The scent of prey is on the wind. I crouch down searching for tracks to follow or signs of recent disturbances. There, a broken twig, and ahead, scrub parted unnaturally. I follow the trail finding more traces as I go. A croaker, not the best of meals but will do in a pinch, is leading me through the underbrush. Shouldn’t be too far ahead now.
I’ve stalked him to a body of water, his home most like. I remain completely still and scan the area, listening for his telltale sound.
Tilting my head slightly I can see him behind a fallen tree. With all the stealth I can muster I creep as close as I dare. Croaker are notoriously skittish and if he retreats to the water, I’ll never find him. Slowly, steadily, I prepare to strike; setting my aim and tensing my body.
Thunder suddenly rips across the sky. I leap at the croaker as he immediately bolts for the water. He got away. The thunder continues and a spot in the sky begins to glow. What is this phenomenon? I smell no rain and the clouds are sparse. The spot grows and seems to be the source of the sound.
It flies across the sky and disappears just beyond the horizon. A moment later the thunder stops the glow settles slightly. I must find out what this thing is.
I run as fast as my legs allow toward the source of the light and thunder. Several creatures rush past me the other way. A part of me thinks I should join them, yet my curiosity is stronger.
As I crest over the next hill, I can see beyond the remaining trees. A wide clearing of grass and in the middle, what fell from the sky. It looks like a sharp boulder, yet spots of light radiate from it.
I hurry through the trees to get a better view. I reach the edge of the clearing and the boulder seems even more massive from this vantage.
A section of the boulder suddenly splits apart spilling out more light. And strange beings step out of it. I retreat slightly into the trees and hide amongst the brush, steadfastly watching these unknown beings.
There are five of them. They are all black, lumpy, and stand up on their back legs. Their oddly formed front legs hold what look like short, smooth black branches. They slowly step out of their boulder and make unintelligible noises to each other scanning the area, one of them looking at glowing rocks it carries sporadically.
I crouch as low as possible, doing my best to blend into the vegetation around me. Four of the beings spread out slightly from their boulder, surveying the area with their branches held up in front of them. One stands between them, looking at the glowing rock for a moment before making more noises to the others.
The beings lower their branches slightly and chatter to one another. Three of them walk together in the direction of a distant tree line. One goes back into the boulder and the last one with the glowing rock wanders slightly towards me, still looking at the lights coming from it.
I freeze. I slow my breathing to the point of almost nonexistence. I don’t know what those branches do, but they must have been pointing at them for a reason. The being wanders slightly closer and chatters again. It can’t have seen me, but there is no one near enough to hear it. It puts its rock away and reaches for its neck. It then begins to pull its head off.
Or at least that is what it would seem. It appears to be a shedding a second skin from its head. The black lumpy layer replaced by smooth blue skin with a bit of purple hair on the top. Perhaps the hair grows and hardens into the second skin? Its head is now slightly oblong, with what appear to be a nose, a mouth and two black eyes facing the forward.
The initial shock of the being pulling its skin off must have frightened me more than I realized. My body had begun to involuntarily move backwards and I step on a branch. The snap of wood startles the being and it reflexively pulls its branch out and looks in my direction.
I’m unsure what to do. Attacking this being seems a fatal mistake. Even if I kill it, the other four will finish me off. I could try to run, but I don’t know if this being will attack if I do. I do the only thing left. I try to remain hidden, perhaps it will give up looking after a few minutes. Then the being does something odd.
It lowers its branch and closes its eyes. This may be my only chance to run, but I’m frozen with intrigue. As I watch it I feel a sudden presence glide over my being. It is an unnerving feeling, but not quite as unsettling as the fact that the being has its eyes open again and is staring straight at me.
It holds its branch up again and advances towards me. My body tenses up, whether for fight or flight I’m unsure yet panic is a definite factor. The being stops and lowers it branch. Can it sense my fear?
It closes its eyes again and I feel the presence wash over me again. Yet this time it is tender, calming. A voice speaks, yet the being’s mouth doesn’t move. It is light and soothing and most shockingly, I can understand it.
“Be calm gentle creature, I wish you no harm.” I shake my head slightly in confusion and rise from my hiding. The being opens its eyes again and focuses them on me. A sense of benevolence seems to radiate from the being now. “Come closer, I will not harm you,” the voice in my head speaks. I slowly approach the being until I am directly in front of it. Standing before the being now I can see it is only slight taller than my shoulders. I could easy overwhelm this being at this distance, perhaps before it even had a chance to warn the others, yet I don’t want to. The being seems to ease my anxieties and leaves me with a sense of peace.
Another being exits the ship, makes a loud noise and begins to run towards me and the blue one. The blue being turns to it and shouts back before focusing on me again. For a moment the calm begins to ebb, but immediately returns as the being concentrates on me again.
I stand there almost in a trance as the second being approaches, stopping just behind the blue one. They chatter to one another for a moment as I try to remain conscious and alert. The voice speaks again, “Gentle creature, have you seen this anywhere?”
An image of what looks like pink crystals appears in my mind. “No,” I think my response hoping the being will understand. A new image appears, this one of what look like plants, yet seem to be floating. I think again, “No.” A third image appears, this time of a croaker.
“Croaker? Is that what you call it? I suppose it is appropriate,” the voice speaks, slightly amused perhaps? “Where may we find them?” I think of the water pools nearby they can usually be found in.
The blue being chatters again to the other one for a moment. The voice speaks again, “Can you show us the way?”
I turn and begin walking back to the water I lost the croaker in earlier. If it’s not there, it should still be nearby. I keep a decent pace, but not so fast as to lose the beings who are currently walking briskly. We go through the forest and over a few hills before we reach the water again.
The blue being, although it now has its second skin back on, pulls out its rock again and looks at the lights for a time. It chatters to the other being before turning back to me. The voice speaks again however it is somewhat fainter than before, “You saw it here? Can you help us find it?”
I search for scent of a croaker again and after a thorough sweep of the area I find one. It is barely perceptible, but there. As I start to track it the beings notice my hunt and follow. By now the sky has begun to darken, if I do not find a croaker soon, they will disappear for the night and not reemerge until the first light.
We travel for a time, passing a couple more pools of water and an abandoned digger den, before we arrive near where the trail stops. It is a much bigger body of water than any of the others and I can hear a number or croakers in the area. This must be a nest of theirs, I’ve never followed a croaker far enough to see one.
The beings immediately begin chattering excitedly to one another. After a moment the voice speaks, “Thank you gentle creature, this is more than we could ask for.” The blue one produces a hollowed log of sorts and then takes off its second skin again. The calming presence returns yet doesn’t feel as strong as before and yet all the croaker seem to be sitting still as the beings start to gather them into the log.
The water begins to stir however and I stalk closer towards it. The beings are distracted by their collecting and don’t notice it until it’s too late. An eight-legs. A long tentacle reaches out of the water and grabs one of the beings by the leg and pulls it to the ground. Its branch falls away from it and it start shouting to the blue one and tries to free itself from the tentacle. The blue one drops the hollow log and pulls out its branch. Now I know it was smart to avoid the branches.
A bright shaft of light accompanied by a thunderous sound spring from the branch and into the water. I can’t tell if it hit the eight-legs or not but another tentacle flies out of the water and smacks the blue one aside. I’m not sure what’s come over me, but I feel compelled to help them and lunge at the tentacle holding the legs of the fallen being.
I rip and tear at it with my claws and it immediately releases the being. The being immediately scrambles for its branch and starts sending more light at the eight-legs. An odd murmur can be heard from the water as two more tentacles reach out for us. I dodge one of them but the other grabs the standing being again.
This time the being is ready and pulls out a long, claw-like object and stabs it into the tentacle causing it to instantly release. He directs more light into the water as does the now recovered blue one. After several more light beams are sent into the water the beings stop and the tentacles fall limp.
The beings hurry to one another briefly hold each other before looking each other over, most likely for injury. It seems nothing serious and they look at me. The voice speaks, “We cannot thank you enough for saving us gentle creature. We will be forever grateful.”
The beings then proceed to collect the croaker once again after calming them and retrieving their log. Afterward we all travel back to the clearing edge where I found them and they prepare to return to their boulder.
The blue one waits for the others to enter the ship before coming back to me at the forest’s edge. It looks at me and I hear the voice again, “Thank you gentle creature, for sharing your world with us and defending our lives. I wish to grant you a small gift before we leave, as gratitude for everything you’ve done.” The blue creature places one of its front legs on my head and concentrates hard for a moment.
I feel a daze wash over me as she does this and when she removes her hand, I feel slightly confused for a moment. I look at Naria’s eyes as she turns to leave and she smiles. She speaks from her mouth, “I will never forget you gentle creature. Go in peace,” in the same voice I heard in my head. She puts her helmet back on, slings her rifle over her shoulder and takes one last look at her planetary scanner before returning to her ship. She will take the groxnar back home to Ytenia to be processed into a medicine she needs to treat her son and many other children from the vloqdan plague ravaging her species.
As the ship leaves for orbit, it occurs to me that I should not be able to understand any of this, yet that too is quickly answered by the realization that it is all part of Naria’s gift. The moon is full this night, and I’ve not eaten in hours so I shall hunt. Hunt and contemplate everything I understand.