"Prophecies of the New World" By Royce Sears- Chapter One

of the
New World

By Royce Sears

Book One of The Elegance of Nature Series

Chapter 1


“In the Game of Life, less diversity means fewer options for change. Wild or domesticated, panda or pea, adaptation is the requirement for survival.” 
—Cary Fowler

Hunched low on their mounts, the riders clung to their Companions as they loped swiftly and silently over the sea of gently swaying prairie grass in the pre-dawn glow of a late summer morning. The band of brothers, a ranging patrol of the Villages Warriors riding bareback astride their Companions, tracked their quarrys movements as it crept closer toward their home. Long grass and sedges tickled the bottoms of their hand-sewn leather shoes as the dogs of the new world loped in great, leaping strides beneath them. They slowed only long enough to smell the earth as it rushed beneath them, nostrils flaring wide as they scented their quarry. The dogs, each standing taller than most men, were just one of the many changes wrought upon the world by the Yuteca MakoceThe Renewal of the Land.
In the point position of the patrol, Otaktay and his broad-shouldered Companion, Natan, led the band of warriors in the chase. Natan’s Rottweiler ancestors would have paled in comparison to his sleek muscles and broad-chested stature as he towered over them. He and the other mounts had caught the unnatural scent of the Wendigo in the early hours of the morning and they had been tracking its movements toward the Village since. The beast moved fast, driven by its hunger and the scent of man-flesh, but not faster, nor more deadly, than his Swooping Hawks. Natan issued a low growl, his signal indicating the proximity to their quarry, and Otaktay scratched Natan’s floppy black ears to show his gratitude.
 The Village, a nomadic camp following the revitalized buffalo herds like their ancestors had, relied heavily on ranging patrolslike his Swooping Hawksto protect the families and the hearth fires. Otaktay and his Swooping Hawks, Warriors of the People, both man and dog alikesworn to protect the People to their dying breath raced against time as the bloodthirsty Wendigo neared the Village.
Glancing to his right and left, he ensured the others were in position. Behind him, and to the right, rode Chayton astride the mighty Nibaw. Chayton—the Hawk—was a young and mighty warrior of the People; and Otaktay’s successor as leader of the Swooping Hawks. To his left, the wizened Mongwau—the Owl—hunched low on his shaggy mount, Tadi. The others he could not see, but was nevertheless comforted by their presence. The freshly bent grass rushed even faster beneath them as Natan surged forward with a renewed sense of urgency, sensing their prey was near. Otaktay raised his rifle high above his head, his silent signal to his brothers. The battle would soon be upon them.
Crouched low in the gently rippling prairie grass, the Wendigo waited for the heavy thunder of her pursuers to grow closer. Her long ears twitched anxiously as the vertical slits of her golden-yellow, cat-like eyes widened in anticipation. She sensed her prey growing closer to the gully in which she crouched, waiting to spring her ambush. The smell of man-flesh, so maddeningly close, nearly caused her to reveal her position prematurely. Weighing the odds stacked against her with the limited reasoning she retained, she crouched lower and waited. Her dark, emaciated, feline form flattened against the earth as the smell of man-flesh grew even closer. Twin tentacles, each longer than her own body, and tipped in spikes to deliver her deadly poison, writhed impatiently as she tamped the long, sharp claws of what had once been human hands and feet deeper into the earth. Her bloodlust, rage, and ravenous hunger seethed, tempered only by her savage cunning as she waited.
 With surprise in her favor, she sprang at the leading figure as it raised its arm high in the air. She leaped nimbly from her couch, a dark arrow sailing unerringly toward her target above the swaying grasses.
Natan, sensing the attack at the last moment, leaped on his powerful haunches and twisted midair to face the attacker with his teeth bared and snarling lips. His massive jaws snapped at empty air as the agile, catlike creature anticipated the attack, executing a midair twist of her own to evade the sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Otaktay found himself off balance with his rifle still held high above him. He clung to the scruff of his mount with one hand for only a moment before becoming airborne above both combatants.
She landed lightly, well out of range of the dog’s bite, and watched the rider fall helplessly. Her deadly tentacles whipped into his prone body, the long, thin spikes at the tips of her tentacles pierced the rider’s leather vest to inject the deadly poison. She turned her attention to the other dogs and riders, roaring a challenge as she crouched in preparation to leap again.
The creature’s spiked tentacles ripped through Otaktay’s hardened leather vest, tearing long, deep gashes along the length of his back. He ignored the pain and stood to bring his rifle to bear on the creature’s misshapen head, only a few feet away.
“Die beast,” he tried to say, but his tongue and lips felt thick and numb. To his ears, it sounded more like “Die beasstszzzch.” He tried to pull the trigger, but nothing happened. His finger would not move. He willed his finger to pull the trigger, but still, nothing happened. Otaktay closed his eyes, knowing his aim was true, and focused his will with every fiber of his being. His finger moved, and the trigger followed. The hammer struck the shell’s firing pin and the world moved in slow motion as the rifle recoiled and Otaktay collapsed to the earth. He could not re-open his eyes, try as he might. The world remained dark and lifeless as the sounds of the battle faded into the distance.
The Wendigo’s face exploded as Otaktay’s point blank shot found its mark. Chayton and Mongwau, firing arrows from the backs of their mounts, watched as their arrows found their marks in the already dying creature. Leaping from his mount, Chayton ran to his fallen brother. He knelt beside Otaktay, placing a hand upon his brother’s chest as he listened for the sounds of his heartbeat. His pulse was slow and faint, but his brother lived. “One shot, my brother,” he whispered, “You killed it with one shot. We will celebrate this day when you awaken.”
The night was dark, with only the stars to keep them company in the gathering gloom as they sat around an imaginary fire and whispered to one another.
“We’ve been out four days and nights without a single kill Jadyn,” Eric said dourly.
“Our luck will change tomorrow though. We know the herd’s routine now. They’ll be back tomorrow evening, and we’ll be waiting for them.” Jadyn replied.
“I hope so, Jadyn. I’m getting discouraged. We’ve got to do better. Winter will be on us in no time. Since Jared and the others left, we’re the only real hunters left now. It’s going be a tight winter this year.”
Jadyn winced in the darkness at the mention his older brother’s name, “Adam and Travis go hunting sometimes,” he said, trying to offer some level of comfort to their plight.
“Yeah, but how often do they come back with anything Jadyn?”
“Okay, you’ve got a good point,” Jadyn conceded, “But at least they try. They’re better at making things than hunting things. We all do our parts. Why didn’t you go with Jared when he asked you to Eric?”
“It’s taken you almost a year to ask that question?” Eric laughed.
“I guess it has. I just didn’t want to think about it. Sometimes I can’t believe he’s really gone. I keep expecting him to come home, but like Gramps said, that’s probably just wishful thinking.”
“Your brother’s a hothead, Jadyn. I think he’s just mad at the world, because of what happened to your dad, and maybe what happened to your mom too, who knows. Point is, he’s pissed off at everybody, and everything. I don’t trust somebody like that. When he asked me to go, I didn’t even think twice about it.”
Jadyn grimaced. Eric’s harsh words about his brother were painful. Yes, Jared was angry, but he’d been through a lot. Jadyn loved him, despite the anger.
“But you’re nearly the same age as him, you’ve known each other a long time.”
“Yeah, but I don’t follow along with other people just because they talk louder and longer than everybody else, or because I’m bored and want something different to do. We have our Family to feed, and they ran off without thinking about them, even after Gramps told them not to,” Eric explained. He paused for a moment, as if deep in thought before continuing, “You know, Gramps is a wise old man and those four should’ve listened to him instead of running off on their own. Do you know how old he is Jadyn?”
“I know he’s old, but I’ve never asked how old he is.”
“Some grandkid you are,” Eric taunted, “I counted those marks on the back of the cave one day, one for each year Gramps said. There’s seventy-four marks Jadyn, and he was eleven when they first came to the caves. If the marks are right, Gramps is eighty-five years old.”
“It’s hard to imagine being eighty-five years old. Can you imagine what it’s been like for him? What he’s seen in all those years?” Jadyn said with a hint of wonder, “He was there when it first happened, when the aliens brought the virus and people started changing into Fects.”
“Yeah, I can’t even imagine what it would’ve been like back then. I mean, he’s told us the stories about what it was like to live back then, but can you imagine watching the whole world crumble around you like he did? He’s lived a long time, and when Jared, Richard, Gary, and Nick left, I feel like they disrespected all his knowledge and experience.”
“I’m glad you didn’t go Eric,” Jadyn confided, “I don’t think I could’ve kept everybody fed by myself. In a way, I guess I understand why he wanted to go find guns, you know how Gramp’s talks about how deadly they were for hunting and killing the Fects, back in the old days.”
“Yeah Jadyn, but Jared wanted those guns to get revenge on the Fects, plain and simple. A Fect killed your father and he thinks that killing them will make him feel better.”
“I think it’s more than that Eric. I think he really wanted to make life better for us by bringing those guns back,” Jadyn defended his brother.
“Maybe…I’d like to think so, but he changed after your father died, Jadyn. He was bitter and angry. He’s carried that anger around with him for the past six years, and I think it finally got the best of him.”
Jadyn shrugged uncomfortably in the darkness, wanting to avoid the conversation about his brother, and rubbed his hands together to warm them, “It’s getting cooler at night again. I wish we could light a fire.”
“Me too, Jadyn, and maybe we could invite the Fects who would be drawn to the fire too,” he said with dry sarcasm. “We could all keep warm together,” Eric said as he laughed quietly in the darkness.
“Hey, that’s a great idea,” Jadyn joked, “Maybe we could even strike up a conversation and get to know them. ‘So, Mr. Fect, how do you like to eat your humans? Oh? Raw is it? I’ve never tried them raw, are they tastier that way?’”
Eric made whispered roaring noises and unintelligible grunted responses as Jadyn continued his line of questioning to ‘Mr. Fect.’ They laughed as quietly as they could well into the night before exhaustion crept over them and they collapsed, huddled beside each other for warmth.
Merina gathered her buckets. The wooden slats bound together by ropes of twisted vine rattled as they knocked against one another. She bounced out of the caves into the bright morning sunlight and stretched lithely, reaching into the heavens as if grasping at the warming rays of the late summer Sun. Each captured gleaming ray kissed her face and warmed her soul as she basked in the magnificent beauty of the dawn. Living in the caves was a necessity, but she hated it. She loved the open air and the busy sounds of the forest in the morning, but she loved to feel the warmth of the Sun on her skin most of all. The crisp air still had a slight chill to it, but the cloudless sky promised another hot summer day to come. She hoped the Sun would ripen and sweeten the berries she’d left on the vine from her previous excursion through the prickly berry bushes.
The oaky aroma of the hearth fire carried with it the smell of simmering porridge on the bite of the cool morning air as she inhaled deeply and her stomach rumbled. She fought the urge to delay her departure, but knew she would be snacking on the blackberries and tart red apples soon enough. The sounds of shrill children’s voices arguing caught her attention and she paused, listening to discover, though she already suspected, the cause of their squabble. Each of the four children thought it was their turn to receive the first bowl of porridge being prepared by Tayana and Deanna. They were arguing because the privilege of selecting the best berries came with the first bowl, and she laughed aloud as she remembered the many times she and Jadyn had been among those squabbling children’s arguments over whose turn it was to be first.
Thoughts of Jadyn cascaded into the present. She was concerned for his safety. He and Eric had been away for six days now, and it was unlike them to be gone for that long.
In her heart, she knew he favored Tayana over herself, and she could see why. Tayana was older and shapelier, her long curly locks of jet black hair accentuated her fair skin and soft features with a radiant beauty that left her feeling jealous of the older girl. She often compared herself to Tayana despairingly. She lacked Tayana’s curves and sultry demeanor but made up for it with her athleticism and inner strength—in her opinion. Unfortunately, Jadyn seemed to notice Tayana’s curves, and the way she swayed her hips, more than her own slim, boyish figure. Merina had always imagined Tayana and Jared together, but when Jared left on his great adventure, Tayana turned her attentions to Jared’s younger brother. Merina was well aware that Tayana could have almost any man she wanted. She had a certain way of enticing a man, seeming to enthrall him in some kind of love spell. She shrugged her shoulders and attempted to dismiss her envious feelings as she turned her back on the squabbling children. With her berry picking buckets in hand, she skipped off toward the low rise beyond the caves.
After topping the rise, just out of sight of the caves, Merina slowed to a leisurely stroll and dropped the ‘happy little girl’ demeanor, along with her buckets, at the base of a hollowed and dying tree trunk. Reaching past the flurry of agitated ants scurrying up and down the flaky wood of the dying tree, she withdrew the bow and quiver of arrows she kept hidden within the hollow and slung them over her shoulder. It had been almost a year since she managed to sneak the bow out of the caves and into her special hiding place. It was not the norm for women among their cave dwelling family, much less young girls, to learn how to hunt or shoot.
She’d confided in Tayana a few days after she’d acquired the bow and their conversation came to mind every time she picked it up. “I’m learning to shoot Jadyn’s old bow,” she remembered whispering to her one day as they prepared breakfast.
“You’re what?”
“I got Jadyn’s old bow, and I’m teaching myself to shoot it,” she announced more firmly.
“Why? That’s what we have men for,” Tayana said disdainfully, “That’s their world Merina, not ours. We don’t need to learn to do things like that.”
“Doesn’t it make you feel a little bit helpless Tayana? If something happened to them, we would all die of starvation. I think we SHOULD know how to hunt for our own food, and to protect ourselves.”
“Merina, our job is to cook what they bring in, to take care of the children, to HAVE children, not go out traipsing around in the woods like men,” she huffed, “They have their roles and we have ours. Why do you always have to be so different Merina?”
“Tayana, one day it might be necessary, and I want to be prepared. Promise me you’ll keep my secret?”
“Fine Merina, I’ll promise to keep your secret, but I think it’s silly. You’re still young I guess, one of these days you’ll figure out that all you have to do is get you a good man. A man who’s adventurous, courageous, and strong, and then you take care of him, and he’ll take care of you. It’s that simple.”
“Maybe you’re okay with that Tayana. I’m not.”
Tayana had kept her secret, much to her surprise. Merina still felt, and thought she always would, that a woman should be able to take care of herself. That did not mean she did not want the company of a man, or more particularly Jadyn, but she wanted to be self-sufficient just the same. In her opinion, working together to take care of one another made more sense than defining who did what, as Tayana seemed to think was appropriate.
It had been Jadyn’s bow when he was younger, before his father died, and she felt a special connection to him every time she was able to sneak off for some target practice. She dreamed of being able to go out hunting with Jadyn, just the two of them out on their own special hunting trips. She had thoughts of the two of them working together to bring food back to share with the family. She imagined waiting, in hiding, as he drove the game toward her so she could make the kill. She also imagined what their time around the campfire would be like, sharing stories, cuddling, and touching one another into the depths of the night. Then her mind would drift into the other things they might do with each other into the early hours of the morning. Abruptly she shook her head, it would not do to get caught up in flights of fancy—she had things to do. First, she would make her way out to the grassy meadow where the thorny blackberry and raspberry bushes awaited, and then stop by the small grove of wild apple trees. Once the fruit was gathered, it would be time for some target practice.
Her footfalls made crunchy crackling sounds in the dry leaves as she made her way up and over the next ridge, beyond the meadow, and into the valley beyond, toward her carefully selected practice area. She was careful to note the placement of the green fabric squares tacked to certain tree trunks that marked the hidden snare traps. The traps, strategically placed around the entire perimeter of the territory the Family had claimed as their own, provided an extra level of safety from any Fects that might wander into their home. The traps made use of the tall saplings in the surrounding forest, each taking up to four grown men to bend. Tied down with ropes and nets made of braided vines, a snare trap would send even the largest Fect sailing high into the treetops to hang harmlessly, and helplessly, until it could be dealt with. Sidestepping around the net of the nearest snare trap, she picked her way carefully down the steep embankment and into the small vale where she had setup her make-shift target range.
A large bundle of leaves lashed together near the embankment of the vale had made the perfect target for her arrows, and the embankment served the added purpose of catching her errant shots. Those shots missing the target completely had become fewer, and she was quite proud of that. She counted off thirty paces from her target and turned to face it with a look determination. Pulling an arrow from the quiver, she knocked it to the string and took aim. Her focus narrowed as she tuned out the bubbling sounds of the small brook that wound its way through the vale. Her eyes narrowed and she could feel the light breeze tickle her skin as she aimed. She held her aim long, forcing herself to wait. Her arms began to quiver with the strain of holding the bow bent. Forcing herself to hold it for a second longer, she steadied her aim and let the arrow fly toward her target. In slow motion it seemed, the arrow streaked before her and thudded into the target of dry leaves. She missed her mark at the center—but at least she hit the target. Smiling wide and proud of herself, she pulled another arrow from the quiver.
“You’ll need to do better than that,” a voice called jovially from behind her. She nearly yelped in startled fear—she was supposed to be alone—before the familiarity of the voice caught up to her startled mind.