First, though, I have to make it through the trials.
Well, not through. That makes it sound as if I’m like every other tweener in the city, hoping to pass the hunter initiation. Actually, I’m hoping to get booted out quickly. Not so quickly that it’s embarrassing — I’d just as soon not be the first person they send home. But maybe the third or fourth? Yeah, that’d work for me.
Of course, no one really knows how the trials work. The bazkide decide and sometimes their decisions are… well, confusing. To human beings, that is. Presumably the bazkide know what they’re doing.
The bazkide are our allies in the war against the monsters. Technically, they’re monsters, too. They showed up when all the other monsters did, several hundred years ago. And some of them can be pretty scary looking. But a couple hundred years ago, they started fighting with us, instead of against us.
You don’t know that story? Well, supposedly a kid human met a kid bazkide out in the forest. They were both too scared to try to kill one another and then a troll stumbled into the clearing they were in. Trolls are big and stupid and hungry and the right thing to do when you encounter one is to run like hell. They’re not fast. But the kid human and the kid bazkide were so busy trying to outstare one another that the troll was on them before they noticed it. Long story short, they wound up fighting it together, and when they’d defeated it—which couldn’t have been easy, trolls have hard heads and thick skins—the kid human went home with the kid bazkide.
That was Regan. She’s pretty famous as the first hunter, but back then, she was just another orphaned ten-year-old, scavenging in the woods.
I wonder if she was scared when she went home with the bazkide. They don’t live in towns on the ground like we do, but in these kind of pavilions in the trees. She must have been a pretty good climber to get up into their nests or maybe the bazkide shifted into a form that could carry her up. But she lived there with them for a few years and when she finally came back to a human town, well, everything changed. Since then, humans and bazkide pair up to hunt.
The trials are how the bazkide pick their partners. Every few years, a huge flock of bazkide come to town. They set up in the big empty fields outside of town, putting up these gorgeous silky tents in all the colors of the rainbow. Us humans immediately start setting up stalls around the tents—moving the markets outside for the week, pretty much, with food and crafts and weapons, music and storytellers, jugglers and acrobats, everything you can think of.
All the tweeners are excited, bouncing around like baby goats. This year’ll be my first time and I don’t care so much. Like I said, I want to be a cook. But everyone between the ages of twelve and sixteen has to participate in the trials, which start on the third day after the bazkide show up.
We need hunters, see. Everyone knows that the hunters are all that stand between us and the monsters. Back before we partnered up with the bazkide, life was a lot harder. No one could dream of being a cook back then. People scraped by. Most everyone went hungry at least some of the time. Even my ma’s hard biscuits would have been a luxury. You never knew when the monsters would attack. The cities didn’t have solid walls like they do now, because people didn’t have time to build them. We human beings mostly lived in the ruins of the old towns, the ones that existed before the monsters showed up, and dreamed of days gone by while we struggled to survive.
Nowadays things are a lot better. But the hunters are what makes that possible and so every tween participates in the trials, whether they like it or not. I don’t know if it’s the same for the bazkide. Is there some bazkide kid just like me, keeping her finger crossed that she doesn’t wind up stuck with some human being? Well, not her fingers—bazkide don’t have them. Some people say that’s why they like us, but bazkide are all shifters. I figure they could have fingers if they wanted them and they must just not.
Anyway, I’m not worried about the trials, not really. I’m just not hunter material. To start with, I’m little. I might be fourteen already, but I’m barely taller than Caz and Jal, my ten-year-old neighbors. And they’re twins, they’re supposed to be small. Ma says it’s cause she didn’t have enough milk when I was little, I got stunted. But Ma always blames herself for everything and she’s not real big herself. I think maybe I’m just meant to be small. Doesn’t matter for a cook, anyways, so what do I care?
Along with small, I’m not strong. That matters a little more for a cook—I’m gonna need to be carrying heavy trays sometimes and big pots. But I figure I’ll get stronger when I need to and cook-strength and hunter-strength, they’re not the same.
I am fast. And sort of slithery. I can run through crowds of people like they weren’t there, ducking and dodging and slipping under arms and between legs. That’s come in real handy a few times. Like when the word came that the hunters had brought in a load of mingon berries and were leaving them in the marketplace for anyone who needed them. I squeezed through that crowd with my empty bag like nobody’s business. Ma and I made jam that day—well, sort of jam, it didn’t have sweetener in it like real jam needs—but we had berry spread on our biscuits for three solid weeks. That was nice.
But fast and slithery, I don’t think that makes a hunter. So like I said, I’m not worried. Plus, I only have to go to the trials once. Some kids go twice, if they’re twelve when the bazkide first come, they might be fifteen when the bazkide come back and then they have to go twice. Well, they’d probably say they get a second chance. But that’s not how I see it.
This was sort of an experiment in telling, instead of showing. (It’s also a continuation of a story started in yesterday’s post.) The whole time I was writing it, I felt like it wasn’t working, but I sort of like it now. My unnamed character has an interesting voice, I think. Again, I have no idea where it goes from here, though, except that she clearly gets to be a reluctant hero!