Lost Colony Ch. 11-1

Author’s note:

This is chapter eleven of my series Lost Colony. Most readers should start with chapter one, but if you want to scroll down to the steamy parts, be my guest!

This is a work of (science) fiction. All characters are over the age eighteen. Thanks for reading!

FYI, I wrote a spoiler-filled summary for chapters 1-8, so if you want to jump in but don’t think you’ll go back and read the first eight chapters, that is an option. As the author, I hope you’ll want to read the entire series!

———————-

Power levels: four percent

Sparr tightened his grip on the air car control stick nervously, his eyes darting between the display and the approaching shore. Frigid air swirled around him, but he felt nothing but dread.

Power levels: three percent

It had been his desire to avoid the cold that had spurred him to make one more open-water crossing that day. The frosty, wind-swept shore he had departed from not half an hour earlier had promised to be a miserable place to make camp. The far shore was just in sight, and Sparr had been lulled into confidence by the impressive range of the air car. He would make the crossing before dark, and almost certainly find a more sheltered spot. Not five minutes into the crossing, however, headwinds had picked up, and the power levels began to drop sharply. It was a coin toss whether he would reach the far shore, or drop into the icy waters.

Power levels: two percent. Landing advisable

In the late afternoon light, the distance to the approaching shore was impossible to judge. The sky was a uniform grey, only slightly dimmer than the ice he hoped to reach. Was it five minutes away, or ten? Gradually Sparr bled off altitude, dropping to within two hundred meters of the water, then one hundred. The sea beneath was a cruel grey, with only a few whitecaps to mark its surface.

Power levels: one percent

He wasn’t going to make it. Even Sparr’s most optimistic estimate of how far one percent of power would take him wasn’t going to be enough. He and Bogg would plunge into the water at least half a kilometer short. He shivered, already bracing himself for an impossible swim.

There! To his right, and much closer than the shore, a spit of land reached into the sea. Sparr yanked frantically at the stick, sending the air car into a sharp turn. The wind favored him, pushing at the car as he veered toward the desolate target. A spray of shorebirds burst around the car, confusing his approach. But when they cleared, he had it in view, a patch of stone no wider than one hundred meters, and barely above water level. It looked heavenly.

Power levels: critical

Banking left, Sparr guided the air car up the spit. He had no idea how strong the tides were, whether they were high or low. Avoiding drowning only to have the car swallowed by the sea would be a hollow victory. Another meter in elevation might make the difference.

He didn’t get far. Its power failing, the car stalled and switched into an emergency descent. Gently, it settled onto the gravel with a sad, hollow crunch. After a moment, the displaced shorebirds returned, screeching at Sparr before resuming their hunt for dinner. Sparr pried his fingers from the stick.

“Honey, I’m home!”

***

After a nervous night periodically checking the tides, Sparr confirmed the car would be safe. The spit, however, would have to remain their home for at least two days. The next morning, the skies grew cloudy, limiting the ability of the car’s solar panels to recharge it. He and Bogg explored up the spit to the far shore, Sparr looking for a place to make a more sheltered camp, while Bogg dug unsuccessfully at the stones for shellfish. Later, he flew the partially-recharged car to the base of an overhang which would allow modest protection from the not-infrequent snow flurries.

They weren’t the only ones occupying the peninsula. Sparr found signs of a cookfire not too far from where he left the car, and a recently-trodden path led from the overhang inland. He was torn between following the path, or laying low until the air car had recharged then resuming his journey. The latter seemed the safer course, but after several days of camping on the ice, he and Bogg had already eaten through a good portion of their supplies. If he could find a village open to trade, he could continue his journey with greater confidence. Plus, Sparr was tired of dried meat and beans.

The going wasn’t easy. Sparr’s boots were warm enough, but gripped the ice poorly, making the steeper parts of the trail a test of balance. In some sections, it was easier simply to crawl, a movement which led Bogg to give him curious looks. It took several minutes to reach level ground.

The plateau was windswept, but not as barren as Sparr had expected. Stubby grasses flourished in pockets, while the sides of rocks were clumped with lichen and fungus. Bogg scratched and sniffed at clusters of small white berries, but didn’t seem to find them palatable. Periodically, Sparr caught the distant yips of what must be small mammals. There were even a few stunted trees. The place was alive.

After no more than fifteen minutes, Sparr halted in his tracks. Against the side of a boulder, several snares had been set with wire and scraps of wood. Someone, knowing that small animals might shelter here, had set traps. Their work, however, had been destroyed. Clumps of fur and blood revealed that someone or something had ripped the prey out. A closer inspection turned up a few chunks of shattered bone and more fur. Whatever had destroyed the snares had enjoyed a feast on the spot. It hadn’t been human.

Bogg sniffed at the soil, then turned to Sparr, whimpering. Neither of them was comfortable with the discovery. He turned back, leading Bogg away from the gruesome scene. He could always come back the next day if the car was still charging. The pair made it maybe five minutes before Bogg once again showed signs of agitation. To their left, no more than one hundred meters away, a massive, shaggy creature was stalking them. With brown and white-streaked fur, a tapered muzzle, and powerful forequarters, it had much in common with an Earth polar bear. Except, Sparr remembered, polar bears were long extinct. This creature was quite alive.

Trying not to show fear, Sparr lengthened his stride. There were two of them, and the bear had recently eaten. With luck, it would look elsewhere for its next meal. Bogg cooperated, loping nervously away with uncharacteristic energy. At this speed, they could reach the edge of the plateau in less than ten minutes.

But whatever luck the pair had must have been used up in the previous day’s emergency landing. The bear roared and charged, his head held just above the ground, sweeping left and right. Sparr sprinted all out but the bear was too fast, quickly closing the distance. He would have to fight. He clutched at his waist, finding and drawing the light pistol. Before the bear caught them he turned, dropped to one knee, and fired.

The shot struck the bear’s hindquarters, dropping the creature as a spray of blood and fur splattered against the tundra. Sparr thought that he had stopped it, but after falling, the creature righted itself, let out an enraged roar, and staggered forward.

“Son of a bitch,” Sparr muttered. He went to chamber another round but the clip was empty. “Go!” he shrieked at Bogg. Once again the pair took to flight.

Injured, the bear wasn’t quite as fast as it had been previously. Sparr and Bogg opened up a gap and held it until they reached the trail that led down to the overhang and the waiting air car. Bogg shambled ahead, easily navigating the icy trail, but once again Sparr struggled. He kept his footing only until the first turn, after which he fell. He slid and rolled the last ten meters, falling to the bottom with a painful thud. His pack went flying.

“Unh,” Sparr groaned, trying to catch his breath. He crawled toward the pack, a dozen bruises already making themselves known. Once he reached it, Sparr pawed at the opening to the pack, desperate for the spare clip. A spray of rocks and gravel skittered down the hillside. The injured bear peered over the edge of the slope, its gaze shifting between Sparr and Bogg. It must have decided that Sparr was more promising prey, scrambling down the hill toward him.

“Fuck,” Sparr muttered, digging to locate the spare clip. At last, he found it, yanked out the empty clip, replaced it, and chambered a round. He had just enough time to level the pistol and take another shot, this time striking the bear in its shoulder. The creature collapsed with a morose groan, not ten meters away.

Adrenaline still shooting through him, Sparr closed the pack and assessed his injuries. His knees and hands were scraped, one ankle twisted, and his shoulder was bruised. Before it could swell he tied his ankle, then went to the air car to retrieve his saber.

The bear lay on its side, breathing heavily, eyes just slits. A glistening sheen of blood wet the rocks near the animal’s shoulder, while another spread from its hindquarters. It barely moved when Sparr raised his sword for the mercy kill.

‘I’m sorry,” Sparr said, choking back the frustration of another pointless, violent encounter. For a full minute he stood above the inert form of the massive creature. Around him, startled shorebirds resumed their hunt while the small, white moon nicknamed Feta hung in the late afternoon sky.

“You have claimed your kill.”

Startled, Sparr turned to see a small band of hunters spread out on the gravel. A woman of middle years attired in a magnificent fur cloak stood at the front, carelessly holding a wickedly barbed spear. She was compact, standing well under six feet, but her bearing gave every indication of confidence. It was she who had addressed him, while six female hunters stood silent and wary.

“Yes,” Sparr said carefully, trying to read the situation. “The creature pursued me.”

“You gave it those wounds with only your sword?”

“No,” Sparr admitted, but offered no further explanation.

“Mmm.” Her eyes turned to Bogg, then back to Sparr. “You’re injured.”

“No, I just-” Sparr began, then noticed dampness at his temple. In addition to his other scrapes, he must have taken a cut to his head during the tumble. “It’s fine.”

The woman nodded, her eyes now taking in the sight of the slain bear. “It is an impressive kill,” she said, “and will feed you well.” Behind her the hunters shifted restlessly, their eyes alternating between Sparr, Bogg, and their leader.

Sparr had hardly thought about eating the bear. Only a few minutes prior he had been fighting to stay alive. The moment seemed to hold both peril and opportunity.

“He destroyed your snares,” Sparr guessed.

The woman nodded. “Yes, and not for the first time. We thought to catch him, but the kill is yours.” Like the cook Silla that Sparr had met in Vonde half a lifetime ago, she had Asian features. The hunters, too, were clearly of Asiatic ancestry, with pronounced epicanthic folds, high cheekbones, and full lips.

“Please,” Sparr said, grasping the opportunity. “I fought only to save myself, not take your kill. The creature is more than I can manage. We should share the kill.”

The mood of the other hunters changed at once. They pressed forward, eyeing the bear, and looking to their leader for approval. Several who had been tightly gripping their spears visibly relaxed.

The woman relaxed as well, allowing the hint of a smile. “Your generosity humbles us. Yes,” she said, her eyes now turning to take in her hunting party, “we will share the bounty as we share in the burden.” She turned back to Sparr. “I’m Miah.”

“I’m Alain.”

“You’re injured Alain, and this shore is not well suited for butchering. Will you come to our camp?”

It had been a week since he shared the company of anyone apart from Bogg. “Show me the way.”

With a gesture from Miah, the hunting party got to work. Two hunters trotted farther down the beach to fetch a litter. Grunting with exertion, Sparr helped them roll the bear onto the litter and joined in the effort to drag it along the gravel. Miah walked before them, either as a lookout, or simply reinforcing her position as leader. Bogg followed happily behind.

At dusk, they reached a camp partially sheltered by a row of boulders. Here, two female sentries stood guard, eyeing Sparr skeptically, but were otherwise indifferent. Within, small groups of men worked at cooking, gathering wood, or looking after a cluster of children. For all its faults, Kaybe didn’t suffer from male dominance. He wondered where his status as a guest left him.

The men rushed forward, lifting the bear from the litter, and sharing a few quick words with Miah. Afterward, one of them, little more than a youth, tended to the cut on Sparr’s head.

“Thank you,” Sparr said, but the youth darted away nervously without saying a word. For the next half hour he was largely ignored, left to watch as the camp got to work on the bear.

Miah made the first cut, carefully peeling back the fur around the bear’s skull, then a second cut along the belly from the neck to the tail. After that another warrior, with equal care, cut along the inside of the animal’s legs. More hunters stepped forward to gut the beast, scrape away the pelt, and, with startling efficiency, began to butcher it.

“You were kind to share your kill with us.” Miah had joined him, leaning against the edge of a boulder, peering down as Sparr sat. “And without asking anything in return.” Like the others, her face was red with windburn, the cost of a life spent in the open. She had been attractive once, but age and worry had caught her.

“I don’t know your ways,” Sparr said. “I lack the means to butcher the beast. Bogg and I would have at most enjoyed one or two meals before the flesh went bad. I’m happy to share.”

“It’s rare to encounter a solo traveler here.”

“Well, it isn’t necessarily where I planned to be, and I’m not exactly alone, either.”

“No,” Miah agreed, her eyes turning to Bogg. The creature was lurking at the edge of camp, catching the scraps thrown his way by those butchering the bear.

Sparr noticed several racks of meat already being smoked over slow fires. “You’ve had a good hunt. Will all of this go to feeding your clan?”

Miah allowed herself a smile, clearly pleased with the bounty. “Much,” she said. “The rest we’ll trade to the Precipice.”

The comment drew Sparr’s attention, along with his curiosity. “The Portal is quite a ways from here though, right?”

“The Portal? Yes, but there is an outpost less than a week’s travel.”

Sparr let the new information settle in. From what he had heard, the Portal probably wasn’t huge, but would still need supplies, especially food. It made sense that they would trade with other inhabitants of the southern continent.

Around them, the camp settled into evening. The fire was stoked, and soon the first cuts of bear flesh were being turned on spits, their rich scent filling the air and stoking Sparr’s hunger. The hunting party ate first, seizing skewers and tearing off pieces with their knives. Miah left to join them, and a youth brought them skins of what must be spirits.

A curious, but hardly surprising, hierarchy became evident. Those in the hunting party not only ate first but also sat closest to the fire in a semicircle. Next were the few older women, alongside the sentries and adolescent females. Finally, the men occupied the outer circle, farthest from the fire, and last in line for both food and drink. Sparr occupied an awkward niche. Miah placed him in a spot just farther back than the hunting party, but ahead of the rest of the clan’s women. It was, he assumed, an appropriate location for a guest.

The evening turned increasingly raucous. More skins of spirits were brought out, and two of the men began playing a tune on flute and drums. There were boasts of the hunt. Sparr came to understand that the clan made a sprawling circuit, chasing game for weeks at a time, rarely staying at one campsite for more than two nights. If the hunt had been successful, they would arrive at the Precipice outpost loaded with pelts and smoked meat.

“I have taken two elk this cycle!” one hunter reminded her sisters. She looked to be around age thirty, experienced, but still carrying the swiftness of youth. When the skin came her way she took a heavy gulp, then grinned proudly, a few drops of spirit running down her chin.

“You know I have taken three!” Another hunter lunged half across the circle, snatching the skin. She looked to be two or three years younger, and more muscled than the others. She emptied the skin then rocked back, daring anyone to challenge her.

The first hunter fumed for a moment before lashing out. “The stranger brought us more meat than you in a single kill!”

The camp grew suddenly quiet. The other hunters exchanged nervous glances while somewhere behind Sparr several of the men suddenly remembered they had other duties, and fled the circle. The muscled hunter glared at her antagonist, locking eyes. Sparr thought they might brawl, but suddenly the second hunter turned to Sparr.

“That wasn’t his kill,” she said.

If the circle had already been quiet, it now grew deathly silent. Eyes now looked at Sparr, gauging his reaction. If he read the situation correctly, he had just been grievously insulted, but had no desire to flame discord.

“I’m happy to share,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who made the kill. We all benefit.” He looked about hopefully.

No one seemed satisfied with his words. Hunters and clanfolk alike either shook their heads or looked away in discomfort. Someone behind him kicked Sparr in the back, one of the adolescent females.

“You will acknowledge her!”

Sparr was tired. He had spent a restless night on the shore, scrambled across unfamiliar terrain, fought the bear, and helped load and drag it to the hunters’ camp. He was bruised, cut, and sore. Better judgement was in short supply.

“Yes,” he said, raising his head to meet the hunter’s eyes. “Yes, it was my kill. The beast whose flesh feeds us all tonight, I brought down. No other.”

“He lies!” the hunter shrieked. She surged to her feet, hand clutching at her spear. “He came upon the bear already dead. No man is that skilled with a blade. I call a challenge!”

A murmur rose through the circle. By now most of the men had already fled, and even some of the women. Sparr sought out Miah, but she only met his gaze coolly. “To blood, then,” she called out.

Another circle was formed, this one safely away from the fire. Muttering a curse, Sparr drew his saber and strode forward as the circle closed around him. His opponent grinned, hefting her barbed spear. She was the tallest of the hunting party, even if considerably shorter than Sparr. She threw off her outer furs, revealing thickly muscled shoulders and arms.

“What’s your name?” Sparr asked, settling into the realization that once again he was forced into combat. He dropped into a defensive crouch.

“That is an impertinent question for a man,” she said. The hunter twirled her spear lazily in her hand before flicking it forward in a half-hearted feint.

Sparr didn’t bite. “Well I’m Alain,” he said, raising his saber. “And despite your insults, I’m quite skilled with a blade.”

“I’m Lachi,” the hunter sneered. She turned to her supporters in the crowd as if she would address them, before suddenly flinging herself forward.

Flailing his saber in a block, Sparr barely dodged the spear thrust. He stumbled to one side before again blocking an attack. The hunter wielded her spear effortlessly, and with skill.

“Skilled?” she chuckled. “More like a child, I’d say. A boy child. Why don’t you just let me cut you and end this?”

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