In the meanwhile, here's more of that dumb story that I am writing.
Earth Date: approximately 60,000 BC, (Middle Paleolithic)
Yeerk Date: approximately Generation -41,000, early-cycle
Gedd Date: Tails dipping riverside
I was born as the Sky-Beasts' tails flickered three times upwards into the clouds. It is a sign of luck, for good or bad. The Sky-Beasts dancing back and forth through the clouds shows their present indecision in deciding my fortune. The clan shaman tells me that it will ultimately come down to me which path they take. The Sky-Beasts, though usually indifferent to our plights, may sometimes take favor of one worthy. I will do what I can not to let them down.
It is the early morning, and I am practically jittery with excitement. Today is a mere two days from the Cross-Through, when we will meet with the neighboring clan from across the river, to intermingle and share stories, and ultimately for some of our clan to leave to join their numbers, and for some of theirs to join with us.
But today we begin our final preparations, and that is what I am currently so excited for. The shaman has led us to a hill that she says houses some particularly delicious worms, ones that we will pluck and save as gifts for the Cross-Through. Such circumstances call for and unusual and specific ceremony, one which I have wanted to see.
The day is bright and sunny, with the only noise being the crackle of the Sky-Beasts overhead. As soon as we reach the hilltop, the Shaman sits and begins the reading. In inch my way closer, hoping for a better view.
Though I have told no one of this before, it is my lifelong hope that I may someday be a shaman myself, when I am old and wise. When I am free, I attempt to read the Sky-Beasts myself, charting their positions in the dirt, and trying my best to note the shape of their tails. It is difficult work, and requires a keen I and a fast hand. I still have a ways to go.
Oh, but our shaman though, she is a master at the craft. I must often cross-reference which shape the tail forms with an elder, but she, she can tell each apart at a single glance. She distinguish the Sky-Beasts by name, something I would normally think impossible! But as she casually glances skyward, she points and begins to name each as she sees them, commenting on the shape its tail forms through the clouds, and its meaning and purpose.
She eyes the Runner, a single forward-diving tail, one who eyes us favorably and brings us favorable winds. Far off the distance, she see the Weaver, seven tails spread, a sign of the upcoming Cross-Through. To the east, the Dancers, my personal birth sign, bringers of luck. Far, far south, the Hunter, parading his army of beasts.
She goes faster now, listing the names of Sky-Beasts that she sees further and further off. The Spy, the Wings, the Nomad, the Hunger, the Eye. Faster and faster she chants them off, as those begin to chant as well, with the words slowly echoing from the center to the outer rim of the circle. As she shouts, she motions to us with her extended grasping hand, an we move to our rhythm, subtly at first, but then picking up. We sway back and forth, the cohesive line of the circle suddenly breaking as the members of the clan move out into extended points, all swaying in unison, then circling around the Shaman, faster near the center, but slower at the edges. Faster we circle, but then a sudden reverse of direction, the movements echoing back into the crowd. We move and swerve, walking to a directive rhythm, now an enormous spiral. The Shaman continues naming the Sky-Beasts, loud enough for even those at the edge to hear. The Blank! The Tears! The Ray! The Fist! The Cup!
And with a sudden clang of the Peak ringing about the hilltop, the ceremony concludes. We disperse.
The shaman spoke very highly of the worms of this region, and sure enough, I find some near the hilltop, their flat, broad tails poking from soil to bask in the sunlight.
Some of the clanmates walk off to guard the perimeters. Others begin grasping tall handfuls of the sharp grass to be weaved into bowls or rope or sculptures. Me? I'm digging for worms.
Carefully checking my sides to be sure I have this particular spot to myself, I reach forward with my forearm and grab the worm's tail, anchoring it in place. As soon as I grab hold, the worm wiggles and writhes, trying to dive deep into the soil. But my grip is firm, and it cannot escape. With my grasping hand, I begin to loosen the worm's hold on the surrounding dirt, until I am able to finally yank it out. The worm produces a loud pop as it exits the ground.
I place the worm in a small woven basket that I carry at my side, and begin the process again. Every so often, I take one of the worms for myself, rubbing it against the grass to clean it of debris, before eating my fill. The meat is warm and sweet, and I can well see why the Shaman chose this spot for our feast.
As I dig, I am approached by Tails dividing in a sheer triangle. He has always been something of a jokester, and sure enough, he carries one of the worms in his mouth, its tail hanging out like a distended tongue. He is also my friend, and I giggle, despite myself. But today is a fine day, and there are worse times for laughter.
The two of us pick worms together atop the sunny hill, with my friend leading the way down to the valley. We are leaving the general area of the circle, but as always we are sure to check our path, with me viewing from the rear, and Tails dividing in a sheer triangle at the front. And besides, it is hard to resist a trail of worms this sweet. We continue down into the valley, further from the group.
And then stop. I turn around to see why he has so suddenly pause, and now I can see why.
A beast, right in front of us, twin tendrils pointed at us, and hungry beak wide open and drooling.
We call and call, but we have wandered off too far for the clan to hear our shouts. So we run, winding our way around the hills. The beast is fast on its padded feet, but the irregular terrain gives us an advantage. Even at a time like this, I recall a story of the shaman's, of how the Hunter had created the many beasts to dine upon us, but had also shaped the land in our favor, matching the hills and mounds to our uneven feet. The Hunter, they say, is one who loves a challenge above all things.
We run, even as my nostrils open and my lungs burn for air. But then I see a possible escape! It is a risk, but any chance is better than none. Only a few steps away, I spy a small pool by some rocks.
We dive in, amidst the worms. Water worms are supposedly a bad omen, bringers of bad luck and sometimes madness, but now is not the time to think of such things. Our lives are more important. The great beast comes up next to us, its twin tendrils sniffing the air hungrily. But the water blocks our scent.
We sit and wait, holding our heads as far under the water as we can manage while still breathing through our noses. Occasionally some of the worms brush against my legs, leaving trails of slime in their wake, but I brush them aside. Eventually, the beast grows impatient and leaves in disgust.
As soon as I believe it safe to leave, I turn to my friend, but then gasp in shock. He is struggling in the water, choking, sputtering. I haul him to try land and try to get some of the water out of his mouth, but he soon slips into unconsciousness. I drag him with me, trying to find the path back to the group, but I am lost. And he is heavy. I can't help it. I sit down and I start to cry.
We were fortunate. One of the guards out searching for us heard my cries and were able to bring us back. Even our dropped baskets of worms were recovered. By all accounts, everything worked out better than it should have.
But my friend...right now he concerns me. Since he regained consciousness, he has been somehow, I am not properly sure how to describe it, distant. Rather than the careful, watchful eye we are taught at an early age to maintain, he stares out ahead, in one direction. Back to where the beast had chased us. Back to the pool and the worms.
I express my concern to the shaman. She sees me worrying for my friend, and agrees that it may merit some attention, but tomorrow is the Cross-Through, and for the time, that is more important. However, she explains, once that is through, she will help me with my problem.
But for now, it will have to wait. Now I sleep.
The big day at last! The clan readies itself atop the tallest hill in the region and waits for their approach from the east. We wait. And we wait. And then, a faint bellow, far off in the distance. We turn to look. This time, the shout is more audible. In unison, we let out a booming shout of our own, to let them know that we see them, then start waiving and shouting more randomly. As they get closer, we can make them out the members of the eastern clan more easily. All at once, they are shouting, and jumping, and singing with the pure joy of seeing us.
We come closer, the two circles nearing, and then touching, and then all at once we are one group, one clan. And it is wonderful! The air is full of the deep rumble of our singing voices, and we go to meet with our new friends.
To the left of me, I see a weaver showing off a long tapestry that she has woven just for the occasion, while one of the visitors demonstrates a tall pot that he has sculpted from what looks to be some sort of clay. Following their example, I take my basket of worms and head out to share. It is exciting, and overwhelming and electrifying, all at once. We sit, we share stories and eat from the basket of works. It is wonderful, like nothing I have before experienced.
Far off to my right, I see Tails dividing in a sheer triangle off talking to a small group, including the shaman of the eastern clan. Though I am too far to determine what he is saying, he appears very passionate about the topic his hand, waving grasping hand in wild explanation. How wonderful! I think, that he is back to his old talkative self. As he finishes his speech, he appears to lead the group off in some odd direction.
Peculiar. Still, this is the Cross-Through, when we are supposed to experience new things. And I am happy that he is doing well.
The day goes on, and we sit and gorge ourselves on the rich worms. With full heads and bellies, we curl up on the soft ground and let the night take us.
As I am on the verge of sleep, I hear the whispers of a few, and the sound of those getting up. Unusual... but it is late, and I find myself drifting off before I can add further thoughts.
But when I awaken the next morning, things are not as they should be. About one full third of our total group is missing.
Others awaken, and see just as confused as I am. Fortunately, we still have our shaman, along with several guards, so we are able to keep some order to the group. Those of the eastern clan seem especially panicked, as their shaman is of the missing. We are frantic, but our shaman holds us together. Ultimately, we see no better then to look upwards to the Sky-Beasts, to read them for signs. We stand and watch their indifferent arcs through the clouds. And we pray.
Eventually, the missing return,Tails dividing in a sheer triangle included, but their behavior is strange, erratic. Their eyes are full of a mad passion, and they stare straight onward. It is, to say the least, unnerving.
The shaman steps forward to address them, to admonish them for all the worry they have caused us. But, of all things, they simply brush her off, and come to speak to us as a group.
We hear talk of some strange, exotic wonderment. They are very vague as to the specific nature of which they speak, and we remain highly suspicious. Still many of our number are curious just as much as they are concerned.
And so our group diminishes.
It is the second day since the start of the Cross-Through, and our numbers grow smaller and smaller still. Many of us have lost friends and family to this odd splinter group, and they cannot help but go to them. Still others are overcome by sheer curiosity, and go to investigate, only to not return.
I fear that I may be of this second category.
The curiosity is maddening. I cannot comprehend how my friend, one who used to delight in bringing us the simple joy of laughter as we went about rudimentary tasks, one who lived to bring levity to a crowd who severely needed it, could splinter our clan so. It is not something I could have pictured any of our number doing, let alone so kind and lighthearted.
I have to see what is being done. I may go insane otherwise.
I decide that stealth is likely my best bet. When the next group begins to leave, I follow, crouching in the tall grass, hopefully so they are unable to see me. Their path is familiar. It is the same way that I had ran as Tails dividing in a sheer triangle and I were chased by the beast.
As the group continues along, it grows noticeably more rowdy. I hear from the crowd irregular shrieks and the stomping of feet. And then they reach their apparent destination: the pool of worms.
The reaction upon laying eyes on the pool is immediate. My former clanmates pant and moan, they fall over themselves, they produce odd murmurs of pleasure as they approach the pool.
And then in the very center of the pool, I see him. Tails dividing in a sheer triangle, my former friend. I strain my eyes to get a better view, and what I see makes me retch.
He has adorned himself with the worms.
My former friend delights himself as he places the worms on his neck, his chest, his legs, his shoulders. He lets out a horrid moan of sheer delight, and he places some of the worms on his head, like some cruel parody of a crown. He coats himself in their dull ooze. The others soon join him in the water. They stair not sideways, checking for predators, or upwards, to ask the Sky-Beasts their plan, but rather at each other, and at the worms. They revel in their filth.
And then it happens. Out from one of his ears, a worm exits. And one of the others, atop his head, slides its way inside the other. As this happens, his eyes roll back into his head, and he smiles. He smiles.
I cannot help myself. I turn to the ground and I vomit. Loudly.
The others hear me. Several dozen eyes all at once turn to face me, and beckon me forward.
I fear that I have no choice now but to join them.
End of Chapter 2