A Mysterious Egg – Part Three

Rain battered on the windows and thatched roof of Rafie’s cottage as she pondered the egg. The fire roared next to them, throwing out warmth into the room. She ran her a finger over the split in the yellow shell, hesitantly touching the green shoot. Its waxy bud cold to the touch. Peering inside she could see a web of roots and dark soil.
“Am I supposed to plant you? Or will you change yet again?” Rafie spoke aloud to the egg but directing her thoughts to Lady Time, however she knew she was much too far away for an answer. “I think we need to head back out.”
She leapt to her feet, quickly changed into dry clothes, grabbed her cloak and gloves, and got the basket ready for the egg. She grabbed an oil cloth to protect the delicate shoot. Once the egg was safely bundled and protected she stepped outside.
Rain battered the ground, it bounced off leaves and her hood. The night was dark but Rafie knew the way, she hurried into the forest, weaving her way through the trees, keeping a grip on the basket and the edges of her cloak.
Dark shapes in the darker shadows drifted about, hunting, fleeing, enjoying the night. There was an odd note in the chorus of the night, something off. Rafie slowed her pace, unable to pin down the cause. She toyed with the ends of her gloves, but decided against dawdling, Lady Time would know what was wrong.
She arrived at the clearing and stopped in her tracks. Lady Time was drooping, her bark was much lighter and leaves were piled up around her trunk. Rafie rushed over, stripping of her gloves and placing both hands on her trunk, the basket swinging in the crook of her elbow.
“Lady Time, what’s going on?” Her words rushed out, eyes tight shut in concentration.
“This is my forest now.” The voice came from behind.
Rafie turned her head, without moving her hands from the struggling tree. Stood between trees was a towering, slimy creature with a huge horned lizard-like head above a morphing shadowy body. Blue eyes burned in its dark grey face.
Her stomach recoiled at the smell of the creature, it was death, stinking and sweet.
“You can’t help her. She will submit to me or die.” The creature blinked slowly, “As will all the trees.”
“What do you want?” Rafie probed Lady Time, trying to find her, her presence was so faint but she was somewhere.
“This forest.” The creature turned and began to move away before adding, over it’s shoulder, “Please leave my forest, I have no need for a gardener.”
“You can’t-“
Stop Rafie, Lady Time shouted in her mind.
The creature didn’t stop, it disappeared into the shadows. “I can.”
“What can I do?” Rafie focused back on Lady Time.
Images flooded her mind, the egg, a large tree in the middle of many saplings, Rafie watching over the growth, Lady Time dying and the egg again.
“Is this egg a new tree?”
You must leave, move far away and plant the next Lady Time, she must be safe. This is the task for which I brought you here. Lady Time had never spoken this directly, and it was clear it was the end for this millennia old tree.
“I’m sorry I can’t save you.”
The images of green shoots and withered plants.
“Still, I will miss you.”
And I will miss you, my child. But the next Lady Time will be lucky to have you. Leave now, before the creature senses the sapling.
Rafie reluctantly removed her hands, tears pooling in her eyes, the death of this forest was a tragedy, it would change the whole plain. She had to tell the village, they might be able to get a Servant, or maybe even Mavel herself, to deal with the creature. But Rafie had her task, Lady Time could not be saved so she must make sure that the next generation would prosper, the beautiful tree would have her dying wish. Rafie left that very night, stole away with what little she needed for the journey, the quest to find a new home for her and her sapling.

The End (for now).

Thank you so much for reading along with this story. What started as practise has become a story of which I am very proud, which fits into my world and has left me with a characters I can’t wait to include in other stories. I would like to continue Rafie’s adventures but I think a break is needed. However, there will be plenty of other stories and writings in the meantime. Have a great day!

The Fall Of The Hamurai – Part 1 – Blossoms In The Wind

Kusai sat on the steps of the temple, leaning on the hilt of her sword. The cool spring breeze carried flurries of delicate cherry blossoms from high up in the temple orchard, swirling across the wide stairs and lazily down the hill, to where the farmers were tending the rice terraces and leading lines of Dusk Beetles to the pastures ready for the onset of summer. Kusai sighed and was content in that moment; behind her, up the hundred or so steps, sat the imposing Aghtai Pagoda. Her master, Gutoa, would be holding court and giving the attendants a hard time for the slightest error in their strict morning routine while quietly laughing to himself.

All these things made Kusai smile as her eyes roved over the valley that stretched away from the holy hill and out into a wide, glittering harbour. It was their home. Years of hard work had raised it up from barren land and swampy paddies on the sloping sides of a derelict mound of hard clay, to a green and pleasant land in which thousands of people lived comfortably; protected by the swords of the temple-dwellers. The hundred “Hamurai” as they were being called in the provinces, were formed by the wisdom of Gutoa, who had wandered the lands for over fifty years; both defending the weak and bringing justice to tyrants.

Kusai was his first student – Long ago, she followed a trail of destruction for three weeks as he systematically dismantled a fierce bandit ring that was terrorizing a group of villages. It’s leader was a Ferret named Kai-Lang; A legendary warrior whose very presence struck fear into even the twenty-foot tall Tanuki of the mountains. Gutoa fought with Lang for hours after easily dashing his elite bodyguard to the four winds. A silent village had greeted her and a trail of bodies led to a ransacked tavern, the battered door hanging off it’s iron hinges. Cold yellow light of many buckled lanterns spilled faintly out onto the blood-stained porch. Kusai entered and found her prospective master unconscious and barely breathing, his gnarled claws still wrapped around the handle of the bandit-king’s wickedly curved blade which protruded from the matted fur of the ferret’s belly.

She carried him out into the night after picking him bodily up and wresting the crimson knife from his grasp, replacing it with the shattered remains of his own sword which he reflexively clutched to his chest. Rain washed his enemy’s copious blood away but a worrying amount remained as many wounds ran thickly all over the old hamster’s bent frame. Kusai could hardly believe this little rodent, seemingly so frail, had carved such a swath of destruction in his diminutive wake. She looked around, counting twelve bodies in the village square and terrified eyes peering from every window and behind every door.

The people slowly came out; they were mice, hamsters, voles and shrews. All beetle herders, petty craftsmen or grain farmers. Yelling was heard as the apparent tavern keeper grabbed some local men and began hauling bodies out. It was then that the crowd came together. Kusai could hear them whispering: “Could it really be Gutoa the hero?”, while she stood holding this drooping warrior under his arm. Out of it all an old female vole rushed up dragging a litter: a triangular frame of wood meant to carry the injured. She laid the litter beside Gutoa and shouted around, scolding the onlookers for allowing their saviour to stand there, letting his life’s blood drain into the gutters.

Fifteen days passed without him regaining consciousness. The old vole, who was skilled in medicine and whose name was Juki, plied her healing trade as best she knew but the prognosis looked dire. Kusai never left his side, only pacing back and forth from the small straw bed to the door. It rained constantly upon the enormous pile of offerings that the villagers had presented to Gutoa and of which she picked modestly to sustain herself, refusing all the food Juki prepared, instead feeding the thin vegetable broth slowly and carefully to Gutoa, one laborious mouthful at a time.

On the sixteenth night, Kusai could only stare mournfully out into the stormy scene which reflected the tear stains trailing down the fur of her cheeks. A creaking caused her ears to pivot back and her head followed. Over the last two weeks, Gutoa had moved very little, only shifting convulsively from one ragged wound to another. This time however, her eyes widened as they locked onto his. Gutoa, inimitable master of the sword, who had looked so tiny and impossibly frail now held her in an iron grip with those dark eyes. Pain wracked his face, but he was back.

“I have become too old it seems…to go galavanting around the countryside…you followed me all this way, I know…and you became my student the minute I entered that tavern. I will never fight again, but you will.”

Kusai slowly padded across the straw mats and bent to his side, she grasped his outstretched paw, it trembled.

“Master Gutoa, I should not have doubted that you would return to us, but I did. I am sorry.”

The old hamster batted weakly at her paw.

“Fool girl, I am not some immortal spirit…Just good at what I do…it was you who saved my life. We shall rebuild this place…The infestation that plagues these lands shall be driven out by your sword…You will teach me how much good I can do when I trust in others…I have been a fool to wait this long to train an apprentice. Now, I shall sleep the sleep of the living and not the dead. Tomorrow we change the world.”

Kusai opened her eyes to the blossoms floating on the wind, fresh tears streaming down her face as she looked out once again into the valley. She took in the sweet smells of the place that would soon be shattered by what was coming. Ten years had passed, new dangers had arisen, and a shadow loomed over them all.

To be continued.