The beast trampled everything in its path — stone, wood, and flesh. Fear drove it onward, east towards its lair. Running into the barricades the KOE had set up to steer it away from Sjinitov Reservoir, the beast wheeled back to fight, afraid that the blockade may be impenetrable. Bleeding from every limb, it roared in rage, responding to the shooting affray. Bellowing at the threat it faced, it crushed an armoured tank, then two, with but a few kicks from its forelimbs, as if the machines were just a vexatious swarm of pests. A slash from its tail brought down a chopper. There was nothing that could endure its rampage.
The beast charged towards the village, wreaking havoc in its wake. Look at them now, thought Zov’ha.The preparations had been made — they were ready, yet they scramble now, holding on to not just their lives but their possessions as well. Even as they scurry underground, ushered by my guild, to a bunker specially constructed for this plight, many of them are caught in the chaos. I see the wounded… the dead… the fire… I have seen this before. I can hear their voices now… friends crying out from beyond the grave. I can feel their pain… their sorrow. There used to be hope but now fear reigns, and I’m afraid there is more yet to come…
As caring as ever, Sinovan tends to the wounded — he’s always jumping through fire to save others. Such innocence in his eyes when he looks at me, smiling, contended to know that I am still alive, ready to protect those in need — ready to fight. He sees hope even where there is none.
Segran turns his mind and might to those in grave danger. As strong as a full grown bull, he holds the metal door of a collapsed tank, as if it were a light shield, escorting the villagers through the labyrinth of debris, away from the deranged beast. He is injured, yet he carries on — his face and hands bloodied through resolve. What more can you ask of such heroes? Would we need such bravery if everyone learnt to fend for themselves?
Efiros, my elken bear friend, hardened by the wilderness, he is not afraid to face the beast. Cautious, yet prepared to fight, he charges towards the gigantic beast. The gloomhog cowers timidly, as a human would against a cockroach. It probably knows of his kind. It must have been hunted by adult elken bears in the mountains. It fears the bite. It fears the antlers that have not yet grown. Perhaps it fears engaging with a cub, thinking the mother may appear to protect it. But the fear has led to anger, and the beast screeches in return.
And now the world looks towards me. But why should we always be the only ones to stand our ground? There may be others, yet I do not perceive them with my eyes or my mind. Is it not the purpose of all to protect each other and build and grow together. Then why is such a colossal responsibility taken up only by some? All look up to a handful of us who have the power to stomp the malevolence wrought in this world. Why do we stand alone? Do these people not know that they too can take a stand and make a difference? Has the protection promised to them by those who govern them made them weak? Look how they run. They do not stand a chance to face the terrors of this world. Weak, drowning in angst, they fear everything around them.
The beast turned around once again and hightailed towards an opening in the barricades, pursued by the entire force of the KOE, only to reach a deadend — the high walls of the reservoir. At last we have the showmanship of the weak — squadrons of soldiers, made strong by the weapons and vehicles. Without these, they are nothing. Bombarding the cornered beast with every shell in their artillery, they seek to bring it down. But do they not know they are backing their quarry into the walls of the reservoir? Fools! Such weight will crash upon the loosely constructed structure, and that will spell the end of this village! The beast has to die…. now… where it stands!
Artillery fire from a nearby tank startled Zov’ha, who was driving at full speed chasing the gloomhog and trying to keep up with the KOE squadrons. The beast had turned away from the tall metal barricades set up west of the village, and was now backed up against walls of the hydroelectric dam that cradled Sjinitov Reservoir. Zov’ha eyed the inclined open spillway to her right heading straight up to the forebay. It was some distance away but it would take her directly above the beast's head.
‘I can see what you're plannin’,’ Marana talked into the mouthpiece set in her helmet. She was seated comfortably, but since she did not trust any vehicle at such high speeds, she clung to Zov’ha tightly. ‘You'll crash the bike, if you…’
‘We have no choice!’ Came Zov’ha's static reply. ‘We can’t let the beast back up into the reservoir!’
‘You do. Let me ride. I’ll bring us down easy.’ Marana’s voice was shaky, but she was confident of pulling it off. ‘What’s your plan? Stab it in the eye?’
‘That’s… better than what I had in mind. I’ll hop off on the head.’
‘What? You crazy, girl? How you gonna get off that giant ass beast?’ Marana protested.
‘I’ll figure it out. I’ll meet you on the ground, I promise.’ Zov’ha cocked her head to eye Marana in the side mirror. ‘We can’t let the village flood.’
‘Alright,’ Marana hesitantly said, taking a deep breath. ‘Let’s switch. I'll go under.’
Zov’ha flipped on the bike’s autodrive switch and let go of the handle. Slowly she stood up, balancing herself on the leg rest of the racing vehicle. Marana handed over the lance she was holding and bent down, pushing herself forwards until she could feel the hot rubber handles of the bike. Taking control of the bike, she pulled herself forward to a more comfortable position, from where she could clearly see the spillway ahead. Zov’ha, standing over her, was ready — balancing herself perfectly on the speeding vehicle. ‘Are you comfortable down there?’
‘Love the thrill, don’ya?’ Marana steered the vehicle, accelerating now to gain maximum momentum. She swerved left to head directly up the spillway. Turning left again, they were now speeding across the top of the dam wall towards the battle with the beast. ‘Good luck, love!’
It was a perfect execution — Marana drove the bike off the corner directly over the beast. Zov’ha flipped backwards onto the gloomhog’s head, then raced towards the front of the beast’s face, and drove the lance into the creature’s large left eye. There was no time to pull the lance out again — the beast threw back its head roaring in pain. Zov’ha slid down the enormous furry face, frantically grabbing onto the fur, trying to brace herself against the fatal fall. She ended up swinging in mid-air near the beast’s jaw.
Turning off the engine to keep the vehicle from nose diving, Marana balanced the bike through the fall and turned the ignition on again just before touchdown. She sped away safely looking up as the beast shook its head in pain. Zov’ha, she dreaded, would not escape the fall. There was nothing anyone could do to save her. Is this it? Is this how I would lose a good friend? Why didn’t I trust her? Of course she’s a good person! Bad people don’t sacrifice themselves to save others!
There was a blast as the gloomhog’s skull exploded in a big cloud of fire, dust, and parts of the beast — the dark crystals had done their work. The KOE vehicles closest to the gloomhog were caught in the blast, but the remaining began backing away. Everything around them for a mile would be within the range of the falling debris. The gigantic body of the adult gloomhog cast a great shadow upon the land as it began to crumble. But I have to save Zov’ha! Marana looked around for Sinovan or Segran. Nowhere to be seen, she realised that they would be busy at the bunker. She spotted Efiros; he was running frantically towards her away from the dam.
‘Efiros! Get back to the village!’ She screamed through the thunderous crashing of debris and the aftermath of the explosion. ‘Come on!’ She instinctively swerved the bike around to race out of range — at least one life would be saved — the bear cub meant a lot to Zovhara. Efiros raced alongside the bike as she guided him towards the bunker, safely away from the crumbling carcass of the giant beast.
What is this? Vapour? Strings of vapour — like drops of water on a spiderweb! But they are dark, almost black… globular… or crystal-like… no, both. I see it emerging from my gloves… and my face… all over my body they are there. I can feel it flowing through my blood, out through the pores on my skin. Frost Ash? No, it feels less dense. Like… water. I see it now… the reservoir. I can taste the sweetness of its water. I can feel the cool, gentle air above its surface. I can hear the soft splashes of the waves caused by the breeze. Lines… There are lines in the sand at the bottom of the lake… and tadpoles. Look… frogspawn and colourful fish… freshwater fish that Efiros loves… and the moss-covered floor… Gaia you are beautiful.
And now I feel the weight of water in the reservoir weighing down on me. I can choose… I can choose to not feel it. It is my wish. I cannot hold such weight, but I can choose to swim at the deepest and darkest places — and the water will not crush me. I cannot turn into a fish, but I can swim beside them. I can feel the warm beginnings of life within the frogspawn as I rest myself upon the rocks. Every drop upon the strings that extend from me to the lake can feel everything that I feel — for I am the drops.
It is warm now… and getting hotter. Ah yes, the crystals have burst and the beast falls… It is liberating. Fire, but liberating. I cannot choose to evade it. It fills my lungs with poison. I will soon choke and die. I cannot choose to live. I will die a hero… but I wish it were not so.
But I can choose to protect myself… with what? I see it now… through the fire and the black smoke… the reservoir. I can taste the sweetness of its water. I can feel the hot, burning air above its surface. I can hear the loud gurgles of the waves caused by the explosion. The fish now dive deeper to safer depths… Ah, the strings attached to me are taught. I know what I have to do. I can taste the water now. All I have to do is… drink.
Now, I am earth. Now, I am water.
Anyone who dared to look up at the grand explosion in the sky, and there were very few, saw Zov’ha’s body fall. Like a rag doll it spun out of control, heading straight towards the hard, cemented walls of the dam, disappearing into the rising dust. Marana dismissed her shock, shaking her head and grunting, forcing herself to be brave. Thinking about how she would avoid the collapsing carcass of the gigantic beast, she drove back towards the dam. I surely will not survive this. But I have to try!
From the corner of her eye she saw the elken bear cub turn back toward the falling debris — he had seen Zov’ha too. He was running back to find her. ‘Efiros, no!’ She raced towards the bear who was skillfully avoiding all the falling debris. A large object, what looked like a colossal femur bone, that had fallen down was rolling dangerously towards them. ‘Efiros, get back!’ She swerved to a stop but the dust that issued from the falling object obscured her vision.
The big bear cub could not stop in time to avoid the rolling bone and was thrown back. Petrified, she saw the limp body of the bear hurl across the field, but just as he was about to hit the ground, a great gush of water came in like a wave out of nowhere and cradled him. Marana’s vision was obscured once more, but this time by a swirling mist, and she lost sight of the bear. Alighting from the vehicle, she cried out to Efiros several times, but she could hear nothing… only the distant rumble near the dam and the howling of a strong gale.
Several minutes passed before most of the carcass had crumbled, sending plumes of dirt into the sky, blanketing the air and blocking the sunlight. Soon it became relatively quiet, but Marana dared not move. A short time ago they had been exploring a quiet valley by the waterfall blowing up a gloomhog’s carcass. Then it all happened too fast — the race to Pilopia on the hoverbike, the wall-jump, the landing, running away with Efiros — her mind reeled from the memory of it all. Her hands were quivering, whether out of fear or because of weariness from everything that had happened, she was not sure. Feeling nauseated and weak in the legs, she took small steps towards the swirling mist. It began clearing up as she approached it, and she perceived two shadows within — Efiros, lying on his side… and a woman sitting beside him, hands and head sprawled over the bear’s furry body.
‘Zovhara?’ she whispered, breathing heavily, picking up her pace. ‘Zovhara!’ She called out again a little louder, and then one more time she called her name screeching with joy. Hearing her name, or atleast what she thought was her name, Zov’ha looked up and smiled. Her yellow poncho had been ripped to shreds and her helmet lay beside her, crushed, as if it had been run over by a tank. Her bodysuit was ripped from the left and torn in several places. Her ash blonde hair was dishevelled, and the fur on her face was unkempt. Marana noticed inky dark veins on her exposed arm, which quickly dissipated. Dismissing it as a concoction of her tired mind, she strode faster now until she was almost running. ‘What the hell, girl?’ She threw herself at Zov’ha who caught her in an embrace. ‘How’d you survive that fall!’ Not being able to contain her happiness she laughed, holding her sides as she began to feel a sharp pain from inhaling too much dust.
‘I cannot explain it, Marana,’ Zov’ha whispered, sounding relieved and elated at the same time. ‘I don’t know what happened to me. I felt like… I was swimming and… drowning at the same time. What did it look like to you?’
‘You… spinning through air… I thought you… gone. And then Efiros… thrown away… then some waves and mist.’ Marana huffed and chuckled. ‘I don’t care right now. I’m just happy you’re alive.’
‘We make a good team,’ Zov’ha smiled. Marana did not reply. She was content locked in embrace, to have a friend, to be with someone who she felt was a missing part of her. But at the same time she didn’t know anything about her. Marana suddenly remembered the encounter earlier when she called her ‘Zov.’ The snarl, the fire in her eyes. And now this… how did she survive? Who was this woman? Why was she here?