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A cold wind buffeted Faera’s perch, playing with the tufts of her rabbit skin hat. Her watchtower was cleverly disguised as an eagle’s nest overlooking East Mountain. Only two hours till shift change, she thought, looking out over the mountains and forest and the road leading to the elven base.

Faera’s cheek rested against the cold steel of her rifle as she scanned for signs of a human attack. If the illiterate, stick-wielding barbarians tried to approach the mountain, she was looking forward to sending them hooting back to their caves.

A flicker of movement caught Faera’s gaze, and she shifted her scope, tracking it. “Is that…” Faera’s eyes widened as she recognized the object. She scanned to the left and right through the forest and spotted more movement, more ominous objects.

Faera leaned to one side and frantically fished out her brick of a radio. She pulled the antenna out and the radio hissed as she clicked it on. “Base, this is the watchtower, we’ve got artil--”

Faera’s words were interrupted by a flash from the distant edge of the forest, followed by dozens more. “Artillery incoming!”

The comms officer responded in an incredulous voice. “Artillery? Are you fucking with-” His voice cut off as explosions rocked the base, blowing apart the fortifications like so many stacked matchsticks.

A rolling thunder washed over Faera as the report of the first barrage reached her. Dozens of flashes of light and smoke came again from the far side of the forest, and she braced herself as the explosions rocked the ancient tree she sat in.

The base was complete pandemonium. Elf corpses lay strewn across the inner yard, and screaming reached her ears even from this distance.

Faera looked through her scope at the artillery again, looking for a bit of skin beyond the dense forest. She let her body relax despite the chaos around her, aiming at a sliver of skin visible between tree trunks. She pulled the trigger, spotting a burst of red.

One less hand manning the heavy steel guns meant one less explosion rocking through her home. She panned her rifle to the next piece of artillery somewhat visible through the trees, lining up a shot on a head that seemed to bob in and out of sight as it worked a winch. She timed the shot, pulling the triger a half-second before the head showed up again. There was a sense of accomplishment when the man pout his own head in the path of her bullet, along with the disturbing sensation of ending a life.

Faera took two more shots, but the next volley came raining down on their heads, unaffected by her modest contribution. They had far more people manning the artillery than she had bullets.

“Fuck, fuck,” Faera muttered, looking for something she could do, some difference she could make. Down the road, a dust cloud resolved into a dozen jeeps, and she found a target for her anger.

Faera lined up a shot in front of the driver, exhaled slowly and pulled the trigger, feeling the familiar recoil as the bullet soared forward, intersecting the Jeep’s path. The window bloomed a white flower, stopping her bullet at the center, and the Jeep jerked momentarily before it continued on, undeterred.

With a growl, Faera unloaded on the lead Jeep’s windshield. After the first jerk, however, it didn’t slow or change its course, as it would have had she killed the driver. Where the fuck did they get bulletproof glass?

The Jeeps roared up to the elven base, skidding to a halt and and disgorging dozens of soldiers from their covered beds. The soldiers were wearing gold-embroidered white jackets with large buttons cinching the pieces together. They were also Human.

Where did humans get trucks and artillery? This was nonsensical.

To Faera, their uniforms looked like a mash-up between the garb worn during the American Civil War, and religious vestments from the former Vatican. Of course, the humans wouldn’t have known that. Shouldn’t have known that. Who knew anymore?

The soldiers drew steel sabers as they ran through the gaps in the defensive wall, without a care for the smattering of bullets from the elves. A few of them fell, but many more made it to their targets and cut down the long-lived people where they stood.

Faera replaced her magazine and took aim at a man in a red coat, seemingly leading the attack.

Her radio gave a brief burst of static. “Faera,” came the voice of her father. “We’re pulling back into the emergency shelter and closing the door. We need you to get help.” He sounded resigned, but his voice retained the steel of command.

Faera stayed silent, the crosshairs of her scope hovering over the red-coated man. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes intense. With a wave of his hand, a blast of fire erupted from a watchtower, incinerating two elves.

Faera pulled the trigger. The shot rang in her ears and pummeled her shoulder, while the bullet flew out toward the man’s heart. Something akin to heat distortion filled the air around the man, and the bullet hit the wall of the elven base beside him. He had some kind of protection spell. Humans shouldn’t have magic, either.

From a distance, the enemy hadn’t been able to tell where the shots had been coming from, but now the man in red and a few of the saber-wielding zealots craned their necks. Their gazes landed on the ancient tree a hundred yards from the base with a commanding view of the surroundings.

“Faera, if you don’t leave and get help right now, we are all going to die!” her father barked. “This is an order. Drop what you are doing and seek assistance from another settlement.”

Faera took one last look at the humans. They were dragging elves back to their Jeeps, sorting the living from the dead before throwing screaming men and women into cages.

Faera caught sight of Eliana, her friend of four hundred years. Her jet black hair was stark against the white uniforms as she struggled, carried by her arms and legs to be loaded onto the back of a truck.

They took the elven corpses, too, tossing them onto a flatbed. Alive or dead; the humans took them all.

Like hell she was gonna let that happen. She shouldered the gun, taking aim at the men carrying her friend.

A crackling sphere of magic struck the side of her watchtower, sending shattered bits of wood through the air and throwing off her aim, through the scope she could see the leader pointing her out, weaving a spell between his fingers. Damn. There was just no time left.

Faera brought the radio to her mouth and said, “On my way,” her voice barely escaping her clenched teeth. Faera flew into action, as the enemy leader sent a half dozen soldiers up the mountain to retrieve her.

She slid down the ladder even as a missile of pure energy tore a hole through the camouflaged sniper nest. The resulting blast threw her off the ladder, landing on her back and knocking the wind out of her.

The sky had dancing stars in it as she struggled to catch her breath, turning onto her stomach with a groan she could barely hear.

As her hearing came back, she made out movement on the hill beneath her. Soldiers made their way up, crashing through the trees as they bulled towards her.

Faera groaned again, pushing herself to her knees, then putting her shaky legs beneath her before she began running west, away from their base and the road, deeper into the forest. By the time the humans made it through the traps surroundings her perch, she was long gone.

Faera trotted through the forest, making a plan as she ran. If she followed the river for a few miles, she would encounter Gentle Nights, a farming town so named for its uncharacteristically warm winter nights. After she warned them of the attack, she could catch a ride in one of their trucks and ask assistance from the elven capital of First Word, where the elves diligently guarded all the knowledge humanity had long since lost.

How did the humans get artillery? How did they go from homespun to mass-produced in just fifty years? Their Jeeps were at least a hundred years ahead of their clothes and sabers. Faera’s brow furrowed as she thought. Was some radical elven group assisting the humans in hunting down other elves?

Not possible.

Perhaps some human had deciphered one of thousands of ancient, decaying books strewn about the world, and made some lopsided scientific progress. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be long before one of the monkeys had the bright idea to create small arms.

Faera shuddered. The elves had to be warned. She ran with renewed purpose, cutting through the forest with her rifle strapped across her back.

Over the next couple hours, Faera kept up a steady pace, gliding silently through the woods. When she finally reached the river, she came to rest on the bank, panting as she splashed herself with the cold, clear water. Faera suppressed a shiver as it ate the outermost layer of warmth away, cooling her taxed body.

She ate a bit of salted meat she’d been saving for the end of her shift, and then glanced up at the sun, which was already beginning to slide into the west. Breath caught, Faera chased after it, running along the bank of the river, through the patchy shade provided by the trees.

An hour later, Faera arrived at Gentle Nights, where the river met a hot spring and made a bend around the farming down, cocooning it with constant warmth. The sun dyed the fields of wheat red as it sank below the horizon. The farmhouses clustered together on the edge of the fields looked warm and inviting, with their lights on and doors open to exchange the hot air of midday for night’s cooler temperatures.

Faera trotted down the dirt road, reinvigorated by the sight of civilization. She passed an orchard to her left, their flowers just past their bloom. When the porch lights from the sturdy wooden buildings shone into her eyes, she stopped.

Where were the dogs? Every small farming community had dogs: Working dogs, family pets, and those to protect against predators. The dogs should’ve come to check her out first thing. In fact, she should have heard barking the minute she was within earshot of the village.

Faera looked around, realizing there were no chickens or cows either. Not a single animal was in sight, and not a sound could be heard coming from the village.

Faera dropped to a crouch and pulled out her pistol. Keeping her profile below the level of the wheat, she slunk to the nearest house.

Cautiously, she peeked in the open door. The floor was bare wood polished by decades of use. Three pairs of muddy boots sat near the entrance, the dirt dry and cracked.

Faera edged inside, moving toward the kitchen. Their fridge looked homemade, cobbled together from the guts of other refrigerators. Tacked onto the fridge were clumsy pictures of animals and trees.

Faera crept down the hall, her ears straining to hear any noise louder than the pounding of her heart. She stopped in front of what was probably a bedroom door. With a quiet breath, she nudged it open. The room opened up in front of her, and Faera saw two forms lying still on a simple mattress. Strange, in the early evening.

The two adult-sized elves were tucked in, and there was no obvious sign of foul play. They didn’t rouse as Faera approached. “Ma’am,” she said, shaking the woman’s shoulder. Without a response from either of the adults, she turned the woman onto her back.

The woman’s eyes were open and cloudy, her skin bone-pale and cracked. Faera suppressed a gasp and placed her fingers over the woman’s throat, checking for a pulse. Getting none, she checked the man, only to find him in the same condition.

Faera studied the two staring corpses for a moment longer before she crossed the hall. In the children’s room were three beds, two stacked on top of each other, and the third against the window. In the top bunk was a boy approaching adolescence, dead in much the same way as his parents, and beneath him was a toddler, endlessly staring up at the bunk above him.

The bed by the window was empty.

Faera approached the window slowly, her training telling her not to stand directly in front of it. There were clumps of dirt on the windowsill, as though someone had climbed through it. When Faera checked the bed, she found dirt in and around it as well.

Assuming these people all died at the same time, and that the parents would be cross with any child who got that much dirt in the house, Faera guessed this dirt had been tracked in by a child after the event had occurred.

“It’s okay,” Faera said aloud, holstering her pistol. “I’m not mad, it’s okay.” Faera spoke softly, on the off chance Window Child was still around. “You can come out, I want to help you.”

Faera heard a scraping sound from behind her. Resting her hand lightly on the grip of the gun, she re-entered the parents’ room--and came face-to-face with a little girl in mud-stained overalls. A nest of trash had been pushed out from under the bed as the sole survivor crawled out.

“Are you a mage?” the girl asked. “Can you fix Mommy and Daddy?”

Faera shook her head, kneeling down. “No, I can’t help them, I’m here to help you.”

“No!” the girl screamed, and fought as Faera pulled her into her arms. “I don’t want help, I want you to fix Mommy and Daddy!”

Faera held the little girl in her arms. She estimated her to be about twenty years old--her ears had barely begun developing the nub that expressed her heritage. Faera kept watch as the girl cried until she exhausted herself and hung limp in Faera’s arms.

“What’s your name?” Faera asked, tilting her chin down to see the girl’s grimy face. “Mine’s Faera.”

“Beatrice,” the little girl said quietly, sniffling.

“Do your friends call you Bee?” Faera asked.

Beatrice nodded against her chest.

She held Beatrice out and met her eyes. “Bee, listen to me. Is there anyone else left in the town?”

Bee shook her head.

Faera took a deep breath. “Then, I’m going to warn First Word, and I’m going to take you with me.”

Bee shook her head, vehemently this time. “No, I wanna stay with mommy and daddy!”

“Bee, if you stay here, you’ll die.”

“I don’t care!” Bee shrieked.

Faera took a deep breath. “Bee, if you die, it would make your Mommy cry, and turn your dad to alcoholism, and eventually he might start hitting your mommy, who would get a divorce and start living with dozens and dozens of cats. Do you want to be responsible for that kind of domestic violence?”

“That’s not funny,” Bee sniffled, though a smile momentarily graced her face. “They’re dead.”

“I know,” Faera said, hugging her. “And you’re alive, and the only thing that your parents wanted while they were alive was for you to be happy. And the first step to being happy is being alive.”

“Be happy, Bee,” Beatrice said with a wobbly voice.

“No one says you have to be happy right now,” Faera said, standing. “But you do have to stay alive, and for that you have to come with me, okay?”

Bee nodded, and ran into her room, bringing a grimy blanket back out with her before she took Faera’s hand.

On the way out of the silent house, Faera snagged the keys to the farmer’s truck off the moonlit counter. She watched the dark woods for any sign of the humans, but all she could make out was the chirping of crickets. She lifted Bee into the vehicle, and the girl scooted into the passenger seat, allowing Faera to climb in after.

Faera looked down at the unmarked stick shift and blanched. “I’m sorry in advance for the bumpy ride,” she said. “I’m not very good with a manual transmission.”

There were a few false starts and grinding gears, but eventually, Faera and Bee were coasting down the dirt road that lead to First Word.

“What happened back there?” Faera asked.

According to Bee, she had woken up two days ago and everyone had been dead in their beds, somehow expiring in the night. Every single one of them had been staring at her.

Faera had seen the open eyes, but couldn’t guess the cause. “Did anything strange happen that night?”

“I crawled out the window and went to the lake to watch the stars,” Bee said. Her eyes widened as though she’d had a thought. “Is it my fault?”

Faera slowed the truck, which died because she failed to shift properly. With a sigh, she turned and looked directly into the girl’s eyes. “No.”

“But daddy told me not to--” Bee started.

“Listen, nothing you did could have caused this. The only reason you’re still alive is probably because you went to the lake that night.”

“Then, if I had known, I could have brought Mommy, Daddy, Thomas and Eric.” Bee said.

“Seeing the future,” Faera said as she restarted the truck, which rumbled to life, sending a beam of light across the dirt road. “That’s a pretty tall order. You got lucky, end of story.”

Faera kicked the truck into gear and it lurched forward with a grinding noise. Faera inwardly apologized to Bee’s father for manhandling his truck. They resumed their journey silently, and the exhausted Beatrice fell asleep, nestled against Faera’s hip.

The night wore on with the truck cutting a swath of light through the dark woods along the trail between themselves and First Word. Faera yawned, covering her mouth with her hand.

When she opened her eyes again, there were three figures in front of the truck, waving their arms.

Faera stomped on the brake and studied the humans in shock. A man and a woman held a third man between them, injured. They bore weapons and armor perfectly reminiscent of the late twenty first century. There was even a small LED lighting the thumb of one of the men, where the display on his smart gun rested.

Bee woke up, having been thrown against the dash. “Oww,” She said, rubbing her head as she sat up.

“Stay down, Bee,” Faera said, her heart pounding as the two carried their wounded companion toward the driver’s side. They hadn’t seen that she was an elf yet, the glare from the headlights must’ve been too strong. Then again, who else besides an elf would own one?

Today, her understanding of the world had been turned on its ear, with technology elves had thought lost reappearing in human hands, twice. These ones actually looked like they belonged to the period they were from. No mismatched clothes and weapons.

Maybe they were ghosts? They didn’t show any sign of not being straight from the twenty-eighties. In any case, they weren’t elves, and they had guns, which meant they were enemies.

Faera made her choice and unholstered her pistol. She rolled down the window.

“We need medical assistance,” the man holding the wounded one said, peering into the cab, his night vision obviously hurt by the headlights. “Can we get a ride to the nearest hospital?”

Faera shot him in the face.

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About the author

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  • Alaska

Bio: Born in Alaska, raised in Alaska, where the nearest job is 60 miles away. approaching 30 years old, happily married homebody diving head first into writing professionally . Looking to make friends and fans, meet artists and get feedback.

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