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The Forest Of Mists

By Aryan Singh Nagar


***

It was suicidal to venture into the woods alone. Only the dead, or those who wanted to be, trod its misty paths, my father had often told me. I had always been drawn to them despite that. I guess I knew where I belonged since a very young age. Not that I had any say in the matter.

The caravan trudged along the uneven road, surrounded by bare branched trees, their trunks extending out of the ground like the hands of the dead seeking to dig their way back into the world of the living. The full moon only served to make the sight ghastlier, the mists scattering its lurid glow, forming an ocean of silver.

The caravan driver had kept up a quick pace ever since they had entered the Stenari woods. Neither he nor the accompanying soldiers—Namekeepers—said a word, the only sounds rippling the sharp silence were the creaking of the caravan’s axle and the occasional neighing of the horses.

The soldiers kept up their vigil as they rode alongside the cart. Eight veterans to escort four powerless Vaguers, the council must be growing increasingly desperate.

My companions sat with their heads hung low. It was a surprise that they hadn’t killed themselves already. Not many people lasted long after their name was taken away and accidents were known to happen frequently when they were being led to their resting place. Atleast I had been given a decent crew to work with, this time.

“You holding up?” A booming voice said from behind me. I turned around to find that one of the soldiers had broken rank and fallen back to a position behind me. I had not heard their approach. Carelessness like this got you killed. I eased up a bit as they lifted the visor of their silvery helm. That scar running down from their forehead to the right cheek confirmed my guess.




“Why, I am having the greatest day of my life here,” I said, trying to maintain a neutral tone, “I must say, I have never found myself with better company. Three convicted felons bound in chains that could hold a horse down, a party of soldiers who are very willing to impale them—and me—with their lances and a wagon driver who just wants to get this damn thing done and over with.” The comment earned me a look of disgust from the gray haired man holding the reins of the (((a bull dragon thing))) pulling the cart. Not everyone could afford horses these days.

“Good to see that you haven’t lost your vigor,” Ashel said as he fingered the scar on his face. He often did that when thinking hard about something. I had played enough games of (((local chess variant))) with him to get used to that. The man could be as sly as a (((a slippery fish with legs))).

I noticed the leather satchel that hung by his side. It rattled with the distinctive sound of ((())) pieces. He had promised me one last game before we parted ways. He had a satisfied grin on his face. Did he really think I would let him win in our last game?

I observed as Ashel check our surroundings, then he suddenly thrust the satchel into my hands.

“Hide it beneath those rags you are wearing. Hopefully these louts will not bother to check,” he whispered.

He knew. He knew what I was planning. A chill ran up my spine as I did as he had asked. What was going on? I looked around to see if any of the soldiers had seen our exchange, but the mist obscured their forms enough that I doubted any of them had noticed.

“Wh...What in the Bequeather’s eye are you plotting,” I asked, all my senses heightened to respond to the smallest of movements.

“We happen to have matching interests, that is all. The satchel has the best map of these woods I was able to get. It is not perfect, but I believe someone of your caliber will be able to survive with its help. I have also included some tools,” he said, as he pulled his visor back down.

“How do I know if you are not just looking for an excuse to kill me the moment I turn my back on you.”

“You hurt my feelings ***, do you think I would do something like that.”

I just stared at him.

“Well, look at it like this. If I wanted you dead, do you think you would ever make it past the entrance of this sorry excuse of a forest.”

Fair. I did not get what was wrong with the forest though. Other than the mist, the forest was like any other I had seen.

“Well, I wish you luck,” he said, “For both our sakes.”

I watched as he picked up pace and joined the soldiers riding ahead of the caravan.

I looked at my three companions and nodded. It was time to get to work.



By Aryan Singh Nagar





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