The Oasis Tree

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Continuing from the Forsworn the story jumps ahead to the search for the source of the Invaders and what may have become of the General.

Submitted: September 05, 2016

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Submitted: September 05, 2016

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“I’m so thirsty” said Filo as he turned his water skin upside down to check that he had every drop from it. 

“You are not the only one and after the mess of our last stop, the rationing is only going to get worse.” Replied Shano on his own horse next to Filo. “So don’t be asking for my share you hear?” 

“We have to stop soon and have more water. We’re all suffering” Filo was referencing the others in their expedition. While their expedition has thinned significantly after losing most of the water, the core people had remained. The single sand sled held the handful of city guard who had remained loyal (or simply wanted some guaranteed water for a while longer), in front of it was the ten horses carrying the three surviving soldiers of Her (not including Shano) and the rest of the guards. Their armour would have been stifling if not for the cloaks they wore casting shade on them, their horses were a gleaming white indicating a pure desert stock, but even here they were beginning to flag without enough water. In front of the soldiers was the city guard Lieutenant leading the way with the Governors copied map held in front of the bound guide, who’s horse was being led by the Forsworn. 

I am not sure. I don’t think even our Lieutenant talking to our guest has any plans to stop. Not that I think the Lieutenant has a choice anyway” Shano of course meant the Forsworn holding the guides horse as he walked alongside. Despite the horse’s height, the Forsworn still came to the guides shoulder, not that the guide could have done much as he was bound to the horse as a prisoner. The Forsworn had returned with him after their original guide had been killed. The ropes were probably no longer necessary as a combination of deep desert meant anyone without water would soon die, but also the Forsworn would always return anyone who ran off dislocating one more finger than the time before. No one had gotten past two. 

Filo looked at his own bound fingers and shuddered “He still freaks me out” 

“I think that’s the point, it’s hard not to take notice of someone’s bodyguard who comes up to shoulder height on a mounted knight. That’s not to mention those eyes.”  

But isn’t he supposed to be like, guarding someone? 

You weren’t at the wall were you? 

No, I was busy with the evacuation 

“I don’t think I’ve seen so many men sick to their stomach up until that day.” Shano’s voice sounded a bit vacant as he remembered the events.They were there beyond the walls, howling and baying for our blood. We had prepared as best we can, but after the last slaughter the guard is not what it is.” 

Filo scoffed at this. “Speak for yourself! I joined as the food was good and a roof over my head.” 

“I think that answers my question. People only join now because they must, not because they want to. Anyway we are off topic. There I was me and Raython above the gates, trying to coerce our crossbow strings into their locking mechanisms and the order was given to open the gates. 

Open the gates? That’s suicide!” said a shocked Filo. Shano echoed the vocal sentiment. 

Exactly! I thought we were trying to surrender. I almost lost my stomach at thinking of what would come as the Invaders charged us, but out of those opening gates he came.” Shano pointed at the Forsworn at the lead of the expedition.  

Shano continued. “He stood on that bridge like a statue. We had all heard about what happened last time and the stories, we expected them to swarm past him, but they didn’t. One of the Invaders leaders approached him and he rendered him to pieces. He used his weapon to carve away at anyone that got within reach. They fled at that and Raython and I added a few bolts of our own to the death tolls. So personally I’m glad he’s on our side. 

Filo nudged Shano out of his light reverie. “I think he heard you, he’s stopped.” 

Shano looked and saw that at the top of the latest sand dune they had indeed stopped. Whereas everyone was continuing onwards the Forsworn was standing holding the reigns and beckoning them both over. As they approachedon horseback Shano could make out what everyone was continuing towards, an Oasis! It was a small paradise of open water ringed by healthy green foliaged trees, the deep blue and bright greens shining like jewels in the sands of the Desert of Thirst. Shano and Filo’s gaze was blocked by the Forsworn hands offered them both the guides horses reigns, the masked face staring down at them both. Early into the expedition,that mask had silenced any of the guards that had been foolish enough to try to strike up a conversation for the first few nights after they had left the city. Any conversation had caused those impossibly coloured eyes to look up from whatever his task was and stare at the fools until they had walked off again. No one had tried to make friends after that. Shano took the reins and the Forsworn turned around and made his way down the dune but his masked gaze looking at the crest of the next hill and not the Oasis. Shano didn’t know if the Forsworn actually drank water, no had ever seen him do so, but either way he didn’t seem to be interested in the Oasis at all. 

As the three of them made the way down to the Oasis they made it last with even the Sand sled beating them down the sands. When they did arrive the other guards were already partaking of the waters, some cavorting in the cool looking waters and others drinking deep at the water’s edge. Even the Lieutenants protestations of order to be maintained were only weakly authoritative as he too dismounted and began to slake his thirst. The only others not drinking were the soldiers of Her who still had the discipline to secure their horses under the shade of several of the trees. Looking at Filo, Shano could see that he was absentmindedly touching his empty water skin. Grabbing his own nearly empty water skin, Shano threw it at him. 

“I’ve got this. You go fill up my water, eh?” At that Filo smiled, dismounted and handed the reigns over and hurried to the waters. Shano then led the horses (and prisoner) to the shade of one of the unoccupied trees. He then checked on the horses and made them as comfortable as he could and dismounted the prisoner and tied him to the tree. The timing was excellent as Filo returned with a full water skin just as he finished tying his knot before walking off again. 

Shano drank from the water skin he was given, but the water tasted odd on his tongue. The consistency was off. He dribbled a bit on his fingers and rubber them together, the sensation was more like an oil than water, but everyone else seemed to be drinking it without concern. He tried a bit more and it tasted less odd this time, more like water should taste. Attributing it to a dry tongue he started to sip from the skin and examined the tree sheltering him. 

The tree looked gnarly and old, but still full of life.The trunk was made of many branches twisted together, their tight entwine creating a strong trunk from which branches untwisted and formed a ceiling of foliage casting a soothing shade on the ground below. The tree was clearly around 20 feet tall and towered above everyone there, including the Forsworn if he wasn’t at the top of the next dune scouting the way forward. 

Shano ran his fingers over the branch and pulled away as he felt a sharp pain. Looking at his fingers he saw one had a clean straight cut into it. Peering at the trunk he found the culprit was a small piece of metal sticking proud of the surface between two entwined branches. It was too small to grip with his fingers, how had that got in there? Almost absentmindedly, he pulled a blade from his belt and worked it between the two trunk branches, slowly chipping and flaking the wood apart. The heat was making him feel a bit light headed so he continued to hydrate from his water skin while worked his blade into the wood. 

The shard of metal seemed deeply buried into the wood and the chipping away at the trunk had just revealed more it until it was revealed as the edge of a blade. How odd. Shano’s light headedness had continued to get worse and he sat on the ground to stop from fainting. It was nearer the ground level that Shano noticed the small finger bonepeeking out between two trunk branches. His hazy mind was slow to take in what this could mean and before its significance had fully sunk in the screams started. 

It started first for those floating in the water, the swimmers being pulled underwater. The others around the water’s edge seemed to be almost drunk and were slow to react as roots slithered from the water and started to wrap themselves around inebriated people. The soldiers had been busy under the shady trees and not drunk too much. This seemed to mean they reacted much faster than the guards. They quickly headed in and starting to hack at the roots, pulling guards away, but their slowed reactions meant that one was speared by some of the roots they were fending off. A guard was able to hack off the root that speared for his heart, but then discovered to his horror that the disconnected root sprung to life like a snake and entwined around his leg before travelling upwards, the mentally numbed soldier in his panic hacked at the snake root not realising he’d also cut into his leg and fell screaming to the floor before some more of the roots from the water pulled him in. 

By now the entire expedition company was in disarray. The guards at the water front were worst hit and were retreating away from it, trying to hack away at the wooden roots reaching for them. The soldiers were still discovering new horrors as they formed a defensive circle under one of the trees before the branches of the tree came to life and grasped for them, one of the guards was dragged still living inside one of the untwisted trunks before it closed up again, blood oozing between the gaps as it did so. 

Shano was too dazed to react, the realisation that this was a trap had only just seeped in. His mind just connecting that the water must have dulled their senses so they would be too slow to react. Not much longer and the trees would have them all. His mind was also starting to register that the Sun was starting to flicker on his face as the shade above moved. He looked up and saw a branch slowly snaking for him, the leaves on it all folded back like scales on a reptilian predator, it’s hooked tip slowly descending for him. Shano slowly reached for his sword as his mind registered the threat, he wouldn’t be quick enough. The tip suddenly accelerated for him and landed between his legs as the severed branch dropped to the ground. The sudden surge of adrenaline caused him to recoil in fright and blow away some of the fog in his mind. Unlike the other severed off cuts this branch curled and withered away like the years in the desert had finally caught up with it. He looked up and saw the Bronze blade and black shaft of the Forsworns polearm blocking his view. The Forsworn had run down the hill and severed the branch before it had taken Shano as his victim. 

This tree lashed out at its new attacker like a wounded animal and Shano watched as the Forsworn tried to step clear but was struck across the chest sending him flying. Obviously despite outward appearances, the severe thirst they were all suffering was having its effects on the Forsworn as Shano had seen him on the city’s bridge dodge much faster blows. 

Landing in the sand the Forsworn shook its masked head and regained composure. It put a hand to push itself off the ground and a root erupted from the sand and wrapped around the Forsworn’s wrist. The Forsworns response was to simply stand up using all of its strength so that the attacking root was pulled from the ground all the way back to the injured tree. It then swept its polearm one handed and lopped it off at the trunk. The root reacted the same way to the severed branch shortly before and writhed and withered to dry knotted wood. Shano saw another root shoot from the ground as another branch swept for the Forsworn’s head, this time he was expecting it and avoided the root while hacking at the branch, the bronze blade alleviating it of some of its leaves, which were like dry autumnal leaves by the time they reached the sand. Shano was impressed that the Forsworn was somehow injuring the tree while the rest of them were trying to fend off attacks and then hacking the offcuts to tiny pieces to stop another source of attack, but even if the Forsworn could kill the trees they’d all be dead before then. 

The tree unwound several more branches from its trunk to overwhelm the Forsworn with, it was this act that caused the blade Shano had chipped around earlier to come free. It was embedded in one of the branches, likely left by a past attacked who had failed to survive the Oasis Tree’s traps. This branchleapt for the Forsworn and he parried it away, his blade travelling down the bark peeling it like fruit peel until it met the old blade and embedded itself in it, the Bronze blade overpowering the old iron edge. Sparks flew and fell to the ground. Somehow, the tree knew the polearm was now stuck in the sword branch and pulled it away from the Forsworn, ripping the polearm from his grip. This didnot seem to faze the Forsworn as it adapted his attack pose and balled fists in a pugilistic stance. 

Shano did not see what happened next as he felt burning up his leg. Looking down the material of his trousers was on fire and Shano frantically beat it out with his hand, blistering them in the process. Looking for the flame source he saw the sand was on fire where his dropped water skin had spilled water on the ground. The water was flammable… Flammable fluid… his mind knew that this meant something important but his still dulled mind was slow to catch up. The pond was full of oil, oil that could burn, the trees were wood! That was it, the trees could burn!Shano grabbed the water skin, lit the mouth of it and flung it into the water. As it touched the water the surface erupted in a huge fireball. The surface looked to Shano like some hellish landscape, as roots emerging from it frantically thrashing, almost seeming to scream as their wood sizzled and steamed in the flames. 

The fire seemed to have a similar dramatic effect on the trees as the water fire seemed to spread under the sand to each of them and they each became flaming pyres of living wood. The trees lost all focus on their victims as they screamed and tried to shake off the flames. Shano’s hypnotic staring was only broken when he felt a hand grab his breastplate and pull him away from the scene. Looking up he saw the Forsworn pulling him up the dune and away from the fires along with the others that had escaped the trees and the inferno. It was on the very dune slopes they had run down earlier that they watched the Oasis Trees burn. 


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