0020 – Stem & Cap – Idyll, Part 6

“You’re supposed to work this out when you turn fifteen, boyo.” Biter was admonishing Cap.


“I promise I won’t tell Grazer.” Cap looked down at his swinging feet. He was sitting in the same position as he had adopted when he sat here with Grazer just a day or two ago. “I won’t be fifteen for five years. I’ll forget by then!”


Even though Cap was facing away from him, Biter still managed to flick his forehead painfully.


“Nice try.” He couldn’t help but crack a smile. “I can’t tell you, though, lad. Everyone has to work it out for themselves. That’s the whole point of the trial, see.”


“Fine, then.” Cap rubbed his forehead. “I’ll work it out. Right now.”


Biter laughed openly, slapping his thigh in an exaggerated gesture of joviality. You didn’t last long as a hunter without a good sense of bravado.


“From what? You see any Lurkers ‘round here?”


“If I close my eyes.” Cap did so, his face full of the piety adopted by children when they want to be particularly precocious and irritating. “Describe them. I’ll imagine it.”


He felt the wooden platform creak under Biter’s weight as the big man finally sat down next to him.


“Alright.” He sounded amused. “They’re about as long as I am tall.”


“Got it.” Cap made a show of squinting slightly.


“They’re covered in a thick black carapace.”


“What’s a carapace?” Cap asked. He opened one eye.


“Like a beetle has.” Biter explained. “The hard black shell.”


“Oh.” Cap’s open eye showed dismay for a second before he shut it again. “Go on.”


“In a lot of the stories, their eyes glow yellow. But that’s not true, see. It’d be stupid, you’d see ‘em coming. Their eyes are jet black. You often don’t see ‘em until it’s too late.”


Cap furrowed his brow. This was not an optimistic picture.


“And they’ve got big, sharp teeth, like a huge, cruel saw blade. And a jaw strong enough to bite clean through a grown man’s arm!”
Cap bit his lip. “What else?”


“When they come for you,” Biter had lowered his voice for emphasis. “They creep up to you, real slow like. And then they POUNCE!”


He reared up and made a sudden, frightening motion with his arms. Even though Cap couldn’t see it, he still flinched.


“They pounce on you with their jaws wide open! Go right for you, usually the throat. They tear it out and eat you.”


“So,” Cap tried to put it all together in his mind. “You can’t see them coming, and even when you do, they’re covered in armour, and so fast that you can’t react anyway.”


“That’s about right.” Biter nodded smugly, just as Cap opened his eyes, making sure the gesture wasn’t wasted. “So! How do you kill one? Worked it out, have you?”


“No.” Cap confessed.


Biter gave him a kindly smile, tapping a finger to the side of his nose as he winked. “Think about the tradition, boyo. It’s all done for a reason. That’s all I’ll tell you.”


————————-


Stem, as it happened, was already thinking about the tradition. She had thought long and hard about simple ways in which a ten-year-old girl might sabotage the trial, and had been clever enough to realise that in approaching the problem like a ten-year-old girl, she’d been going about it all wrong.


She had to think about it like an adult.


Adults loved their traditions. To Stem, it seemed, they were simply a small part of that thing which adults love the most – silly rules. Adults would gladly scuttle a carefully-made plan at the last moment because a child had forgotten to do their chores. It only stood to reason that they would cancel a carefully-planned ceremony if some ridiculous symbolic element of it wasn’t up to snuff.


This line of thinking had led her to a single point of vulnerability in the entire ritual of the boys’ trial.


The spear.


Her mother had mentioned that the boy who faced his trial first (which would be Grazer, as he was the only boy facing it at all this year) would lead all the Hunters and the other men of the village up the hill, charging with a spear in his hand. He would give the spear back before venturing into the Lurkers’ territory, but Stem reckoned that the spear itself was of ceremonial significance. If it was missing or damaged, surely the trial itself couldn’t go ahead.


She was quietly confident in the brilliance of her plan. So quietly confident that she couldn’t wait to rub Cap’s face in how clever she’d been the second he came back from whatever he was doing.


Unfortunately, she hadn’t actually thought out how to get to the spear in the first place.


Unsurprisingly, the spear was kept in the village’s small, but well secured armoury. Stem couldn’t help but wonder why it was secured in the first place. If the village was attacked while all the hunters were away somewhere, wouldn’t the villagers be separated, by locked doors and windows, from their only means of self defense?


Perhaps one of the other adults has a key, too. Stem thought. The elders, or someone like that.


Unfortunately, this idea wouldn’t be of any use to her, she knew. There was no way she could convince anyone to help her with this. Even Cap.


Suddenly, blind panic overtook Stem, and she didn’t even know why. She had to get that spear. She had to get it now.


Her heart rate rose. Her breathing quickened. She scratched and clawed at the sturdy wood around the locked window. She could see through the thick, leaded glass, row upon row of dull, functional weapons. She needed to be in there NOW.


“Open!” She begged the window. It has to be the window, not the door. “OPEN!!”


The window swung open, without warning.


Even though she had been pawing at it from the outside, it opened outwards.


She climbed in.

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