The Creator's Eye: Mover of Fate, Part I, page 16
“What’s the proper term for climbing out of a tree?” Grant asked himself. “Is it disembark?” He laughed at his punnery. And then he laughed at the fact that he was laughing at something so stupid. He was bored and there was little to entertain himself with beyond his own thoughts and the conversations between the devils below, which were occasionally audible over the rush of the river.
Grant had never seen such soldiers before. They were nothing like the ones he saw in the news reels as a kid. They looked like a cross between a science fiction movie poster and something the nuns described to him in Sunday school. He loved adventure and meeting new people, and normally he wouldn’t allow anyone’s strange appearance to keep him from a good conversation, but something in his gut told him to stay in his tree and listen.
What they said was not very inviting. He heard them discuss fighting and taking people prisoner. They spoke about looking for someone. Grant didn’t want to be mistaken for that someone. They also recounted a story of torturing people to find that someone. Grant could not make out the details, which he was glad about, but he was disturbed by the amount of glee they took in their descriptions. He was sure that any amount of glee in torture was far too much.
There were eight devil men in all. They took shifts at either end of the bridge while a couple of them rested. A few times, more horned guys marched southwards down the road, kicking up clouds of dirt as they went. Sometimes they rode shaggy black horses and had even shaggier dogs, but most were on foot.
The incoming soldiers would stop at the bridge to speak with the guards before moving south. Grant tried to make out what they were saying, but it was always more of the same― fighting and hunting for someone. Grant gleaned that they were seeking someone human, but he didn’t see a single human the whole time he sat in the tree. That made him increasingly worried.
The soldiers guarding the bridge seemed almost as bored as he was. Some of them complained that they wanted to see more action. Others complained that they missed their homes. One of them, who had longer horns and appeared to be their captain, complained that they whined too much and needed to keep a better lookout.
When they weren’t chatting, Grant busied himself by recalling places he had visited. He had spent a lot of time alone in his life. It was not that he didn’t like people― he loved them, actually― it was just that he often found himself traveling solo, so he was quite good at entertaining himself. He often passed the time by singing All Along the Watchtower. After listening to this song in his head a few dozen times, Grant wished that he could recall something else, but his mind had gone infuriatingly blank.
Then Grant’s stomach burbled again. At least when he finally browned down upon the soldiers he wouldn’t be bored anymore. As he contemplated this impending gastro-intestinal disaster, the soldiers suddenly clammed up. One by one they turned and peered towards the north, at what, he could only guess.
The soldiers drew their swords. Using only hand gestures, the captain signaled to the others to fan out and move forward. They disappeared from sight behind the foliage. Grant strained his ears, trying to listen for footsteps or the crunching of leaves, but all he could hear was the rush of the river.
After a while, he wondered if they all had left. His ears twitched trying to hear anything.
Suddenly, a shot rang out followed by an anguished scream. He heard one of the soldiers shout, “Over there!” and then there was a flurry of bangs and whizzes as red flashes rent the air. Another soldier yelped as he was hit.
One of the other soldiers called, “They’re behind the trees!”
“There’s one over here!” yelled another from a different direction.
A stray blast struck the foot of Grant’s tree. It shook the branch upon which he was perched and sent a hail of leaves raining down below.
Then scores of red lights zipped past like hornets made of lightning. They flew wildly, hammering their way up the side of the crap apple tree. One even struck the underside of Grant’s branch with a sizzling whack. More people cried out, but Grant couldn’t tell anymore if it was the devils or their assailants.
The battle ceased. He heard no more blasts or shouts. A thin wisp of smoke rose silently from where the bolt had struck his roost.
Grant considered climbing down and making a run for it, but he wasn’t sure who had won. He might hastily reveal himself to the soldiers. Even if they all were dead, their assailants could be even worse. But then his bowels clenched up violently. It was time to go no matter who had won.
He grabbed his pack from the crook of the tree and slung it over his shoulders. Gripping onto his branch with both hands, he swung onto the next sturdy one below. The next one was a longer drop, but with a nimble leap he was able to hop down without losing his balance. He navigated like this from limb to limb until all that remained was fifteen ankle-shattering feet of smooth tree trunk that he had no choice but to shimmy down. He took one last look around, but there was no sign of the soldiers or their attackers so he lowered himself down the tree by finding small grooves in the bark to place his feet. Half way down he pushed off the trunk and landed in the soft grass with a cushiony thump.
“Don’t move!” ordered a woman’s voice behind him.
Grant’s stomach dropped, which was not easy considering how full it was of bad fruit. He could not see who spoke to him. Had one of the horned soldiers returned?
“Keep your hands away from your pockets!” commanded the stranger. “In fact,” she reconsidered, “put them behind your head.”
Grant obliged. He then felt a sword tip press sharply into his side as the woman raided his pockets.
“I’m unarmed,” he declared, hoping she wouldn’t shoot. “I don’t do magic.”
“Magic?” asked his assailant, perplexed.
“Moving,” Grant corrected, “I don’t do it.”
“Then what’s this blade for?” said the woman, discovering the knife he kept stowed in his bag.”
“It’s for sandwiches!” Grant explained. “I love sandwiches!”
He winced as her blade jabbed harder against his side. It wouldn’t take much more to run him through. Meanwhile, his stomach growled vociferously. “Careful with that or you’ll make me pop like the smelliest balloon ever!”
“Huh?” said the woman, then, realizing what Grant was implying she snapped, “Knock off the jokes! Who are you and what were you doing with the demons?”
“Demons?” Grant asked.
“Yeah, the demons!” flared the woman, who sounded much younger when she raised her voice.
“You mean the horned guys?” he asked. “I’m not with them. I was hiding from them. Didn’t you see me up this tree?”
Another voice called out from the edge of the clearing. “Maya, who do you have there?” It sounded older, and a little out of breath. Grant could hear footsteps in the grass as whoever it was approached.
“He was with the demons,” said the girl, named Maya apparently, “but claims he was hiding up this tree.”
“What’s your name?” said the new person.
“Grant,” he offered, trying to sound agreeable.
“Well, Grant,” said the man, “please turn around so we can take a look at you.”
“But keep your hands up!” ordered the girl cautiously.
She withdrew the blade from his ribs. Grant kept his hands raised and slowly turned to face his aggressors. He was relieved to see that they didn’t have horns on their heads. They must have chased off the soldiers. Moreover, the woman holding the sword at his side was much younger than he thought― almost a girl really― thin and pretty with almost whitish blonde hair. She stepped back as Grant turned, but still pointed her sword and glared suspiciously at him.
“See, Maya?” said the older man, who had caught his breath. He was tall and despite the whiteness of his beard seemed to be strong and robust. He had probably done most of the fighting. “No horns,” he continued. “You can rest your sword, but I’
“He was over here with the demons,” she pointed out. “You said you don’t know how the demons found Arimbol. What if they had human collaborators?”
“That’s a good point,” said the old man, squinting one crow-footed eye inquisitively at Grant. “No one from Aaru would ever work with them, but earthlings may not know better.”
“Earthlings?” asked Grant, befuddled. “I promise you that I was not working with them. I’m an explorer. I go all over Arimbol looking for new wonders, strange plants, and weird animals. I catalog them and draw crappy pictures. You can even look at my journals. Let me just fetch them from my bag.” Grant began to reach for his pack.
“Keep your hands where they are!” the girl barked and jabbed her sword at him anew.
Grant froze. “Look,” he said, “you have nothing to fear from me. I don’t even know how to Move. I saw those strange fruits up there and climbed closer to check them out. While I was up there the devils―”
“You mean the demons,” the girl corrected.
“Whatever,” Grant shrugged, “the bull-horned jerks! They appeared below my tree and wouldn’t leave. I didn’t like the look of them, so I stayed up there for the past three nights. Fortunately those fruits are edible.”
“You survived on those things?” the old man asked in disbelief. He pointed his staff at Grant’s chest. “Maya, you might be right about this guy. Those are olumbers. My forest is full of them. It’s okay to eat a few now and then, but any more will tear your stomach apart. There is no way you could have survived on those for three days.”
“You’re right,” Grant admitted. “They do tear your guts apart,” and he let go of a deep, tempestuous drum roll from his rear that had been threatening to tear him from taint to sternum for hours.
The girl lowered her sword and covered her nose while the old man couldn’t help but laugh.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” bowed Grant, “I have some business to take care of behind those bushes.”