She had it. She had found the cure. Or at least that’s what the voice told her.
Taelisia stumbled through the dense foliage of the forest. The strange suit of bone she now wore made movement difficult. Each small step she tried to take propelled her metres forward, as if she were a leaf caught on the wind. A sudden ear-splitting roar froze Taelisia in her tracks. Her eyes darted around the forest searching for the source of the sound. A colossal fly of monstrous size lumbered into her vision. Taelisia recoiled and the body-sleeve amplified her movement into a mighty leap. She flew backwards, slamming her head into a tree, but felt no pain. Somehow the red-plumed helm she had taken from the shrine had absorbed the blow. She searched for the fly again and found it. But now it was of a normal small size, over a hundred metres away, buzzing around a stagnant puddle on the ground.
‘Yes,’ Taelisia heard in her mind. ‘The armour can be strange to the untrained. But I will guide you. We will take the cure to your kin.’
Underneath the helm, Taelisia’s eyelids fluttered and her thoughts drifted to her memories.
‘No, Taelisia. Our ancestors left those lives behind for a reason,’ Orunai explained.
Taelisia countered, ‘Master Orunai. We will all leave our lives behind if this sickness continues to spread.’
Orunai sighed, put down his cattle-staff, and with difficulty, sat on the floor of the yurt. ‘The sickness will not spread. The infected herd have been culled and those of us with symptoms will take the sky road. We are at peace with this. On the morrow you will take the tribe and leave us.’
Taelisia’s hands clenched into fists. ‘There is no logic to your actions. You allow your souls to be taken into the ancient’s World Spirit when you die. But you refuse to make use of the other wonders the ancients left for us.’
Orunai lay back upon a bundle of bright red furs and closed his eyes. ‘It does not matter what wonders you imagine lay in those shrines. They are cursed. If you plunder them, you will damn us all.’
‘I would rather we are damned than dead,’ Taelisia spat.
Orunai smiled. ‘And in that you show your naivety, for there are things far worse than death.’
The sharp stench of rotten blood pulled Taelisia from her memories. On the ground before her lay the remains of a Vayenasaur and in her hands a blood-soaked glaive.
‘You were attacked,’ said the voice in her mind.
Taelisia’s thoughts poured forth in a rush, ‘But, what? No. Vayenasaurs are docile. They’re tamed herbivores. How?’
The voice whispered, ‘ It came for you while your mind was elsewhere. I helped you to defend yourself. ‘
Taelisia’s confusion rose, ‘But this makes no sense. I—’
The voice interrupted, ‘I am sorry young one. There is no time to explain. We must hurry.’
The spirit stone embedded in the breastplate of the suit glowed. Taelisia’s eyelids fluttered and again she fell into her memories.
The shrine was small, no bigger than one of her people’s yurts. But it was a wonder to behold. A smooth bone-white oval, like the egg of a gigantic beast. Pale blue lights drew her inside. A suit of armour lay splay upon the floor. It was as if whoever had worn it had fallen. But nobody was inside. Taelisia knelt to look at it closer. Her fingers drifted towards the glowing spirit stone embedded in its chest, and then—
An impact hurled Taelisia through the air. Somehow, she flipped herself upright before landing on her feet. A Karnakadon charged at her. Its thick plated skull seemed distorted to gargantuan proportions. She somersaulted over it, drawing the glaive in her hands down its spine and splitting its skin in two. Taelisia watched stunned, as its skin and flesh peeled away from its bones like cooked meat. Revulsed she tried to put her hands to her mouth but could not move them. Her hands still moved spinning the glaive, but she had no control over them.
‘What is happening?!’ Taelisia thought.
‘I had to help you again,’ said the voice in her mind. ‘You are not trained and what we must do is difficult.’
Taelisia’s thoughts spun, ‘What do you mean?! We don’t need to slaughter simple beasts. We need to get back to the tribe!’
‘I am sorry, young one. But we are here.’
Taelisia felt the control of her body return to her. She turned her head and saw the familiar sight of her tribe’s yurts. But everything was wrong. Where once had been lush grazing pastures now there was a dank fly-infested swamp. The verdant forests on the hills had lost all their leaves, and now seemed permeated by fungus and rot. Even the sky had turned from its usual bright blue to a sickly pale green.
And then she saw her tribe. She recognised them in an instant. They still wore their bright red furs and carried their cattle-staffs. But that was the only thing that was familiar. Instead of their usual tall lithe forms, they had become swollen hunched things. Taelisia could see boils and blisters covering their skin. All their grace and beauty had gone to be replaced with horror.
‘I did not think the sickness would spread so quickly.’ Taelisia thought. And then to the voice in her mind she demanded, ‘We must give them the cure now. They are still alive, but they won’t be for long in this condition. We must save them!’
Taelisia could feel the voice hesitate as if unsure of what to say.
‘You have the cure,’ said the voice in her mind. ‘You have it there, in your hands.’
Realisation dawned on Taelisia. She looked out at the shambling monstrosities that were her kin and then down at the glaive in her hands.
‘Orunai was right,’ she whispered, ‘There are things worse than death.’
About the Author
J.M. has worked in content production for the past 15 years as a writer and producer. He has previously worked for the BBC creating Children’s interactive content, including the award-winning Playtime and Storytime apps, and the Amazon Alexa BBC kids skill. He was part of the BBC Writersroom comedy room in 2018. For the past three years he has been heading up production at NeoMam Studios.