❯ The War of Trees – The Forest of Nine ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Prologue

This world, these worlds, not what I was expecting, that’s for sure. I’m fighting a battle and I don’t know if I can win, I question if I’m even on the right side, if there is a right side. I pray there is and this is it. It would be simple to make excuses, to say, “They were pushed to the extreme. This is nothing compared to what was done to them. The other guy deserves it,” but that doesn’t change one simple fact. What these people, my allies, are doing, they’ve gone too far.

The Forest of Nine

“Corben, it’s beautiful!” exclaimed Jewels as she glanced round the woods that surrounded us. Trees hundreds of feet tall, or all kinds, stretched their trunks to the sky. They were hung with vines, and branches, and leaves, and moss, and the sound of birds and animals as they travelled round the woods.

“Yes, it is,” was my simple reply, as I looked now at where we stood. A circle of stone surrounded us, and great pillars of stone, rough and uneven surrounded the edges. It looked like Stone Henge. Maybe it was, in some other world, where forest’s claimed England and land existed where the seas once flowed. As I looked closer still at the intricacies of the stone work upon which we stood, I could see the carvings, the symbols, the circle, the lines, I could, I realized, even feel the power of it. I knew, without looking, that Jewels could feel it too. She was deeply connected to the Earth, more so than any of us.

“What is this place?” came the voice of the third of our number. Franky, as close to a sister as I possessed, looked round with equal parts awe and wary tension. She did not trust this place, not yet, and that was as it should be. She was the sensible one, the one with a wise head on her shoulders. Well, she was when Sprite or Teachant wasn’t around. They were. Sprite carried his guns on his back, but he had unslung and removed the scope, which was non-electric, from his long rifle. He held it up and looked through it, trying to see. Teachant, David really, sat down, the better to feel the earth, to feel the stone, the better to know the place. It was part of some secret he had once learned, one he had not taught to any of us.

Musouka, who was easily the least awed of us, for he had seen many more wonders than had the rest of us, answered his beloved, “The Forest of Nine.”

This was the Forest of Nine? Only to me, and perhaps to David, did that hold significance. The Forest of Nine, ancient power, ancient world, part of the the linked worlds of the Portals, one of which, I realized, we now stood. An ancient and powerful, unburied portal. Not only could we arrive by it, but had any of us known how, we could have left by it. I felt a stirring on my back and Loophole leapt gracefully down from my back. His three tails held off the ground as he sniffed the air, and began to move forward, out of the circle.

“Come on, Let’s get moving.” My arm wrapped around Jewels, and we stepped forward together, as her left arm snaked up to clasp itself over my right hand and her right shoulder. We all moved forward, following the nose of our guardian kitsune, our zorro, our fearless fox.

We had gone only as far as the exposed roots of one of the nearest trees, when suddenly we heard a call different from those previous. It was louder, nearer, and more distinct. To any other random travelers, that call might have meant nothing, but we had far more experience than most other travelers who might visit this forest. To us, it sounded like warning.

My hand snatched my blade from my waist, and flipped the activator, but nothing happened. Sprite reattached his scope and swung his rifle into position, hitting its activator, to switch it into firing mode. Again, nothing happened. I cursed silently as I dropped it back to my belt and slid my favorite knife from my pocket, a gift from my Uncle. Musouka’s blade flashed into existence as the ring left his finger, and David drew his sword, which was empowered by magic rather than technology. Neither Franky nor Jewels needed weapons, but the temperature rose a little behind me as Franky assumed her traditional fighting stance, and placed her back to her Musouka. The brother’s took their places at the back, Sprite removing his scope and pulling out his own knives.

We stayed tensed, nervous, not sure what we would find out here. We knew only that it was out here, and it was likely after us, or at the least, not friendly. So far as I recollected from my incomplete stories, the Forest of Nine was very powerful, ancient, and very much alive. And the creatures that inhabit it were neither friendly to most, nor to be taken lightly. “Stay Alert. The forest is a dangerous place, and, it would seem, it has the power to nullify technology. We’ll have to rely on the power users… and David. Sprite, Corben, care to take over support?” and yet even as he spoke it was too late. A whistling was heard, and a strange mist suddenly appeared around us. Whoever had thrown or created it had mist, which is what saved us. I fielded the area round us, and the mist encircled us. And suddenly, beyond it we could see shapes.

“Well this is turning into a nice little vacation, isn’t it?” David joked, to lighten the mood.

“why did we come here again?” Franky voiced the question most of us were likely wondering.

“We didn’t exactly come on purpose, we just opened the portal and headed through, cause we’d run out of known destinations.”

“Yes, well, it might not have been such a good idea.”

“You worry too much Sprite. This won’t be that difficult. So we can’t go forward, we’ll go up. Stucher(David) and HG(Corben) can easily run that, and Wings and I can fly,” Musouka sounded quite confident. He had odd nicknames for everybody… pretty much. “I can carry you Sprite, and Wings?”

“I can carry Nee-Chan,” Franky smiled and scooped up Jewels, who just giggled. In a lot of ways, this was becoming routine. We were just a big Family, even Franky’s new nickname for Jewels was example, in fact probably one of the best ones. Nee-Chan is a cute way to say “Sister’ in Japanese.

“Time to Fly, Boss man?” Musouka, using yet another nickname, asked me. I nodded as the top of the field disappeared. Franky shot out first, in a burst of Vibrant White Wings, But even as she ascended, the world seemed to pause, as the dark half of it was suddenly swallowed by the white. Musouka, winged in white, shot past her as David and I made multiple jumps upward using my fields as platforms. Not very many of my friends, family, and allies could do that, but David had the natural ability to synchronize with almost anyone, and it had only been enhanced after the events that reforged us into what we were then.

As we ascended high towards the tree tops, we suddenly realized we were still surrounded. “Get ready for a fight!” shouted Musouka.

“No wait, look!” Jewels called, pointing towards one of the creatures. It was humanoid, and, etched into his face, was awe and reverence. All of us stopped suddenly, floating, as it were and surely seemed, in the air, while all about us, absolute silence and stillness reigned. “I think, they aren’t our enemies.”

“You are Winged ones. Are you the allies Master Spirit sent for? Are you friends of Spirit of the Winds?” The one who spoke stood on a branch at about the same height as us. He was light green skinned, but well dressed, for someone who lived in a forest… and who was obviously a Troll. Now I know some of you probably have misconceptions about Trolls and such, but Trolls aren’t so bad. They are just as intelligent as Humans, more communal, slightly more primitive, but really that’s just them choosing to stay more in touch with nature. This group was obviously well advanced. Their weapons and armor were metallic, at the least, and looked well crafted. And their clothing was well woven or sewn. Not rough. They weren’t a bunch of barbarians in loin clothes. But neither were they a bunch of fancy dressed elves.

“Who are the winged ones, are they bowing to us?” Sprite wondered as Musouka automatically set him down.

“Um, I think they mean Mu, maybe Franky too.” David indicated the giant wing extending out of Mu’s back. The “Wings” on Franky’s feet where not actually wings per se… but you’d never guess that at first glance.

Musouka’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Um, ah, yes, yes we are. Please take us to our dear friend Spirit. I haven’t seen him in ages, it will be nice to, before we deal with the situation. Shall we?”

We moved over to the tree branches and proceeded to follow the trolls across the trees. As we went, I caught up next to Musouka, who was still flying, and asked, “What are you doing?”

“Well, I’ve heard some stories about the Spirit of the Winds… He’s from my home you know, or something like that. And we need to find out what’s going on here, cause something is.”

“Right.” I left it at that as we dashed and ran and jumped across the tree tops. I glanced down now and then to see Jewels flashing into view every now and then. Although I still didn’t, and likely never would, understand the exact power behind her Shadow Walk, it was an effective means of rapid, and silent, travel.

*

I gotta say, the view is spectacular. Truly amazing. And the city itself? Beyond believability. Sprite continued to look as he moved across the treetops with the others, towards the new visible “City of 6” as it was called, the only City in the entire 6th Forest. In the city, there were real streets, and places to walk normally, not to mention gliders, zip lines, swing vines, and various other rapid short range transit routes. The city was a bustling place, but, even upon approach, it had obviously been one geared for War. Soldiers of several kinds, Beastmen, Trolls, even the occasional…Goblin (?) patrolled the streets and stood upon the “walls.” Creatures of the woods were equal fellows in this place. Suddenly, he walked into a huge space between several trees. A gigantic platform stretched between them, and on it? The marketplace, and what was surely the City’s… keep? Town hall? Castle? Palace? Something along those lines. The Trolls accompanying them guided them towards it.

As he looked at the trolls more closely, they looked hopeful, but wary. Like they prayed we were who they thought they were, but didn’t entirely trust it to be true. They had what were surely shamans following and leading the group, their robes instantly suggesting their class. As he began walking up the steps, he realized he was looking at the only stone work in the entire City, a pair of Marble statues… of two angels. One held a spear, the other, a crossbow. An unusual crossbow. That wasn’t the end of it, though. Engraved onto the doors of the building were many strange characters, local or some kind of ancient language. And a carving of an even greater Angel, this one wielding a very simplistic looking sword.

Suddenly, to his left, David spoke, “It reads, `The Hall of the Skies, Here rest the Messengers of God.’ Interesting, it says `God’ not gods.”

“Surely, warrior, you know? There is only one True God, but many false ones. But only the True God has Winged Ones for servants.”

“I know, I just don’t encounter many cultures that have grasped that concept.” He smiled, but a cloud of suspicion arose on the face of the troll he had spoken to. As the group walked into the main chamber, which lay just beyond the doors, it felt like we were floating among the clouds. The ceiling looked open to the skies, but it was really just a cleverly done glass roof. One could only tell at the time because the clouds were moving.

Standing on a platform, looking at some scrolls, was… the most impossible thing we had yet seen, and for 5 of us… we refused to believe it was true. The only one not completely shocked into silence was Musouka. “Hail, Brother!” he called, exactly why, Sprite couldn’t say.

*

Musouka strode forward confidently, his arm raised in hello. The… The Angel that stood on the platform did not even look up.

”So you’re the ones the big man sent? Now that’s quite something. Glad to have you…” he had finally looked up, and whatever he was expecting to see, Mu knew it wasn’t himself. As Musouka’s hand dropped, in realization of this fact, a sudden breeze ruffled his long coat as he sprang up and back. At the same moment, Boss-man, Sprite, and Stucher sank into fighting crouches. Jewels simply disappeared, part of her shadow walk, and his Wings shot into the air, a look of pained resolve locking into place on her face.

The trolls hadn’t stood still, but were already moving, reaching for weapons, etc. Stucher charged the nearest one, not drawing his sword this time, and downing him with one well placed blow. Which once more exemplified why people didn’t mess with the guy… humans don’t down trolls in one blow unless they have some kind of super strength… which Stucher didn’t.

Despite the fact that he was airborne, he still took a kick to the side from a leaping troll. Which did more to the troll than to Musouka. The long coat wasn’t just because it looked good. He knew Wings never would have fallen for him if that were true… even if he did get the coat after he met her. “Sorry buddy,” Musouka smiled apologetically as he made a spinning kick of his own that smashed his attacker, who might already have a broken leg… into the ground, “But the Big Bruiser never goes down that easily.”

It was too, I repeat, too easy to escape back out the doors, which was explained by the strange giant metal net that fell on other’s heads… which Jewels must have seen coming, because Corben was expecting it and dodged, while David finally drew his sword and sliced through it. Of course David would slice it… not that Mu couldn’t have done it for them, but he was still facing backwards at the angel that was drawing his weapon, a crossbow. “Honey, I think it’s time to get outside… the Angel doesn’t look happy and I bet those things are fire proof… even against you.” Musouka already knew he wouldn’t be able to do more than dodge… he didn’t fare well against Holy artifacts or attacks… either because Angels weren’t given the power to defend themselves against other Angels who theoretically still worked for the Big Man… or because they weren’t given the power to defend Demons(/Dark Dragons) against Angels who still worked for the Big Man… He shot outside.

Which wasn’t helpful… he felt it even as he shot outside… the arrow pierced his shoulder. It was the only arrow that had been fired before he got outside. All…. 30?! Others had been blocked by one of Corben’s fields. But not this one. And he fell, crashing to the ground. He couldn’t feel, feel anything at all.

*

I looked in shock as Musouka fell to the ground with a single arrow in his shoulder. Franky screamed in shock, pain, and rage. Ever since that day so long ago, when it had awoken within her, she had been so quick and easy to anger, it was frightening. But even as I yelled, as I fought, as I screamed, “NO!” someone, somewhere, near… they had something similar to say.

“No, Captain don’t! Stop all of you!” it was a voice I felt I should know it. And suddenly a great bout of thunder erupted around us, as lightning crackled and struck no one. And suddenly Franky was not screaming in rage, but quietly weeping as she held her beloved in her arms.

*

The quiet impossibility of it, the sheer disbelief that he could fall so easily. This man with whom she had promised eternity. This man that had promised that and so much more, had lived it, had loved it… he lay now in her arms, frozen, the arrow disintegrating even as she watch, the tears evaporating in her quiet rage, even as she cried them. “No, not you. Not you.” A single tear, heating slower than the others, splashed down warm upon his face, as she leaned down, and quietly pressed her lips to his, offering a silent pleading pray.

*

The world returned to him in a rush, but for a full minute, the only thing he could see, the only thing he could feel, the only thing he could hear, or smell, or taste, was her, his beloved wings. Finally, as she broke the kiss, he had just barely the strength to utter, “Hello Beautiful.” And it all faded to blackness again.

*

I stared in Awe, fear, anger, sorrow, and cold emptiness as I watch her lower him gently to the ground. I tried to move, but my legs would not, I felt myself grabbed roughly, as though to capture me, and then I could move. I kicked and shoved, and took a step in her direction. She was standing now, the anger evident in every part of her being, as the flames rose upon her wrists and her feet. The air grew hotter and hotter, and suddenly the burning swept over me, inside me, as it had so many times before. I didn’t care. I took another, as I soaked in what my eyes could see. Sprite dashed, courageously, insanely, bravely, stupidly, to Musouka’s side, kneeling next to him and examining the wound, as bandages and, it almost made me laugh, Neosporin appeared in his hands. He was doing the only thing he could at that moment.

His hand went to Mu’s neck, checking his pulse, and his face lit up as he touched it. “He’s alive!” he shouted, for all the world to hear. Suddenly there she was, Jewels, grasping Franky and hugging her tightly, whispering words I could not hear. I threw a field between them and us, placing my faith in them both as I offered my own prayer. A new face had joined the scene, or perhaps an old face. He was haggard, lightly bearded, his electric blue eyes matching perfectly the lightning that poured from his equally blue staff. He was trying to stop the fight.

Just as more, and better equipped soldiers arrived, and I thought this couldn’t get worse, it didn’t. A voice broke apart the whole thing. “Cease this violence at once, all of you, this is not the place for that, and these are not the people.” Everything abruptly ceased.