Vantage: Chapter 1

The first chapter of my Sci-fi alien story, “Vantage.” check out my introductory post for a bit of info on it. I’ll post more as I write more. Enjoy!

The first thing Sidia felt when she woke up was the air filling her lungs. It was tepid, wet and sweet, like a steam bath. A storm blew through the fields three days ago and left them sticky with mud and grass, and the heat yesterday did the rest. She slept through the sweating and headaches in short, deep bursts, and woke up slowly and groggily.

Such was the case now.

The second thing she felt in her daze was pain, down her back and up the wing-hands that sprouted from her shoulders. It felt like someone was pumping thousands of tiny spikes through her bones. Even her fingers ached, at the knuckles and at each joint. She thought it might be the way she slept, or a pressure ache from the passing of the storm, but her head felt clear and as she stood, her muscles responded without complaint.

She stretched. She was tall for her age, everyone told her–and attractive. Her arms were a little short, and her legs abnormally large, but Sidia at least agreed that her face and wing-hands were well-shaped and pleasant to look at. And truth be told, she only really thought about it because everyone else did. Her tribe was getting old, and the next generation was on everyone’s mind. Soon enough the first marriages among her friends would start to happen, and then at the Conclave next year there would be negotiations, meetings, introductions, and most of her cohort would leave for other tribes, replaced by strangers.

Perhaps Sidia would be among those traded away. She wasn’t as afraid of it as the others were. Her tribe always felt a little enclosed to her–they never covered enough ground, never went close enough to the forests or the hills or Gods forbid the water. She wouldn’t mind exploring.

The door to her tent rustled and she was reminded of why she needed to stay. A large, square hand pulled back the curtain and her father entered.

Tellen was taller than her, but only by a little. They looked totally different in almost every way–while she was long and lean and looked like she was always being swept away by the wind, he was hunched forward, with broad shoulders, curved feathers and long arms. His wing-hands were curled inwards towards his back, heavy with bags and parcels.

“Are we moving today?” she asked, eyeing the bags.
“Not for at least another three,” he replied. “We’ll move when the wind blows eastward, but the Weatherers are saying it might be as much as a week before that happens.”
Sidia frowned. “We don’t need the wind to run.”
“No, but an eastward wind might unearth a new site. Or at least, that’s what they’re saying.” He stretched one arm backwards to straighten out one of the bags on his back.

“What do you think is actually happening?”
“No idea. But my guess is that they’re waiting for someone else to clear the area. Maybe the Hakas.” The Hakas always did like the coasts, as dangerous as they were. But even for the Hakas it was bad manners to trap another tribe by the coast, and even though this eastward route probably wouldn’t bring them close enough to be a problem, there was always potential for problems in these cases. With the Conclave approaching, the elders probably wanted to be as careful as possible.

“I could use a run,” Sidia admitted. “Are you planning a foraging?”
“You’ve always hated foraging,” Tellen said, laughing.

“I’m desperate.”
“Well, unfortunately for you, I don’t have anything planned. Why don’t you ask Esse?”

“All she talks about these days is Alavad. Ever since her Growing she’s been completely insufferable.” Sidia didn’t want to worry her father, but this was the case with most of her friends. The older ones had all had their Growings, and now they were either sex-crazed or work-crazed. Either way, seeing them was unpleasant. The only ones left to spend time with were younger than her, and though they were ungrown, they were frustratingly immature. When Sidia suggested to Elvin (only two cycles younger than her!) that their foraging route was based as much on political maneuvering as it was on weather patterns and sacred cycles, he became so upset that he threw the fruit he was holding at her. She ducked and it hit the tent of one of the more prominent Weatherers, collapsing it. It was humiliating.

That left her father. Tellen was one of the more skilled Gatherers in the tribe, but even a skilled Gatherer is still a Gatherer. And after Sidia’s mother abandoned the tribe, his position fell even further. He didn’t really have anyone either. As a result, they spent much of their time together.

Sidia rustled herself out of her pensive silence. “I’m sure I’ll find something to do.”

“Well, for starters you can get dressed and meet me for breakfast. You’ve slept in long enough.”
“What? How late is it?”
He pulled open the tent door. Light streamed in as bright as midday. Sidia groaned. “It didn’t feel like that long at all. I’ll get dressed right away.”
He ducked under the door.

“Oh, and dad?” she called after him.
“Could you get some medicine for me? I’m feeling sore for some reason.”
He gave her a strange look. “Alright,” he finally said. And then he was gone with the light.

Sidia pulled off her nightrobe and dressed herself. Her tribe was well known for adorning themselves in beads and jewels off of every feather and horn, but Sidia only ever wore the bare minimum in jewelry–a couple of beaded cuffs on her wing-hands, some streamers on her tailfeathers, and a few bead trails from the horns on her head. Likewise, her clothes weren’t bright and flowing, as was the style with most girls her age–she wore beige pants fitted with a dozen pockets, and a navy blue shirt with a high collar. The only real fashion statements she made were the black leather strings she tied around her gloves, and a large navy and red belt. Perhaps she would look ostentatious to a more adventurous tribe like the ones that traveled over the northwestern mountains, but among her own people she was plain and pragmatic. Some even considered her fashion choices unfortunate given her age and relative beauty–even her father, as proud as he was of her, sometimes gave her stern looks. But jewelry always found a way to fall off or get torn when she wore it, and complicated dresses and suits just made her trip over her own feet. So here she was.

She emerged from her tent and squinted in the noonday sun. The first thing she saw was a group of older Fighters. They were standing by a food stall, sipping at cool tea. They eyed her as she stepped out, and their conversation stopped. She ignored them and turned left towards the southern encampment. She was almost at the longhouse where she and Tellen usually ate breakfast when she heard a distinctively light rustling noise coming around the bend of one of the tents.

“Esse.” She said before the figure emerged.

Her prediction was correct.

“Sidia! I’ve been looking for you.” Esse had grown into a Carer, so she was nimble, delicate and petite. She had enticing round eyes and well-proportioned feet, but her arms were unfortunately even shorter than Sidia’s. And even more unfortunately, she wasn’t a very good Carer: the quick mind that they usually possessed only served to make her more easily distractible than she’d been when she was ungrown. The result was a small bouncing feather, always flitting from one thing to another. The only thing she seemed able to focus on was Alavad.

“I slept in, it seems.”
“Lucky you can still do that! If I slept in through my shift with the steeds, Mella would kill me and leave my body behind for the next tribe.”
“Believe me, I’m cherishing my youth while it lasts. More than my father, at least.”
“Tellen has reason to be worried, you know.” Oh, did Sidia know. Very few of her people missed their Growing, but it was considered a terrible omen. Such people had trouble keeping a tribe, and had no chance of finding a mate. Her father never spoke to her about it, but she could see the look in his eyes sometimes. She tried not to think about it.

“Anyways,” Esse continued, waving her hands as if to usher the subject away. “Shall we have lunch together? I should tell you, I saw Alavad today, and I gave him the flowers I was telling you about. You won’t believe how he reacted–and what Isenic said!”

“Actually,” Sidia said, feigning disappointment, “I promised I would eat with my father today.”
“As you always do,” Esse complained. “You two are too close. I don’t understand it.”
“He and my mother gave me life. Should we not be close?”
“No one else spends so much time with their parents.”

“No one else spends any time with their parents.” A couple of tribes were accepting of friendly relationships between parents and children, but most viewed it as Esse did: as a confusing anomaly. Sidia supposed that described her well enough.

“Well, unfortunately the plan has been made. Maybe we can do it some other time?”
Sidia barely managed to stop herself from frowning. Esse had called her bluff. This flower conversation was probably inevitable.

“…Alright. Tomorrow.”

“I’ll be outside your tent!” Esse skipped off, at first casually but then with more frantic purpose. Perhaps she’d forgotten some work-related task.

Sidia did like the idea of working. Of course, being ungrown she had no idea what she was going to do. Would she become a Carer like Esse, flitting about cleaning off the steeds and healing the wounded? Or perhaps a Fighter… she didn’t feel like a Fighter, but apparently these feelings came on suddenly with the Growing. She half hoped she would become a Gatherer like her father. It would be a peaceful life. She would have to give up on exploring, though–Gatherers always struggled at the back of the herds because of their short, heavily bent legs, and Sidia often had to check herself to keep in step with her father when they ran together. But she would be happy without any complications in her life.

Perhaps the first step to that was an uncomplicated breakfast. She walked leisurely towards the longhouse. As she did so, she noticed eyes on her–some of the elders, a couple of Weatherers standing outside a tent, and even a younger Runner. Runners rarely spared her looks. Maybe there was something on her face?

As she went to wipe it off, pain shot up her back and to the tips of her wing-fingers. Determined not to look weak–especially in front of all these eyes–she slipped through the door into the longhouse.

A hush flew over the room as she entered. Her father was sitting at one table. He looked a little nervous.

“What’s going on?” Sidia asked. She sat down. The medicine sat next to her breakfast, a small pile of leaves and a couple of crimson berries. She swallowed the berries first, and then chewed on the leaves. They numbed her mouth and soothed her nerves just enough to let her soften her grimace.

“Just rumours. It’s nothing.”
Sidia’s face fell. She hated to contribute to her father’s social exclusion. But she couldn’t decide what was worse: leaving him alone and lonely, or speaking with him to the confusion of the whole tribe.

She started to eat breakfast. “They’re pretty bad today, aren’t they?” She should have spoken more quietly, but she didn’t. Instead, she shot glances at the people at the next table. They turned around in their seats back to their food.

“Don’t worry about them. It will probably pass.” Her dad still looked nervous.
“Are you sure?” she asked.

He nodded quietly. She didn’t think he was being honest, but she didn’t want to press the issue.

She started into her breakfast. It was a light combination of fruit, porridge and sweet flatbread. She spread the porridge over the bread and topped it with slices of sweet, sticky fruit, then rolled the whole thing up and dug into it. The porridge made her mouth feel a bit better, but the numbness still lingered–as did the pain in her back. It had spread to her fingers again.

“So any news on the Weatherers?” she asked, hoping to drown out the silence.

“Not really. They’re being even more conservative with their estimates now. Might even be a week and a half.”
Sidia sighed. “Why is the east so important, anyways?”
“Cycles. Dig sites. You know how it goes.”

Sidia took another bite of her roll. She knew how it went, she certainly did. Round and round with the seasons and the cycles and the marriage-alliances and the Conclaves. Round and round the fields and hills and forests. She felt dizzy just thinking about it.

It would be nice, just for once, if she could break the cycle. She didn’t know where she would go or what she would do, but she wouldn’t listen to the elders or follow the tribe. She would go somewhere else. Perhaps she would make a tribe to follow her. Now there was an idea: a tribe of her own! She would put this whole damn Growing aside and carve out her own path. She would not be drawn into work-addiction or love-craziness as her friends had been.

The idea made her feel assured. It was a strange feeling, like blood rushing through her, making her feel warm and thick. She smiled to herself as she finished her roll. Goddammit, her back hurt. She opened her mouth to ask Tellen for more painkillers from the stores, but then she saw her fingers as they reached for another slice of bread. Her fingers were yellow.

She gasped and lurched backwards, barely catching herself as she fell out of her seat. Blood swirled up in her head and her whole body shook now, her ears ringing with the pain and adrenaline. The room was silent. People were staring at her, but no one was doing anything. Why was no one doing anything? She looked at her food. Poison? She stumbled on her feet. Did she take the wrong medicine? Was there something in it? Desperately she looked to her father. His expression was strange: sad… but happy? Expectant? Did he do this? No… not him… she looked around but saw no guilt, only the same expectant look.

Her feet finally gave out under her. The pain flared up. It was in her whole body now. She squeezed her eyes shut and curled up into a ball, but her legs wouldn’t listen to her and instead they stretched out to one side and hit something. She heard a long table crash to the ground.

She had to get up. She had to get out. Her legs wouldn’t listen to her but her arms still obeyed. She clawed at the ground and dragged herself upwards. She managed to get a few feet across the room before she saw her father’s shadow above her. She froze.

“Father? …Dad?” she managed.

“It’s okay, Sidia. It will pass.”
Sidia looked at her father, then at her tribe, in horror. Her body only needed that second of distraction–her legs stretched again and she heard an awful cracking noise before the pain finally rushed back to her head, knocking her into unconsciousness.

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