Juno was in awe in front of a massive tree. He knew that massive really didn’t do justice in describing the organism he saw in front of him but for the life of him he couldn’t find a better word to describe it. Juno stood at five feet nine inches tall, slender but very solid and strong. He had a smooth, dark complexion, golden eyes, a thick mane of course black hair that was held out of his face by a braided vine he had made during his travels and pointed ears; the tell tale sign of an Elf. A long sleeved cream colored tunic covered his torso and fell to the middle of his thighs. Worn leather pants and boots covered his lower half. Juno pulled out a small roll of parchment from the bag slung over his shoulder, straightened out a small section of it and tore it from the roll. After replacing the parchment into his bag, he took the smaller piece and held it in between his hands palm to palm. His hands lifted to the front of his face, as if in prayer.
“Is that the smartest thing to do right now,” a voice asked behind him. “Especially here?”
From behind him a four and a half foot tall Tabaxi, (cat person), slunk up beside Juno, who was unfazed and was as still as a statue. The Tabaxi was female with blueish grey fur, swirling purple and blue eyes and green leather armor covering her torso and arms. Her legs were covered in harem pants that tapered down around the middle of her calves and her padded feet were bare.
“I don’t know Artemis,” Juno said looking up from his prayer like pose. With his hands still together, he flicked his wrist and a rolled cigarette appeared at the end of and in between his fore and middle fingers. Leaning his face forward and his hands backward he transferred the spliff to his mouth and separated his hands. Turning back and to his left, he looked at Artemis and snapped his fingers. A wisp of smoke appeared from the tip of the cigarette as well as a bright red cherry. He took a rather deep pull, removed the spliff from his mouth and exhaled.
“It’s not even real fire,” he said with a smirk as he touched the tip of it with his other hand. “This place is all magic, they wouldn’t hold a small parlor trick against me.”
Juno was “touched”, meaning he had the ability to use and perform magic or supernatural acts. Granted he hadn’t finished his training when he left his master but he really wasn’t worried about it. He liked to learn through trial and error rather than the way he was being taught, which was through lecture and memorization. Boring, tedious and mind numbing. Where was the fun in being touched if you couldn’t use it?
Artemis shook her head and readjusted the pack on her shoulders. She looked up and her eyes widened slowly. This tree was absolutely enormous. She had never seen anything quite so big and she had seen every city on the planet in her years of travel. This thing dwarfed any building she could even fathom.
“I know that it’s big and all,” she said, not taking her eyes off the tree. “But what really makes this thing special besides it’s size? We traveled three days through a thick jungle that you wouldn’t let me cut a path through to get here and there is no one here.”
“This is the Heartwood, Artie,” Juno replied with a smirk. “The entire jungle is this tree. As soon as we stepped foot into the forest this tree and its surrogates were watching our every move and they do not like uninvited guests. Which is what we are, kind of. There is a whole bustling city here going on with its day, right now, that we can’t see. Or rather, that it doesn’t want us to see. But it’s there, I can feel it.”
Juno brought the spliff back up to his lips and took another deep pull and then exhaled slowly with large smoke rings. The smoke rings, however, did not break apart and dissipate. Instead it only grew and remained stationary in front of the two. Juno shut his eyes, lifted his left arm up to the ring, placed his palm in the middle of the ring and bowed his head in concentration. His hand seemed to rest on the center of the ring, as if there was a see through solid surface that had materialized out of nowhere. Slowly, the area inside the ring became more and more hazy, all the while Juno remained in the same position.
Artemis, not being able to help her curiosity, reached out to put her hand on the seemingly solid interior of the smoke ring. As she made contact, the hazy surface fell away like sand and a busy market was visible in front of them. Elves, Aaracokra (bird people), Gnomes, Halflings and other assorted beings made their way throughout their day, unaware of the observers.
“Holy shit,” Artemis said as she pulled her hand back. “Is that all really there or did you get really good with illusions while I wasn’t paying attention?!”
“This is very real,” Juno said in a serious tone. “I also know more than I have let on. I’ve been called here by the tree, by the Heartwood. But the reason you and I cannot physically be on the plane of existence that you see in front of you is due to your unwillingness to open all of your chakras. Your life before our meeting has blocked the last pillar in your development. It can sense this and since we are connected, you and I, we are both still in the physical plane. My ‘illusions’ are nothing of the sort. I am ‘touched’ and soon, you will know the true meaning of the word.”