The dead Ngara lay there in the snow. It looked peaceful in death Lalang thought. The mountain bears rarely looked so, but here was one Lalang could reach out and touch in deep contrast to the two hunters who were now fleeing, nearly out of sight. Father?
Why did they kill a mother?
I’m not sure, why do you think?
Lalang paused a moment to think, she looked up at her father, his face obscured behind his scarf and goggles, she desperately wanted to see his face again.
Maybe they didn’t know they would leave the babies in danger.
Good guess darling, but look at the tracks, he pointed then with a gloved finger, the fur of a long dead animal sticking out from his finger. ‘You see?’ He waited giving her a moment to catch on, she was very young after all, only at the age children would start tuition, if they were lucky.
Ah, the babies were here first, the prints have sunk a little, that means they saw the babies, waited for the mother. He smiled, his daughter was a fast learner, even faster than he was. But father, that’s not right, if we kill the mothers then the babies wont grow up.
But those men were hungry, do we not feed on animals on the plains as well?
Lalang paused to give this some thought, that she was being tested was not registering with her, she was merely answering with honesty.
But why eat today if we can’t eat tomorrow? She wasn’t sure where these words had come from, but she sensed that they carried a lot of weight. An ancient expression of the plains, it reflected the need to think ahead, taking enough food for a feast on one day, at the expense of the future was a perilous venture.
Her father drew back, his surprise barely contained. Many had said his daughter had an ‘old spirit’, but he’d not heard this expression in an age.
You have an incredible knack for understanding right and wrong, don’t ever lose that.
‘Kid, wake up!’ Lalang shook herself back to alertness. She hadn’t realised how tired she was, but the shock of the hunt had pushed her small body to exhaustion. She looked around, the skip had landed, the ramp had been lowered and outside, in the twilight of evening, the white streets of Neyeng were clear. They had landed a short distance from the village, Darius was heading down the ramp with bags of supplies, Merl was unhooking himself from the cockpit. It had been a slow trip home for sure, but they’d beaten the Dark. This should have been a relief, but it now gave Lalang little time to act. She looked over and saw March, the big man staring down at the cub. The creature moved slightly, but remained placid.
‘What will you do with it?’ She asked, walking over to them.
‘I’ll make contact with my buyers, they’ll be down once the Dark has passed.’ He sounded distant, he was already imagining all that money, she could sense it.
‘What about me?’
‘You?’ March turned to her. ‘Ah, yes, you’ll wait out the night with us, once the buyers arrive, you’ll get your share, then you can go home.’
‘Can’t I go back now?’
‘Now? It’s nearly Dark.’
‘Can you not fly me back to my home?’
‘No chance, this heap barely got us home, can’t you call your mother?’
‘No, we don’t have radios, they’re very unreliable, the storms, the mountains, they’ve never worked well in the plains-‘
‘Fine fine, look, I don’t care, do what you want, but you wont get your money ’till morning,’ March charged off, grabbing a box of supplies, tired of conversing with the child, she had served her purpose, was no longer of interest to him.
‘What about the cub?’ She called after him.
‘It’ll stay here, where it’s safe,’ he said without turning, ‘now hurry up, Merl, close the ship.’
Lalang grabbed her pack and went down to the cold snowy streets as the ramp closed behind her. Once inside the hut with the three men she sat down quietly. She’d hoped to get back early enough to free the cub before it got too late, but now it was Dark, and dangerous to be walking around outside.
It took less than an hour for the men to get drunk drinking their homemade grog. It was a stinking spirit of some kind, Lalang knew little about such things. The only thing she knew for sure was that those who drank like that on the plains soon died. They stopped leaving their huts and eventually they weren’t seen at all. The men were singing and laughing about their success, apparently having already forgotten their lost colleague, whose body had been left on the ship. Although the cold of the Dark would stop it decompossing too quickly.
She slipped out of the hut, wrapping her coats around her tightly as the cold of the Dark attached itself to her. There was only a distant glow that held onto the horizon.
The men didn’t notice her departure at any rate and within two minutes she was inside the ship and standing in front of the cub. It looked up at her and yawned, the sedatives apparently starting to wear off. The repercussions of what was about to happen were not lost on her, but she knew, this was right, this had to happen.
Undoing the leash she lead the docile pup down the ramp, closed it behind her and walked quickly and expertly across the snow up the slope of a ridge that overlooked the village. Just beyond the ridge there were caves, safe ones, no large creatures lived this close to people. She had explored many times the cave systems and knew them well, when she was younger and awaiting her mother’s fierce trading to conclude.
It took only a few minutes to find a cave that was suitable, a small one that had been covered by snow. She broke into it, lead the graceful animal in with her. There was only just enough room to get in crouched and turn around. It wasn’t as deep as she would have liked, but it would have to suffice. The creature looked at her, its fangs bearing as it yawned once more. Lalang was struck by how calm she was so close to an animal that could kill her on a whim. Its white eyes looked at her, as if waiting for instruction. She reached out her hand, removing her glove and stroked its head gently, it purred slightly but otherwise did nothing. Putting the glove back on and resisting the urge to curl up and go to sleep in the small cave, Lalang stuck her head out into the cold. She signalled for the creature to stay, hoping it would somehow understand as she covered the entrance back up so that it didn’t look as if it had been disturbed.
Then, with the light almost gone, she went back to the ridge line and looked down at the town.
No! There were beams of light whipping around the ship erratically. They must have gone to check on their prize. She had hoped for a little more time, but her absence as well as that of the creature would lead them to only one conclusion.
She shifted the pack on her back, looked at a small handful of things she had taken from the men without their noticing.
What now? Lalang was forced to admit that she’d not had the perfect plan, sneak back in the Light and get to her mothers, but what of the creature? It would be a dangerous killer soon, and word would get around quickly of the animal’s location, putting her and her mother at risk. She thought of her mother and how she must be worried that she’d not returned before Dark.
But with the men hunting her, even drunk, would make such a venture impossible. I must get back down there, maybe there’s a way out of this.
Slipping down the slope, moving with ease, her eyes easily adjusted to the ever darker conditions. Slipping in and out of the side alleys between various huts, she got close enough to hear March barking orders at his two men. They were conducting a grid based search of the city, very military, she thought. The men would complete the search quickly and then look in the surrounding areas. As the temperature dropped even further this would be risky. Perhaps if they found nothing soon they would retreat for the night. But that still didn’t help Lalang decide what she should do.
‘Hey!’ Her thoughts were broken by a yell, it was one of the men calling through his scarf, possibly Darius. She turned and saw a figure with a light coming towards her. She ran, disappearing quickly.
‘She’s over here!’ Came the cries. These were dangerous men she knew, she could not wait to see what they would do.
Even in their sate, these men were professional and they moved systematically, casting a wide net that slowly strangled her possibilities of escape. They were closing in, but Lalang didn’t panic, she had to get out of the village, this was not her territory, the plains of snow were.
The beams of light were all around her, she realised that she was trapped, trying to rush through the net was the only chance, disappearing into the Dark. She readied herself, was about to run when the suction of a nearby door made her turn her head.
‘In here,’ a voice hissed. She ran through the doorway without thinking, the door sealed shut behind her. Looking around the dark room, a hand grabbed her and took her further into the building. In the next room she saw a collection of models and recalled exactly where she was.
‘Are you ok?’ Namor said.
‘Yes, why did you help me?’
‘Because you needed it.’ She looked at him, the room was dark, but she could see him smiling.
She desperately wanted to embrace him, sink into his arms, but the danger of the situation was far too real.
‘I can’t stay here,’ she whispered.
‘I know, but stay until it calms down out there.’
‘No, your family is in danger, those men are dangerous.’
‘Who are they?’
‘Hunters, I was helping them.’ She explained the whole situation, even including her taking the soon to be deadly animal and hiding it in the cave.
‘You seem to have an awareness beyond your years, I’ve heard of your kind,’ he said quietly. She looked up into his eyes, a tiny glint from the first moon reflected at her. She leant forward, perching up on her toes, their lips close together.
There was a shout, they pulled away. Lalang turned.
‘No!’ She hissed, ‘they’re here.’ She could hear the banging on the door now, this poor family, what had she done?
‘Go!’ The young man took her hand and lead her back to the rear door. He opened it as quietly as he could, ‘you have to get clear, it’s your only chance.’
‘But your family, what about you?’ Her heart ached.
‘Don’t worry, if you’re not here we’ll be fine.’
She ran into the freezing Dark, the sounds and commotion behind her reminded her of the unforseen circumstances of her actions. What can I do?