N'Geenr P'Geen Mae-Geenk-skel. P'Ba Bos P'brok (N'Geenr)k-(Ja-Geen-ja). Mae-Geenk-skel P'log Ja-Geen + rutinp-nan. Rutinp Skels-nan + Rutinp Skel-Mae-P'Tor.
<The N'Geenr created the Skel-destroyer. But Bos cursed the tools of the N'Geenr. The Skel-destroyer was badly made and hurt everyone. The Skel of everything suffered, and everything forgot.>
--the cave paintings of the Ja-N'tor
They had travelled another day so far and now they had run out of food. On the upside, the landscape had taken a break from the grassy plains and had unfolded into vast hilly terrain. Pae's arrow was pointing towards a break in the hills that from this distance, looked like it might be a valley. Karin sure hoped it was, she was not looking forwards to having to climb up and down all those hills.
She let out a sigh.
"Me too. You don't where we can find any food do you?" She asked hopefully.
"Firdlass get food from ground. With Ja-N'tor, Firdlass eat Rutink-Mae-geen."
Karin thought for a bit over the translation. Destroyers of Everything, of earth, of all. Ewwww!
"You ate worms?" Karin blurted.
Firdlass tapped his head, indicating he wanted to read her Skel, and she nodded. At first, she had been disturbed by it, but over the last day of travel she had come to accept it. Her teachings only said that Skel was a sacred and private thing. Never did it say that her Ja-Skel, her memories and knowledge, should not be shared if she so chose. Was it not an N'Geenr's purpose to improve? And if she could improve Firdlass' understanding of her language by letting him Skel-Y'tor, then all the better.
Firdlass frowned a bit and then shook his head.
"No, Rutink-Mae-geen not worms. Bigger, hard shell worms. Ja-N'tor use Rutink-Mae-geen to make tunnels."
"They sound scary."
"Hungry..." Firdlass moaned, rubbing his stomach.
"Oh! I'm sorry, all this talk about..." Her stomach grumbled. "Lets head into the valley and see if we can catch any animals."
Clutching their stomachs they began over the first of the hills. As they crested the hill, a marvellous vista spread out before them. The valley stood out the most, made more verdant by the presence of a river. As they got closer, descending and then rising again, the valley opened out, exposing an expansive lake. It was like a mirror. Clouds shimmered across the surface, passing across the skylines that appeared as if below the surface. It was as if the sky had fallen and settled in the basin of the valley. The picturesque view was only spoiled by a large object rising from the centre of the lake. Around the lake, they could see herds of animals milling around, gathering to drink. Excited at the prospects of food, they hurried down the last hill and into the valley.
As they got closer to the lake, they could make out the strange object. It was a huge, black, triangular piece of metal, jutting up at a strange angle, glinting in the evening sun. Waves gently lapped against its surface and the whole effect made it look like some kind of giant animal was submerged below the surface. The animals still hadn't noticed them as they approached.
Karin had never seen these animals before, it was yet another new thing she had learnt since leaving the sheltered life of her village. The animals where large hairy beasts, much larger than the Grass Eaters she knew back home. These also had a single huge horn on their foreheads, unlike the Grass Eaters, and looked like they could be very lethal if used aggressively. The animals looked very peaceful though, their shaggy manes drooping down to the floor, making it look like they had no legs at all. They were almost comical and she had to stifle a laugh when one of the younger ones tripped on its own hair.
She was glad she had left now, or she would have never had of learned of these things and would have been ignorant of the world until she died. When she got back, she would tell all the others of what see had seen and they would expand and explore the world, discovering and learning new things. It was a nice dream, but one that she didn't really expect to come true. Changing years of tradition and law would just happen overnight, at least not for the majority. Snapping out of her little fantasy, she suddenly realised that she had never been hunting before, and that neither her nor Firdlass would know how to catch one of these things.
“How do we catch one?” Karin whispered to Firdlass. “I've never been hunting before.”
“Firdlass not know. Guess get one same way as get Rutink Mae-geen.” Firdlass winked at her and began creeping closer towards the animals, Karin's knife in his hand.
Karin positioned her self behind a well-placed rock and watched as Firdlass worked his magic. Firdlass was stooped low to the ground, walking on all fours, his hands fists on the earth. His long hair dragged in the dirt, hiding his face as he crept closer and closer to one of the animals that had strayed towards them, about a 150 meters from the lake. When he was within 10 meters of one he stopped deadly still, waiting. The animal came closer, 8 meters, 5 meters, 3 meters until it was almost nuzzling him and then he pounced! He jumped on top of the animal and before it had a chance to realise what was happening, he had gripped its back with his legs, his arms wrapped round its neck, trying to wrestle it to the ground. The thing bucked and snorted, jumping and running, trying to knock him off desperately in an attempt to escape his grip but Firdlass kept on gripping, tighter and tighter. Eventually, when it began to tire, Firdlass managed to steer it away from the herd and towards Karin. Karin could see that he still had the knife in his hand pressed up against its throat. With a sudden, jerking action, Firdlass slid the knife and the animals throat split wide open, spilling out blood all down its greyish-blue mane, staining the grass red and Karin had to put a hand to her mouth to stop herself from throwing up. The animal staggered for a moment and then collapsed, just as Firdlass rolled off of it onto the grasses.
“Easy (Mae-Ja)-nan. No shell.” Firdlass grinned, beckoning Karin over with a hand.
Karin shook her head uneasily, climbed onto the rock and sat on it. She had known what had to be done, but still, seeing it running towards her, staring into its eyes and then seeing what Firdlass had done, she was a little upset.
While Firdlass finished cutting up the meat and skinning the beast, she gathered some sticks and tinder-brush and set about making a small cooking fire. It was beginning to get dark, and soon they were cooking and eating the meat in the light of the fire. Firdlass went over to the lake and cleaned the skin before leaving it to smoke over the fire on a make-shift frame. They sat in silence under the stars, eating the animal meat, listening the the lapping of the waves on the shore of the lake and the occasional braying and snorting of the herds that had since moved away from them towards the other side of the lake. The meat was good, if a little chewy. It tasted vaguely of the Grass Eaters, but more earthy and salty. When they had eaten their fill, Karin hung the rest of the meat up to smoke on the frame Firdlass had made and they both went to sleep.
In the morning, they got up and checked on the skins and the meat they had left smoking. They put the skins in the bag and eat some of the meat before storing it in the bag as well. They had enough smoked meat to last them at least another week now, maybe more if they rationed it carefully.
“Still dark” Firdlass yawned, slightly confused.
Karin stretched and looked around. Yes, it was dark. It didn't feel like night time though, it felt like it should be morning. Remembering back to the unmoving skyline, a thought came to her. Maybe the Axis Moon was high enough to start blocking the sun now? Maybe it blocks out the morning sun now.
“I'm sure it will get light soon Firdlass. I think the Axis Moon is blocking out the morning sun.”
Firdlass tilted his head in his inquisitive way and then nodded. “Okay. We go now?”
“Sure.” Karin said as she checked Pae's Arrow. She frowned slightly, looking up at the lake and back at the arrow again. “Firdlass, lets go down to the lake first.”
They headed towards the lake, and as they got closer, Karin couldn't ignore it any longer, the Arrow seemed to be pointing at the object in the centre of the lake. She began walking away from the object, directly opposite the direction Pae's Arrow pointed. When she got about 100 meters away, the Arrow jerked slightly and pointed in a slightly different direction. Meanwhile, Firdlass was sat on the lake shore, watching her with a tilted head, a perplexed look on his face.
Lets try something, Karin thought. She began walking around the edge of the lake, maintaining her distance from the object. The Arrow kept pointing the same direction even though she had rotated about quarter of the way round. She took a step forwards and the Arrow suddenly flicked round to point at the object in the centre of the lake again. This is bad. Something must be messing with Pae's power, like it did at the village.. This is different though, this makes Pae's Arrow lie, the village just made Pae's Arrow lost. What does this mean?
“Karin!” Firdlass called out, interrupting her from her train of thought. He was excited and momentarily lapsed back into Old N'Geenr. “Y'Torc! Y'Torc! Come look! Come look!”
Karin had barely noticed, but the day had slowly been getting lighter. She walked over to Firdlass who was beckoning her to come watch the sunrise with him. As the sun began to shine over the tops of the hills into the valley, Karin noticed that the object seemed to be reacting to the light.
Firdlass turned to see what Karin was staring at. The huge black object in the lake was shimmering, like when heat rises through the air and creates a haze in the desert. The water around its edge was beginning to boil and steam was beginning to rise all around it.
“What's going on?!”
“Bad, feel very bad. F'nan. F'(Mae-Ja)-nan-skelp.”
The shimmering seemed to be expanding out away from the object like a ripple in the air. It was as if the air was water and the object was a stone that had been dropped in, the waves of shimmering air kept advancing, and Karin was almost too afraid to move.
“Karin! Karin go now with Firdlass!”
Without a moments further thought, Firdlass swung Karin onto his back and began to run back towards their camp as fast as he could. He could sense the shimmering catching up with him, his sense of foreboding growing, his sense of urgency beating in the back of his head. Something about that force screamed at him through his Skel. It was very, very bad.
Firdlass decided to look back for a second and his eyes were met by the wall of shimmering air as it passed through him and Karin. He felt dizzy, his Skel felt wrong, like it had been broken and then put back as if nothing had happened. The world spun around him and as he collapsed to the ground, he saw people coming from the direction of the lake. They must have come down from the hills as I was running away, so I didn't see them, he thought.
He rolled over and checked on Karin. She was unconscious but still breathing. What was that thing and has happened to me and Karin? Firdlass barely got time for another thought, as the people ran up and jumped on him. They were naked, drooling wildly and swinging their arms madly at him, beating down on him constantly. He tried to reach out with his Skel, try and find out what they wanted, try and find something he could use to explain to them that he and Karin weren't their enemies. He tried, but nothing happened, the shimmering must have done something to him, or to them, maybe both. Eventually, Firdlass succumbed to the crushing weight of the strange people as they piled on him madly, their eyes glazed and their saliva flowing freely as he sank into unconsciousness.
* * * * *
“Don't let her forget.”
Firdlass sat up and looked around. He was in a tunnel, its was completely pitch black accepts for a light shining at the end. He tried to get to his feet but couldn't. He watched helplessly as a man walked in front of the light. Firdlass couldn't see his face, the light was too bright and it made the man appear as if he was a shadow.
“Don't let her forget. You were chosen for a reason Firdlass. Don't forget, never forget...”
Firdlass felt heavy all of a sudden and fell back against the floor, the sharp shock to the back of his head making him close his eyes in pain. When he opened them again he was staring up at rock. Had that man been a dream? He didn't know, but it seemed likely, he felt like he had just woken up. As consciousness returned, pain did also. His chest and arms stung, and when he examined them he saw that tufts of his hair had been torn away and that he was covered in bruises. He tried reaching out with his Skel, but again like before he couldn't pick up anything. Firdlass sat up and began to examine wherever it was he was. It was a cave but the entrance had been barred with rocks and thick pieces of wood, essentially creating a cell. He was a prisoner. He stood up and was about to walk over to the barrier when he heard a whimpering behind him.
Karin screamed and began clawing away at the air and kicking the ground in a desperate attempt to cower further back into the cave but there was nowhere to go. She was trapped! She didn't know how she had got here, but she had awoken to find her self in this strange room. At first she thought it must be some kind of joke, but the boys couldn't have come up with something like this. She had begun to venture out towards the barrier when she had seen it. This great, big hairy thing laid out on the ground. Maybe it had kidnapped her from the village and had taken her back to its lair, maybe it was going to eat her! Petrified, she had clamped her hands over her mouth to stop herself from screaming and tried to slowly creep over to the barrier. If she was quiet enough, maybe it wouldn't notice her trying to escape. She had gotten about half way when suddenly it moved and in panic she backed away into the farthest corner she could find away from it. It had begun to pat itself, grooming or cleaning itself perhaps. She watched its hands move over itself and then stifled a gasp as she saw it touch its left arm. The arm was covered in dried blood, but she couldn't see any cuts. That means it must be somebodies elses blood... Oh, Pae, no! Father, it must have killed father trying to take me away! Oh, Pae, no! The creature then sat up and began looking around, it must be looking for her, she wasn't in the same place she had left it. Shivering with fright, she backed further away into the corner and hoped it would somehow miss her. Suddenly it stood up and she couldn't help but whimper at the thought of what it might do to her, and what it had done to her father.
Firdlass turned around towards the whimper and there, further back in a dark corner of the cave, was Karin. She was awake and Firdlass didn't need to Skel-Y'tor to see that see she petrified. He shot her a friendly grin and went over to comfort her. As he approached, he noticed something was wrong, she wasn't just afraid, she was afraid of him!
“Karin, why scared of Firdlass?” He said softly, deeply concerned.
“S-Stay away from me! Y-y-you m-m-monster!” Karin screamed as she made a mad dash for the barrier. “Help me! Somebody help me! Heeeeeeelp!”
Firdlass couldn't believe what was happening. Why is she so scared of me? He tried approaching her, arms open in a display of friendship. He bowed his head and grinned.
“Karin, Firdlass Karin friend.” He said, sadness in his voice.
Karin shook the barrier frantically, but no-one was coming. She spun around, and there was the creature, teeth bared and arms outstretched, ready to pounce. Then it spoke. It had spoke before, but she had been panicking too much to notice. It said her name, some strange word and then her name again followed by the word 'friend'. She stopped shaking at the barrier and looked at the monster for a second. It stood there, its head swaying slightly from left to right. It eyes where completely black, but even in those dark pools, she didn't sense any hostility. Her eyes coursed down its body and then she noticed it was wearing some trousers. Why would a monster wear trousers?
Her thoughts were interrupted as the beast suddenly made a leap for her, its face suddenly twisting into a mask of rage, but it was too late. The barrier suddenly gave way and she was pulled through by some unknown force before the creature could grab her.
“Karin! Karin!” Firdlass yelled as she was taken away by the weird, naked strangers.
Firdlass thumped the wall with a hairy fist and slumped down against the barrier. The man in his dream, if it had been a dream, had tried to warn him. She wasn't afraid of him, she was afraid of a monster she had never seen before. She had forgotten him!