The crash of not-thunder woke Tosc. The noise in the village was disorienting. Stuffing himself into trousers, he ran for the door. His hut was empty. Larel always did react more quickly than he. There she was, cuddling their precious baby. She seemed to be searching the sky. As he watched, another crack of not-thunder blew him off his feet. Larel and their Daryn were destroyed before his eyes.
Knowing it was useless, he ran toward the smoking, glassy space they occupied before the blast. “No, Tosc,” Babor pulled on his arm. “No, you cannot! The hoomanz are upon us. You must think of the village. What do we do?”
Mournfully, Tosc turned his thoughts to safety. The caverns offered their only chance. “There is a weapons cache near the caves. We go there, arm ourselves and defend from that point, Babor. Spread the word. Have the children moved there immediately. The non-fighters can supervise.”
“As you say, Tosc.” Babor’s hoofs rang as he hurried away.
With one lingering gaze behind, he raised a paw and waved it in a circle. It was the signal to gather for instructions. Doing so, he ran toward the forest. Babor helped him pass the word to the deputies. Those fighters who survived the onslaught growled acceptance. In small groups, they sped through the forest, knowing it offered little cover in this season.
The deputies supervised moving the weapons into the caverns and distributing them. Nearly each fighter was issued two weapons, a sad testament to how many perished in the attack. Dutifully, they did as trained, taking apart the weapons and inspecting them, making sure they were full of crystal charges. Whether motivated by fear, vengeance or some mixture, they growled their readiness in eager voices which echoed into the darkness beyond. The sounds of the children whimpering in fear, little hooves scuffling on the rock floor, were strange counterpoint to their fearsome noises.
They were as ready as possible. Tosc knew, as likely each fighter did, this was hardly the best vantage point. The mountain above the caverns wouldn’t withstand constant bombardment by the hoomanz’s flying thunders. If the enemy landed and approached with their projectile missiles, there was only so much the villagers could do in defense. Acknowledging these points, Tosc forced himself to focus on the battle at hand. They were in the best source of cover available. It would do.
In the eerie near-silence, he allowed himself a moment to grieve. He braced himself with arms outstretched against the wall and hung his head, trying to remember the happy family they were. Abruptly, he stopped. The cavern walls pulsed beneath his paws. Tosc finally realized what his grandparents meant by “the heartbeat of the planet.”
Flying thunders pierced the quiet, announcing the return of the hoomanz. This time, the cavern rumbled. In a low-pitched roar from the ground toward the top of the cavern and beyond, energy burst forth from the mountain in a stream of white light. No few of Tosc’s people dropped to their knees at the fury, many of the children screaming in fright. The hoomanz’s fliers exploded and crashed to the ground in terrifying whines. Tosc’s deputies ran out at his order to dispatch any of the enemy who survived the planet’s shocking defense. The deputies stumbled back, shaking their heads. None of the hoomanz remained.
Instinctively, Tosc lay down his weapons. Placing both paws against the side of the cave, he leaned forward until his forehead touched the wall. Still it pulsed. He poured gratitude into the mountain, into the planet, speaking the sacred words his grandparents taught him. Dimly, he heard others join in, voices strong in harmony as each, male and female, repeated the words with him.
The planet’s pulse altered to mimic the triple beat of its children’s hearts. As one, they relaxed and savored the nurturing acceptance of the world around them. When the walls returned to the planet’s own quiet pulse, Tosc knew the danger was past. While each fighter lost someone, family or neighbor, the relief was palpable as they clapped one another on backs and bumped foreheads in triumph.
Children came forward and the cavern emptied. Tosc held back, not eager to return to the remnants of his life. Snuffles in the darkness indicated he was not alone. He found Parkop, a middling child, in the rear of the cavern. Parkop looked up at the sound of hooves, his eyes wide with fright. Tosc bent and held out a paw, waiting. The child hesitated before grasping it. He didn’t let go the entire way back to the village.
A neighbor brought Parkop’s things to Tosc’s home after confirming the boy’s parents had been killed. It was three days before Parkop spoke, five before he quietly asked what happened. Tosc told him the stories he remembered hearing at Parkop’s age. “You must remember these histories in your heart. Can you do that?” The boy nodded slowly, small paws in tight fists on his lap.
“Why did the hoomanz fight us?” came Parkop’s forever-quiet voice.
“They want Terrah. Terrah protects its children, though.”
Inspired by a #storystarters by Clifford Fryman.