The boy fled north through the dense woodland, his breathing laboured and shallow. The soles of his feet were being ripped by the thorns and rocks. But he didn’t care.
The morning sun was rising in the east but dawn struggled to penetrate the dense canopy.
Further north, the land dipped into a valley but the boy kept to the high ground. Any other day he would’ve ventured down to speak with the tigers, but not today. Charred bodies flashed behind his eyes, but he couldn’t think about that either. He glanced back, beyond the trees. All was still. Maybe they didn’t see him scurrying away.
Placing an ear to the trunk of a very old oak tree, he listened. They appeared in his mind’s eye; menacing and thunderous forms with pointed instruments to ravage the earth. He’d never seen anything like it. And the way they sat atop horses, plunging their ankles into the ribs of the creatures, bending them to their will. A bitter taste rose in his mouth.
His eyes flew open. They were coming.
The path circled the valley and ascended finally to a plateau. There were less trees – each one he knew by name – and the sunlight fed the ground encouraging the growth of his favourite cushioning moss. The constant rush of falling water echoed in the distance and the comforting smell of sandalwood filled the boy’s nostrils.
Up ahead, under an umbrella of foliage was the sage’s hermitage. I’m safe. He collapsed on the ground like wet clay. The sage hurried from her wooden hut.
“It’s happened,” the boy wept into the earth, “The world has changed.”