Crow Dog woke to the intense heat and tried to open his eyes, the blaster going off less than a foot from his face had been the last thing he saw and the dried blood from the new part in his hair now stuck his eyes shut. There was not only heat but the acrid smell of smoke and burned flesh, and pain, intense, searing pain that would have sent any food in his stomach spewing onto the dirt had there been any food.
The mutie bufflo hide that had made up the most of his lean to home had fallen on his unconscious body and had probably saved him from the fires and further examination from the slavers who had raided his village in the early morning of the previous night. After fighting his way out from under the massive hide roof, he forced one eye open with both hands in order to be able to see a little. Once he had gotten his breath back and the nausea subsided a bit he crawled to the small stream that had provided the village of about thirty men women and children with fresh water. First drinking all he dared and then rubbing his face with first the ice cold water and then a hand full of sweet grass, he cleared his vision of the dried blood and sweat.
He instantly regretted having the ability to see his surroundings. His true family he had never known, for all of his 15 summers, as well as anyone in the village had known him to be, the villagers had been his only family. Apparently, as a toddler he had simply wandered into their camp and even though the elders had organized a scouting party to look for his folks not a sign of them had been found. Some had feared this strange child showing up at their door step so to speak and many thought that even if he was not an evil spirit sent to devour their souls he should be killed as no one needed another mouth to feed. But the eldest leader, a woman so old that no one could even guess her age, encouraged them all to let the boy live among them. And if they all took him as their own, then what harm could such a little one do? And what difference would a bite from each fire or pot make?
And so it had been, everyone had shared a little of what they had, and all had taught the smallest boy they had ever seen, whatever it was that each of them knew best. In most such villages there were ones that had specialties and traded their wares or labors for others. But there was something extra special about this one, something that the elder woman had seen and known, it took only a couple of days for him to master any skill that had taken for some an entire lifetime to learn.
Such a skill as this did not go unnoticed and some did not want to give up their hard-earned knowledge so easily, but even this did not daunt his growing skills. Just walking by a spot where one made stone tools
once in a while and he after a week or two could pick out the best stones from the ground and in a few minutes have a hand full of perfect arrow points or a fine stone knife blade.
For all that he had learned, nothing had prepared him for what he saw, or for the overpowering feeling of loneliness and despair that he now felt. All that he had ever known was gone, burned, crushed and mutilated before his eyes. And for the guilt that he felt at being alive and free.
Slowly and as if in a trance he went through the remains of each lodge, cave or lean to shelter. There was nothing left alive or whole. With the exception of the female children who presumably had been taken as slaves, all of his former friends and surrogate families had not only been murdered, but also mutilated, in some cases beyond recognition.
After what seemed like a lifetime he noticed that the sun was now sinking close to the craggy tops of the western mountains, mountains that were shrouded in such fear and mystery that the name of the range was never spoken. The darkness would bring the scavengers quickly to the smell of death and for them, food. It would be foolish to stay here now, and the mangled shells of the people he had know were only that, shells,
For the spirits of those he loved were now free from this world and nothing he could do would make any difference.
At the end of his tenth summer the elder woman had given him a bundle, it was sewn in a rawhide skin that had dried as hard as any predark metal case would have been. He had been given instructions not to open it until he was a man, and he had hidden it securely under his sleeping robes and now he went to retrieve his only possession. As soon as he had it over his shoulder he started off towards the setting sun, toward the mountains that no one would give a name and toward the place that he knew the slavers had come from.
He started off on a mile eating steady trot that soon had him well away from the horrors of his former home. He found a small crevasse just a short climb up a stone face where skydark earthshakes had dropped
A flat stone into, causing a sturdy natural shelter. With the last dim light of day he fashioned a door of sticks and vines which had three-inch long thorns growing through it. With the feasting going on just a few short miles away he didnít have much to fear this night from predators. But as a white man who had the stomach sickness that came to stay in their village had said once ďA man doesnít have to be careless but once to get deeply deadĒ.
As soon as he was secure in his temporary home he set to building a fire and that done, making sure with a torch that he was the only one to call this rock home. He was not surprised to find a nest of scorpions and he made quick work of removing their poisonous stingers with a stick and sharp rock. Afterwards it was a simple matter of threading the bodies on some of the thorns left from his doorway and cooking them over his tiny fire. One thing was for sure if there was any way possible to cook what you ate then you did, many insects and animals held parasites in their bodies that could chill you in a way that would make rad poisoning seem like the stomach flu.
One of his friends had once eaten a piece of bufflo liver raw, which in the old days according to some of the older men was common practice. Two days later he fell ill, by the end of the day he was fully awake but completely paralyzed. It wasnít until the healer noticed the bumps moving under his skin that they realized that he was being eaten alive from within. There was too much chance that the parasites in his body would leave it if he died, the villagers brought together a great pile of dried wood, and burned his helpless friend to death, the horrible parasitic creatures with him.
His being small and the scorpions being large he was soon happy to have his belly full. It was then that his attention fell on the hard-shelled rawhide bundle. He was sworn to not open it until he was a man. But after today he wasnít sure if he would get much older and set to sawing on the rawhide threads.
After considerable effort he had the bundle open. What lie before him now would set even an older mans head reeling. The first item he found had been a knife, one as he had never seen. It was as long as his forearm and not made of stone but steel. And not like the rust pitted ones that some of the men owned but one made from a single piece of gleaming metal. The handle was somehow black but showed no seam where the blade was attached. The only seam he found was below the knurled end and twisting it he found that it was a cap and the handle hollow. Inside he found all sorts of strange things. Most unusual to him was the sinew fishing line, however it was not sinew but almost clear, and a hook made not of bone but steel!
Next he brought out a heavy pouch that seemed to be filled with stones, the stone turned out to be beautiful golden colored cylinders with a darker gray colored bead on each one. He had no idea what they were but the blaster going off in his face flashing through his memory brought him a clue and of course the next item to come out confirmed his suspicions. It was a hand blaster, and it looked huge in his small paw. With the exception of the battered long blaster that the white man had never let be out of his hand, and then being shot him self, he had never seen a blaster of any sort.
Almost fearful of what he may find next he reached back in the bundle. He was relieved to find as the last item a small, soft leather bag on a leather thong, much like the medicine bundles that almost all the men of the village had worn around their necks. Although their medicine had done little to aid them against the raiders with their blasters. Upon opening the bag he found only a strange crystal. Half of it was clear and bright as a mountain stream sparking a rainbow of color from the small fire all about his small cave like home and the other half was so black that no light came from it at all. As he dropped it from the bag into his palm it felt at first as if sky fire had struck a tree or rock very close by and the hair on his arm stood up for a minute. He quickly put it back in its home and strung it around his neck, he knew that whatever it was it was strong medicine. The night would be long, but with his new possessions he quickly fell fast asleep.
The new dawn brought a new order of responsibilities, but nature had first priority. First after relieving himself of his night water away from his hidy-hole, he searched until he found a spring that appeared for only a few feet and then sank back beneath the ground and rock. The water was very cold but after slacking his thirst he dunked his head under the water. He overturned a few rocks and soon his hands were full of big crayfish. He ran back home with them and soon was heating rocks in his small fire. Then he took the rawhide bundle and went back to the spring where he filled it with cold water. Back in the crevasse he dug a shallow hole and placed the ďbundleĒ of water in it. Then he threw in the crayfish and later a few of the hot rocks, which soon had the water boiling. As he waited for his breakfast to cook, he went again to the spring and with his new knife gathered a good straight reed. On the way back he cut a long straight sprig of hard wood. By the time he got back, the water had cooled enough that he could quickly reach in and take out the now well done crayfish. He had a lot to do but that would have to wait. Right now it was time to eat, and eat he did.
Trimming the reed to its straightest two foot section he put the tip hard wood sprig in the coals from his fire. When it was cherry red he quickly put it into the reed, twisting it against the interior wall of the joint in the reed. Repeating the process, he soon had the wooden sprig running freely completely through the reed. Next he dipped a little water with his hand and poured it into the reed, he then followed it with some fine sand. Using the last of the hard wood as a hone he spent the next hour making sure the inside of the reed was completely smooth. When he was satisfied with that part he set to work cutting thorns from his door. When he had about thirty of the same size and length he gathered some seed fluff from weeds growing near by and with some tree sap as glue twirled the fibers into a small ball onto the blunt end of the thorns.
The next order of business was to find a flat stone and another shaped more like a finger. Carefully he placed the scorpion tails from his previous nightís supper on the flat rock and ground them into a past. Again, making sure that he didnít get even a speck on his fingers as the smallest bit unnoticed on a finger tip could, if rubbed into an eye, could cause intense pain and in all likely hood permanent blindness, he rolled the points of the thorn darts into the poison. With that done he cut a piece of the now softened rawhide, placed the tiny arrows onto it and tied the tiny bundle securely.
Now having made a lethal weapon that he knew how to use and accurately, he turned his attention to the massive hand blaster. Knowing not how, but what a blaster could do, he carefully examined it. He found that pulling on the back of it, it opened up and locked into place. He saw that the barrel was clear and there were none of the fire stones in its belly. He then found that he couldnít close it! Had he broken the most valuable possession that he may ever own? Almost in a panic he began to push and pull on anything that would move. First he pushed a button and the belly fell out of the blaster, ďthat must be where the firestones goĒ he thought. Then he pushed another lever and the blaster closed so quickly that it almost jumped out of his small hand. Satisfied that the blaster was not broken, he continued to experiment with it until he had it completely disassembled in front of him. In the next hour he was so familiar with it that he could load, unload, disassemble and reassemble it with his eyes closed. Next would be to actually fire the big blaster.
He knew from experience that a blaster made a lot of noise and he didnít need any unwanted visitors so he climbed as high as he could to get a better view. He spent a good hour looking for smoke, dust or any sign of humans or mutant in the area, and with the exception of a few deer on a far ridge, which made his mouth water, he saw nothing. Climbing down he went to a hollow area to further keep the noise from traveling far. He sat up a piece of dead wood against some rocks and finding an odd colored stone tossed it under hand a short distance. Then walking till he found the stone he threw, he then pointed the blaster at the piece of wood and pulled the trigger. The blaster went off with a sound he had hoped to never hear again, his little arm was not prepared for the recoil and the blaster came back and hit him clean between the eyes.
He awoke this time to a strange sensation, besides the ache in his already sore head, his body felt again the feeling of sky fire having struck nearby. But this time it was his whole body that had hair standing on end. He was still marveling at the strange feeling when a shadow passed over his eyes. He looked up and saw one reason that the people never came this close to the mountains. A creature as he had never seen before squatted on a large rock, mere yards from where he lay. It looked human in a way, as it looked like it could stand on two legs and had two arms, but that was where the similarities ended. Itís skin was full of weeping sores, and the creatures face had no nose, but a gaping hole over a drooling mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Also itís hands and feet had round suckers that clung to the rock with a visible strength.
His awe at seeing such a creature did not last long for almost as soon as it saw he was not dead, it sprang at him with a speed and ferocity that also amazed him. But his amazement didnít stop him from bringing his blaster to bear and this time with both hands, pointed it at his still air born attacker and shooting it clean through itís gnashing teeth. It was dead before it hit the ground although Crow Dog felt the most of the now dead creatureís weight. It was with much revulsion that he pushed the dead thing off him. He ran for cover and did not show himself until he was sure that there were no more of the things around.
After a while he came back out to inspect the creature closer, he held the pouch around his neck and wondered at the power he wore, for surely the stone was responsible for alerting him to the danger. With the power of the stone, his new knife and blaster, he knew that he would have his revenge against the slavers and if they were still alive, rescue the last of his friends.