Copyright 2013 by Tom Lichtenberg
All Rights Reserved
Smashwords Edition Copyright 2013 by Tom Lichtenberg
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It was a rat that led the way, the first one ever seen in the forest prison world. It was Soma who saw it first. From high above the forest floor, perched on the top of a blue eucalyptus, she heard an unfamiliar scrabbling sound, and peered down between the leaves to see a creature sneaking its way among the duff. She assumed it was a squirrel, of course, since squirrels were familiar and fairly numerous, but this one was missing all the fur off its tail, and it was squeaking. Soma swung down from branch to branch and in moments had snatched it up by that very same tail, but quickly dropped it as it lifted and squirmed to bite her hand. The rat hit the ground running but Soma pounced again, and this time grabbed it by the scruff of its neck, so it couldn't reach her with its teeth. The rat struggled and kicked, but Soma held on tight, and carried it back to Bombarda's hut by the lake. He'd know what it was, she thought. Bombarda knew everything.
He was sitting by the fire in the middle of his house, warming his hands and watching the smoke curl up through the hole in the roof. It was not cold outside, but Bombarda was always cold inside. He felt the chill in his bones, his eternally sixty-four year old bones. Of all the luck, he was one of those cursed to stop aging when he was already old, not like Soma, or her near constant companion, Squee, who were both eight, and had been eight for so long now that no one could say how many years it had been. No one even tried to guess anymore. Since the day when The Hidden One had died, the inmates of the forest prison had hoped against hope that there might be a true cure for their immortality. All of them had been locked away, cast aside by a mortal civilization that could no longer tolerate their presence.