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Thorns Amidst Fireflies
 

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Thorns Amidst Fireflies
Thorns Amidst Fireflies

  A short story

  By Jae Loren

  Thorns Amidst Fireflies

  Copyright 2012 Jae Loren

  Afternoon Ceylon, A Chroniker, & the Shattered Looking Glass:

  Book I. Uninvited Strangers

  Book II. The Peppered Sweets Trilogy

  Book III. Mauve-Tainted Specters

  Book IV. Dappled Harmony

  Book V. Prodigal Aberrations

  Book VI. The Poison Forwards

  Short Stories:

  Rapunzel

  Table of Contents

  Thorns Amidst Fireflies

  Excerpt from The Poison Forwards

  Excerpt from The Peppered Sweets Trilogy

  Thorns Amidst Fireflies

  The heat of the forest clung to his skin like a second layer. The scent of bamboo and waxy-leaved plants permeated his sweat. The pungent fragrances had seeped so deeply into his nostrils that he could no longer tell the difference completely. Muggy air hovered in a thick gray gloom on the ground, moving slowly like lazy clouds. Soft chirps of crickets and water-frogs rose over the hot atmosphere, filling the night with their unbalanced melody. He had gotten used to this ever-night, this constant darkness. He had adapted without sunlight quickly, was able to see things more clearly than when he had first been stationed at the First Line. Across his vision, scurrying giants with small wisps of tails hunted flightless heart-faced birds; it was an awkward dance of life and death.

  A few streams of perspiration escaped the barrier of his thick black brows and found refuge in the duct of his eyes. It hurt, briefly, but his hands were dirty and he wisely decided to wait out the discomfort. A few men in the camp had scratched at their eyes in a fit, and had caused enough damage to ensure they would not see again. They claimed that the sockets had begun to itch, and in their search for relief, they had not noticed the immediate consequences. There were enough strange things occurring since they had first made camp here, and he did not want his eyeballs in his hands due to some minor annoyance.

  Others claimed it was the forest: that the forest was acting on the warning that the old men in the villages had proclaimed when the army had began moving. The battle against the unnamed invaders was taking place just beyond the other side of the towering forest, the last barrier before the savages would reach the Great City. Stories floated around about the invaders: that they ate the bodies of their ailing and wounded, that children were taught an early age the monstrosities of the basest forms. They were tall, made of stone with eyes of fire, and ate their captives. None of these could be confirmed, of course, but neither could they be denied. No one had yet seen the outsiders, but the whispers had been carried from afar. There was a distant cry from the reaches of the Empire, speaking of mayhem and destruction, but all help sent by the Generals of the Emperor’s Great Army returned no word of progress or success. Three full moons had passed, and the people were still as ignorant of the enemy as they had been at the first.

  Most of the smaller caravans had taken the more perilous journey of following the trail of the High Mountains, a small valley that was known for its avalanches and unpredictable rock falls. It was thought that following a careful trail would enable them to move slowly but efficiently with little causalities. Caravan after caravan was sent, but each was never heard from again. More than likely, the disasters had left little men and ammunition, and they were quickly overcome after or stranded and left to die in the elements.

  The speculations had encouraged the Generals to send their caravan on a less dangerous route, through the Deep Forest: the natural wonder that had protected the privacy and safety of the Great City for many millennia. The ink paintings of the forest had not done it justice; large trees seemed to brush against the open expanse of sky, an intimacy that no mortal could question. The forest thrived with History, from the outcropping roots to the tallest branch. The unique growth was something his People took pride in: their monument of the tallest and safest height, could not offer a view above the trees. The thick canopy of entangled branches and curling foliage left little light to reach the surface of the ground, and as such, the floor of the forest was always covered in an eerie mist, like the kind that frequent the grave markers of the necropolis. The forest was in ever-night.

  The Emperor had not denied the change in strategy, but no one suspected he would sway one way or another. Unlike his Predecessors, the current Emperor did not bother with any situation besides his own. When his father was still the Ruler, he was what the People would call ‘normal’. He cared about matters of the Great City and in the Empire. His smiles were easy and his demeanor friendly. He enjoyed the Royal Banquets and the company of the Wise Men. But after the day when the sun had turned black and the daylight was interrupted for what seemed forever, he was never the same. A little girl had found him asleep near the forest outside the gates of the Great City, his clothing tattered and hair tangled in crooked streams along his back. When he awoke, it was to scream and touch his head in fear and mutter unintelligible words. It was said the Emperor had acted as though leaving one nightmare to enter another. Now, if he awoke and his skin was pale, he would call all the to check his health. Every little ailment or problem was to be dealt with immediately. His consort was allowed any color garment save for white, the one color that had been forbidden since he ascended. Even within the Audience Chamber, rich colors filled the room, but not one spot of white paint, it was said, could be found.

  No one understood why he was so peculiar; still, no one questioned the Emperor. When an architect for the Grand Mausoleum had discovered a hard box buried deep in the foundation of the Ancient Ruins and delivered it as a gift to His Majesty, the Emperor not responded favorably to the contents: the strange muted silver and grainy iron-like objects that were far more advanced than their primitive metal-work. Not even the wizened Scholars knew what the contents were for; they picked up the handles and gazed at the foreign object with the same intensity they devoted to their work. Why did the circles curve inward so, and outward if held on the other side? Why were there three sharp points and not four? Where these weapons or tools, or perhaps, both?

  The Scholars claimed that they were left from before; the time that no one recalled because the Ancestors did not write of it. Whispers of red, the good color, and a circle surrounded with three fans; many found some clues to the past, but none could explain it. It was said that the History of the Great City was endless, but there was little evidence to prove such. Thus, every discovery was hailed as momentous. Not many strayed to the Ancient Ruins, but every so often, a new piece of History would emerge and be preserved for viewing. In the Great Museum, the scholars displayed the History proudly. One of the largest Displays was one of a faded lined parchment with a slow-hasty scrawl written upon it in blue ink. The Scholars could not understand it since the language was lost to them all, yet it was displayed in a gold frame. In his mind he saw the History:

  salty sausage k.o. lucy right. the mustache came back later but the top hat squashed divingtiger. can’t trust borderline: walls get built. we have faith in Atom. the relatives are doin’ fine, galileo saw a shadow beside diana, more on ares’ dark side. but the men in the room said no, but the roaming lens said they were waiting. did ya’ see the spinning fan? it came from behind the ocean; landed in diamondland an’ lily pond. willow likes it nice enough- before they sent everyone home; dry earth is a myth, rubber suits beget terror. schools keep classes: a doesn’t mix with b- specially since the fight at recess; oil and water mix well until one wants to make it to the top. the shadows don’t recede with the sun. was Atom wrong?

  stop.respond.

  There were other lines on the parchment, spaces filled with etchings
, but he couldn’t remember the shape of the strange lines and symbols. He had spent his entire life memorizing that long section of the artifact. It was a memento of their forgotten History. Had other finds of History been discovered outside the Great City? No one had dared to leave the boundaries of the high city walls before the arrival of the unknown attackers, so no one could give a single, acceptable answer. It had been many, many years since the armies had been sent out by the Emperor's Council, yet the threat had been heard from outside the confines of the city. With information sparse and lingering feeling of unease spreading, the people were anxious to react, to solve the problem. The future was a precious luxury they could not afford to ruin.

  A few villages were scattered outside the city walls, mostly filled with those of the dying generation, whose speech had turned to pointless babble. They, the old ones, had followed their caravan as it was pulled through the dirt roads, speaking warnings with their wide eyes and loose tongues.

  “This is not our forest,” they shouted, which was utterly ridiculous, because the forest had been there forever; immortalized in their culture and the
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