“For the love of all gods, what were you thinking
?!” Azvida demanded.
Solonn thought but didn’t dare say, feeling as though doing such amounted to betraying Zilag, which he most certainly did not want to do. “…I don’t know!” he blurted finally.
“Well, you’re not
going up there again, that’s
for sure,” Azvida said, her tone one of strong displeasure. “In fact, you’re not going to be going anywhere
for a long time, not even to the snowgrounds.”
“But… Mom, no! You can’t!” Solonn protested. Surely she had to be bluffing, he figured, or at least hoped.
“Oh, yes I can, and yes I will! It’s for your own good, Solonn. You have to learn that there are places where you don’t belong, places that are not safe
“Not safe?” Apart from the behavior of the sealeo he’d met there, the cavern above into which he had ventured hadn’t seemed terribly dangerous, just rather strange…
Azvida lowered her face, her eyes seeming to burn right through Solonn’s. “You think you’re the first who’s ever gone sneaking around up there? There have been plenty of kids before you who’ve had that
bright idea. And you know what? Many of them never came back.”
“…What happened to them?” Solonn asked in a very small voice, though he wasn’t altogether certain that he really wanted to know.
“They vanished,” Azvida replied simply. “Taken away by the creatures from above, we suspect,” she elaborated.
“You mean the spheal
took them?” Solonn asked incredulously.
Azvida shook her head. “Other beings. Stranger
What could be stranger than a spheal?
Solonn wondered, finding himself rather amazed by the notion. He wondered about something else as well. “Mom?”
“That spheal’s mom… she called me a monster,” Solonn said quietly. “She said I’m dangerous, but I’m not dangerous at all… am I?”
“What? No, of course you’re not!” Azvida said. “And you’re not a monster, either!”
“But… then why would she say that?” Solonn asked.
Azvida sighed. “It’s all right, Solonn. She meant nothing against you personally. It’s just that… well, her kind fear ours. They always have.” She sighed again. “To be fair, they do have a perfectly good reason to.”
“Well… what is it?” Solonn asked, a little afraid of the sort of answer he might receive.
Azvida broke eye contact with Solonn. This was not a discussion she’d been in any hurry to have with him—she’d dreaded it as much as the eventual discussion of where eggs came from.
Reluctantly, she sat down beside him. “There are certain things that every living creature must do to stay alive,” she began uneasily. “We have to breathe. We have to sleep. We have to eat. When living creatures are different, the ways that they keep themselves alive are different, as well. The spheal and their evolved forms, the sealeo and walrein, are different from us, and so they have their own ways that are right for them. Likewise, glalie are different from snorunt. And we
“Now, one of the ways that living creatures can have different needs is that for some creatures, like snorunt, the things they need to eat in order to live are not alive themselves. But for others… like glalie… well, the things that creatures like us need to eat in order to live are
Solonn absorbed that. Then his heart froze. “You… you eat the spheal?” he ventured in disbelief, his voice cracking.
“Yes,” Azvida answered honestly, “sometimes. But not usually. Usually, we take the winged creatures instead; zubat, they’re called.”
“It doesn’t matter what they are. You still kill them!” Solonn shouted.
“Yes,” Azvida said, feeling and sounding very flustered. “Yes, we do, but we do it quickly. We do it gently. It doesn’t hurt them. They just… they just stop. It’s just like going to sleep, only permanently.”
“How can you know that
?!” Solonn shrieked. Azvida did not answer. Solonn said nothing more for several minutes, just sitting and shaking silently. Then, with barely any voice at all, he asked, “Why can’t you just eat the snow? Why?”
“It’s just not enough for us, Solonn,” Azvida said quietly. “Someday, once you’ve evolved, you’ll understand.”
“No, I don’t want
to! I don’t want
to grow up and eat people!”
“Listen, I know how it sounds, but there really isn’t anything wrong with it!” Azvida tried to assure him. “It’s just part of how nature works. And a lot of creatures live this way, too, not just glalie. Even the spheal you met and her people; they feed on creatures called magikarp…”
But Solonn was not listening anymore, and Azvida knew it. She sighed and spoke no more, and neither of them said anything to one another for the remainder of that day.
* * *
After the long weeks separating Solonn from the snowgrounds were finally behind him, he returned there to find Zilag just sitting there alone.
Solonn was immediately wary. “Where is everyone hiding?”
“There’s no one else here,” Zilag said gloomily.
Solonn walked over to him, frowning. “You got me into huge trouble, you know,” he said.
“Hey, I didn’t get away with it, either!” Zilag shot back.
“Well, I didn’t tell on you!” Solonn insisted. “I swear!”
“You didn’t have to,” Zilag said grimly. “My big sister came in and saw me trying to get Dileras to go down that hole. She went straight home and told Mom everything.” He sighed. “And then, everyone else’s parents found out, too. Now no one wants to hang out with me cause they’re all scared of getting into trouble again.”
“Oh…” Solonn sat down beside Zilag. “Well, I’m not worried about that,” he said, although a small part of him really was. “I’ll still hang out with you.”
Zilag’s eyes widened, and he broke out into a huge grin. “Really? Thanks!”
It was then that a strange sound caught the attention of both snorunt: a sort of fluttering noise coming from above. Zilag and Solonn looked up and saw its source flying about overhead. It was yet another creature that shone with that strange glow—the glow of heat, Solonn now knew.
“A zubat,” Solonn guessed aloud in a hushed voice as he gazed up at the newcomer. “What’s that doing here?”
“I don’t know… I’ve never even seen
one of those before,” Zilag said.
“I bet your parents have,” Solonn said darkly. “My mom told me that the glalie eat
Zilag turned to face Solonn at those words and stared incredulously at him for a moment. Then he broke into laughter. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! They do not!”
“Oh, yes they do,” Solonn said as he continued to watch the zubat flit around, seemingly without direction, near the ceiling of the cavern.
“No way!” Zilag said, still laughing. “I know! Let’s ask the zubat if it’s true! HEY, ZUBAT!” he shouted.
The zubat steadfastly ignored the snorunt below, just wanting to focus on getting out of that place. It was bad enough that she’d gotten herself lost there—she didn’t want to add to her troubles by getting herself mixed up with the locals.
“The zubat’s not listening, Zilag,” Solonn pointed out.
“Well, maybe this’ll
get that thing to listen.” Zilag made a snowball and chucked it into the air, but missed the zubat entirely. His second shot missed, too. “Come on, hold still!” he urged his target, throwing a third snowball. That one very nearly didn’t
miss, whizzing past the zubat’s face just a hair’s breadth away.
The zubat shrieked, then turned on Zilag. Chittering angrily, she fired a spiraling, sparkling confuse ray at him. It struck him before he could do anything to avoid it and instantly and severely disoriented him, leaving him staggering around and screaming intermittently in a spontaneous panic.
“What did you do to him?!” Solonn demanded of the zubat, both scared and angry. The bat’s response was a wing attack, forcing Solonn to duck in a hurry to avoid her as she dove at him, her wings glowing.
As the zubat arced back up toward the ceiling, Solonn got back up onto his feet, gathered a number of snowballs as fast as he could, and began throwing them at the zubat, but to no avail. He soon had to abandon his assault as the zubat wheeled around for another wing attack; he only barely ducked out of the way in time.
At this point, Solonn decided to give up on the snowballs. He began to gather ice-type energy… then lost hold of it as Zilag, who was still confused, came stumbling right into him and nearly knocked him over.
“Hey!” Solonn shouted as he got himself out of the way of his brain-addled friend. He tapped into the power of his element once again, and this time he managed to summon a powder snow attack. It scattered snowflakes all about as it whistled toward the zubat on a small gust—but before it could connect, a similar but much stronger attack, a blizzard, came howling in and blew the powder snow completely off course.
The blizzard was the work of Azvida, who had apparently just arrived and was clearly most displeased. “Solonn Ahshi Zgil-Al!” she shouted thunderously. “You stop picking on that poor zubat right this instant; she’s obviously lost here and needs help, not harassment!”
Azvida’s shouting brought Zilag back to his senses. “Ahshi
?” He exploded into giggles. Both Azvida and Solonn glared potently at him—he shut up at once.
“But Mom, she did something to Zilag! She made him freak out—I couldn’t just let her get away with it!” Solonn said. “And what do you care what anybody does to her, anyway? She’s just meat to you!”
Azvida’s eyes widened greatly, and their light intensified dramatically. “How dare
you say such a thing!” she hissed, appalled. “I would never
think of such a creature as ‘just meat
’. They give us life, and so they’re to be honored and respected!”
To the zubat, Azvida then said, “You’ll certainly die from the cold if you stay here much longer. If you’ll follow me, I’ll lead you back to where you belong.”
The zubat made no response, no sound at all other than the faint flapping of her wings as she hovered warily in place.
“It’s all right,” Azvida said, trying to sound as pleasant and soothing as possible. “I won’t even touch you.”
The zubat hesitated at first, then flapped a short distance forward. She hesitated again, for longer this time. Finally, though still obviously very uncertain about the whole thing, she descended and began to follow Azvida out of the cavern, though not too
“Please stay put until I return,” Azvida instructed her son as she left. “Please
.” She and the zubat then vanished into the tunnels of the warren.
As Solonn watched them leave, he found that he was no longer sure whether it was other species or his own that he found more peculiar.
Next time: Solonn discovers something peculiar and faces the horrors of the Most Annoying Person Ever and the Sister from Hell! See you next time!
- Sike Saner