I shut my eyes and the whole world fades from existence. My lids flick open once more and the earth is born again. Sometimes I feel like I’ve made it all up, that this is just some feverish dream and that I still rot in the shade of my old hovel in the old world. I keep hearing the others say that this new home of ours is ripe with...oh what’s the word they’ve been using? Opportunity? I don’t think I’ve ever really known what that word meant, and by now its seems foolish to ask. This is just the way it's been these last few days; blinking through the dust, killing and resurrecting all of creation in a few dark passing moments. I forget myself and crash through another feeble thing below me.
“Keirsien, what’s wrong?” Lark calls to me. Again my eyes drift open, meeting the harsh yellow haze of the afternoon sun with some severity. She stands a ways off, her right foot resting on a shallow pile of debris that must have once been a construct of those little people.
“Nothing, I just...got distracted.” I reply in a hushed, cautious tone. Lark stares back with some measure of skepticism. She’s been on my case quite a bit lately. I couldn’t tell you why, it's just sort of been that way for the last few days. When I try to sleep in the colder hours of the night I am often haunted by corrupting premonitions. I’m starting to fear that she’s seen a transformation in me that I myself have not yet recognized. As if there were a darkening halo slowly closing in around my head that only she has glimpsed in the corner of her eye.
I adjust my schiff, and continue on after her. The tattered cloth has already torn at the mid thigh, leaving my flesh bared further for the approaching winter to scar. That’s one of many things I do miss: ample clothing. Everything else here is too small to work with, too fragile, too rare. The small folk have some supplies that can be pilfered but the incredible difference in our proportions have left us relatively ill-equipped. When I arrived here those who had come during the first wave had spun tales of plentiful stockpiles, rich with food and luxury. They made it sound as though their time here had been spent reaping pleasures from the lesser race. Perhaps it was at that time, but now we scrounge around looking for supplies, shelter, and above all else, food.
Lark gestures for me to approach, as she points to a hovel in the ground. As I draw closer I can see what appears to be the remains of a town that seems to have already been trampled by others. Normally in situations like this there is little to be salvaged. My people may be untrustworthy and selfish, but they were thorough in whatever actions they undertook.
“Keirs, look what I found!” she cheered with a unusual enthusiasm. We have been barely getting by last few weeks so morale has been considerably low. I step over a pile of metal shells, clearly the remains of those strange little self-moving machines the lesser ones use for travel. As I get closer I see Lark has a wicked little grin on her face. In fact, aside from the ragged tunic hanging loosely from her shoulders and her sheath of tangled auburn hair, she was positively glowing with pride.
“What is it Lark, food?” I wearily respond. My voice has long been exhausted by the arid state of my throat.
“Better, see for yourself”
I pause a second to peer into her greyish-azure eyes to see if she’s truly gone mad. Hmm, no, that’s her usual hungry stare. She bites her lip and nods once more to the filthy ground. As my gaze drifts down I see her foot has pinned back a particularly long, almost prismic metal shell just above a hollow trench. The copse of tangled debris spreads far beneath the shadow of the remaining ruins, just begging to be rebuilt or annihilated completely. At first my eyes are lost amidst the wreck, then I finally see them. Huddle within the black mud is a crowd of the lesser people. In so dense a mob I cannot precisely determine their state or number, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The searing ache in my sleep-deprived eyes subsides for a moment as I stare into the petrified mass. For a moment I think I can hear them speak but I soon realize it is just the anxious wind flowing through the nearby hollow.
“Well what?” I respond almost mechanically. I cannot seem to look away from the huddle of trembling figures. Already I can feel Lark’s eyes piercing through my skin with a glare of disbelief. Clearly she expected me to equally thrilled but I’m...I’m not. I don’t know.
“What’s that supposed to mean? This is great!”
“I guess, I was hoping for something...more”
“More” she growls back at me. “We haven’t stumbled across any of these little things in a long time. I thought most of them were gone!”
“True but, they won’t last us long, there are hardly enough to satisfy even one of us”
Neither Lark nor our new prey seemed even remotely pleased by my remark. As I spoke I heard some muffled cries from the assembly below. I finally chanced to return Lark’s uncertain expression but she simply scoffed at me.
“You want to eat them? Why would we do that? We could have so much more fun...finally put a little more excitement into day to day slog.”
I bite my lip to keep myself from saying something I’ll regret. For some reason she seems genuinely appalled by my disinterest. I’ve never been one to play with my food, and I get it, some like to torment the little buggers; it makes them feel powerful, important, you know how it is. As for me, I’ve never really taken much interest in their suffering. I never felt the need to remind myself how easily they can be bullied or destroyed. Hell, I wasn’t even that into eating them until most of our supplies disappeared. I suppose if we were to split them I couldn’t tell her what to do with her share, but it seemed negligent to let her just waste potential nutrients on her fucked up little games.
“Lark, we are STARVING!” I enunciate with a surprising degree of intensity, “we have barely enough to get us through the next week let alone the entire winter. These things will keep so long as we keep them alive.”
With a roll of her eyes she steps aside, flinging the metal husk away with her foot before finally taking a knee by the trench. The little things shriek once more. Just as Lark leans closer, the mob begins to fan out. Its subtle at first. One or two break from the huddle and try to disappear in the labyrinth of refuse. Soon the whole crowd is breaking into desperate shuffle. For a second I feel something akin to sympathy, but it's probably just the pain of hunger.
“Well you can do whatever the hell you want with your half, and I’ll do what I want with my own share. How’s that?” she mutters with a subtle hint of spite.
I hate her. I really do. I have for a while but that’s just in my nature I suppose. Rather, its in OUR nature. My kind is not known for its warmth, trust, or sense of respect. I know she hates me too. The real question is, why have we remained together for so long then? Troops were far more common in the early days simply for the sake of efficiency but now...it was like she was prying food from my mouth.
Her hands swept down into the hole with a chorus of horrified moans as accompaniment. I had to avert my gaze for a second. I couldn’t bear to look at her at that moment. I want nothing more than to shove her face into the ground till she chokes to death on the sticky clay. A few seconds go by, and I see her stand back up in the corner of my eye.
“Hmph, best hurry now, it seems your precious little rations are getting away.” Lark cooes cynically. My head snaps around in time to catch the remaining hoard of little folk scattering into the shattered ruins. I quickly fall to my knees and do what I can to collect what few remain in reach. My palms sweep out, my fingers curl, and my breath rushes with mounting desperation. They are so small and quick. Too often my attention passes over them as they flee into arms of the stony hell. Their diminutive forms are too minute to focus on for more than a few seconds. Many seem to blur in and out of focus as they twist and stumble past one another. The sickness of fatigue certainly impairs me as I go about trying to corral them. At one point I stop a crowd with my palm and manage to force them onto my other hand. A dozen more go in one direction, but they are spread too thin. Damn, only a couple remain. Then there’s another one but I...shit, I was too reckless, now he’s just a puddle.
Its take me some time and an uncomfortable amount of effort but I manage to gather a decent portion of them up into my hands. As I begin to lift them up some foolish few decide to hurl themselves over the edge. I used to think only fire could make someone leap to their deaths like that, but who knows...maybe I am also a type of fire. No, I wasn’t cruel, was I? I could sense my eyes glazing over as I brought the assembly to chest-level. The thought that I could be as base and superficial as Lark made the corners of my eyes twitch. My fresh captives calmed a bit as they noted my apparent transfixion.
Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t make people suffer. I chew, I swallow, that’s it. I mean, they don’t know that but still.
“Keirsien?” a voice calls.
“Keirs-” this time its interrupted by a sort of light toned melody somewhere in the distance. For a moment it's all I can focus on, all that I care about. I push against the weight of dust clinging to my skin and for a moment the world beyond this meager existence cuts through, blinding me with an unusual white glow.In my mind I reach out to take it and grasp nothing but air.
“KEIRSIEN? What is wrong with you?” Lark’s voice echoes once more. I return to reality and find myself staring down into the depression between my hands. At least, twenty of the little people stare back up at me with every manner of expression. While I stand ossified I can hear Lark smirk with uncourteous intent.
“Struck by them eh? Too beautiful for you? Or are they just soooo appetizing?”
A few sparse screams emanate from my palms as I return Lark’s sarcastic glare. I lower my eyes for a moment and think unhappy thoughts while she simply returns to her own victims.
That seems like such a harsh word, “victims”. They are so unconventionally weak and unproductive that calling them victims seems inaccurate. Their whole existence is so fragile and irresolute, it's just their nature. I don’t know what I’m talking about, I rarely do. The hunger is really starting to get to me.
My palms start to narrow as I consider where to store my new prizes. I would like nothing more than to get it all over with now, but I know I must be cautious. Fresh meat is so scarce it would be wise to make them last. The pouch hanging from my waist will do just fine for now. With a little careful maneuvering, I manage to lift its adjoining flap with my forearm. Once in position, I lower my hands down into the darker clutter below where, with a slight inclination, I manage to slide most off into the cloth purse. I withdraw with just a few remaining, just to sate me for the time being.
I pull back my right hand and draw four of my captives up to my face. It has become customary for me to inspect live food before...partaking. Too many times have I taken on rotting, sickly individuals that left me gagging. I peer at the unlucky few and note their bony limbs. Even at so minuscule a size I can tell that they too are malnourished. Such is the world I suppose. Three cower. The fourth stands up with his hands outstretched. He too is scared but seems as if he willing to make some kind of compromise. I pause for a moment, letting my jaw go slack as I search for the right words...no the right thought, to complement this strange series of circumstances.
“Wait” the upright figure calls out. My muscles tighten as I drink in that tiny, pathetic little voice. I think he started to say something else but I shut it out of my mind. Something purely animalistic seizes control of me and the urges resurface. I open my mouth just enough and begin to move my hand closer. I start slow, but as their horrified screams hit my ears I built up speed. My head tilts back, and two fly into my gullet immediately. Another is pinned beneath my lip, I can feel it wriggling about like a wounded animal. I adjust and pull it loose with my tongue. The three thrash about in the corners of my mouth and I cannot stomach the thought of keeping them there any longer. I swallow immediately, somehow panicked by the absence of my final morsel. I look down at my hand while the trio is well on its way to my stomach. The fourth is missing. For some reason my panic grows. I have to find it. I can’t let one get away, too much has gone wrong already. I don’t give the rest of my prey much thought as I fall to my knees. Surely the fourth is on the ground somewhere. I search and search and search. Mounds of cement and cracked class are overturned as I claw through the town’s carcass. Somewhere in what remains of my rational mind I know that even if I do find the little thing’s corpse it will surely be spoiled. A drop from that height would have practically vaporized him.
“Lose one already?”
My joints lock as I translate Lark’s snide question. The search is delayed as I tentatively lift my head. For some reason I stop just as my eyes meet Lark’s scuffed knees. An unnatural affinity for abusive language starts to boil in my very core. She can tell I’m getting angry but she doesn’t care.
“Pity…try not to lose the others won’t you?”
Blood rushes to my face as an emulsion of anger and shame flood my thoughts. Lark has been particularly malicious today. Perhaps our desolate state has finally been getting to her, or perhaps her repression of those facts is driving her mad. Whatever the case may be, I have grown quite tired of her constant rudeness. I search for the right words to hurl back at her, but some mental insecurity blocks my speech. Rage mounts, I can feel myself begin to shake.
“Lark!” I manage to growl. Finally I raise my head to look at her. She stares back with no perceptible hint of emotion. Then her expression melts back to a mien of confusion, as though she does not understand what has brought on my ire. We glare at one another for a few more moments before I realize I have nothing else to say. At last she simply turns away toward the drifting sunset. I try to follow her movements but I am immediately blinded as the fiery orange light glides past her silhouette. My anger subsides, for the moment.
As I stand I lift the flap on my satchel to inspect my captives. Most are hidden away, but my brain is too muddled to warrant the necessity of a thorough search. I lazily let the flap fall back into place and follow Lark just the same. Neither of us exchange a word as we trail on. Normally we would have stayed near the city’s ruins for the sake of...geography. I know that doesn’t make sense but…
Ah, night sets in much faster than I anticipated. Already the absence of the sun is felt against my skin, beneath my ragged clothes, and through the tresses of my hair. In a futile attempt to conserve my body heat I try wrapping my arms beneath a length of my schiff. It doesn’t seem to help much and I soon begin to shiver. Every night has been like this. The days in this dry steppe have been plagued by blistering sun, while the nights freeze us to our very cores. The ground is hard and dusty. Most of our water comes from whatever settlements we can find.
How long have we walked? The shadow of night has surrounded us for some time now. My feet ache and my stomach growls. Should I say something to Lark? Beg her to stop? Perhaps she is simply waiting for me to say something? Another minute passes as I carefully observe her unsteady gait. Her sandals have worn rough callouses on her heels, but they do not yet bleed. Each step becomes more haphazard as she stumbles over the uneven hills. As another gust of wintry breeze slams against our left flank I notice that her knees begin to wobble. She grows more weak. This might be a good time to-
I pause. At first I don’t recognize her voice as it is far too soft and dreary. My silence does not go unnoticed as, after another few seconds, Lark finally ceases her stunted advance. Immediately I halt, waiting for her to continue on.
“I’m tired, I don’t think there’s anything else out here for some time…”
I say nothing and nod. Am I still angry? I can’t tell. To be honest I don’t feel anything right now aside from cold, hunger, and fatigue.
“I can make us a fire...maybe”
“We have no wood Lark…”
She says nothing. Instead she simply slumps onto the ground. At first her upright position appears like a delirious mirage; a fallen tree swaying a bit in the wind. I take a knee, carefully removing my satchel and setting it on the numbed earth so as not to harm my prey. Lark turns about to face me and I see her face sag with a desolate expression. The bitch isn’t nearly as chipper now. A moment ago I couldn’t help feel a slight sense of satisfaction as I watched her malnourished shuffling, but now I feel...I feel...bad I guess. I don't know.
“Where are your humans Lark?” I ask poignantly. Her eyes narrow as she regards me with suspicion.
“Why? Plan on stealing them while I sleep?”
“No, that’s not what I meant, I was just…”
“They’re safe. Stowed away elsewhere. It’s none of your business…”
There it is. Lark’s spite has returned. I’m still not sure what’s gotten into her today, but then again none of us have been in our right minds lately. I try my best to ignore her comment so that I may go about preparing my bedding.
Like every evening I open my satchel and go through the usual ritual. First a swig of water to wash away the layer of dust coating the inside of my throat. As I continue to lift the skin I realize too late that I have finished it all off. Pity. I’ll have to find more soon. Next is food. Most of the little people have huddled together in the pouch’s corner exchanging hushed sobs in a web of trembling limbs. No more of them tonight. Instead I retrieve another wafer I brought from home. I am surprised they have managed to last me so long. In a matter of seconds it's gone. As I chew, the dry, starchy substances crumbles into a bland paste. Normally these things disgust me, but lately they have tasted like paradise. Once the last bits are swallowed and gone, I notice Lark stealing a glance at me over her shoulder. Her eyes are greedy and full of want.
“Problem?” I ask.
“Are you out?”
“Alright well...I’m going to sleep then.”
Still nothing from her. Eventually, as I begin to unravel my bedroll I hear something feint. My hands glide out over the thin cloth pocket as I smooth it into a wide flat sheet. Then I hear it again. Its Lark. Is she...talking? Not to me but...to herself? Herself?. When I look over I see that her back is turned toward me whilst she lay on her side. Weird.
Again I try not to bother myself with her. My eyelids grow heavy and my limbs have already begun to give out on me. Once I am finished tying up the flap of my satchel I slide between the sheets of my bedroll and instantaneously collapse into unconsciousness.
Cold. Moonlight like snow. Cloth softer than clay or freshwater. Cold. I shiver. My spine twists to escape some sensory aggravation. Cold. Something...something moving. Me? No, it can’t be me...I’m me. Something else. Something twitching. Something small. Cold. Moonlight turns into a blinding lamp. Cloth grows itchy. Moving, crawling, squirming. What is it? Then suddenly I’m awake again. My whole body shivers from the dark night’s horrible icy breath. At first I think hypothermia has finally found its way into my core but such thoughts are soon displaced. I glimpse over and see Lark’s dark outline set against the violet night sky. Her breathing is steady and precise. But no, why did I wake...something’s...something’s moving. Something is squirming up against me. A strange tingling sensation drifts across my chest. I don’t know why but panic overtakes me. Whilst remaining as still as physically possible I slowly lift my meager blanket. A wave of cold air rushes in to replace what little warmth remains around me. The light is dim but I can still sense the presence of some small thing.
Tentatively I move my hand down. I start at my throat then I nervously slide it down toward my breast. The moving stops, but I can still feel the thing against me. A small, wearisome eternity drifts by but I finally manage to find the source. The tip of my middle finger brushes over something minuscule and alien. My knuckles lock and my heart begins to beat faster. I know immediately what it is.
With a few uncoordinated pinching motions I manage to seize the thing between a few fingers before finally withdrawing it from the darkness. As the pale moonlight strikes it I find myself slapped with temporary relief.
There, gripped firmly between my fingers is one of the little people. I narrow my eyes till they focus on his shaking little torso, which twists and tugs against my grip in futility. I recognize him. He’s the one who tried to speak with me before...the one I thought I’d lost. Everything disappears for a moment as I try to think how best to deal with him. I’m lost again. I try to blink the blurriness from my eyes but instead I’m thrust back into the rapid cycle of death and rebirth. Then, against the swirl and howl of the awful autumn wind I hear:“Alright just….just hear me out for a second”