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Incursion Chapter 4: Search for Heather

Search for Heather

Black morning

“Char!” screamed Taylor.

“What is it? What has happened?” said Char as he jerked upright.

Taylor felt her heart pounding in her chest. “Fire!”

Char pulled her close. “The fire is gone. You were dreaming. We escaped.”

Taylor blinked at the pale light of early dawn. “No! It was a different fire, the whole of Aeden was burning, as far as I could see.”

Char looked out over the tops of the rocks towards the mountains. “There is no fire, it was just a dream.”

Taylor rubbed her hands on her face and took a deep breath. “I… guess so. Okay. But I wish I knew what it meant.”

“Not all dreams have meaning. Most are just dreams.”

“But Aeden gave me a dream before, about the Asook.”

Char shook his head. “Aeden gives many dreams before the time of Asook’s black flower, but it will not be that time for many moons. It was just a dream.”

“But the Drazen was there.”

“Little mouse?”

“Yes, the mouse was there. I’ve had another dream like that, where time went by and the mouse sat with me.”

Char shook his head. “I do not know what it means. Was there a fire in that dream?”

“Well, yeah. The forest I was standing in grew back, there was another fire, then the trees grew back again.”

Char nodded. “Just the cycle of the forest. Fires happen, plants grow back.”

Taylor sighed and pushed herself up to her feet. “I guess that’s all it was. Maybe I woke up too soon this time.”

“Would you like some breakfast?” asked Char as he reached for his backpack.

Taylor’s stomach grumbled. “Yes, please.”

They sat on a large flat boulder and looked out towards the mountains as the sun slowly rose in the sky. The area consumed by the forest fire was very well defined. Towards the mountains they could see a large burned out section that ended at an undulating line that marked the path of the river.

After they had finished eating they walked up to the top of the hill. On the side away from the mountains the blackened area only extended a couple kilometres beyond the hill. Taylor looked back towards where the fire had started, and saw kilometre after after kilometre of scorched land running off into the distance.

“The wind must have pushed the fire this way, towards the mountains,” said Taylor.

“Do you know where Heather was?”

“I don’t know, maybe a bit to the right, over there? But there’s really only one place to look now. If she was anywhere else, she would have burned up,” said Taylor, a tear forming at the edge of her eye.

“We will go look,” said Char. “She may yet live.”

“Well, let’s get moving before it gets too hot. It’ll be nice to get back into some shade.”

 

Sing a song

Taylor and Char crossed the line from blackened earth to vibrant green just before the middle of the day.

“That’s pretty surreal, one step scorched, then the next step alive and growing,” said Taylor.

“The wind must have been strong, pulled by the fire,” said Char.

“Well, let’s hope she was on the right side of the line.”

They walked a little ways into the forest, then turned to walk parallel to the edge of the fire. Taylor began to sing.

“What are you doing?” interrupted Char.

“That’s how I found Heather in the first place. She heard me singing, and she sang back.”

“I see. Should I sing as well?”

Taylor shook her head. “I need to stop and listen. It’s easier if only one person is singing.”

“Then I will not sing.”

“Thanks. You can sing for me later if you like,” smiled Taylor.

They walked for hours through the forest, Taylor singing and listening. When she felt they had walked too far in one direction, they would walk a little further away from the mountains, then walk back the way they came, following a rough grid pattern. They entered a small clearing as the sun was setting.

“Do you think she was this far from the hill?” asked Char.

“None of this seems familiar,” sighed Taylor. “I think she must have been closer to the hill.”

“I am sorry,” said Char. “We will rest here tonight, then head back up to the hill tomorrow morning. It will be easier to see from there.”

“I just hoped…” sighed Taylor.

“You hoped to find Heather safe,” Char finished for her.

‘Yeah,” said Taylor, her eyes brimming with tears. “I did.”

 

Char’s song

Taylor’s mood was dark as they walked back towards the burned out area the next morning.

“Would you like me to sing?” asked Char. “It may cheer you up.”

Taylor gave him a sad smile. “I didn’t know that you actually sang. I haven’t heard Illiya sing yet.”

Char smiled. “Illiya have few songs compared to humans. But we do sing at times.”

“Okay then, sing me something.”

“I don’t sing that well,” warned Char.

“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” smiled Taylor. They crossed onto the black earth, the top of the rocky hill visible in the distance.

“Do not laugh,” said Char as he cleared his throat.

In a haunting baritone, he sang.

 

“Sayee kalu, sayee kalu

Sar lay, sar fu ka-sek

Til sar Drazen ek

Tiknee fu aren

Aardenar si nu

Falen si do-ra

Sar Drazen rahsa

Sar Aardena woola

Ha ren sorren pasu

Drazen masu kor sar Toola

Illiya fu ren

Sorren ki sar lay, sar fu ka-sek.”

 

“That’s beautiful,” Taylor whispered. “What does it mean?”

“It is a song of the moons,” said Char. “It roughly translates to

‘Come hear, come hear

The song of the moons

Where the little mouse fell

To enter the sky

Hunted by night

And hiding by day

The little mouse draws

the hunter away

So all may sleep in peace

Little mouse, sacrifice for the people

Protector of all

Sleep by the song of the moons.’”

 

“So the mouse runs, and protects the people by drawing away the hunter.”

Char nodded. “And twice a year, the mouse catches the hunter.”

“And Aardena are the hunters? Like Aarden?”

“Aardena is a name for all meat-eaters. But Illiya fear Aarden the most.”

“It’s a great lullaby. Would you sing it for me again?”

Char grinned. “Of course.”

 

“Sayee kalu, sayee kalu

Sar lay, sar fu ka-sek

Til sar Drazen ek

Tiknee fu -”

 

“Shhh!” Taylor interrupted.

Aren” continued Char.

“Shh! I heard something.”

Char stopped singing and they both listened intently. There was a faint sound coming from up ahead of them.

“Sing a little, then stop,” said Taylor.

 

Aardenar si nu

Falen si do-ra”

 

Taylor turned her head as she listened. “Over to the left.”

They walked through the dead skeletons of trees toward a small grove of blackened trees standing slightly apart from the rest, then stopped a half dozen paces from the edge of the grove.

“Again,” whispered Taylor.

 

Sar Drazen rahsa

Sar Aardena woola”

 

They listened as the song was softly repeated back to them.

Taylor pointed to the tree on the far left. It was thoroughly charred, but a few thick branches remained. One of the branches had sprouted a single new leaf. “I think that’s her.”

They approached the tree slowly. Char sang the next verse.

 

Ha ren sorren pasu”

 

“…Sorren pasu” issued from the tree.

Taylor rushed over to the tree. “Heather!”

A cough like rustling leaves issued from the tree, and one filmy eye opened. “Who’s there?”

Taylor moved around to be in front of the eye. “It’s me, Taylor.”

“I can’t see you, dear. I’ve got something in my eye.”

“Can we help?”

“If you’ve got some water, there’s so much ash…”

Taylor pulled out a water bottle and opened the lid. “Where do you want me to put it?”

“Let me close it first, then try and wash some of the ash away. Then you can dribble some water in my eye.”

Taylor did as instructed, then waited as the eye blinked several times until Taylor could see a clear blue iris.

“Much better, thank you. You look a lot different.”

Taylor looked down at herself, then smiled. “I washed up.”

“Glad you did, the mad mud woman look didn’t suit you, especially now that you’ve got a fella.”

“What? Oh- Heather, this is Char.”

“Handsome Illiya, good catch.”

“Nice to meet you, Heather,” smiled Char.

“So can we expect any little ones running around soon?”

Taylor’s mouth fell open. “A little direct, aren’t you? I mean, we haven’t even… not that we could… not that it’s any of your business…”

“No point in beating around the bush at my age, so to speak. But how silly of me, it would never work. He’s all green, you’re all pink and brown, the colours would never work, spoil the brush. The oil would fall off the painting.”

“What are you talking about?” said Taylor.

“Lovely day for a swim. Why are you so flat?”

“Um, Char…” frowned Taylor. “What’s going on?”

Char shook his head. “I don’t know. Urm are resilient, but when there is severe injury…”

“Like the forest fire, you mean she could have been driven insane?”

Char nodded.

“Oh, poor Heather,” whispered Taylor, eyes brimming with tears.

“Who took my other eye?” demanded Heather. “I want it back!”

“Maybe I can help with that,” said Taylor. “May I have a look?”

“Yes, yes, hurry up, I’ve got a busy day.”

Taylor leaned in to have a closer look. A thick line of sap had hardened over where Heather’s other eye should be. “I think I can remove it.”

“I don’t want you to remove it, just fix it!” shrilled Heather.

“Stay still,” said Taylor as she opened up her backpack and pulled out her pocket knife. “You may want to close your other eye.”

“Why? Oh – get that thing away from me! Help! She’s going to hurt me!”

“I’m not going to hurt you, Heather. Char, would you mind covering her eye? I don’t want her to see this. I need to concentrate and her screaming won’t help.”

Char cupped a hand over Heather’s eye as Taylor carefully peeled away the sap with the tip of the blade, careful not to cut into the wood.

Heather kept mumbling and talking to herself as Taylor worked.

When Taylor had removed most of the sap from around the area, she washed it off with some water. She nodded to Char, who removed his hand.

“Heather, can you open your eyes?”

The tree blinked the first eye, then a second eye slowly opened. Taylor watched it blink slowly, then both eyes stayed open.

“Thank you, my dear.”

“You’re very welcome,” said Taylor. “Can we do anything else for you? Daax said some Illiya from the village would come visit you, if you were still…”

“Alive?” hissed the tree.

“Yes. If you were okay. They’re concerned for you, being all alone.”

“Nice of them to be worried now, I’ve been here for a hundred and thirty years!” shrilled the tree.

“Yes, well, they didn’t know what happened. Now they do, and they will come visit.”

“I want cake.”

“What?”

“I miss cake. Tell them to bring cake, or don’t bother.”

“That’s not very…”

“Those are my terms. They can bring cake, or sod off. Oh, and I have a message.”

“Can you even eat cake now? What message?”

“Don’t know if I don’t try. But I remember what it tastes like, and I’ve decided I miss it. And it’s a message for you.”

“Um… we’ll see what we can do about a cake. What’s the message?”

“I can’t tell you,” whispered Heather.

“What? But you said…”

“It’s a secret.”

“But you said it’s a message for me.”

“Yes, but he’s here. A spy.”

Taylor looked over her shoulder. “Char’s not a spy.”

“He’s one of them, all green until they’re not green. They don’t tell you everything. Don’t trust ‘em. Make you into trees when you’re not looking. All their fault.”

“Um, Char’s not a spy. And I trust him. We’re bonded.”

“Maybe you’re a spy too, then. So I won’t tell you,” the tree closed its eyes and fell silent.

Taylor waited, calling Heather’s name for several minutes, but the tree remained silent. Finally, she knocked on the trunk.

“Hey, stop that. You shouldn’t go knocking on people’s faces.”

“Sorry, Heather, but I need to know what the message is.”

“What message?”

“You said there was a message for me, a secret one.”

“Oh, that message. What about it?”

“Will you tell me what it is?”

“Nope.”

“Who’s it from?”

“From me, from the trees, from Aeden, from you,” sang Heather.

Taylor shook her head. “I’m sorry, Heather, I think we’d better just go.”

“Wait!”

“Are you going to tell me?”

“No, but I can give you the message, same way as before. Then the spy can’t hear it.”

Taylor looked over at Char. “Is it safe?”

Char looked troubled. “It could be dangerous. You cannot control what an Urm shares. It may drive you mad.”

“It’s important…” sang Heather.

“We came all the way here,” said Taylor. “You can pull me away if there’s a problem, right, Char?”

“It could be dangerous, but I will try. Are you certain you want to do this?”

“Is it a short message, Heather?”

“As short as you like,” said the tree. “I can do it in a jiffy.”

“Okay, then let’s get started,” said Taylor. She put her hand on the charred trunk, but nothing happened.

“It’s not working,” said Taylor.

“The trunk is burned,” said Char. “There may not be enough healthy wood.”

“Excuse me Heather, I need to scrape away some of this charcoal.”

Taylor opened up the blade on her pocket knife and carefully scraped away a section of charcoal about the size of her hand. When she reached bare wood she stopped, then folded the knife and put it away.

“I’m ready to try. Char, help me if anything goes wrong.”

Taylor put her hand against the trunk and felt a small tickle. A torrent of images slammed into her mind, she screamed, then everything went black.

 

Message

Taylor awoke in Char’s arms. He was sitting on the blackened earth, holding her against his chest. His face and chest were covered in purple streaks.

“What happened? Why are you crying, Char?”

“Evil tree hurt Taylor.”

“No, she was just giving me a mes-” and then the images and sensations rushed at her again and she forgot to breathe.

The forest in springtime.

A wall of flame, burning and searing, full of pain.

A Vaseth tearing a man apart.

A flyer covered in green.

Blackened earth and a grey sky.

Stars falling from the sky, leaving white gashes in the fabric of the heavens.

More flames and pain.

Dozens of other images flicked through her awareness.

A flyer covered in green.

A winding valley in the mountains.

A white skull grinning, human.

A crooked tree hanging across a river.

A river, rushing over a tall waterfall.

Then blackness.

 

Destination

Taylor awoke to a warm sensation on her lips, then a rising of her chest. She coughed.

“Do not leave me again,” said Char.

“What happened?” Taylor’s eyes fluttered open to see Char’s face right above hers.

“You stopped breathing again.”

“Again?” Taylor tried to sit up and quickly regretted it. Her head felt like it had been put through a wringer.

“Take it slowly. What do you remember?”

Taylor carefully opened her mind and the images and sensations returned, however this time she was able to flip through them at her own pace. She paused on the image of the flyer. It was not the flyer from her mother’s ship, the shape was slightly different. She played through the images slowly.

A flyer covered in green.

A winding valley in the mountains.

A white skull grinning, human.

A crooked tree hanging across a river.

A river, rushing over a tall waterfall.

Taylor paused the images in her mind, held them there. “Char?”

Char’s worried expression faded as he heard Taylor speak. “Are you well?”

“Yes, I think so. I don’t think I’m going to pass out again. But I think I have the message.”

“What is the message?”

Taylor looked up sideways at the blackened tree into Heather’s blue eyes. “There was a lot of confusing stuff. But I think I know how to find the flyer from the first ship.”

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” sang Heather, then closed her eyes.


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Published inIncursion Insights

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