GloryRoad (Sample Pages)

Bar's ten patrollers trotted easily along the edge of the river, with Bar in the lead. He listened to the creak of leather armor and studied the purple outland border as it came in sight, sharp contrast to the green of the human croplands it was trying to overtake.

The forest had been left as the border advanced. Normally forests were leveled, farms abandoned and groves destroyed so that the border could be seen more easily.

The smoke of burning alien vegetation drifted away from the edge, where teams worked to push back the border if they could. Magenta undergrowth crept over the char from the last burn, an almost visible advance.

Calling the outlands “purple” was like saying that a human forest was green—green in so many shades, brown intermixed with green and gold. The outland was purple in the same way. Some things it even had in common with the human lands, the stems and stalks being streaked with red and gold and blue.

Bar squinted against the haze and waited for the ten to come up behind him before he began moving again, his ten-master at his shoulder. "Honet."
"I see it." Honet moved past him, the men trotting after him.

They approached the peasants who worked along the border, silent and grim, the only sound the axes and saws cutting a swath through the purple vegetation. They worked in teams, one team watching the border, weapons in hand, while another cleared a space deeper into the alien jungle.

As quickly as the vegetation was cleared, a third team dragged it away to toss it on the smoldering pile. It burned sluggishly, the scent of the smoke mingling uneasily with the breathless stench of the outland itself.

One of Bar’s sisters had a lemon tree in her garden, perhaps the last one in the human lands, and the smell of the outland was enough like the scent of lemon to call up the comparison. Few of these ever would have smelled lemon, let alone tasted the acid fruit.

Two of Bar's ten moved into the space the workers had cleared, a bubble perhaps eighty meters deep cut into the outland forest. They walked carefully, wary and glad of their armor.

The peasants wouldn’t go to all this work to push the alien forest back—they had that process well rehearsed, as ineffective as it might be in recent years. Burning the edges only slowed the advance.

The biggest of the ten, Kogan immediately divested himself of his half-armor and took one of the big axes, swinging it around his head like a child playing before he slammed it into the base of a tree.

The tree fell, bringing down part of the canopy with it. The team dragged the fallen trees away from the edge and added them to the pile to be burned.
Kogan went to work alongside the others, spreading the open space and digging it deeper into the outlands.

Six of the ten moved after their companions, spreading to form a sort of funnel, weapons in hand.

As the first two penetrated into the fringe at the back of the open space, a shout went up. A dog barked, the sound nearly inaudible to those working. Workers gasped and turned, then put even more energy into clearing the space that would allow the trapped farmers to escape.

The first team kept their weapons ready, eyes never stopping.

The armored patrollers set up a shout, beating on their armor in rhythm to tell the farmers where they were. It also had the advantage of scaring away many of the smaller outland animals.

The dog barked again, closer this time, and guided three sheep between the armored men and into the cleared area. Blood marked its muzzle and it stumbled in exhaustion, but it also seemed proud of itself that it had brought its charges to safety.

Silence fell, the humans watching for any sign that there was more than just the few animals to be rescued. The patrollers kept up their beat, waiting.

One man slammed downward with his sword and flung whatever he'd skewered back into the purple jungle. Something screamed, and with a last shout a handful of exhausted peasants burst from the edge, carrying children and belongings, to race toward the safety of the human lands.

The teams surged forward, taking the refugees' burdens and guiding them toward the light. The outland had grown to encompass another farm, the people trapped behind the line. A straggle of cows and sheep, accompanied by dogs, burst from the purple boundary and spread toward the green human lands.

The partollers retreated behind them, those clearing the vegetation taking the inside of their funnel until they all clearly stood on the human side of the scarred and denuded outland edge.

Along the charred boundary where purple and green mixed the peasants drew back in a staggered row. Kogan swung his own axe again, almost in rebellion, and laughed as another section of the canopy sagged.

Bar shook his head. Honet took a step forward and shouted. "Kogan!"

Kogan saluted him, ironic, and swung the axe around his head in defiance before walking back toward the human lands.

Bar smiled slightly as the peasants began packing their tools, and glanced toward the back of the open space.

"Fall back!" he shouted, and pulled his sword from its sheath.

Every time Bar encountered the outland creatures he saw something new. Nearly twice as tall at the shoulder as any man, the animal emerged from the back of the area where human saws had encroached on the alien outland. Its broad, flat nose was bladed along the sides to cut through grasses and stems. Its head swung back and forth idly, eyes locked on the humans. It took two quick steps toward them and stopped, turning to snap at the cut vegetation.

Bar would need to make sure the peasant councils were reminded to burn the edge as they cut. Just because it was a browser did not make it any less dangerous. If hungry enough, it would come into the human lands for the cut stems and branches, and that bladed snout could as easily cut through a man as a tree.

Behind it others appeared, some toothed and streamlined like pretators but ignoring the herbivores around them.

They crowded shoulder to shoulder and stared into the open human lands as if surprised to find space there.

The humans held their fire, backing away one careful step at a time. The larger animals of the outland usually stayed far from this edge. Such a contatenation was unusual, and dangerous. Such things sometimes led to the animals emerging from the outland itself, set on a rampage of destruction and death.

Keeper Bar and his ten spread along the edge, standing as a barrier between the farmer peasants and the animals. Kogan dropped back to hurriedly redon his half-armor, leaving the nine and Bar to hold the line.

The animals seemed confused, pushing forward and then retreating, milling around as if they weren't certain why they were here.

The outland force surged forward, jostling each other, tusks, hooves, claws and teeth visible even on forms which held no other similarity to anything in the human lands. Too many to kill, and if the peasants killed one it would only start a feeding frenzy. The Keepers had learned that long ago.

“Fall back!” Bar shouted, and his men obeyed immediately. “Fall back!”

The peasants heard it as well, although some moved in to take up positions at the edge of Bar's line.

The animals slowed as they approached that edge, which Bar had not expected. One snorted and shook its heavy head, backing up as if trying to get away from some unbearable stench. Others skittered sideways, crowding toward one side of the open space.

It took Bar a moment to see the one human shape which remained at the edge, but the stranger didn’t attempt to move into the human lands. She took a single step into the sunlight, not facing toward the humans but toward the animals massed at the edge.

The animals backed away from her, some now staring longingly toward the purple jungle.

A woman alone, she stood between the enraged animals and seemed to push them back as she walked toward them, one careful step at a time until they broke and ran, back into the magenta forest.

Only then did she turn to face the humans, studied them with dark and contemptuous eyes. Her mouth twisted into an expression that could not be called a smile and she put her hands on her hips, obviously waiting for something. The humans stirred uneasily and surged toward the stranger. “Shaper!” someone screamed, and with a howl of rage the humans went after her.

By the time they reached the edge of the outland, she had vanished.

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