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Crack! Another sunflower seed shell falls to the ground. I pop the salty seed in my mouth. There is a loud sigh behind me. I turn around and find Uniconis.
“How can you eat at a time like this?” he asks.
“A time like what?” I ask impatiently.
He’s been acting odd lately. Every time we laugh or take a nap, or eat too much food, he says stuff like, “How can you sleep at a time like this?” or “What could possibly funny at a time like this?”
I’m not sure what he means by “a time like this,” but it’s been getting rather annoying, and I am ready to find out what his deal is.
“None of you understand! How can you not understand?” he asks, exasperated.
By now I am getting frustrated with how he never explains everything. “Not understand what, Uni? You keep acting like the world is about to end or something, then you act like we’re stupid for not understanding when you won’t explain a thing!”
“Iniji, I know you know what’s going on, you’re just too chicken to admit it! Everyone knows,” he says.
Then it hits me. He’s talking about the Fen. No one ever speaks of the Fen, because Uniconis is right. We all know about. It is a truth we try to forget, and many of us have forgotten it. I have mostly forgotten it, but Uniconis refreshes my memory.
“The Fen. It’s coming. Tomorrow is the Eaves of Kreagan,” he says.
I remember everything now. Slowly, I chew another sunflower seed, but it doesn’t taste the same. The salt has turned metallic in my mouth. I stare at the cracked seed on the ground.
Years ago, when our King, Kreagan, ruled this peaceful land, the people were healthy and content. Then the Storgs came. Storgs were greedy, bird-like creatures, who craved power and wealth. They killed King Kreagan on June 5th, a day forever known as Kreagan’s Day, which we now use to honor his life and his fair rule.
The years following Kreagan’s Day were filled with horror. The Storgs worked the people to death to mine gold and produce food to sell to neighboring kingdoms. They sent every bit of food we harvested to other kingdoms in exchange for more gold. Storgs feast on human flesh, so they didn’t need to keep any. Of course, the people secretly kept supplies to stay alive.
The people of Ateka lived like this for 30 years, until the storgs just left- without a trace. There was great celebration on that day, which was the day before Kreagan’s Day, the Eaves of Kreagan. Since then, the Atekans have lived in peace under a new King.
This was all fine and dandy- until a soothsayer foretold that on the 25th anniversary of their departure, the Storgs would return. He called this day the Fen- the end. The people were scared and refused to believe this prophecy, so they threw the soothsayer out, calling him a liar. Through the years, very few have held on to the prophecy, and the few that know of it dismiss it as a foolish old tale. Except for Uniconis. He is convinced that it is true.
This year is the 25th Anniversary of the storgs’ departure.
“Uniconus,” I reason, “That old tale is just a legend. Prophecies don’t exist!”
“So you do know!” he exclaims.
I sigh, “You weren’t real clear about what you meant, Uni. Now I figured out what you meant, and now I’m even more determined you’re crazy.”
“I’m not crazy! They’re coming back! And you better hope you’re prepared for it,” he says, pointing at me accusingly and walking away.
Cracking another sunflower seed, I stare at the horizon. The truth is, he was right when he said I am just too afraid to admit it. There have been several things that seem... off. The idea of the storgs returning isn’t as absurd as I would like to believe. Everyone knows that, but we all refuse to address it. Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s time.
I get up and kick some dirt over the sunflower seed shells on the ground. Leaving the bag on the porch, I get up and walk through the desert sands. It isn’t hard to tell where Uniconis ran off too. He has big feet, so he leaves sizeable footprints. Also, he always seems to be stepping on cacti, so when I see a crushed cactus I know he has been nearby.
When I find him, he is sitting at the cliff, looking over into the blackness below. I sit down next to him quietly and look down with him. His brown hair flaps over his eyes a little in the wind. I am jealous because his hair goes only to his ears, so it does not go in his mouth, even though it is a little shaggy. Mine is plastered against my face, and I have to turn my head so that the wind blows it behind me. He notices me sitting next to him and turns to look at me. His melty brown eyes are filled with concern. He is only 16, but he has that mature look about him that makes him seem far wiser than his years. I am 17 but can’t imagine making some of the decisions he does.
“That’s where they will come from,” he says.
This surprises me. I have not heard anything in the prophecy about where they would come from.
“It’s so close,” I say, looking behind me, where I can just barely see the makeshift house we live in, with it’s rotting boards.
He nods and says, “We will be the first ones to see them. Thats why we have to prepare.”
“Uni, how do you know all that?” I ask.
“It’s in the prophecy,” he says simply, shrugging.
“What all does the prophecy say?” I ask.
He stands up and offers me his hand. I grab it and he pulls me to my feet. We walk for a while along the cliff edge, until we reach a part that isn’t so steep. He lowers himself carefully down to the next ledge, then reaches up to help me down. We make our way carefully down the rocks, and every now and then Uniconus helps me through a rough part. A few times some rocks slip underneath my inexperienced feet, and he grabs my waist to steady me.
When we reach the bottom of the canyon, he follows a white chalk line that is faded by rain. He must have drawn it the first time he came down here so he didn’t get lost. The line leads us to a cave in the rock. He has to duck to fit inside. I can make it in without ducking, but the top of my frizzy brown hair touches the ceiling of the cave.
“How long have you known about this place?” I ask, looking around at the damp rock walls.
“A while,” he answers softly.
I look around nervously. “Is it safe to be down here?”
“Probably not,” he replies.
I sigh in exasperation. Uniconis is so vague sometimes. “Will the storgs come while we are here?”
“No,” he says.
“Are you sure?”
“They aren’t coming until tomorrow. The only danger down here is a cave collapse. And wolves,” he explains.
I look at the walls, and each time there is a dark spot I am afraid it is a crack, but I look closer and realize it isn’t. There is a steady dripping noise echoing through the walls, and it gets louder as we get closer to the end of the tunnel. I am glad there are no turns, because I already feel a little lost, like I’ll never make it out. Maybe I am a bit claustrophobic. Or maybe I am just afraid of creepy, dark caves.
We finally reach the end, and I look back to make sure there’s not a cave in behind us. I find where the drip was coming from. The clear water has gathered in a dip in one of the rocks. I stare into the puddle as another drop falls from the ceiling. My reflection appears on the surface of the water. I have always hated how the shortest layer of my hair curls up at the ends. My blue eyes stare back at me in dissatisfaction, and I fidget with my hair.
Uniconus, taps my shoulder. “Iniji!”
I pull my eyes from the pool. “Yeah?”
“Don’t look in there too long. It’s not a regular pool, as I’m sure you noticed,” he says.
I hadn’t noticed, but now that I think about it I realized that there was no way I could see my reflection in anything in a dark cave like this. Pulling me toward a large square rock, Uniconis says, “This is what I brought you down here for.”
“What is it?” I whisper.
“I like to whisper too!” a voice whispers loudly, but it isn’t Uniconis.
I see a head pop up from behind a rock and scream. The shrill noise echoes through the cave, giving it an eerie sound. Uniconis didn’t scream, but he jumped.
I squint to see the head more clearly. The head has spiky red hair and lots of freckles.
“Zair! You scared us half to death!” I complain, rushing over to pinch him.
Zair is my older brother, who I love to pieces, but is such a pain in the neck sometimes. You’d think he was 10 years younger than me, but he was really a year older, same age as Uniconis.
“Hey Unicorn. What’s up?” he asked, grinning.
Uniconis and my brother didn’t get along. They used to tolerate each other, then one day my brother just out of the blue decided he didn’t like Uniconis. I asked him why one time and he told me it was because he saw something I didn’t, but I didn’t get what he meant by that.
I am always afraid that they will end up in a fist fight when they are together, but even though Uniconis hates being called “Unicorn,” he calmly replies, “Just showing your sister something. What are you doing down here?”
“What, are you doing something secretive down here?” Zair asks.
Uniconis rolls his eyes. “No. I’ve tried to get you to listen too, but Iniji is the only one who believes me, so she’s the only one I am showing this to.”
“Enough with that apocalyptic crap!” my brother shouts, grabbing my hand to lead me away.
I wrench my hand from his and shout at him, “Zair! Uni is right! We should at least prepare for the Fen in case it is true. We can’t just deny the existence of the prophecy and hope that’ll keep it from happening! Not anymore.”
“If you want to trust him instead of your brother, your own flesh and blood, then fine! See if I care!” he yells storming out of the cave.
The way he stomps on the way out, I hope he doesn’t cause a cave-in.
“I’m sorry,” I apologize, “He’s just scared I guess.”
“I can’t believe you guys are related! That- that- Ugh!” he paces back and forth.
I’ve never seen him like this. He is very upset. I know from experience that when he is this angry it is best to give him some space, but I know we don’t have time to give him space. If he is right, the Fen is tomorrow. So I gently touch his shoulder.
“Uni, it’ll be alright. He’ll come around. Now you were about to show me something?” I remind him.
He stops pacing. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Over here.”
We move back to the square rock, and Uniconis pulls out a flashlight.
I gasp, “Where’d you get that?”
“I just snagged it from the town. No biggie,” he says lightly.
“No biggie?! You could have died! Promise me never to go to the town again unless you absolutely have to!” I plead.
“I promise!” he says. “And I did need to. How else was I supposed to read this?”
I sigh. He takes life so lightly sometimes. The town is so dangerous now. Even though the Storgs are gone, there are other dangerous monsters there. They killed many of the Atekans’, but a few of us managed to escape to the desert to live. We didn’t have time to bring along much except for means to hunt and find food and other necessities.
So we live without flashlights, unless someone is brave enough to venture into the town to get one. Few do.
But Uniconis went to the the town, and he got a flashlight, I remind myself. It’s done and over. Why not take advantage of the use of the flashlight?
Sometimes I have to have conversations like these with myself, to keep myself calm.
Uniconis shines the flashlight on the square stone, and reads aloud, “On the 25th Anniversary of the Storgs’ departure, on the Eaves of Kreagan, they will return. From the rocks of this cave, they will emerge from the darkness, ready to strike again- and this time, they will leave no survivors. At midnight, they will rise up from the canyon, bringing destruction to all that lays in their path. They will destroy all evidence of humankind and start a new era, one we will not be part of. An era of Storgs.”
“Do we even have a chance?” I ask in despair.
He nods and reads another part of the rock. “The Storg Era is not inevitable. There can be an alternate fate- one of prosperity and life for the humans, and defeat and death for the Storgs and all other monsters of their kind. Ateka can be won back, returned to its former glory- but only if the Atekans put up a fight. Only if they resist the Storgs instead of succumbing to their fretful rule. This is our only chance to preserve the Atekans and all our history. Our only chance to survive.”
I stand there, breathless. So much to hope for, yet so little hope. I want to believe we have more of a chance of survival than we do, but I know it is pointless. Uniconis and I are the only ones who will even acknowledge that the Fen is coming. How are we supposed to fight the army of Storgs alone?
My lungs fill with air, but they don’t feel it. They burn as if from lack of oxygen, while they have plenty. Just as I burn for hope, but I have none.
“Uni, it still seems hopeless,” I say, staring at the rocks the Storgs will come from.
Uniconis nods in agreement. “That’s why I needed your help. I thought maybe if I wasn’t the only one, more people would believe. We need as many as we can get. To be honest, we need everyone.”
“Everyone? But Uni, you know how stubborn my brother is! He’ll never agree! Even if somehow everyone else did, he won’t,” I say.
“I know, but we have to try. It wouldn’t make sense to give it up completely just because we might not be able to do it. There is that chance, a small chance, granted, but there is a chance that we could convince everyone and defeat them. There’s a chance we could be happy,” he says, his eyes brightening with passion.
“Oh Uni, I hope you’re right,” I say.
“Me too,” he says, pulling me close to him.
I pull away gently and remind him, “Well, we don’t have much time and we have a lot of people to convince.”
He led me out of the cave, and the sunlight came rushing into my eyes, nearly blinding me. As I squinted into the sun, I wondered what it would be like never to see the sun again. To never wake up from the darkness. To die. I won’t let that happen.
When we get back to the house, I sit on the porch and crack a few more sunflower seeds, and I know I can do it. I can convince them all- and if I can’t, I’ll die fighting. I stomp on another sunflower seed shell, crushing it, and I hope that we can crush the odds, that we can crush the Storgs.
St. Louis, Missouri
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