Ben Van Dongen
Jagged talons and a cracked beak snapped at Aen. The old Aquillo, Lethwin, flapped his leathery wings, but they smacked the inward curving walls. Instead, the old bird screeched, sending spittle like sea spray. The dim candle went out, turning the shadowy corner into a dark void.
Jumping back, away from the grasping talons, Aen saw no more than the shine of the bird’s eyes. His skin burned from within as he fought his urge to change form, the recent rebuke from his mother fresh in his mind. Instead, he took up a defensive hunting stance he learned from his human tribe. He had no spear to keep the beast at bay, but the reflexes drilled into him on the hunt helped him dodge the swooping attacks from Lethwin.
“Mother. What do we do?” Aen stepped behind a nearby table.
“Be quiet! The old fool cannot see properly,” his mother chided. In a flash, her own eyes reflecting the meager remaining candle-light of the room, she charged at Lethwin. Ducking under a swooping wing and sidestepping a raking talon, she struck the Aquillo in the midsection.
Aen heard the huff from the old bird, a half cough, half wheeze. He could not make out her actions in the dark, but heard her call out in pain. Lethwin laughed, making Aen’s blood boil. He felt his bones ache to change. To give him the power to cut down the foe who threatened his mother. A shrill cry escaped him as he fought the desire to transform. Continue reading
By Christian Laforet
The fire swirled and crackled. A knot in the pine log popped, sending a small army of embers floating into the night. Aen, laying in his sheep-skin sack, watched as his mother stoked the flames. Tartara had only been in his life for a few months, but that time had been a whirlwind of instruction. She had taught him how to use his gift—to shift between the form of man and tiger—along with other useful traits. During all of those lessons, however, she had managed to carefully avoid his only real question: what happened the day the humans found him? Whenever Aen would broach the subject, his mother would give a vague, unsatisfying answer. His favourite being, It was so long ago, I cannot clearly recall.
Her refusal to shed light on that day, the day he went to live with the human tribe, had become so expected, that he stopped asking about it. That is why, while camped on the north road to Nythland, with freshly killed rabbit cooking over the fire with fat, lazy snowflakes danced to the frozen earth around them, Aen was shocked when his mother began to speak of the past without prompting.
“We had been travelling for many days before we encountered the group of humans. Your father, his name was Morga, felt that our safety lie in hiding amongst their kind.” As she spoke, Tartara, kept her gaze on the browning meat of the rabbit.
Aen pushed himself to sitting. “Why are you telling this to me now?”
Slowly, the woman, clad in a layered cloak, turned her attention to her son. “The event still hurts like a fresh wound. I would prefer not tell you at, but if we are going to continue on our quest, you need to know what happened.” Continue reading
Aen crouched in the brush, surveying the path that curved between massive redwood trunks and lesser conifers. The young hunter, no longer a child but still absent a beard, concealed himself beside a rotten and shattered pine. Having been there since dawn, dusk now deepened the shadows that filtered down from the towering forest canopy above.
Green eyes still focused on the path, Aen’s finger touched the knapped flint head of his best throwing spear. He left the weapon on the ground beside his knee to glance at the ash wood shaft of his second javelin. It leaned upright against the stump, beside a stout fighting spear.
Aen heard a shift in the birdsongs around him, and turned a keen ear to listen as the calls fell silent one-by-one. His gaze returning to path and forest, the growing hush was interrupted by a chittering treetop squirrel. He saw it drop a pinecone to the ground before skittering branch to branch.
His tanned limbs and back moved with a controlled, lean strength. Shifting his squat in a buckskin loincloth, Aen licked a finger and tested the air. Confirming he was still downwind of the path, he crouched deeper in the leaves and took hold of the spear on the forest floor beside him.
Slow, padded footfalls barely disturbed the carpet of orange pine needles upon the animal path. Yet Aen heard their approach, and eyed the bend that disappeared around a great redwood trunk. Continue reading