The horn echoed through the forest, loud and deep.
Fael stopped what he was doing and closed his eyes to listen to the echoes.
He recognized the horn that was so much like a howl of a beast.
“It’s the sign,” he said to his friends, barely containing his excitement. “The sign of the first Spear Boar after winter. Even if it’s later than usual, the Hunt will begin!”
“Calm down, Fael,” his friend said, turning towards the sound. “I know you just wanna win another Hunt and marry Lia, but it’s a lot later than every year. It might not be the Spear Boar sign…”
“Yeah, something might have happened to them in the mountains during this winter,” another one said.
“It’s not the first time this happens…”
“I’ve seen hunters around near the mountain,” Lia said, her face grieve. “They said that the peasants are fleeing to the cities. Thanks to that, the food stocks are getting so low there are people willing to risk hunting Spear Boars during the winter.”
“Who’d be crazy enough to hunt them during the winter?”
“Guys, guys, I’m sure that horn was to say someone sighted a Spear Boar,” Fael said, shaking his head to his friends. He pricked his ears to try pinpointing the sound.
Fael led his group towards the sound through the trees, they heard a second horn. And it came from the same direction.
The young man stopped, feeling his heart sinking and his blood freezing.
Even without exchanging glances, Fael knew his friends felt the same.
One horn meant something unusual had happened or a call to make the members of the Forest Tribes gather.
But two horns meant enemies in the forest.
Even if that would alert the enemies, it didn’t matter; only they could find the source of the sound in that forest that tricked the senses of those unfamiliar.
Even fearing what they might find, they went on.
Enemies? Again…? After so long? With his heart heavy, Fael reached the source of the siren.
“What is it…?” Fael asked, trying to get to the center of the commotion.
“Fael…” A younger girl who admired the man averted her eyes.
Little by little, the people gathered in a circle noticed his arrival and made room for him.
Then Fael saw.
In the middle of the circle, there were two dead Spear Boars.
At a closer look, they had been slashed at the bellies.
“Who… or what could do this to them?” someone asked.
No one spoke.
Fael realized what everyone was thinking. No one from the Forest Tribe would kill a Spear Boar.
Not after winter, not during the mating season.
Because if they affected the Boars’ cycle, it would affect the forest and them.
“Could it be predators? We can’t say it’s enemies for sure…” one person said in a trembling voice.
Others murmured in agreement, trying to drive the memories of ten years ago from their minds.
“What kind of predators could kill two Spear Boars at this time, when their wildest?” Lia replied.
The crowd grew quiet after her words.
She’s right… There’s no way any predator could’ve killed them at this season… which can only mean…
“Has anyone find signs of enemies in our forest?” he asked, looking around.
A girl, no older than fourteen, stepped forward. She held the horn in a hand and clutched something in the other.
“I-I found this,” she stuttered and trembled as she handed a broken blade to the man.
Fael held it before his eyes, his face losing its color as he stared at his reflection on the dull blade.
As the knife passed around, everyone showed the same reaction; fear.
I’ve seen this before, Fael thought when the little blade reached his hands again.
The memories he remembered every time he had a nightmare filled his head.
It’s the same type of weapon…
He ran a thumb on the edge, feeling the cold from that metal spread filling him.
After the Great Invasion ten years ago, the Forest Tribes started using metal for the first time in their history.
Since they couldn’t work the metal, they bought from the kingdom. Swords, knives, shovels, axes and many other metal tools that could be useful to them.
But that broken piece of blade was curved.
And no one in the kingdom forged curved blades.
No one outside the desert.
It can only mean they’re back… the same people who killed my parents and so many others…
One by one, the people gathered around the corpses of the animals turned to face west, where the desert stood beyond their forest.
“We can’t fight them…” a young man said.
“We’ll be wiped out this time…” a girl cried.
“We need help…” an older woman spoke.
The pleas and cries were the same.
Fael felt the same. Even if he wanted, he could never forget the tragedy ten years ago.
When the Sand-dwellers wanted to invade the Kingdom marching through the forest.
They wanted to get the Kingdom off guard.
However, they never thought they would lose half their strength to the Forest Tribes.
Thanks to them, the Kingdom managed to organize their forces and fight off the invaders.
But it was at a great cost.
We lost so many that time…
The Forest Tribes barely managed to survive with only the too old and too young.
And without any help from the Kingdom.
Fael tried but couldn’t stop the tears.
Everyone here lost so much…
I lost my mother and father… and Faela left me too…
“We need to ask the Kingdom for help this time,” one of the elders, one of the survivors from those days, said.
“But elder, they won’t get here in time,” a faceless voice replied.
“And they’ve never helped us,” Lia said, her voice bitter. “Why would they help now?”
“Even so, we need to ask,” the elder man said in a firmer voice. “Even if they haven’t help, now it concerns them too.
“We need proof,” Fael said, waking up from his memories. “This blade won’t be enough.”
“It could be only a stray Sand Eater… It’s hard to tell what any of those people are thinking…”
“Yeah… you’re right,” one from Fael’s group agreed and more and more people murmured too.
But before the people got their hopes up, the elder slammed his cane on the ground.
“We need to find out,” he said in a deep voice that overpowered all others. “If there’s any Sand Raiders are inside our forest, we need to know.”
With those words, the discussion was over.
They divided themselves into two groups.
One would scout the forest and the other would warn the rest of the Forest Tribes the situation and make sure everyone was ready to do their task.
Fael joined the scout group, which was divided into several smaller and faster groups.
But they all had the same mission; find proof if there really was invaders in their forest.