Author: MissKittys Ball O Yarn
Willow knelt down in the iron colored mud along the Tulac River. She reached for the water purification device that was attatched with a steel clasp to the utility belt that was slung loosly around her hips, but thinking twice before wasting any of the precious filter pads, she first dipped a testing wand into the swift moving water. Pulling the long metal probis from the liquid she squinted to read the digits running along the side of the apparatus. 000.000.05 saturation level. Willow was floored, she'd never seen such a oddity in all her 24 years. For water to be this clean and untarnished there would have to be a pretty massive filtration system at its source. Which meant that there was most likely a settlement nearby. Fore she knew that water couldn't run this clean for too long without becoming contaminated.
Willow estimated the settlement to be a maximum of five miles away. Estimating was the easy part, now, actually tracking these people... well, that would be sure to present a whole new set of problems. The first one being deciding in what direction to go. Willow scooped water into the cup of her hands and drank thirstily. Besides the faint metallic tint to the water it tasted wonderful. Even with the most sophisticated purification device water usually didn't taste any better than wet rat, but the liquid she now drank, was delicious.
Willow stilled at the sound of snapping branches behind her. Her military training had really attuned her senses. She stood frozen, her boots sinking into the slimey mud under her boots. As the snapping continued, her heart pounded. The thought of being discovered before her mission was completed terrified her. Willow didn't like the thought of becoming anyone's POW. She needed to be the one in control.
Many thoughts scrolled through her mind as she waited to be caught reminding her of the Reading Of Words at the beginning of each of the many victory feasts she'd attended since she was a little girl. Her father had been the highest ranking military official before his death at the hands of The Shinty Folk. A shiver went through Willow's body at the memory of seeing her father and mother slaughtered. Willow's tongue grew bitter at the memory of the insurgence that killed her father. She'd spent years building up walls around that part of herself that was so vulnerable to their memory.
A rebel to the establishment, the Shinty Folk were warriors for the cause, a splinter group that had disassociated itself from the establishment over 500 years ago. It was told that The Shinty Folk didn't believe in force, didn't believe in orders, and didn't believe there should be consequences for their actions. It was this last part that nearly caused Willow to spit on the ground at her feet. They were liars, she knew this to be true. They were anarchists and that was a cause Willow's people couldn't stand for. Since birth it had been drilled into her infant mind that lawlessness was the root of all evil. That to refuse orders could only lead to chaos. Her military heart called for order. And that was why she was in these woods.
Willow picked up the transmitter also attatched to her belt. She'd have to report this find back to the base, which was stationed a hundred miles east of the river though she knew that she would be on her own until she had more substantial evidence that the Forest Clan was indeed the one she was tracking. Which was the way Willow liked it anyway. She preferred to be alone with her thoughts.
Tara made her way down the steep slope that led away from the encampment, away from the loud noises made from the banging of sticks against the hollowed-out trunk of the Hamock trees, and the chanting of the Shinty Folk. She used to find confort in the melodious rhythmic chants that always marked the beginning of the Woman Ritual. But for the last two moon cycles she had found little in the sounds she'd known since birth that could spark the light of her soul. Tara could already feel her heart burning up under the pressure of the chanting and her sacred duties she didn't want to feel toward her people.
Tara felt perspiration dampen her brow as the ritual grew in fervor behind her, she refused to wipe at her brow though. Tara felt a presence behind her, but she couldn't bring herself to turn around and face the woman. Instead, she crossed her arms and focused her gaze into the tangle of trees in front of her. She was determined to be on her own today and would refuse any offer to join the ritual this time. Tara steadied herself against this, feeling better at the thought of being alone that day.
Tara softened at the sound of that voice, but she wouldn't relent. She would resist that urge. Sighing, she spun around. The woman had cocked her head to the side and was watching Tara as if trying to figure her out.
"You know the ritual will not work if all the women do not participate."
"It's not working anyway Anya, don't you see that? Cant you feel them? They're coming you know.... I can sense them even now." Tara rested her gaze on a Pontoo bird that was perched and sleeping on a branch a few yards away. Sometimes Tara felt like the flightless Pontoo....she was as tied to the earth as it was.
"So what? You are just going to stand there like a stick in the mud and do nothing to stop them? "
"But why the ritual? Always with the pounding of sticks against the hammock trees, but what good has that done us when they are so close that I can taste the flavor of the wind they make with their strides?" Tara brought her eyes back to settle on the woman in front of her. She had known Anya all her life, they had grown up together and had always been very close. Up until the time that Anya gained the duty of camp medic, they had spent most of their days together. Anya had been slightly ostracized by the rest of the group as they found her litteral way of speaking and general off-putting behavior distasteful. But Tara never had minded any of that, in fact, it endeared the girl to her. They were friends even now, though they saw little of eachother anymore.
"You are too philosophical Lady Tara, I've always said that that was your only down-fall."
"No....my down-fall is that I have stayed here as long as I have. " Tara crossed her arms in front of her and shot her friend a look that spoke of challenge. When Anya didn't speak against what she'd said, Tara sighed, bringing her arms away from her chest. "I'm just tired of running..." She let her gaze flicker away for a moment as she spoke.
"That is the way of our people....It has always been that way for us. "
"We run. We are cowards. That's nothing to be proud of Anya. "
"We are not cowards...we are smart. We are pacifists. You know the Elders will not fight them. It is the only way for our people Tara. Would you kill any one of them? Would you pick up a knife and slit any one of them?"
"No...." Tara leaned her head against the tall tree beside her.
"Then we chant. I'ts the only way. Come...I'll help you into your robe."
Tara, turned back to the forest dismissing Anya with the flick of her hand. She wouldn't join the ritual this time, she told herself as she heard Anya turn away, her footsteps fading into the forest toward the encampment.
Willow continued on, feeling the sleeveless shirt she wore stick to the perspiration on her skin. She knew it's Maroon color was stained with the mud and sweat from her body but she didn't care. The canvas pants she wore were slung low on her hips and fastened with the utility belt. Her short red hair clung damply to her head as she struggled up yet another hill. This one was higher than the last few she'd climbed. Willow was no stranger to excercise but even she knew that she would be feeling this workout in the morning when she felt the tightening in her calves that would surely grow into a full blown ache by morning.
Tara set off through the valley, quickening her pace until she was well clear of the sound of the banging sticks of her people. She needed time to clear her mind. She needed time to be alone. To think.
She knew the only thing that tied her to the people of the Forest Clan was her mother. Her mother had been in failing health for a long while now and Tara knew that the end was close at hand for her. Tara steeled her chin against the thought of her mother's likely passing. She wouldn't cry about it now. No...not now. There was no sense in wasting tears on death. There would be plenty time to cry after....Tara felt her heart clench in pain. She tried to be strong, she tried to tell herself that she was an amazon and that nothing could hurt her. But the beating of her heart told her different.
Tara sat down on a fallen tree, her head in her hands. It was only at these rare times of seclusion that she could ever let herself feel the pain that she'd carried with her since she was but a small child. Tara sobbed into her hands, letting the shield of formality she'd spent years building around herself crumble. She would give into this one moment of emotional freedom, before she she slammed the door on it for good. She wasn't a leader...she didnt want to be a leader...but that's who she would become once her mother passed. Tara sobered at the thought. She would leave before that happend, she told herself. Drying her tears with the back of her hand, Tara rose from the make-shift seat. The valley was steep around her. In the trench she felt small as the tall hills surrounded her on both sides. The steep incline felt like a prison. She was in prison she told herself. She was in prison to the ways of her people.
Willow stood atop the hill, watching the woman as she cried tears into her hands. She felt a strange sense of curiosity toward this woman. What kind of pain would make her cry the way she was? Willow's hand stilled above the transmitter on her belt. She would have to call this in, for she recognized the material of the Forest people etched all over the long skirt worn by the woman below her. But something stopped Willow's fingers from continuing their journey. What was this strange coiling fire in her stomach at the sight of the woman? Surely Willow had never felt this fluttering in her heart, whilst looking at another person. It was strange, it was disconcerting. But somehow it was exciting. Willow tried not to breath loudly, for she knew that if the woman saw her...if the woman saw her Willow would have to call...she would have no choice....She just wanted to look at this woman for a second more...study her...
Willow felt the leaf litter under her black boots start to give way. She instinctivly reached out to steady herself against one of the trees at her side. The movememnt must have alerted the woman below her to Willow's presence, because the woman's gaze shot up. their eyes locked for a moment as all thoughts of calling the base were forgotten inside the heat of that link between them. And then Willow's footing gave way as her feet went out from under her body. Willow was falling and unable to stop herself, she tummbled head-over-heals down the steep slope until she felt a crack to the back of her head and the world faded to black.