ALONE

by John Dodd

It began twelve years ago, my life that is. I was born to one of the elders of the Deji tribes on the world of Polo, on the outer rims of the SLA territories.

I don't remember much of my childhood before the age of 1, I don't suppose that it meant all that much, I guess that it was learning the basics of reading, writing and other such things. I remember my mother, kind and caring, far more so than the other wraith mothers, as if even though she knew about the hardships of the world, she would still protect us from them.

On the other hand, my father was like a diamond, both in ability, and in personality. A Keeper of the Faith within the cult of the hunter, he never had too much time for either me or my brothers and sisters. I had nine in the beginning, and we worked well as a team, but all that changed one dark night.

Sitting around the fire in our home, a howl sounds, distant and beyond the wall, nevertheless, my father gets up instantly, moving smoothly to the weapons cabinet, taking his rifle from the wall and loading it with shells designed to destroy buildings, they are the only things in the house that we are not allowed to touch, for fear that we might set them off and kill something that we are not supposed to.

The Howl sounds again, louder, nearer, my father begins to move faster, he sprinted to the other room, stripping his armour out of the closet and scrambling into it. He flew back into the room, signalling in battle sign for my mother to get us out of there. My sister Rolak and I were the first into the underground shelter, as I cleared the hatch, the back wall of the house exploded and something charged in. I say something, because I couldn't tell what it was, I glanced back in time to see my mother slam and bolt the hatch behind me, then turn to fight alongside my father.

I had seen my father take on dozens of wraiths, as part of his responsibilities as a keeper of the faith, he regularly trained others in the ways of the warrior, not one of them laid a hand upon him, but he was as a child before this thing. Like a force of nature, it swept through the house, one huge foot crushing two of my brothers as it charged at my father. He got one round off before a massive claw tore his rifle from him. My mother pounced to the attack, her blade scything down into the creatures back, it spun, crushing more of my siblings beneath its awesome bulk. It reached around its neck, grabbling my mother and throwing her through the outer wall of the house. My father struck a mighty blow into its shoulder, the blade cutting deep into the creature, its reflexive strike tore the life from him, leaving his body slumped against the far wall.

I watch in silent fear as the thing prowls the house, taking the bodies of all but my father with it. It pauses at his body, reaching down with one huge limb, tearing his right arm from his body. It tears the clothing from his arm, revealing the family crest, and holds it aloft, screaming its bestial triumph to the sky before leaving with its trophy.

The night was suddenly a very cold and dark place indeed. Beside me, I could hear my sister quietly mumbling the Hunters prayer. Without conscious thought, I joined in.

That was how they found us that next day, almost frozen by the bitter cold of the Polo night, huddling together to try and save body heat, mumbling a prayer both of us had hardly learned. My fathers talisman was given to my sister, and we were offered a place within the temple as a mark of respect for my father.

We spent our formative years there, learning the way of the hunter, we learned much about our parents, things that they had chosen not to reveal to us. My father was one of the few who had been considered for the terminus rank, my mother one of the only wraith to reach the level of lord of the hunt. We were lucky to have parents of the calibre that we had, it is because of them that we were taken in. Any other wraith children would have been sent into the wilderness to die, it is not heartlessness, it is simply the way of the world, we are a warrior species, we cannot afford to carry the weak.

In those years, I vow never to be weak, to live up to the ideals set by my parents, to one day kill the thing that took them. It will take many years, but I can do it, and I still have rolak to help me, together, we are family, together, we will kill it.

At the Age of seven, we are sent out into the community, we now work for our keep and are known for ourselves, not just who our parents were. We regularly join hunting parties, and are well respected for what we can do.

Three years pass, and all seems well, till one day, on a trip to the southern hemisphere, we find the spoor of a trige, worthy prey, and one that will net us a good amount of trade if we bring it in. They are simple creatures, easily lead if you know how to do it. We set snares and arm weapons, ready for it.

As we wait, we hear the sound of the trige, it can smell us, and like all of it's clumsy breed, when it can scent prey, it will come for it. For a second, it goes quiet, then in the distance, a howl.

My sister and I exchange glances, we know that howl. I break hunter code and glance out from the cover I am in. In the distance, the Trige breathes its last, something tears it into small red shreds, it stands in the corpse, wading knee deep in gore, then raises its head and howls again.

I know that howl, and all at once, I am a child, huddled alone in the shelter again, once again, I am frozen in fear. Rolak is not, bounding from cover, she grabs me and we begin fleeing to the north, the edge of the great divide is not far from us, if we can make it to there, we might have a chance.

Behind us, It senses us, it knows it failed to take us once, it will not fail again. A noise like the wrath of god starts from behind us. We run, both of us still the children we were that evening, I glance backwards, the thing is a faint dot in the distance. Rolak drags me round and we keep running. The great divide is not far, less than a mile, we can reach it within a few minutes, and from there, escape into the water.

Still the thunder from behind us, closer now, I dare not look at it.

We reach the divide, I can see something churning in the water below us, it is not our day today, on the only day when we may actually want to go swimming, the ice wurms are out in force. I turn back, Rolak moves me behind her, crouching down and smashing something into the ice. As I watch, the thing nears us, it slows, beginning to pace back and forwards, some part of me which is not terrified analyses this thing.

It stands maybe twenty feet tall, hugely muscled, with a coat of soft grey fur. There is something on its arm, a red marking of some sort. Rolak notices it also, pointing it out. It's almost identical to our family creed that was branded upon us at birth. The creature pauses for a second, then indicates the patch on its arm. It smiles, a promise of a painful death, then roars, arching it's back, arms raised. It drops into an attack crouch and charges us.

For all those people who say rage doesn't have a sound, that hate doesn't have a face, you're wrong, I know both, I have seen them coming for me. Rolak shifts stance, pushing me behind her. I don't see much of what happens next, Rolak hammers me backwards, I fall over the edge. The thing smashes into her, carrying both of them from the edge, I feel myself drop down the edge, time seems to slow, the creature bites deep into my sister, I see her frantically hacking at it with a small knife, then the water takes them.

For a second I don't know what's happened, I'm still in the air, and as I watch below, one of the ice wurms slams into the thing, I get a vague impression of it clawing at the wurm, before the churning water closes over them. I glance upwards, realising what my sister did when she crouched down. Attached to my harness is a climbing line, I get back up onto the top of the divide, and see the hydro hammered spike jutting out of the ice.

Shame overwhelms me, even with this thing coming for both of us, even with no hope of life, she still was true to the code of the hunter. Knowing that her life was over, she died in the manner of her choosing, and in doing so, saved me. I look down and see my fathers talisman around the spike, and now, I am alone in this world, I travel back to the settlement, and transmit my application for SLA Industries, citing my background and skills.

To my surprise, I am accepted, the next shuttle off world takes me to the new world, and we are taught about the need for cool suits, things that will allow us to function in this new, warmer atmosphere. Straight off the shuttle, we are taken to meny, and assigned quarters. I don't fit in too well with the other students, I have grown scared of making any emotional commitment. My fellow students know something of my background, but not enough. Two months into my training, I sit alone in my quarters when one of my tutors pays me a visit.

Standing nearly seven feet tall, P'rs'ph'n is an imposing sight, even more so for the fact that she's female. One of the greater of the shaktarian tutors, she is more so for all that she embodies. I asked her when I first arrived about the shaktar code of honour, and at that point, she dismissed me, telling me that no wraith could hold to such a code. I persevered, and on this night, she came to me and began to teach me the codes that would bind my life in such a way as to be unbreakable.

I took longer to graduate Meny than the other wraith, this was in no way due my being less able than them, instead, with the help of P'rs'ph'n, I find myself beginning to trust some of the other students. I learn that I am not alone in what has happened to me, it seems that tragedy is a way of life for this universe. When P'rs'ph'n retires from Meny, I am placed with a squad, the Butterfly Knives, I know most of them, I have trained with many of them, maybe, just maybe I can be part a family again.

Then I receive the transmission from home. My sisters arm has been found, and attached to it, a single shred of cloth, upon it was etched the phrase "Waiting". I know now what I must do, the thing is still out there, it knows I survived, and now it waits for me, I shall return one day, and give back to it all the pain that it gave to me so freely.

It is a gift I shall enjoy repaying……………….