This Science Fiction short story is a lead-up to the book titled, Onyalum Wars. The book is part of the Science Fiction Onyalum Series written by NB VanYoos.
Petima placed the ceremonial paints back in their pouch and bowed once more to the image of Krak, the god of war. With the intricate war paint completed, he was a formidable visage despite his youth. He had just turned twelve and was on his sacred quest to become a man by facing his fears. Those fears would be formidable, but he would not fail on his quest.
His people were primitive by any standard, but they ruled their world as the dominant species. Descended from arboreal creatures, they left the trees to take advantage of the greater food sources available on the ground. As tool development, and eventually weapons development evolved, their species rose in prominence and intelligence. Soon, all creatures of the forest feared them and gave way.
They were bipedal, had incredible binocular vision, and shed the fur so dominant in other creatures. Tan in color, they possessed small heads with two ears capable of independently swiveling one hundred eighty degrees to detect sound from nearly all directions. Their very large eyes were adapted to daylight but darkness was where they excelled, when hunting was best. Petima was nearly a perfect specimen of their species.
Petima’s smooth skin was marked from head to toe in the ceremonial colors his people wore when preparing for a hunt or battle against neighboring tribes. His only clothing was a simply loin cloth protecting his genitals and a small belt to hold his weapons. He was free and unencumbered for this quest.
Each boy within the tribe must complete a series of tests, each difficult and perilous. Many did not return from these quests, but those that did were welcomed into the tribe as a man and a warrior. Only then would they be instructed in the powerful art of battle and take their rightful place beside their elders protecting the people.
Petima had thought about his chosen fear to confront since first seeing the great lizard people when he was only eight. He and his sister had been out gathering nuts for his mother’s bread when a powerful light ignited the sky with a roar like thunder. They ran as far as they could and took shelter in a small stand of bushes as a great white monster fell to the ground spitting flames that destroyed all they touched.
His sister had cried and he held her mouth to keep her sounds from betraying their location. He watched from a distance as the great beast came to rest on the ground before belching forth lizard people in dizzying numbers. Hundreds descended from the beast’s belly, each wearing ceremonial garb and carrying strange weapons.
Though fearful, he had wanted to see more of this mysterious beast and its kin, so he released his sister who ran back to their village in stark terror. He crept closer to the large monstrosity, keeping low in the vegetation to conceal his location on the ridge overlooking the great beast. As he drew closer than he dared, he stopped behind a large del tree, its enormous branches spreading out above him, blocking the sunlight that might reveal him.
He watched from behind its great trunk as the lizard people unloaded strange equipment and supplies from the belly of the great beast. Several of the lizards had broken off from the main group and walked into the surrounding forest. Their eyes were covered in darkness and they wore large packs on their backs with mysterious devices in their arms. Petima was curious.
After walking a short distance, the lizard men aimed their devices into the forest and belched forth green flames of such brilliance that Petima was blinded and fell to the ground in shock. As his vision returned, he watched a towering inferno of fire engulfing the forest around the great beast. He ran as the flames licked at his heels. Large trees, thousands of years old were ignited in a pyre of horror, and Petima feared he, too, would be consumed by the strange fire.
He shook as he remembered that horrible day when the lizard people had arrived. At first the tribe had believed them to be gods sent to punish the people for their poor offerings. But later, after many had died at the lizard’s hands, they came to know them as demons sent to consume their world and all the life within it. They dug enormous holes in the ground, stealing the very life force of their world while laying waste to anything that stood in their way, including the tribe’s village.
It had been a sad day when the village was forced out of their home and chased across the land to another location far from their birthright. They cursed the lizard people, but against their power and magic, the people were no match. But Petima was determined to face them, bringing back a trophy that would prove his worth as a man and a warrior.
He placed his ceremonial equipment back in the hollow of the tree where he’d made his camp and set off into the forest toward the distant camps of the lizard people. Their numbers had grown great since his first encounter, but he was not afraid. He had faced many reptiles as a child, some large enough to swallow him whole, but he had always won because the people were intelligent, and reptiles were dumb animals.
He was a descendent of the great tree spirits, and from the moment they had descended to the ground from the high branches, they had grown to be the rulers of the forest, greater than all animals that crawled, climbed, or flew. This was their land, and although he might never see the end of the lizard people, he would let them know he was no coward, he was a warrior.
He made good time as his heart beat strong and his legs ran free. He knew these forests and was one of the fastest creatures on two legs. He came equipped with his boomerang, a knife carved from the great crystals of the mountains, and a small sling with which he was deadly accurate. But his mission was not to fight, his was to use stealth to make off with one of their prized weapons right from under their noses.
He stopped and surveyed the perimeter of their encampment as the sun began its eventual quest for bed that the moon may have its time in the sky. Twilight would be best for his quest. He slid beneath their barrier and made his way toward structures where many of the lizard men gathered. As he neared, he heard their insidious voices hissing demonic words while sitting around a fire cleaning weapons.
This was his chance, a perfect trophy for his quest. He eyed the strange metallic weapons reflecting light from the fire and he narrowed in on a small, handheld device that didn’t look too large to carry. The lizard men were large and strong and he was small by comparison. Their weapons could be heavy, and he needed speed to escape with his prize.
Convinced the smaller weapon would be manageable, he eased around the edge of the building, trying to still his heart from the pounding in his chest. He closed his eyes and chanted the sacred prayer of fear.
Fear is but a feeling, not an enemy. But like an enemy, it can beat a man down until he is defeated by only a feeling. Only an enemy is real, and only an enemy can cause death. Fear not death, for a warrior will rise again to join all the warriors that have come before him. Fear is but a feeling, not an enemy.
He checked his quarry once more and determined the path he would take after gaining his trophy. He took several deep breaths and focused. Sprinting from his hiding place, he was a dark blur through the lizard men as he grabbed the weapon in one stride, leaping into the air off the table they sat around. He heard their sharp hisses as he sprinted across the open road and slid beneath a piece of large equipment sitting idle.
Clearing the heavy machinery he was at full stride as he heard the lizard men curse him as they pursued him across their encampment. He passed other lizard men, his appearance causing shock as he sped past faster than a chitaca being chased by a lek. He was nearing the barrier and was prepared to slide beneath it in one deft move, putting more distance between him and his pursuers. Only two more steps and he was free.
His body went rigid and he fell in a heap, sliding into the barrier, its sharp edges cutting his skin. He lay motionless, stunned by the change in his circumstance, his mind reeling as he felt little but the blood oozing from his wounds. He could not control his eyes and he stared blankly into the darkening night sky, the first of many stars beginning to make their appearance.
His breathing was shallow and rapid, and his heart felt like it would burst through his chest. Fear gripped him as he realized he had been caught. He had faced his fear only to have it consume him. He would die and it was fitting, though he might never join the warriors before him. Suddenly, a large silhouette appeared above him, its demonic grin and razor teeth ready to eat its unlucky prey. He would be strong to the end. It raised a taloned foot and placed it on his neck, and Petima knew it would suffocate him as did the lek when it finally caught the chitaca.
∆ ∆ ∆
Seraar had just come from his hut when he spotted the commotion by his men. A small, dark figure was darting through the camp, and it carried one of their weapons. His eyes narrowed as he focused on the dark flash. He went into battle mode and sprinted from this hut on a path to intercept the local creature. Although they mostly kept to the woods, several of his men had been attacked as they patrolled the region around their mining operations. Fear was their best method of keeping the locals away.
Issgire were built for speed, and he easily clocked the local with little effort. It was small and would be difficult to catch, so he pulled his weapon and set it to stun. As he rounded a large tanker, he intercepted the small creature as it was preparing to slide beneath the perimeter fence. If it got into the forest, they might never find the small being. He aimed and fired twice, the second knocking the creature to the ground, its body sliding into the fence, the sharp wire cutting it severely along its arms, legs and neck.
Seraar slowed his pace and holstered his weapon as he approached the stunned creature. It was small, most likely an adolescent. The paint colors made it from a local tribe they had chased off years before. Why do they always come back against such impossible force?
He placed a foot on the creature’s neck and applied pressure. If it regained its strength, he didn’t want it to escape. He picked up the weapon as his men approached. It was a small handheld, but capable of killing on the highest setting. He flipped it over and read the name on the handle, Lisoor.
“Lisoor, step forward please.” He hissed in angry tones.
The young soldier stepped out from his peers and looked down in deference. “Yes, sir?”
Seraar wasn’t sure whether this incident warranted disciplinary actions or not, after all, no one expects a small creature taking off with your weapon in the middle of your armed camp. Still, it was best to make sure his men understood even these small creatures posed a valid threat. It wouldn’t have been much effort for the creature to turn the weapon on his men instead of just stealing it.
“I believe this is yours.” He hissed as he threw the weapon at the soldier’s feet. “How is it such a diminutive creature can make off with your weapon?”
“Uh…I do not know, sir. It came out of the darkness and was gone before we knew what had happened.” He picked up his weapon slowly and placed it in his holster.
Seraar felt the small creature beginning to stir beneath his foot and he made his decision. “I will not tolerate such sloth in my unit. This world may not possess real enemies, but the local wildlife can be just as dangerous when you do not pay attention!” He pulled his own sidearm and shot Lisoor with a stunning blast. The young soldier fell in a heap.
“Pick him up and make sure he is assigned exterior perimeter patrol for the next five nights.” He holstered his weapon and looked down at the now squirming creature beneath his foot. It feebly tried to bite him, but his scaly feet were far too hard to penetrate. “As for you my poor friend, I admire your tenacity and courage. However, we cannot have you wreaking havoc on the order of my camp.” He placed his large claw against the creature’s cheek and pulled his foot back, slashing a deep tear in the creature’s face.
Blood spread from the wound and the creature barely silenced a yelp from the pain. It was a bloody and muddy mess as it backed against the wire fence trying to flee from Seraar. He laughed as he picked it up by its neck and grabbed its flailing feet. “You won’t be bothering us anymore, and that scar will remind you who is in charge in this region. Tell your tribe to keep away or we will wipe you out!”
He tossed the small creature across the fence and it landed with a thud on the hard ground. He stared at its stunned form as it tried to recover from a demoralizing capture and release. “Run little animal, run!” Seraar hissed through the fence as he brandished his weapon, firing into the night.
∆ ∆ ∆
Petima placed a large heja leaf against his face to stop the bleeding and prevent infection. He spit blood from his mouth as he limped through the forest towards his village. He had failed but survived. His face was torn badly, and he feared a broken leg as pain shot through him with every step. He had a long way to go but refused to give up now. Despite his lost trophy, he had faced his fear and lived to tell about it.
He didn’t know why the lizard had released him, but he suspected it was to warn others who might try such a daring quest. The lizards would step up their vigilance, and any attempt to penetrate their perimeter would be more difficult to virtually impossible. But he had faced them and no longer feared them. They were not demons as his tribe thought, but only warriors from a distant land in the sky.
He had witnessed his captor shooting one of its own, presumably for letting Petima steal his weapon. He smiled at the memory, but this only caused pain across his torn face. He stopped to steady himself as spots swam through his eyes. He had to keep moving and reach his village before his wounds felled him. If he fell in the forest, he would not last long. As it was, the smell of his blood would draw predators looking for an easy meal.
The stars above lit his path, and he yearned for the moon to rise, its brilliant light a beacon he could follow home. He drew his knife and held it tight as he continued to limp through the forest. He might not survive the night, but in his mind he was a warrior. He had faced hundreds of the lizard men and could tell the tale. Perhaps he hadn’t failed in his mission after all. He thought about the other boys in his village and knew his quest had been far greater than any they had survived.
He had no trophy like the tooth of a lek or paw of a teer, but he had faced the lizards and lived. As the moon finally peered over the trees, he smiled once more, grinning at the pain this caused. He felt the hot blood beneath the leaf and realized he would wear his trophy forever.