For four days, Mel drifted in and out of consciousness. When she was able to swim up from the tendrils of death that held her, she dreamed vivid and horrifying dreams.
Once, she sat up with a start and saw a scene from Dante’s Inferno. She saw a huge hairy man being flogged by a branchless tree trunk. The tree was very large and the branches on it had been cut crudely so that long splinters sprouted from its surface like jagged teeth. The man was held in place by long ropes of vine that were hung from stalactites so that his feet barely touched the floor. He was screaming while others of his kind either cheered in triumph or wept with sympathy.
Another time Mel awoke in a hospital room with nurses all around her. She felt like she was in familiar territory, but wondered how she had changed places with her mother. Her mom held her wrist in one large hand and peered into her eyes with concern.
“Mama…,” she croaked, and drew back in alarm when her mother’s face disappeared. Now she was surrounded by monsters. Their giant hairy faces leered down at her. Their mouths sang an eerie chorus Mel couldn’t hear, but understood. The hospital room dissolved into a small cave and her crisp, white sheets were replaced by a scruffy fur blanket. She shrugged it off, screaming, before succumbing to the healing darkness once again.
Finally Mel awoke to voices. She felt a little better and her head no longer felt like it might explode. She looked over to the far side of the cave and saw Onio being tended to by the old sasquatch female. He looked pale and shaken. The old one, whose name was Rain, rubbed some sort of ointment on Onio’s back. Although their lips didn’t move, they were talking. Mel closed her eyes and listened.
“Onio, what he did was just,” she murmured.
“Just!” Onio snarled. “The test is designed to punish the worst criminals…murderers, and rapines! What I did was not even a crime! Why did he bring his grandson, who would be king, to his knees?”
Mel peeked at the two sasquatches through her eyelashes. She saw that Onio’s head was bowed and that his shoulders heaved with sobs. Rain stood some distance away and wiped her hands clean with a rag. She regarded her grandson with an eyebrow raised in equal parts exasperation and love.
She brought Onio a mug of something to drink and Mel’s throat ached with thirst. She watched as he set the mug down, staring at the floor in anger. Rain sat next to him on the shelf of rock that served as a bed.
“Onio, what you did was akin to murder. I know you know this, because I have taught you these things myself!” She placed a hand on the male’s thigh. “I will teach it again, Grandson,” she continued. “Maybe this time you will listen and truly understand.”
Rain slapped the young sasquatch sharply and stood up. Onio hunched his shoulders at the reprimand, glaring at his own toes.
“The small humans have small brains, Grandson. Also, their brains work differently than ours. We are intuitive, telepathic and sensitive to the ways of nature and the planet around us. They are none of these things, but they are creatures of intellect. Look at the marvelous machines they construct, the technology they have invented! In many ways their workings are like magic to us. Just as, I think, our ways are magical to them.” Rain sighed.
“That is why we hide from them, Onio. They are a covetous race, and would take from us, by any means necessary, that which they desire. For many generations the humans have tried to unlock the mysteries of our brains. They want to know how to use the soul song, and would steal it from us if they could. Many times they have tried…this you know, first-hand!”
Tears were dripping out of Onio’s eyes and falling to the floor. He murmured, “I am sorry, Grandmother. I wasn’t thinking properly.”
Mel saw the old female smile as she fussed with some things in a bag, then walked over to cook something on a fire set in the middle of the floor.
“Now, finally, First Son admits to not thinking before acting.” Although the sasquatches lips didn’t move, Mel could hear the sarcasm dripping from Rain’s voice, as the smell of meat cooking filled the air.
“Onio, listen and hear my words.” Rain’s voice was urgent. “There are as many reasons as birds in the sky why we do not co-mingle with the little humans. Most importantly, they will hunt us down and kill us for the gifts we possess. They would experiment on us and dissect our brains, and all for nothing! Even if they knew how to extract our abilities, their brains do not have the means, or the capacity, for soul song. It is called neural pathways…or some such. I have forgotten the exact words.” Now she glared at her grandson again. “We think that this little human will survive what you did to her, Onio.”
Mel slammed her eyes shut as she saw the big male glance her way. Guilt was written all over his face.
“You were lucky, I think, that this creature survived at all. Your gift opened pathways in her brain…neural connections most humans are not equipped to deal with, or understand. We believe that the only reason the girl hasn’t died is because her ear canals are damaged. Our gifts are sense, rather than thought, oriented. Hearing is a sense, so her brain was able to withstand the new impulses. She is very ill, though, and will be frail for a long while to come. She may not survive the change…someday her brain might break from the strain you yourself put on it!”
Mel saw Onio put his hands over his face and shudder. “Oh Grandmother,” he moaned. “Truly, I did not think to kill this little human…I did not think at all!”
Rain nodded, filled a wooden bowl with meat, and handed it to him. She glanced over at Mel and sat down next to Onio again.
“You are young yet, Onio, and perhaps foolish, but you will be a fine leader someday. To lead well, though, you must learn to listen to the world around you. Drak, your uncle, is also a fine man, but he suffers from jealousy. He never thought that you would be declared king after Bouldar is gone…not with the small human blood that flows in your veins. That he himself told you this only serves to prove that he hasn’t the wisdom to lead the tribe.”
She chuckled. “There is a thing the small humans call irony. It took me many, many years of study to understand this concept, but I find it ironic that the very thing Drak used to wound you with actually ensures your ascension to the seat of leadership.”
She stood again and moved around behind Onio to apply more salve to his wounded back. “My husband believes that the human soldiers are renewing their efforts to find us, and hunt us down. He believes that these soldiers want to use the soul song as some sort of weapon. They are a warrior species who will use even the most benign gift as a tool for destruction!” The old female apparently forgot to be gentle in her application of the medicine on his wounds. Onio winced with pain.
“He thinks that the tribe needs a leader who can both sympathize with and out-maneuver the humans who want to conquer us. The blood in your veins has made you smarter than the rest of us…especially Drak. You still possess the tribe’s gifts, like telepathy and camouflage, but your intellect will be the thing that can save the tribe from the small humans’ greed.” She gave her grandson’s shoulders a shake, not caring that he cried out in pain.
“That leader will be you, Grandson!” she shouted. “But only if this little human woman survives and you learn to think before you act!”
Rain’s voice was pensive when she spoke again. “Before Bouldar became my husband he was much like you; curious and compelled to seek out the small humans’ company, despite the risks.” She threw her arms up with a growl of rage.
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Genre – Fantasy/Romance
Rating – PG13
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