The Village

A strong, thin hand reached up to the delicate red of their lover’s lips, drops of blood falling onto their bruised brown skin.

Their lover was cradled in the limbs of a tree, as if Mother Nature herself decided to rock them to sleep, comforting them in their last moments.

It had only been a few hours since they had taken their final breath, their body lifeless, but their spirit had lingered, taking shape in the wind that carried the brown and orange leaves that served as a warning to the one now managing to only able to reach the tips of their lifeless fingers. The warmth the living had wanted to still exist in the dead did not come. The warmth they had expected came from their own eyes, thick rivers of tears falling onto the dry ground.

The wind whispered in their ear, the leaves swirling around their body. The shuddered and looked up at their cared for lover, the setting sun peeking through the leaves as if the leaves were actually fire.

The wind whispered again, the leaves weaving their way back onto the trail where their horses waited.

After the living had hopped back onto their horse, they looked back into the trees, the sun’s fire of light spreading. They looked back, hearing voices and seeing a tiny glow of actual fire down the trail behind them. They urged their own horse on, pulling the reigns of the other along side.

The wind seemed to urge them along, the leaves being a marker and seemingly protection as they swirled around both horses.

The voices behind them started to grow louder as the sun fire tree started to disappear. They let go of the reigns for the riderless horse and slapped it’s hind quarters, watching it run off deeper into the woods. The leaves fluttered around the rider and horse, the wind picking up speed, as if trying to give the horse a boost in speed.

An arrow whizzed past the rider’s ear. Another grazed their calf. Another made home in their upper arm. The rider urged the horse on, squinting to see as the woods grew darker and darker as the sun disappeared behind the horizon.

The wind shifted, the leaves lead the way to the left, through the brush, through the mud, through the webs. To the right, over dead and fall trees, over the bodies of the dead from centuries past, over mushrooms that started to sprout from decay. They splashed through a river, the arrows that seemed to come so far and few were raining down more frequently, the voices louder than that of a town hall. The horse started to tire. The rider pleaded to just go until the treeline. When they broke through the trees, the horse came to a sliding halt in the muddy riverbed. The rider looked down, the slow, lazy river poured into a basin several hundred feet down, joining other rivers on the cliff and hidden in the cliffside into a loud waterfall. Their dark eyes scanned for anything to help them escape, but there wasn’t anything. They watched as the glow from several torches moved through the woods toward them. As the group of tens upon tens poured out through the trees, the rider let out a small smirk. They stared at the familiar faces they had grown up with, some of them with smooth skin like their’s and others with wrinkles that could tell someone the story of a war five wars past.

They stared at each other in silence, the crashing sounds of the waterfall were overpowered by the tension in the air.

The pull and stretch of the bowstring loudly creaked against the still air, the soft shuffle and slide of an arrow being pulled from the quiver and into the arrow shelf hissed louder than a boiling tea kettle in the silence. Nobody seemed to be breathing as the soft hiss of the arrow cut through the air, sounding like a brand against skin in the silence.

The rider watched the arrow fly through the air, falling short of their body by feet. The rider looked up, more arrows now notched into place. They took a deep breath, closed their eyes and released their air from their lungs, the low whistle coming from their lips the same sound from the arrows flying toward them.

They waited for the pinch, the puncture, the pain of death, but it did not come. They slowly opened their eyes, the arrows mere inches from their face, frozen. The people who they had known stared in awe. Not at them but behind them. They didn’t need to turn around to see what was behind them.

Their shadow from the rider and the horse stood long and wide against the crowd in front of them, as if the sun had come back in the middle of the night. Their back felt like it was on fire, the heat of whatever was behind them actually starting to burn the fabric of their tunic.

The wind blew from behind the rider, the heat going away. Brown and orange leaves rode the wind, gently and gracefully dancing around the ground, against the crowd’s bodies and retreated back into the forest.

The wind blew again.

And the crowd caught fire.

The fire spread from the grass, up their horses, up their legs, up their arms, up their chests, up their heads. It continued behind them, catching all the trees as the leaves danced against their trunks. The crowds screams and the horses cries couldn’t overpower the roar of the fire as it claimed the hundreds of miles of fires with one sweep of the wind.

The leaves frolicked and whirled with the wind, the fire not far behind, sprouting up from the ground like a plant in spring. The leaves and wind bounded deeper into the forest, the smoke, black and thick, rising into the nights sky, blocking out the stars. The wind and leaves kept going, sprinting through the dead leaves of autumn and diving into the chest of the body of the lover. The fire billowed against the base of the tree, twisting and engulfing the ancient bark. The fire climbed the branches, catching the clothes of the dead body in its haste.

As quickly as the fire came, it disappeared in a hurry. The ashes of the dead laid on the ground in a thick heavy blanket. The ashes started to rise, taking the loose shop of their former selves before going the direction of the fire in the same almost vacuum like wind. The trees that had been covered in burns were now covered in moss and tiny flowers. The dry soil accepted some of the ashes left behind, small blades of grass peeking up from the ground as the soil sucked in the ash.

The wind, the leaves, the fire, the ash, continued to move through the trees, the transformation of rage to growth quick but slow. When the last foot of ash disappeared into the spot where the body used to be, there was a loud gasp.

The rider’s own breath was released, since it was caught in their throat since the fire started. They slid off the horse and fell to their knees, releasing tears and screams, weakly clawing at the ground.

They slowly took a deep breath and straightened up, tilting their head back. When they opened their eyes, they were staring up at their lover. Their lover smiled, helped them up from the ground and kissed them gently on the forehead.

The rider smiled and fell into their arms, the sun slowly coming up from the basin’s horizon. The rider and lover fell off the edge of the cliff, disappearing into the suns reflection without a splash.

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