Chapter 9: Changes

2 0 0


Recap: Four of Camlin's sentries were lost to the jungle the first night. Edana wants to go after them, rescue them if possible, identify the threat at a minimum. She's overruled by her father; they'll press onward, Camlin and Edana each covering a flank of the camp as they move further into the jungle. Toryn hopes to travel through this land and on to a better place without undue losses; he can accept making a few sacrifices to get there. But without knowing the enemy, will this plan prove prescient or foolish?

***

Edana and Camlin raced to position their troops as the camp packed up and prepared to march. Edana, fuming and grateful that Camlin's smug face would be a few thousand souls removed for the day, found her men responsive and alert, for the most part. Apparently the loss of their comrades had shaken them enough that there was no taste to question her right to command. After surveying and instructing her men, encouraging them to keep an eye out for their missing brothers, but not to leave their posts, Edana placed herself at the centre of the forward line, responsible for clearing a path for the Connarii to traverse through the thick undergrowth.

The Connarii moved north, directly away from the mists. The jungle thickened as they went, progressing from the bordering wasteland of stone and scattered shards of metal, covered by creeping plants, to a rust-streaked mess of life. Towering trees of a type unknown to the Connarii dangled creepers and vines to trail over masses of bushes, ferns and flowering plants that grew in heaps, one on top of the other, in the gloom cast by the thick foliage.

The red-hued shadows were eerily reminiscent of dried blood, and the heavy sweet-rot scent that hung beneath the canopy did nothing to dissuade the imagination from dwelling on dark and hurtful things. The leaves seemed to hold in moisture, creating a muggy dense fog that hovered around the Connarii, pearling up on skin and clothes, joining sweat to darken their shirts and chafe the skin.

Small insects swarmed around the Connarii, while larger ones flitted to and fro among the trees. The undergrowth and branches above their heads quivered with the unceasing activity of myriad small creatures going about their business. Edana eyed the unfamiliar terrain and wildlife, unable to identify anything that could have carried off the sentries. So far she hadn't come across any creature large enough to carry off a full-grown (or nearly so) man. She slashed awkwardly at the greenery in front of her, cringing at this dishonourable use of a weapon and straining to trample down the dense undergrowth sufficiently to allow the Connarii passage. Her muscles ached, but she pushed herself to slog ahead of her men, unwilling to show any frailty and wishing, for once, that Camlin hadn't had rearguard. He'd be having a pleasant stroll over nicely tamped down turf, after all the feet ahead of him had passed. Edana caught herself picturing Camlin's self-confident smirk as she hacked at the rubbery vines and wiry bushes. She bared her teeth and hit out harder.

Progress was slow. In addition to the dense greenery that had to be shifted out of the path of the tribe, the strange terrain further obstructed their movement. Heaps of metal jutted out of the soil at uneven intervals. These twisted piles were often overgrown with the multi-toned ground cover and remained hidden from view until an unfortunate warrior made ringing contact with his weapon. The tribe would have to detour around the heaps, which sometimes reached well over the heads of the tallest young warriors, and could dozens of feet wide.

Despite the heavy slogging, the Connarii made their way through the jungle without incident. Whatever had caused the sentries to vanish overnight was either long gone, or doing an excellent job of staying out of range.

At midday there was a brief pause to cook meat from the night before, as well as a number of small and foolishly curious creatures caught on the day's journey. The complaints and quarrels erupted as soon as the people stopped marching, exhaustion turning to bitterness, irritation to anger.

Flame of the Connarii: Book One of the Legends of the ConnariiRead this story for FREE!