Short stories, Flash fiction, and Novel Excerpts

The Seven Seals

In Writing on December 11, 2009 at 1:56 am

By:  Ben Pollard

Jo’hon ran through the forest, lithely passing between trees and branches in the thick woods.  Rays of pale sunlight slashed down through the thick canopy high above.  Even moving quickly, Jo’hon left no trace of his passage through the underbrush. 

“I knew this was going to be a bad day,” he said through his tears.  Word came that foresters were poaching his woods.  If that was not to be enough, someone or something was poaching the foresters.  Deciding he had to do something about it, the both of them, Jo’hon set out at dawn that morning. 

Traveling throughout the morning Jo’hon and Golden briskly made their way to were the foresters were reported to be.  Golden floated just above him and to the right.  Sailing through the air from tree to tree, branch to branch, gliding on soft golden feathers that were her namesake.  She would occasionally hoot to hurry him up.  They had been together for twenty-five years, protecting the forests from the ever encroaching farmers and foresters. 

Running till the sun was high over head, Jo’hon made it to the clearing where the poachers were reputed to be.  Stopping just before he entered, Jo’hon scanned the area.  Sure enough there were axe wounds on the trees, stately oaks and maples mainly but no foresters about.  Slowly turning around to have a better look, he saw that the only trees marked thus were a few oaks and two maples.  Just getting the hard woods, Jo’hon nodded to himself.  They were all on the north side of the clearing.  Kneeling down to study the tracks in the leaf litter, he made their numbers to be about a dozen.  Four too cut, the rest to cord and drag them away. Hoping to get them to some merchant and rid them of it quickly.  Something wasn’t right; they should have them down and half way home by now. 

Standing abruptly, Jo’hon scratched his head and turned, which saved his life.  Jo’hon heard the buzz of the arrow like a memory, before feeling the line of fire it drew across his hip.  Immediately, he lurched to the right.  A large elm now blocked the archers’ line of sight.  Jo’hon, his back against the elm, drew two long knives from sheathes at his hip.  Looking ahead, he spied two shapes moving in the shadowy gloom of the trees.  “So, they thought to ambush me did they,” he mumbled.  Crouching, he looked around; he still had some time before they reached him. 

Mentally calling to Golden and achieving contact, Jo’hon saw through her eyes.  It was disconcerting to look down on himself and was overcome with a moment of vertigo.  Shaking his head he cleared his mind, ordering Golden into the air.  From the air Jo’hon could see eight creatures.  Being humanoid was all might have had in common with the foresters.  Covered from head to toe in scales, in hues of the woods around, it was hard to discern them even through the eyes of an owl.

What Jo’hon could see was strange enough.  Arms that reached down to their knees, ending in long wickedly sharp claws.  Their short stubby legs moved with surprising silence through the brush.  With his areole view Jo’hon could see them moving around his position.  The two from behind split to come upon his flanks, what Jo’hon was most interested in, was the archer.  Scanning around, through Golden’s eyes, he spotted it.

Putting the bow across its back and drawing a short serpentine blade from the ground beside it the humanoid moved forward. “That does it”, Jo’hon thought to himself.  Taking one last look around at his surroundings, he breaks contact with Golden.  Standing slowly, silently, Jo’hon grips the weapons with the ease of long practice.  Reversing the blade in his right hand, he calculates the creature’s movements and position. 

Stepping around the tree, stabs the closest, on the left, in the neck, whirls around as the other closes on the right, planting the reversed blade into it’s forehead in one smooth movement.  Releasing the hilts, Jo’hon slips his daggers from their places in his sleeves. 

Stepping to the left of the thrashing lizard at his feet, Jo’hon lazily throws one then the other, to his left and right.  Without pausing to see if they hit, hearing both the monstrosities death cries, he gracefully draws his sword.  Gleaming in the fading twilight, long and slightly curving, the light plays across the etching of an owl poised in flight. 

Meeting the rush of the closest two, the others split to flank him.  Jo’hon knew that unless he finished these two off quickly the others would take him from behind.  Having a good look at the lizards for the first time, he wondered at the difference between the two he faced.  While the one on the left was a uniform green it had an overbite showing rows of serrated teeth.  The other while green, also had hints of yellow and orange on its flanks and belly, though neither showed any outward sign of gender.

“Funny what you notice at times like these”, Jo’hon chuckled to himself.  To his surprise the thing in front of his emulated the sound.  Drawing another knife from the small of his back with his left hand, Jo’hon parried a thrust from “overbite”.  Rolling along the blade, moving it out and down, Jo’hon stopped, suddenly slashing along “overbites” belly, spilling it’s entrails at its feet.  Blocking a thrust from “rainbow”, sweeping his blade down and around its sword, Jo’hon riposted opening up its sword arm elbow to shoulder.  Dropping its sword, “rainbow” raised its remaining claw in a feeble defense as Jo’hon impaled it.  Releasing the hilt, if he didn’t survive it wouldn’t matter; Jo’hon threw side arm into the lizard advancing on his right. 

Feeling a burning line Jo’hon knew well across his back, he blocked out the pain, ducked and rolled away to give him room. As he rose and turned in a crouch, pulled a dagger from below his neck, Jo’hon saw her.  Flashing gold in the fading rays of the sun, she landed on the back of the remaining creature’s head.  Scratching and clawing Golden managed to leave its right eye where Jo’hon supposed its cheek would be. 

Dropping its sword, it reached up with scaly claws that ripped a scream that sounded almost human from Golden, and threw her to the ground.  Bellowing her name, Jo’hon released his hold on the dagger; which blossomed in the lizard’s remaining eye.

Hurriedly he ran to were Golden lay flapping on the ground.  Jo’hon could hear her screaming in his mind. He pulled heavy leather gauntlets from his behind his belt, lest she claw him with her thrashing.  Jo’hon held her with his left hand and drew out a vial from his belt pouch with the other.  It was a difficult task, fumbling with pouch and vial, though finally he managed to pull the cork out with his teeth.  Jo’hon carefully poured the contents into Golden’s hooked beak. 

Jo’hon tried to calm her with his mind though he knew Golden was panicking.  As the amber liquid coursed its way through her tiny body, he lost contact with her mind and Golden’s thrashing stopped.  He could only hope that she was strong enough for the potion to do its work. 

Leaving Golden to rest hidden beneath an elm, covering her with leaves, Jo’hon went and retrieved his weapons.  Cleaning the knife blades with moss and leaves he was pleased to note that the blood was the bright red of the living.  Not that he thought them undead but worried that they might be magical constructs.  Though he had spent the better part of twenty years in these woods, he had never seen their like before.  Alive they would stand about five feet though with their tails it was closer to eight lying down.  Short legs and long arms would allow them to run on all fours. 

Putting his foot on the final creature he came to, Jo’hon bent and yanked his sword out, with his free hand grabbed leaf litter, cleaning the blade all in one motion.  His dexterity and grace were due to equal parts training and talent.  He was chosen at a very early age to be a Ranger.  Protector of the forest, servant of the people; truth to tell he protected them from each other. 

Trained in woodcraft, the arts of war, politics, and magic, though Jo’hon used the last sparingly and not all that well.  These skills and others are what separated Jo’hon and his other fellow Rangers from the run of the mill human.  That magic is what links him to Golden in bonds stronger than any mortal chain.  It also lets them communicate at some distance and mind spy; among other things. 

No two Rangers have the type animal companion.  Jolien’s companion is a ferrite and both are just as wily as any ferrite would be.  Jo’hon discovered Golden only a year into his training and they have been together ever since. 

Sword in hand Jo’hon walked to where he had hidden Golden.  Stopping suddenly, sensing something was amiss, he turned slowly around.  There, a slight movement at the corner of his eye, then it was gone.  Standing motionless Jo’hon waited.  No sound or even a whisper of movement.  That’s it, no sound, there is always sound in a forest.  Birds, bugs, something is always there. 

A flicker of shadow on the left; suddenly, violently, Jo’hon crashed through the underbrush toward it.  Behind the trees, weaving, Jo’hon changed direction and ran back to were he had laid Golden.  Buzzing like angry wasps, arrows whirled around him.  Finally they forcing him to abandon the path back to his companion.  Jo’hon could not risk her, not like this.  Hoping against hope that he had her well hidden, Jo’hon left her, for the first time, alone.  Tears streaming down his face, he also left his shadowy pursuers behind.

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