Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Elders (Short Story)

Journal Entry: The Elders

We call them Elders, simply because they never die until they’re of an elderly age. No one, not even they, themselves, knew they had special powers. In fact, it wasn’t until there was such a large concentration of them in relatively small areas that anyone even began to notice they had powers that were out of the ordinary.

It is not that they are immortal; far from it, in fact. They are susceptible to illness, injury, pain, aging, and they will eventually die. They simply cannot die until they reach a certain age. No one has yet to discover that exact age, but then, the Elders are not exactly eager to help test the limits. The best anyone has come up with is that they are simply the last of every generation to die.

It quickly became easy to recognize them. For instance, have you ever seen, or heard about, that guy who got shot some extraordinary amount of times and lived? Or, maybe you saw on the news that woman who was brutally raped and stabbed several times and somehow managed to survive. Then, there was that couple camping in the woods, that was attacked and severely mauled by a bear and, yes, lived to tell the tale. We soon came to see that these extraordinary feats of survival were, in fact, extra-ordinary. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

It’s been nearly fifty years, now, since the true Great War. Due to the amount of nuclear weapons employed by states all around the world, most of civilization was destroyed in less than a month. There now exists a few known pockets of humanity and—quite probably—a few that aren’t known. Fortunately, most of the destruction was limited to the cities of the world and their outlying areas. Thankfully, there was not enough vindictiveness to focus on targeting much of the natural, unaltered world, but there was plenty of spite in the short time the war was waged. From beginning to end, vengeful behavior perpetuated more destruction. Eventually, any city with a population of more than fifty thousand was nuked, and any cities smaller than that were ravaged to inexistence by looters, plunderers, marauders, and the like.

It did not take long for the survivors of every species that were able to start collecting in those last pockets of habitat capable of supporting them. After a few years of people—from all walks of life—slowly gather in tent villages in the wilderness, the encampments began to swell. There was the eventual evolution to organized communities, and now the struggle for control over resources has begun—both amongst the separate communities and within the communities themselves.

My name is Red, and I live in Bridge. Bridge is one of the smaller settlements in a confederacy of nine towns. The town abuts both banks of a small river and is connected by a large bridge; this is not uncommon as three other towns in our confederacy do the same further up the river. We are a fairly poor community. We have the least access to the surrounding resources. However, not many of the people living here consider this to be a problem, because it leaves our little hamlet relatively undisturbed by outsiders. We just make do with less, and we’ve gotten used to it. In fact, our Elders have been training themselves to eat less and less frequently. It appears that they are able to cope with the hunger better, and it doesn’t seem to weaken them like it would a normal human.

All-in-all, my home town is relatively boring--which suits me just fine. I hear about turmoil that plagues other communities, and I do not envy them. The relative quiet here allows me the opportunity to try to study the Elders a bit.

Journal Entry: The ElderFolk

My grandfather, Red, told me once that the ElderFolk never used to be able to heal themselves the way they do now. He thought that, once their seemingly unnatural powers of survival were recognized, they were able to hone their abilities and increase their strengths. Now the ElderFolk of Bridge have remarkably fast powers of regeneration.

For a while I suspected their abilities had something to do with the mixture of radiological effects on their natural capabilities, but—from what I’ve been able to gather from my short travels—none of the other people called Elders seem to be able to do what our ElderFolk can do. In fact, the rapid healing is starting to show up in some of our ElderFolk’s children, and they have never had any exposure to the fallout.

The ElderFolk now govern Bridge and protect it. We usually don’t get much trouble, because we are so small compared to neighboring towns and really don’t have that much to offer. When trouble does come, the ElderFolk have devised a little tactic that, so far, has kept us fairly safe. Most everybody hides indoors while the ElderFolk stay out in the street going about their business. One of them will attempt to negotiate with the troublemakers under the pretence of being a normal, everyday person. Sometimes a simple concession is made, and the intruders leave without a fuss. However, when a fight does occur the ElderFolk throw themselves into a feigned combat—basically falling on swords after a bit of a theatrical attempt to resist.

The performance usually appeases the marauder's thirst for blood, and then they grab some booty from the street and head out of town. They rarely take anything we wouldn’t have given them in the first place but such is the nature of the aggressors. Once all is clear, the ElderFolk simply rise up and go about their day—after washing up and changing into new clothes, of course.

Granted it’s not a great system, but it seems to work. We lose less than if we were to try and resist a force we couldn’t repel in the first place, and nobody actually gets hurt. Besides, the ElderFolk don’t seem to mind the trouble. The key is that we keep the fact that we have so many ElderFolk living here a secret and that they have this new ability.

Journal Entry: The ElFolk

My name is Jared, and my family has been chronicling the progression taking place in the ElFolk for quite some time now. We have lived in Bridge for several generations, and it has become obvious something strange is happening that is not occurring elsewhere.

We still hear stories from travelers about these people called Elders and there amazing abilities to not be killed. Some of them have risen up and made themselves kings over small domains. Others lead bands of scavengers and travel across the lands. There are many more stories out there, but none of what I hear is nearly as impressive as what is happening here.

These Elders, people speak of, still have to take good deals of bed rest to recuperate from wounds and illnesses; our ElFolk do not. Plus, the ElFolk are now living to ages much older than these Elders—not to mention regular humans—by far.

Other towns have continued to try and grow and become more sophisticated, but that tends to draw the attention of undesirables in some fashion or another. Either they’ll be attacked and have any accomplishment they’ve achieved taken, or hordes of people will flock to these towns hoping to share in whatever new luxury has come about. However, here in Bridge, we’ve gone the other way.

Our ElFolk, which used to be like those Elders, have been keeping our little community safe for many generations now. Part of how they have done this was to build our town into the landscape. The few original buildings of the town—as well as the bridge—have been maintained, but when new homes or other structures needed to be built they were dug into the hillsides, carved into large tree trunks, or constructed high up in the branches. Much of the town is very well camouflaged, so, though Bridge has grown a bit over the years, it still looks quite small and harmless.

We are very passive when strangers pass through as not to arouse any trouble. When there is trouble the ElFolk bear the burden, because they now have near instant regeneration. They also seem to be able to sense when trouble is coming. Whether it is from some sixth sense or just a culmination of their heightened hearing, eyesight, or sense of smell, they are almost always able to know when the approaching visitors come with nefarious intentions. In those instances they send the rest of us into hiding and meet the visitors themselves.

As I mentioned earlier, the ElFolk have started living well past the expected age of a normal human. In fact, there are four ElFolk here who survived the Great War Long, long ago. As far as I am aware—though my travels are far from exhaustive—none of the other Elders from those times survive.

Though it is not specifically a rule, for the most part, the ElFolk only couple amongst themselves—and their children are being born with all of their abilities. It is startling to see how evolved they are becoming. In fact, the other day someone said they saw an ElFolk extinguish a cooking fire by simply holding her hand out, palm down, and slowly pushing it down towards the flame. I shall have to keep a close eye on this development.

Journal Entry: The Elfs

My father named me Jared after his father. Both of them fancied themselves as some sort of historians tasked with recording the evolution of the Elfs in our village. They had both grown suspicious of our friends’ abilities, and—for some reason—they thought the Elfs needed to be scrutinized carefully. I never could understand what their problem was, or what they thought they could do about it, but nonetheless they expected the same of me.

I thought my father was upset when he found out I was best friends with an Elf, but—without a doubt—my father’s worst day was when my sister declared to him that she was going to marry my friend—the Elf.

Terrik was obviously quite a bit older than my sister, which is why the Elfs tended to shy away from relationships with regular humans, but for all intents and purposes they were both teenagers. It was inevitable that the two of them would end up together; after all, the three of us spent all our time together. Even though I was in no way attempting to follow in my father’s footsteps, I did pick up several interesting details about the Elfs that are not well known.

For instance, it is very difficult for two Elfs to conceive a child together. Sometimes they change pairings to try and achieve a pregnancy, but even so it is still difficult. Once an Elf becomes pregnant, she carries the child for a little over three years. That doesn’t happen when an Elf mates with a regular human. In those instances, rare as they are now, the gestation period is roughly one year. Also, they seem to be telepathic—at least when it comes to animals. This skill goes well beyond your everyday animal empathy. It doesn’t happen out loud, but Terrik has told me that they can have near flawless conversations with animal-kind. And, though I’ve never seen it, some people say that the Elfs can move water and tree vines without touching them. However, whenever I asked Terrik about stories of that nature he denied them, and—until my sister died—I believed him.

As has been well chronicled, the Elfs were very peaceful people who lived in harmony with regular humans, but all of that changed in one day. For many generations the Elfs and their ancestors had defended Bridge from criminals with their possum act, and it is possible it may have gone on that way for many more. However, one day, when the Elfs alerted the townspeople to hide because hostile riders were coming near, my sister refused to leave Terrik’s side.

Because she wouldn’t leave, he grabbed her and ducked inside one of the street-side shops. They both squatted down to watch the situation from behind some display tables that had scarfs and other garments hanging down the sides. The party that rode into town was a particularly rough looking bunch. There were thirty, or so, and they were definitely out for spoils.

Not content to simply have their booty given to them, they began firing crossbow bolts and arrows into the people of Bridge. Several dismounted their horses and began slicing at people with their swords. When the street had fallen silent, with the Elfs playing their roles as corpses, the only thing that could be heard was the labored breathing of the attackers in the street and a small steady moaning from the garment vendor’s shop.

Just as most of the attackers had focused their attention towards the crying from the shop the scarfs parted and Terrik walked out. His hands were drenched in blood and he was carrying a bloodied arrow clinched tightly in his fist. From my vantage point in the trees, I could see tears freely streaming down his face. Though I did not know it for certain at the time, my sister had died and so, too, had the peaceful relationship between our peoples.

A look of anger, which I had never seen on any Elf, contorted Terrik’s face. Several of the bandits began to approach him, and he quickly dodged his way through them. The attackers were not aware of the increased speed and reflexes Terrik’s people enjoyed, because—since its establishment—all any outsiders knew about Bridge was that it was an easy target populated by weaklings who never fought back. To be fair, I was nearly as surprised as they were when Terrik danced his way through their storm of sword swings unscathed; pushed one rider over, mount and all; grabbed the bridle of a particular horse, yanking its head nearly to the ground; and thrust the clutched arrow through the heart of the mounted bowman.

As the dying man’s comrades started to advance, intent on avenging their fallen’s death, Terrik’s fists jutted outwards, and then up towards the heavens, while he screamed in a rage that terrified all who were present. The other Elfs broke their poses of death and began to move slowly out of the street, nearer to the buildings. It was clear they were no more aware of what was about to happen as any of the rest of us.

Before Terrik’s scream came to a stop one stream of flame came shooting out of each of his fists and seared high into the sky. His scream stopped abruptly, and at the same time he slammed his arms back down to his sides. There was a thunderous boom when the streams of flame slammed to the ground. At that point there was two streams of flame, approximately twenty feet long each, writhing on the ground in a serpentine manner at Terrik’s sides.

No one had ever seen anything like this, so, of course, people began to scatter. For the Elfs, that was fine, but for the rest of us... Terrik began indiscriminately swinging his arms, wielding his streams of fire like whips, and ripping buildings like paper—starting them aflame in the process. The results for the humans he would hit were far worse. When a body would be hit, it seemed to explode in a spray of blood and bone. Unfortunately, he was not only hitting the intruders. Luckily, most of the human residents of Bridge had scattered off into the woods when the alert came earlier, but many—like myself—tended to stay nearby because we knew the Elfs would handle everything. Now, we were falling victim to the same retribution my sister’s killers were.

Terrik finally stopped after all the buildings in town were completely destroyed—or well ablaze—and all the intruders were either dead or had retreated beyond his sight. He yelled out that humans were the scourge of the Earth and they were no longer welcome in Bridge. He said any human seen in or near town would be killed without hesitation. Everybody who could hear him immediately ran further out of town to find any friends or loved ones that might be hiding in the woods and warned them not to return.

I just stayed in my tree, watching Terrik pace back and forth in front of the garment vendor’s shop, and fixated on the deliberate way he was saying the word humans. He had made a very clear distinction. They were no longer Elders, ElderFolk, or anything of the sort. They were a whole new race, and so we now designate them with a name of their own. And so it is, I finish this last entry into the first volume of The Book of Elves.

(The End)