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Edge of the forest

Komae’s feet, clad in tree bark leather, slowly, carefully trod the leaf-covered ground among the new trees, bow string drawn taunt. She heard voices ahead in the Hader tongue and the characteristic thud of axes on dead wood. Looking up through the branches, the masts of the air ship shown in the predawn of the first sun. She’d seen this one before, but never this far north into the old forest.

Fallen trees on Hala did decay, but only through a long process of weathering which, over many thousands of years, eventually brought them down. But during the great war, The enemy used Dark Tech to not only kill Halans and their allies, but destroyed whole forests in which they hid, causing once luscious areas to die, leaving only the grey skeletons of the once great trees.

Coming closer, a shadow among shadows, she moved slowly, deliberately. Her heart and emotions conflicting, she came to a knoll, sat back on her haunches and observed. At least two dozen Haders, men and women, worked feverishly, sawing, chopping, loading, looking up from time to time, scanning the forest. Fools, she thought, as if you could see me.

Wood cutter

She focused on a woman, sweating, on one end of a long saw, gradually chewing it’s way through a fallen trunk. She looked fatigued, sweat dripping from her brow, the muscled man on the other end doing most of the work.

She knew she had enough arrows, could probably kill half of them before they lifted off, her barbed arrow heads cutting deep into their flesh. Unable to be removed cleanly they would bleed out quickly. Reaching behind to her quill, she drew one shaft, notched it on her bow string and pulled back. Sighting carefully, after a moment her arrow flew several hundred yards, landing inches away from the woodcutter woman, who jumped back and fell down, eyes wild with fear.

“Warden!” a man yelled as he looked at the feathers of the arrow buried deep into the dead wood. Everyone scrambled for dear life. The woman on the ground got up and ran with the others towards the ship. Komae notched another arrow, letting it fly, barely missing a big man who had tripped, hitting his head on a stump.

She heard the great levitron engines of the ship spring to life, as the vessel began to rise, with men and women still running up the gang plank. Shouts and curses wafted up the hill to her as their cries, begging their comrades to wait, went unheeded. You have no honor, Komae thought, as those on board watched those hanging on the ship struggle to climb aboard.

Finding the captain, known by the colors he wore, she let one final arrow fly, barely missing him as it flew past. That should get the message across, she mused as the ship disappeared over the trees.



Moving down the hill to the carnage, Komae touched the fallen trees. She recognized each and every one, grieving their demise, remembering when they had once been a living thing, vibrant, alive with promise of new trees, of the cycle of eternal green. Stooping down, she uncovered a small seedling now bent over, nearly covered in sawdust, and carefully straightening it. Fools, she thought, no sense of the future, only out for what they can take from the present.

A slight whiff, an odor not of the forest and foul to her nose, caused her to wheel around, arrow notched and ready. Slowly, she came around a large stump, revealing a hunched woman holding her leg, rocking back and forth. Komae looked around quickly, but could not sense anyone else, alive or dead. Drawing her bow back to almost breaking, she aimed at the crouching figure’s heart.

Are you going to eat me?

Holding the drawn bow until her arms hurt, Komae wrestled her conscience within, finally letting the tension release and the string relax. After a moment she said, “How badly are you hurt?”

The woman, startled, looked up, unbelief in her eyes. “Are you going to eat me?”

“What?” Komae said, shocked at her words.

“They say you are demons, and you feed on the flesh of those you capture – while they yet live!”

Shaking her head in disgust, Komae said, “We don’t eat people.”

The woman obviously didn’t believe her, for she backed away as Komae stepped forward. “I am not going to hurt you, and I certainly won’t eat you. I don’t eat meat, anyway,” she said. “Do you have any weapons? Because if you do and you try to attack me, then I will harm you.”

The woman shook her head, still holding her leg.

“Is it broken?”

“No, I don’t think so, it twisted as I ran.”

Healing leaf

Putting her bow behind her back, Komae reached into her side pouch, finding a healing leaf infused with herbs. Looking at the woman, she said, “I am going to give you something and I want you to chew it, it will ease your pain and help you to heal quickly.”

The woman, still frightened out of her wits, shook her head.

Komae, growing impatient, said, “If I had wanted to kill any of you, you would be dead already. I didn’t have to miss. I promise I will not harm you. You don’t have many options either, I suggest you trust me.”

The woman, looking around a little, turned back and said, “Okay.”

Approaching slowly, Komae held out the leaf. “Put it in your mouth and chew it slowly. It works swiftly, you will feel better.”

Seeing the woman chew and relief coming to her face, Komae sat crouched down, thinking. Fey will never allow a Hader into her city, and the southern port is hundreds of leagues away. She’ll most likely die in the forest without help.

Now what?

Sighing, Komae thought, Now what?

“I feel better,” came the tentative words from her captive.

Komae knew she would, the forest medicine was nothing short of miraculous, second only to the fruit of the Tree of Life. Standing, Komae asked, “What are you called.”

The woman, even with feeling better, still appeared scared and wouldn’t answer, causing Komae to swear, “By Alethea’s sanctuary, I will not harm you. Can you stand?”

She nodded.

Then Komae asked, “Do you think they will look for you?”

She shook her head, “They know a Forest Warden is here, they would never risk it.”

“I need time to think, we will find water and camp until your leg heals. Give me no trouble and I promise you will live.”

The woman looked towards the living forest and said, “They say there are monsters in there, we will die!”

Looking at the woman, Komae wondered, Where do you get your information? “I don’t have patience for this, just follow me.”

Gingerly, the woman stood, putting just a little weight on her leg until she found it was quite sound.

Komae started slowly, looking back as the woman, eyes on the forest, reluctantly followed.

These Are The Days by Zach Winters