Twilight spilled its hues as the sight of the small cave unfolded. After braving a challenging path through the dense forest, the coveted objective was finally reached. From the depths of the cave, only a narrow beam of amber light was perceptible, its intensity increasing as one delved deeper into the mountain. The stone walls, ancient guardians of time, reflected artifacts of varied sorts—strange tapestries woven by long-lost hands, ancestral weapons whose stories echoed through the centuries, among other relics that adorned the chamber as silent witnesses of bygone eras. Each step resonated within the cavern, echoing like a whisper, while the amber light danced mysteriously over the ancient artifacts, as if seeking to reveal long-hidden secrets. At the end of the corridor, a small chamber was revealed. In the center of the circular room stood a crystal half a meter tall, emanating the amber light visible from the cave entrance. Inside the room, more objects were arranged, while in the background, a narrow fissure led to a new chamber, concealed by a curtain of rags.
Before the crystal, whose warmth permeated the surroundings, a small woman sat with her back to the entrance. Wrapped in a linen cape, she displayed the red symbol of an animal paw.
"I expected your coming," uttered the elder without turning.
With a gesture, she invited the stranger to sit beside the crystal. The warmth emanating from the stone was comforting, and its light, though intense, did not obscure the vision, changing intensity like the tides of the sea, in an almost hypnotic rhythm.
The old woman, whose stature barely reached a meter, gazed deeply into the crystal, as if glimpsing scenes from a distant past within it. Her gray hair hung braided over her right shoulder to her chest, where it tangled between her fingers. Beneath the linen cape, a long tunic covered her body, reaching down to her bare feet. She held a long pipe in her left hand, its flame long extinguished.
Minutes of silence passed until the elder began to speak.
"What brings one like you to a place like this? No, you need not answer, tiich tiich tiich..." chuckled the old woman, displaying her last three teeth.
"No one seeks the Great Naualli for any other reason," she said proudly.
"You seek a new tale, but no, not just any tale, no. Only a narrative you could not find anywhere else but here."
Naualli rose, murmuring words without sense or comprehensible only to herself.
"I could tell you countless tales, like that of the strange lad with a peculiar hat who longed to venture across the seas, or that of the young fox-boy who aspired to be the warrior leader of his village, but no. These tales we all know. You came here for something different, something yet untold," pondered Naualli, gazing thoughtfully at her collection of relics.
After a few minutes immersed in thought, uninterrupted, for a storyteller is never hurried, she approached and spoke:
The words escaped her lips almost as a whisper, but her enthusiasm for the idea was evident.
"Yes, yes! tiich tiich tiich!" exclaimed Naualli as she laughed.
"Wild is perfect for you. This narrative has been passed down by generations of storytellers in our tribe, but much of it has been lost beyond this region."
Naualli settled back beside the crystal. She tapped her long pipe on a stone, clearing the residue of the previous smoke, and withdrew from her cape a pouch of tobacco to reload it. With the tip of her index finger, she touched the large amber crystal in the center of the room. The touch lasted less than a second, and then, with her fingertip still glowing, Naualli lit the tobacco in the pipe, which promptly burst into small flames.
After a few long draws and exhaling the smoke that had already spread through the room, leaving a sweet aroma in the air, the old storyteller continued:
"What I am about to tell you happened many winters ago, in a time of chaos that plagued all the lands..."
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