Authors: Joe Naff
A presentation of Moonwing Media
© 2014 Moonwing Media. All rights reserved.
Eternal Forest: Savage Rising
Book 2 in the
A presentation of:
Cover photography and design:
Sonja Carter – Soulfire Studios
TamTam Massey, Mark Polanis
All material © 2014 Joe Naff and Moonwing Media. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this work, for profit or otherwise, is unlawful without the expressed, written permission of Moonwing Media.
This story is a work of fiction. Any similarities to actual persons—living or dead—or to actual events, is purely coincidental.
“If we are to build a new pact, it must be founded on love and compassion. No longer can we hope to hold peace together with the brittle ties of mutual distrust. We must see ourselves, now and forever, as brothers and sisters of Her forest, created with Her love, and bound by Her to one destiny.”
Shimmer: The signing of the new Tri-leaf Pact
He honestly didn’t know why he kept the mutt around anymore. He was a cute old thing, with his long white fur adorned with black splotches, but the roof over his head and the meals he received were all in exchange for a single purpose: to keep the sheep from wandering out of the clearing and into the trees where he couldn’t protect them from predators with his bow.
Taking a moment to look up from his worn out book, Zehlyr was just able to see the white, fluffy tail of one, overly curious member of his flock disappear behind a bush and into the trees. He sighed as his eyes darted off to the west, taking a moment to confirm he knew where the dog was. Indeed, there he lay, sprawled out on its side in the grass and enjoying the warmth of the sunshine, its legs twitching sporadically as it slept. Zehlyr shook his head. Perhaps it was dreaming of wrangling sheep.
A nervous chill ran up his spine while he rose to his feet. He set the book on the grass. It was an adventure he’d read more times than he could count, but it was still far more interesting than getting up to do the work of his useless sheepdog, not to mention safer. Brushing a few strands of his golden bangs from his face, Zehlyr turned around towards the young man behind him. He was lying on his side and carving a small piece of wood into the crude shape of a dragon. Zehlyr opened his mouth to speak, but it quickly became a useless gesture.
“Shadow let another one wander off?” the other boy asked without looking up from his work.
Zehlyr nodded. His gaze turned back towards the trees. “I don’t know why we keep that blighted dog around,” he said. “All he ever does is sleep.”
“And every herding family in Meadowgold knows it, too,” the other boy said. “That’s why no one would be goblin-brained enough to buy him from us.” He stuck his knife into the soft soil and set his unfinished masterpiece on the grass against the hilt. A groan also escaped his lips as he stood. “I suppose you want me to go after this one.”
“I did get the last,” Zehlyr responded.
“I carried all the supplies up here this morning,” the other boy protested.
“The heaviest of which was that block of wood you’re working with.”
The other boy opened his mouth but no words came out. Zehlyr smiled as he watched him search for another retort. “Well…I’m older,” he finally said.
Zehlyr rolled his eyes as he threw his head back. “You don’t get to use that for
The other boy smiled. “The longer you argue, the further into the woods that sheep gets.”
Zehlyr’s lips pulled tight as his head dropped in a gesture of defeat. He hated the idea of losing another debate to his older brother, but should they lose a sheep, the wrath of their parents would come down on his head harder than Cherin’s, and his older brother knew that. Like it or not, being the older brother
grant Cherin some benefits, and he wasn’t above exploiting them.
“Fine,” Zehlyr said, admitting defeat. “But you’re
to get the next one.”
Cherin gave a half-hearted nod while returning to his sculpture. He knew Zehlyr’s words were an empty threat. This was an argument they had many times whenever they watched the fields, and it always ended the same way. Inevitably, another sheep would wander off, they’d fight over who went to get it, and Zehlyr would head into the woods while he continued carving.
Zehlyr sighed as he turned back towards the meadow, his eyes scanning the tree line for the point where the sheep had escaped. His hand reached down to his side, making sure his large hunting knife was still firmly strapped to his belt. Wolves often lurked deep in the trees, waiting for just this kind of opportunity to come along. Too many of their pack mates had fallen to the arrows of a watchful shepherd when foolish enough to venture out into the open in search of their meal. Over time, they’d become wise enough to stay in the shadows and wait for the sheep to come to them. It made for fewer options, but far more safety.
Zehlyr’s steps were light and fast as he moved down the hill towards the trees. He kept to the outside of the flock, careful not to spook the other sheep and turn a search for one into a search for many. Reaching the edge of the forest he rested a hand against the rough, jagged bark of a large oak. An uneasy knot formed in his stomach. He hated going into the trees. There was a time, when he was much younger, that he would’ve been foolish enough to venture out into the Wilds, but those days were long gone.
Everything beyond the village and the fields felt so uncivilized and unpredictable. He knew other civilized races lived within the trees just fine, but he and his fellow humans would have none of it. It lacked visibility. There was no room to herd. Borders were nearly impossible to distinguish. Of course,
woods were more dangerous than any other.
Even the orderly territories had their Wilds, unsettled sections of the forest outside of the established villages, but the humans lived differently. Their industrious ways had cleared the trees within the territory all the way to the border. Beyond
trees lay the Savage Lands, where all manner of horrible creatures roamed.
Even though it was a rare thing indeed for a goblin, troll, or -Lady forbid- a balisekt to be roaming this close to the border, it wasn’t completely unheard of. They were dumb creatures for certain, but they at least had brains enough to stay clear of the Lands of Order. Any that did appear was promptly chased back into the thick trees. No great number of savage creatures had ventured onto civilized territory since the Great Blight, but that was a long,
Zehlyr summoned up all his courage and finally stepped off the lush grass into the trees. He wasn’t sure if it was his nerves playing tricks on him, or if he was sensing energies like the elves always claimed to do when crossing borders. Whatever it was, leaving the meadow always made him feel different. The air felt colder and thicker. Unfamiliar and unwelcomed scents filled his nostrils. It was a world that didn’t want him, and he was perfectly happy keeping his distance from it.
As small twigs snapped under his boots, Zehlyr instinctively pulled his dagger from its sheath. His fingers rubbed nervously against the leather-wrapped handle, letting the weapon double as an object of comfort. All the sounds here were unfamiliar to him, and every one of them came from something hostile; at least they did in his overactive imagination. Unfortunately, the cries of a wayward sheep were not among the chorus that filled his ears.
His eyes darted frantically from the base of one tree to another, searching for any sign of the lost animal. He’d hesitated before chasing after the sheep, sure, but not long enough for it get this far. Even if he had, wayward sheep never ventured too far into the trees. Even they weren’t that stupid. He debated calling out to it. Sheep sometimes reacted to the sound of his voice, but not always, and he didn’t know what else might come at his call from the Savage Lands.
Silently he cursed Cherin for not coming with him. Some big brother he was. Cherin knew how dangerous it was in here. He pretended to refuse these trips because of apathy or a desire to pick on his little brother, but Zehlyr knew the truth. Cherin was just as terrified of the woods as he was, especially the Savage Lands. No way was he letting him get away with it this time. Mother and father would hear of this once the flock was back in the pin and supper was on the table.
A small impression in the soft mud near the base of a wide oak caught his attention. Had there more foliage around it, he would have easily missed it, but the exposed earth gave him a clear view of a hoof indention. It had a perfect shape, with a small pool of water forming at its base from the rains of the previous evening. Zehlyr was relieved to see it, but also worried. The track suggested the lost animal was still venturing out into the Savage Lands. This was already farther than any sheep had ever gone before, and this one seemed to be going even farther.
Him mind, heavy with terror and anger, went to thoughts of just putting the useless dog down when he returned to the meadow. It was the mutt’s fault he had to come out here at all. It was also Cherin’s fault that he had to take another turn at it. Everything seemed to be conspiring against him, and he would have felt annoyed if he weren’t already so terrified.
With the foliage much thinner in this part of the woods, the sheep’s tracks were easy to follow. Each sunken hoof print led Zehlyr deeper and deeper into the trees. He pushed the anger and frustration from his mind, focusing all his mental energy on finding the wayward animal and getting out of this place as quickly as possible. His footsteps became hurried and his shoulders crashed through the brush of young trees covered in spring leaves. The path was clearer here and the animal had taken advantage of it. He couldn’t imagine what possessed it to venture out this far. With his head down and his eyes focused, his gaze jumped from one hoof print to the next along the thin trail.
Then he saw the blood.
Focused so sharply on the tracks, he almost walked right by it. Had it not been for a single sunbeam breaking through the canopy to illuminate the bright crimson dripping from a wide leaf, it would have been lost to him. He stopped suddenly, his momentum nearly making him trip in the soft mud. With eyes fixed upon the new discovery, he watched a single drop fall from the tip of the leaf and splash into the mud. His head darted up as he gasped in shock; his eyes were wide, frantically observing everything around him.
Seeing nothing around him out of the ordinary, Zehlyr gazed further down the trail once again. The carnage he saw made his heart beat hard against his chest. There was more blood up the trail, the amount becoming more copious at each step. The shrubs had been bent away and snapped. The single row of sheep prints disappeared into a section of furiously trampled mud. Tufts of blood-soaked wool were hanging from the branches of young saplings. He could smell it now, too. Before, only the scent of mud and wet leaves filled the air. With so much blood all around him, the forest began to stink of it.
Zehlyr didn’t dare take another step forward. The sheep was lost, no doubt about that now, and by the look of things, it had met a rather violent and terrifying end. Only one goal held his focus now: getting out of these trees alive. He spun back in the direction of safety, but he was unable to take a single step before he saw it.
Standing wide-legged upon the narrow trail was a wolf. Its silver and grey fur was covered in blood and its eyes burned with a hunger for more carnage. Its lips were pulled back, revealing rows of menacing teeth. Small chunks of flesh and wool were still visible between them. The wolf let out a steady, low growl, and it made Zehlyr’s hands tremble uncontrollably.
Being brave only for a lack of other options, Zehlyr widened his stance. His knife hand extended in front of him, the edge of the blade angled down towards the assailant. He was as ready for the impending attack as he could possibly be, but he knew deep down there was little to no hope of victory. Even if he managed to kill the beast, he would suffer grave injuries in the struggle. Those blood-soaked teeth had the capacity to tear his limbs off with little effort.
Zehlyr thought of his family he’d never see again; of his blighted brother who’d unknowingly sent him in here to die; and of the blighted dog that started all of this.
The wolf’s growl escalated into a series of loud barks. Each sharp sound made Zehlyr’s body flinch. They both knew how this was going to end. They both knew who held all of the confidence and ability to see another sunrise, but that didn’t stop the beast from making the fight even less fair.
A sudden rustling to his left forced Zehlyr to tear his gaze away from the angry wolf. From behind a nearby bush came another wolf, just as blood-soaked and angry as the first. Another emerged from behind an elm tree to his right while yet another made its way onto the path near the first. The narrow trail forced it to stand slightly behind the original beast.
Zehlyr let out a sigh as his knife hand dropped to his side. Now things were truly hopeless. If the beasts attacked at once, as they likely would, he would be in pieces before he could scratch the hide of a single wolf. His eyes closed as his body fell limp. There was nothing left to do now but die.