Part one of two of a story which may eventually become a novel.
The Last Relic by Levi Shipley 3
Tendrils of smoke from the camp's fire snaked upwards through the light drizzle, invisible and hidden by the starless sky's blackness. The flames fought the moisture back, undeterred, sizzling coals and keeping dry the ring of rocks surrounding. Somewhere beyond the light were things which watched, things that thought, things that were hungry.
The keeper of the fire came up to it, his jacket tattered and failing at keeping out the misty rain. In the flickering dark light of the flames his worn green camo coat and pants appeared more like moss, as if he was a wood born entity, maybe rock. There had been creatures like that long ago. Strong, hardy beings that swept man away when threatened. But, mankind was clever and in their caves bred like rats, until they overwhelmed, subdued, and exterminated the life established before them.
Not that there weren't still dangers this far out. Slinking, stalking things would creep up in the night, slither into one's tent or bedroll. Maybe one would feel it against the skin and wake up before dying, but if one was lucky there'd just be a little cough as something force fed itself to the unwary traveler and devoured flesh from the inside.
Fire kept such things at bay, so if sleep was desired, one had to get a good bed of coals going and pile on the wood. Rain complicated this. A light drizzle hardly made a difference once things caught, but if it turned to a deluge after going to rest and suffocated the flames, one would only wish for a flood. Drowning would be a mercy.
The glowing wood collapsed into a hearty orange bed. He sighed, tossed on the bit of dry wood he'd collected, and lied down within the warmth's reach. He had a small tarp which he used as a blanket. The heat had blessedly dried the earth beneath him, and though it was far from comfortable, he began to nod off.
Faintly he heard the melody of a flute and the rhythmic chiming of cymbals. The tune was fast, lively even, and it drew tears to well up and out of his closed eyelids. It was the song which he'd heard as a boy when his village celebrated the fall harvest. It was not marked by the same skill and quality as the songs which came from the cities, those iron bastions of metal and glass. It was a spirited anthem all the same, one passed down through the generations, one that was hated in youth but loved and cherished with age.
His shut eyes relaxed their trickle, and he fell into sleep.
He awoke to the peaceful rustle of pine branches under the gentle ministrations of a spring breeze. The sky was vast beyond the trees, a washed-up blue given by a sun which had dawned some while ago. He turned his head on the earth, observed the last remnants of his fire, and returned to his sleeping position. There was no danger, no reason he must get up this instant, and so he did not. He just lied there, taking in the melodic chirps, the noises which were so quiet they were of no real distraction. He whiffed the air, and it delighted him. The scent of pine, the aroma of vernal flowers. Not augmented by synthetic compounds or concentrations, the fragrance of nature caressed his nostrils. There was not even anything foul in the air to muck it up.
He was a long way out, far from safety. He had told his family he was to go on a pilgrimage into the last wild, that it was quite spiritual. They ate that up, letting him go tearfully but with pride. He had told his friends at the bar that, in truth, he was in search of treasure. They too gobbled this up like hungry dogs will scarf a rotten ham, but neither of these were true.
He sat up, stretching out, before he stood and began after a tree. There was no one around for whom to be private, but it was rote.
He set out after eating some game he'd caught the day before. He whispered to himself, a habit he'd picked up in recent months, verbally cataloging his supplies and plans. No one was out here to judge, and he found that unless introspection was futile, he was just as sane as when he left. His stride was long and smooth, and he put the miles behind him.
Some months passed. The ginger warmth of spring became the scorch of summer, the flowers bloomed and wilted, and wild fruits came forth. Then the oppressive sun lost its strength, and the light peaked days of summer diminished to the soft amber of autumn. His clothes had disintegrated some while ago, and he'd replaced them with the hides of deer and the fur of hares.
The goal came into view. In a clearing amongst the mixed trees were the remnants of an old temple, a legacy left by the primordial beings of earth and root. Inside would be something of immense value, though it would not be the treasure his drinking mates had imagined. An object of incredible meaning but not spiritual as his family would assume. It was a lost secret, a catalyst of immeasurable import, a thing which could propel humanity into the stars or drag them screaming to hell.
Despite the danger that awaited him, he would have it.