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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 66: Brown 74
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 65: Slade 70
Summer rolled into winter and back to summer gradually in its continuing cycle. Derek got better at all the spritish things he did, and at his mental powers. He added to his collection of animals a fox, another snake of some sort, a painted turtle, a few kinds of fish, and several more. He once got a glimpse of a bear, but decided it would be better not to mess with it, at least until he was more confident of his abilities. Periodically he would try something new with his mind, and sometimes he succeeded.
He also remembered the training that Lauren had begun long ago, teaching him to work with his knife. He didn't have a knife, and after his mother's reaction to the gun, he was not at all certain he wanted to make one. Instead, he found a suitable stick, and practiced with that, teaching his new body the tricks with which the old one had long struggled. He was growing up, and this time he intended to grow up fit and agile. He wished he had his gun, or even a model of a gun, to practice his targeting; but when he was five, his father started teaching him to shoot an arrow from a bow (nothing at all like Lauren's, and Derek wondered what it would take to design a compound bow of that sort). His targeting was not so good as it had been when he played video games, but he knew he could work on it if he kept practicing. He thought of games he could play–throwing pebbles at a post, catapulting vegetables off his spoon (when mom wasn't looking), firing smooth stones marble-like at each other–and so worked on controlling that critical ability to put a missile where his eye wanted it to be.
His father also took him hunting–not every time he went, but once in a while. Derek's impression was that these weren't Morani's real hunting trips, but were special trips closer to home for Derek to learn the craft. Moving quietly was not particularly a problem for them, as they were able to fly; but staying hidden was certainly part of the challenge, particularly since, as Derek had already recognized, sprites glowed and so were rather easy to spot. For all his years of physics, it surprised him that he hadn't considered an essential problem of sprite hunting: firing an arrow while airborne. The force of the shaft would push the archer backwards. The surest way to keep the shot on target was to alight on a solid object just before shooting. But skilled archers also learned to shoot from the dive, that is, to hold the bow in front of their heads as they flew directly toward the target so that the arrow continued on the same path as the shooter. This gave it considerably greater force, and could be done more quickly and with greater surprise than landing. However, if the flight of the arrow was not in line, the force of the release could leave the sprite struggling to stay aloft for a moment.
Derek took the time with his father quite seriously. For one thing, he realized that these were things he would need to be able to do as a sprite. More than that, though, this was the time in his life when his father began to be more than just the guy who lived with them and brought food home.
Sometime in the fall of the year, Derek heard a familiar but forgotten sound. As it ripped through the forest, he knew what it was: the explosion of gunfire. He and his father were not far from the clearing, and both spun toward the noise.
"Morach," his father said, softly but firmly, "do not ask questions, do not make a sound. You must get into our tree as quickly as possible; I will bring your mother. Go."
Derek didn't hesitate. He knew quite well what a gun could do. Fluttering wildly, he sailed back to the tree. He was inside but a moment when Lelach came in, Morani immediately behind her.
"Be quiet, and stay down," Morani said. In the forest, Derek could hear the irregular blasts of the weapon. What was shooting, and at what?
He had been practicing the skill of seeing behind himself. Could he extend that other eyesight to see something far from him? This was something Lauren did easily enough; he hadn't tried it because there hadn't been an urgent need for it. Now he wanted to know. Extending his vision behind himself first, he carried it beyond the tree into the woods, searching for the source of the sound. He could not hear the sound–or rather, he could hear it fine from where he was, but not from where he wasn't. He needed to hear as well as see. That shouldn't be so difficult. He stretched out his feelings, and soon had the sense almost that his head was somewhere else at the same time that it was here. He could see and hear what was happening in another part of the forest.
He moved this invisible head in response to the sound, searching. He was getting closer to it; at the same time, he had the distinct impression it was getting closer to him. Finally, moving through the trees, it came into view. It was a terrifying sight; Derek almost lost his focus when he saw it. The monster was huge. It had a generally spritish shape and appearance, but its legs were like tree trunks and its arms like great limbs. Derek had climbed boulders smaller than the head on this creature; even one of its eyes was as big as a fist. It trudged through the forest, smashing the undergrowth, breaking branches, trampling a causeway like no beast he knew.
With a shock of recognition, Derek realized that it was a man. A man was shooting at sprites.
Derek swallowed hard. This must be that from which he had been sent to deliver these people. He knew men better than any sprite could guess; he had been one. But could he face such an enemy successfully?
It was time to get information. Focus on the weapon; find out what sort of gun was being used. It seemed to be a sort of small blunderbuss, a muzzle-loaded trumpet-barreled shotgun in an elongated pistol length. The man was firing something like birdshot, or perhaps handfuls of gravel. At short range, this would be a deadly weapon. Yet it was a primitive weapon. Probably it had no rifling, and certainly no effort was made to maintain a tight shot pattern, so it was useless at any significant distance. Reload time was slow, too. Powder from a horn was measured into the barrel, and tamped down, followed by a wad to keep it in place, again tamped down. The shot was packed on top of this, tamped into place but not ever really secure. It appeared to be flintlock in design, so a bit of powder had to be dropped into the flash pan, which had to be closed, before the weapon was ready. When it was aimed and the trigger pulled, there would still be a second, that odd fizzle of the powder in the flash pan igniting, before the explosion drove the collection of debris toward the target. In all, even Derek could have put enough arrows into the man to kill him before he could fire again.
It couldn't be so simple as that. There must be something he wasn't seeing, some reason the sprites didn't fight back. One sprite could kill this man, he thought. There must be other weapons. Cannon and mortar would have come first, but these were weapons for attacking fortifications and massed troops, not sprites scattered in the forest. The matchlock predated the flintlock in the worlds he knew, but the flintlock was the better weapon. One man with one gun didn't tell enough, he decided. That could be the equivalent of a bird gun, a sportsman's weapon or something designed for a particular purpose. He shuddered to think that purpose might be shooting sprites. Perhaps there were better guns, bigger guns, guns with more power. The sprites wouldn't know one gun from another; a gun would be a gun. He would have to try to find out what other guns humans had.
Of course, it was going to be difficult. Up until this moment, he had not known even that there were humans in this world. Finding out what kinds of weapons they had might take some time. Still, he was only five years old. They would probably give him a few more years before they expected him to save them from humanity.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #183: Verser Transitions. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: