“Be careful of the edges”
“I know, I know, they’re poisonous. You’ve told me a million times.”
“Yeah, and I’ll keep saying it until I’m sure its sunk in.”
“Yeah, my last assistant thought that too. Know where he is now?”
Anthony sighed and continued walking, he knew what he was doing, besides everyone knew that Ted’s last assistant was an idiot. It was surprising that he had managed to survive so long out in the wilds. Anthony took out his water and took a sip. While he waited for Ted to catch up he decided to have a closer look at the shards. There were thousands of them, hundreds of thousands, all erupting from the earth. The tallest one he could see was about thirty or forty feet tall. Most of them were four or five feet in height. They grew out of the ground, sharp points getting steadily taller. The edges were razor sharp, Anthony had read once that a strand of hair would be cut in half by its weight alone. The edges themselves glistened in the sun, oozing a thick, clear gel that coated the entire shards. The gel was extremely poisonous, though useless for most things beyond assassination or experimentation. The early settlers tried using the poison to bring down game, but they found that any animals that had been killed by the poison had tainted meat. The shards themselves were multicoloured, bright blues and reds, greens and yellows, a sea of shining, glistening colour.
Animals were rare enough in the shards, a few insects fed on the poisonous gel, a few birds built their nests along the ground, nestled in clear spaces, safe from most predators. The shards grew slowly, but all too fast. Paths changed continuously, a clear section could be impassable in a month. No one really understood how the shards worked, it was too difficult to do any real testing on them. Most of the people who attempted it were killed, either by falling onto shards, or being poisoned.
If a person was careful it was safe enough to journey through them, at least it was easier than travelling around them. Going through cut weeks off of journey time and no one had invested in roads this far out. Not a lot of travellers needed to come this way. Anthony didn’t know why Ted was insisting they go out into the forest beyond the shards, it was a strange place, with twisted animals. Safe enough, but damned creepy. The shards themselves seemed to be a kind of line, and the further you moved passed it, the weirder things started to get. Anthony knew Ted had many theories about that, remnants from long dead civilisations, the aftermath of biological warfare. Anthony himself didn’t care too much, he had only taken the job because it paid reasonably well and it wasn’t too taxing. Ted like to think he was teaching his assistants, but he rarely explained anything he was doing. Really all he ever did was bark for instruments or warn Anthony that he’d die if he wasn’t careful.
They made it through the shard fields without any troubles, a journey that took them only two days. Anthony didn’t like sleeping amongst the shards, he had a constant fear that one would sprout out of the ground and impale him where he slept. Ted had told him it would be fine, that it took days for them to pierce the surface, but he still couldn’t get the thought out of his head. Now though the shards were behind them. It took another day through the grasslands to get to the forest. The grasslands made Anthony uneasy, the grass was almost too green and he had seen few animals. It felt like something was watching them, waiting to pounce.
He could see the trees ahead of them, great thick trunks, black and twisted, like they had been frozen while writhing in pain. The leaves on the trees were a dark green, so dark that Anthony thought they too were black until they had gotten closer. The forest itself was quiet, occasionally there would be the shriek or call of an animal, but they were few and far between. Ted had reassured him that it was normal, that most of the animals that lived in the forest were silent. The forest was the worst at night, not because it was dark, but because there were so many plants that gave off eerie glows. Light blues, sickly yellows, dark greens. The colours danced and moved as the breeze caressed the flowers. Anthony’s eyes played tricks on him, he could see shadows moving and writhing in the darkness, creeping ever closer.
The next day they paused by a river to have some lunch. “It doesn’t look like much now, but once a year, for about a week, this entire river goes red, as though it is filled with blood.”
“I’m not entirely sure yet. I think it’s to do with the trees. They have a red sap, and I’ve found a few unusually thick roots that go into the river. There’s also a species of insect that has red cocoons, which dissolve in water. I’ve yet to find their breeding grounds, only one or two by accident, so I can’t say for sure.”
“But don’t you want to know?”
“Yes, but it isn’t that important. Mostly I’ve only looked into it when I’ve had some free time out here, which isn’t a lot. I only found out because I happened to be here when it was red. It gave me a shock I can tell you that much.”
The fire had died down and Anthony was asleep, Ted sipped his cup of tea. Anthony wasn’t a bad assistant, but he wasn’t a great one either. He didn’t have that drive, that thirst for knowledge. No, it was better this way. Ted stood from the fire and moved from their camp. He had been in the forest many times and was used to navigating by the glow of the plants. Once he was a reasonable distance away he sat down to wait. It wouldn’t be long. There was a sudden, startled yelp of pain before silence fell again. Ted stood and sighed, it was all over for another year now at least, the forest would allow him to gather his data in peace. He went back to the campsite, Anthony’s corpse was impossibly thin, as though something had hollowed out his insides and left nothing but his skin. Ted grabbed a small bit of Anthony and pulled him to the river, the corpse was light and easy to manoeuvre. He pushed it into the water and watched it float away on the surface until the darkness swallowed it. He shook his head, at least the story way easy, poor man, fell into the river, loose soil at the bank. Ted extinguished the fire and settled into his sleeping bag, around him the flowers seemed to glow brighter than ever.