A complement of The People struggles against long odds to reach the Spring of Life.
|Fantasy Fiction ▼ |
1440 words. Prompt: a spring
Kevat crouched in the shadow of a giant fern, mouth open to better taste the area, nostrils flared for scents of danger, ears pricked for the sound of predators, while trying to ignore his desperate need. All calm. He glanced at Auster, his complement, who was watching their back trail. He could feel Auster’s need, as strong as his own. They nodded to each other, and moved on.
How far to spring? Kevat wondered.
No idea, Auster’s thought whispered in his mind.
Their joint thoughts reviewed Danilow’s instructions, a memory of a memory of a memory, almost before the time of mind-speak had made words less necessary. To reach the Life Spring, travel four days at hunter’s pace towards the conjoined moons, the shaman had said, until you reach the river. Upstream, there are two waterfalls the height of a Person. Go to the second, and climb the left side as you face it....
There was more, but they concentrated on the start of the journey. They had been four days traveling at hunter’s pace—ten steps walking, ten steps running--chasing the twin moons where they lay one atop the other, concentric circles as the near moon occluded the further, but had not reached a river. And each day their need had grown, from a niggling itch to a rumbling craving.
No water smell. No river sound. Go too slow? Lost?
Auster’s reply was a mental shrug. Not lost, followed moons. Maybe slow. Go one more day.
By high-sun of the fifth day, they had not reached the river. Kevat’s shiver of doubt was echoed by Auster’s frisson of fear, and their silver fur stood on end. They groomed each other, seeking calm, as they pondered the situation.
No river, Kevat thought. Where river?
Half day back, big gully. River dry?
If river dry, could be Life Spring dry? The instant that Kevat put that fear into thought, the two turned and began following their back trail.
What if spring dried? Bleak fear, apprehension, yearning.
No completion. Stay separate. Die. Love overlaid with infinite sadness
When they reached the ravine, it was obvious which way was upstream, and they worked their way up the ravine, pushing through the brush. A few thumb-suns later, they had to scramble up a rocky ledge half again their height.
How long since last Spring Time?
So long that river has deepened and dried. So long almost no People left at Village. So long that Danilow is memory many times back.
We waited too long, Kevat’s thought was immersed in sadness and need.
We were not ready! Too small! Not mature. We could not have come sooner, Auster protested, panting with the exertion of the climb.
The two pushed on up the dry riverbed, forcing through thick vegetation in the hot afternoon.
Can’t change--Must endure. The two thoughts crossed and they gave each other a tired grin.
As they hiked on, the vegetation thinned, the ground on which they walked became a morass of ankle-twisting round boulders, and the walls of the ravine became increasingly rocky, steep, and high. The second waterfall was far more than the height of a person. They hiked into a huge rocky bowl that water had worn at the foot of the cliffs and stared up in dismay.
How climb? Too high. Too steep.
Auster studied the walls of the canyon, water-washed and smooth. Can’t climb side. Go back, come around.
Again they backtracked, until they found an erosion channel on the bank that they could climb. On top of the bank, they again had to push through thickets of fern and brush.
Hunger, thought Auster.
Thirst, agreed Kevat. They had expected by now to be drinking from the river and catching fish for supper. A mutual mental image of a flapper grilled over an open fire made both salivate. They grinned at each other and pressed on.
From the top of the second waterfall, Danilow’s instructions had continued, turn left, keeping your right shoulder centered between the two moons. One day of hunter’s pace will take you to steep hills. Take care! For here dwell large and deadly poisonous spiders. The trees are your friends; seek them. Only then can you proceed up the right-most hill.
Hunter’s pace brought them by mid-afternoon to within sight of the hills poking through the foliage.
Auster held his thumbs at arms length and estimated the sun’s distance to the tree-tops. Three thumbs. Got time, let’s go.
All senses alert, traveling as quietly as possible, they left the forest behind and began the climb to the hills. They turned a shoulder of rock and Kevat almost walked into his complement.
Why stop? Oh.
Auster, in the lead, was caught in a tough and sticky web. He attempted to pull off a strand, but that only left both hands trapped.
Ick. Stuck. Can’t break. They studied the web, which was festooned with the desiccated bodies or skeletons of flyers and small land creatures, each wrapped in a shroud of webbing.
Many die here. Where spider?
Danilow no say web. Be still. Wait.
They waited until the sun had dropped one thumb-width. Trees are friends. Seek them. What mean? Finally, Kevat walked back to the nearest tree, ripped off a stout branch, returned, and with all his strength slammed the branch onto a strand of the web. Where it hung, trapped and vibrating wildly.
Good move. Now stick stuck.
Kevat ignored this, as he had noticed that where watery sap had oozed from the severed branch, the web had slithered off. He rubbed his hand in the sap and tentatively touched the web. His hand remained free.
The two shared a quick thought of relief. Kevat ran back to fill his cupped hands with the sap that dripped from the wounded tree. By rubbing it all over Auster’s hands and arms, he was able free his complement while remaining free himself. After getting more sap, they rubbed it over themselves, giggling at the sight of their slicked-down fur, then wriggled through the web and headed up the hill to their right.
With a skittering rustle, a huge spider burst out of a crack in the rocks. The two did their best to freeze, but Auster overbalanced and fell. The spider leapt on him, spitting web from spinerettes in its back end to surround its victim. Collecting the strands in a hooked rear foot, it turned and began to drag its prey downhill to its web.
Caught! Terror. Help! Fear, loss.
But as Auster wriggled and writhed, the webbing slid off his sap-coated body, dumping him onto the rocky ground. Seemingly unaware of its loss, the spider clattered away.
Blessing! Joy! Gladness! Their thoughts merged and swirled together in a paroxysm of relief.
The welter of emotions—the terror of being trapped in the web, the horror of one half almost being spider-food, the joy of release and salvation--had temporarily dulled the need that drove their quest, but it returned two-fold as they neared their goal.
Watch near the top of the hill for a cave, they re-thought Danilow’s directions. First passage left, then second passage on the right, then the next right will take you down to the Lifespring.
They crested the hill without seeing a cave. Their need was a pounding ache smothered with hunger and thirst, crusted with apprehension and frustration. They turned back down the hill, separated to the limit of shared thought, and searched.
Here. Kevat had found a pit of tumbled stones. Caved in.
He began digging, hurling stones down the hill. Auster hurried to help. Need and desperation gave their excavation strength and speed. After a thumb-sun of digging, they caught a hint of stale, moist air coming through the gaps in the remaining rocks. They forced their way into the cave, tumbling rocks into the echoing gloom. Need burgeoned into anticipation and swelling joy as they groped through the darkness-- First left, second right, first right down to....
Nothing. There was no spring. No life. No completion. Only a flattish stretch of damp sand.
Gloom. We die.
No. Moist here. Dig.
Scraping frantically, hurling gouts of sand to spatter against the cave walls, the two burrowed into the earth. Gradually, a trickle of water filled the hole. They slaked their thirst, then dug steadily, until they were standing shoulder-deep in the sand, ankle-deep in water. With a blurp, a spurt of water burst into the bottom of the pit, which swiftly filled with a churning whirlpool.
We live!--My love!--We will complete—And birth!
Buoyed to the top, splashing happily, Kevat and Auster wrapped their arms and legs around each other. Saturated with moisture, their skins dissolved where they touched, and driving need became joyous satisfaction as two became one.... and then, as night progressed towards dawn, became two, and then four, eight, and finally sixteen tiny complementary pairs nestled in the moist sand, cradled by the spring of life.
Thoughts began to form. We live. We are. We become.
There would be People in the village once again.
A note on pronouns ▼