Dank, gray mist hid the upper limbs of the trees and clung wetly to the blade of his sword. The heavy cloak about his shoulders did little to keep out the cold.
He moved carefully, the dampness softening the pine needles under his feet. A sound, off to his right, brought him sharply to a halt. He listened, breathing slowly, easily.
Whispers came to him, muffled by the mist. It was nothing. One of the others had disturbed one of the forest creatures. Nothing more.
Felenn moved on.
The mist was thicker now. Little could be seen ahead. Even less could be seen to either side.
He stopped beneath a tree that seemed broader than others close to it. Older.
"These others are new," he said as he placed his hand against the trunk of the tree. "What is different about you?"
Felenn moved slowly around the tree, trying to see a pathway through the newer trees. More whispering came to him, and movement off somewhere to the right.
There was a shout, then a scream, then silence.
"It has started," he said and moved forward.
Felenn had gone but five or six steps when his ankle snagged on something. Instinct warred with reason and he threw himself flat on the ground.
He heard them, a bare arm's length above him, then they thudded into the tree whose shelter he had just left.
He lay there for a while, calming his breath, listening before rolling to the side and standing. Looking back, he saw five metal shafts embedded in the tree. Each shaft was half the height of a grown man.
He nodded to the tree. "I see now where your comrades went. You'll not survive many more of those."
Around in the mist, he heard the screams of the dying and the silence of the dead. He turned again and moved forward.
More careful now, Felenn saw the trip wire before he stepped on it. Beads of moisture clung to the thin, taut cord. He considered a moment and then slashed it with his blade. Movement to the side caught his eye and he saw a tall sapling spring upright.
He stepped back three paces and metal shafts buried themselves into both sides of the tree he had been standing next to.
"Clever," Felenn said. "Trip it, something happens. Cut it, something else."
He moved on. Around him all was silent. Was he the only one left?
With a growl, Felenn stepped into the center of a clearing. He looked around and then up at the mist settling down from the tops of the trees.
"Hear me," he said. "I am Felenn, of my Mother Tamra, of my Father Farenn. I defy you and am here to demand your aid."
A metal shaft plunged down out of the mist to stand, quivering, in the ground two feet from him. Felenn stood firm, sword ready.
The mist in front of him rolled aside. Felenn almost lost his control. There it was. The fire that gave life to his village, but did not burn. He knocked the metal shaft to the ground and strode to the strange metal container.
As in the stories he'd been told, it emitted a quiet hum. He picked it up, one-handed, disregarding its weight. He stopped when he had again reached the center of the clearing, and looked around.
"It is not fit that gods should destroy so many of their people. Hear me. It is not fit."
Felenn paused and looked down at the ground. He hung his sword from his belt and picked up the metal shaft. Looking around once again, he shook the weapon in defiance, then left to bring the fire to his village.
The Commander looked up from the viewscreen.
"We will need to reset the defenses. See to it."
"Yes, Commander," his Second said. She nodded at the viewscreen. "That one took one of the spears. They might learn from it."
"They might," said the Commander. "One of the reasons we thin their numbers. And they're dependent on the fuel cells. It will be a long time before they can threaten us."
"Yes, Commander," his Second said. "But, only their strongest and brightest survive the trials. That day may come sooner than we would like."
The Commander looked around at the remains of their crashed starship.
"We devastated their home when we crashed here. Destroyed much of their ecosystem before we had a chance to contain the damage. While we wait for rescue, it is the least we can do."
He paused for a moment. "It may be we'll need their help one day."
His Second nodded. "Yes Commander. I'll ensure the defenses are reset."
"See you do. The northern villagers will be here in three days."
The Second turned to give the orders to reset the defenses and have another fuel cell prepared.