As Winter Falls, Part I
There was ever only one way out of The Forest, and is was not an option any more. It does not matter, because turning back had never been on the plan. If the mission succeeds, it will not be necessary to leave the forest, and if it fails, then there will be nowhere to leave to. Knowing that, the man walks forward, towards the deepest point of The Forest, the point where the shadow energy keeps gathering.
Although the first minutes are simple, The Forest begins to change. The man feels as if the plants move and twist just to make his path harder to follow, to try and open even the shallowest and tiniest of wounds. The man has to keep a state of extreme caution, and avoid contact with any exposed part of his body. The shadow energy flows through The Forest itself, and that means every tree, every bush and weed, even the softest flowers, are now lethal weapons. Humanity was made to exist in the light, and even though people can survive in the shadows and the darkest nights, that does not make them affine to the shadow energy that is gathering at the man’s destination.
Imagine a water drop dripping towards and intense flame. Sooner or later the water will evaporate, and the drop will exist no more. And yet there he was, essentially a bag of bones and water, held upright by the power of the light and animated by the will of his soul, walking towards the largest concentration of shadow energy ever seen by mankind, sacrificing himself without ever knowing if his efforts will ever be meaningful.
He had lived long. Much longer than any human would expect to live at the time. He had experienced everything a man would wish to experience, and many things they would not even want to consider possible. He knew what it looked like to have your light replaced with shadow, to be overwhelmed by the darkness and drive yourself crazy enough to die. It was not pleasant to see, and he didn’t want to imagine living through it.
The man likes to think while he walks, but he also has to fend off the insects, branches and thorns that constantly seem to gather around his path, and those distract him from his mind. In another situation, he would call forth the light, and use his strong willpower to bend the forest life to his wishes and open a safe path, but the shadow energy would extinguish the flames of the light like the wind can blow a candle, surely and effortlessly. That is how strong the shadow is, that even the strongest living sorcerer, one that likes to think of himself as comparable in power to those of the ancient legends, does not dare consider the option of using his most abundant resource.
As minutes turn into hours, and hours become countless, the man’s steps become deeper and erratic. His mind wanders between memory and nightmare, and his awareness of the surroundings falters, nearly causing his death more than once. Eventually, he stops and takes out a flask he was carrying in an inner pocket of his coat. He breaks the wax seal and removes the cap, then proceeds to drink the contents of the flask to the last drop. He instantly begins to feel the effect, feeling refreshed and awake, with an extreme sense of awareness. He knows also, that those are just temporary effects, and he dreads the moment of the backlash, but even if it was a last resort, he found the need for it.
Zombie juice, they call it, and for a reason. With it you can live for weeks, it will keep you awake, give you energy and strength, awareness and understanding, but it’s all on credit. The moment you stop taking the liquid, when the effect vanishes, all the energy that you consumed is taken from you in a very short time. If you use too much of it, if you use it for too long, you are already dead, you have already used up more energy than your body could ever provide afterwards. As far as anyone is concerned, you are a living dead, just postponing your death until you run out of juice. But this man, he knows his own body. He has tested the juice before, and prepared the dose making sure that it would be enough, but not too much. Even though the chances are slim, he wanted to hope he can get out of it alive, and not just give it all for the sake of others.
Saving the world feels nice, but only if you are there to see it heal.
[to be continued…]