A Quiet Night in Lantern Forest

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FaithLeafCat

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#1
Sook bolts through the undergrowth, his green ears flicked back as he desperately searches for somewhere to hide. The orc halfling's been spotted by hunters, and they aren't far behind. His clawed feet spray mud into his face as he splashed through a shallow river. He stumbles once or twice over the slippery rocks, gasping as he scrambles up onto the opposite bank.

His narrow pupils dilate in relief as he spies a grove of trees not too far away. He should be able to hide among the roots until the hunters pass by. He pauses for a moment to catch his breath, and then starts heading for the trees.

A burning pain singes through his ankle as he's yanked to the ground. Sook screams and jolts backwards, only to look down in horror as he realizes he's stepped right into the teeth of a metal trap. They're pinned tightly in his skin, and even reaching down to try and pry it open hurts. Tears brim in his eyes as he shakily scrabbles at the metal. "C - come on, come on! Get off!" he whimpers. He's too preoccupied with the trap to notice much else of his surroundings at the moment. He has no idea the hunters are just up the hill.
 
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#2
The small human tattered along the broken trail quietly. These days the albino spent much of his time outside, with no home he just kept to a small area where he often slept. He was just under 4'5", silvery white hair and the most beautiful pale skin. Though, it was tampered with what seemed to be ritualistic marks, near everywhere on his body that were a slight grey color and left marks one could feel. Many accused the small one of being cursed, others of him being unnatural. This did not harm him though, so he stowed himself away out here during the warm seasons for good measure.

He was picking his patches of Mountain's Flowers, they were especially good with healing wounds. In nothing more then some ragged pants, footwraps and bandaging for his upper half his silvery hair was too long to keep down so it was tied back with leather straps. Old ones by the looks of them. The small tail that hung off him was the only non-human part and it twitched when he heard it. "Ugh, those damn hunters again..." He grumbled, depositing what flowers he had gathered into a small hole nearby before he took quick steps towards the sounds. That damn trap sprung, probably whatever poor beast they were chasing this time.

He came from the thick trunks, not expecting....this. A halfling, leg caught harshly in that trap. The hunters rounded the hill and Rune locked eyes with the leader from where he stood. The blue eyes narrowed as the men halted at the crest. The marks across his skin lit a deep shade of blue as he suddenly dashed forward. The men seemed to stumble over one another to get away, yelling and crying out about curses and the evil hags.

Rune didn't move past the crest but he made sure they left. He sighed, turning back with the marks fading away as he neared the halfling. Rune wasn't that tall, didn't look that strong either but he was careful. He saw how scared the other was, "It's ok, I won't hurt you." His voice was melodic, just as beautiful as his skin, "Don't try to move. You're hurt." He spoke softly, moving forward. Magic flooded the veins of his hands again, thick black scales covering his hands as he reached into the trap to slowly pry it open to release the other's leg. Magic. The other was a mage.
 

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#3
It's only when the hunters start yelling and running away in fear that Sook is finally jolted back to the present. A quiet voice near his head instinctively makes him bare his teeth and snarl. "Get away! Get away from me!" he yells. He drags himself backward, ears pinned against his head. Tears are already dripping down his face. Then the boy reaches for his ankle. "Please don't . . .!" he whimpers, shutting his eyes tightly and flinching.

The trap springs open, and so do Sook's eyes. He glances from the bloodied metal to the strange human and swallows the lump in his throat. He tries to speak right away, but between the shock and the pain, his lips stumble over each other. Finally, he pulls in a breath and murmurs, "Thank you. I . . . I thought for sure the hunters were going to - "

A tail twitches from behind the human. Sook's ears swivel forward as he leans over, squinting his eyes. Then he gasps and smiles. "That's yours? You're not human?" He nearly melts in relief, finally relaxing a little. "Oh! I was worried over nothing. My name's Sook. I . . . I got a little lost on my way to the Wailing Mountains. What's your name? And what are you doing in a dangerous forest like this?" he adds, chattering rapidly to try and distract himself from the blood dripping down his leg. He doesn't seem to understand what the tunes on the boy's body are or that he should be scared of them.
 
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#4
Rune looks back to his tail after he discarded the closed trap into the roots of the tree. It was a skinny tail, like that of a rat but very long and somewhat thick too. Mostly covered in wraps as well. It tucked close to him when he looked back to the halfling he was a bit flustered, "I'm Rune and I'm not entirely human." He says softly as it wraps around his waist to keep off the ground.

He can smell the blood already, he knew the other was wounded pretty badly. "Don't stand, don't move, I'll be back in a few moments to fix your leg." Rune stood up and trotted off again at a fast pace. He came back within a few minutes chewing on something pretty intensely but not swallowing it. He crouched down near the leg and spit a wad of odd grey past into his now-human palm. He rubbed it on both hands before clapping them around the wound. It did sting pretty badly but the longer he held it the less it stung. After a moment he removed his hands, the paste gone now but in the place of the bad wounds was a small series of cuts that wouldn't even bleed, scabs more like. "There. That should do it. I can show you the way to the Wailing Mountains but here the path is pretty far in. You're lucky I know this place so well." He chuckled, jokingly, helping the other up. Rune himself wasn't as tall as the halfling but he had strength about him.
 

FaithLeafCat

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#5
Sook patiently waits in the tall grass, ears flicking back and forth as he listens to the nearby crickets and squirrels. He watches with curiosity as Rune carefully rubs a chewed mixture onto his leg. For a moment, it sends a burning pain searing through him again, and he cries out and grits his teeth. Then the boy pulls his hands away to reveal barely any sign of a wound at all.

The orc gasps and runs a hand over his ankle. "It's . . . you healed it," he murmurs. He sniffs at his leg for a moment and tilts his head. "Funny. I knew greylock was good for medicine, but I never knew it acted so fast." He shrugs and smiles as Rune helps him up. "Anyway, thanks for your help. And your offer to guide me. I really appreciate it."

Despite his tall stature and powerful muscles, Sook seems more timid and calm than anything else. He keeps pace easily with Rune as they head off into the forest. His ears continue to swivel as he listens to the evening sounds; any break in pattern could mean danger. Only once he's sure it's safe does he start talking again. "I'm on my way to try and find a horde to join. I know I'm only half orc, but maybe I'll have better luck with them than humans. What about you? Do you live in this forest?" he asks, tilting his head. "It's a little close to the hunter camps, isn't it?"
 
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#6
Rune chuckles, his sea blue eyes still forward, "Aye, I tend to wander close to them sometimes but mostly because they sometimes leave out bones or scraps. Rabbits, mammoths, the occasional rock creature, such the like. I often have a hard time blending in during the warm season for quite obvious reasons." he shrugged softly, keeping to a well trodden path, "I do stay around here but only during this time of year. People mistake me for some sort of forest spirit sometimes but it keeps them away. I've heard a horde or two up in the mountains so you may be lucky."

Rune walked past even the thickest of brambles that would snag at it but he was not phased as he moved them aside for Sook. He was heading for the rapids of a river, the crashing sound of the water could be heard a distance off but Rune kept to the same path. "There's a bridge up here. It's a several weeks' trudge through the mountains to your hordes so you'll have to make a stop in the town just beyond the river for supplies. It might be the warm season but it'll be ending soon, which means the snow will be packed thicker. if you keep to the higher paths you'll be safe from the Dragur in the valleys and the Wrathes."

As they reached the shore the pale man stopped, scanning for something before his hands filled with magic again but instead of scales he crouched down, touching the water which suddenly froze without freezing. It was like it just stopped, "There. I can't go any farther, they'll know if I cross then you'll be in trouble too." He sounded a bit nervous about whoever 'they' were. Rune hesitated for a moment, fidgeting with his hand before he reached into his pocket from which he pulled an odd looking bone, it was carved with strange dragonic symbols and appeared to be a flute or whistle. "You'll need this. If you're in danger just blow and help will come."
 

FaithLeafCat

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#7
As Rune describes the dangers of winter, Sook's eyes glaze over slightly. With his thick skin, the cold and storms aren't much of a worry. He's more nervous about the hunters. Being a half orc, he's a more rare catch, and he's often tracked for weeks once he's found.

Then he's handed the bone whistle. His eyes glitter with delight, and he gently curls his hand closed over the object as he glances up at Rune with a smile. "Thank you. I'll hold it close always." He extends his free hand to shake Rune's. "And I'll always be grateful to you for your help. I hope the winter months find you well." With that, he waves and sprints across the river, and then heads up into the mountains.

~~~

Winter pounces on the land with a sharp bite. Even Sook has taken to staying indoors more often than not, if only because it's harder to see with snow whirling around the air. One day, though, his horse discovers they're out of greylock, which they usually trade for with the other horde. Sook remembers the night he'd been rescued and that there was greylock nearby. So, after a short conversation and his horde leader's blessing, he sets off down the mountain to return to the place he'd first met Rune. He's equipped with a spear, a dagger, and a leather satchel, as well as a few extra stores of food, water, and supplies.

He arrives in the valley a few days later. After setting up camp and checking carefully for traps, he begins rooting around in the snow, looking for the signs of greylock.
 
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#8
Rune had a peaceful warm season that year. No trolls, no elves for his magick, no raids or fires or attacks, just peaceful. Though the winter came faster then the strange one had anticipated. To keep his tail from freezing, he had fled to a nearby city. A very powerful one.

Mikrath, the home of the Northern Wrathe, or the Snow King, as he was called. The legendary man had taken a fondness to Rune many a year ago, as he was like the King in many ways. Since that day the giant of a King had let the boy come in dark, cold months for shelter. This year was the same, though this year there was a war as well. Rune felt uneasy in the city, seeing the wounded return but unable to help. So he took back to his old forest, walking his way through the twisting and dangerous paths until he was home again.

He was draped in a deep brown cloak, a facemask, boots, gloves, clothing and a chest of iron armor to protect himself. The cloak swayed gently with his movements, soft white embroidery showed that this was from Mikrath but facial scarring showed him. The wild spirit, the Cursed One. He intended to find that old shack he often holed up in to stay there until the war ended or warm season came. As his 3 day long journey had come to nearing it's end, not far from his shack, the Cursed One noticed another. Someone, familiar, who held a gift from Rune. A smile curled under his mask as his boots crunched in the snow, the furred hood of the cloak somewhat obscuring his eyes though the long hair hung out from the hood, "Ah, yes. Sook, I believe? The kind halfling?" His melodic voice came softly as he stood not far from the other, "You are in good health. I suppose you took up well with a horde?" He inquired kindly, remembering the other well. Not many dared this path to the Wailing Mountains and Rune rarely forgot a face.
 

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#9
Sook's ear swivels backward - just one now, not two, and nowhere near as frantically as before. His nose catches a familiar scent and he smiles. "Rune, right?" he asks, turning to meet the other. He nods and goes back to searching for greylock. "It's good to see a friendly face. I did join a horde up north, with the Sundews. Fairly welcoming as orcs go."

He chuckles and wipes some more snow away. "I'm in the area harvesting some greylock. My horde ran out. We - " Suddenly he stiffens, one ear swiveling back towards a noise.

A mossy green orc is stumbling toward them, an arrow lodged in one shoulder. "Sook!" he cries out hoarsely. As he gets closer, it's easier to see that one ear is nothing but tatters, and his grey green beard flaps wildly in the wind.

"Tarac?" Sook asks worriedly. He runs over to the other, reaching out to support him. "What happened? Why are you so far from the horde's territory?"

Tarac's knees buckle slightly as he pulls in a sharp breath. "The Bell Horde. Th - they've made war against us. Many of us have gone into hiding, but they're tracking us down and dragging us off. We have reason to believe they made a deal with the hunters. They're heading this way."

Sook looks from Tarac to Rune. "Then we've got to run," he murmurs. "All of us. Rune, if they see you, they'll either kill you or drag you off like they did the others. You're not safe here any more. I'm sorry," he adds, face strained with worry as he carefully starts tending to the arrow in Tarac's shoulder.
 
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#10
Rune watches the encounter, confused but also highly upsetted by what he was hearing. "I should've killed those gods damned hunters when I had a chance." He mumbled angerly. The humanoid rid himself of his gloves, pale hands revealed and reached down, grabbing a small ball of snow in his hand and pulsing it with strange yellow-ish magic before he approached the wounded orc, "Hold still, this will sting." He commanded quietly, kneeling down. With his free hand he removed the arrow in one swift motion, the other full of snow pressed to the back, the other now free pressed against the other side of the wound as the light flowed though the wounded area. He kept his hands pressed for a moment until the light began to fade. When he removed his hands it showed that the orc was no longer bleeding. Much like greylock the wound was healed, though unlike, a sort of warm and soft ice had covered it, keeping the blood in and slowly healing the wound, "It'll take a while to fully effect." He added, his hands still pulsed with a bit of magic in case the other decided to try and keel over, "I'm sorry about your family. I have a place to hide, but only for a little. The hunters don't dare come here, though only for what they hunt."

Whatever Rune was he knew what they wanted. But he didn't sound keen on giving it to them. He helped Tarac from the ground, "Follow me." He said quickly, his tail gathering his gloves before he turned past, weaving through the trunks of the bare trees. As he moved they twisted and creaked, the bark snapping and crunching as the trees seemed to awaken, "Do not worry, they are friends." Rune called, indeed they didn't seem hostile right now, merely just waking up because of an extra pulse of magic, though it had to have been powerful to wake them in the middle of a harsh cold season.
 

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#11
As Rune steps forward to take over healing Tarac, Sook quietly steps back to observe. Tarac flinches and pulls in a sharp breath through his teeth as the arrow is pulled out, but then he looks up with wide eyes as he realizes the boy is placing glowing snow against his wound. He stands with his help only to stagger back seconds later. "You're a mage," he whispers, frozen in place even while Sook follows after Rune through the now waking trees. Tarac snorts and flicks his ears back, eyes narrowing. "Sook, we'd do best to keep our distance. Mages attract all kinds of unwanted attention. Besides, they're . . . dangerous."

Sook laughs. "Tarac, this is Rune. Rune's the boy who saved me a few months ago. I'm pretty sure he's safe to follow," he adds, still trailing in Rune's footsteps.

Tarac crosses his arms, only shaking his head as he remains unmoving. "Suit yourself. Our horde will always be open to you, Sook - but I'm afraid accepting Rune would be too high a risk. Magic is traceable. And right now, that's the last thing we need."

Sook bites his lower lip, glancing at Tarac with lowered ears. "I understand. I'll meet you at one of the hiding places later, all right?"

"You're following him?"

"Well, yeah. It's a lot safer to travel in a group. You sure you won't come with us?" Sook adds hopefully.

Tarac shakes his head. "I've got to find the others. I do wish you both safe travels - even if he's involved." He waves curtly and turns on his heel, tromping off through the snow.

Sook sighs and looks back to Rune. "I, uh . . . I'm sorry about Tarac. He means well. It's just he and the horde are nervous around magic. I've never understood why."
 
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#12
Rune nodded understandably, "It's perfectly ok. Many fear magic and they have perfect reason. It is dangerous and uncaring in the wrong hands. Orcs have never really been magical creatures to say the least, but they're mainly warriors of great skill and courage. It's been like that since even before the Elder War, I guess it's tradition for them to wield weapons rather then magic." He spoke quietly, he didn't sound harsh or judgmental but rather unsure if his statement was completely right. As they walked he kept turning his head from side to side, seeming to check for anyone around. It took no longer then a half hour's walk to an old shack that laid against the rocks of a cliff. It laid a good 30 feet from the edge which overlooked the Sea of Magnus.

It held many legends and many stories and was notorious for being one of the most elusive seas to exist as men went mad on the journey to find it so they never really did. Though here they were, the clouds covering the sky and the crashing waves below as soft sports of snowflakes drifted down to rest on them and the ground. The shack itself seemed sturdy enough, a small two story with a very slight tilt to it. Inside it was dark and Rune had no trouble going up and unlocking the door. "Come in, I'll get a fire going."

"I received access to the home after the man who built it needed to leave. I can't come here in warm months, the home and sea disappear during then but sometimes in the cold seasons I come here to rest."

Rune was a polite house host when it came to guests, even if he didn't have much. A fire lit in the stone hearth and both warmed and illuminated the small front area. The kitchen was small and laid near the stairs to the second floor. Two chairs, both made from green cloth and looking rather comfortable, laid a distance from the fire but able to still be warmed. Not much else was really there, a book or two next to the more worn chair but that was really all. No-one was in the house as whoever entered with a key ended up in a home on the other side of the sea, never to be seen again. Nothing really magical laid here, albeit a few alchemy plants and herbs laid on the kitchen's counters along with strange crystals that was about it. "We're safe for now. I can make you something warm to drink while I make a stew if you wish." He spoke as he shed his cloak and laid it on a hook next to the door. His armor and other thick attire were laid just under it which left him in trousers and cleaned chest wraps. He went to the kitchen where he pulled a kettle from a cupboard and set it over an odd stone disk with runes on it. The kettle levitated above it as a fire came from the disk, heating the kettle as he poured milk into it, from there he added things from jars that laid on the counters or in the cupboards.

A thick brown powder, a white powder, a sort of root and some red juice. After all was added and the top set on he trotted back to the fire where he took the other seat, "It'll be a moment before it's done but it is very good. I've seen royals drink it before, I believe they called it Cain's Delight? Or maybe it was Hot Chocolate? I can't remember, it's been a long time." He chuckled weakly, seeming unsure of what really to say. He never really had someone to come to his home before."
 

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#13
Sook trudges through the snow, slowed by the deep powder rather than the cold. Then the forest gives way to a small shack and, to Sook's utter shock, the Sea Of Magnus. He's reluctant to go inside at first and stares out over the vast expanse of water. "You live here?" he stammers as he follows Rune inside. "You live by an actual legend? This is incredible!"

He stomps snow off his clawed feet as he steps into the home, sniffing and taking in a deep whiff of the nearby herbs with a smile. "Too bad it doesn't exist the whole year around. Wow, if I lived in a place like this, I'd never want to leave. Except for the fact that now I'm going to disappear into another dimension or whatever happens to people who come in here," he adds, chuckling nervously.

His attention is quickly distracted by the levitating tea kettle. He ambles over and perks his ears forward with a soft gasp. "So, this magic," he starts slowly, "Can anyone learn it? Or do you have to be born with it?"

He thanks Rune heartily for the drink and flops down on one of the rugs near the fireplace. In his village, he's used to sitting on mats and cushions. The chairs seem more like unusually sized tables rather than things to actually sit on. Sook takes a sip of his warm drink and smiles, licking his lips. "I can see why the royals like it. And I have to thank you again - letting me hide out in here for a bit until the Bell Horde moves on. I'd guess it'll take a few days, but it's hard to tell. Are you sure you'll be safe staying here on your own?"
 
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#14
Rune took a moment to speak, licking the thick chocolate and cherry concoction from his upper lip with a blue pointed tongue, "For the magic, you can do either. Learning takes longer but has a stronger effect, being born is immediate but less easy to control. As for the shack...well," He shrugged, "I've been living here since I was left here as a kid. It's normal for me. I know having someone is good for mental health but no-one really wants to stay around me or this place."

The whole forest was riddled with deadly and dangerous things, man of which could suck the soul of a mortal out in seconds or drive a man to madness by feeding on his mind. "If you wish to stay for the cold season then you can. Otherwise I can help you. I know I can never have a home with another but you shouldn't have yours taken away by those greedy humans. I've seen it happen enough, I'm not weak anymore." A sort of anger crept into his voice when he spoke of the hunters. They'd done enough damage to him and the forest, and now trying to kill a whole horde? That was too far. "For now we need rest. I know of many who can help us but it will take time. If we can, the Snow King may grant us help as well."

Another legendary being of strange power. It seemed that respect was the best way to earn right around this forest and one would be perfectly right in thinking so as it was very much true. The Sea of Magnus only yielded to strong of soul, heart, value and mind before they could tap into that power. The Snow King was never overly friendly with one unless they proved themselves worthy of such trusting actions as well. And the forest itself knew who to protect and who to kill given you treated it fairly.
 

FaithLeafCat

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#15
Sook swirls his drink in his mug as he listens quietly, ears flicking back and forth as he studies Rune's expression. "You really do know a lot of people and things, don't you?" he asks with a smile. "Heh. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were one of the old spirits of the hills." He shrugs and leans back in his chair. "And actually, after Tarac's reaction to you . . . I'm not sure I want to go back to my horde. They're kind enough to orcs and half-bloods, but other species, not so much. I do still want to get the hunters and the Sundew Horde off their back, though," he adds.

He polishes off his drink and sighs contently. "And a rest does sound good. What'll be our next step afterwards? Do we go after the hunters first, or the Sundew Horde?" He rubs his chin as he thinks out loud. "The hunters are more strategic and set more traps out . . . but the orcs tend to be more active and violent. Both aren't very fun to tangle with."

He sets his cup down and huffs. "Let's say this cup is the shack here. If this napkin to the northwest is the orcs, and this fork to the northeast is the hunters . . . Oh! I don't suppose your magic could start a fire in the middle of the hunters' camp?" he asks, eyes sparkling.
 
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#16
Rune's eyes nervously wandered when the halfling mentioned the old spirits though slight confusion when he said he did not want to go back after how the other had reacted to Rune's presence. He didn't understand the other's logic about that. More surprise came to his expression when the halfling suggested a fire in their camp. "Well....It is possible..." He contemplated quietly, sounding a bit nervous, "But I'd have to go in alone to set the blaze. It is possible but it is risky...We should take out the Sundew first. I bet they're helping capture your family, so with them gone the hunters can't find who is left. They may hate me but they don't deserve to suffer like this. If I can find their camp I may be able to poison them with Irkweed or Lahpwood before I let the trees have their way..."
 

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#17
"That should work," Sook agrees. "If they're anything like my horde, they love elk. All we have to do is feed an elk a bunch of the herbs, send it into the horde's camp, and they'll all poison themselves." He pushes back from the table and claps his hands together. "So really what we need to do first is catch an elk. I'm ready to head out again if you are! Or do you get cold faster like humans do?"
 
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#18
Rune chuckled nervously at the mention of sending an animal to its death though did not protest, "We can't go out right now. The sun is going down and when it does the Sea becomes wild, if we go out we risk death or worse....unless..." He seemed to ponder something, getting up from his chair and going up the stairs at a fast pace. Upstairs was a series of thuds, thumps, scrapes and screeches, like some poor animal was being slaughtered almost. He came back down moments later holding two long cylinders with strange light emanating from an open end. What looked to be a fire made of light came from inside, flickering softly and casting a wide bright shine, "These are lights we can use to see, but they might keep us safe if you really want to do this in the dead of night so close to the Sea then we have no choice. We're no use to your people dead."
 
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#19
Sook leans forward with wide, sparkling eyes as the lights are revealed. "They're beautiful," he murmurs. "But Rune, if the Sea of Magnus is as dangerous as you say, maybe we should wait for morning. The hunters and the horde are bound to be at least a day or two behind my horde. That'll give us a bit of extra time."

He reaches for a light anyway. "I am curious, though. How is it that a light so small could protect us from a Sea so wild and large?" He glances out a nearby window, attempting to glimpse a few of the waves. The entire area is so new and exciting to him, but he can't help but wonder what makes the sea at night so much more dangerous than the sea during the day.