Rossa walked back home lighter, but only in her shoulders. Her grandma’s famous soup filled her belly, which wasn’t a bad feeling at all, though it surely made it harder to look for precious things underground.
As she pulled her red cloak tighter, it was as if her grandma’s words battled with those of the woodsman. She was supposed to stay on the road and wait for her time, but when would her time even come? Should she just wait for it? Not when she could in fact try and do something about it.
Her mind went to the tools hanging from the man’s belt, to his large hands, used to menial work. He did support her, even though he knew that, as long as she stayed confined here, there were only so many things she could find.
Her destiny called her to look further…
Rossa raised her gaze from her feet and looked around her at the growing forest. The grey pines, even though they had spread to cover the world of Man into their spindly thicket, knotting every road into a labyrinth and turning the planet into a great cage, did hold a hidden magnificence.
Air was strong and sweet with the smell of sap and resin. It inspired her to go for a walk further, to leave the road for a bit. After all, she had completed her chores, so what would happen if she just decided to leave for a tiny bit of time?
Her eyes danced at the edge of the road, towards the enticing woods and the many mysteries that lay buried there. Perhaps just behind those trees there could lay an engine, or even a Generator like the one that had become the heart of Belacqua.
Ferravia had drawn the short straw as far as relics from the old world went and it had grown around the ancient factory, but what if they could build something better on the back of a truly wondrous machine, one that would shield them from the forest without the need for the white path?
How long was it even supposed to last? Her grandma had built it with her own skills, but every time she tried to ask her for more knowledge about it, she would say Rossa was not ready yet.
“Will I ever be ready?”
That is up to you, dear.
That voice again. It sounded a little more welcoming now, as if the same raven that had croaked it that morning had time to practice.
It echoed both from the outside, from every direction at once, and from the inside, between Rossa’s ears.
She covered them and looked around. Shadows seemed to dance at the edge of her vision, even though the sunlight was still strong and steady.
She would not answer. She would just walk back home.
I do understand your reservations, dear.
“I’m not listening, I’m not listening,” she repeated, picking up pace. If she turned her head this was and that, she did catch something gaunt and dark shifting between the trees. Or perhaps it her own imagination. Perhaps this was more the consequence on the heavy lunch she had just shared than anything that was actually there.
But she did not want to stay and check. The Forest had its way to get under your skin, more or less literally.
Her heart started to go faster as well.
The call of the wild is strong. You picture all the wonders you could find behind the trees. I could tell you all about them, if you so wish. All the hidden things that sleep beneath the sleepy earth. Imagine bringing such bounty to the village. Everyone would be so proud.
That last word dug in.
Rossa blinked, slowing down to check if something, anything, was following her on the road.
But the path was empty, save for her footsteps, growing farther apart and then closer again.
Air was the same as before: just as warm and the wind just as inviting, if only with a faint smell of like overripe peaches.
She licked her lips, nervous. Everyone would be so proud.
And all she had to do was what she had always wanted to: step into the wilderness, and take a look at the secrets of nature. Both those that had been abandoned by the lost civilization and those that had come out of nature’s own wit.
But in doing so, she would have to step beyond the boundaries.
I do understand, said the voice again, and she felt the real regret that tinged its words. You are not ready. Not yet. It is fine. I will wait for you, when you will be a little more curious. Or perhaps a little more curious.
Rossa opened her mouth to say… something, but she caught herself just in time.
Do not answer. She was supposed to let the voices and whispers run over her like water, without falling into temptation.
These whispers belonged to the same force that had destroyed the world and turned the cities of her kind into graves.
These words came from the same race that had worked for thousands of year to turn humans into meat.
Dead or not.
Her grandmother’s words echoed inside her head now, coming from her own memories and not from whatever foul spell whatever was there was attempting.
“I’m not listening,” she whispered in return. She started running, and her crimson cloak rose behind her boots like a pair of fast wings. She spotted Ferravia already, past the curves of the path.
Around her nothing else moved, not now.
She was alone. Even that smell like overripe peaches had disappeared, leaving room only for sweet pungent resin. The usual scents of the woods.
And she did not need to think of anything else. No matter what may lay for her beyond the road, she was not supposed to ask, she was not even supposed to think about how sad the voice sounded (a trick! A trick for sure!) and of what it could have told her.
She was supposed to keep her mouth shut after all, but she could still listen, couldn’t she?
Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt… just to listen…
“No, no I’m not. I’m not going to,” Rossa panted, leaning over as she reached the end of the path, standing just outside the battered iron walls of the town. The same rusted sheets as always welcomed her. The same protective rings. And the same markings, reminding her of the consequences of listening to the forest.
“I’m going home.”
Rossa straightened her clothes and proceeded back home, where her family was surely waiting for her.
She would give no more thoughts to the words between the woods.
And that was final.
To her credit, she managed.
For about one week.
Author’s Notes: I really liked hinting at what’s hidden inside the forest. I hope you liked this chapter. Thanks for reading!”