The air, the circle of stones, and the high plants beyond sang in the sun as the huge sadacic bugs droned their endless, menacing song. The bugs were about the size of a full grown man and were one of many reasons that it was a bad idea to wander into the tall grass alone. Their high song hung in the air all summer and, though it was an uncomfortable noise and served as a constant reminder of the beasts waiting out there, it was actually better to hear them than not; they grew silent while hunting. Thus, the old saying, “Don’t lose sleep over the songs of the beast, it’s their silence that should worry you.”
The only other reason that the sadacic bugs were likely to stop their songs was if a bigger predator came along, like a namuh: the huge, lumbering beasts so intertwined in the tribes legends that they were actually credited with unintentionally creation of the people. There were those that poured over every scrap dropped or left behind during a namuh’s passing, trying to glean the secrets of existence. This was largely thought to be ridiculous, but it was their history. Even their language reflected this with smatterings of words stolen from the giants. Though reveared by some, the namuh were feared by all. Their huge size made their destructive powers great, even when they didn’t seem to notice it.
The passing of a namuh, though. was infrequent enough to not warrant constant worry and the bugs knew better than to approach such a large group – the group that stood silently atop the boulders encircling Noraa, watching in silent anticipation. No, the bugs and the namuh were the least of his concerns at the moment; today was his proving day.
Clutching the tightly wound sinew handle of his wooden spear, Noraa ducked lower and tightened his circle by just a tiny bit. The drazil didn’t seem to notice, continuing the same circling motion it had the last ten orbits. Noraa crept a little closer with each pass. He wanted to glance up to get either an assurance or a warning from whatever expression his father wore, but he didn’t dare break eye contact with the hulking, scaled monster that mirrored his slow circles around the arena. The term, “mirror,” of course, applying only to its movements and not its appearance, as the medium sized drazil stood on four legs that were each as thick as Noraa’s torso and were longer than he was. It had a huge head that might as well have been chipped from stone, and its long body tapered to a tail that dragged lazily on the ground behind it.
The drazil flicked its tongue, tasting the air. Its hard, yellow eyes boasting the sure and almost cocky disposition of a reptile about to feed.
Noraa’s mind flashed to Aidyl, standing somewhere above him watching. Aidyl, the love of his life, was up there somewhere, holding her breath. She had quickly become one of the tribe’s best hunters just after her proving day several months ago. All members of the tribe, of course, had trained from an early age to handle a spear, but until Aidyl had started courting him, just over a year ago, Noraa had never felt the need to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a hunter. The law was the law, though, and there were plenty of reasons that hunters could only marry other hunters. Sometimes groups of hunters were away for months at a time, sometimes they never returned. A couple should be together and to be with her, Noraa needed to pass his trial by driving his spear through the heart of this drazil before his father grew uncomfortable and intervened.
Noraa’s body flushed slightly as he realized that his mind was lingering far too long on Aidyl. For her, he needed to focus. He shook his head slightly to the side, to clear his mind, keeping glare locked on those yellow eyes. He knew it was impossible, but it almost looked like the drazil had begun to grin, sensing his distraction and self doubt.
It charged forward. Noraa hadn’t expected it to charge so soon. As he had been trained, he could stand his ground and try to get a hit in, probably maneuver close to the beast as it charged past. With the drazil bearing down on him, though, all he could think to do was get out of the way. He rolled to his right, almost losing the spear in the process. He tried to ignore the gasp that came from above, tried desperately not to picture the concern on Aidyl’s face or the disappointment at the bad move on his father’s.
As he climbed back to his feet the drazil stopped, turned, and started to charge again. This time, Noraa jumped to the left and just missed a brush with the creature’s massive front leg. This time, though, it turned just after passing him and doubled back with lightning speed. While tail still rocketed past along one side, the head was already coming back in for another swipe from the other. It took all the might he could muster to vault over the tail, then sprint to his right.
His eyes flicked up to his father crouched atop the rock directly in front of him. He was perched to jump in at a moment’s notice and defend his son. As soon as he did, though, the test would be over, and Aidyl would be forever out of his reach. There were only a few more seconds for this match to turn around, or it was over. Imagining how it looked from up there, he didn’t blame his father. He was running from the monster and only barely staying ahead of it. If he made one wrong move, he’d end up like Retep. On his proving day, the drazil had torn Retep’s leg off before the tribe could beat it back. Retep had bled to death right there in the circle of boulders. Most proving days either ended in victory or in forfeit; potential hunters almost never died, but it did happen. Especially when someone got the drazil all excited without wounding it at all.
His legs were aching and he was beginning to slow. If he was to live without Aidyl, it would be a lonely life, but it would be a life. He chose to live. This was ridiculous, he was no hunter. He opened his mouth to call out to his father and beg him to end the match- but then he tripped over himself.
He tucked into a ball. His cry for help transforming into a gasp of terror. In that moment, as he fell, instinct kicked in. You can’t help but throw your arms out to catch your fall when you trip, just as you can’t help but fight for your life when any escape has been stolen from you. Suddenly it was no longer about proving himself, pleasing his father, or being with Aidal. Had he taken a moment to think about it, he would have decided that the match was probably over anyway, but he didn’t. His mind was in survival mode and fighting for his life was all he could think to do. Everything else evaporated.
He jumped with his feet as he curled in low with his shoulder, giving him the momentum to roll back onto his feet. This was no flopped jump out of the way like before, her rolled over his shoulder, twisting as he did so, so that when he ended up on his feet in a crouched position, he was almost facing the drazil. It was only an arm’s length away and closing with an open mouth. Without his consent the spear came up. There wasn’t space or time to make contact with the sharp end, but now that instincts had taken over, he wasn’t driving for a killing blow. The back end of the handle came up and connected with the jaw of the drazil, sending out a wicked crack. It was just enough to shut the mouth and turn the head, so Noraa could duck beneath the head and come out the other side. His shoulder and ear made contact with the fleshy throat of the beast as he went. Though it was the more vulnerable and sensitive skin on the drazil, it was still rough and scaly and the high-speed brush burned like grinding ones flesh against a piece of granite. Without turning, as soon as he was out the other side, he spun the spear around and drove it into whatever flesh was directly behind him and let go.
To the screams of the drazil, he turned to find that the spear had been buried into the muscled part high on the front leg. It was far from a killing blow, but it was a start. It was enough to where his father might-
He stopped himself.
He had only survived because he had exiled the others from his mind. It needed to stay that way.
The surprise of its prey turning suddenly to fight would wear off soon. Noraa charged the drazil, and used the spear to swing up onto the monster’s back. The spear came out in his hand as he went and he drove it down as hard as he could into the shifting, scaly flesh between his feet. By pure luck, or clever instinct, it missed the ribs and buried itself deep in between them. Had he stopped to think, he would have been certain that the pointed wooden spear would just splinter on the hard skin of the back — and sure, it had cracked — but it had punctured and the drazil was shrieking like nothing Noraa had ever heard.
The beast writhed under him, trying to throw him off. Noraa clucng to the spear. It wasn’t until the drazil flopped onto its side that Noraa fell off. The beast, obviously, wasn’t thinking then either, because he rolled onto his back, trying to brush off whatever was there, or perhaps trying to catch Noraa. Regardless, as Noraa rolled away from it, the drazil only succeeded in impaling itself further on the spear.
“Spear!” Noraa screamed, scrambling back to his feet and throwing his hand up. Someone was up there, directly above him. It didn’t matter who. It was someone that dropped a spear into his hand. Without a glance upward, he charged back towards the gasping drazil. The drazil was writhing around on its back now, its mouth gaping at the sky. Noraa batted aside the whip of a tail and dodged a flailing arm before he made it up to the body. The rocking motion put the fleshy underside facing towards him when he got within reach. This had been no accident, but if he had been asked three steps before, he couldn’t have told you that this was his plan. He raised the spear high and, with a cry of exertion, drove it deep into the chest of the drazil. There was only one more thrash by the beast, this one knocking Noraa of his feet, then the drazil tried to gasp one more time and died.
Noraa lay on his back, panting and listening to the cheering above him for only a moment before the rest of the tribe fell silent. His head shot up and looked around in alarm, but then he heard it too. Tha drazil, his first concern, was definitely dead. They had all fallen silent to listen to the low rumble caused by nothing other than the gigantic feet of an approaching namuh. Not a word was spoken among the tribe, they all just began scrambling off the rocks into the tall grass and running towards the hole that led to the cave system they called home. Noraa’s recent victory and the drazil were forgotten as all ran. Normally, the beast would be cooked and eaten that evening in celebration, but there was no time, the drazil was left behind.
Cynthia stopped on the trail and looked down at the ring of stones just off the edge of the path. There was supposed to be a campground around here somewhere. Once upon a time she could hike all day between camps. Recently, though, every day she felt a little less like a spring chicken and these new hiking boots were not doing her feet any favors; she just wanted to find this place and set up camp. There didn’t appear to be much, aside from that little ring of stones out in the grass. If it WAS a fire pit, it hadn’t been used in a while. All that grass would need to be cleared away.
She approached the little ring. The area was flat enough, she might just camp there even if it wasn’t the right area, what were the chances that a ranger would come along and tell her she was wrong this far out?
When she got to the pit, she caught her breath. It was no fire pit. Instead of ashes, she found a grizzly scene. Someone had impaled a poor, little lizard with what appeared to be a toothpick.
“Who would do such a morbid thing?” she asked aloud as she made her way back to the path, deciding that she would push on a little further. The campground had to be just up around the corner anyway.
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