[This is a work of fiction, as should be obvious throughout. Nothing in it resembles anything else enough to be mistaken for reality, but just in case someone disagrees, if you think it represents something in real life, it doesn’t. This is the second installment in the Tlisli Series, and is continued from Tlisli’s Escape.]
Crossing the stream was not difficult, though it had it’s own dangers, and after crawling out on the other side, Tlisli plunged into the jungle on the other side. She hoped that just crossing into the forbidden ground would discourage her pursuers. But it was not to be.
After several minutes of pushing through jungle, she noticed the undergrowth getting thinner, and soon she came out in a clearing. The clearing was occupied by a small hill, and it looked to her like the jungle surrounded the hill, but only grass and small plants grew on the hill itself. To her left, less than 30 meters away, it looked like there had been a recent washout, a gully with mud banks cutting into the hill. What was now a small brook flowed at the bottom of it, and appeared to go toward the stream she had crossed several minutes before.
Tlisli decided that she would be better off passing the hill in this newly opened path than by walking over. There was no cover at all at the top of the hill.
She entered carefully. The soil was loose, and it was clear that this passage was recent. She remembered some very heavy rains a few weeks back. It would make sense if this had been caused by those rains. But she knew something about the way water flowed and washed dirt away, and she couldn’t see any reason that water would cut the hill in precisely this fashion.
Before she had gone more than five meters, she came to the opening of a rectangular tunnel. To her left there was just a pile of rocks, but to her right, this tunnel, tall enough for her to stand upright in it, appeared to be in good condition. It was higher than the current level of the water, but clearly water had washed into it when the level was higher.
The gully itself appeared to curve sharply to the left, and thus would lead to the western side of the hill and very quickly then out of the forbidden ground and back into the hands of her pursuers. Tlisli hesitated, wondering whether she should climb up and over the hill, continue to follow the gully, or enter this tunnel that appeared to go in the right direction.
An arrow bouncing off a rock just beyond her made up her mind for her. The guards must be well motivated, and not anxious to return without her. Doubtless they had been ordered to fetch her alive. She wouldn’t give even her father’s worst archer more than a 1 in 10 chance of missing her where she was standing.
She jumped into the tunnel. She was glad to see that the light extended well in, and she even thought she saw light from the other side. The tunnel started to slope upwards, and just as she approached what looked like the high water point she saw something shining in the sand. She reached down to feel it, and with a little effort pulled it out of the sand. It was a slightly odd leaf-like sword, designed more like a knife, and it appeared to be in excellent shape.
Tlisli held onto the sword with one hand. At least she was now armed. She had heard too many stories of the discovery of wondrous magical weapons from ancient times to imagine that this could be any common sort of weapon. She must have found one of those magical weapons. She now had only to discover just what it would do for her, and she would be safe. Her mind was filled with imagined battles featuring her conquering her own home city and plunging the Sacred Sword of Vengeance into the heart of the Grand-Emperor’s governor general. It was only right that this would be a Sacred Sword of Vengeance, considering the way she had found it! Before she got to the other end of the tunnel, she was pretty much convinced that she had a weapon of great magical power in her hand, and that she had only to use it with wisdom, of which she was sure she had plenty, in order to come out well.
She emerged from the tunnel, only to see that she was less than 30 meters from a line of soldiers who were clearly searching for the place where she must emerge—as she just had. Several drew their bows and shouted, while others, slower to see the obvious, drew their bows later. She guessed she was the target of more than a dozen arrows before she even thought of what to do next.
Then she remembered that she was wielding the Sacred Sword of Vengeance, so she lifted it high over her head and yelled, “Flee while you can, before you feel my righteous anger and suffer my vengeance!” It was an excessively long speech, and somewhere in her there was a distant whisper that said the only reason she had survived to finish it was that these soldiers had been ordered to take her alive.
But that whisper of good sense was drowned out quickly as the soldiers all dropped to the ground, seeking cover as quickly as possible. She stood there looking at the sword, imagining flames running down the edges. She was still standing there when arrows flew to either side and overhead, aimed apparently for the soldiers who were now crawling rapidly away, those who were still alive anyhow.
She looked around and saw the line of Tlazil, moving slowly forward, and drawing more arrows. Perhaps the sword was not a sword of vengeance, but a sword of defense. Perhaps it should be called the defender of the innocent. She could not be blamed for expecting vengeance, but the gods were wiser and had presented her with a defense instead. Nonetheless, it was not prudent to test the patience and diligence of the gods. She also hit the ground and started crawling sideways.
As she crawled, a Tlazil passed on both sides of her, and the cover in the area would not have concealed an ant, much less a human, however small. Tlazil were known for their skills in the jungle, their reptile like bodies well adapted to movement through the bushes, and their senses practiced for precisely this sort of thing. There was no possibility that they would miss her by accident with two of them passing within a couple of meters.
This time there was not even a whisper to suggest that perhaps they simply considered her beneath their contempt and not worth wasting time on while they were dealing with invaders who were truly threatening.
As she crawled down the far slope of the hill, the eastern side, she was not paying a great deal of attention. Surely all the soldiers were involved in the battle, and she would now slip away to safety. Was she not protected by her sword?
Thus she was completely surprised when she crawled around a small bush near the edge of the clearing, and came face to face with one of her father’s men. He was not caught by surprise, and had his own sword out and in position. They both were crouched near the ground, but had their hands free. His sword was nearly touching her chest.
“Don’t move!” he commanded.
Instead she brought her own sword up. It was a clumsy move, and she knew it. She had enough knowledge of swordplay to recognize what was going on. Any competent swordsman could have killed her before she had a chance to parry. He needed only to fall forward and she would die. But as she was bringing the sword upwards, he suddenly did fall forward to the ground. His sword scraped her chest and barely missed cutting into her belly. Her sword caught part of his chest. When she pulled it out from under him, she saw blood on it. Truly she was under the protection of the gods!
She quickly started to strip the man of his equipment. His leather trousers were too large for her, but she tied up the legs and fashioned a belt anyhow, because they were so much better protection from the environment than the flimsy cloth she was wearing. She took a backpack he was wearing and was able to find a way to fasten her sword at her side, though without a scabbard.
As she was about to leave the body, she noticed something else. Sticking out of his arm was one of the blowgun darts used by the Tlazil. The reason he had fallen at her feet as he did was that he had been hit by a blowgun dart. She was appalled at her stupidity in stripping the body without seeking cover first, and for the first time she let the whispers about her sword into her consciousness. It might simply be that she was lucky. Certainly her father would have ordered her taken alive. And more importantly the Tlazil were quite likely to pursue the armed invaders first over just a girl, which was how everyone in this area would think of her. They would imagine they could kill her at any moment. It was possible they would prefer capturing her, perhaps to sacrifice to some god.
Well, she would show them. Magical sword or not, she would make it out of her alive and would get her vengeance. Just a girl, indeed!