Mark of the Monsters

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2

Let me show you what you’re missing ;)


Silence rolled across the land. Life stilled, and the ominous shift in the air became almost palpable that Amane’s grip on her brother made the little boy wince.

“Monsters?”

Amane’s gaze drifted to the chief when she detected a thread of amusement in his voice. She noticed others watching him too, eyes darting between the chief and the stranger.

The stranger clutched at the cloak, as if it was a strong barrier that would save him from his nightmare. He nodded frantically, and even from the distance between them, Amane heard his quivering breaths.

“Mo-monsters.” He swallowed, breaths becoming louder. “Th-they are bigger than a bear! They’re coming!”

Hushed murmurs drifted around her, and Amane caught faint hints of what was being said.

“You say they are bigger than a bear...” the chief mused, stroking his greying beard. “Are you certain it is not a bear you saw?”

Snickers sounded behind her, murmurs of agreement echoing their amusement.

Amane sensed someone move behind her, and when she cast a look over her shoulder, she raised her eyes higher to find Farris standing close, his gaze sharp on the quivering stranger.

“I-I swear!” he panted, and when she looked back, his wide eyes were glistening. “They c-came out of nowhere a-and took s-some of our people!”

“Young man.” The chief raised his hands beside him as if to gesture to their surroundings. “There have been no monsters for nearly a century now. Our people have lived in peace before my grandfather took his final breath.”

Murmurs of agreement sounded around again, some people nodding or shaking their heads with grins.

The stranger shook his head, tears gliding down his face, mixing with the blood on him. “Believe me, they’re here. They a-attacked us and took o-our people. They took my friends. They’re here, and they’ll come f-for you next!”

The chatter quietened again, unease faint in the air but still there. Flames swayed with a cool breeze, torches glowing and fire pits crackling under the darkness of the night.

“When was this?” the chief asked.

The young man inhaled a few shaky breaths. “A f-few nights ago. Four or f-five.”

“Have you been running all that time to get to the nearest village?”

He swallowed. “Y-yes.”

“And in that time.” The chief sighed, his breath fogging before him. “Have you had any food?”

“No.”

“Any water?”

“No.”

“Sleep?”

The stranger’s gaze was painfully pleading, but people were sighing and shaking their heads again.

“Please,” he begged, his tears still rolling. “Believe me. I-I came to warn you. They’re coming! You’re—”

“I know,” the chief said, his voice calm and kind. “And you worked hard. Thank you. But you need food, water and rest. Perhaps you truly were attacked by a monster, a bear perhaps, and that experience may have left you shaken. Without adequate food, water or rest, your mind may have failed you.”

“Please, believe me! You’re in danger!”

The chief gestured for people to help the guest, and he instructed for him to be taken to the healer for his wounds to be treated and to be given a remedy to soothe his worries.

Then he faced his people, and with a hand, he silenced the crowd. “As this was an unexpected incident, I understand that some of you may feel disturbed or concerned.” His eyes drifted from face to face, voice rising and becoming clearer. “But rest assured that we are safe. Some of you have been children during my grandfather’s time. You know we were safe, we’ve been safe, and we will continue to be safe here. These lands are protected, and we are far from other villages. If the monsters do attack, they won’t bother with a distant land, but they’ll go for the easiest access.”

Echoes of agreement sounded around, people nodding with firm gazes and relaxed smiles.

The crowd dispersed, and people returned to their life as if nothing had happened.

The chief and his wife nodded to Amane’s family in acknowledgement. With a murmured see you soon, Farris reluctantly left her side and made his way to his awaiting parents.

Amane’s eyes had remained on the young man, even following him as he was carried away. Even under the darkened sky, she saw his complexion paling the more he spoke, like his blood was being drained from him at the mere memory of what he witnessed.

And strangely, she felt it. That fear and sense of loss again. And she believed him, for his fear could not be faked. That sense of doom and disaster could not be played off as nothing.

But people chattered and laughed, and they went about their life as if that was a staged joke.

“Amane,” Nazim whined. “You’re hurting me.”

Amane eased her tight grip on him immediately, eyes still tracking the stranger even though he was a dark blob in the distance.

“Poor soul,” her mother whispered. “I can’t imagine how he felt.”

“And that is why we need to eat, drink and sleep well, Nazim,” her father said before grabbing her younger brother by the underarms and throwing him high, causing Amane and her mother to shout with worry.

“Father!” she hissed, reaching for her little brother while her mother found the laundry basket Amane had dropped earlier.

Her father gently swatted her hands away, curling one arm under his son so he could sit. Nazim wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and grinned, two of his top teeth missing.

“My little boy can handle it, Amane. You handled it well, and look how you turned out.” He patted her black hair affectionately, his smile large and proud. “Fearless, little lioness. Fit to be a chief’s wife.”

The warmth from his praise cooled, and Amane’s small smile thinned. “Father—”

“You’ll bring great honour to our family, Amane,” he said, stroking her hair, smoothing back strands that escaped from her braid. “You already have, with everything you’ve done and still do, but this is different. I know this isn’t your wish, but you’re grown now. You’ll have to leave the nest one day.”

“No, I do not,” she argued, eyes narrowing.

“Amane.” He pulled her closer, and with one arm holding his son, he wrapped the other around his daughter, walking his family back to their home. “This is the natural course of life. You are born, you grow, and then you start your own family. Life keeps moving that way.”

“Your father is right,” her mother whispered on her other side, carrying the laundry basket on her left hip. She was smiling, though her smile was subdued. “We all leave our families eventually to make our own.”

Amane scowled. “You are my only family and that is it. I do not need another.”

Her father laughed, deep and hearty in the coldness of the night, squeezing her closer to him. Her mother’s smile widened while her little brother giggled along, and the ice around Amane began to thaw.

This was her life: three sets of brown eyes lighter than hers and three smiles that lit up her world; three bodies she held and protected and cherished with all her soul. How could he ask her to make a new one when this was all she wanted?

“We will always be your first family, yes, but you’ll need one of your own. Your mother and I need to ensure that we can leave you in safe hands.”

She looked up and found him gazing at her, his smile bittersweet. Like her mother’s. Amane pursed her lips and clenched her jaw, her chest pinched.

“We won’t always be with you.”

She swallowed hard but gave him an icy look and lightly punched his chest. “Do not say that.”

“Fearless, little lioness.” He smiled, then leaned down to plant a soft kiss on her forehead. Her mother huddled close, and Amane felt another arm hold her, another warm body that threatened to crumble her ice as her lower lip quivered.

“It is time you leave the den.”


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