Humans were a dying breed, so Elkin’tor sixth phase of four told her. Yet here on the forest floor, not a few paces in front of her lay a man, injured and writhing in the inky twilight. It was her second sighting in twenty three years. The other one had not been quite so helpless.
The first man had appeared in Darkwood a good many phases ago, armed to the teeth with knives and something her mother called a ‘gun’. In his belt he also carried fourteen magma grenades all primed to unleash destruction at a moment’s notice. From the shadows she had watched as he alternately cursed and slapped the hand held machine in front of him. The moon glinted off its glass and carbinium surfaces.
“There’s nothing there you stupid piece of crud!” he said angrily. The life sign detector bleeped repeatedly as he waved it to and fro across the clearing where Lumi and her mother stood. They were invisible, undetectable – or rather they would have been, if it weren’t for the energy readings the life sign detector was picking up.
Twelve year old Lumi stiffened and huddled closer to the willow tree.
“It’s ok. He can’t see us,” her mother thought cast to her confidently. “I bet the only information he has to go on is the myths his mother probably passed on to him whilst he suckled at her teat. Humans are all the same. So one dimensional.”
Lumi nodded and offered a tight little smile. Surely it would be better to just leave then?
“We must remain still. If we move now he will know for sure that the machine really is picking up life sign readings. As it is he may give up eventually and pass it off as a glitch in the system.”
Lumi nodded once more, pretending that she knew what her mother was talking about.
The angry man appeared quite determined. He fussed with his noisy toy, turning dials and pressing buttons. Suddenly his expression changed dramatically. A tiny unguarded shift in Lumi’s position had helped confirm their presence.
“Aha!” he announced triumphantly and pulled out both a blaster and a magma grenade simultaneously.
“Run!” cried her mother, totally abandoning thought speak altogether.
Lumi knew by her mother’s tone that she couldn’t afford to hesitate. Half flying half sprinting above the carpet of ferns and pine needles she fled from the crazed hunter. Although she had not yet reached the fledgling stage she could still move nimbly. But sadly her speed was no match for the arsenal of weapons at his disposal. The fires of hell crackled in his eyes as he tossed not one but three magma grenades in their direction. Liquid energy fell in lethal globs all around them like droplets of the sacred sun they rarely saw. Blaster fire felled trees and gouged great scoops of granite from the rocks increasing the level of danger three fold.
Suddenly Lumi fell to her knees screaming – clawing frantically at a tiny piece of magma that had landed on her translucent abdomen. No sooner had it landed it ate its way through to the other side where it dropped to the ground only to be lost in the heather. Smoke rose from the gaping hole it had left in her. Gods, how it hurt! Her tortured cries didn’t just split the air. They tore through the abstract realm of thought as well. Even their attacker heard them inside his own deeply primitive bone, flesh and blood cranium. At the sound of her daughters terror Uridia stopped just a few feet away from the Poisoned River.
She peered through the smoke and broken trees stumps searching for any possible sign of her.
“I’m coming! Just hold on.”
At the sound of her voice the hunter threw another grenade.
Molten magma flew in all directions.
“No! Just leave me mother!”
“I shall not!” she howled. Her six sets of wings sliced through the air like butter as she sought to locate her daughter amongst the chaos. On the second pass over the hunter’s target area she spotted Lumi curled up in the shade of a giant Lurksbane leaf. The way her aura kept flickering worried her. If she was going to be saved she would need to be taken to the Seeker – and soon.
Within seconds she was by her daughter’s side and attempting to carry her to safety. Her wings whirred soundlessly, a blur of silver in the otherwise murky gloom. The unwelcome voice of experience told her that Lumi was just too heavy, but still, she had to try. Her elfin features contorted with a fierce determination. A scattering of perspiration appeared like dew on her forehead. Momentarily her feet left the ground and they ascended several inches just brushing the flowering heads of the scorched grasses. But it was nowhere near enough. The strain on the delicate membranes of her wings was colossal. Half expecting to hear them tear, she ignored the danger to herself and poured everything she had into getting them back to the village. That was their only hope. Surprising even herself, she managed to carry them a few feet further until another blast scorched a fiery hole through two of her wings dropping them to the ground like a stone.
Singed and bruised they gasped for air like fish during one of their decade long droughts. For all the good it had done them, camouflage now had to take a backseat. Their bodies were diverting all available energy to repairs and in Uridia’s case a Fei shield.
“You’ve got to come out of there sometime filth!” cried the man, walking warily around the shimmering emerald energy field. His voice sounded muffled. A rock he threw bounced off. It was only then that Lumi discovered just how little can penetrate a full grown Fei’s thought shield. She wondered if her mother had managed to call for help before she had summoned the shield but Lumi knew better than to disrupt her powers of concentration by asking.
What was he doing out there? And why did he want to kill them? Lumi asked herself. She could just about make him out through the rippling green that surrounded them and no more.
Although the clearing around him was alight, their assailant showed no sign of leaving. More than ever he wanted to capture a real live Fei so that he could have its beautiful wings for a trophy. He had many different species hanging on his wall back home in Hyrangar – the last city on Earth. But none quite showcased his genius to the same degree that the body of a fully mature Fei would. Few humans had ever seen one, especially since mankind had retreated behind the walls of Hyrangar to sit out the ten thousand year decontamination period. And no one to his knowledge had ever captured a live one – until now.
As Lumi watched him pacing, she could feel herself slipping. It was the hole in her side that was the problem. She covered it with her hand in an effort to stem the flow. But the essence of her found its way through her fingers no matter what she did.
“Wait till that fool Jaylan sees my Fei,” chuckled the man to himself.
He bent at the knees to lift a branch, unaware that the sky above him had just turned a shade darker. His plan was to gather kindling and place it in front of the shield and then lob all his magma grenades at it in one foul swoop. The resulting conflagration would hopefully be enough to force the Fei inside to drop their defences rather than incinerate them entirely. It was quite a gamble to take, but he was willing to accept the risk.
With one eye on his captives and one eye on ground in search of suitable kindling he failed to see the Seeker and his legion of fellow Fei approaching. The air in the clearing crackled with energy unseen until every hair on the hunters body stood on end. He ignored it, passing it off as an after effect of being so close to the shield. His hand patted his side to check for the presence of his blade. He would need it to hack off the wings and head, the parts that he generally favoured for mounting on his wall.
His unguarded thoughts filtered through to the would be rescuers of the beleaguered pair. To them his barbarous notions appeared black like tar. Snake like and evil – pregnant with the promise of death. Sickened by the man’s blood lust, a certain Fei flying alongside the Seeker flew like a deadly sunbeam straight through the trunk of his body and then back again. The human’s eyes widened in astonishment. Totally unaware of what had just befallen him he folded up in the middle and fell to the ground. Every cell the Fei had passed through was now seared to the point of implosion. His liver, stomach, kidneys and gut were all trashed beyond recovery. He lasted all of a nanosecond.
“Seize him,” said the Seeker, pointing his staff at the Fei who had just taken it upon himself to execute a human.
Two powerful looking male Fei grasped an arm either side of him. He struggled desperately to free himself. But it was a waste of time. Unlike the human, their power consisted of far more than bone, sinew and muscle.
“Help them,” he pleaded, nodding towards Lumi and Uridia who were still encapsulated inside the glowing orb. “She is dying.”
“I intend to,” replied the Seeker serenely.
As though he had all the time in the world he fluttered over and lightly touched the top of the thought field created in desperation by Uridia. Immediately it vanished leaving the two women blinking in confusion. Now that the shield was down he could ascertain the severity of Lumi’s injuries. What he found was deeply troubling. The damage was so severe she would have to be renewed. As the others looked on in awe, he began to spin a complex energy thread from the tips of his fingers and thumbs. This he attached to her midriff with a flick of the wrist. Using a thread of silk he wrapped her over and over creating a powerful healing cocoon. Once he was satisfied that she was still alive and completely encased, he ordered that she be carried back with the utmost care to the village of Darkwood.
What happened after that was only known to her by virtue of the fact her mother had seen fit to break one of Darkwood’s most ancient laws. No one was supposed to speak of the banished ones. But Uridia was a Fei of deep emotion, who did not understand how in all fairness she could keep the truth from her daughter. Two weeks after Lumi had hatched from the cocoon reborn and restored her mother had given her the news; her father had received the mark and the penalty of banishment for killing the man who had attacked them.
To say that Lumi hated mankind after that day was an understatement. But all the hate in the world could never bring her father back. Events could not be changed. Every day she thought about why the human had come. Were they all so evil and twisted? Or were they all different just like her own people the Fei?
She gazed at the injured human in front of her – the second human she had laid eyes on in twenty three years, wondering if she had the strength to find out the answers to her questions.
She took a step closer and then relaxed her camouflage briefly. The man flinched. She knew immediately that he had seen her.
“Lumi? Is that you?”
Startled to hear her name fall so tenderly from the lips of a species she hated, she immediately reverted to her camouflaged form. The man groaned in pain. The wind stirred the leaves on the forest floor. Many of them were stained with blood. That meant his bio suit was breeched.
“How do you know my name?” she demanded, reminding herself to remain concealed.
“Take…a…look…at my face,” he suggested with great effort. Clearly he was in great pain.
To do this she had to make herself manifest. She stepped forward and cautiously touched his faceplate. It was cold and smooth, like ice on the far side lake in winter.
“If I remove this, you will die.”
“I’m going to die anyway Lumi. My back is broken.”
“Why did you come here? And why do you keep calling me Lumi?” she said, crouching down on her haunches over him.
He remained calm.
“Just take off my faceplate and you will see.”
Afraid yet curious she did as he suggested and discovered a familiar face.
He smiled then began to tremble as though a violent seizure was imminent.
“Stay with me,” she begged, grabbing him by the shoulders.
“Please!” she sobbed.
He seemed to recover himself for a moment and laid a hand on her shimmering arm.
“I have missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too,” she said, shaking her head.
“But I don’t understand. How are you…well, human? How is that possible?”
“I received the mark. The mark is actually de-evolvement to an earlier version of ourselves. I’ve been living amongst them in their last and only city.”
“That’s not possible. We are Fei. We have always been Fei.”
“If only that were so Lumi. Humans are one of our ancestral forms. We are their descendants. Even now they stand poised on the brink of destruction. All they know is death and destruction. Look at what they have done to our world with their wars.”
“They are so determined to reign supreme and survive they’ve ensured that they most certainly won’t,” murmured Lumi.
“And that’s why The Seeker banished you, because if we are to survive we must purge the inclination to destroy from amongst ourselves, lest we become like them.”
“Yes,” said her father quietly.
Five minutes of poison air inside his lungs had turned his lips an ugly shade of purple. He drew his breath in shallow gulps since the lower sections of his lungs were now compromised.
“I’m going Lumi,” he choked, with a nauseating burbling sound.
“Yes I know.”
She held his hand and watched him battle, doing all he could to buy them just a couple more minutes. Eventually his nostrils stilled so she left him where she had found him knowing that Darkwood would do the rest.