Chasing - Short fantasy story (Part III)

A day later, I rode towards the edge of the Northern Forest. With enough money, the innkeeper told me many things, some of which I was sure he had invented himself in order to get as much money as possible for his information. But at least now I knew where the fugitive was headed. Northern forest. From ancient times, various stories about her have been circulating, even in the remote part of the Empire where I grew up, on the opposite side of the continent. It was an endless rainforest that stretched for hundreds of kilometers in all directions. No one has ever explored that forest, except for a few initial kilometers that were used as hunting grounds or places where timber was cut down. Every story about her seems to have something dark in it, mostly various monsters that could not be found anywhere else for centuries, or some even stranger ones that mention the inhabitants of that region who control forms of magic that are unimaginable in today's world. Magic was known to me, I was surrounded by it as I grew up. I saw it in every shape and in every place. After so many years since the last War of the Mages, two centuries earlier, no one was afraid of its use. Even the Mages gained a certain position in society, respectable, because they often directed their powers to help build the Empire.

Lost in my thoughts, I didn't even notice that I was within reach of entering the forest. Old trees, gnarled and branched in all shapes and sizes, testified to the history of the forest. The roots sprang from the ground a few tens of meters into the clearing, sinking here and there into the ground. It exuded a kind of calm, uncharacteristic of anything else I had experienced. I've never been near this place. And now the commandments, and the magic mark that was planted on my forearm a long time ago, while I was still in training for an agent of the Empire, forced me to step into it without any hesitation. I knew I wouldn't get out of here alive or sane. The fugitive was dangerous, and more importantly, desperate. I'm sure he escaped far into the very bowels of the dark forest. I knew I would lose a lot along the way.

I stopped at the threshold of that beautiful and terrifying wonder of nature. Remembering with a set of days when I was spying on the lordship and chasing small thieves through the cobbled streets of the capital. I knew it would never happen again. I didn't regret anything, I did what I was best at and I was proud of many of my skills. But this passage and continuation of my search somehow seemed to me to be a turning point in my service.

I got off horseback, because the roots that stick out in all directions and the lack of any paths will only hurt the horse. I stepped inside, And some strange peace suddenly fell on everything around me. It's as if the space outside the forest is a completely different world, which it may have been considering the stories circulating about this place.

I wandered around a bit in search of something, any clue that would lead me in one particular direction. I have to admit that the search lasted that I was totally insane, even though my knowledge of tracking even through the woods was truly remarkable, but I didn’t come across a single clue. I sat down to rest, by a clear stream, I took something to eat from lunch bag and sat like that all day long, staring in the direction of the sky, or the place where it should be. Everything was covered with green leaves of the surrounding trees. I continued on my way, aimlessly. Not long after, the horse began to snort and then a gentle breeze brought the stench of burnt flesh and blood to my senses. I hurried in that direction, and after a few hundred meters of walking, a scene appeared in front of me from the fiercest battles I had witnessed. Scattered, dead bodies were everywhere in a small clearing near the makeshift hut. Hunters. There were no horses, only one lying near the fire, in a mortal slave. Seven bodies, some of them so mutilated that I couldn't see their faces. And on each of them, a sign of a fugitive. Three clear scars on the victim's neck. None of them were deadly.

The chase began.


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