NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty-Nine

They had reached the place that Sonoraneldan said was the same, in some way, as the end of the scentless scent-trail, not long after full dawn the next day, after a quiet night that Alissa had spent snug and happy in her burrowed space in the earth, and Sonoraneldan and Glomorominith had spent in doing whatever they did.

There had been nothing obviously different about the spot, and Sonoraneldan had explained that because the fragment with the curved markings was so much smaller than the ground (or something like that), the destination of their journey could be anywhere within a small walk away from there; so they had begun to spiral outward among the thinning root-arches, enjoying the air and looking for anything noteworthy.

It was Sonoraneldan who first saw the strange mammal-like creatures.

There were three of them, sitting or standing on the ground near a large and peculiar pile of bark fragments. They appeared soft and rather limp, but in general shape and eyelessness were much like the mammal ghosts in Alissa’s dreams.

“I wonder what those things are,” Sonoraneldan said, pointing with head and antennae.

“Those things!” Glomorominith said in an agreeable way.

The three travelers stopped a little ways from the creatures, sizing them up. They seemed unaware that they were being observed for some time, until two of them looked over and then slowly rose up on their rear limbs.

“They seem to move very slowly,” Alissa observed, “perhaps they are injured.”

“The one in the center seems sessile,” Sonoraneldan added.

Alissa moved in agreement. As they watched, the two standing mammals made various slow and uncertain movements, to no obvious purpose.

“In the center,” Glomorominith said, “what have we here? We here?”

“What is it, my friend?” Sonoraneldan asked softly, “Do you note something?”

Alissa stayed a bit behind as her larger companions moved toward the dithering pale creatures.

“Be careful,” she breathed, “they look harmless, but if they are mammals–“

“Hm, could these be the legendary mammals?” Sonoraneldan mused in a humorous tone, “perhaps they have grown less formidable over the ages.”

As the travelers approached them more closely, Alissa realized that the mammals, if that was what they were, were not only slower than the ones she recalled from her dreams, but also smaller. The two standing ones, that were still only making slow pointless motions, were not even as tall as Alissa with all four of her legs on the ground. She felt rather sorry for them, especially as they dithered over the unmoving, and perhaps slightly larger, one on the ground between them.

Sonoraneldan and Alissa watched those two back slowly away, their odd faces (and were those eyes, down in the disquieting pair of pits in each face?) contorting peculiarly. In the meantime, Glomorominith went up close to the motionless one, and touched its head lightly with antennae, seemingly very interested in something about the still form.

This seemed to excite the other two into nearly-rapid motion. One reversed course and began to walk toward Glomorominith and the unresponsive one, reaching out with its upper two legs, or arms. (How simple they are, Aliisa thought to herself; two arms and two legs, perhaps, at most two eyes, no antennae but only a sort of fuzz of tendrils atop their modest and unambitious heads. If these are mammals, then the legends did indeed exaggerate, or they are very changed. Perhaps, she thought, they are mammal grubs, or larvae.)

Glomorominith continued the gentle stroking and examination of the grub on the ground, and the nearer of the other two continued approaching; the third seemed torn, making ponderous motions both toward and away from its bolder, or more excited, companion.

As it seemed that the nearer grub might reach with its arms and interfere with Glomorominith’s examination, Sonoraneldan reached out an antenna and blocked its way. It made awkward attempts to evade the obstruction, but Sonoraneldan easily fended them off, pushing the no-doubt frustrated creature gently backwards.

Then “Oho,” Glomorominith intoned, in a very pleased voice, “look what have we here, hello, hello,” and pulled from some interstice a long sliver of something like stone. Placing it, whatever it was, on the ground beside the unmoving grub, the big person then turned and walked with a hint of swagger back to their former position, a few strides further from the possible mammals, and Alissa and Sonoraneldan followed.

“What was that thing?” Alissa asked, not sure which of them she was asking, “What just happened?”

Sonoraneldan made a sound of pleased amusement. “Glomorominith can be a most surprising person, excellent at finding food, but all sorts of other things as well. Knowing what is needed at any given moment is at least as valuable a skill as many others I could name.”

“As valuable as categorizing leaves, or telling stories about stories?” Alissa laughed. And the other two burbled agreement.

In the meantime, the three grubs had been moving slowly about in some leisurely excitement. The one on the ground was beginning to sit up, rubbing its head with a forward hand. The other two clomped awkwardly over to it, and lowered themselves to the ground again on either side.

“It moves!” Alissa noted, “Did Glomorominith heal it in some way?”

“Oho!” Glomorominith replied, and Sonoraneldan made an amused gesture.

“Removed that bit of stone like a splinter from the mammal’s craw, perhaps.”

“Very generous to return the splinter like that,” Alissa mused, “not the kind of thing one sees every day.”

“No covetousness, now.”

“There is a word I have not heard in many whiles,” Alissa smiled.

The grubs had now turned toward the three travelers. Alissa tried to discern from their stances, motions, and odd soft faces what might be happening in their minds, but could only speculate.

“Are they perhaps being slowly grateful?” she wondered.

“Very hard to say,” Sonoraneldan replied, “With creatures so different from us, even with a different experience of time, as it were, how could that question be answered?”

Alissa moved in agreement, and continued watching the mysterious creatures, waiting for them to do something interesting.

Fling Thirty

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