Kam hurried by, carrying his rifle. He gestured for her to follow, but she shook her head.
“Jacob’s town,” Kam said.
“The children,” she replied.
He nodded and hurried after the small group of other Fey who were answering the human’s cry for help.
“Will they be ok?” Jacob asked.
“I don’t know,” Gytha laid her hand on top his head.
Dipak was stretched out on her stomach in the grass not far from them, regarding them with her black eyes. She tipped her head to one side and made a soft snorting sound.
“Will she even talk?” Jacob asked.
“I think so,” Gytha said.
Jacob pulled absently at the grass, thinking of the people in town and how afraid they must be. Tears came into his eyes. He struggled not to let them fall. Dipak slid her hand into his and licked the tears clinging to his lashes. Jacob groaned and pushed Dipak’s face from his, but clung to her hand tightly.
He wiped at his face, laughing.
Dipak’s eyes went wide and her hand flexed. Then she screamed. Clutching at her chest, she writhed and coughed up thick oily bile. Then she was up on her feet and staggering.
“Enaid!” she wailed.
Gytha scooped Dipak and Jacob into her arms and carried them as she ran to the Tree of Life. The shuddering of the Wandering Wood began before they arrived at the tree. Trees fell, spending leaves into the air. Rocks rolled from their perches and crashed down hills, exploding into shards. Confused Fey ran for shelter. Frightened animals bolted through the underbrush.
Gytha did not approach the tree as she normally did. Upon entering the grove, she stopped and looked up at the tree. It’s leaves were turning brown and had begun to fall. The bark was peeling in great swaths. Cracks split the trunk open in several places. Mold climbed up from the roots, painting the tree with black slime and green fuzz.
“Enaid!” Dipak screamed as she pushed against Gytha’s arm.
When Gytha did not release her, she turned and flashed her black eyes and long teeth close to Gytha’s face. Raking her claws across Gytha’s neck and shouder, Dipak pushed away again. This time she gained her freedom; tumbling onto the ground. Once she had gotten to her feet, she bolted to the tree and scurried inside. Gytha followed. The scratches were deep, but not life threatening.
Enaid was crumbled on the floor. Her breathing was shallow and her skin pale. Dipak went to her, sniffing her neck and licking her mouth.
“Not yet,” she whispered.
Dipak drove her hand down into the floor of the the tree, it did not seem to resist her. The wood spun up to envelope her arm up to the shoulder. She then shoved her other hand into Enaid’s chest. Like the tree, Enaid’s body gave little resistance. The flesh spun up over Dipak’s arm, stretching over her elbow. Dipak leaned back her head and opened her mouth wide. The top of the tree split open, letting in the sun which poured into Dipak as a brilliant ray.
The earth beneath them trembled. Gytha clutched Jacob to her and wrapped her body around his as much as possible. Large branches lurched through the cracks in the trunk and forced them open wider, breaking the wood with a screech of protest. Roots writhed in, leaving clumps of sod and smears of mud as they passed. The trees moved into the spaced created by the rent wood.
The roots burrowed down into Enaid, distorting her body. She cried out and writhed against it, but her body was weak and her efforts futile. Each tree connected itself to her. Gytha counted seven of them. Once their roots were connected to her, their branches stretched out and sunk into the wood of the Tree of Life. Then they grew still again. Together, they had created a web of wood with Enaid trapped at the center.
Dipak slipped free from with wood and Enaid as though sliding from water. She looked down at Enaid and closed her eyes, body shuddering.
“Forgive me,” she whispered.
Enaid smiled weakly up at her, but said nothing.
Jacob went to Dipak’s side, taking her hand.
Gytha stepped from the Tree of Life. The Wandering Wood had grow still again, but there was chaos all around her. Fey stood in shock, wandered aimlessly or ran in fear. The soil was churned in a great path where everything had been tilled under and broken down by those great moving roots. A stream’s path had been blocked and now pooled into a muddy swirl where shards of trees lay strewn.
Kam jogged over to Gytha.
“What the fuck happened here?” he asked.
Then he saw the Tree of Life. He fell to his knees.
“Sweet Goddess,” he whispered, touching his finger tips to his forehead, chest then lips.
“I don’t know,” Gytha answered.
“A Lesser Tree died,” Dipak said.
She stood at one of the cracks in the trunk. Enaid had not presented Dipak as the Life Spark, it had seemed to soon. Now it seemed to late. The Fey looked at this girl, waiting for more. They wanted an explanation and a leader. They hoped that this young thing could offer something.
While they stared at her, Dipak reached into the shadows, pulled out a pair of white pants and stepped into them. A few of them gasped or murmured. She looked at Jacob who came out to stand next to her. Long black locks of hair framed her face. Drawing out a pair of white leather boots, she continued to dress as she spoke.
“Enaid is dying.”
Next she found a pair of white gloves and pulled them up in a single quick gesture.
“The Tree of Life is dying,” Dipak stated while fishing out a jacket.
Putting her arm through the sleeve, she pointed at them, “We are dying.”
Dipak carefully ran the belts into each of their buckles and fastened each snugly across her torso so that the three were aligned down the center.
“The Darkness has come and we must go to war,” she said.
Dipak sighed and ruffled her hair with one hand while patting her pockets down in search of cigarettes. When she slid her fingers into the pocket at her hip, she smiled and pulled out a pack. With a flick of her wristthe end of one came out of the box. Putting it in her mouth, she lit it with a match from a small book, drew on it deeply and slowly sighed it back out.
It was all so familiar. Many looked at Gytha, but she said nothing. There was nothing to say, they would believe what they wanted to.
“Jacob’s town was destroyed,” Kam said. He paused with an apologetic look to the boy before continuing on, “Does that have anything to do with this?”
“The Lesser Tree was in their park,” Dipak said.
Dipak crushed out the cigarette without finishing it and turned away from the crowd.
“Next time reconsider before you dismiss a problem as belonging to someone else.”
“I think I liked her better when she didn’t talk,” he said.
“Does the truth hurt that much?” Gytha asked before she followed Dipak and Jacob.
Dipak and Jacob sat on a rock that overlooked what remained of the town.
“I didn’t feel the wood move,” Gytha said.
“It was when the Lesser Tree fell,” Dipak stated.
“Won’t they be able to see us here?” Gytha asked.
“There is no one left to see,” Dipak said.
Jacob followed a thin dirt path from the ridge, leaving the Wandering Wood and entering the town. The paved road was cracked. Houses still burned. Lawns were gouged. The gazebo was shattered. The large tree that had once proudly stood next to it now laid on the ground and was burning.
“Is that the tree?” Gytha asked.
Dipak nodded. She lit a cigarette.
“What do we do now?” Gytha asked.
“I’ll do what I can to keep Enaid alive,” Dipak said.
She flicked ashes in the general direction that Jacob was wandering.
“We fight and protect the Lesser Trees as best we can,” she added.
After watching Jacob for a long moment, she said “And we wait.”
“For what?” Gytha asked.
“The next Tree of Life,” Dipak said.
Gytha flexed her claws and looked down at Dipak. There was something that wasn’t being said.
“There is always something unsaid, Gytha.”
“You used to trust me with everything,” Gytha whispered.
“Trust isn’t the problem. I don’t understand it myself. That boy has some part to play in this.”
Dipak jabbed his finger in Jacob’s direction. The boy turned and stared up at them. Dipak waved and Jacob waved back.
“Raven is the key here,” Dipak said.
Raven wrapped his arms and wings around Dipak and pulled him into a fierce embrace.
“Raven,” Dipak whispered hoarsely.
Jacob held her as her body trembled, she could no longer tell which was present and which was past. Time had folded up and pressed against it self in so many places…