Chapter 3

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 A bird squawked as Agnez stepped into the forest. The rich smell of pines and crucith trees delighted her senses and she felt as though she were home. Trying not to think of Rajhani, she stopped, reaching a hand out to pluck a blade of fern from the plant on the edge of the forest path. Holding the stipe in her right hand, she drew the blade through the fingers of her left, feeling the soft surface of each pinna against her fingertips. She brought the blade to her face and inhaled its musty scent. She let out a long sigh. "I'm sorry, little sister. I can't risk you getting hurt on this hunt."

Hoping to find the monster she had encountered, she headed toward the valley.

"It left a trail," she said to the forest. "I'll find it."

In the distance the bird squawked a second time, as if in agreement.

Gray storm clouds rolled in as Agnez walked along the path. Soft raindrops transformed into piercing rain, stinging her face and shoulders. Looking for a place to take refuge, she left her normal path and headed into the thickness of the forest. Finding a dense collection of hiriberry bushes, she squatted and crawled inside. She sat, waiting out the storm, listening to the sound of heavy drops falling on the creek nearby. She placed a finger in the dirt and drew circles, feeling the grit and remembering the times when her mother would take her out to the garden to plant new seeds.


"Each seed deserves to be respected, Agnez. Each is nourishment for us. Life. And if we do not respect them, they will not grow, and then we cannot live. Do you understand?"

The five-year-old Agnez shook her head.

"This seed will grow into a fruit," said her mother, taking the seed between her thumb and forefinger and holding it in front of Agnez's face. "We eat the fruit so that we are not hungry."

"Oh," said Agnez.

"You don't like being hungry, do you child?"

"No, Mama," she said, shaking her head again.

"Then you must learn that plants are to be shown love and cared for, so that they will care for us."


Agnez brought her knees to her chest as she sat under the hiriberry bush and laid her head on them. Her mother had been gone for thirteen years. "Oh, mama. I miss you," she whispered. The sudden crack of a twig told her that she was not alone.

The sun hung in the center of the sky, shooting straggling rays of light into the dense hiriberry bush. The rain had stopped while she visited her past. Crouching beneath the plant, Agnez looked toward the sound. She lifted her bow and pulled an arrow from her quiver, straining to see the animal hiding in the bushes on the other side of the clearing. The dense shrub that sheltered her also blocked her view. Her stomach growled as she steadied her bow against the bowstring. She knew eventually the animal would come out from the foliage to drink from the small creek that ran through the clearing. From the din it was making, Agnez figured the village was in for a good sized meal.

The shrubs started to shake and the animal stepped tentatively out into the open. Seeing the creature standing on two legs, pale blue in the dappled forest light, Agnez lowered her bow slightly and watched.

It walked to the creek and lowered itself into the water. Turning onto its back, it floated for a while before crawling, almost sliding through the stream, pushing itself along with webbed feet and hands shaped similarly to her own. She noticed its head, shaped like a man's, but somehow deformed. Its shoulders, also shaped like a man's, were pulled up to its ears as it twisted its body and glided through the water.

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