, because barging in seems vaguely disrespectful somehow, and also because caution is always a good idea, and because she doesn't want to scare off anything that might be there already.

She approaches slowly enough, but nothing seems to jump out at her, or otherwise object to her presence. She draws closer, and still no real reaction.

Soon enough, she's moved into the grove itself, weaving between the trees. She doesn't feel any sensation of divine presence or holy ambiance, then again, she never felt like that in any of her past visits to this place either. About the only thing different this time is that she's far more uncertain about what sort of encounters she might have with more mundane forces.

And speaking of which, it's about that point that she sees movement out of the corner of her eye.

As she turns to look, yet another doll steps out from behind a tree. Idly, Desta wonders to herself if any of the others are running into as many dolls as she seems to be, or if she's just been singled out by the universe to be the butt of this particular joke…

"Hail and well-met, stranger."

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Well, by this point, this being doll number five, the experience has almost become ho-hum. Possibly even commonplace.

Then again, maybe not.

Desta stays put when the doll appears, inclining her head in acknowledgement. "Hi," she returns the greeting. "Did you just get here, or were you waiting for me?"

"Neither. I was not waiting for you, nor did I just get here." The doll tilts its head, in what you suspect is amusement. "Do you often assume that all things revolve around you?"

"Not really," Desta replies. "Just it seems like you all aren't too active till I show up." She pauses for a shrug. "Anyway, I'm Desta. Nice to meet you."

"Ahh, but how do you know what people are up to before you show up?" The doll shrugs as well, before nodding at the introduction. "And you may call me Valeria."

"No way, I guess," the blond girl acknowledges. "It's just a funny feeling I've had since I got here." She pauses to look around the clearing again for a moment. "Am I bothering you?"

"Not really. I came here to seek enlightenment of a sort… and I had mostly finished before you arrived." The doll crosses its arms over its stomach, leaning against one of the trees. "What of you, though? What brings you here?"

"Kinda the same, I guess," Desta admits. "I was nearby, and thought I'd stop by here, pay my respects, and see if the Unicorn might visit. She hasn't ever before, but you never know…" She looks around the little clearing, trying to see if it looks the same as she remembers it.

"As with so much that is worthwhile, she comes at her own time, not ours. And as is often true of both the greatest and worst of things, that time is often when least expected, and unasked."

The doll shrugs. "Of course, the worst of things have a tendency to come when called, as well as when unwanted. While the best of things tend to shy away when summoned."

Valeria chuckles. "I'm sure there's some sort of metaphor for life in that, for those who care to look for it."

"Yeah," Desta answers, not really having much else to add to the doll's words. She wasn't exactly the philosophical sort. "Have you ever seen the Unicorn?" she asks instead?

"Afraid not." It shakes its head. "Few have. My sister Calandra claims to have seen it once in the distance, but I've never met anyone else who claims to have seen it."

"Her," Desta asserts. "I'm just curious what sort of enlightenment you find here?" she asks then. "I don't mean to be rude or anything. It's just, you know, enlightenment… it's a big thing."

"It also tends to be a personal thing." She pauses. "By that I don't mean "private", as much as "individual". What one person considers enlightenment may not be what another considers it to be. We all must seek our own answers."

Desta thinks on that, and nods after a few moments. "Yeah, I can see that. I was just wondering if there's a particular sort that I could find here, or if I should look somewhere else. I'm looking for a lot of answers to a lot of questions."

"I suppose it depends on the questions, then." The doll shrugs. "And whether they're the sort that require you to look inward, or have something outside yourself provide the solutions. Heaven tends to help those who help themselves, as they say. I've found that usually applies in regards to thoughts as much as it does to deeds."

"I think the questions I need answered mostly involve external answers," Desta muses. "How did I get here, for instance. I didn't bring myself. And how do I get out? That seems related to how I got here and why I'm here. No one seems to have much of an idea, though. Do you have any suggestions?" she asks politely. The doll reminds her superficially of Alima, and it's hard not to respond to that.

"Well, as for 'getting out', what have you tried so far?"

Desta looks momentarily stumped. "Nothing. Yet. Well, I tried some Trump, but…" she trails off on that thought, realizing it led somewhere she didn't really want to go. "I can't walk through Shadow, so I've been exploring mostly. Looking for anything that might be useful."

"And have you found anything useful?" the doll inquires.

"Possibly," she answers. "It's hard to say for sure until you find a use for it. Even if something's not useful now doesn't mean it won't be useful later on."

"True," the doll concedes. "Of course, that also means you could be carrying around the solution to all your problems and never realize it. Or waste time and effort acquiring items and information that is ultimately useless."

"That's one of the great conundrums of life, I suppose. Knowing what's important, and when. And picking it out from all the distractions."

"No one said things would be easy. Not to me, anyway." Desta wanders around the clearing, trying to stay sort of away from the doll, but still giving the area a look over since she was there already.

"True. Then again, how many things are both worthwhile and easy?" The doll says with another chuckle, still leaning casually against the tree.

As Desta wanders, she doesn't see anything out of the ordinary, or anything that seems greatly out of place based on her memory of "her" Grove. Neither does she sense any supernatural emanations or manifestations, so if the Unicorn was planning on showing up, she appears to be running a bit late.

Yeah, that's to be expected. Not that she would really be able to trust anything produced by this world, though, "Unicorn" included.

Desta finally comes to a stop near another big tree, to consider her next move. It seemed an even bet wherever she decided to go next, she would meet another doll. Not exactly the most comforting of thoughts, and if the dolls indeed only became active when she or someone like her came into contact with them, problematic, too.

"Kinda depends on what you think is worthwhile," she answers belatedly, looking at the doll. "Anyhow, it was nice meeting you and all, but I suppose I should go. Looks like I'm out of luck with enlightenment again."

"Perhaps you're looking in the wrong places, then," the doll offers. "Though they say that enlightenment is the sort of thing that comes in its own time, and can't really be rushed… when the student is ready, the teacher appears and all that."

Then she shrugs. "Me? I think a lot of that is probably just excuses made by people too timid to reach out and grab life with both hands, comforting themselves with the idea that, if they wait long enough, good things will come to them."

"Uh huh," Desta agrees vaguely. It's a shame she hadn't delved more deeply into philosophy so she would know that the doll is just spouting things that have already been said by more lofty beings than itself. Unless the doll really could be likened to an Amberite that casts shadows of knowledge and musings. It does seem like most of these dolls seem to have a penchant for watered-down, armchair philosophy, doesn't it? Wonder what that says about the Amberites they're apparently representing…

Either way, she doesn't seem too worried about it as she begins walking back to the edge of the clearing in the direction of the castle. "Will you be going back to the castle soon?" she asks as she pauses, just like a person might ask a friend if they'd be meeting again soon.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Like most things, it depends on any number of other things. Some of which I don't necessarily have answers to yet. Still, sometimes drifting through life is better than planning ahead, only to find all your plans come to naught because of something you weren't aware of."

"Yeah, but not making plans 'cause of not knowing the future sounds like something someone would do if they were… how'd you put it? Too afraid to reach out and grab life with both hands?" Desta says, looking puzzled.

"On the other hand, what if trying so hard to plan ahead leaves you too indecisive to act, thus missing out on opportunity?" While it's extremely hard to gauge emotion when you're dealing with something that doesn't have facial expressions, the doll's body language and tone of voice seem to suggest it's actually somewhat interested in the implications of this line of thinking.

"Seeking out information, weighing variables, considering differing courses of action… all of that takes time. What if a particular chance comes along that will only last for the briefest of moments? What if, while trying to factor such a thing into your plans, it passed you by forever? What of instinct and intuition?"

“What of it?” Desta asks, perplexed. “You’re over thinking things. Instinct and intuition come into it when you try to decide how much to plan. Like, when hunting. Let’s say I hafta go hunt down a demon. If there is any, I get the information about what it is and where it’s hiding. But even with some general region or direction, Arden’s still a mighty big place."

"So I gotta use instinct and intuition and experience to think, well, that part of Arden doesn’t have a lot of waterways—streams and stuff—so I should start looking in places where there’s water. And if there’s some good denning places by a stream in the right area, that’s a good place to start. But for all I know, whatever it is doesn’t need water. Maybe it gets all its liquid from blood. I dunno. Can’t ask any o’ the victims. And once I get there, I don't know what I'm gonna find. So I just use what I have to plan some, and then follow my instincts where the information stops. And luck, too. It all works together.”

"Ahh, but what you are describing is more 'planning in the moment,' which is different, in a way, from planning ahead. At least, from the perspective I'm discussing." The doll waves a hand, idly. "For instance, think back along the path you took to arrive here, now. Did you plan in advance, laying out an intricate search pattern where you examined each segment in order, or did you simply allow your feet to take you where they would, your instincts plotting your way?"

Desta leans her back against a tree, looking off into the forest. "I didn't plan to come here specifically," she answers. "But I still don't think there's that much of a difference. No matter how much in advance you want to plan, there's always gonna be something that interrupts your plan. Sooner or later."

"But there is a difference between maintaining a rigid plan and being forced to adapt to contradictions, and being mostly open to possibilities. Or so it seems to me." The doll gives another shrug. "I suppose it all rests on how willing to are to follow tangents, or be diverted from your initial path."

Desta opens her mouth to say… something, and then shuts it again with a scowl. She was arguing with a doll again. That couldn't be healthy. "Anyway, I'll be going," she says instead. "Maybe when I'm done with my recon, we can talk more."

The doll appears unconcerned. "Perhaps. Who can say?"

"Depends on what plans are made," the blonde girl answers. With that, she heads back into the forest, away from the grove and toward the Castle again. Once she is well away from the Grove and out of sight, she stops to shuffle out her Trump of the Castle and concentrate on the image.

She feels the connection come easily, the image of the main hall coming clear, real. It appears to be empty, and she knows she can step through and be there in seconds. She does so, passing through the distance from the Grove of the Unicorn to the main hall in less time than it takes to draw a breath.

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