Good Training – Survival Part 10

Date point: 14y 9m 2w 1d AV
Trail hiking, Lakebeds National Park, west of Foltcha, Cimbrean

Hayley Tisdale

Julian had been quite firm that he wouldn’t do a sweat lodge or anything like that. She understood, there was some controversy about cultural appropriation and all that nonsense, and Julian seemed like he’d rather not be stuck right in the middle of it. What he wanted was something…safe. Relaxing, perhaps. Something familiar.

With a man like Julian, that could only be a camping trip. Hayley and Marc frequented a spot that was not very well known by others, and which afforded a certain degree of privacy that was important in a moment like this. He was nervous, and he was entirely unafraid to admit it.

His partners were, if anything, moreso on his behalf. Allison was the only one of the three with any relevant experience at all, and that had come at a…difficult…time in her life. Xiù was entirely innocent of anything like what he was about to undergo. Both of them needed…

Well, they needed some proper sympathy. Hayley gave in the best way she knew, with good tea and better hugs while the boys were discussing what Stuff needed to be taken with them.

“Well, he’s a happy drunk and a playful soul otherwise. I always believed that something like this shows a person as they truly are. What kind of a man is Julian?”

“A good man!” Allison was a little more defensive than was strictly helpful.

“I know! It takes a good man to win and keep a woman’s heart. He’s managed two, both decent and wonderful women each. I don’t think he has anything to fear.”

They looked at each other, then giggled softly. They were clearly in love with each other which made Hayley smile; it was a proper thing, the three had.

“What will it be like for him?”

“I can’t say for sure. It’s different for everyone. The most important thing is going to be his support, he’ll need us to be there. That’s the difference between a good and bad trip, I’ve found. Good trips are founded in love.”

Allison really wasn’t into the ‘hippy nonsense’ and made a slightly unconvinced laugh. “I’ve seen one too many bad trips, Hayley. You sure your source is clean?”

“It’s legally obtained and pure. We’re not fools Allison, and this isn’t the black market.”


Xiù was as always the most socially astute of the three. “We’re just worried, Hayley. What can we expect?”

“Well,” Hayley got up and refreshed their tea. “Peyote isn’t usually a very intense drug but it is long-lasting, so he will likely not fully recover until late the next morning.” She poured another cup for each, and set the pot down on the table. “Knowing him he’ll want to do something very grunty, too. We’ll need to make sure he’s got something safe to do, so…bring footballs or something? Think…maybe something like an enthusiastic drunk and a stoner at the same time.”

“Is…that it?”

“No. Peyote is a mild hallucinogen. He’s likely to experience altered senses and perception, and he may or may not experience a vivid hallucination. Depends on him personally and the dose, he’s a quite large man so that’s tricky to say. Marc understands this well, though. Julian is in good hands.”

Just then, the boys came back in, both seeming to compete with who could shoulder the most macho-big pack. Marcs was definitely the bulkier one. It had two sleeping bags and several rolled-up blankets hanging from it. Julians, though, when he set his down it hit the floor with a very solid thud and he made a happy, satisfied grunt.

“Geez Julian! Did you pack the whole ship up?”

“Only some of it,” he replied, and effortlessly scooped his partners up in his arms for snuggles. Marc did the same to her. Things were off to a good start!

“We’ve got a long hike ahead of us. We should get going now.”

Indeed. The ladies changed into hiking shoes, and Allison helped Xiù get her hair into a bramble-resistant braid. They hiked, gossiped, the men were stuck in some kind of laddish series of magical competitions, the likes of which had engendered a kind of amused commentary from women through all the ages of mankind. Marc was wiser and trickier, Julian was without any doubt the more physically impressive of the two. Hayley was glad for it. Marc had needed that kind of manly bonding time for a long while, and it made for a good distraction from everyone’s underlying apprehension.

Watching the two set up camp was also delightful. It was of course hard work and the two had insisted the ladies rest on the log and tend the fire. Allison had one started in no time flat, a kettle was brewing, and there was shirtless man-candy to watch while they puttered about the camp and did their work. Shelter was arranged, a tarp overhead to eat under in the event of the inevitable rain after sundown was erected, and then Julian got creative with making “improvements.” Marc had to insist he sit down and relax several times before he simply…did something, and then they were in the dirt, with Julian face down and laughing loudly.

Hayley could see and understand Marc’s attraction to Julian. But as far as she was concerned his age and experience stood up well against his exuberant youth. He worried too much.

Evening fell. Marc and Hayley both set the mood. Julian nodded seriously, gulped nervously…

Nothing at first. That was expected. Hayley had found it was a gradual build-up for most, and the same was true of Julian.

He was happy. Then slightly euphoric. A brief moment of terror, which quickly passed. Then he obsessed with colors, wanted to touch and play with all the things. A little hyperactive…

Then affection. Lots of it. Love for everyone and everything. Pure, innocent, absolute. Hayley smiled. A good trip showed a person and the world who and what they really were.

Julian was a good man.

Date point: 14y 9m 2w 2d AV
Trail hiking, Lakebeds National Park, west of Foltcha, Cimbrean
Late the next morning

Julian Etscitty

Marc had been right. It wasn’t really possible to get an experience like that if one hadn’t been through it. It had been…what was a good word. Transcendent, maybe? …Nah. That mostly felt right, but it was also sorta, maybe mundane too? Like, it was an extra normal-weird kind of thing.

He didn’t remember anything. Sorta. Mostly. He did remember loving everyone, though. Everyone was great! He was so lucky he had Allison, and Xiù, and…Marc and Hayley?

He remembered they were there. He also noticed he had a mild headache, which he remembered to expect. He grumbled, shook his head out and threw off his blankets—

He was naked underneath, in a tent with the Tisdales. He didn’t remember anything about that! The morning suddenly felt awkward as fuck.

He felt his pulse rising and an urge to get the hell away from the situation rose in his chest. Right then, Xiù woke up and hugged his arm.

“Morn.’ You feel okay?”

God her timing was perfect.

Words. He groped for them for a moment, before he remembered how they worked. _“Uhhh_…Being honest? I’m not sure what ‘okay’ means right now. Why am I naked?”

“You always sleep naked. And you insisted on it, last night.”

“Yeah, but…” he gestured to Marc, who was uncovered and also naked, and was sawing logs like he was a lumberjack in Washington state.

Allison grumbled awake, sorta. _“Nnn_cuz’ you’re an innocent boy and I need coffee.”

Coffee. There was something concrete to latch onto…if only he could remember where his underwear had gone. Abruptly they reappeared, on the end of Xiù’s arm. “I got the percolator ready last night. Just fire up the stove and boil it.”

She promptly curled right back into the sleeping bags and blankets, and pretended to sleep.

He pulled his underwear on hurriedly and hoped without looking that both of the Tisdales were still asleep. Then he thought, well: fuck it. He needed a good dip anyway so he yanked them right back off, stepped out of the tent buck-ass naked, started the coffee defiantly, and went for a nice dip in the lake.

It was cold. Good. The cold woke him right the fuck up and drove away the headache, along with the last of the cobwebby feeling between his ears. He’d discovered a couple of things very quickly. The first was that his memory was coming back, and, well…he remembered things being a lot of fun. Colors! Things were a little melty, too. And he loved everyone so much, God he didn’t know how much it could hurt to love people–! There had been one bit where everybody was really far away from him, but that hadn’t lasted long, fortunately.

Marc too. He did love Marc. Marc! He was the most bestest wrestling coach! But it was just, maybe a brother-love? Something? He remembered he wanted to be very close to everyone, just snuggle really tight and….Ah. So that was how naked-time happened.

Was it? He thought so. Maybe…that didn’t seem so bad. Julian dunked his head under the water and shook it out. His hair was really getting out of control. He kinda liked it, actually. Or maybe it was the girls that liked it. But did that really matter?

“You’re going to get hypothermia if you stay in there, Julian.” The voice crashed through his inner monologue. Marc. Yeah. Also naked. Julian didn’t know if it would be rude to look, or rude not to, or rude to look and then look away. Awkward.

“Nah. I’m pretty big these days.” He said that by way of a joke, anything to help drive away the weirdness. He then tried to swim and immediately failed to stay afloat, which was when he learned the second thing: he couldn’t swim anymore. Adam had said that would probably happen. Why hadn’t Julian really thought about it before? He’d have to relearn how to stay afloat without being neutrally buoyant anymore.


Enough water. Julian climbed out, noted that Marc was diplomatically trying very hard not to look. “Take a dunk, wakes you right up.”

He found his underwear again and stepped into them. And his favorite new jeans, the ones Adam made for him that actually fit properly.

“Sounds good.” Marc waded in, cursed at the chilly water, and gave Julian enough time to get himself properly dried out and decent.


He could smell it starting to scorch in the percolator. He chuffed, pulled it off the stove and fetched the cups. Where were—ah! He’d tied them up in a bear sack last night. Which didn’t make any sense since there weren’t any bears on Cimbrean, but whatever. He poured one each for the girls and took them to the tent, getting mumbled “thanks” and “good boys” from them both.

He realized suddenly he needed to pee pretty bad. Suspiciously bad, actually. Why did—

…Oh. He shot a panicked look back at Marc and Hayley. Did that happen? He didn’t think so. It certainly had with Xiù. It felt like…now that he remembered…

“Hey, hon? Did we, uh…?”

Xiù gave him a sleepy-happy look that answered that question. “Babe, you pinned us both to the ground at the same time and screwed us silly until we begged you to stop. Then you did it again not five minutes later. And again.”

An affirming mmmhmmm came from somewhere under the blankets next to her, and a tousled blonde head emerged wearing a smirk. “I think you inspired Marc, too. Hayley probably can’t walk right now.”

“…why is it morning?” came from the other side of the tent, where Hayley was still laying sprawled out. “I smell coffee. Be a good boy and get me some, will you, Julian?”

“…Okay.” Feeling unaccountably confused, he climbed back out and returned with coffee in the other spill-proof tumblers, now freed from their needlessly bearproof bag, to assorted female giggling over something he was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to have noticed or heard. She’d pulled a top on, as well, which helped.

“So, uh…” He had no idea how to ask what he wanted to.

Hayley must have read his mind or something, because he gave her a look and she answered immediately. “No, dear. You were loyal. I’m not sure I would have survived your attentions anyway.”

Oh, thank God. He looked back toward Allison and Xiù and neither seemed angry with him. They were giggling at Hayley’s compliment, in fact. That was a good thing, right? Yeah. Definitely. He hoped.

Marc chose that moment to climb back into the tent, mercifully wearing pants. “How do you feel this morning, Julian? And I’m actually asking, that’s not a question to make conversation.”

He could answer that honestly. “Very confused.”

Marc nodded. “So…some of that confusion will pass. It may take you some time to…process it, but you’re going to need to spend some time really thinking about the experience.”

Julian nodded. “Should I…write it down?”

“You can. Some people paint. Some write, some draw, some carve….that’s really up to you.”

“I mean…” Julian was even more confused now. “Like, I’m not sure what I was supposed to feel, maybe? Like…I just wanted to be close. I think. I remember this fuzzy feeling and it was sorta hard to tell everyone apart somehow except it wasn’t…I guess. I dunno.”

“I’m not saying you should write a book report!” Marc laughed. “Find a way of expressing that, it clearly means something to you. If closeness and connectedness is what you take away from it…then do something with that that makes sense to you, that’s all I’m saying. Some people sort of…fall into nature. They feel connected to the trees, and the sky. Others get very surreal. A lot of art gets made that way. You seemed to very much connect with people.”

That seemed right. Or maybe it seemed true, or it felt good? Something. Julian was having a lot of trouble putting words to his thoughts just then. One thought, though, he really needed to know the answer to.

“So. Uh…did I, um?”

“Did you try anything with me? No. You were entirely innocent with Hayley and I, even after you’d worn your girlfriends out. You just wanted to be close. It really was a beautiful thing to see, you know.”

“…I feel like a dick even asking, but if I had…?”

“No. I won’t lie, I would have been sorely tempted, Julian. You know that already, you’re a beautiful man. But I love you as a friend and I would never betray you like that. Or, really, take advantage of you, because that’s what it would have been.”

That was a huge relief. Julian exhaled happily, and smiled gratefully at everyone.

“Thank you for trusting us.” Hayley had woken up some with the help of her coffee. “That means a lot to me. And, uh…” She giggled now, and smiled warmly at Marc. “Thank you for remindin’ him how it’s done.”

“I’m hungry,” Xiù announced suddenly into the warm silence. “We have stuff for pancakes, right?”

“Babe, you always want pancakes the morning after. Besides, don’t you think we should do waffles instead? I need something a little more filling.”

Xiù interjected with a private joke in the Ten’Gewek language [“He filled you pretty well last night, as I remember.”] Allison’s jaw play-dropped, and Xiù smirked back at her. Although there was no way Marc and Hayley understood the words, they got the content and grinned regardless.

Julian grinned smugly to himself and decided to break camp. He climbed out of the tent and began stowing their little field kitchen. “There’s that diner in downtown Folctha that does those big belgian waffles. We could go there!” He realized suddenly that he really wanted something sugary and terrible, consequences to his macros be damned.

“If they have coffee, let’s do that,” Hayley said, draining her cup. “Camping is fun but I would very much like a hot shower.”

True enough. Julian hadn’t had a proper shower in a couple of days and he was getting pretty rank, even with the morning dip in the lake. Besides, the walk-in shower in their new home was amazing and could fit all three of them at the same time…

Well, if they weren’t up for any more fun, at least he could use the hell out of the massage function. They drank their coffee, packed everything away into the two huge hiking packs Marc and Julian had between them, and set out on the trail back to Folctha.

Date point: 14y 9m 2w 2d AV
Jogging downtown, Foltcha, Cimbrean
Early afternoon

Technical Sergeant Adam (Warhorse) Arés

Foltcha had years of experience with the Operators doing their daily runs. Some runs were quick, others were long, but not a day went by when the public didn’t see the men of HEAT keeping up on their cardiovascular fitness.

That said, there were always a few who had never seen the HEAT and being honest, that was an eye-opening experience for the unprepared. Adam figured it was probably a lot like living in Tornado Alley or something—yeah, you saw moving natural disasters a lot, but you never really got used to it. Maybe. That was probably his ego talking but it wasn’t untrue, either. Anyone on the HEAT was a human disaster, that was what they were for. Most of the Operators therefore tried to stay out of the city itself on their runs, simply because navigating through rubbernecking traffic that was moving slower than they were was a pain in the ass.

Adam never did, though. He didn’t mind the attention and people were honestly perfectly friendly. It was fun to thump around and flex all silly for the kids…he was thinking about kids a lot, these days. Dad had been right, the thought did grow on him. It was definitely time to do that. Maybe tonight? Maybe. The idea of a family just seemed…right.

Which was what made the sight of Julian, Allison, Xiù, and the Tisdales sitting at an outside cafe on the waterfront, with two good-sized packs leaning against the wall, enough of a jarring sight that he actually missed a step and almost tripped over a curb. It wasn’t what the group was doing, though…it was what Julian was doing.

Adam had an iron discipline. He had to if he was going to be the man he was with the consequences of everything it entailed. He knew his personal rigor was definitely extreme, and that he couldn’t and shouldn’t expect the same of anyone else…but he did try to impress on the people he trained the importance of proper nutrition.

That made the sight of Julian, sitting in front of a gargantuan mound of banana waffles adorned with a diabetes-inducing amount of whipped cream…it knocked Adam right out of his run and he just had to thump to a stop and stare with murder-eyes. Julian was shoveling it into his face with a fork in each hand as though it were his dying meal, and his blissful expression captured all the religious fervor of the newly converted.

Julian caught his eye. Adam gave him his sternest Look of absolute disapproval and betrayal, and got only a not-at-all-guilty shrug that said, it couldn’t be helped; I was powerless to resist.

Adam sighed, shook his head and resumed his run. Julian would just have to suffer through the consequences later.

The banana waffles did look pretty tasty though. The bastard.

Date point: 14y 11m AV
Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Julian Etsicitty

One of the strangest things about hunting on Akyawentuo was how easy everything was to smell. Things on the People’s world just straight-up reeked and the werne were no exception. He could sm ell a herd of them maybe a quarter-mile upwind, with the sharp, acrid, spicy musk-type smell of the bull dominating the forest. He couldn’t hear much anything else, the forest was feeling lazy in the noon heat and there weren’t any yshek tromping around on the river-beds, bellowing out for mates and fighting for territory. Birds were mostly keeping to themselves, the insects wouldn’t start their cacophony for at least a few hours.

It was fall, after all. Very close to the coming of winter. The days were still swelteringly humid and often quite hot, but the evenings got downright chilly. No matter. Julian was a Minnesota boy and could handle a little cold. He liked it anyway, it made him feel more alive.

Almost nothing had ever made him feel more alive than the Rite.

He was hungry. He hadn’t eaten since sundown the day before and he had been working hard since then. He had to prove to the men of the tribe that he was strong. He proved it. He had to show them he could fight, would fight if it was needed. He showed them that, too. He had to prove to Singer that he knew the stories, knew what it meant to Give and Take. She questioned, he answered, the tribe seemed happy.

Now there was just the Hunt. He would bring back a worthy prize, and he would be a man in the People’s eyes. His Hunt wouldn’t be exactly like theirs, though, because he had some advantages that the boys of the People did not. His sense of smell was much better than theirs, as was his sense of touch. He was a full-grown man and had a strength better than Vemik’s, and an endurance none of them could match. He could walk perfectly upright, and he could run and jog. No boy of the People had ever had the deck that stacked in their favor.

On the other hand…

The People didn’t exactly swing through the trees. What they really did was leap between branches, and that made all the difference. Humans just weren’t made for that kind of explosively powerful, repeated jumping. Nor could they swing so easily. Chimp could manage it being as short as he was, but Julian cleared maybe an inch over six feet if he stood as tall as he could and was just straight too tall to ever be graceful at it. His arms were proportionately shorter than a Ten’Gewek’s too. He could swing but it was awkward and slow, so that meant a quiet approach from above wasn’t necessarily in the bag.

But he could still climb into the trees when he needed it. That meant his hunting strategy was a bit different than a man of the People might try.

He wasn’t hunting a herd-bull. A Werne like that could literally have torn him in half, and if it didn’t then its harem might just trample him flat anyway. A hunt like that was for the foolhardy or the exceptionally ambitious like Vemik, and there was no shame in going after something more sensible: According to the Singer, it showed wisdom and responsibility.

What he was after was a bachelor bull. They were much harder to find, but they also had a distinctly sharp smell that a fella could catch on the wind if they knew what they were looking for. The People couldn’t always detect it, but a human could, and Julian did. He’d noticed the difference some months ago.

Werne weren’t the most dangerous thing he’d hunted in his life. They were pretty much always gonna be in the top three, but if Julian had to rank them then the Murderpigs and Minizillas of Nightmare still won first place. And there was shit on Nightmare, as on Earth and Akyawentuo, that nobody sane would ever hunt with just a spear. Those big nameless Akyawentan plains predators, grizzly bears, Yshek, and some big fucker on Nightmare that Julian had only seen once, in the dark, from the way it was casually shouldering medium-sized trees aside and straight ignoring the bombfruit it triggered.

So, he padded along the forest floor as quiet as a mouse, using his eyes and his nose to stay well downrange of anything that might surprise him. He never strayed too far from a climbable tree, though—there were scarier things than werne roaming the forest.

And he was doing everything in his power not to notice Yan slinking well off to the side in the trees. The big Given-Man was stealthy as all hell, but scent just wasn’t the same thing for Ten’Gewek. They didn’t get it.

…Except Julian had definitely seen Yan stay well downwind on other hunts. Hmm.

Later. He could think about that later. Right now he wanted a bull, and he could smell one not far ahead. And hear it, too; it was love-bellowing for all to hear.

He decided it was time for some overhead advantage and climbed his way up a ketta. For humans and especially for Julian, climbing those trees was almost completely about grip strength in the hands because of the smooth lower bark. He’d have preferred a gnarly Forest-Father but none were nearby, so…carefully, up he went.

Once he was among the branches things were easier. He ran down a big one and leapt across the gap to another Ketta, and hardly thought about what he’d just done. On Earth a jump like that would have set records, but if he’d misjudged the gap the fall may well have killed him. He knew he wouldn’t miss. He was…pretty good at that kinda thing, these days.

The final approach was a lot easier, thanks to a nicely-placed Forest-Father with all its gnarly bark and easy nooks and crannies that he could jam his feet into. He’d probably get scraped up a bit, since all he was allowed was a pair of shorts—he emphatically rejected the loincloth—but scrapes could be fixed with sap or, honestly, Neosporin. That was for later.

It was a very big bull. One of the biggest Julian had ever seen. But it was also almost delusional with the werne equivalent of musth. The big fella’s cheeks were swollen with whatever glands were driving him crazy, his eyes were bloodshot, and a thick, almost nauseating smelly mucus weeped from the sides of its cheeks. A bull that big shouldn’t have been a bachelor, but Julian wasn’t about to doubt his luck.

He just had to figure out how he was gonna kill the damn thing, first.

Right. Last check before he struck. The area was clear of other predators or dangerous scavengers. The bull was definitely in that sweet spot where it was big enough to impress but not so big he’d fail to carry his trophy home. The twin horn blades down its cheeks were wide and prominent, perfect for Knives of Manhood but also perfect for gutting an incautious human.

He reviewed the best ways to kill one. The ideal for Ten’Gewek was to drop onto its back from above and drive a knife into its brain at the dimple where neck met skull. Unfortunately for Julian, he didn’t have prehensile feet or a tail as strong as his arm, which made gripping onto a bucking werne downright impossible. If he didn’t get it in exactly the right spot with a spear-stab as he landed, it would throw and maybe gore him. He could maybe do it, and he was strong enough…but that was risky. Too risky.

Option two was wrestling. He could get its neck into a leg lock…and honestly, thanks to Adam his legs were ridiculously strong these days, so he might just be able to kill it with a hold like that. But while he was lately a confident wrestler, he wasn’t stupid. There were a lot of ways to get killed doing that. That was even riskier than option one, so no.

Option three—and here he was starting to get into the things a human could realistically do—was to get it in the throat from the side. He was quick enough, and strong enough. The heart would be even better, but those ribs were thick and unlike most Earth species they overlapped a little, making a tough armored shell. If he drove his spear into the wide blood vessels in its throat though, it would bleed out in seconds but he’d have to be careful that its flailing, kicking and head-tossing didn’t grievously wound him in turn. And again, the theme was risk. He wasn’t here to be macho, he was here to prove he could Provide for his tribe.

Which left the option he’d relied on for killing murderpigs and Zillas: Let the environment do the work. Solitary bulls had no herd to defend, and therefore they had strong motivation not to get hurt. They’d make a show and posture a bit, maybe play at a charge or two, but at the first sign of real trouble they usually turned tail and found someplace else to be. Which meant his best solution was to spook the big guy into running away. He’d still have a fight on his hands maybe, especially in the beginning…but he could manage that. He just needed to make him run away.

And keep making him run away. That kind of moving, full-body endurance was the one real weakness most things had against humans, even the Ten’Gewek. They could train for it sure enough, just like a man could lift to get strong, but earning that endurance was seriously hard work for them. That was especially true of werne, they just didn’t have enough gas to keep going for more than a mile or two.

Not Julian. He loved to run. Always had, always would. Adam loved to run too, and the one biggest most importantest rule he never ever reconsidered or bent under Adam’s cheery persuasion or all the hell of the work leading up to this, was that he had to be able to run.

Adam just grinned, and taught him everything he never knew about running. Nowadays Julian was pretty sure he could outrun just about anything. And he could definitely outrun a werne.

There were plains to the north. No good, there might be the big plainswalkers out there. No point in driving his prey into another predator’s jaws. To the east there was a river full of yshek, so the same problem. South was back toward the village: Good for carrying his trophy if he took it down before they got there, but if it got too close then some other hunters might drop it and he’d have to start over.

West were the mountains and gullies where they’d made their last stand against the Hierarchy. A running werne could easily stumble and break its legs in that rough terrain. And if it didn’t, the hard scramble would still wear it down.

Julian grinned, and knew that he was going to kill well.

Yan Given-Man

When he was a boy, Yan had learned from his Singer that everything that lived did things in their own way, in their own time. You could tell how a man or a hunter would solve a problem by looking at how they moved, how the gods had made them. “Watch your enemy,” she had said. “He will tell everything you need to know to Take him.”

Jooyun was not an enemy. He was a good friend, and soon he wouldn’t be a stranger but a cousin of the tribe. Yan watched him carefully anyway. And the thing he learned when he watched Jooyun do anything, is that he would solve his problem by moving. Forever.

Yan didn’t know if he could ever move like that, just keep going like the day would never break. He ‘trained’ for it anyway, like Heff and Wawsh had been teaching him. He was glad for all that hurt and hard breathing their teachings had given him, because keeping up with Jooyun was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.

For any man of the People, spooking a bull like that into running off would have been an insane tactic. There were no cliffs in that direction, just forest and rough ground. Prey spooked here and now would just escape.

Jooyun didn’t seem to care when he sprang up from hiding, spread his arms and yelled “YAH!” at the bull, adding a couple of thrown stones for good measure. The bull bellowed, leapt back, then attacked Jooyun. He was very smart, though. He stabbbed the werne quickly in the flank with his spear, staying well away from its dangerous head. The werne turned and charged again, earned more wounds in its vulnerable haunches. Jooyun had stabbed it so hard in fact that it lost its footing for a moment, then turned and crashed off between the trees.

Yan groaned as he realized what was about to happen but Jooyun just grinned savagely, hefted his spear, and took off after his wounded prey at an easy, loping run.

At first, keeping up was easy. Then Yan paused for breath and Jooyun got a little further away, a distance that Yan never quite managed to claw back. Then it happened again, and again until the human was hard to see, little more than a dark figure blurring in the dappled light through the canopy. A few times, he vanished from Yan’s sight entirely.

He had to use the moments when Jooyun had lost the trail to thump through the trees with every ounce of his strength. He knew he was making noise now, but that didn’t matter, he wasn’t trying to be completely hidden anyway. It was all he could do to catch up. And then Jooyun would find the trail, and Yan would fall behind.

All day long. For an alarmingly long part of the afternoon, in fact, Yan had to track Jooyun rather than follow him. He left more sign than would be perfect for a warrior, but no man of the People could manage what he was doing, either. Jooyun chased, and his signs were small and subtle.

They had battled several more times, most unsuccessfully for Jooyun…but that didn’t matter. At the end, he didn’t need to overpower the werne. He didn’t need to drop down on it from a tree, lay a trap, rush it, wrestle it or anything.

Jooyun Sky-Hunter just walked up to the werne from behind and stabbed it right through its skull. It was so completely exhausted it couldn’t thrash its head, couldn’t stand. It had given up. Yan would have been deeply afraid of that, if he weren’t too tired to care.

And he had to make it back to the village ahead of him, too. He was mostly sure Jooyun knew he was being followed—Yan hoped so, he’d tried to be subtle about it but he had wanted to be seen. It would be best if they didn’t need to talk about it…so back to the village he went.

At least it would take Jooyun much longer to get back. The werne’s head was almost as big Jooyun’s torso, and he needed to remove it with a flint-knapped knife and protect the carcass from scavengers before he could bring it home. That bought Yan the time he needed, but not by as much as he would have liked.

He did manage to get back to the village ahead of Jooyun. Walsh taught him how to stretch and that helped with the pain, enough that he could walk without grimacing. So did the ‘ibuprofen’ the big human had snuck him. Now there was a Giving-Magic worth praising. But he’d barely begun to feel the medicine’s effects when the thrumming of a shouting-stone heralded the hunter’s return.

He was pleased to see that Jooyun was at least dead tired on his feet. His entire body from his crest down through his strange black loincloth and down to his feet was covered in a mix of sweat and werne blood. He could hardly walk and wobbled over to his women, who’d spent the whole hunt waiting and worrying in the Singer’s hut, helping to prepare a magic medicine fit for sky-people that would still be acceptable to the gods.

Something involving mushrooms from their place-under-another-sky, apparently. Carefully brought in a little crackling clear bag to be stewed and drunk, rather than snorted into the mouth.

They kept their distance from him when he returned, though, and teased him for being “the grossest boy.” Yan couldn’t blame them. They did cheer him on of course. Everyone did. That bull was a prize to match Yan’s own when he had Hunted so long ago.

“Don’t let him rest!” the Singer reminded them. Jooyun gave her the same plaintive look that all men did at this moment. Surely a few heartbeats to massage his aching feet—foot—wouldn’t hurt?

Yan trilled quietly to himself and watched the proceedings unfold. Jooyun drank deeply of the brew in the bowl. And the gods Spoke to him. And they spoke long this time, not a little vision but a grand one.

Through him, they spoke of family. Of the blood of kinship between all Peoples, between places-under-every-star, between People and Gods. They spoke of love. And then he Danced. It was a wild dance, a strong one. Yan was proud and he knew Vemik was too.

When the women finally led him away to wash him and help him rest, the Singer caught Yan’s eye and grinned. His niece had always enjoyed it when she knew more than her old uncle.

For once, Yan decided to let her have a victory. He had a pair of knives to craft for the newest man of his tribe.

He had a name to Give, too. Jooyun Sky-Brother was a man of the People.

Date point: 15y 3m AV
Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm

Yan Given-Man, Chief of the Lodge

Yan’s crest had grown taller. It was going black at the tips. He had mixed feelings about that.

On the one hand, the ‘canned’ food that the Humans had taught the people was a strong Giving. Maybe the strongest yet. For the first time in his life as a man of the People, Yan had no want for food over the four moons of winter. He didn’t waste away, he didn’t shiver with an empty belly. None of the People did. In fact, everyone grew stronger. And with the herds left alone through the winter, they’d multiplied so well from the first rain that there would be more meat than the People would know what to do with.

He had never been stronger at the first rain. His crest had lost no color. And when the warmth finally hit him, and his Fire reignited…it was so much stronger then it had ever been, much worse than the first time. He was becoming a black-crest, and the gods were letting him live through it.

On the other hand, a black crest was a special thing. It was a four-finger blessing from the gods and no Given-Man in living memory had earned such a thing. That too was a strong Giving, the strongest Yan had ever had. And a Giving from the gods could not be ignored, by anyone. Yan was so far ahead of the other Given-Men in anything that mattered, they were reluctant to dispute him in any way, no matter how much he wanted them to.

They had proclaimed him Chief of the Given-Men on the first night of the Lodge. That was a Giving that was testing his leadership greatly; he had to have their honest counsel and that was tricky, because even Den and Arsh were afraid of him. That was a thought that would normally swell his cock with ideas of strength, victory, the pleasures of Taking…but not now.

He needed their wisdom because with the Givings he’d been given, the gods would soon demand a Taking. Balance needed to be kept and Yan would need to be wise indeed to navigate the marshes his blessings were creating around him.

“We must increase our number, Yan Given-Man.” There was nodding amongst everyone, while the magic smoke did its work on them and to the werne meat hanging in the Lodge.


They let the thought hang. It was obvious to everyone what needed to happen. Nobody wanted to suggest it and more importantly, nobody wanted the be accused of greed, or anything else. Which made Yan sigh unhappily. This matched up with his old Seeing perfectly. It wasn’t the high-mountain-place, it wasn’t the coming of the humans and their sky-magic, or the Big Enemy.

It was a bunch of quarreling Given-Men who couldn’t see past their own hunting grounds to the bigger problem. Yan could. And maybe that was why the gods had Given him so much.

Maybe this was the Taking they wanted.

“We Gather like in the stories, then. All-tribes in gather-place, all at the same time. My tribe will provide our hunting grounds for it.”

“And what of our hunting grounds, Yan?” Arsh was on his feet, the calming of the magic root blown away by his Fire. “We must eat too!”

“Then we will eat. It won’t be for long, Arsh Given-Men. The People must trade daughters and sons like we have never traded before. You heard Professor Daniel yourself. You know how important this is.”

“And what if I do not allow this on my tribe’s land?”

This was the test, he realized. The true test of Taking-Magic. Every sinew in Yan’s mighty body thrummed with the need to destroy, to Take, to force his will on the other Given-Men. He could do it, too. He was fast and strong enough that he could Take them all and live.

But that would doom the People, and his tribe.

So instead Yan spoke, as calmly as he could manage. “You will allow it, and your tribe will grow fat because of it.”

He didn’t say anything else. Like Taking-Magic, sometimes words said more when they weren’t there, which was a strange Sky-Thought now that he, well, thought about it.

It seemed to work. Arsh gave Yan a calculated look then calmed down, nodded and sat on his tail. The other Given-Men took notice and pondered the problem.

“You can share our hunting ground, Arsh Given-Men.” That was from Kork, who neighbored Arsh but not Yan’s tribe.

“And ours. This is a great Giving you would do.”

Den was always a little slow to figure things out and realized a bit late that his tribe would be encroached upon as well. But he wasn’t stupid, either. “Our hunting grounds for this Gathering too, Yan. This is important.”

That was the magic of the root. The Given-Men could gather, talk, hunt, and share, and their Fire wouldn’t burn them all. They could solve problems. Sometimes they were big problems. This year, it was a problem none of them had ever felt before.

They solved the problem. Hunting grounds were talked out. Oaths were sworn. The fights became playful, the Given-Men caroused and made merry. They had reason to enjoy life. The seasons to come might be dark indeed, but if they kept the wisdom of their ancestors, if they listened to the gods…if they learned from the Sky-Tribes…

Then maybe the People would survive all the seasons to come.

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Good Training – Survival Part 2

Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Later that day Julian Etsicitty It was approaching mid-day and the day’s morning work had been taken care of. The scouts had come back and reported that the nearby werne had just calved and would need to be left alone for a

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 6

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Daar, Great Father of the Gao “Poor bugger hardly knew which way is up…” Powell grunted, once Wagner was gone. “Who can blame him? His whole crew going violently psychotic on him with no warning, only to be stasis-hopped right into a Corti’s lab being sniffed

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Rising Titans – Chapter 46

9 Years, 6 Months, 14 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Diana blinked in surprise as the jungle was suddenly lit up by a fantastic reddish glow, glancing behind her towards the city Diana watched as another blast of energy, identical in color to the flash fell from the sky. Unable to see from her vantage

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Julian Etsicitty The house was a mess when Julian got back, which was rare. Nobody in their household was naturally untidy—living on Misfit had driven Allison, Xiù and himself into an ingrained habit of orderliness, and the boys had lived in fear of their father’s belt

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

Date Point: 16y2m AV Hierarchy/Cabal Joint Communications session #1536 ++Asymptote++: I have bad news. It would seem our new drones are detectable. ++0004++: <Dismay> you’re certain? ++Asymptote++: The force I sent to Cimbrean was captured immediately upon arrival. ++0007++: How? ++Asymptote++: Unclear. The Arutech drones don’t report as concisely as conventional biodrones. The connection is…

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

Date Point: 16y2m AV The Thinghall, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Gabriel Arés Every civilization needed its icon of executive power. The UK had the black door of Number Ten Downing Street and, somewhere behind it, the Cabinet Room; the USA had the White House, and the Oval Office; Folctha had the Alien Palace. The

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

You may also want to read Pyrophytes in The Deathworlders series. Same story, different angles. Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “You want me to read it by next week?” Julian mopped the sweat from his face and bounced loosely in place. “What was it

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

-7 Hours CHRONT THE CANADA “More contacts!” said Arik as she flashed every monitor on the bridge a bright red. Stagg glanced up at the monitor, “How many more?” “I’m counting!” “You’re counting!?” A grainy image of the approaching Empire patrol vessel was quickly displayed, a small box around it. Additional boxes quickly filled the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Leemu had become unresponsive. Nofl’s quarantine facility had alerted him after the patient had been anomalously still for twenty minutes, and the reason why became obvious upon a quick inspection of the cell: Leemu was sprawled on his back, staring blissfully up at

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Good Training – April Fool’s

13y 3m 29d AV One-Fang workhouse, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Sergeant Regaari (Dexter) of Clan SOR One of the best things about the humans was that they had a springtime holiday dedicated to mischief. Before them, only the Gao could claim to celebrate such a thing and it was one of the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Nofl’s lab was spacious, but inevitably finite. When it contained an alarming number of alarmed Humans, not to mention one particularly sculpted canine and a Gaoian brownie who was doing his best not to loom at everyone… well, there were times when Nofl

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler After a lifetime of helicopter parenting, Tristan and Ramsey seemed addicted to every opportunity they could find to do something their mother would have scooted them away from. And who could blame them? Amanda had never managed to get her head around the idea

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Deep Space The Russia shuddered again as the engines slowly powered down and the ship slid out of the red blue haze that was the tachyon FTL corridor. James blinked several times trying to clear the haze from his eyes as the regular black background of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

Date Point: 16y1m AV Dataspace adjacent to Mrwrki Station Entity The Entity understood the concept of boredom in an academic, abstract way. It could even vaguely summon up Ava’s memories of being bored. But understanding the idea and actually feeling the emotion were two different things. The closest it could get was the sensation of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

Date Point: 16y2w AV Air Force One, somewhere over Asia, Earth President Arthur Sartori “…You want to give us a Farthrow generator.” Daar’s image was janky and low-resolution thanks to the vagaries of current wormhole comms, but the audio was a lot clearer now. Technology marched onwards. “It’s loaded up on a train and ready

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Good Training – Pecking Order

13y, 8m AV Operator’s Barracks, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean Officer Regaari (Dexter) of Clan Whitecrest “I got an idea, Regaari.” Regaari flicked his ears forward in annoyance. “This again?” “Well, yeah. I gotta win that bet, Cousin!” Regaari duck-nodded wearily. Not long after Daar had received the SACRED STRANGER briefing, he’d sulked off to think

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

Messier 24 Mission day: 3 Sergeant Daar (Tigger) The third day was always when things settled into routine. Daar didn’t really know why, ‘cuz that was prol’ly some complicated psychology stuff (maybe he should read up?) but he did know how it worked, practically speaking. Daar always pondered morning thoughts like that when he was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

Date Point: 16y2w AV Weaver dropship, Gaoian space Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde “So in all the excitement, we clean forgot about these things. That’s what you’re telling me.” Champion Meereo made a sound that was half a sigh and half a chitter. “…That’s more-or-less exactly right, yes. We had… well, bigger priorities.” Wilde had to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Bellona “Ready?” asked Alpha from where he sat on top of the Captain’s chair. “I’m good!” said Red from where he sat at the controls for the ship. It hadn’t taken much to convince him to pilot the vessel. James glanced down at his own console

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

Date Point: 16y AV Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Zane Reid The cold didn’t hurt anymore. At first, it had been like forcing his way through a wall made of knives that cut through his clothes. Zane’s every breath had blinded him as it billowed and steamed in the air, and when he’d experimentally licked his

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

Date Point: 16y AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Snow. Of course, snow in January in Alaska was hardly surprising, and this one threatened to be heavy. At first, Hugh had thought it was probably just an seasonable dusting that’d add a couple of inches to the foot or

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I had made my way through the tournament, but most of my matches had been won by the skin of my teeth, and I had only the advantage of being evolved from a pursuit predator to thank for it. Our great endurance had been the one boon that had kept me going, and I was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

Date Point: 15y 10m 1w AV HMS Violent, Rvzrk System, Domain Space The ground battle churned on for days. That was the problem with Hunters. There was no surrender involved, it was a kill-or-be-killed fight where smashing their will to engage in war simply didn’t achieve enough. Any Hunter left alive would just keep murdering

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

He awoke to a pleasant smell. “…Eggs?” Hoeff detangled himself from Natalie and the sheets and stumbled towards the kitchen. Daar was busy in front of the comparatively little stove and fridge, humming some terrible Gaoian tune to himself. Seriously, their music was like Chinese opera with extra pain. Some Humans liked it, though…but “atonal”

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

9 Years, 6 Months, 15 Days After Eridani Landing The [Singer] The explosion hit and [Vann] watched at the lights on the main hologram and different panels flashed a blinding white light, before dying and plunging the entire bridge of the [Singer] into darkness. “What were we supposed to do?” asked someone near the weapons

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Day 1. I’ve made it on board the human trading vessel! They didn’t detect my presence, and I’ve managed to smuggle myself into their engineering bay, and disguised myself within a cluster of cables! My small, serpentine body makes me indistinguishable from a thin, grayish cable, and the Humans won’t notice my existence until it

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

Date Point: 15y 10m AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Camp Tebbutt wasn’t actually a bad place to live, if you didn’t count the fact that it was essentially a prison for innocent victims. Hugh understood why he was there, and why he couldn’t leave… but after eleven years,

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

Firth Regaari chittered, “It is difficult to imagine you ‘humbled,’ Righteous.” “Heh,” Firth chuckled. “You do know most of my attitude is straight fuckin’ bullshit, right? Adam and John know why.” Regaari looked over at John, who shrugged massively. “He’s a scary dude. Being ridiculous kinda takes the edge off, y’know?” Regaari duck-nodded. He was

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Moving down the hallway Diana paused at the double doors, carefully she moved forwards into it’s threshold and they slid open. A woman in an orange smock looked up from her Comm for a moment, and then going back to look at it did a

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The Good Samaritan

I felt a white-hot pain in my back as I was stabbed. Once, twice and then three times. I fell to the ground clutching my new openings, and for a moment I couldn’t grasp what had just happened. I had walked through an alley as a shortcut back home, and then suddenly someone had grabbed

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

Date Point: 15y9m3w AV Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Unexplored Space Darcy “Does it seem… different to you lately?” “What?” “The Entity. It’s actin’ different, dude, I swear it is.” Darcy sighed and set aside her work as Lewis sat down. She was sitting drinking a Moroccan Mint tea in the station’s rec lounge, with its

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Popping the restraints off of her legs Diana swung herself off of the table, the two class A’s still in their isolation suits were pounding at the door of the room the three of them were in. “It’s out! Open the door!” shouted the man

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

Master Sergeant Christian (Righteous) Firth The end of the movie came and the ladies were fast asleep and prolly too tired to head home with any comfort. The other bros were asleep, too, and Firth was tangled up with them pretty good. Oh well, both ‘Base and ‘Horse were heavy-ass sleepers and only danger or

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Hell. It’s a completely Human concept. The concept of a realm of eternal torture, to which you are sent depending on the whims of one deity or another, is something only found in Human fiction. And it’s not an isolated occurrence. Almost every human culture since the dawn of humanity itself has had it in

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

Date Point: 15y9m2w AV HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Senior Master Sergeant Christian (“Righteous”) Firth “Hey, fuckers! Guess what hit the newsstand today!” Adam looked up from his needlework for a second and raised an eyebrow. “Imma guess Coombes’ centerfold spread with Ava?” Firth deflated, somewhat flummoxed that ‘Horse had stolen his

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