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About Digital Art / Professional Member Andrew ColungaMale/United States Recent Activity
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The New God

“Return to us!” The God Whisperer bellowed from the top of the slope. She raised her arms to the river and looked toward the jungle. Many of the villagers gathered behind her, including Fallen Tree and Dark Water. The smell of burning wood was strong in the air, and the echoes of trees crashing down reached their ears. The sky had just begun to brighten, but the rising smoke from the jungle had already caught the golden light of dawn.

The crowd shifted tensely as falling ash began to build on their shoulders. They could see the red glow of the fires through the trees, and it was growing brighter as if the flames were coming closer. By now everyone knew what had happened between Jaguar Claw and Red Spear, and that the hunters had chased after Sunflower and Standing Deer in the jungle.

Soon the red glow became golden, and smoke and embers began to waft through the trees. God rays gleamed in the smoke, and some of the villagers backed away.

“Show us the good deed we have done!” The God Whisperer cried, raising her hands higher. She didn’t know what had caused the fire in the jungle, but she was sure the mighty gods had a hand in it.

A silhouette of one of the hunters appeared in the light, followed by another and a third. The shadows of the trees on the crowd moved as the light seemed to come closer, and the light felt warm, like letting the sunlight wash over their faces. The villagers covered their eyes, and the hunters emerged from the tree line, guarding a figure standing between them.

The God Whisperer looked down, and Fallen Tree and Dark Water unshielded their eyes.

Sunflower emerged, cloaked in yellow flames, and at places her body transmuted between flesh and fire. The hunters stood by her side and raised their spears to The God Whisperer and their loved ones in the crowd.

Most of the villagers gasped, some screamed, and even The God Whisperer was stunned. She saw the flames, but despite her entire life’s desire to witness the power of the gods, she forced herself to reject what was right in front of her eyes.

“What happened in there!? Where is Jaguar Claw?” The God Whisperer yelled stubbornly, but her milky eyes glared with the brightness of Sunflower’s light, and she could only see her. She lowered her arms and her hands trembled.

Sunflower stepped into the river, and a hissing cloud of steam erupted at her feet. She continued forward, and more steam billowed and filled the air. The hunters followed her, their spear tips poking through the haze, and Sunflower looked up at The God Whisperer, her eyes like two glowing goals.

The God Whisperer trembled. Yes, it was clear now. She must’ve told the story at least a hundred times, the story of a girl who chased the Sun, and who the Sun turned into a god.

Sunflower’s yellow flames leaped upwards like snakes, and she said in a deepened voice, words that seemed to come from the darkest depths that all men have, “You will find Jaguar Claw in the jungle, next to my mother. Go and find your son. The gods will have no pity on you.”

The God Whisperer cautiously descended the slope, shaking like a leaf, and with her arms curled like a wounded animal’s. She stepped into the river and gave Sunflower a wide berth. Her mind was dazed. The gods are here, she thought, and they’re real. The crowd watched as she was swallowed by the mist, and they heard her entering the jungle and walking toward the inferno.

Sunflower looked at the crowd and approached them. She walked with her back straight and her chin defiant. Fallen Tree and Dark Water watched her anxiously, feeling the heat on their faces. When she reached the edge of the river her flames became smaller, and she climbed up the slope. The mist started to clear, and the hunters crossed the river too.

At the top, Sunflower’s fire disappeared, and she stood alone. The entire crowd looked at her. Whispers fluttered between them like a plague, but then Dark Water approached, the woman who had given Sunflower her sunflower. She got on her knees and Sunflower looked at her. The little girl’s fists were clenched, and she had solemn, wide eyes that could gaze for a hundred years.

Dark Water reached out to her, gently touched her arm and said, “I’m sorry.” A tear rolled down the woman’s face, and Sunflower leaped forward to hug her and began to cry loudly. The night was over, but the day had just begun.

Fallen Tree put an arm around his wife and sighed deeply. Earlier someone helped him move Red Spear’s body where The God Whisperer wouldn’t get it, and maybe when the fires died they could get Standing Deer’s body too. Jaguar Claw and The God Whisperer could rot in the jungle for all that they’re worth. Even Jaguar Claw’s wife didn’t seem to mind that he was gone.

The hunters told everyone what had happened, and that when Jaguar Claw ordered them to murder a child they wouldn’t. Many of the villagers cried that the gods would destroy them now, and as the fire and smoke spread all day that looked to be true, but on the second day it rained, and the village was spared.

Without The God Whisperer, many stories and traditions died with her, but they still had Sunflower and her amazing powers to inspire new faiths. The God Whisperer’s hut was given to her, but instead she chose to live with Fallen Tree and Dark Water, and they loved her like their own daughter.

Seasons changed, and the temple lay abandoned. Fallen Tree became reasonably adept at leading the hunters, and eventually there would be newborn children who could see the panther’s toy too. Sunflower never aged, and it seemed that she would stay a child forever. She still couldn’t sleep, and she still couldn’t eat, but she had all the time in the world to discover what the panther’s toy was, and whether it was worth her parents’ deaths.

Many years would pass, and the stones of a new temple were laid over the old one. Someday, at a very old age, after an entire generation of villagers had passed, Sunflower would trust the panther’s toy to the next priestess.


Standing Deer was running as fast as she could through the jungle. Branches and leaves whipped past her, and she shielded the back of Sunflower’s head. A snake hissed somewhere, and the jungle kept getting thicker. Behind her, the noises of the battle echoed between the trees until there was suddenly silence.

Standing Deer stopped and looked back. She was out of breath and needed to rest. The dark jungle looked alive as the patches of moonlight changed with the wind, and cold air seemed to be blowing in from the direction of the village.

Sunflower awoke from her painful experience and looked at her mother. “I’m okay. I can walk,” she said. Standing Deer put her down, and Sunflower looked around. “What happened? Where’s daddy? Where are we?”

Standing Deer planted the spear she took from the river, and knelt down and opened her arms. Sunflower timidly walked in to hug her, and her mother whispered into her ear, “Your dad stayed behind to help us escape, and once he’s able to—he’ll find us. We just have to keep a watch out for him.”

The angry presence that Sunflower had felt faded away as they got farther from the village, but it was replaced by a sad and worried feeling. It felt like the sensation was coming from right in front of her, and there seemed to be another presence missing from her mental horizon. It felt as though a force of great love had disappeared from the world.

Sunflower stepped away from the hug and felt for the cool breeze that was moving the trees, but she couldn’t sense it. Yet, it felt like something intangible was floating on the wind.

“The world’s meaner now,” Sunflower said.

Standing Deer was worried. “What do you mean?”

“Something nice is gone now, and it’s not coming back.”

Her mother was silent for a few seconds and then asked, “Does this have something to do with the Jaguar God’s toy?”

“I think so.” Sunflower looked at her hand and halfway expected the toy to appear, but it didn’t. “Mom, when The God Whisperer tried to take my blood it kept disappearing. And the needle pokes she made disappeared too. Also I haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon, but I’m still not hungry! And if I try to eat I throw up. And I can’t feel the wind, or pain, or fire, and—and I think I can feel how people are like on the inside. The bad thoughts hurt. Right now mom, you’re scared and worried. I could feel how mean Jaguar Claw is too, and I could feel how daddy loved me.”

A tear rolled down Standing Deer’s face. “What’s happening to you?” she asked. Sunflower looked down at her feet, and immediately Standing Deer bit her lip and regretted asking that out loud. She wiped the tear from her face and touched her daughter’s cheek. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to say that. We’ll find out soon though, and in the end we’ll both still love you.”

Sunflower sniffled and looked for the Jaguar God’s toy again, but then she heard a long, low rumbling sound that made her jump. “Mom … are you hungry? It’s been a whole day since you ate, and … you’re not like me.”

It was like Standing Deer’s stomach suddenly deflated, and she felt a great panging of hunger that made her cringe. “You’re right, little girl,” she laughed, sighing deeply.

“If we’re going to wait for dad I’ll find something for you to eat, okay mom? I can’t get hurt,” Sunflower said, and she turned away.

“Wait!” Standing Deer called. “Take the spear, but if you see someone who isn’t your dad run back to me, quietly. Okay?”

“Yes,” Sunflower replied, and she took the spear, which was twice as tall as her, and disappeared under the leaves of a giant umbrella plant.

Standing Deer figured that they had run almost a half-mile into the jungle. If Red Spear had won or retreated he’d be in the jungle by now looking for them. She looked back toward the village, and in her dash to escape she had left behind a trail of snapped branches and footprints in the dirt. It was a trail that any reasonable hunter could follow, but that was exactly the problem. If Red Spear had lost the fight—no! she thought, because even considering the possibility felt like a massive treachery, but precautions needed to be taken.

Eventually Sunflower returned with a few sapodilla fruits and a bunch of bananas that she managed to knock down with the spear. Standing Deer had climbed halfway up the vines of a nearby tree to keep a lookout for Red Spear. When Sunflower came back, her mother neglected to tell her of the fruit, meat, and grains that she found in the woven bindle. Standing Deer wished that Red Spear would come back and help her. She couldn’t tell how disturbed Sunflower was about her supernatural condition, but she hoped that by keeping her busy it might help ease her mind.

Two hours passed, and nobody approached from the village. Standing Deer tried to eat, but she was too worried. She wanted more than anything to travel toward the village, to at least quell her mind. She wasn’t sure which could be worse, not knowing whether a loved one was safe, or finding out that they were dead.

Sunflower sat in silence between the roots of a massive tree, exploring the boundaries of what she could feel. They were like ghosts in her mind, ghosts of hot and cold, hateful and nice, floating silently on a plane of blackness. A swarm of mean thoughts gathered at the edge of the jungle. They spread out like a fan and were slowly approaching. Sunflower strained to sense beyond, searching for her father, but she could only feel the angry thoughts. The most powerful of them felt dangerous, like a wounded animal, sniffing along the ground for a trail. Then it called the others and they formed in a V-shape behind him. They were coming.

Sunflower gasped and opened her eyes, and she hurried over to the tree where her mother was hiding in and started to climb.

Standing Deer had created a massive veil of vines and leaves about twenty feet off the ground on the lowest branch, and she tied more vines around herself to hold her to the tree, and she created a second harness for her daughter to use. All told, it was an excellent place to watch the nearby jungle and not be seen from the ground.

“Mom, people are coming,” Sunflower whispered, climbing into the vines next to her mother.

Standing Deer snapped out of a drowsy state and clenched the spear in her hands. “Where are they? Did they see you?” she whispered urgently. It was now very late in the middle of the night.

“No. I saw them in my mind. They’re following us from the village,” Sunflower replied.
Standing Deer looked out at the jungle worriedly. “Did you see your father with them?” she asked, masking the desperation in her voice.

Sunflower tried again to feel into the jungle, but her mother’s worry was blocking her senses. “I didn’t feel him, but it’s always hard to feel the nice thoughts. All of the angry and sad ones are too loud.”

Standing Deer watched her daughter straining to use a strange power that she didn’t understand, and it all angered her. For such a long time since she was first captured, she thought that her days of living like a refugee were over. She allowed herself to hope for her daughter, but no eight-year-old should have to hide in a tree, afraid that her neighbors were going to kill her, or deal with the curses placed on them by childish, heartless gods. It wasn’t fair. An eight-year-old should be playing with the other children and have the chance to one day make her own family. Damn The God Whisperer and the gods of this wicked village! It wasn’t right!

Sunflower was still gazing with her mind, and without warning the mean thoughts broke through the fog. They were sprinting straight for them. “Mom! They’re almost here!” Sunflower whispered.

“Are you sure?” Standing Deer asked. She looked out at the jungle but nothing was moving. She wanted to see if Red Spear was with them, but if he wasn’t … they’d be trapped in the trees until the hunters moved on. Could I even rescue him? Standing Deer fretted. I already tried fighting Jaguar Claw once, and what would happen to Sunflower if I died?

Suddenly there was movement fifty feet away. Standing Deer saw it, and she put her hand over Sunflower’s chest. Her daughter’s heartbeat was running wild. Her eyes were shut tight as the yelling of the mean thoughts hurt her mind. Sunflower felt the angry sensation that she associated with Jaguar Claw roaring like a bonfire.

Standing Deer was torn between helplessly watching her daughter suffer and watching the jungle. Ultimately she couldn’t comfort her, and so she peeked through the vines of her nest and saw five figures pushing aside leaves and ferns as they crouched through the underbrush. She kept her hand on Sunflower’s chest and whispered, “Everything is going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay.”

Jaguar Claw emerged into a pocket of moonlight. His chest was slathered with a thick green ointment, and his skin was a pale shade of brown. It crushed Standing Deer to see him alive, and then he disappeared into the shadows, but the other hunters stepped into the light. Standing Deer recognized all of them, but Fallen Tree wasn’t with them, and neither was Red Spear.

Another spot of moonlight washed over the hunters. Jaguar Claw was moving quickly, but his body seemed stiff, and he looked to be breathing roughly. His eyes were dark and heavy lidded, and there was grease around his lips as if he had just eaten. The trail beneath him was hot, but then he noticed the footsteps landing closer together. The woman had slowed down, he thought, and then she stopped here.

Jaguar Claw stepped into the shadows again, and he held up his fist. The other hunters along the line stopped, and Jaguar Claw saw the scattering of footprints beneath the tree where Sunflower and Standing Deer were hiding. The other hunters moved into the area. “They rested here. Search for another trail leaving the clearing,” Jaguar Claw said, and he entered a pool of moonlight. Standing Deer’s eyes widened—he was carrying Red Spear’s spear.

Standing Deer felt dizzy. A lump grew in her throat, and she couldn’t breathe. The shock turned her skin ice cold, and the need to scream became unbearable. Anger and sorrow wrestled in her soul. She turned away and covered her mouth, eyes burning with tears, and her body shook as she restrained her grief. If it weren’t for the vines tied around her waist she would’ve fallen out of the tree.

Jaguar Claw was breathing heavily. Damn Red Spear, he thought, the dead bastard. His arms and legs felt like they had weights tied to them. He had lost a lot of blood, and it felt like there was a line of fire drawn across his chest. His mother told him to eat, but the hunt could not wait. He made his wife cook a few skewers of meat for him and he ate them quickly, but that was it.

Sunflower was cringing in mental anguish. The aura of Jaguar Claw’s soul was incinerating, and it felt like someone was holding her feet to a bonfire. She bit her lip, and clenched her fist and wanted to cry, but she knew they needed to stay hidden.

“The little girl’s footprints go this way!” one of the hunters called, from the direction where Sunflower had gone for fruits.

“If it’s only the brat’s then they might’ve split up. Follow the tracks and see if she came back,” Jaguar Claw ordered. The other hunters left, and he sat down with a sigh on a fallen log. Most of the color had left his face, and he felt extremely lightheaded. This will pass, he thought. He looked at the spear that he’d claimed from Red Spear and glided his hand up and down the shaft. It was stained red with insect dyes, and decorated with feathers and tufts of peccary hair. The tip was sharp, and carved into the wood were the marks of their fight. The hunters will always be mine, he thought. Red Spear is dead, and soon I’ll have his wife as a prize. Maybe by giving the brat’s head to my mother she’ll leave me alone for a while. He sniffed the green ointment that The God Whisperer had smeared across his chest and gagged. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think that his mother was trying to poison him.

The small clearing was quiet without the other hunters, and for a moment, even the sounds of all the animals disappeared too. Jaguar Claw studied the foot prints again, and this time they led him to the base of a nearby tree. He raised an eyebrow in confusion and looked up. There was an unnatural looking nest of vines and leaves, almost invisible had he not looked up, and he saw a glint of sharpened stone between the vines and panicked.

Without warning, a spear shot out of the trees, and Jaguar Claw reflexively stood up. Blood exploded from his right thigh as the spear punctured straight through it, and the tip cracked against his femur. Jaguar Claw cried, but furiously he managed to fling his spear at the nest before falling over.

Standing Deer had seconds. She saw Jaguar Claw’s body twist to throw the spear, and she struggled to free herself and Sunflower from the vines, but his aim was lucky. The spear sliced through them and impaled Standing Deer right above her heart. The impact slammed her back against the tree. She screamed, and Sunflower couldn’t hold back the pain in her mind.

“Mom!” she yelled, seeing the spear sticking out of her mother’s chest. She shrieked, and Jaguar Claw cursed, and Standing Deer cried in agony.

Sunflower’s innocence finally died, and the panther’s toy appeared in her grasp. A tongue of yellow flames coiled around the little girl’s arm, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of her mother. “Mom!” Sunflower yelled again, and the fire quickly spread across her chest and down her other arm. Golden light shined through the vines and blinded Jaguar Claw. The fire weaved through Sunflower’s fingers and consumed her. Her body glowed with a blinding yellow light. Heat radiated from her like the sun, and she erupted in a massive fireball. The nest collapsed, and Standing Deer fell to the ground among the vines. Flaming debris pelted Jaguar Claw as he stared in terror from the flat of his back.

Hovering twenty feet in the air was a girl made of fire and light. Sunflower yelled again, her voice distorted and deepened by rage. The jungle was lit up, and geysers of fire shot from her hands and set the trees ablaze.

Jaguar Claw struggled against the immense pain and searing heat, to pull the spear out of his leg. The other hunters returned and stumbled over each other. “Help me!” Jaguar Claw yelled, but concussive blasts of blistering light from Sunflower’s body drove them away. She was opening portals to energy forged from the birth of creation, and her presence filled the clearing with waves of heat that began to sweep through the jungle.

To Sunflower, it felt like finally feeling warmth for the first time. The villagers lived their lives in the dirty and mundane, but this power was godly in its limitless strength, and it terrified her. Sunflower’s vision was tinged with gold, and she struggled to see the jungle. The toy’s light surged through her like a river, but it was drowning her consciousness, like slipping into an unavoidable sleep. The images of her mother and father faded away as a great beast awakened. All she had left to hold onto was her anger for Jaguar Claw, but that fuelled the great beast inside her more until there was nothing but rage.

Jaguar Claw saw two white eyes piercing through his soul.

“My home, my family, you will burn every day for destroying them,” Sunflower said in a fearsome voice. Trees were fully engulfed in fire, and the wood hissed and cracked. Flaming palms crashed to the ground, and embers and smoke rose through the canopy. The light grew so bright that it was visible from the village, and Standing Deer opened her eyes.

“Sunflower,” she said.

The fires at once ceased as quickly as they came. The terrible light radiating from Sunflower’s body dimmed, and her head tilted down. Standing Deer was buried beneath smoldering vines and raising her arm toward Sunflower. Her hand pawed the air to try and reach her, but she hadn’t the strength to stand up. Her vision was blurry, and she wouldn’t let herself look at the spear stuck into her chest, that would make it all too real. That first moment of immense pain felt like so long ago. She was so sleepy, and breathing was so hard, but let this moment be a passing dream, she thought. Sunflower descended, outlined in golden flames and with tears in her eyes. My daughter looks so beautiful, Standing Deer thought, and for a brief second, she envisioned the future. Sunflower definitely had the power to defend herself, and she had the strength to survive.

There was a wet squelching sound, and Jaguar Claw pulled the spear out of his leg and tossed it aside. He growled and panted heavily. Blood bubbled out of his wound, and he lay on his back like a helpless baby.

“Help me…,” he moaned, wincing and breathing laboriously. “Kill the girl and help me. The gods want it.”

The hunters cowered out from behind the shadow of a large tree and looked up. The trees were still burning, and fiery debris was dropping everywhere.

“Hurry up!” Jaguar Claw yelled.

Tiny golden flames were still rippling all over Sunflower’s skin. She feared that she might burn her mother if she tried to touch her, and a few tears fell from her eyes and turned to steam as they landed on her palm. “Mom, I don’t know how to help you, and I don’t know how to stop the fire,” she sobbed.

Standing Deer looked at her golden child, and she felt the warmth on her face like standing in sunshine. “There’s no way to help me,” she whispered. “I thought the gods had cursed us, but look at you now. You’re so much more than the rest of us. I … I wish I could see what you’ll do next.”

“I have to help you. We have to find daddy,” Sunflower cried. The flames flickered out around most of her body, except for her hair and right arm, and in it she held the panther’s toy. “It’s not fair, mom. I can’t get hurt anymore, but I can’t help you.”

“You can help me by living everyday as though no one is your master,” her mother replied. “Never let anyone make you afraid, and I’ll tell daddy how beautiful and strong you’ve become.”

A tree collapsed outside of the clearing, and a cloud of ash and embers blew overhead. The hunters stood upright behind Jaguar Claw, their spears beside them, and watched the girl with flames for hair huddled over her mother.

“What are you waiting for?” Jaguar claw asked breathlessly.

The hunters heard Sunflower crying, and then she stood up. Her back was turned to them, and she wiped her eyes on the back of her hand. Sunflower turned around, her cheeks dry, and the golden flames came to life again. She had a stony gaze that no child should have, and another tree crashed in the background as Sunflower stepped forward.

“Spear her, now!” Jaguar Claw yelled.

The hunters stepped back as Sunflower approached, and Jaguar Claw closed his eyes from her radiance. The ground burned where she stepped, and embers floated around her. There seemed to be all the time in the world now.

A third tree fell to the ground, and it shook more flaming branches down from the canopy. The hunters parted as Sunflower stepped past them, her golden flames shining in their eyes. Then they began to walk in the child god’s wake.

“Don’t leave me here!” Jaguar Claw pleaded.

Fire cascaded into the clearing as more branches fell, and the jungle had turned bright red. Jaguar Claw tried to roll over and crawl away, but his leg screamed with pain, and he had lost so much blood that he could feel himself lying in it.

“Come back!” Jaguar Claw cried, but the hunters were gone.

Suddenly there was a loud cracking sound, and the tree that Sunflower and Standing Deer were hiding in shook violently. Fire consumed the entire top three-quarters, and splinters shot out of the weakened trunk. The tree began to fall, and Jaguar Claw screamed as a crown of flaming, twisted branches crashed over him.

A Father’s Blood

After many hours of eating, drinking, and singing, most of the villagers had fallen asleep in their homes or passed out beside the smoldering fires. The panther’s body had been moved from the temple to the village center, where skewers of meat had been placed near its mouth as offerings. The moon was a quarter empty, and the sky was cloudless and filled with stars.

Fallen Tree quietly slid aside the woven panel and surveyed the village center. All seemed quiet, and he stepped out of his hut. Far away and down the lane, the temple looked like a massive burial mound, cold and dormant.

Fallen Tree motioned toward his hut, and Red Spear stepped out. He had his spear, and over his shoulder was a woven bindle that Dark Water had filled for him with fruits, grains, and meat wrapped in large leaves. He crouched low, while Fallen Tree walked more distractingly out in the open. The God Whisperer’s hut had a woven panel pulled over the door. Probably, Red Spear thought, so that the old woman could fall asleep through the partying.

Fallen Tree and Red Spear snuck through the village until they came to the last hut before the empty lane that led to the temple. Fallen Tree stood away from the hut, but he kept himself out of sight of where he saw the two boys. He carefully peaked, and gratefully there were no lookouts posted outside the temple, but cracks of flickering light in the hatch seemed to mean that someone inside had lit a fire.

Fallen Tree motioned for Red Spear to approach, and he told him, “No one’s guarding the hatch, but someone might be inside watching them.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Red Spear said cryptically. He held his spear upright and sighed. “You should go to bed before someone sees you. In the future, don’t always let Jaguar Claw lead the hunters the way he has. If fortune smiles, we should try and meet again before the afterlife.”

“Good luck. I hope that you and your family find a new home,” Fallen Tree said, and the two men hugged and thumped each other’s backs.

“We should’ve become friends sooner,” Red Spear said, letting go. Fallen Tree shrugged in a “that’s the way life is” manner and started sneaking back toward his hut.

Red Spear looked at the temple. He raised his spear tip and moved swiftly down the lane. About twenty feet away from the hatch, he dropped to his belly and continued crawling forward.

Up-close, Red Spear saw the firelight coming through the hatch. He paused to listen for sounds coming from within, but he heard nothing, and carefully lifted the hatch a few inches and aimed his spear inside. The fire was in the back of the room, and the heat within made Red Spear’s eyes sting. In front of the skull pedestal was a pile of old rags, and huddled in the shadows against the right wall were two figures lying on the ground. Red Spear raised the hatch further, and the sticks and branches it was made of cracked torturously loud. He placed the woven bindle like a doorstop to keep the hatch up, and slid silently into the room on his back.

The taller figure stirred. Standing Deer turned her head and glared, expecting to see Jaguar Claw or another villager, but as she saw Red Spear landing inside of the temple her eyes lit up.

Red Spear smiled ear to ear. She looked unharmed. “We’re leaving tonight,” he whispered loudly.

Standing Deer shook her head. With her hands tied she couldn’t motion for him to stay quiet, and Red Spear was confused. He hurried over and stuck the tip of his spear between Standing Deer’s wrists, and the sharp rock began to cut through the fibrous ropes.

“Dad, you’re here!” Sunflower whispered happily as she tossed and turned to see him.

“Sunflower!” Red Spear whispered loudly.

“Honey, be quiet,” Standing Deer spoke softly.

“Dad, she’s in the room,” Sunflower murmured.

“Who’s in the room?” Red Spear asked, and the ropes around Standing Deer’s wrists suddenly snapped. She quickly put her fingers over Red Spear’s mouth to shush him, and she pointed over his shoulder at the pile of rags on the floor. She looked him in the eyes and mouthed out the words, “The God Whisperer is sleeping over there.”

Red Spear slowly looked over, and the pile of rags appeared to rise and fall slightly with the rhythm of someone breathing. When he looked back at Standing Deer, he mouthed back, “I see.” Then the two of them kissed passionately, with the realization of how close they were to losing everything, and Red Spear whispered in her ear, “I’m glad you’re both safe.”

She whispered back, “Us too.”

Red Spear started cutting at the ropes on Standing Deer’s ankles, but then the room suddenly plunged into blackness. The fire had been put out, and there was a loud hissing sound as steam filled the room.

Suddenly Sunflower felt a fowl but familiar presence in the room. It filled her with the same disgust that she got whenever the God Whisperer berated her mother. The feeling began to unstoppably grow, and she could almost sense where the presence was coming from—at the back of the room where the fire had been lit.

Red Spear wheeled around with his spear, unable to see, but from the other end of the room came the sound of a wooden bowl hitting the floor, and an old, raspy voice.

“I knew you’d return, Red Spear,” The God Whisperer said.

“Only to take my family with me,” he replied. He looked around, trying in vain to see through the darkness, but The God Whisperer was a part of the shadows. He knew she kept an obsidian dagger on her for blood ceremonies, but even so, how dangerous could an old woman be? Red Spear gave his spear to Standing Deer, and she began to cut at the ropes around her ankles. He then put his arms out in a defensive stance and stood in front of his family.

“I’ve been slowly going blind for ten years now,” The God Whisperer said, “and I’ve spent most of my life in the shade of this temple. I can hear you breathing, Red Spear. The gods can hear it too. It summons them like the whining of a disrespectful child who needs to be punished."

Standing Deer’s feet were now free, and she began to work on Sunflower’s ropes.

“We are leaving this village in peace,” Red Spear said. “My family has done nothing to you. Our lives are worth only to ourselves. Please, let us run away tonight, and let everyone forget our faces. Let them all forget our names.”

The God Whisperer’s eyes twitched as she shook her head. “I can’t let you go. Killing you and your family is the only way to show the gods that the rest of us mean them no disrespect.”

“By my father’s blood I demand—”

“You forfeited your nobility when you married that prisoner, Red Spear!” the God Whisperer shouted. “You had such promise, to lead our village with the light of the gods guiding you. Even now, I am shocked at what you have done, to spit and revolt against the gods as you have! I knew you to always be devoted to them.”

Red Spear let out a heavy sigh. In one day he had come so close to taking his place as the lead hunter, and in the same day he would be turning his back on the gods of his father and the village he was supposed to guide. “That changed the moment they sent a monster after my daughter.”

The God Whisperer huffed. “Red Spear, the extinguishing of the fire was meant as a signal. Maybe by now my son has noticed, if he’s not fallen asleep, so, if you wish to avoid the god’s justice I suggest you run, and run fast.”

Standing Deer finished cutting the ropes around Sunflower’s hands and feet, and she handed her husband back his spear. Red Spear clenched his fist. “Come on. We’re leaving.” he said harshly, and he grabbed his spear tightly.

Standing Deer took Sunflower under her arm and hissed at The God Whisperer, “You’re a crazy old woman.”

The God Whisperer chuckled and replied, “Only death will tell if I really am.”

Red Spear snatched back his bindle and let the trap door shut. Then he handed it to Standing Deer and listened carefully for anyone at the door. All seemed quiet, but Red Spear couldn’t tell for certain if there was anyone waiting to ambush them.

Finally, he threw open the hatch and clambered outside, ducking and thrusting his spear around, but nobody was nearby. There was no one on top of the temple, and it didn’t look like anyone was hiding behind the huts. “Give me your hand,” Red Spear whispered, and he pulled out Standing Deer and Sunflower.

The nighttime air felt amazingly cool on Standing Deer’s face, and she breathed a shaky gasp of relief. Having been trapped inside the hot temple all day, she thought that they would never be outside again.

“Where are we going to live now?” Sunflower asked. She never noticed the heat inside or the coolness outside, but she was grateful all the same to be free.

Red Spear looked around. He hadn’t counted on getting this far, but he knew what he wanted. “We’re going to live together, far away from the sky’s gift, far away from the mountain, and far from The God Whisperer.” He briefly imagined himself and Standing Deer becoming old and wrinkled in some hut built in the heart of the jungle, and fading away as he saw Sunflower, older and looking like her mother. He looked to the south, away from the mountain, and the village was there, and past that was the river, and beyond that a seemingly endless jungle. “We’ll find a new home,” Red Spear said, and he took his wife’s hand, and she took their daughter’s hand.

The family sprinted around the temple and cut across the edge of the farming fields on the backside of the village. Red Spear watched for villagers in the gaps between huts, but it was impossible to differentiate between the sounds of their own footsteps or from someone following them.

The disgusting feeling that Sunflower felt in the temple was fading away the farther they got, but now she was sensing something else, a vengeful, abusive feeling, and an anger like the one she felt when she stood up to Jaguar Claw. The two feelings made Sunflower cringe. She wanted to tell her mom that she felt sick, like something was poking her brain, but they were running away and needed to stay quiet.

They came to the top of a grassy slope that led to the river at the edge of the jungle. Sunflower remembered seeing older women washing clothes here during the day, but now the place was deserted. Standing Deer slid down to the riverbank and fixed the bindle across her back. The only sound nearby was the quite rippling of the shallow river over the stony bottom. She raised her arm to help Sunflower down the slope, and Sunflower reached out, but then she suddenly felt the angry presence right next to her, like a hateful voice screaming in her ear.

Sunflower yelled and fell to her knees, twisting in pain, and Red Spear reacted to catch her. When he did though, a spear flew out of the nearby trees and missed Red Spear’s head by inches. It stuck into the middle of the river with a sharp thud, and Standing Deer jumped.

“Don’t stay here!” Red Spear shouted, and he rolled Sunflower down the slope as a tall figure jumped down from the nearby trees.

Standing Deer caught her daughter, but Sunflower was still writhing in agony. “What’s wrong!? Can you hear me?” she begged, but Sunflower was lost to the world. The person who threw the spear was somehow torturing her.

“Go away! Go away!” Sunflower yelled. “Leave me alone!”

On top of the slope, a spear thrust toward Red Spear’s heart, but he grunted and parried it with his own spear. He circled the attacker to block their way to his family, and the figure entered the dim moonlight.

“You were never going to lead the hunters,” Jaguar Claw said, a cheshire grin on his face.

“You’ll have no more competition from me,” Red Spear said. “Just forget that you saw us tonight and walk away.”

“I can’t let any prey of mine escape,” Jaguar Claw replied. “I’ll admit that you’re better at leading the hunters than I am, but as a warrior you are no match.” Suddenly Jaguar Claw’s spear lashed out, and Red Spear parried it again.

“Run to the jungle!” Red Spear yelled to his wife and daughter. “Stay hidden until I come to find you!”

Sunflower was still in the throes of pain, and Standing Deer picked her up and held her to her chest. She also grabbed the spear that Jaguar Claw had thrown, and she looked at her husband as he stood ready to fight. “Make quick work of him,” she said, “we’ll be waiting,” and she sprinted into the jungle.

Red Spear’s arm was quick, and Jaguar Claw barely avoided being sliced. The taller hunter stepped back, and Red Spear continued with a flurry of stabs and swipes. Jaguar Claw was narrowly blocking Red Spear’s attacks, and the center of his spear was beginning to splinter.

“I’m glad you told them to run. I’d hate to kill you in front of your child,” Jaguar Claw said breathlessly.

Red Spear’s attacks became more forceful but predictable, and Jaguar Claw, with his longer reach, grabbed Red Spear’s spear, and pulled him close and head-butted him.

Both men stumbled, but Jaguar Claw started to attack. Red Spear danced backwards to avoid the broad sweeps of his opponent’s spear, and soon his feet reached the edge of the slope. Jaguar Claw lunged, and Red Spear was forced to jump down to the riverbank.

The two hunters stared at each other. On both of their foreheads were red marks and a few specks of blood. Water babbled over the polished stones nearby, and both hunters considered their positions on the terrain.

Finally, Jaguar Claw kicked dirt from the top of the slope into Red Spear’s eye and leaped into the air. He landed several paces downstream and charged at Red Spear. The later regained his vision and sloppily avoided Jaguar Claw’s strike. A second strike came as quick as lightening, and the shaft of Red Spear’s spear splintered as it deflected the thrust.

Then the two hunters stepped back and attacked again. The tips of their spears clashed against each other like a constant thunder. Impacts shook their arms, and chips of rock and splinters bounced off their bodies. Red Spear flinched right and avoided a spear thrust aimed for his eye, and Jaguar Claw twisted left and spared himself a gut stab.

Their feet splashed through the water as the two hunters pushed one another across the river. Spears spun around and struck against each other. Then they spun again, and the momentum forced the hunters to spin faster and strike harder. Jaguar Claw’s spear tip struck Red Spear’s, and Red Spear spun around and blocked again with the back of his spear. Then the tips clashed again as each fighter aimed low. Suddenly the back of Jaguar Claw’s spear flung for Red Spear’s face, but he arched his back to pull away. It was followed immediately by a swipe of the spear tip end, and Red Spear ducked. He struck upwards at Jaguar Claw’s throat, but Jaguar Claw deflected it, and both of them continued with a flurry of swings and strikes.

The two hunters stepped back and Jaguar Claw charged. Red Spear began to twirl and step forward. He relaxed his grip, and allowed his spear to slide through until his fingers reached the tip. Then he gripped the sharpened stone like a dagger and evaded Jaguar Claw’s thrust. The motion was quick, and Red Spear slashed Jaguar Claw across the chest.

The pain was instant, and Jaguar Claw was in shock. Red Spear snapped his opponent’s spear over the top of his shoulder, and Jaguar Claw dropped the remaining half of his weapon. Red Spear spun behind Jaguar Claw and knocked him to his knees. Then he brought the tip of his spear to the back of Jaguar Claw’s neck and held it there.

“Wait! If you kill me and you run away, who will lead the hunters and feed the village?” Jaguar Claw begged. His hand trembled as he reached up and felt the long tear in his skin. His fingers were bright red, and his torso was warm with blood. He slumped and placed his hands in the water to hold himself up.

Red Spear became fixated with the spot of bare flesh where his spear would penetrate, but the longer he hesitated the more impossible it felt to do. The back of his neck tingled as he imagined the spear tip splintering neck bone, nerve, and windpipe. The village would be able to survive without Jaguar Claw, but he only wanted to gain time to help his family escape.

Jaguar Claw slouched more. His vision becoming blurry, and the smell of so much of his own blood turned his stomach. His hands dug deeper into the riverbed, and then his fingers touched a large rock under the water.

“Let us leave, and never come looking for us,” Red Spear demanded, lifting his spear away.

Jaguar claw’s fingers closed around the rock, and his vision began to sharpen. The scent of blood started to smell sweet, like the smell of fresh earth and sweat after a successful hunt.

“I promise,” Jaguar Claw said, and he suddenly stood up, spun around, and smashed the rock against the side of Red Spear’s head. Blood speckled from the impact, and Red Spear stumbled. He saw stars and bright lights, but he instinctively swung his spear to keep Jaguar Claw away. He heard the rock dropping into the river, but with his mind reeling, it sounded like an echo at the end of a long tunnel.

Jaguar Claw quietly picked up the tipped half of his spear and grinned. He had plenty of time to take aim.

For a split-second, Red Spear felt the tip of the spear touching the center of his back, and in the next second it had burst through his chest. The river disappeared for Red Spear, and his brain showed him a painting of Sunflower and Standing Deer for one last time. All went quiet. The river ran scarlet, and Red Spear was dead before his knees hit the ground.

Please and Promises

The village was quiet as the sky darkened to a deep navy blue. All that could be heard was the blackened hut smoldering, and the chirping of insects in the jungle.

Mothers quietly cleaned the hunter’s catch beside large fires in silence. The God Whisperer said, that to remove Red Spear and his family from the village also meant to silence all gossip about them, to keep them out of mind, out of heart, and out of their lives. Yet, those villagers who had faithfully helped burn down Red Spear’s hut felt fine to continue talking about the sky’s gift, the red sky, and now the black Jaguar God. In front of the temple, two teenage boys were swatting away the flies that buzzed over the panther’s body.

Inside the temple, Standing Deer shifted in the dark. Her hands and feet were still tied, but for the past ten hours she would crawl around and search the room for something to cut the ropes, but before she ever managed to find something, The God Whisperer or one of her loyal villagers would return and stop her. By now Standing Deer’s wrists and ankles were badly bruised from trying to rip her bonds apart, and for the hundredth time she fell over after struggling to stand up.

“Mom … it’s okay,” Sunflower whispered. She wasn’t sure what was going to happen to them, but she couldn’t stand to see her mother continuously hurting herself. Jaguar Claw had tied up Sunflower, the same way her mother was, and thrown her in the corner of the room too.

“It’s okay, baby. We’ll be alright. We just have to keep trying,” Standing Deer said. Her body ached, and even though neither of them had eaten for ten hours, her own hunger meant nothing. She tried to stand again, bracing her shoulder against the rough wall and pushing herself up with her legs, but the low ceiling at this part of the temple kept her from standing upright, and she fell over again.

Standing Deer remembered how it was when she was first taken from her village on the other side of the mountain. It was some faceless warrior who grabbed her, one of her now neighbors, whom she never identified. Her hands and feet were tied then too. It had been just over nine years ago. She was only a girl of thirteen then, but she still remembered seeing her village burning and her parents cut down, also by people who were now her neighbors. Now those same people had taken a second home from her.

Red Spear’s father was still alive and chief then, and even though he was the one who led the attack on her village, it would be his son who would spare her from The God Whisperer’s sacrificial rituals. That foolish boy fell in love with her, and she in time fell in love with him. He gave up his destiny to marry a slave and have a child. Nine years is a long time, and although she found happiness again with her new husband and daughter, she never forgot the feeling of ropes around her arms and legs.

Outside the temple, the very last glimmer of sunlight disappeared beneath the treetops, and the village and jungle became dark and still. The dot of light that moved around the inside of the temple as the day wore on faded away, and Sunflower closed her eyes. The darkness behind her eyes was favorable to the reality that surrounded her now.

Suddenly, Sunflower saw a bright flash of ruby light through her eyelids, and in the palm of her hands appeared the smooth circle shape of the panther’s toy; it had returned. She let out a gasp as she felt the designs on the back move. A central arrow-like symbol turned, and Sunflower screamed, “Look, mom! It’s the Jaguar God’s toy!”

Standing Deer struggled to turn around, and Sunflower fell to her side. She opened her hands and could still feel the toy. “Do you see it?” Sunflower asked excitedly.

Standing Deer stared hard, but after a few seconds all she could say was, “Honey … I don’t see anything. Are you okay?”

“I’m okay! Don’t you see it? It’s there, mom! It’s in my hands! It’s shiny and round!” Sunflower was almost screaming, but the longer her mother stared without saying a word the more she began to worry.

“I’m … I’m sorry honey, but there’s nothing in your hand,” Standing Deer said uncomfortably.

The designs on the back of the panther’s toy stopped moving, and suddenly Sunflower felt it disappear as though it had been plucked out of existence. “No,” Sunflower grieved. “You had to have seen it. Mom … why can’t you see it?” Her eyes became watery, and she began to breathe harder as tears fell from her cheeks. “Please, I want you to see it,” she whimpered, and Standing Deer could hear her daughter sniffling.

Standing Deer’s heart broke. “I promise to see it next time,” she said. “I promise.” Her daughter continued to sniffle, and all Standing Deer could do was worm herself closer, at least to touch her daughter and let her finish crying.

Minutes of silence ticked by, and Standing Deer worried about where her husband was. By now, the men should have returned from their hunt, but had Red Spear been captured, or did someone warn him about The God Whisperer finding the Jaguar God’s body? If he escaped, what would he do now? If he tried to rescue them, Standing Deer couldn’t figure out how he could do it with an entire village against him.

Suddenly there were voices outside the temple, and Sunflower stopped crying. She wondered if they’d finally learn what their fates will be, but the voice was familiar to Standing Deer.

“Can I see The God Whisperer?” Fallen Tree asked.

The two boys who were protecting the panther’s body looked up. “I don’t know. She’s not here,” one of them replied.

“Oh. Is … anyone in there?” Fallen Tree asked.

“Sure, Red Spear’s wife and daughter, but the God Whisperer said that nobody can see them,” the boy replied.

“Yeah, they offended the gods, and now nobody can talk to them,” the second boy added, “so nobody can give them food or water. Some people have tried though. Why, are you here to help them or something?”

“No! No! I was just looking for The God Whisperer. I’ll be going now. Um, you’re doing a good job.” Fallen Tree backed away, and the boys went back to fanning the panther’s body.

He turned to the village and walked past the fires roasting many of the animals that had been caught today. All of the hunters had returned from searching for Red Spear, and The God Whisperer had called for a feast to honor the Jaguar God. Fallen Tree noticed her sitting in front of her hut like a gargoyle, and the light from the bonfires lit her face harshly. Someone tried to offer her meat from a skewer, but The God Whisperer refused. Fallen Tree happened to catch her eye from across the crowd, and he quickly looked away. His heart was racing, and he tried his best to blend in with the other villagers.

Eventually, Fallen Tree came to his hut, and his wife, Dark Water, was sitting outside. She looked worried, her eyes moving through the crowd. “He’s still inside,” she whispered to Fallen Tree, as she stood up and greeted him with a kiss.

“Okay. Has anyone come by?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. “He won’t eat or drink though. He says he can’t until he knows they’re safe.”

“Let’s go inside,” Fallen Tree said, and he led Dark Water into their hut and pulled a panel made from woven leaves and sticks over the door. The inside became dark, and Fallen Tree said, “They’re inside the temple, but there’s two … very perceptive boys sitting outside. I don’t think they’ll be there all night, but The God Whisperer has ordered that nobody is allowed to see them.”

There was silence, but then Red Spear stood up from the back of the hut where nobody would see him, and a spot of light coming through the woven panel hit his right eye. “Thank you, my friend. I’m sorry for putting you and your wife in danger tonight.”

“What are you going to do?” Dark Water asked.

“Free them from the temple,” Red Spear said, “and we’ll run away from the village. The farther we get by morning the better. Hopefully we’ll have a half-day’s lead before Jaguar Claw sends you and the other hunters after us. Maybe The God Whisperer will leave us alone. Sunflower will have to grow up in the jungle.”

Dark Water sighed. “I’m sorry this happened to your family,” she said. “I love your daughter, and your wife has always been kind. I hope the gods will soon leave us all in peace.”

Red Spear paused. He thought, when was the last time the gods have shown me kindness? Why would beings of such power bother with our mortal lives? “I hope so too,” he said.

“You must eat now,” Fallen Tree said, and he gave a little smile of courage for his friend. “The road ahead is difficult, and you should at least try some of the meat you helped us catch before you leave.”

The God’s Justice

Several hours before sunset, Red Spear, Fallen Tree, and the other hunters were returning to the village. The sky was beginning to darken, and the air was warm and summery. Carried between the hunters were five peccaries, three rabbits, four iguanas, and two large wild turkeys. It was the most successful hunt that they had ever achieved. Red Spear was able to lead the hunters just like his father had: he caught the tracks and signs of the animals, kept the party upwind, and moved them silently through the jungle. Tonight they would all eat well, but for now Red Spear was laughing with the other hunters as they joked about Jaguar Claw’s hunting skills.

“I’d like to propose that Red Spear lead us hunting from now on!” Fallen Tree cried, a fat turkey bounced on his back as they marched through the jungle. The other hunters cheered and began chanting Red Spear’s name.

“Jaguar Claw would kill you if he heard you saying that,” Red Spear laughed, but he couldn’t stop smiling, and he fell more in love with the dream of leading the hunt again.

“Don’t worry. If it means more food for our families then I think we’d all stand up to him,” Fallen Tree teased. The entire party laughed, and Red Spear still couldn’t stop smiling. He had proven himself skillfully capable of leading the hunters, and the dream that maybe he could lead them permanently for once seemed in sight now. It was a dream that he had given up willingly, a long time ago, when he married Standing Deer instead of accepting The God Whisperer’s matchmaking for him.

Red Spear thought, maybe Fallen Tree and the other hunters would really support me in front of Jaguar Claw? Of course, they might all have to force him to accept their terms. Jaguar Claw might be the strongest man, but no man could be worth more than a few in a fight, right?

The hunters continued marching toward the village for another hour, and as the jungle canopy began to open, they noticed a thick plume of dark gray smoke rising into the sky. Red Spear caught the scent of wood and leaves burning, and his mind quickly flashed with the memory of the burning plants and flowers from where the sky’s gift fell.

“Let’s hurry!” Red Spear yelled, and the hunters broke into a run. He pulled far ahead of the others, as all of the energy in his body focused on reaching his wife and child. He dropped the peccaries and could hear a massive blaze roaring ahead.

Soon Red Spear broke the tree line, and at the edge of the village he spotted his family’s hut, two-hundred feet away, being consumed by massive yellow flames. His heart clenched as a cold terror washed over him. “Sunflower! Standing Deer!” he yelled and ran toward the hut, but then he noticed a group of villagers standing around the fire, his neighbors, many of them with torches in their hands. Jaguar Claw stood among them, looking satisfied, and at his feet was a simple wooden palanquin with the black jaguar’s body on top, and it was decorated with flowers, fruits, and offerings. Red Spear froze, unsure of where to go. Panic and rushed through his mind. Where are Sunflower and Standing Deer? Are they safe? Did the God Whisperer do this? How did they find the Jaguar God’s body?

The crowd hadn’t noticed Red Spear yet, but from behind him the other hunters were nearing the edge of the jungle. It was like his legs decided for him, and Red Spear dived into the jungle and hid in the dense brush as the hunters appeared.

“Hey! That’s Red Spear’s hut!” Fallen Tree yelled, and the hunters ran toward the fire.

Red Spear’s heart was pounding, but he crept through the jungle, just behind the tree line, and brought himself closer to the crowd. His spear felt heavy as Sunflower and Standing Deer’s faces swam in his mind, but he kept a tight grip on it and followed the other hunters.

“What are you all doing!? Stop! Stop!” Fallen Tree yelled, and he knocked the torches out of people’s hands and dropped the wild turkey off his back in front of the dead panther. Jaguar Claw looked at the hunters and all of the game they had caught, and a credulous snarl stretched across his face. One of them even picked up the peccaries that Red Spear had dropped.

“Where is Red Spear?” Jaguar Claw asked.

“Why did you set his hut on fire!?” Fallen Tree yelled.

Jaguar Claw grabbed Fallen Tree’s shoulder and shook him. “Where is he!?”

“Release the poor boy,” The God Whisperer said softly, and she emerged ominously from behind the smoke. “He doesn’t know what has happened.”

Fallen Tree shook himself free and stepped back. He looked at Jaguar Claw, looked at the strange, dead panther, and then looked at the burning hut and back to The God Whisperer. His mouth opened slowly to ask a question that was still baking in his mind, but The God Whisperer spoke first, “Red Spear has fiercely disgraced himself in front of the gods. He killed the avatar of the Jaguar God as it visited our village, and now we must burn his house to send it to them, and to show that we do not stand with Red Spear! Let the gods see that he has been cast out from us! Gods, please spare out village from your wrath!”

Suddenly, the fiery mass of Red Spear’s hut collapsed, and a shower of sparks burst from the flames and rose into the air.

The crowd awed, but then Fallen Tree found his words again. “If the gods are so angry at Red Spear, then why did they bring his daughter back to life?”

“So that we may punish his family here, on our world. Our obedience to the gods can only be measured in the pains that we deliver upon them. I have heard the gods say this.” Then The God Whisperer pulled out Sunflower’s sunflower, from somewhere in her rags, and she righteously threw it into the fire. The crowd watched as the delicate flower was consumed, twisted by the fire, and the flaming pedals flew away.

Red Spear had heard everything, but as he watched the home that he had built with his wife burn down, the home where his daughter was born, he felt a surge of rage, and the desire to strike down Jaguar Claw and The God Whisperer, but his rage was smothered by the yearning to find his family.

“I’ll ask you only one more time, Fallen Tree, where is Red Spear?” Jaguar Claw stepped forward, but he restrained himself from reaching out again.

Fallen Tree looked down, and then he looked back cautiously at the other hunters. They all seemed conflicted, torn between favoring their brother hunter, or obeying the gods of their fathers. Fallen Tree felt Jaguar Claw’s impatient gaze, and so he replied, “He ran ahead of us when we saw the smoke, and when we came out of the jungle he had disappeared. We don’t know where he is, truly.”

“Then he can’t be far,” Jaguar Claw grinned, and he picked up his spear. “We’re going to hunt him.”

“But…,” Fallen Tree spoke, “we are tired, and have been hunting all day, and—”

Jaguar Claw grabbed Fallen Tree’s shoulder again and said, “Then if you’re tired Red Spear is tired too. Do any of the rest of you wish to delay the god’s justice?” After a moment of silence the other hunters didn’t reply, and they fell into formation around Jaguar Claw. Fallen Tree turned last, his thoughts filled with the sight and sounds of his friend’s hut burning down. The villagers took the animals that the hunters caught to the village, and The God Whisperer returned to the temple and had the panther’s body brought with her on its palanquin.

“Search the jungle for Red Spear!” Jaguar Claw commanded, and the hunters lit torches from the burning hut, spread out, and entered the tree line. One of them came across the spot where Red Spear was watching the crowd, but he was gone.

As the minutes ticked by, the jungle grew darker, and the torchlights of the hunters could be seen from the village. Jaguar Claw prowled, thrusting his spear at every leaf that moved or every sound he heard. Soon there would be no more competition to see who would lead the hunters, and once Red Spear was gone, Jaguar Claw would try claiming Red Spear’s wife and the little girl’s powers for his own.

Down the row of hunters, Fallen Tree pushed aside a palm leaf and whispered fearfully, “Red Spear, where are you?” He waved his torch around in the darkness and stood still. The jungle became nosier as the sun entered twilight, and Fallen Tree’s heart raced as he strained to listen for footsteps. “I don’t know what’s going on, but you and your family are good people, so please, don’t kill me. I don’t think you killed the Jaguar God.”

“But I did,” Red Spear whispered.

Fallen Tree spun around, sparks flying from his torch, and beneath a large palm he noticed a spear tip slowly pulling away and retracting into the darkness. He cautiously lifted the palm an inch, his hands shaking, and pointed his spear into the shadows.

A strip of torchlight shone through the leaves and fell over Red Spear’s eyes. “Will you help me?” he whispered. His face was dripping with sweat, and Fallen Tree read the fear in his eyes. “I need to find my family.”
  • Listening to: "The Egg and I" by The Seatbelts
Chapter 1: The Junkyard Gang
Part 1

    I stand before a world falling apart, with the power to save or end it all literally in the palm of my hand, but I've lost so much already. Amongst these buildings there are wars, big and small, the beautiful things that get lost in the fires, and the lonely ones left to mourn them. I touch my hand to the window, unable to feel it, and look out as the darkening sky turns red, and streaks of lightening arc over the city.
    My heart isn't where it should be anymore, not like when I was a kid, and this city was still one big beautiful mystery. —

    We were mutts, destined to scour the streets all night and forever. My clan and I sought refuge during the day wherever we could, but when night fell we were monsters. Mark, Nat, and I would leap from rooftop to rooftop like spiders beneath the pale moonlight. It was a beautiful life.
    One night on our prowls, we came upon an old lady with a furry handbag who smelt of hairspray and cats, but we had never seen her before, and she had wandered very carelessly into one of our regular alleyways. She seemed lost, and was easily startled by our low prowling movements as we circled around her. Mark said he was hungry for frozen yogurt, but we had no money, and this was just too easy.
    I crouched at the edge of a nearby roof that overlooked our prey as Mark walked into the alley behind her. Nat sat quietly in the darkness at the other end of the alleyway; her lithe silhouette barely visible against the shadows. This wasn't the first time or the last time that we'd do something like this, and by now we didn't even need to communicate with each other to know just when to strike.....
    A half-hour later, we're sitting on the roof of our abandoned red caboose at the city junkyard, perched dangerously on top of a mountain of rusting cars and scrap metal. Nat got pistachio. I got chocolate, and Mark picked strawberry tangerine. We wear dirty clothes, ripped jeans, and whatever shoes we can rescue from the telephone wires, but it's still a good life. From the junkyard, we look out at the city's twinkling lights that shine like jewels in a treasure chest, our treasure chest—Zero City.
    They say that if you've never lived a day in Zero City then you've never lived a day at all. For my clan and I, a life on the streets and rooftops of Zero City is our every waking moment, so if this is true then we must be full of life.
    Later, as the morning sun rises over the tops of the far away buildings, we make our beds. Nat sleeps in the caboose's lookout room, and Mark and I throw our mattresses down on the floor. We pull dark goggles over our eyes to shade them from the sun, and as the city around us wakes up to start its day, we finish our final thoughts before falling asleep.
    There are dreams ... but not many, and there are ambitions, but they're not important. Of the three of us, Nat is the only one who's ever thought of growing up. She wants to be an artist. Even the wall spaces between the windows of her lookout room are covered with sketches and drawings, which have been drawn onto the backs of random papers that the city has floated her way. Once I stole a package of white printing papers for her to draw on, but she says that she likes drawing on the city's paper more.
    The sunlight beaming through the caboose's grimy windows catches the dust in the air, and my eyes slowly close to black. Sometimes I can still see Mark and Nat when I close my eyes, but when I reopen them at dusk, I find myself staring up at the same moldy wooden board above my head.
    After several minutes of silence I stir, and my stirring awakens Mark. He sits upright, pulls off his goggles and wipes the sleep from his eyes. I climb the ladder to Nat's lookout room, and with each rung up I think about how I should wake her up tonight: tickling, tackling, blowing air into her ear, but when I reach the landing and look at her mattress it's empty.
    "HEEEEEEEY!!!" Nat's voice rings out from the junkyard. "Loookeeeee what I found!"
    I rip off my goggles, and rush across Nat's room to the windows and wipe my sleeve over the dirty glass. She's standing halfway down the junk pile and waving around a shiny metal disc. Mark is already hopping down the layers of junk and garbage to get to her, with his chin-length blond hair bouncing up and down as he hops. I jump down the ladder, and kick my mattress aside as I rush out the door.
    A warm nighttime breeze whistles through the junkyard and hits my face. Heat spews out from all of the air-conditioning units in the city and helps keep everything nice and toasty.
    When I reach Mark and Nat, she holds up a chrome hubcap and shouts, "This is my armor!" and she ties it to herself with a green bungee cord. Mark lowers his eyes at me and I grin back at him; then we both start building suits of clanking junkyard armor for ourselves.
    An hour passes, and just as the moon appears, we finish jamming our arms and legs through tin cans and tying scraps of metal to our bodies. Mark wears a bent yellow "YIELD" sign on his back as a shield, and I've made a sword out of a long rusted pipe. Nat loops the drawstring of her leather marble pouch over her shoulder, and she finds a second hubcap to use as a frisbee. Once we're fully armed, we head out to the city on the hunt for breakfast—or dinner for everyone else.
    I lead us down the crowded streets, and their neon signs swim around us like a swarm of electric moths. Now, you can't go pillaging without your armor on or your weapons handy, because these villagers would eat you alive if you weren't prepared.
    I keep my pipe sheathed in the belt loop of my jeans to show the villagers that we mean them no harm, but still they gawk at our glistening foreign armor and whisper behind their cupped hands. It doesn't matter what they're saying though, as me and my comrades continue to stride forth with our heads held high.
    The city's lights guide us through the mad streets until we come across a local bazaar, but they refuse to let us enter with our weapons.
    "But we need these!" I shout. The shopkeeper scratches his balding head and jabs threateningly at the talking box on the wall. It's either fight or flight, and we are hungry.
    Nat flings her hubcap at the shopkeeper's head and hits him hard in the temple. The man crashes backward into a canned food display, and sends cans clattering and rolling in every direction. A thin trickle of blood rolls down his cheek, and I swing my pipe to keep away the other shoppers. Mark piles Twinkies, candy bars, and other supplies onto his shield until it's full to the brim. Then he gives me a thumbs-up and I signal to Nat, and we make our escape through the sliding magic doors.
    We run across the street, and the horseless carriages stop and honk their horns at us until we reach the other side. I lead our getaway down the crowded sidewalk, swinging my pipe wildly as we run. The villagers scream, and a tall bearded guy tries to stand in our way, but a swift blow to his gut with my pipe drops him to his knees.
    I keep swinging my pipe for the next couple of blocks until we run into a dark alleyway. Our tennis shoes slide over a layer of ooze from some nearby garbage bags. Mark bends down in front of a fire escape and Nat steps onto his back. Then she jumps up, and grabs hold of the ladder and starts climbing to the first landing. I toss up my sword to her, and with it she breaks the chains holding the ladder in place and it falls down. Mark and I climb up the ladder to the first landing, and together we run up the stairs to the top of the building.
    The view of the district is always gorgeous; an electric city of shops and apartments, alive and complicated. We sit at the very edge of the roof, dangling our legs off the side of the building, and catch our breaths and celebrate our victory.
    "Nice throw Nat!" I say.
    "Yeah did you see him? He fell down like a sack of hams!" Mark chimes, and he tosses our spoils above our heads. Twinkies and snacks rain down on us and we catch them out of the air.
    "Thanks, it was a good throw if I do say so myself," Nat says, and she rips open a Twinkie and takes a massive bite.
    "Why did you get grapefruit, Mark? I hate sour things," I ask.
    Mark slides his long blond hair out of his face and says, "They're not sour they're tart, Edvin, and I like 'em. Besides, growing boys like you should eat more fruit."
    "I like grapefruit," Nat speaks up.
    "Then here!" Mark says, and he lobs one of the fruits over my head to her. Nat catches it, twirls it like a small basketball on the end of her index finger, and begins ripping off the hard flesh.
    After we've eaten more than enough snacks, Mark loads up the leftovers onto his shield and tosses them over the side of the building. The people walking below are bombarded with Twinkies and grapefruits, and when we hear them shouting in anger we can barely control our laughter.
    Suddenly we hear a loud clanging noise coming up the fire escape. We rush over and look down to see three please-men in black shirts, with golden badges on their chests, running up the stairs. They shout at us, so we back away slowly and pick up our weapons.
    "To the next building!" I cry.
We take off at a sprint across the roof and leap to the nearest building. Our bodies roll as we land, carrying our momentum, and we don't stop running. The please-men reach their roof and their shouting appears at our backs. Suddenly a loud bang! noise rattles the world, and something small and hard hits my pipe and makes it spark. Mark, Nat, and I yell as we jump into the fire escape of this building before it happens again. Then we scramble down the stairs as fast as we can with our armor on, and at the bottom of the fire escape we jump down to the alley bellow, where a pile of garbage bags cushions our fall.
    The shouting of the please-men disappears, and after spending a moment in the garbage to cheer our second successful escape of the night, we stand up and start walking toward the street.
    But then a blinding white light enters the alley and blocks our path. It creeps its way slowly toward us, pushing us back, and fills the entire width of the dead-end alley. The light shines brighter than a cyclops' eye, but as it comes closer we see that it's in fact a biclopse, or two short cyclopses, which turn out to be the headlights of a top car. The car suddenly speaks with an electronic voice that echoes off the walls like a train going through a subway tunnel. It keeps advancing, and we reach behind us and touch a solid brick wall at our backs.
    Then just as all seems lost, the doors of the top car open, and two please-men step out and walk in front of the headlights. They approach, and one of them speaks with a coaxing brutish voice like a cat luring a mouse out of its hole. They don't move with open violence, but we can clearly see the shackles dangling from their belts. They ask us to lower our weapons and come with them into their car, but we've met with please-men before.
    I take a knee and lower my pipe to the ground. One of the please-men steps forward, and I tighten my back because I know what's about to happen next.
    Then I feel it: the pressure of a small foot stepping onto my back and disappearing. I look up and watch in a dreamy slow-motion, as Nat jumps into the air and throws her last hubcap at the second please-man. While Nat is still airborne, I strike like a snake with my pipe at the nearest please-man's legs, and the exciting contact of metal on bone drops him to the ground. Nat lands on the hood of the top car, jumps off, and runs for the exit. Mark and I run past the two please-men on the ground, and the one whom Nat hit in the head with her hubcap has decided that now would be a nice time to take a nap.
    There's muffled laughter and giggling between the three of us as we run out of the alley, and tear down the street until we feel that we've gone far enough. Then we slow down and walk casually under the city's sparkling lights.
    A few blocks later we arrive at a plaza filled with small tables where adult couples sit, drink coffee, and smoke. We walk past them, and toward a blue, dolphin-shaped fountain in the center of the plaza. Water shoots up from the dolphin's blowhole, and splashes down into a circular pool lined with blue tile. We scooped out all of the change from the fountain weeks ago, but we would gladly throw it all back if wishes really came true.
    Mark and Nat take off their shoes and sit at the edge of the pool to soak their feet. There's joyous content in the air around us, one we believe that even shields us from the curious gazes of the adults, who one by one leave their seats and retreat to sit farther away from us.
    "Not a bad getaway! They couldn't even stand to chase us afterwards," I say to Mark and Nat as I sit beside them and start taking off my armor.
    "It's a classic," Mark says. "I bet you that they're still in that alleyway." He laughs, and removes his shield and lays it beside him.
    "The best part is that I didn't have to use any of my marbles," Nat says, and she removes the last of her armor, and pulls out a scrap piece paper and some cardboard from her back pocket. She uses the cardboard as a backing for her paper to draw on, and starts to walk barefoot around the fountain's edge. I turn to Mark and he smirks at me as Nat leaves our earshot.
    "Edvin, how long have we known each other?" Mark asks as he reaches into the pocket of his baggy jeans.
    "For five years I think. I was eight, and then two years later we met Nat. Why do you wanna know?" I reply.
    "I was just wondering how long we've really been alive," Mark says, and from his pocket he pulls out a small circular tin which holds his collection of loose, half-bent cigarettes. He puts one of the less crooked ones between his lips, pulls out a stolen lighter, and lights the end of his cigarette. He blows out several rings of gray smoke which I watch as they disappear into the warm air.
    "This is our city," I say. "It's our world, and nobody is ever going to say how we live in it."
    "Damn right! That's the truth Edvin," Mark says as he sweeps the blond hair out of his eyes and inhales. He's fifteen and a half, so it's okay for him to smoke, or so he tells me.
    "I mean, when we want something we can have it!" I rise and clang my pipe on the cement. "I am the King of Zero City!" I shout. "There's nothing I can't do!"
    "Hey, who made you the king? I'm the oldest, and the wisest, and that makes me more fit to be king," Mark says.
    "Well, being older just makes you closer to dying age. I'm the better fighter, and a king needs to be strong and co - co—"
    "Courageous?" he finishes my sentence.
    "Yeah that too!" I say.
    "But you're too young. You'd make a better fool, and besides, to be a king ... you'd need a queen." Mark's eyes flit for a split second in Nat's direction. I open my mouth to say something to him, but before I can think of anything, Nat jumps into the fountain and splashes water over the both of us.
    "HEY!" Mark and I both shout.
Nat laughs and kicks a second spray of water at us. "What are you guys talking about?" she asks.
    "Who'd be a better King of Zero City," Mark answers.
    "Oh, well Mark obviously. He's the oldest," Nat says.
    "Hey!" I cry, but Nat holds up the drawing she just finished and says, "Look Edvin! What do you think?" The drawing is raw, dark, and sketched with a bit of charcoal that she found at the junkyard, but otherwise it's a picture of the two please-men from the alleyway. Both of them have pig-like faces, and one of them has a hubcap sticking out of his head, while the other is rolling around on the floor and gripping his legs in pain.
    "I like it! What are you gonna call it?" I ask.
    "I don't know yet ... but I'll think of something before I put it on the wall," she says, folding the drawing within the piece of cardboard and putting them both back into her pocket.
    "Hey!" Mark cuts in. "Do you guys wanna go see Maggie? It's been over a week since we last saw her."
    "Yeah! Let's go see mom!" Nat says, and so she and Mark put their shoes back on and I pick up my pipe.
    To get to Maggie's we'll have to travel through the heart of Zero City, across Azure Park, through Compass Rose Square, and right into Hell. Well, Maggie always called it Hell. Right now we're in the Kumani district, which surrounds the junkyard, and stands between the Central district and the end of the world at the edge of the city.
    We trudge away from the dolphin fountain and ignore the whispers of the adults as we walk by:
    "What are they doing out so late?"
    "Where are their parents?"
    I know why we're out so late, but sometimes I wonder where my parents are. I know a little about my mom … and I'd probably be sadder if I had any memories of her, but I was mostly raised by the streets like Mark and Nat.
    Five years ago I escaped the Eastside Orphanage and met Mark, and together with Nat we've been living on our own. All I can remember from the orphanage were the high brick walls, mean faces, and the barbed wire, and that was all I knew until I turned eight, escaped, and found freedom in a dirty city.
    Nat's tiny fingers close around my wrist and snap me out of my memories. I look at her and notice that Mark is holding her other hand. She smiles at me, and then takes a deep breath like she's about to plunge into a pool. I smile back, and as she tightens her grip we jump.
    All three of us are momentarily weightless, but then our feet hit the moving ground, and I nearly tumble backwards off the world.
    Suddenly the noise of Zero City comes back to me. We've just jumped off of a bridge and landed on top of the 278 bus to Azure Park. Nat holds tightly to my wrist, and I use my pipe to keep from falling into the sea of cars below. I catch my balance, and take a surfing stance with Mark and Nat like we always do when we ride the bus.
    "WOOOOHOOO!!!" I cry. Just because we've ridden the bus like this so many times doesn't make it any less fun.
    "Yeah! WHOOO!" Nat shouts beside me. Mark lies down, and dangles his head in front of the windows and makes scary faces at the people inside. Soon we hear their screams, and Mark flips back up and laughs with us.
    "Have at ye scallywags! I be havin' enough timber here to send three dozen of yer lot to Davy Jones' Locker!" Nat says in a pirate accent, and with one of her eyes squinted.
    "Raeergh! Captain Nat the Small, the booty that you stole is rightfully mine since I was planning ter steal it first! Now if you hand it over carefully ter won't be any blood spilt," I reply, and tap my pipe on the bus's roof.
    "Ye'll be getting no such peace from me and my crew!" Nat shouts. "You'll have to pry this here booty from my cold, dead, scabby—WHOA!"
    The bus stops suddenly at a red light, and the unexpected shift in motion knocks Nat and I off our feet. We laugh, and Mark rolls onto his back and laughs with us. Then the bus starts again, and the stop light passes a foot above my face, but rather than stand up again, the three of us are content to simply enjoy the ride lying down.
    I look up at the night sky, a big purple emptiness tinged orange by the lights coming from the streets and buildings. When you live in the city there are no stars, but it's okay since the building's windows make their own twinkling lights; although sometimes we crave for the real thing. That's why Mark, Nat, and I like living in the junkyard. It's in the city, but just far away enough from the buildings so we can see the stars.
    "You could see the stars if you lived in one of those skyscrapers you know," Mark says, almost as though he were reading my thoughts. "You'd be above the light pollution, and your vision would be open to the sky." He sits up and carefully pulls out his tin of cigarettes from his pocket, lights one of them, and lies back down. The smoke trails away from the tip as the bus turns right and goes down a different street.
    "Why would you want to live in one of the skyscrapers?" Nat asks Mark as she turns her head toward him.
    He blows out smoke through his nose, and it runs parallel to his body like a ghostly blanket. "I would want to live in the skyscrapers because that's when you know you own the city. A king has to be high atop his land in order to rule," he says.
    "Aaah boo!" I yell at him. "Why would you want to ruin a good thing?" Nat turns her head to look at me then turns every time Mark or I speak. "We got the city to ourselves," I say, "and we live out on its streets. It's more fun to be a knight than to be a king, and be all locked up inside his castle."
    "HA!" Mark laughs. "An hour ago you declared yourself the 'King of Zero City,' and now you're changing your mind?"
    "Well, umm yeah! That's exactly what I'm doing, changing my mind. I'd rather be a knight than a king any 'ol day."
    "Well then you go ahead and be a knight Edvin, but I wanna be a king, and as king you'll have to do whatever I say," Mark says, breathing out a column of smoke.
    "As if I'll ever obey any of your royal orders your hiney-ness," I say, and Nat laughs loudly.
    "Well," she begins, "you two can be whatever you want. I'm still a pirate. Reaargh!"
    We laugh, and five minutes later I grab my pipe and we stand up once again. We're no longer among the short brick buildings and alley filled streets of the Kumani district, but on the eighty-story-high, skyscraper-flanked, car-packed streets of the Central district. This district surrounds Azure Park—a circular park that's one and a half miles across, and sits like a green impact crater in the center of Zero City. It's more like a forest than a park with its many trees, lakes, fields, and winding paths.
    Mark, Nat, and I move up to the front of the bus and stand ready as the park rushes by on our left, and the skyscrapers zoom by on our right. We look at each other and check that we're all ready as the bus quickly approaches a red light. Then the driver hits the breaks, and we jump forward, throwing ourselves with the momentum of the bus, and open our arms and legs wide like spiders to grab hold of a tree branch hanging over the street.
    "OOF!" we each say as the branch hits us in our stomachs. The bus passes below us and turns down a busy street that'll take it back to the Kumani district. We scramble on top of the branch, and shimmy along it toward the trunk of the tree and jump down to the soft grass below. From here we'll have to travel at an angle through Azure Park to get to Compass Rose Square, and then from there it's just a short five block walk into Hell.
    "Come on! This forest isn't gonna adventure itself!" I say, and hold my pipe ahead of myself like a baton. Mark and Nat follow behind me and keep watch as we head deeper into the forest.

Thank you for reading Part 1.
The book is available now on Lulu:…. Check the comments for any current coupon codes!
Help I'm trapped in a journal page! Por favor....

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Andrew Colunga
Artist | Professional | Digital Art
United States
Video, Art, Webcomics, Writing, Breakfast burritos.

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acces1 Featured By Owner May 25, 2014
Happy birthday Andrew.
TheBrokenMadMan Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Hi there, tell me, do you take requests?
BFTU Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2014  Professional General Artist
Amazing art!
fennecfox13 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Would I be able to post this… for the Feature of the Day for SPG World on tumblr?

If they are already on tumblr would I be able to get a link to reblog it

AngelBunnyXOXO Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2013
hullo :B
RinnyWinnyWooWah Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2013
Holy carp, just came across a masterpost of your SPG fanarts. Absolutely amazing!!!
Wonderwig Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you!! =D
AngelShadow3593 Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you so much for sharing your artwork with us at the SUPERSMASHUFANCLUB! :iconsupersmashufanclub: We hope to give you the very best SUPER SMASH BROTHERS WII U AND 3DS FAN CLUB EXPERIENCE And if your not a member yet come and check us out! :D
KirenBagchee Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Your artwork has been featured at SurrealPSD for Kiren's Digital Scream! Feel free and leave a comment!:…
Reigeckt Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2013  Student General Artist
Thanks for the fav!
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