0029 – Stem & Grazer: Idyll, Part 12

The noise from the bushes froze Stem and Grazer in their tracks.

Grazer’s usual calm and relaxed expression froze, his eyes slowly widening to a bloodshot, terrified stare into the middle distance.

Stem remembered enough of Cap’s relayed conversation with Biter to know that Lurkers approach their prey slowly and carefully before springing upon them. Once one had you in its sights, there was nothing you could do to halt its attack. The confrontation was inevitable.

With this in mind, she decided that their only chance was to act without hesitation. Freezing motionless would be futile. Even laying down and playing dead wouldn’t work. There was no choice.

She sprang into action. Heavily improvised action.

Stem had no actual knowledge of fighting beyond which places on her brother’s body made him cry out the loudest when she kicked or punched them. This knowledge would be useless against a beast.

She found herself in a half-crouch, a low posture with one foot in front of the other, as though she were about to start a race. Her left hand was pressed down, palm flat to the mulch of the forest floor. The right was gripping the half-spear tightly. It was barely three feet in length, but it was all she had.

I’ll have to throw it, she thought. And if I miss, or don’t throw hard enough, we’re both going to die.

She stared intently at the undergrowth. She knew roughly where the sound had come from, but there was no more rustling now. The dimly lit shades of grey, blue and black burned themselves into her eyes with unblinking familiarity, until at last, with a wrench in her abdomen, she was able to make out one cruel, slitted, jet-black eye.

“It’s going to pounce.” She told Grazer, without looking at him. She couldn’t afford to take her eyes off the Lurker.

He didn’t reply.

The beast knew it had been noticed. Sneaking any closer to its prey was going to be impossible.

The time had come.

Suddenly, the Lurker’s powerful rear legs propelled it forward. Its merciless jaw opened, exposing row after row of sharp teeth, some designed to pierce, some to rip, some to grind. With horror, Stem realised that it had chosen her as its target.

Fortunately, she had already thrown the spearhead.

Unfortunately, it missed the creature’s mouth completely, rebounding off its impenetrable carapace with an impotent clink.

AGE!

Grazer held his hand out in front of him, an accusatory finger pointing at the Lurker. The force of his word hit its body like a physical object, knocking it to the ground. The beast scrabbled for purchase with its legs, failing to adjust to their sudden lack of power, to the rapid withering of its musculature.

Grazer’s eyes were ablaze. His finger was still pointing.

AGEEEEEEEEEEE!” He drew out the word into a longer syllable.

The force of his bellowing hit the dazed creature again, knocking it a short way back from Stem. She had fallen onto her backside in surprise, scuttling backwards a short way with her hands and feet before she had realised that the creature, bizarrely, posed no threat any more.

The elderly Lurker dragged itself forward toward her. With every gnash of its jaw, more and more teeth were dislodged, falling from its shrivelling gums. Some fell onto, or under its tongue, or down its throat, cutting, choking, but still it clawed on, rheumy eyes fixated on the young girl’s body with determined malice.

Finally, still a good three or four feet from Stem’s legs, the Lurker’s head sank to the floor, its worn and brittle carapace cracking from the impact of its fall, its dark eyes retaining their predatory enmity even in the absence of life.

The beast was dead.

“You’re welcome!” Grazer chimed. He was grinning as though nothing extraordinary had happened.

Stem’s eyes were still wide. Her breathing was still ragged. “What did you do!?” She stammered.

“I told you. Wait for it to die. It’s how you kill anything!”

She pulled herself to her feet. Bizarrely, despite the fact that he had just saved her life, she felt angry at him.

“You didn’t wait for anything!” She protested, still shaking. “You shouted ‘AGE!’ at it, and it… it… “

“Died of old age.” Grazer seemed pleased with himself. He opened his long, oversized coat – the kind beloved by teenage boys even in strange, alienesque cultures – and produced a small, thin, but immaculately bound book for Stem’s inspection.

Despite her anger, she took it into her hand only tentatively.

The book’s cover bore a single word – AGE – in ornate, handwritten letters. This word hadn’t just been written carefully. It was a matter of calligraphy.

“Where did you get this?” She asked him.

“Look inside.” He said.

She did so. Inside the incredibly slim volume were a few pages of neat text in a completely incomprehensible language.

She furrowed her brow. “It’s… the letters are familiar, but…”

He nodded. “The words aren’t real words. Yeah.”

She handed the book back to him. “How does it work?”

“I don’t know.” He answered her honestly, stowing the book back into one of his deep inner pockets. “It only works if I have the book on me somewhere. I tried leaving it at home and it just did nothing.”

“This… this is…” Her mind was reeling. She was trying to put it together. She’d heard about this before, she knew.

He grinned broadly. His posture was finally relaxing again.

“It’s like I’m J’Kab The Great.”

Soon, reality reasserted itself on the two of them.

They wondered how they could possibly pass off the dead body of a decrepit old Lurker as Grazer’s kill.

And they hauled it back to the village anyway, quibbling about whether to come clean to the hunters and elders regarding the existence of the book.

At least, they got as far as the treeline at the top of the steep slope.

But you already know what was waiting for them, don’t you?

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