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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2296405
This is for the a contest. Amphibian Sentients meet humans again.
“Porim, come away from there!” My mother warned. I gritted my teeth. “Mom!” I shouted. “I’m not a tadpole any more! My gills receded ten cycles ago and I grew legs three cycles ago! I can take care of myself!”

“You don’t come back inside the dam this instant, I’ll make you feed the Jug Flies until spawning season!” She threatened. Ugh, I hated the Jug Flies! So big and bristly, all that buzzing!

“Fine!” I relented. “I guess I’ll come in and never find out what that big thing that landed is! I mean it only came down with a whole bunch of fire and a white floaty thing that made it drop without denting the mud!”

As I swam into the dam entrance, my mother followed me. “I could so do without that adolescent attitude!” She chided while her right foot tapped on the woven reed and mud floor. “Since you’re so grown up,” she continued. “Maybe you can help me feed your younger siblings.”

“Great,” I replied sarcastically. “So now you’re punishing me for talking.” Mom threw her hands up in the air splaying her webbed digits dramatically. “Keep up the back talk!” She said. “Maybe I won’t cook water-sedge and fish stew for you anymore! Then we’ll see!”

“You know what mom?!” I raged. “I’m sorry I’m curious! I’m sorry I want to know what fell practically on top of our swamp! You can punish me all you want but I. Didn’t. Do. Anything. Wrong!”

My mother’s vocal sacs inflated and she turned from pale green to violet and scarlet stripes, her tail lashed behind her making her home spun clothes flap violently. There was a tense moment where I thought she was really going to kill me. Then mom took some deep breaths and released the extra air she’d puffed in. Her color went back to normal. “Porim,” she said as she wrapped me in a slightly slimy hug. “Ever since you were just an egg in your pond; I have always worried about you! That hasn’t changed now that you’re having your Khloim.”

I looked up at her. It was hard to tell in the dim light of the glow brackets, but it looked like mom was crying. “Yeah, I know mom,” I told her. “I’ll always be your little pollywog. Even if light after next is Khloim. I love you.”

My mom patted me on my back. “Come, your brother and sister are waiting!” She enthused. “I made a delicious flower-crab and marsh-root casserole!”

While I liked the meal well enough, my mind kept going to that thing I’d seen fall out of the sky. I was even thinking about it as I fell asleep on my moss bed.

At light break, I exited our dam and headed to the raft at the center of the swamp. That’s where Elder Bwa-Eit taught juveniles all they needed to know before the Khloim ceremony.

“Porim!” Elder Bwa-Eit observed. “Nice of you to swim aboard! I was just about to start the lesson.” He lowered himself into the ornate chair. All us juveniles sat in a semi circle around our teacher. “Now as long as the Ghri-wei have been a people,” Bwa-Eit lectured. “We have observed our young one’s coming of age as Khloim. This is where—“

A loud buzz seemed to echo through the Recyps trees around us. It was too high pitched to be Jug Flies. I tensed and gazed sky ward. As the noise grew louder I saw a black shadow with four wings fly towards the raft.

“What kind of bug is that?!” Ski-Li shouted. “I’ve never seen one like that!” Ski-Li always said what she was thinking out loud. So very annoying. “It’s just sitting there,” she observed. “Oh wait, there’s some sort of light coming out of it!”

I looked, the black four winged bug was giving off light that was making some sort of pictures. There was a picture of a blue orb coming out of the light. Well not all one color, kinda mottled between blue with brown and green areas. “What kind of weird rock is that?!” Ski-Li monologued. “Shut up!” I growled at her. “I’m trying to figure it out! Let’s just watch!”

A shape I recognized rose out of the orb. “That looks like the thingy I saw come down yesterday!” I yelled. Ski-Li folded her arms indignantly! “You tell me to shut up,” she observed. “Then you blurt something out like a fart fish! How’s that fair?!” I sighed. “Fine,” I said. “Just lets all shh!”

The pictures continued. They showed the big sky thing go from the brown green and blue rock to a rock that was mostly blue with small patches of brown and green.

Then the picture changed it showed a strange bipedal grub with a silver head exiting the sky thing onto a muddy patch of ground.

“Oh no!” Ski-Li exclaimed. “It’s twisting off it’s head!”
“By all the holy spirits, be quiet Ski-Li!”

Sure enough, the grub removed what we all thought was its head. “That’s not its real head,” I whispered involuntarily. To my surprise, it looked kind of like us under the mask. Only more pink with some sort of curly fuzz sprouting from just above what looked like a pair of lobed fins on it’s face.

The grub person in the image wiggled a hand. “What do you think that means?” I wondered. “I—“ Ski-Li’s reply was cut off as she screamed. Elder Bwa-Eit had thrown a spear at the strange bug causing it to smash into pieces.

“Young ones,” he said. “That was an emissary of the Star Witches!” Ohmgat, another juvenile, sitting across from Bwa-Eit, raised their hand. “How do you know that, Elder?” Ohmgat asked. Resuming his seat, Bwa-Eit looked around the semi circle.

“Many tens of cycles ago,” Bwa-Eit began. “The Star Witches came to our world. They seemed peaceful enough at first. Then we found out what the Star Witches were really after! They drained ponds of water leaving hundreds of tadpoles dead. They brought monsters that belched fire and smoke and dug deep holes in the mud. Pulling up rocks and plants. The air became hard to breathe and the water burned our skin! Nothing was safe from the Star Witches!”

“How come we’ve never seen anything from the Star Witches?” Ski-Li asked. Bwa-Eit’s face grew grim and his skin turned a distressed shade of grey. “Our warriors fought hard,” Bwa-Eit said. “Many fell to the magic rays of their wands. But the might of the Ghri-wei and the wrath of the holy spirits was too much for the Star Witches! They fled in their sky boats.”

It was quiet on the raft for a long time. “My young ones,” Bwa-Eit continued. “This year when Khloim is complete, your sacred duty will be to drive the Star Witches from our lands once more.”

I was so scared. If these Star Witches were as bad as the Elder said, how were we going to survive?

Next light, I and the other juveniles arrived at the Raft of Ceremonies as our suns were rising. Elder Bwa-Eit stood solemnly leaning on his staff. Our mothers, fathers and younger siblings perched on logs and stones that surrounded the sacred craft.

Once he was sure everyone participating in Khloim was on the raft, Bwa-Eit began speaking. “The ancestral Ghri-Wei, the Rain Mother and the Tree Father see us assembled beneath the Great Light and The Small Light.” He intoned “They watch over us and this rising generation. Now these young ones step forward and become Ghri-Wei in their own right. While the light shines they will take a special pledge to defend our people. Something that the Star Witches’ return has made vital.”

Elder Bwa-Eit grabbed the ceremonial pigment and the pucker fruit wine. “Annbi, come forward,” Bwa-Eit commanded. Annbi was one of the shier juveniles in my class. She slowly inched towards the Elder.

“Annbi,” Bwa-Eit said. “Do you promise, before the Rain Mother and Tree Father to live as the Ghri-Wei, take care of your parents, your spawn and your dam as your fore-bearers have?” Annbi’s tail swished nervously behind her. “I do,” she replied.

Taking his forefinger, Elder Bwa-Eit daubed the yellow dye on Annbi’s forehead and below both eyes. “This is a symbol,” he informed everyone. “It represents your knowledge to act right and your ability always to see clearly.”

The Elder handed her the pucker fruit wine. “Annbi,” he recited. “Do you promise to learn the way of warriors and defend the Ghri-Wei even to the loss of your life?” There was more hesitation as Annbi said “I promise.” She tried not to pull a face as she took a sip of the wine. “Let the bitterness be a reminder,” Bwa-Eit admonished. “Always, protect the swamp. Failure will bring this taste to your mouth once more. Avoid it. Your Khloim is complete!”

There were shouts of encouragement from all those gathered. Eventually, my turn came. “Porim, come forth,” The Elder said. I didn’t get to take one step forward before a deafening roar resounded through the swamp.

The water began to ripple and if the raft had not been anchored, I would have fallen from its surface. As the roaring became so loud I felt my ears would burst, I saw what made the noise.

It was a small boat with wings in a cage. There were three Star Witches riding on the strange boat. They held small boxes with glowing stones in their lids. I couldn’t fathom what the Star Witches did with those.

Everyone was screaming and swimming away! I felt like my feet were stuck deep in wet mud. One of the Star Witches jabbered at the box in it’s hand. Words came out. “Please cease fleeing,” the box pleaded. “We have come to make peace.”

Bwa-Eit had taken his spear from the sling on his back. He pointed it at the Star Witch at the front of the boat. “Your emissary lies!” He shouted. “You brought destruction and death with your last sky boat! Leave now and we may not kill you wicked creatures!” The lead Sky Witch talked at their box again.

“We know,” the box translated. “We cannot convey how sorrowful we are for our actions last time we came. Those people responsible have been very punished a long time ago.”

I couldn’t stay silent any longer. “That can’t be the only reason you’re here,” I speculated. “What else do you want?” Bwa-Eit shot me a scowl. Again the Sky Witch’s box relayed a message. “We did not know your people were people the first time,” the box explained. “It took our Wise People a while to realize you folk are not much different than humans. The Wise People from our world want to know more of your ways. We do not wish war. Will you help us learn?”

A weighty speechlessness came over all still assembled. It felt like many cycles before it broke. “Can you brutes be taught?” Bwa-Eit rebuffed. “You didn’t seem too willing to learn on your last visit.”

Once more the Sky Witches sent a reply. “Our own ways have changed much,” they said. “We know now of many ways on many worlds. We know now to not overstep and exploit. We come to hear what you will teach us.”

I tapped Bwa-Eit gently on the elbow. “The Sky Witches’ emissary doesn’t speak our language well,” I said. “It also doesn’t show feelings which makes it hard to see their meaning. I think they are sincere in their words though.”

The Elder slightly inflated his vocal sacs briefly. His gaze turned to me. “If you are wrong, Porim, there will be consequences,” he warned. “If the Star Witches harm our people in any way, you will be executed. Your spirit will be condemned to the Great Abyss and will never join the Ghri-Wei ancestors.”

I felt my own vocal sacs involuntarily spasm at this declaration. Bwa-Eit lowered his spear and raised my hand. “So it will happen,” he decreed. “This boy, Porim, will be your guide to our swamp. I, as Elder, will advise you as to spiritual matters. May the Rain Mother and Tree Father so witness!”

All the families and juveniles echoed. “May the Rain Mother and Tree Father so witness!” I knew that I was in some serious fly dung now. I wished that I had payed closer attention to lessons. Now I had to explain everything to outsiders.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” the Sky Witches’ box said. “We hope our efforts will lead to humans and your kind having friend things.” I had no idea what humans were but the magic boxes needed to learn our language better.

After finally winding up negotiations, the Sky Witches used their tools to realize they didn’t need their masks. When they took them off, it was weird. “How come you don’t look like in your emissary’s pictures I saw?” I asked their leader. “I mean that one’s pink but has long brown strands on their head. You’re kind of..I don’t know…beige with short dark spiky stuff on top of your head. And that one back there is brown but has curly things. Are you different colors when you feel things?” The beige Sky Witch talked to his box.

“We do not change colors with emotions as your kind does,” it said. “A long time ago, our people got lost from each other. Our star made our planet different ways in different places our skin adapted to keep us safe from the different light levels in places our ancestors live. As for the ‘stuff’ on our heads it is called hair. As a rule, females tend to have longer hair but not always. Sometimes hair is curly, straight or different colors. It is part of what makes us unique.”

I thought about this. What was a star and why would it make different places on their world different? It sounded more complicated than I wanted to figure out.

“What did you say you call yourselves again?” I asked. The Sky Witches all looked at each other. The beige one seemed to be in charge. “Collectively, we call ourselves humans or Homo Sapiens. Humans is more common.” The box relayed. “I am Great Boat Flyer Dahn Gi Liu. To my right is Second Boat Flyer Samantha Kingsly. The one on my left is Wise One Arnold Benson. Those are the names we call ourselves.”

I assumed that meant the human named Dahn Gi Liu was the leader. I recognized Arnold’s title from negotiations. I guessed that meant he was really smart.

“So I have a question,” I said. “Why’re all your names so long?” The one with brown hair used her box to respond. Its voice and her were much higher pitched and had a softer edge somehow.

“Samantha here,” the box chimed in. “Ha ha. I never thought of it like that. From our view of things all your names sound short.” It was odd the way her laugh sounded more musical than the box’s.

“I like you Samantha,” I admitted. “Are you guys hungry? My mom makes a really good water weed stew!”

There was a shared embarrassment among the humans. “Humans cannot hold their breath for very long,” Arnold said. “Nor are our suits made to go in water. We understand that the entrance to your houses are submerged. We regret we cannot follow.”

I panicked; what was I going to do now? How could I teach them if I couldn't show them what our lives were like?

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Now what can we do? I promised to be your teacher!”

“I have a suggestion,” Arnold offered. “It is almost dark now. Perhaps we could bring you to our sky boat in the returning light? You could teach us using a show and tell. We would make you comfort and bring you back to the swamp once we finish a lesson.”

I really wanted to see their sky boat! But how would I convince mom? “Sounds like a deal,” I agreed. “I’ll see you guys next light!” I literally had no idea what a bunch of stink worms I’d be digging up.

“Those things want you to what?!” My mom screamed. “You’re not ready to leave! You never completed Khloim! You’re not an adult!” I cringed and regretted telling my mom about the arrangement I had made. “Yeah! Okay!” I yelled back. “So I should’ve asked you first! I promised Bwa-Eit I’d tell them about life here!”

My mom fidgeted with the webs between her fingers. “I was there,” she sighed. “Like I told you two lights ago, you’ll always be my tadpole. I just want you safe. So tell me how this works?”

I patiently explained thing all the way through. “Then when the light goes away they bring me back home,” I finished. “So will you let me go to the sky boat?”

“Alright,” my mom conceded. “I’ll let you go. I guess I should find some pulp board and paint so you can show them the inside of our buildings and stuff.” I wrapped my arms around mom. “You are great,” I said. “I’m glad you’re helping me figure this out!”

I think all those things that happened had tired me more than I realized. Both Lights had ascended the horizon! I hastily grabbed both I had made and wrapped them in the water tight blankets I had put aside.

Once I was on firm mud, I pulled the magic relic that the humans had given me out of my clothes. It had a glowing arrow on a moving map. It let me know when I was getting close to the sky boat by flashing.

As the arrow blinked faster, I looked up. The sky boat was massive. I couldn’t see how something so big could fly.

I said a quick prayer to the Rain Mother and Tree Father. I hoped these lessons went well. My life literally depended on it.
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