Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Apocalypse River 002

This is a project I started back in April. Updates will probably be infrequent and irregular, as it's very much an "as the mood takes me" piece of writing. You can find the first bit here.

Tammon sprinted up the trail, spear in one hand and net in the other. He was small, light and lean, and while his stride was not long he could move quite quickly. He came to a sharp bend in the trail, and rounded it by kicking off a tree. He was still moving at full speed when he focused on the Forster in front of him.

The Forsters were huge, at least by the standards of the River People. There were larger things in the forest where they lived, but the River People never ventured that far in. They fished the river and raised small, unreliable gardens in patches of transplanted soil. When they hunted at all, it was at the very edges of the forest, and they entered cautiously and withdrew quickly.

This one was easily half again Tammon's height, even hunched over to place the knuckles of one long arm against the ground. Its other hand held a flat club, its edges lined with sharp shards of stone and teeth taken from forest predators. Dark eyes focused on Tammon from beneath a heavy brow, and the broad forehead showed a triple ridge that swept back along the length of the skull.

Tammon knew immediately that he could never change directions in time. He flung his spear instead, not even bothering to reverse his grip first, and continued to race forward. Luck was with him: the Forster had only barely focused on his presence, and didn't see the spear until it was far too late. That massive club swept up, and Tammon dropped onto his hip, sliding under it as his spear slammed into the Forster's eye. The Forest Man reared back, shaking its head in rage and pain... and dropped like a puppet with its vines cut.

For a moment, Tammon considered going back for his spear. His slide had taken him just past the Forster, and it would only be a brief delay; but the Forest Men were strong, and if it got its hands on him, even in death... He continued on.

The trees and underbrush stopped abruptly at a certain distance from the inlet, and Tammon slowed to a stop while he still had cover. He moved forward and parted branches, not wanting to be seen but not worrying too much about noise. He could hear the chaos in the village, and doubted anyone was listening for stragglers.

The warning bell still sounded. Tammon could not see who occupied that high, stone room - a column of delicately shaped stone that had once connected to a road in the hills by a narrow, arching bridge. The bridge was shattered, and the forest had consumed the road, but the tower remained standing in the sparser soil of the floodplain. The village had kept its watchers there for three generations, with an ancient, scavenged bell to give warning of intruders.

The intruders were now scaling the tower. Two had made it onto the remains of the ladder, and a third was clinging to the stone just below it. There was a flicker of movement, and Tammon squinted, trying to make it out. An arrow had sprouted from the shoulder of the topmost attacker, and now that he looked he could see where several other arrows had been broken off in the invaders' flesh. He didn't think the arrows would stop the Forsters; the bows of the River People were not strong enough for this.

Where can we go? The Forsters lived by their strength and endurance. The River People were weaker but more flexible; they lived strategically. In a confrontation, they would lose; but they would never allow a confrontation if there was any way to avoid it. Almost as soon as he posed the question, Tammon saw the answer: Shannan and one of the older women were herding the children towards one of the old boathouses. With all other avenues of escape blocked, they would seek shelter there - or try to escape into the river.

The rest of the village was engaging the Forsters with spears, bows, and slings. Now that Tammon knew what to look for, he could see the pattern: they were trying to keep the Forsters distracted, to draw them off if that were possible. Tammon could try to join them, but he was on the wrong side of the village for that; if he intervened, he might actually call the Forsters' attention to the women and children. Better to circle around, and help try to get the children out of the battle.

Still clutching his net, he stepped out of the brush and turned, following the brake down towards the edge of the river. The Forsters might have seen him earlier - it would explain why one of them had come looking for him - but he doubted they were watching him now. They were far too busy in the village. Two of the huts were on fire, now - probably from people stepping in the cooking fires - and the Forsters shied back from the flames. Tammon could not tell whether they were about to break, or if they might continue the battle, so he continued on his way. If they could get the children to safety, the village might survive. Might.

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