Eternal Flame

m/f space opera
romance space opera

Chapter 1: Running

Blue light flared in the darkened forest, and a whirl of metal splashed across the night sky, spinning wildly as the flashing ship flung three bodies off into the towering trees. Slowing, and finally stopping, the metal glider sent off a final flame of eerie blue light high into the sky and plummeted in the heavy gravity. Silence fell over the woods, and the three shapes lay still.

Nami lay on the ground, stunned, trying to breathe, trying to get her bearings. Alive, but lost, and alone, far from the city. The ground seemed to drag at her and every breath was a struggle. The planet’s gravity was far too strong, and being thrown off the glider like that had nearly killed her. She could feel a pressure on her side and let out a sigh of relief. Still armed. When she reached to check, her sword was there but the pistol was gone. Probably knocked out of its holster when she had fallen. There was little chance of finding it now, but one weapon ought to be enough.

She sat up slowly, and looked around in wonder. Tall trees clutched at the sky, older and larger than any trees she had seen on this planet so far. How could they possibly grow that tall with the weight of the planet sucking them downward? She spotted the other two passengers on her doomed rescue attempt, and managed to stagger over to them. One, an old woman, nearly eighty years of age, stared at the stars above with lifeless eyes, blood dripping from the large gash in her head where it had connected with a branch. Nami closed the woman’s eyes out of respect and turned to the other body, fearing a similar fate. At the touch of her hand upon his shoulder, the young girl opened her eyes and Nami breathed a sigh of relief. The girl trembled, and could not have been more than ten years old. Her leg looked broken but she was silent and Nami commended her stoicism. Either that or she was in shock.

Nami examined the wreck of the glider. Lying flat upon the ground, the small ship was unmoving, the keys barely visible in the shadows. Nami stepped into the pilot’s seat, crouching at the front of the slim vessel and typing in the commands that would lift the device. Nothing happened. The glider would not respond. She glanced at the girl. If they had to walk back to the city, she would have to carry her and she had no idea which direction to head. They wouldn’t get far; Nami wasn’t strong enough to carry a young girl more than a few hours with this gravity.

Nami had arrived here less than a day ago, hearing warnings that troops were attacking one of her cities and massacring her people. Normally the rescue would fall to her captains, or even lower down in the ranks, but the fighting had been fierce and she had been nearby. She didn’t want to leave her people to be slaughtered while she was right there, and had come to assist in the evacuation. But in her attempt to get people away, she hadn’t examined the map closely, trusting to the built-in navigation on the glider. Now that it had failed and spun out of control, she had no idea where she was or how to get back. They needed her help, and they wouldn’t leave without her. She needed to get back quickly, and she wasn’t leaving without this girl.

The girl pointed mutely into the forest behind her, and she turned. Two points of gold light flashed at her, and slowly a large bear padded out into the clearing. Nami gasped and drew her sword. The blade glittered in the moonlight, and the bear yelped softly and drew back. Calling softly to the girl, she examined the rest of the clearing, and saw several other pairs of glowing eyes. The girl staggered up, favoring her broken leg as she hobbled behind Nami. She held her sword high, trying to find a location where she could have some defense. The large bear in front of her growled softly, and two others appeared on either side, almost as if in response to some command. They must be the sentient natives, she realized with shock. She had been warned about them but given no description. The girl pressed against her back, but Nami kept her attention focused on the bears to her front and sides.

Silence fell, broken only by the ragged breathing of the girl behind her. The bears waited, not attacking, just watching, and Nami shifted uneasily. She glanced at the bear to her right, and as soon as her eyes moved, the bear in front of her sprang. She raised her sword just as the bear reached her, and it twisted to avoid the sharp edge, but a great pressure landed on her right and she slammed to the ground. The bear leapt on top of her, jaws searching for her neck, but she pulled out a dagger and stabbed into its chest. Her movements were slow in the gravity but desperation lent her the necessary speed. Another bear leapt at the girl and ripped her body open before Nami could react. The wounded bear vanished into the forest and she jumped up. The bears were between her and the girl.

Keeping a wary distance from her, they circled the body of the girl, still alive but mortally wounded, her blood flowing freely. Nami rushed at the bears, trying to break through and protect her, but three large bears joined the others snarled, and she retreated. One of the bears, the first bear, approached the girl, and she stared in horror as it reached down and tore a chunk from the girl’s body. She was dead. The bears turned to her, preparing for an attack, and Nami backed up. The bears still seemed wary of her blade, but they were approaching. Nami began speeding up her retreat, and finally broke into a run, keeping an eye on the woods, looking for any sign of glowing eyes.

Not knowing anything about the land, she ran on, hoping to find a village, or at least some protection from the bears, praying that the land would not end in a cliff or trap. She cursed the gravity slowing down her movements, because the eyes were on each side of her, and she saw that they were almost ahead of her. They won’t attack until they have me surrounded, Nami thought, and pressed ahead faster. A new sound emerged from the darkness, the sound of running water, and hope gave new wind to her feet. Turning to her right, towards the sound, she charged the bear there, which jumped out of the way of her sharp sword, too surprised by the prey’s sudden move to attack. Nami emerged from the forest and found herself on the banks of a mighty river. She could just make out a bridge in the distance, and white towers that held the hope of sanctuary if she could only reach them.

She ran, and the bears pursued. She heard calls from the bears and more joined the chase until nearly two-dozen clawed through the forest after her. She prayed that she wasn’t headed into a trap and wondered how the bears were communicating. It almost seemed like they were playing with her, tiring her out before killing her. They could outrun her, she was sure of it, but they didn’t. They let her run and run, never able to stop more than a second or two to catch her breath before a bear lunged at her and the running began again. The bears caught up with her about an hour after sunset, just as the tower came within reach.

She knew that the bears would catch her before she reached the dubious safety of its gates. Indeed, she was within sight of the heavy doors when two bears sprang out and confronted her in the road. She stumbled to a stop and the bears surrounded her. Still, none attacked, until the largest bear, who must be the leader, approached her from the front. Nami knew that even if she killed some of the bears, she could not kill them all, and, accepting her fate, she decided to get as many of them as possible first.

She half expected all of the bears to attack, but the others merely kept her ringed in and unable to leave while she and the leader of the bears faced each other. Perhaps it was their custom to kill one-on-one, and she wasn’t complaining. Nami circled, keeping both her sword and her dagger ready, but she was tired and knew that the longer she waited, the weaker she would become. Finally, seeing that the bear seemed to be waiting for her to make a mistake, she attacked, and succeeded in slicing deep into the bear’s shoulder before the bear turned and clawed her side. Not expecting such a quick return, the sharp claws dug into her side, and she stumbled back. Blood ran from her wound, and now the bears growled softly.

The leader of the bears backed up, and made no move to attack. Remembering the death of the girl, Nami knew that they were waiting for her to weaken from the blood loss. For a second, the world shifted and Nami felt herself slipping, falling to the ground, combined exhaustion and blood loss causing her to faint. The bears drew nearer, but she forced herself to remain standing, and keep her weapons steady.

The leader of the bears began to draw closer to her, and she suddenly saw a way to kill at least one of the creatures. She fell to the ground in a faint, her eyes open but dazed. A howl burst from the bears, and the leader leaned over her. She felt its tongue on her side, then stabbed her sword up into the beast’s stomach and pulled forward, nearly slicing the beast in two. An unearthly shriek split the air and the ground trembled as the creature suddenly spasmed and was still. Nami struggled to push the bleeding corpse off and stand up.

The other bears growled but kept their distance, and seemed to be looking at the woods rather than planning on how to attack her. She heard a shout, uttered by a human voice, and she heard footsteps. The bears scattered. She turned, and saw a man holding a torch. He seemed strange, but she was too weary to figure out the reason. He was still a ways down the path, but she felt all of her strength leave her body and fell to the ground beside the bear. The last thing she saw before blackness took her vision were the eyes of the bear. Then her mind fled her battered body, and she fell into sleep.

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