In a world ruined by a magic war, its only salvation may come from a hero from its past...
The Ruined Forest
Blood ran down the face of Leda Velwithe as she circled her opponent, her hand wrapped around the hilt of a combat knife. A sharp pain radiated from the gash that covered her cheek, but she ignored it. Her purple eyes were focused on her opponent as she studied his movements, tensing her body as she prepared herself for his attack. Dodging his sword, she quickly acted on the opening as she lunged at him.
Blood splattered on her armor as she plunged the knife into the man’s heart. She watched as his body grew limp as he fell to the ground, his blood staining a puddle that had formed from the rain earlier in the day. Pulling her knife out of his body, she shook the blood off its blade. “It looks like that is the last of them.” She looked toward her companion as she put her knife back in its sheath. “I thought we would have avoided any patrols by taking this path.” Strands of her long, dirty blond hair fell into her face as she looked at the scattered bodies that covered the ground.
“This is pathetic. All this bloodshed and for what? Is this how far we have fallen? To kill soldiers of Eden who are simply doing their job?” She shook her head as she moved toward her companion. “In the end, does anyone win?”
“Leda...” The male companion placed his hand on her shoulder as he spoke. “I understand how you feel, but we’ve come too far to turn back now.”
“Yeah.” Leda replied as she reached for the pouches that belonged to the bodies. “Still, I feel like a bottom feeder who has to steal to survive. Is this supposed be the hope we were promised?” She pulled out cans of rations and several grenades. “Here take some of these.” Holding out her hand, she offered some of the rations and grenades. “Damascus, be honest with me. Do you think we’re wasting our time with this mission?”
“Well.” He ran his fingers through his dirty brown hair as he looked at the bodies. “The truth is, we need her power if anything is to change.” He put the items away in a pouch as he looked at the nicks and cuts that covered his armor and tanned skin. “If we can get her help, maybe we can finally force the change that we have all wanted for years.”
“If she’s powerful enough...” Leda lowered her voice as she felt some hesitation in her words. “And she does not decide to serve Eden...” She scoffed at the thoughts as she began to walk. “Well, we don’t have time to dawdle. Let’s keep moving.”
Damascus nodded as he followed her.
The downpour of rain grew more intense as cold winds blew into them. Leda hardly bothered to notice as she walked, her mind devoted to her task. Were the stories mother told me true? Is she really the one who ended the Magi War decades ago? Taking a glance around the area, she took in the sights of the bones that littered the ground. Whatever vegetation that once grew in the forest had died out long ago, these dead trees are the only reminder that a forest once existed.
Stopping suddenly, she looked down at the blackened waters of a river. Bones covered the surface, the remains of animals that had tried to drink the water. “Be careful, the waters have been polluted by miasma.” She said as Damascus stood beside her. “We can’t cross the river, its too wide and the pollutants will eat away at our flesh. Looks like our only option is to go around.”
“If I remember the maps correctly, there was once a bridge in this area. Maybe we can use that to cross.”
Leda shook her head as she replied. “It might be worth a shot. But for now, we have other problems to deal with.” Pulling Damascus behind her, she tensed her body as growls filled the air. “Stay quiet.” She lowered her voice as she spoke. “Those are the growls of Vergulin Dogs.” A faint aura surrounded her body as she called forth the energy that flowed in her body.
Red eyes glowed as four dogs approached her and Damascus. Their fur was patchy, their skin exposed with rashes covering their flesh.
“So, they survived the end of the war. I suppose this explains what happens to all the people who venture out of Eden and vanish.”
She nodded as she watched the dogs approach. “Genetically bred, they were designed to be the ultimate attack dog. My mother fought many of them in her lifetime.” Her eyes began to glow as purple streaks covered her face. “There is no reason to waste our time on these things.” Black energy consumed her aura as her skin turned grey. “We can’t afford to waste too much energy on them. We have no idea if Eden has any more soldiers in this area.” Raising her knife, she changed at the dogs.
Their blood splattered on her face as she cut them down. There were no wasted movements on her part as the heads and severed limbs of the dogs lay before her. Leda’s skin tone returned to normal as a pool of blood collected at her feet. “That is the end of them.” Kicking away a dog’s head, she walked past Damascus.
“I get the impression that you never liked dogs.” joked Damascus as he cracked a weak smile.
“Not dogs bred for killing. These things are not natural, bred to eat human flesh and serve as living weapons.” She saw the look that crossed his face. “Is there a problem Damacus?”
“Nothing, just shocked you would say that. After everything that we have been through to protect our kind.”
Leda said nothing as she looked away. “Our kind was created by a man who opened Pandora’s box and reawakened our ability to control magic and supernatural abilities. That box once opened could never be closed. All it could do is lead to this.” She looked at the forest. “But we’re not like those dogs. We kept our emotions, everything that makes us human. It's just our power that Eden fears.”
“You think a hero of a past war can save us? You’re powerful as well. What makes you think this woman can do it?” Damacus asked. “The world has changed since she last fought. What if she is too old to help us?”
“She’s not old. After the war, she put herself into hibernation and let scientists study her. From the story my mother told me, she felt that her power could be served for the greater good of humanity. My mother and my aunt, they were the first Magi to appear in a thousand years. The first humans in generations to reawaken our lost potential.” Leda closed her eyes. “I have spent years searching for her. She is the only savior of our kind.”
“Our kind?” Damacus sat down on the ground as he spoke. “If she can protect my wife and child, then I will be grateful. I lost the rest of my family to the purges. I can’t stand the thought of losing anyone else in those prison camps.” He ran his fingers across his dirty face. “So many of our kind have already been killed while we fight a losing war.”
Leda put her hand on his shoulder. “I understand how you feel. We can’t afford to lose this war. Our future depends on our success.”
“But to depend on a legendary hero to fight our battles, our rights. It feels hollow inside.” Damacus took a deep breath as he looked up at the sky. “How much have we fallen? From a race that once controlled the entire world to groups fighting over small silvers of land. I wanted to bring my child into a better world then this. I can’t even fight for her future. I have to depend on a person who fought in the past to give her a a future.”
“I felt peace was once possible.” Leda replied. “But I don’t know anymore. I have spilled so much blood, there is no longer any sense of loss when I kill the Eden soldiers who are sent after me. This is our life. Numerous groups fighting over a ruined world generation after generation, barely taking time to mourn the dead.” She helped him stand up. “It will be nightfall soon. We need to get to the lab where my aunt sleeps.”
“You’re right.” Damacus answered as he stood up. “We should go. I want to get this mission finished so I can return to my family.”
“You did not have to come along Damacus.” Leda said as the walked toward the bridge. “In fact, I wanted you to stay at the base with them. It would have made sense. Most of Avalon thinks I’m crazy for following a lead where I put all my hopes on an old war hero.”
“You’re the reason why I even have a family. I believe in you. I’ve also heard the stories of your aunt’s actions during the Magi wars. How she defeated enemy magic users, armies, and war machines with her own power. I think if anyone can give us our best chance, its her. That is why I have followed you. I wanted to see our savior awaken with my own eyes.”
Leda nodded as she stepped onto the bridge, the rusted remains of old cars covering the path as they walked.
“Did people just abandon these cars?” Damacus asked as he looked at them.
“When the wars between the magi spilled over into the cities, normal humans took everything and fled. Before their power, a human even with a gun was powerless to stop them. They fled, but there was nowhere to hide. The magical energy of the magi fighting each other and normal humans ruined this world, leaving much of it a dead husk that a normal human could never survive in.”
“I never knew that.” Damacus put his hand on one of the cars. “When I went to schools in Eden, they never spoke much about the Magi war. Although, I always thought something was wrong when she put the seals on our body and forced us to live in an isolated area, away from the normal humans.” He looked at himself in the mirror of the car. “I suppose I was too young to fully understand.”
“I was as well. But it dawns on you rather quickly what we are. How superior we are too normal humans and the fear that it inspires.” She stopped as a group of men approached them. “We have company.” She noticed the torn armor and the way they approached. “They aren’t part of Eden’s army. Must be raiders that live in the wastes.”
“They are armed with guns. Do you think they are magi?” Damacus looked at her.
“Maybe, magi are known to use guns to save their mana.” She motioned him behind her. “We don’t need to waste energy on them. If we can get by them without any bloodshed, then we must do so.”
Damascus took a deep breath as he focused his attention on the men. “I hate to say this, but they don’t look like the type that is willing to deal with us. What do we do if they refuse to work with them?”
“Kill them and leave their bodies to rot. We don’t have time to mess with trash like them.” Leda stepped forward toward the raiders. “Who is the leader?”
“Well now....” a large man walked past the other raiders, holding an arm in his left hand. “Looks like it’s my lucky day. First, some fucks from Eden try to cross this bridge, and now a young woman shows up.” He took a bite out of the arm, noting the look of disgust on Leda’s face. “It’s not so bad to eat humans. Not like there are many choices, especially for the reject of society who live in the wasteland.” He tossed the arm at her feet. “Maybe you should eat it. Might put you at ease.”
Leda said nothing as she stared at him. He said something about people from Eden trying to cross the bridge. What happened? Kicking the arm away, she walked toward him. “You said something about people from Eden. What happened to them?”
He smiled as she approached him. “Well, I killed them all. Their commander fled like a chicken shit coward, but the rest was then gutted and their bodies prepared for the great feast.” But you’re not here to talk about that, are you?” He crossed his arms as he studied her carefully. “You must be another person who wants to raid that research facility up ahead. Don’t bother, the place has guard robots that shoot down anything that comes near. Lost some of my men trying to raid the place. There’s also a rumor of a powerful magi who roams the halls killing anything that enters.” His attention shifted to her purple eyes. “Your eyes bear the mark of the magi. Maybe you could be useful.”
“Please, it’s important for me and my companion to pass.” She asked him carefully, trying to avoid a fight.
“Well now, you seem to be damned determined.” He pulled a cigarette out of a small pocket. “I can let you cross you honey, but you’ll have to pay one hell of a toll.”