Evalieh stumbled forward, looking for himself. “How?!”
As the evening sunlight twinkled over the rising twilight, spires of rock on the planes divide the rays. Light speckled across patches of tall grass and wheat where the ground rose and fell. Craters and jagged rocks filled other areas for as far as Evalieh could see. In the distance, a wall of trees stood behind the hazy horizon.
“You were asleep in that block of ice for a day and a half. When I came back with food, I couldn’t find you at first. I searched until I found them dragging you away,” Hanali said.
Evalieh grabbed ahold of Hanali’s hand and clenched his stomach. “Food…” Both of their stomachs were growling after having not eaten. With their adrenaline having worn off, Evalieh felt hollow and sick from hunger. He looked around, hoping they’d be surrounded by fruits or nuts. Immediately, Hanali began digging at the ground. Evalieh staggered, feeling wearier as time went on. “What are you doing, Hanali?”
Parched and nearly out of breath, Hanali looked up with wide eyes. “I’m looking for grubs and crickets,” he said.
Evalieh squealed internally and frowned in disgust. “Why? That’s disgusting!”
“That’s what my people used to do—it can’t be that bad, right?”
“We’re not eating bugs—I’ll die before that happens.” Evalieh braced himself against the trunk of a palm and looked out into the open planes. Behind some of the rocks, stood remnants of an old village. Some huts and buildings had fallen in from age where others had been crushed by rocks. Among the tattered cloths fluttering in the wind, a plume of black smoke billowed into the twilight sky. “Look, I think there’s someone over there!” he said.
Without another word, Evalieh wrapped Hanali around his shoulders and staggered onto the planes. As the day’s humidity faded, the winds chill cut through the rocks and wrapped around them. Hanali clung onto Evalieh, shivering at times.
“You don’t have to do this, Evalieh.” Hanali tried to pull away. “Let me find us something to eat. You’ll get lost and get hurt,” he said.
“No, I won’t. Just let me use your compass, I think I can manage.”
Hanali sighed and started to walk for himself, putting a bit of distance between them. He rubbed his arms and pulled at the ornaments around his chest. “I shouldn’t have pushed my body so much—I don’t think I’ll be able to transform for a while,” he said.
“I will get us through this, then.”
Hanali lunged at Evalieh, took him by the neck and yanked him behind a rock. “Pay attention!” He put his finger up and shushed his friend.
They peered around the rock and to Evalieh’s horror, he gasped. Hundreds of darlurchs roamed the planes and climbed the rocks. They came in all shapes and sizes; it was like a nightmare to witness these oozing creatures stalk the night and set the ground ablaze. Some looked as though they were sewn together, an abomination that tore into its own kind like a fearl beast. Atop all these monsters, only the white slits of their eyes could be seen alongside the glittering purple gem on their forehead. They howled and screeched, startling the vegetable creatures hiding in the tall grass. Tomatoes, carrots, radishes, and onions with stubs for feet scurried away.
“Awe man, how are we going to get past them, now?” Evalieh said. He bumped his head against the rock, feeling his body ache with exhaustion and hunger. He was feeling irritable and wanted food now.
Hanali beckoned Evalieh and together they snuck behind the rocks. One after the other, they tried to stay within the shadows of the spires and crawl through the tall weeds. Some of the weeds had little fuzzy plumes among the stalks of wheat. They tickled Evalieh’s nose, making him sniffle. He buried his nose into his shoulder and bit his lip, hoping he wouldn’t sneeze.
The monsters’ growls and hisses echoed around them. Evalieh jerked his head back and forth, expecting to bump into one. Hanali grabbed his hand and led the way, shushing him a little. When they approached the dilapidated houses, there were satchels full of food and meat thrown over posts. Others were gathered around a big bonfire discussing something the Evalieh and Hanali could not hear. Quietly, they crept behind a house and peered around the corner.
A loud snort erupted over their head and claws came tearing across the roof titles. Evalieh gasped and covered his mouth in a rush. He hoped Hanali had a plan because he was too scared to move. A big crow screeched as it perched atop the roof, making the house buckle and shake. The bird lowered its beak and sniffed above their heads. A cold chill crept through Evalieh’s body, and his heart sank. The bird took a big whiff above his antennas and snorted. The great bird stomped along the rooftop, getting closer to the edge where they stood. Evalieh felt a cold chill wash over his body and his feet began to freeze. The bird lowered its beak and snorted before leaping off the house in a powerful gust.
When it was gone, they let out a sigh of relief. Before they could be noticed, they snuck around the corner and reached for the satchel of bread and meat. A shadowy horse raised its head and snorted, startling the shamans around the fire. They yelled at the beast, summoning it to their side before it could see Evalieh and Hanali. Quickly and quietly, they grabbed a handful of bread and a leg of meat. Together, they hurried into the weeds in search of shelter, far enough away.
With Hanali leading the way, Evalieh nibbled on the bread. It was dry, crusty, and felt as if it’d cut his mouth. However, in the moment, it was the tastiest bread he’d ever eaten. There was no way he was going to eat bugs. “Why would the shamans need this food?” he said. His mouth was full and muffled.
Hanali chuckled and snatched a piece a bread from him. “They gotta eat too.” He gnawed on the piece, making hard crunching noises. “Not all the shamans become darlurchs. Some of them use their flame’s power in other ways.”
Evalieh thought it over as he followed behind. He wondered what could compel some of the members to give up their form and sanity to become a darlurch. He assumed there had to be more than a misunderstanding for people to be convinced to join the shaman’s cause. There must be a reason the shamans are fighting against the island so much. It couldn’t all be a vain act. Evalieh began to think back and feel guilty towards his homeland. Knowing that the ADAM corporation strove to rescue humanity from the dying earth made him question if their sacrifices were worth it. Maybe it’s not as bad as he thinks, after all what are a few rules in exchange for prosperity.
After what felt like an eternity, their feet ached, and their bodies were beyond exhaustion. Evalieh kept bumping into Hanali, slinging his head around and closing his eyes. “I can’t keep up. I need to stop and rest,” Evalieh said.
“Just a little bit further. We’ve got to find somewhere to hide,” Hanali said.
Evalieh looked around, the shamans and the darlurchs had faded behind the spires of rock. A few steps forward, he bumped into Hanali, knocking them both into a crater. They tumbled and rolled into the opening, dropping what little food they had left.
“There goes the food,” Evalieh said.
Hanali came to his sense, scooped up the food, and pulled Evalieh into a hole he found in the rocks. The giant crow beast from before squawked across the sky, hissing at others flying creatures. Hanali tugged Evalieh deeper into the damp tight hole. He plucked the pendant around his necklace and blew on the flame inside. The light flickered brighter and gave off a little dim glow. He used it to make sure they were safe inside the hole. “If we don’t draw any attention to ourselves, we should be fine for the night,” he said. Then, he reached Evalieh a lump of bread and a leg of meat.
Evalieh snarled and held his hands up. “I’m not eating that, it’s dirty.”
Hanali tried to dust the bread clean with his hand. Reluctantly, Evalieh took it and held it at the edge of his quivering lips. He pried his mouth open, feeling as if it were the hardest thing he’s ever done. His teeth bit down on the bread, and he peeled a sliver away, grinding it between his teeth as if it were sand. Gasping, he figured he’d rather not do that again and swallowed the whole lump as fast as he could.
Hanali laughed and nudged his friend. He pulled out his pendant once again and tried to sear the meat. The flame barely flickered underneath the brown and red meat. Little embers and puffs of smoke filled their hole, nearly choking them. Hanali said, “I guess we can’t eat this then…”
“And you were going to eat bugs? Maybe you do have some sense.”
Hanali slid the leg of meat off to the side. “Better keep it hidden, we don’t want them catching a whiff of that.”
Evalieh rolled over onto his back and looked up at the rocky ceiling. He wrapped his arms around him to keep warm. “I never expected we’d be hiding in a hole. Why are there so many shaman members out here?” he asked.
Hanali rolled over and looked outside. “I don’t know. They’ve been growing more aggressive in recent years, adding more to their ranks, and being more direct in their attacks. They want us to join them and follow their ways—so, I guess they’ll stop at nothing to make sure it happens.” He wiggled out of the hole to peek out and see what was happening. He hurried back inside and rolled over, holding his flame. “We’re in their territory—more or less. This used to be Sun Clan territory where we grew crops for the island. After their stunt one hundred years ago, this place has never been the same or so I’ve always heard,” he said.
Evalieh stared at the rocky ceiling and traced his finger along its ridges. He wondered if they’d be safe throughout the night and if their journey ahead would be just as rough. Thoughts of his hard cold bed back home filled his head. He wished he could roll over and bundle up in his paper blanket. With Hanali staring back at him under the glow of his flame, it made Evalieh feel at home. He remembered the neighbors’ watchful eyes prying into each other’s houses and that memory put him at ease, knowing he’s got someone there with him. After some time, they both fell asleep.
The next morning, Hanali knocked on the rock. “Evalieh, let’s go. The shamans are gone.”