The Greater Lion

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Chapter 5~•~NOVAS TERRAS

They were followed. Their gazes pierced his skin like steel darts. He stopped to look around while signalling his companion to stand behind, and then his eyes met another quickly before it disappeared into the darkness. Unsure of what he saw, he called out to the darkness, receiving am answer from whichever spirit that whistled through the wind on a cold night. It was high time they stopped for the day and set up camp, he thought. He searched around until he found a tree whose roots laid just high enough for him and his companion to rest their heads, and he dropped his rucksack beside it.

In a place as distant as it was unknown to her, her uncle was her only companion and mentor, and she religiously followed his instructions - sitting when he tells her to sit, walking when he tells her to walk and resting when he tells her to. It was her first time seeing a forest as much as it was her first time out of the city. Her excitement grew along with her fear, and with each passing minute, her mind generated a plethora of questions she wanted answered immediately, even though her uncle was as much of a stranger as she was.

"Come have a seat," he said to her, producing sleeping bags and lighter from his rucksack. He gathered twigs and leaves, and started a fire.

Thomas was a naturalist from Rhode who dedicated his life to the study of nature and the environment. Himself and a few others observed the viability of the environment surrounding the empire and brought up ways to make life more sustainable for all species, they were arguably some of the most indispensable experts in the empire.

For someone with his passion, the request to explore the continent up north was one that he would never let slip by him. They had waited many years to gain the ability to travel across the ocean, it was, in fact, a great honour to be where he was - although he wished he knew what exactly he was doing.

Accompanying him was his niece, Freya, a very dedicated student of his, who also insisted her way to being the one he would take with him to the expedition. Freya had lost her parents at a young age, and as a result, she spent most of her years under her uncle's care as she learned from him.

As she stared at the embers, staring deep through the flame as it ate the wood, she remembered the stories of terror which she had heard as a child of forests like the one she found herself. She remembered the stories of the wild animals and the forest dwellers - the forest dwellers; disappear in the darkness with the natural camouflage of their skin, taunt their prey with mysterious laughter like the hyena, hunt trespassers and dismember their victims with their inhuman abilities. They better just be stories, she said to herself.

"What are you thinking about? " he asked her.

"Nothing really," she said, suddenly trying to get her hands on some of the limited food they had. "Do you think there are people dwelling in the forest?"

"As far as I can tell, there isn't anyone here."

"What if there are? And they are hiding in the darkness with their dark camouflage."

Thomas laughed. "You should go to sleep, my dear. Before your the monsters in your imagination come out to get you." He kept the unsuspecting girl in darkness of the dwellers that followed them. Perhaps it was the monster in his imagination.

"Are you not going to eat?" She asked brusquely.

Don't worry about me, just go to sleep." His words gave her an comforting feeling of assurance, and she tucked herself in a comfortable position after finishing what was in her hand.

Hours passed by and Thomas wide awake. To him, the idea of sleeping was far fetched, not when someone or something could be following them. If something was out there, would it not have attacked them by now? He asked himself as he fed wood to the fire to keep it alive.

Shortly, he picked up his pen and his journal and continued to write down all the information he had gathered about the new world in which he found himself. When he compared it to the empire's lands, he felt as though he warped to an entirely different world where the air was fresh, the soil bred plants and smaller animals could survive. The more he wrote of the the terrain and its riches, the more his excitement grew as well as his exhaustion. He would let himself sleep for a little while - at least that was he thought. He put his head down with his pen and journal still at hand, and then he closed his eyes gently.

"Uncle Tom!" The words sounded very distant in his head, as though they echoed from a dream and not reality where his niece was ceaselessly calling his name in an attempt to wake him up.

"Uncle Tom!" She cried again. This time he heard the crack in her voice and he felt her small and tender hand pat his shoulder continuously.

"Uncle Tom!" This time he opened his eyes quickly in response to the reverberated cry in his ears.

"What is it?" He asked, noticing the tear drops roll from her eyes to her red cheeks. He sat upright and looked past her at the huge, dark skinned, able-bodied man that started to approach her. Thomas swallowed his breath as he swiftly wrapped his arms around Freya and looked around only to notice three more huge men slowly approaching him. He suddenly felt his heart beat against his chest - just as he felt Freya's - sweat covered his forehead and dropped down his face which went pale. In that moment he realised, the forest dwellers really followed him.

"What do you want from us? Who are you people?" He cried out only receiving silence from them. Can they speak like people? He asked himself.

Just as he turned left and right in the hopes of a random miracle, he felt a heavy and excruciating pain at his temple. Everything became blur and he felt all of his energy vanish instantly. He fell to the ground and heard Freya's faint voice desperately call out his name as she tried to shake him back to consciousness but it was too late, one of the dwellers had hit him from behind, just strong enough to make him lose his consciousness, but not enough kill him.

Freya felt a firm grips on both arms as one of the dwellers captured her. Too powerless to make a struggle, all she did was kick and yell at them to release her, but they they did no such thing, instead they tied her wrists together and one of them put her on his shoulder. Where they really going to dismember her? She thought as her heart pounded continuously and she continued kicking.

Rays of sunlight pierced his eyelids as he regained consciousness. Slowly, he opened his eyes, his head on the ground and eyes directly facing the sun. His head throbbed harder as he continued to look so he closed his eyes and hoped to go back to sleep, but then he remembered - Freya - his heart raced and fear gnawed at his heart. He immediately attempted to go on his feet and look for her, but this time his legs as well as his hands were tied. In his mouth was a thick piece of clothing that prevented him from uttering any word, so calling out to her was out of the question.

The forest dwellers went silent and turned to him after hearing the rough sounds of his struggling. A few of them started to approach him until they heard footsteps coming from the tent behind them. The largest man Thomas had ever seen stepped out of the tent and slowly went quiet as he looked up in disbelief. A giant, he said to himself.

The dwellers cleared a path for the giant who seemed to be their leader. In a regal manner, the giant walked towards Thomas. He felt his heart pound against his chest with each step the giant took. Suddenly, one of the dwellers forcefully held Thomas and pulled out the cloth in his mouth, and the giant stopped at an arms length away from him.

"How many are here on our lands?" The Giant started, his voice as towering as was his height.

"You... You speak English?" From being too anxious, he said the first thing that came to his mind. "I - I - I am Thomas, an explorer. I don't mean any harm"

"Speak slowly so that I can understand you."

"Yes, yes... My name is Thomas, Thomas Irwin."

"Thomas Irwin. What do you search for, and how did you come here?"

"I am an explorer, we came hoping to find new lands and resources."

"A spy?" He said indignantly

"Not a spy... Not a spy. I promise you, we meant no harm."

"You do realise your position man. I advise you don't think of telling lies."

"I promise you, I am not lying!"

"Ajala!" The giant called. A very dark, strong looking man came running to his presence.

"General!" Ajala cried.

"Take them to the palace. I am sure the king would want to see this."

Ajala nodded to one of the soldiers and he roughly lifted Thomas and put him on his shoulder. He tried his best to struggle but was easily overpowered by the sheer strength of one of the dwellers.

"My companion... Where is she?" Thomas cried out. The giant remained silent and walked away

The dweller dropped Thomas in a carriage driven by two strange looking blue horses, and then he sat in front and held the ropes.

Thomas's heart eased a little when he saw Freya in the same carriage. Although her eyes were drenched in tears and she barely noticed him, he could tell that she wasn't harmed, and that spelt more relief.

Shaka stared in disbelief, he did believe the old stories, but seeing them in person was a different experience. There was only one thing to do, he thought.

"Take them to the dungeon, I shall decide what to do with them there. All of you get back to your businesses!"

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