Velik- Hunter of Stars- Part 4

Missed the beginning of the story?

               The smell in the cave was so strong I could taste it. Damp mineral earth, fungi and something rotting. I wanted to puke.

                “Stop gagging Vel, or you’re going to make me hurl.” Zo nudged me in the dark.

                “I can’t help it. The smell is disgusting.”

                “I hadn’t noticed.”

                “Haha.” I wasn’t amused by Zo’s sarcasm but I was happy that she had recovered from our fall into the river. We had lost the horrible ape-cat creatures downstream but the sun had set much more quickly than we had expected. Either we spent a lot longer drifting down the river than we thought, or this planet’s rotation was much faster than Jango’s. I thought the latter more likely, as I was pretty good with tracking time no matter what planet I was on. It came in handy when chasing my marks. As a bounty hunter, I learned quickly that it was wise to know where they were and what they were doing and how long they had been doing it to best surprise them.

                Being good with time aside, I felt like I had lost track of it a bit during our time in the suffocating cave we had found. By my count, we had spent far too long in here, but that wasn’t saying much since even a minute in here was a minute too long. Zo agreed.

                I had tried multiple times to check my navigation watch, but it greeted me with the same black screen each time. It didn’t stop me from checking again. Was it wishful thinking, or did it seem like the glow was beginning to come back? I was probably imagining things.

                Zo reached out a hand to still my bouncing leg that I hadn’t realized was in motion. I couldn’t wait to get out, but we needed to be certain we had daylight so we wouldn’t get lost. And if those ape-cat things prowled in the daytime, I didn’t want to see what came out at night.

                We had piled rocks from the riverbed at the cave’s small entrance to block it off, under no delusions that it would keep anything out; but we couldn’t help hoping that if they, whoever or whatever they might be, couldn’t see in, the rotting fish smell would ward them off.

                After a few hours of sleeplessness despite my exhaustion, my mind began to wander to Zo’s ship, or Zo’s father’s ship more like, the Stealthstar. Zo’s father wasn’t one to be into old school sci-fi television, so I was certain that Zo had re-named the ship or she had somehow convinced her father to name it that for her. Either way, I wanted nothing more in my life than to be back aboard that ship, recycled air and all. I began to laugh, feeling a bit manic in the close, dank dark.

                “What’s so funny?”

                “I was claustrophobic on the ship.”

                “I know. That’s funny?”

                “I’ll never complain about recycled air conditioning again.”

                Zo chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll be happily complaining again by the end of the day tomorrow.”

                My laughter died in my throat with a horrible thought. “If we make it out of here.”

                “Stop that, of course we will.”

                “Yeah, of course.” I tried to sound more confident, but I failed to convince myself.

                 I was confident, perhaps even a bit cocky if I was being honest, while hunting marks. But every last one I had hunted had been in a city, a few in small towns. One guy had hidden in the “wild” forest-like park of a large metropolitan city that made Old Central Park look like a kiddy playground. But it was ridiculous that I found myself so undone by the real wild. I felt pathetic to be reduced to huddling in a cave, hiding like I was the mark and the ape-cats were my bounty hunters. We had to get out of here.

                “I think it’s time to check outside.” I stood suddenly, dislodging a sleepy Zo from my shoulder.

                Zo jumped up, eager as I to get out of the cave that seemed to get darker and more stifling by the second.

                The humidity on this planet had ensured we were both still damp when we emerged from the cave, the pink light of dawn emerging over the tops of the trees. At least it was warmer out here than it was in the cave. And it smelled fresh, almost magical, out in the open. We both sucked in deep breaths of glorious, crisp morning air.

                “Okay, which way?” Zo asked.

                I oriented myself with the rising sun and the river. I pointed, “that way.”

                Zo licked her dry lips, which made me remember we hadn’t had any fresh water to drink and no food since yesterday. It wasn’t lost on either of us that we’d have to find a way to scale the cliff we had gone down, or find a way around, and on empty stomachs.

                “No point wasting anymore time then," I said. "Let's go."

                We set off, knowing that any delay could put us on this planet another night and we might not be so lucky as to find another cave. As awful as the night had been, hiding in the putrid dark was far better than being hunted through the woods.

                Walking in silence along the river found us a modicum of comfort, seeing that it had frightened the beasts away yesterday, but the sound of rushing water made us infinitely thirstier. Unsticking my dry tongue from the roof of my mouth, I wondered if it would make it worse if I drank the salt water. It probably would.

                The sun was high in the sky before we could see where we had tumbled down the cliffside. It was hopeless to climb anywhere nearby, as the cliff was undercut by the river. Zo and I looked around, but we couldn’t see past the tall, abnormally green trees that grew near the waterline. I volunteered to swim into the river to see if I could get a better view.

                Zo was skeptical, whether to be left alone on the shore, or because she didn’t like the idea of anyone being in the water, even if it wasn’t her. I assured her it was fine as I handed her my still-blank nav watch. The stupid thing was supposed to be waterproof, but clearly the street vendor had lied.

                “You should just chuck the stupid thing. I told you not to buy it.” Zo took it unwillingly.

                I sighed, “I know, but it looks cool.”

                “How you ever save money is beyond me, Velik.” She scolded me, but her tone was playful. She knew I had a weakness for the street markets in the big cities. “You buy whatever worthless piece of junk is shoved at you.”

                “Hey, I got you some of the coolest comics you have that way, and rare I might add.”

                Zo sighed and smiled. “You’re right. Now quit chatting and get out there.”

                The water was cold but refreshing. I tried hard to keep my face out of the water, I didn’t think my eyes could take any more brine in them. When I reached the center, I turned, treading water. My heart sank. The ground rose high, cliff-like for a few miles in each direction. Where it began to drop enough to be feasible to hike, it went through what looked like the thickest part of the vibrant forest.

                There was nothing else for it, we had to go. The Stealthstar was up the cliff and we had no rope for climbing. So, through the forest we went. We chatted off and on to make the time pass, but our mouths were getting dry so we found ourselves in silence more often than not. The trees were close, the light tinged our skin a pale green and was dappled by the thousands of leaves above us fluttering in the breeze. The breeze that couldn’t reach to the stifling forest floor. It was still humid and the shade did nothing to relieve the heat of the afternoon. We were sticky and sweaty and getting cranky by the time we stumbled into a clearing.

                The clearing itself isn’t what gave us pause. It was the large rock pillar in the center of it. And it wasn’t the rock pillar or even hunger that gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. It was the fact that on top of the rock pillar in the center of the clearing, was a skull. A human skull. I stopped dead in my tracks, but Zo took several steps forward.

                “Zo,” I hissed. “What in the name of Aquila are you doing?”

                She continued as if she hadn’t heard me. There was a rustling in the trees to my left. My eyes frantically searched the woods, hoping I would not see what I dreaded. There was nothing there, but I remembered the bright, mossy color of their bodies and my gut clenched hard as I scrutinized every stump, bush and tree.

                I glanced over to see Zo had reached the pillar.

                “Are you kidding me?” I started towards her.

                “Look at these runes,” she breathed, almost reverently as she reached a hand out to the carvings. I leapt for her, but not before her fingers brushed the rough stone.

                A high, sharp wail sounded. Like a siren on fire alert, though unlike a siren, this was not machine-like. It took me a moment to shake off the paralyzing, unearthly ringing in my ears. The sound continued. I looked up and realized it was coming from the open mouth of the human skull. It was like it was looking down on us, screaming of intruders on its sacred resting ground. I looked over Zo’s shoulder and saw something green dart from the tree line.

                I grabbed Zo’s hand and yanked her after me, certain I could hear crashing through the underbrush behind us as the banshee wail continued, pursuing us through the forest along with the monstrous ape-cats from yesterday.

Velik- Hunter of Stars- Part 3

Missed the beginning of the story?

The thing about Pops is that he was always so organized and prepared for things. I kept wondering why he never prepared for this. But how could he prepare for the eventuality that his grandson would have to go gallivanting off into space to search for him? That I would be sitting here, pouring over his journal filled with meaningless scribbles, trying to figure out a clue that could lead me to him.

                It sounds ridiculous when I put it like that. It seems like I’m on this grand adventure with an amazing story to tell. This is just my life. If I heard any of this from anyone else I suppose it would sound like a gripping, action packed story. But for me, I’m simply scared and confused. A guy, barely old enough to call himself an adult, sitting in a borrowed space ship leafing through a journal written by my grandpa, trying to figure out where in the universe he could be. The symbols danced across the pages, mocking me.

                Zo thought the scribbles were some sort of code. Shorthand, she called it. She’s read her fair share of books so I believed her. She said that shorthand had been out of date for centuries, long before voice dictation took over even. Of course it had, I thought with frustration. So how did we figure out what it meant? How did we figure any of this out?

                Why is it that so many television characters seem so confident? They may mess stuff up, but they seem pretty sure of themselves as they go. Maybe they were created that way because no one enjoys the feeling of being out of control, especially when it means you have no control over your own life. And that’s how I feel, spinning out of control like a ship without navigation in deep space.

                I’ve always been a pretty confident guy. Okay, okay, maybe there were those few years in school, back before I met Zo, when I was hardly confident enough to tie my own shoe laces. That was before they came out with autofitted jump boots, but I digress. All this drifting through space feeling is just bringing up my childhood. I spent plenty of time feeling lost and don’t care to feel that way as an adult.

                Back then, hardly a day went by where I didn’t come home dripping in toilet water, or on especially unfortunate days when the lads didn’t want to see me washed “clean” in a swirly, blood.

                I watched Zo walk around the cockpit, pacing, trying to figure out our dilemma. She knew what it was but we had no way of deciphering it. But if anyone could figure it out, it was Zo. An overwhelming feeling of gratitude washed over me that I had her. I may be feeling like I’m careening off into space unguided, but at least I’ve had Zo trying to right the ship.

                I still remember the first time I met her. She was a short, slightly heavy, bespectacled nerd and the goon squad made sure to point out each of those features in mocking tones. I had seen her around, but we had never talked. The halls between classes weren’t for socializing, our tutors pointed out harshly. Though all of them turned a blind eye when Haxley and his crew of thugs jeered and shoved their way through the halls. I thought it was unfair that they got special treatment, until I realized that Haxley’s parents were the Mayoral Couple of Jango. It still wasn’t fair, but it made sense and I stopped spending time stewing about it. Though Zo never quite let it go.

                While most of the thugs wouldn’t stoop to hitting a girl, mostly because they knew they would get a fine as well as detention, it didn’t stop them from verbally accosting her. The day I met her, that restraint was called into question. It had been a rough day. Our exams proctor had given a sample exam and I had failed it miserably. Our solar histories tutor caught me doodling when I should have been taking notes and took my pad away. To top it all off, I had forgotten my lunch at home and was so hungry it felt like my stomach had decided to snack on itself. As I was filing out of school with the masses, I realized I had forgotten my pad with my solar histories tutor. Once I got it, I was well behind the usual crowd I clung near in the hopes of making it home unscathed. By the time I made it to the school gates, my stomach ache had been trumped by the throbbing in my head upon realizing I would have to study all weekend for our fifth-year exams and hanging out with Pops at the docks was not going to be in the cards. "In the Stars," as Pops would say. Even at twelve I wasn’t much into Pops starry-eyed religiosity.

                I had never been good at school and was dreading my weekend spent with my nose glued to my pad doing nothing but reading and highlighting passages. The gates were padlocked using retina recognition and coded with voice analyzers. I did my customary personal code, “May the Force be with you.” And glanced up at the cameras so they could clearly scan my eyes. A locker sprung open that allowed me to collect my transportation home. Students were allowed a hover scooter or bike to ride to school. My locker was empty as it always was though it opened anyways. Pops didn’t have the extra cash for stuff like that. He said he walked to school uphill both ways, in the snow- whatever that was, and I could walk one mile on smooth-paved streets on my own. It was good for me, he’d said. I slammed the locker shut and the gates swung outward. I stepped out onto the street.

                I trotted down the grey street as quickly as I could. I had long legs and big feet for my age so I was rather ungainly. Though I am thankful now as it means I’m tall, back then it wasn’t exactly an advantage. Especially in moments where I needed a quick getaway. Just like I had called the trouble to me by thinking it, I heard a familiar shout from behind me.

                “Oy!” It was Haxley’s top minion Krute.

                I didn’t bother to turn around, I knew the sight of the jeering thugs that would greet my eyes. Looking back would only slow my escape. I ran, full out wishing desperately for a bike. It didn’t matter, Haxley had hidden out in the alley ahead of me and stepped into my path. I came to a crashing stop after colliding with his wide girth. He was four years older and already large for his age. Why it happened that bullies are always huge, and strong and impossible to get away from is beyond me. He could have beat someone up older than him; I never understood why he went after puny twelve-year-olds but I guess logic doesn’t factor into a bully’s decision-making process.

                Whatever the reason, he proceeded to shove me to the ground.

                “Hey twig, what’re you doing down there?” He chortled as he mocked me.

                His cronies who had caught up to us snickered as if he had said something incredibly clever.

                “You gonna cry?” He mocked.

                The fact was, I wanted to, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. I sucked it up. I had my fair share of beatings by the time I was twelve. I braced myself for a punch to the face, my palms and wrists smarting from my landing on the steel-grey road.

                “Hey! You kids!” I looked up, shocked at the interruption. The librarian wasn’t exactly an intimidating man, but he was a respected member of the community and could easily share news of Haxley bullying kids to his parents. The Mayoral Couple were all about reputation and they would not be pleased to hear their only child was roughing the other kids up. Though there were always rumors, Haxley seemed to manage, despite his thick skull, to keep his behavioral issues under the radar.

                Haxley was quick to pull me to my feet and brush me off, albeit a bit rougher than need be. “Oh, hello there, Mr. Wallace.”

                “What are you kids doing out here?”

                “Oh, we were just saying hi to our friend, Vel here. Isn’t that right?” He nudged me and I nearly stumbled with the force, but reluctantly nodded.

                “They were not!” Zo stepped out from behind Mr. Wallace, face furious. “I heard them planning to jump Velik on his way home.” The look on Haxley’s face was pure rage and his fists clenched. Had Mr. Wallace not been there I doubted very seriously that the bulky oaf would remember the law about hitting girls. He collected himself faster than I thought possible.

                “We would never do something like that! Velik here lost his balance and as you can see sir, I was just helping him up.” Haxley put on his greasiest smile, the one that got him out of trouble with all the tutors.

                Mr. Wallace looked back at Zo. He was caught in a tough position, Haxley being the Mayors’ kid and all. He was no fool though and trusted Zo, who was in his shop daily, I learned later. “I’m inclined to believe the young lady here. Why don’t you all clear out.”

                Mr. Wallace stuck around to make sure the thugs left. “Why don’t you scoot on home, kid.” He suggested. “Tell your Pops I said hi and he can keep that book as long as he likes. No one borrows real books these days anyways.”

                Zo walked home with me and we had been inseparable ever since. We weren’t always lucky to have someone like the librarian around to spook Haxley, Krute and the gang, but Zo had quite the tongue on her and she found she could lash them into embarrassment in front of a crowd of kids easily. They didn’t enjoy being laughed at, so they left us alone at school, but the retaliation was often swift and brutal afterwards. When Pops finally pointed me in the direction of some weights and taught me how to throw a few punches, I never looked back. I got big enough to protect me and Zo whenever nobody was around but Haxley’s thugs. They eventually stopped messing with us, but the instinct to protect one another stayed with us.

                The memory of the day washed over me as I sat in Zo’s parent’s ship. That book Mr. Wallace had mentioned, I remember seeing it. It went with Pops everywhere, except for the shop. He’d never let a book get grease on it. He never took it back to the library and Mr. Wallace never asked for it back. It finally clicked into place, I had seen it every day but never thought to commit it to memory so it hadn’t occurred to me before. It was a book on symbols in the stars and constellations. And it was sitting on Pops’ nightstand. I cursed myself for not thinking to grab it along with his journal.

                I looked back at the mess of scribbles on the pages. I knew they were symbols detailing some hidden meaning in the stars, but Pops’ shorthand was making those findings impossible to fathom. I sighed in frustration and Zo looked up. The look on her face was all I needed to know that she didn’t have the answer, but she said it anyways.

                “Im sorry Vel, I don’t know. I just can’t figure it out.”

                I swung out of the chair and slammed my fist on the wall. Zo jumped. “I’m really sorry, Velik.”

                I ignored her apology. I wasn’t mad at her, but I couldn’t speak enough to convey that yet. I bowed my head, the vent above me cascading recycled air over my head and whispering through my hair. I wanted to gag on it. That smell of air that had been pumped through a filtration system over and over again made me want to pass out or hit something. I couldn’t take it anymore.

                “Land the ship.”

                “But we don’t know where we-”

                “Just do it, Zo!” I spoke more harshly than I meant to but I couldn’t let my anger go. Not yet. My Pops, that I spent years thinking was dead, was out there. Somewhere. Something had kept him from communicating with me for two years. Now we had all the tools in our hands to find him, but were still nowhere near being able to decipher anything. And all I could think about was the stupid air conditioning. I needed fresh air to think.

                Zo brought us down to a vibrant green planet, the computers assuring us that it had plenty of fresh oxygen. The moment the hatch opened, I barreled out. Heedless of taking anything with me. Oh, how I wished I would have remembered my water skin, some food, or maybe a blanket, but most of all, my blaster pistol.

Summons

The letter came earlier in the day than Niles had been expecting. He thought he would be able to rise, deal with his morning customers and perhaps even have lunch. He should have known better. Instead, the letter arrived before he’d barely had his coffee. The messenger delivered the letter quietly, no noise to prepare for the arrival of what would certainly be a life changing day. Merely a knock upon the door that caused Niles to spill his coffee down his shirt.

Although he had been expecting this auspicious summons, for it was indeed that, for some time now, he had hoped that he was being smart enough to keep what he was doing quiet for a while longer. He needed more time.

Naturally when he’d opened shop here, he knew he would get attention from many different people. His chocolates were divine, that was certain. Word spread like wildfire and he’d not had much rest since arriving two weeks ago to Drottningholm. He wanted this summons, but not yet.

Cursing at the hot beverage poured over his chest, he considered changing it before appearing at the door. Not particularly expecting the importance of the messenger awaiting him at the door, he merely shrugged and proceeded to answer it. In retrospect, he probably should have changed. Nothing to do about that now.

He knew it was just a matter of time before he would receive just such a letter as was laying on his kitchen work table. This letter changed it all. This letter reminded him why he was truly here. Niles had grown to love this town already but it wouldn’t be too difficult to start over somewhere else. Although he had invested so much here already. He must stay. He had plans that needed to be fulfilled. Leaving would not see those plans through.

He should have known better than to set up shop so near the palace anyways. His chocolates were well worth the time of anyone on earth who desired to try them. It wasn’t that he was cocky, just confident.

This craft, this living as a chocolatier had been passed on for generations. He held secrets that his grandmother’s grandfather had passed down from his grandmother before him. It was grueling work, yet vastly fulfilling. To see the looks on everyone’s faces when they first had a taste of the decadent substance that was usually only available to the royalty and vastly wealthy, it was what made Niles tick. He could be dead tired after staying up until the wee hours of morning, fashioning the most elaborate truffles and candies; until that one small child passed his window, the one that he knew could not afford one of his treasures. They would stand there for a moment, face pressed to the glass, marveling at the mouthwatering treats set out on display. When they would notice Niles watching them, they would jump, guiltily as if he knew their deepest secrets. He would just smile and beckon them inside. Ask them which they would like to try and sent them out the door, with a smudged face and a grin from ear to ear. He could never turn any of them away.

He charged enough for the boxes of decadence that the wealthy ladies and gentlemen came in to purchase to cover the stray goodies that sneaked their way out the door. Chocolate should not be hoarded he felt, but shared. It was part of his atonement.

The thought of atonement brought him back to the present. He should be frantic, trying to put together an order to fit the standing of his current client. He looked back at the letter. The letter he had laid out upon his well-worn work table, the one his grandmother had used to fashion her chocolates upon. The table he took great pains to cart with him from town to town, working his way ever closer to fulfilling his plan.

This letter, laying upon the worn table, bore the royal family crest. It could mean great things for most men. Most men would be shaking in their boots. Niles was not most men, although he had more to fear than they in an interview with the King.

By Appointment to

His Majesty

The King of Sweden

Niles Gunderson, chocolatier, is summoned to

Drottningholm Palace

to present his wares before

King Gustaf V II

and his royal court.

Please arrive at the appointed time below.

4th September, 1798

3:00 in the afternoon

 

Velik- Hunter of Stars- Part 2

Missed the beginning of the story?

“This was a terrible idea!” Zo shouted as we ran.

“Yeah,” I gasped out.

“Awful!”

“Yeah.”

“Catastrophic!”

“I know!” I shouted back.

Why couldn’t she leave it be? We both clearly understood that we were in some serious trouble right now, but she couldn’t shut her mouth. I was too busy trying to save what air I could to fill my lungs so I could continue existing. Which meant I needed to be running. I hated running.

She hated it as much as I did, I couldn’t understand how she found enough air to keep shouting obvious crap at me. But I thought this a lot. Strange that I should be thinking it now, while we were running for our lives.

What I should be thinking about was how we were going to outrun whatever the hell was chasing us. Zo’s ship was still out of sight. I checked the navigation in my watch system to make sure we were still headed in the right direction.

This simple action caused me to lose my footing just slightly, which made me bump into Zo, which caused her to reach out to catch her balance. This chain of events is what caused us to do some sort of awful slide-tumble down a rocky hillside.

My brain froze on the way down. Profanities cycled through my brain. A brief flash of what I guess was a AM I ABOUT TO DIE? moment. And then we fell off a very steep, nearly vertical incline and into a river.

Thank the Stars for water. Except salt water. Burning. Burning everything. My eyes, my throat and lungs, and the rock-rash newly imprinted on my body. Everything was on fire. I reached the surface, my eyes red, lungs screaming, mouth spluttering.

I squinted through miserable eyes, trying to spot Zo. There, her hands flailing, her fingertips barely reaching above the surface of the water. I pushed aside the grating irritation coursing through my body and pushed towards my best friend. She was terrified of water. I had to get to her, and now.

She never learned to swim, insisting that people didn’t belong in water, so why would she ever need the ability? That was something I admired about her. Not the lack of desire to learn, but the embracing who she felt she was part. She had learned as a child that she didn’t always belong, but rather than fighting it, she embraced it and became her own person. This was something I had yet to learn.  This fact made her appear fearless. And terrified most other people.

But I knew better. I knew that underneath all her tough exterior and snappy wit, was a girl who had some intense fears. And at the top of that list, water. I knew she was panicking under there, and she needed me. And I couldn’t get to her fast enough.

Why did I insist we stop on this stupid planet? Because I was starting to get cabin fever and this was the first planet we had come across in a while that had enough oxygen to walk around without feeling like I was breathing air that I had already breathed, and been recycled, and rebreathed again and again. I hadn’t shut up about it, so Zo finally caved and landed us here.

I reached out, and my fingertips just barely grazed hers. I tried grabbing, but she went under again. Inhaling deep, I dove down again. Steeling myself for the burn, I opened my eyes.

It hurt more this time, maybe because I was thinking about it. But I couldn’t stop. She was right there, I could see her but couldn’t reach her. Her eyes were red, wide in panic. Her mouth, wisely shut. That’s rare, the thought spiked through my brain. I kept reaching. But Zo just stared at me. It was like she wasn’t really seeing me, but looking through me.

I kicked out, hard and made contact with something. I hoped it was a rock and pushed off it to get me closer. Finally, I reached her and grabbed around her torso. As if the physical contact was what she needed to snap out of her panic, she grabbed around my neck. The riverbed was below us, just out of reach. I needed to use it to push off and get her above water. The air in my lungs was running out, which meant hers might already be. Stop thinking. Just go. Now, Velik.

I found the floor and then closed my eyes to help stop the burning. It abated, but only slightly. And I kicked again, launching us both upwards as fast as I could.

We broke the surface, gasping for air. The very air we had both been craving for weeks, it burned after getting so much saline water in them, but it was glorious at the same time. We pulled back from each other, smiling. Or I was smiling. The look on her face was still panicked.

“Zo, I’m so sorry. Let’s get out of the water.”

She simply shook her head, water streaming down her face. Or were those tears? And she pointed behind me.

I turned to look back at the shore and the wind left my lungs as quickly as if we had hit the cold water all over again. Standing along the shoreline, were enormous beasts. Apparently, the things that had been following us. They were giant, apelike creatures. Yet somehow, they also looked feline, something about their arched, glowing eyes.

They were greenish, moss-like, perfect to camouflage with the surrounding forest. No wonder we hadn’t seen them, only heard them. They were panting and pacing the shoreline, carefully avoiding touching the watery edges. Clearly the only thing that had kept them from catching us was the insanely salty water we were now floating in, slowly moving downstream.

“We’re royally screwed.” Zo had finally caught her breath.

Beginnings

She lay there wondering how it had happened this way. What could she have done differently? Nothing? Everything?

Any tiny thing at all that could make her go back to when this wasn’t her reality. To see her life, flashing before her eyes. Knowing she was done for. That she would never beat It.

It would win. And she wasn’t the only one losing. Her family would lose. Her friends. People she hadn’t even met yet. All because she wasn’t strong enough. How was this fair?

And then it hit her. Life is not fair. Not for anyone. Least of all for those called to Rise. To Rise to meet the challenge It threw in her face.

 

She would not be overcome by this.

So she opened her eyes, brushed back her hair from her tear-stained face and looked at It. She smiled into the horrifying face of everything she feared, all the potential for failure looming before her.

And she laughed. So hard and so long, that she probably should be unnerved.

She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath, calming herself to face It head on like the warrior she felt she was. She scolded herself for utterly overreacting. All she had to do was get out of bed.

So she did.

Velik - Hunter of Stars

I looked up at the night sky and thought of the stories he used to tell about the stars, the constellations, and it seemed sad that I couldn’t remember a single one of them. There’s a string of stars called Orion’s Belt, and I think Orion is known as a hunter, but I’m not sure of what. It’s funny to think that, because in a way I’m a hunter too, only I hunt people.