Through a small window, a ray of sunshine penetrated the room, illuminating it and dying it crimson. Magnus opened his eyes and looked at the source of the light in his room – that small window atop his bed at the corner of the room. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. The ray of red light shining in seemed almost solid. They say that a red dawn tells of bloodshed in the passing night. He knows little of the origin and the veracity of the claim, but that he had heard of it as a child from a travelling man, a friend of his father's. The same man also told to him countless other tales, many of which he had already forgotten. However, the saying of the red sun had been fastened to his mind.
He got off his rough bed and took the tunic off the little table on the other side of the room and began to dress himself. Having properly dressed himself with the tunic, the soft leather pants and his boots, he tugged at his belt – not exactly a belt, a proper description would be that of a leather strip tied in a knot to hold his pants up. He took the felling axe off his wall and went out of his room. In the center of the dining room there was a rectangular table. Only 3 people live in the house, though visitors are always anticipated so the table can fit almost 10 people. On one side of the table sat an elderly couple. He looked around. Aside from the individual farming tools propped up against the wall next to the door, some cooking utensils on a table and a few chairs here and there, the room is mostly empty. No fancy trophies not even a proper wall, just wooden planks, some of which already need repairing.
He's not bitter of his simple and rural upbringing. He only wished for his parents – the elderly couple – and children – if he were to ever have any – to lead a better life. He walked to the table, pulled a chair out and sat down. "Good morning, dear. We were just about to wake you up." The lady said with a warm smile on her face. "Good morning, mother, father" He replied. The old man grunted. He had come to know that his father isn't apathetic, but rather simply not a man of many words. It did take long, though, and for a while he wondered if his father even liked him. Of course, that piece of knowledge didn't reassure him at all – the knowledge that rather than being their child, he was discovered in a basket in a lethally cold winter when he was still an infant. When the found him not far from the farm he was just about to freeze to death. Of course he remembered none of it, his foster mother told him all that, his mother the sweet elderly lady. Having a simple breakfast of bread and cured meat, he packed his lunch and bid farewell to his parents, preparing for his daily work.
He left the house. In front of him was a large field filled with an assortment of crops. His father was an experienced farmer who knows which season maximizes the production of which crops. Once in a few weeks they open a vegetable stall at the center of the village to sell their produces. Behind him over the house was a barn with several pigs. His father had worked hard to buy them, though he himself had always wondered why he didn't choose to buy hens or cows instead for milk or eggs. To his right lay the small village his family was a part of. The houses were spread rather far apart for a village, though his house in particular was further. It takes 15 minutes to reach the nearest house, and up to 40 minutes to reach the town hall at the center of the village. To his left lay a massive forest that stretched towards infinity. With little doubt, he took the small dusty path he had created southwards to the forest. Because his house was the closest one to the forest, a few families in the village had requested a weekly supply of firewood. The demand is fairly high, so he had to visit the forest on a daily basis to meet the needs. To save time, he slowly began to jog. He remembered that as a child, before he could use, or even afford the felling axe, he only picked up branches from the edge of the forest. The close proximity to civilization kept most beasts away, so there was no concern for his parents.
Before he noticed he had reached the edge of the forest. As though he knew the place like the back of his own hand (Which he does) he began navigating his way through the trees and eventually the ticker brushes, vines and tall roots to find that tree he had worked on a few days ago, but has yet to finish. His mind began to wander as he managed to subconsciously find his way to the tree. He was disappointed by the fact that time and the weight of the tree itself has yet to fell the tree, as he thought it might. He was about halfway through this tree. Sighing, he unhooked the axe from his poor excuse of a belt and began to hack. As he did, he tried to concentrate on the swings, on the power, the aim, motion and everything, and began to imagine more power. As usual, familiar warmth began to spread over his arms and his torso. The warmth quickly began to intensify and turned into searing heat. Somehow the heat didn't bother him. He pulled the axe back and waited this time. The heat is even stronger than before, and when he felt like it was the right time, he swung the axe at the tree. A loud, dull "thump" is heard as he buried most of the blade into the trunk. He yanked the axe out, propped it against the trunk and looked at his arms. The orange, flame-like glow is beginning to fade along with the heat. Several trees ago, when he was trying the exact same thing he did today, he saw his arms and the axe caught on fire and – as evidence – actually charred a part of the tree trunk as he struck. After he fell that tree he shaved the charred bit off before carrying it back home, so as to avoid unnecessary questions. His thoughts returned and he regained his rhythm as he continued to hack at the tree.
Eventually the tree creaked and the boy backed off. Slowly, the tree began to lean on to the side, closing the gap he had made over the past few days. With a sudden snap the last part of the tree splintered and the tree fell, crushing out a large path of vegetation. Satisfied with his results, he put his axe back onto his belt and began to collect firewood from nearby. He will return to the tree, but only tomorrow, for he had to deliver the firewood to the city today.
The gathering occupied him for the next several hours, and when he was done, it was almost noon. With the firewood collected into a proper bundle, he strapped it to his back and began to journey to that secluded spot in the forest. He had chanced upon the site as a child and had ritualistically had lunch there since. He climbed over a particularly tall tangle of roots and reached the small clearing. A small creek he named Ams creek flowed, the water clean and cool. He loved this place because it is one of the brighter spots of the otherwise dark forest. He can see the sky, and occasionally birds flying over his head as he lay on his back looking at the endless blue. He can fill his water skin here and enjoy the view as he had his lunch, something that he had really enjoyed. He walked near the creek when he suddenly noticed someone next to a tree. The tree had covered the mass before so that it was concealed from his sight. He looked at it. A young lady in a light brown dress stood up, a small bundle of flowered herbs in her hand. She seemed to have finally noticed his presence and abruptly turned, swinging her long, straight head of shining black hair back, and showing her clearly defined face. Her features were sharp and beautiful, and if not for the lack of pointy ears she would have easily been mistaken for an elf. A look of surprise was on her face as she gripped the dagger she had unsheathed from within her sleeve. His heart stopped as he finally recognized her face. Since when did she become this beautiful? He thought to himself. Her name was Astral, and she was the village herbalist's daughter. They were once childhood friends, but after an incident several years ago, her father and many villagers became scared and wary of both him and the forest for reasons still hidden to him, and as a result he hardly sees Astral nowadays, if ever. He had even discovered this very clearing with her by his side. He remembered that he named the little creek Am's creek after the initials of both their names. Astral and Magnus. Yes.
She looked again, recognized his face, and his shocked expression softened. Returning the dagger to its sheath within her sleeve and began to walk over. Seeing her face he began to panic. It has been so long since they last had a conversation, he didn't know she even remember who he is. Even if she did, would she despise him like her father did? His fears dissipated though as she gave a warm smile.
"It has been a long time, how are you?" Her voice was deep for a lady of such elegance, but still sounded like music to his ears.
He wasn't sure how to respond to that question. "Ugh…Fine, I suppose. It has hardly changed since the last time we met."
"Really?" She raised an eyebrow. "So you did not miss me at all?"
He waved his hands frantically at her question "Yes, yes, of course I did! I really missed you, it's simply that those feelings did not affect my daily life that much."
"Did it now? So it did not affect you at all?" She furrowed even more.
He face felt hot as he put his hand behind his head and ruffled the hair, trying hard to think of a way to protest when she broke into a light laughter.
"I was joking. You should see your own face." She said, laughing.
He felt his shoulders sag with a mixture of relief and another emotion he cannot describe.
"How long has it been since we last met?" He desperately tried to change the subject.
Astral didn't seem to notice. "I believe the last time was right here in the clearing in fall. So about a year." Her head turned to the side as she thought. "Yes, we were fifteen, were we not? On that day." He quickly added.
The incident occurred when they were 12, so his memories of the events were hazy, but he can still make out the major details. A group of wandering hobgoblins had approached the nearby forest, ready to ransack the village. On their way to the edge they came across two children gathering sticks and herbs respectively and caught them. They planned to sell the boy as a slave and the little girl as a plaything for nobles or other creatures who can afford her when they somehow all retreated. He remembered when he was bound and gagged and had to watch Astral get caught by hobgoblins. When it looked as though something worse was the ensure he passed out and woke up to on Astral's back (that was when they were of similar size, he now stands half a head taller), walking back home. He tried hard not to think of it, for it seemed almost to naturally draw forth the power he used to fell trees earlier today, making his arms glow orange. He suppressed those thoughts and look as Astral in the eyes. He is ceaselessly amazed by her mental strength, for he had never heard of anybody surviving such a shock with hardly any change in their personality at all.
"…were, indeed, it seemed so long ago now, I can hardly remember the day…" Astral said as her head began to tilt back, her eyes looking up in the sky. Even her throat seemed fairer than anything he had every seen. In fact, he could not find a single imperfection or a point he would describe as anything less than "stunningly beautiful". She looked back down and caught him staring at her, dumbfounded. She raised an eyebrow, but her cheeks had become slightly red. Seeing this, he quickly looked away, feeling hot in the face. The two of them awkwardly stood like that for almost half a minute when he, desperate to find a distraction, asked, "so, what are you doing here?"
She quickly caught the attempt to change the subject and explained "Early this morning the Village chief brought with him a man on he verge of death. He had multiple cut wounds and lost a lot of blood. My father had to tend to him, but then we ran out of herbs, so here I am." She shrugged. Astral noticed the bundle of firewood he had next to the edge of the clearing. "Are you done for the day?" she asked. "Yes, I fell a tree earlier and have no intention of moving the log today, for I have to make my weekly delivery." "Oh, I see." Astral looked into her basket. She had more than enough of the herbs she had come to collect. "Why don't we return together? We can talk about the things that had happened since we last met" she offered. He need little time to figure out his response. "Yes, but I would like to fill my water skin first." "I will wait for you here."
Hearing that, he nodded at her and jogged over to the creek. To most his face would seem moderately handsome, but his awkward expression did not exactly help his overall appearance. He is rather skinny, but thanks to his daily chore he had developed a lean and strong body, if comparable to any animal he would be like a panther – sleek, slender, fast and deadly. As he filled his bottle he ruffled his midnight black hair, many of which are long. The chief's daughter is a wonder amateur barber, but he couldn't afford getting a fancy haircut, not when he had to fell trees everyday. Another advantage is that in the forest nobody cares about your haircut. He regret it now. He swore that today, after he sold the logs, he would use some of the money he was saving up for snacks to get a new haircut.
Without knowing, his water skin had filled itself at the creek. He took it out, had a drink, before closing the cap and ran over to Astral, his heart still pounding.
Their conversation covered many things, ranging from the major events in the village to the most minute of details of his daily life. Astral seemed to be deeply interested in life as a lumberjack/gatherer, and he tried his best to answer the barrage of questions she had for him. He on the other hand feels largely apathetic about the practice of apothecary and in his turns to ask questions, just asked about her life in general. When they finally left the forest and made it to the house he lives in, she gave him a hug, bid him farewell and returned to the village. After a long trance, he gathered the branches and twigs into 3 bundles and carried them into the village. He made his delivery and was paid, and was about to visit the Chief's daughter's little stand near her house when he overheard a conversation. Two housewives were gossiping by the side.
"Hey, have you heard? A strange man appeared at the entrance of the village today, he had a spear in his back and was screaming something before the village Chief calmed him down enough to bring him to the herbalists."
"Really? I did hear a kerfuffle earlier this morning, but I did not know what was going on, and neither do any of my neighbors."
"I was there that morning, selling my goods at the store when he simply appeared. His face was white, like he had seen a ghost. He wouldn't stop about annihilation and something about warning us."
"How did the Chief calm him down?"
"He knocked him out."
"My, my, what a violent man. I told you the moment I saw him…."
The conversation between the two ladies began to drift into mindless gossip about the mayor and the misdemeanors of others, something he definitely could not care about. He walked away from the corner he had been standing in a few houses away, where he had ben eavesdropping them. Though the ladies seemed to have tried to whisper as they speak, he could hear them perfectly. Why would you be so loud if you were going to whisper? He wondered. As he slowly marched to the Town Hall, his thoughts immediately went back to the old saying – could it have been true? That the "annihilation" of wherever the man is from be the cause of the red dawn? As he pondered of the possibility, he reached the Town Hall.
As her reputation had promised, the Chief's daughter, Diana, a light blonde teenager about the same age as he is, gave him a very satisfying haircut. Rather than cropping it short as he thought was best for him, she kept most of his long hair, and simply trimmed some of it so that the hair is no longer so unkempt, though the wild taste in his appearance is not gone altogether. The blonde girl smiled in satisfaction as she ruffled his hair. "Rare of you to come by," she observed. "The only time I ever see you come is either when your hair grew so long they reached your shoulders, even then you usually just ask your mother to cut your hair." "What are you implying?". "Every time you ask for me to fix your hair, the times of which I can count with the fingers on a hand, Astral would come running to me the next day, talking about how she had met you again in the forest." His face grew hotter. "So, have you met her again today?" Friends. He thought. They tell each other everything. Her grin broadened as she noticed his red face. "Cutting your hair was a nice practice for me, it is like a passionate farmer finding a manure-rich field for him to weed and farm." She tried to change to subject to avoid making him even more embarrassed, though not exactly efficiently. He stared at her. "Am I supposed to take that as a compliment?" Rather than answering, he gave a hearty laugh that seemed awkward for her bird-like voice, her elegant face and her equally elegant body. In fact, having a body that is thin but not meatless, she looked similar to Astral in almost all aspects, and he felt himself blush again. She seemed to notice and gave a broad, un-ladylike grin. He got up swiftly, paid her and left for home.
When he reached his house the day was approaching its end. He swiftly grabbed a hoe from the walls inside the house and jogged into the field to help his father with the farming. Afterwards, they had dinner, during which he told his parents of meeting Astral, and the things he had seen and heard in the village. His mother doesn't' visit the village too often, so she often asked of him to retell the latest stories and events. He did his best to fulfill his mother's curiosity, and returned to his room. There he fished out a book on an old shelf and began to read under a few bright candles. Unusual for a lumberjack, he is actually literate, since his father insisted that he learned how to read when he was a child. The book he grabbed is a collection of epic poems, of brave and valiant heroes, of fearsome monsters and beasts, and of fantastical worlds that had never existed, or are no longer. This particular one, though, seemed to have a greater meaning. Digging at the meaning behind the poem felt as though he was trying to dig through wet sand with his bare hands. After about an hour of diving into the poem, Magnus gave up. He quickly cleaned himself with a hot bowl of water prepared by his mother and changed into his sleeping pants. He dropped into his bed and still pondering the meaning of the poem, and drifted off to sleep.