The Hunting LodgeI would be sixteen in just one year, in 4783, and I wish people would stop treating me like a kid. I would get my right to own a house in a year, even if I did have to build it myself. Its not like I minded; I wasn't weak or lazy at all. If I was, I would have been voted off already. This was the last year I had to survive, then they couldn't take me off anymore. I would be free to do the voting. Sadly, last year, I was put into the running. I had really stepped up my game when I narrowly escaped. I hoped that was enough to keep me in this year.
Every year the city's people over the age of sixteen voted off 'the lucky ones, chosen to represent our civilization' (the weakest of us) to be sacrificed. At least that's how they called it. I knew that they were really killing off the lazy lugs who would drag everyone else down by not doing their fare share of work. I knew better than most adults.
"Calya!" My mom shouted into the woods where I was working. She was forty-six years old, and here they killed everyone off once they hit fifty-five. She had a few good years left, "Would you bring the wood you have so far here, please?" She said it like I had a choice. She was the leader of the Junior Female Northern Woodcutters Lodge (A.K.A JFNWL or even easier FNW). I wrapped up the logs I had in the ratty old blanket I was so fortunate to have and hauled them over my back. I had been daydreaming for too long, and I knew it. I had only cut seventeen logs in the last hour. That was an all time low. I couldn't help myself, though! It was so pretty in the forest on the North side. I had recently been reappointed here after some kids from the West side where I used to work came of age (6 years old) and bumped me up to the Northern side. The North was the highest ranked section of our circle, so I was grateful to those little suckers.
I opened the door using my elbows like I always do and plopped the wood on the Countaints Floor. My mother was there, checking up and recording our stocks of wood. She looked at my pile and shook her head. I bit my lip, waiting for the hurricane from her.
"Not very much." She paused, and I was afraid for my life, "Good thing we're moving you to the JFNHL." She said smiling. She stood up and hugged me, and I smiled, too. To join the Junior Female Northern Hunters Lodge had always been my dream.
"Thank you thank you thank you thank you!" I squealed. She pulled a wooden bow about three inches shorter than me out from behind her chair. It had a horse hair bowstring that had been well-waxed and twisted together. It had good flexibility, which meant good range. There was a notch to hold the arrow in place on the bow, so it would shoot straight. I hugged her again, and she pulled a leather shoulder quiver with a sturdy strap and a pocket in the front. It was already full of arrows. I took one out to examine it and saw that they had smooth barbed metal tips and pheasant feather flights. The notches were so smoothly cut that they would easily fit into the bowstring. This must've cost her a weeks sugar rations!
"Thank you!" I hugged her one more time.
"You're welcome." She said humbly and pat me on the back, "Go to your new Lodge, sweetie." She smiled, putting the quiver over my back. I shouldered the bow and smiled with excitement as I skipped out of the room.
It wasn't a long walk to the FNH Lodge, only about half a mile. I walked into the Lodge and only saw one person there. She was a Major, which meant she was older than sixteen. I could tell from two things; the way her hair was cut (Minors weren't allowed to wear their hair longer than their shoulders, and hers was down to her waist.) and the markings on her chest (On your sixteenth birthday, you got surgery on your heart which allowed it to only work until your fifty fifth birthday.)
"Welcome to the JFNHL. I've been expecting you. Your mother said that you were Swapped, and requested I wait here for you. I have a new uniform for you in that drawer and your assignment list is on that table. This will be your bed from now on. That is, assuming you survive the Picking today." She left me alone in the Lodge. I walked over to the small wooden drawer where she said my new uniform would be and opened it. I pulled out the clothes that seemed to be an attempt at saving animal skins. Underneath it, there was a papyrus bag. I cautiously picked it up and opened it. I pulled out a piece of cold bread, and it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. I sniffed it, then took a huge, heavenly bite out of it. I closed my eyes and ate it quickly, enjoying every bite of it. I couldn't remember a time when I had had anything but potatoes or corn.
I noticed something written on the bag: 'Welcome, Calya. -Danette'. I smiled at it. So that was her name. I quickly changed into the skin-tight buffalo and bear skin uniform, feeling awfully exposed with my short-shorts and tight crop top. I tried to pull the shorts down as I put on the cow hide hunting boots that had been on the bed she said was mine. It had a thick lion skin blanket covering it, and a feather stuffed case of thinned out fox skin as a pillow. It looked comfortable.
I pulled my shorts down one more time and put my bow and quiver back over my shoulder. I grabbed the list on the dresser and glanced it over. I would have to complete all of this by sundown or I would be marked as lazy, and I had already missed half a day. The list read:
Two foxes [_]
One bear [_]
Two owls [_]
Shouldn't be hard. The woods and forests were crawling with animals. I know because I came across many when I was lumbering. I set out to the forest I had never been allowed to explore before, just to look around, but it was crawling with Hunters. I decided to go to the lumber woods to look for the animals that I had seen there. I saw an owl right away, so I nocked an arrow and aimed. It was sitting on a branch, so it wasn't a moving target. Easier for me. I fired, and it sailed straight into the owl's head. It fell from its branch, and I ran over to catch it. A girl about my age stepped out of the bushes near it and caught it by the arrow. She pulled it out and threw it on the ground, running away with my first kill.
"Hey! That's mine!" I yelled after.
"Oh, yeah, sweetheart? Then why do I have it?" She called back, running away with it. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I was pissed. I nocked an arrow and fired at her foot. She got lucky and lifted her foot just as it landed, so it skimmed the heel of her boot and she started to bleed. The arrow stuck out of the ground where it had landed. She scowled at me and grabbed it up, running off with it. Great, now I had to explain a missing arrow. I swooped over and picked up the one she had dropped, which had bits of owl skull and blood on it. I shivered and wiped it off on my shorts, shoving it back into my quiver. I still needed two owls, a bear, and a fox.
I guess it was my lucky (or unlucky, but I'm an optimist) day. A fox walked right across my path, and my first instinct was to swing at it with my lumber axe. But I didn't have a lumber axe, so I nocked an arrow and shot it right at it's middle. I didn't trust myself enough to go for a head shot. The arrow pierced the beautiful orange-red hide and it ran around frantically until it finally had its final death spasm. It was disturbing to watch, but i picked it up anyway. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with it, so I just kept it on the arrow and put it over my shoulder like a knapsack. It was surprisingly heavy, but luckily I was strong.
I walked for a while with no sign of any animals, until I was the luckiest person on earth when a huge group of owls was being hunted by a fox. I let the fox kill one owl for me, then I shot it. I grabbed both creatures and continued walking. I didn't know how I would ever find a bear, and I didn't. The bear found me. I was just walking when it pounced for me and went straight for my prizes. It swallowed the owl the fox had killed whole and went after my others. I frantically reached an arrow out of my quiver and stabbed the bear until I was covered in bear blood and had a carcass laying next to me. Now all I needed was another owl, and that shouldn't be too hard. That's where I was wrong.
I wandered the woods for an hour with no sing on any owls. I saw tons of other animals, though, and I wondered if I could make up for my lack of owl with a deer or something. Finally, I heard a hooting sound over head, and a quickly nocked an arrow and pointed upwards. There was an owl flying over head, and this might be my last chance. I aimed a bit in front of where it was flying and shot. It whistled harmlessly past its wing. I nocked another and fired as fast as I could, and this one clipped its wing enough to send it spiraling down into the trees where it got stuck.
I sighed and shouldered my bow, retrieving my arrow that had missed the flying menace. After it was safely in my quiver, I examined the tree my prey had fallen in. It was still alive, I knew that, but it was trapped. The tree was pine, with not many branches, but luckily I had practice with trees and knew how to climb it. I heaved myself up into the needles of the tree getting my idiosyncratic archery gear tangled in the twigs and stuck on branches. I was tempted to throw it down, but with my luck someone would come and grab it.
I finally reached my owl, and looked up to check the time. The sun was about two hours from setting, maybe an hour and a half. That gave me plenty of time. I reached for the owl, but it tried to peck me. (Maybe I had missed leather gloves from the drawer?) It have me no choice but to secure myself to the tree by wrapping my legs and feet around the branch I was sitting on and out out an arrow. I nocked and aimed, but something surprised me. I thought I heard voices, but they weren't coming from below. I looked down just to check and found it was completely barren. It took me a minute to realize that the noises were coming from the owl. I thought only parrots could mimic. Parrots, and those lucky to be born with a 'Lensin' they called it. A sort of magical blessing that showed you were going to be a good leader. They often came with cool powers, but I had only met three in my lifetime. Now, I know what you're thinking, this is MY story so I must have a Lensin, right? Wrong. They show up when you're ten, and, if you hadn't noticed, I'm older than ten and still have no special powers, thank you.
I loosed the arrow at the bird, trying to think weather it was possible for animals to get a Lensin. A glowing blue orb momentarily solidified around it to protect it from my projectile.
"Not yet" it echoed in a thousand raspy voices, "You have a choice." I blinked at it. It obviously wouldn't let me kill it until it spoke, so I let it. It was going to die either way.
"You can kill me and complete your assignment list, and risk all of your knowledge with me, though there is a small chance that won't happen. Or you can let me free and I will grant you a good life." No way could I trust this talking owl. I nocked an arrow and shot it again. This time, the arrow pierced it's head. It let out a painfully human like scream and died. I grabbed it quickly and flung it off the branch. As it fell, a ghost-like form materialized on the branch it was sitting on.
"Not a wise choice, my friend..." She whispered and disappeared. It only hit me then what I might have just done. I had heard stories of High Immortals or Wisdom Keepers possessing animals and giving choices. Whenever I had heard the stories, I would think they were stupid.
I sat on my dad's lap while he told me the story of a young boy who found an injured wolf. The wolf had told him that he had two choices; to spare him our kill him. Everyone knew the stories of the Wisdom Keepers who possessed injured animals and spoke through them, so I found it stupid that he chose to kill it.
"But daddy! Isn't clear that the wolf is a Wisdom Keeper? Why is he so stupid!" I complained. I was only five, not even of age yet, so I was allowed to ask stupid questions. He laughed.
"Because, pumpkin, its not always so obvious when you're there."
"I don't get it."
"You will. You will see a Wisdom Keeper at some point. Everyone does."
"I thought you said," I mimicked his deep voice, "'Everyone who is destined for greatness sees a Wisdom Keeper.' You really think I'm 'destined for greatness'?" He nodded and smiled. He was forty nine at the time. He's dead now.
I realized the tragedy of my mistake when I fell from the tree as well as the owl. I managed to throw my bow and quiver off as I fell so I wouldn't be impaled, but it still hurt.
Black spots clouded my vision and I lay on the rough ground for who knows how long until I managed to stand up. It looked about an hour to sunset. I chided myself and grabbed my prey and weapons and ran for the FNH Lodge and made it there at the same time as Danette.
"Just leave your animals outside the HStockhouse, they can identify them with your arrows." She walked in to the Lodge. I could hardly see what I was doing; it was like I was a puppet and the universe and taken the strings for a while. I'm not even sure I blinked. I was too nervous for the Picking tonight to think about anything else. That Wisdom Keeper had to be a bad omen.
I walked into the Lodge to get ready for the Picking in forty five minutes.