Jacynt'n, bless his heart, is gripping tight to my spare bolt magazine on the other side of the river.
I sling my baztid'r over my shoulder and grab hold of my knife. The j'gyph'ns come right at me.
I slash the knife at the air, which is enough to keep the j'gyph'ns back for a short while. But their dives at me become braver as they start to realize I can't take on all five of them at once. Then a j'gyph'n knocks me over. I land on my back, on the rock, and the j'gyph'n turns fast and comes down again. I slash at him with the knife, and I know I got in a coupla good cuts, but not enough to stop him. I protect my eyes and face with my left arm, and I get a couple of good scratches from the j'gyph'n's talons. Finally the beast comes a bit too close and I grab hold of his right wing, hold him back, and plunge my knife deep into his chest.
Black blood gushes all over my face; I got him right in the heart! I yank out my knife and kick the struggling j'gyph'n off me and into the water, where he kicks weakly while he floats away. I look up, and Tiarn'joq is back with his fighting pole, its sling empty. He goes after a j'gyph'n from behind, loops the rope over the beast's neck and, oh man! Tiarn'joq does a fast little spin of his body in the air three or four times while holding the pole, and snaps the j'gyph'n's neck with the rope like a garrote. Tiarn'joq yanks the rope off the dead j'gyph'n and lets the body fall into the river while the three remaining j'gyph'ns shriek at him and fly away.
On the far bank, Jaci is jumping and screaming at the two j'gyph'ns circling over him, which'll keep them off for a couple of minutes. Tiarn'joq flies back and drives off the two j'gyph'ns. I kneel on the rock and wash some of the j'gyph'n's blood off my face.
Guess who comes tottering up to the rocks on the riverbank where we left? Yup, my drag'rto, old Pierce-Tongue. He broke off some of the baztid'r bolt I left in his mouth, but his tongue is still pinned to his jaw, and he seems pretty ragged about that. He looks like he's trying to figure out how to get onto the rocks and come over to eat me.
I get up and run over the rocks. I almost fall off at one point, but I make it across. I hug Jaci and Tiarn'joq. Over by the trees, the as'sp'jar'zs are gathering to check out the new arrivals. I yank the empty magazine off my baztid'r and grab the new one from my brother. But I can't get the magazine to fit into the slots for it on the weapon -- I think the wooden box was damaged in Jaci's fall. So I smash open the magazine on a rock and grab the dozen bolts out of it. There's no time to properly load the old magazine, so I shove the bolts point down into one of my overalls pockets, through the fabric. That'll hold 'em, I hope. I load a bolt into the baztid'r by hand. At least the weapon's mechanism will still torque back the bolt for me. That takes more strength than most grown men have in their arms.
We run into the jungle under the colorful and deadly as'sp'jar'zs. One of them lunges at us; they must be braver birds on this side of the river. Tiarn'joq kills the as'sp'jar'z with his fighting pole by slashing through the bird's breast. Jaci whimpers when red and green feathers flutter down on him.
"Stop it, Jaci," I say. "There isn't even any blood on 'em."
Great; he whines even more. I look back and see my drag'rto following us slowly, as if walking makes his mouth hurt.
I look at the angle of the sun and say to Tiarn'joq, "I bet I'm gonna be late for school."
"Very funny," Tiarn'joq says. I don't know why he thought I meant that as a joke. It goes better with him along, though. Together we beat back the serp't'ns and I shoot a couple of drag'rtos; dead, I might add. It's that whole "shoot 'em in the mouth" thing, only you gotta get the bolt down the lizard's throat. Old Pierce-Tongue keeps roaring somewhere behind us, out of sight and far back. We hike our way up the steep hill, and Tiarn'joq and I are practically dragging Jaci up with us the whole way. Jaci's getting too worn out to even whine.
Tiarn'joq jumps into the air and flies forward for a few moments, and then comes back.
"Punt'cerc," he says, all out of breath. "Up ahead, about fifty, sixty yards. We're almost there."
And then birds rain down all over us.
Maybe it's lunchtime, or maybe the as'sp'jar'zs really are braver over here. About eight of them dive on us in a swirl of colorful feathers. They slash at us with their talons, and try pecking at our eyes with their beaks. We fight back -- well, Tiarn'joq and I fight back and keep the birds away from Jaci. I slip in the dirt a couple of times on the steep slope. I'm running out of bolts again, and reloading by hand is a pain in the ass. Two as'sp'jar'zs go down, then a third; that's enough to make j'gyph'ns back off, but not these killer birds. We all take hits, and it just makes me furious to see those nasty bird-claws make blood trickle down my sweet Jaci's face. An as'sp'jar'z dives out of the trees and flies right at me, and I get ready to fire. Wham! Damned smart bird swoops low and knocks my baztid'r clean out of my hands, banks around fast, and comes at me again. I fumble for my knife because I can't take my eyes off the as'sp'jar'z's talons. I'm dead, I'm dead; I just know this time I'm dead.
Then out of the dense leaves and brush on the jungle floor rises a flash flood of wild grey-black and rust-red bodies; rich fur and sharp noses and pointed ears; and bushy tails with a black stripe on top and a striking black tip.
Foxes. They're foxes, zorros, and they swarm up on the as'sp'jar'z, screeching and yipping. They leap up onto the low-flying bird and hold fast. The startled and suddenly much heavier as'sp'jar'z crashes to the ground next to me, and the zorros bite and tear and throw colorful feathers into the air. Deep red splotches appears on the foxes' rust-red and white muzzles while the as'sp'jar'z, screaming and shrieking, slowly dies.
Marjit'ta Zorro is my name. My family is called "Zorro" for a reason. There were fox-people here once, Z'rr'n'te, who lived in these hills long ago; part fox and part human, like my bird-boy friend Tiarn'joq. No one's seen the Z'rr'n'te for two centuries, but long ago one of my ancestors did something good for them -- I think it involved freeing some enslaved Z'rr'n'te from the Espaniard colonizers. The Z'rr'n'te told the zorros, and the zorros still know. Don't ask me how, but these foxes? They know who I am.
The fox attack is frightening enough that it makes the rest of the as'sp'jar'zs fly off. The foxes start to drag their prize bird away, and a few of them yip at me as if saying "hello." I thank the zorros and go pick up Jaci. I hug him tight, and lick his blood out of his eyes. Sure it's gross, but he's my brother. Tiarn'joq and I tie Jaci into the sling again, sort of, so Tiarn'joq can drag him the rest of the way up the mountain, which is getting pretty steep. My legs ache something fierce from the climb. I retrieve my baztid'r. I've got three bolts left. We haul our butts up the hill, panting and sweaty and bloody.
Finally! We see the punt'cerc jutting out almost horizontally from the steep mountainside. The punt'cerc is made of wooden piers and tight, steel-mesh panels topped with barbed wire, with wooden spikes sticking out front like porcupine quills. And there's a gate, thank goodness, just to the right of the sort-of path we're climbing. But the gate is closed and locked.
"No watchers?" I say.
"Listen," Tiarn'joq says.
I can hear distant voices in the air far above, calling out my name.
"They're all on the garg'nlyns," Tiarn'joq says, "looking for you."
I smile a bit; it's good sometimes to have a whole lot of people watching out for you. We start up the hill again, but before we go three steps we hear a roar behind us, and we turn around to look.
Somehow the drag'rto got the rest of the baztid'r bolt out of his mouth, and now his tongue and jaw are bleeding like crazy. And, oh yeah, he's still mad.
I say to Tiarn'joq, "All he wants is me." I flex my fingers around the grip of my baztid'r. "Take Jaci up the hill and get him inside. I'll hold off ol' Pierce here."
Tiarn'joq starts to say something, but I cut him off.
"Don't even try," I say. "There's no time. Move!"
Tiarn'joq starts dragging Jaci up the hill. Pierce roars so loud, the whole jungle can hear. Yeah, he remembers me. They can tell by the smell. Pierce begins to lumber toward me. I hear Tiarn'joq scream up the hill for someone to please hurry and come unlock the gate.
I raise my baztid'r and fire at Pierce. He whips his head aside and closes his mouth when he sees the bolt flying at him. Didn't take him long to learn, did it?
I cock the lever and load another bolt into the slot. Fire. I don't know why I even bother. I swear Pierce smiles at me when the bolt bounces off his nose.
Pierce roars again, as if challenging me to use my last bolt. He's about ten feet away.
I look at my baztid'r and say to Pierce, "One bolt left." Then I drop the crossbow and take out my hunting knife. "Let's get to work."
Pierce roars again.
"If you get me," I say to Pierce, "you can wear me on your feet. Deal?"
I guess it's a deal because Pierce roars and rushes right at me.
Tiarn'joq screams for help. He's just a kid, and doesn't have the strength left to fly Jaci over the fence and get him into the village.
Pierce's lunge makes me step back and, oh great, Marji; why don't you just drop your baztid'r right where you can trip over it? I fall hard on my butt and sorta half on my back, and I realize I'm not exactly burning with fresh energy myself. And here comes Pierce! He snaps at my feet, and I kick him right in the face. I feel little hairs all over my body prickle up and tell me to run, but Pierce is too fast for me, and I know only one of us is crawling out of this fight alive. Pierce swings his head about and rushes up over my legs to try and snap at my belly. God, he's heavy. I punch his face twice and slash at his left forefoot with my knife. I get him! I see red blood ooze onto his black leather skin.
I hear shouts and footsteps from up the mountain; men from the village are running to help. I glance up fast and see that they all have baztid'rs. I hear keys jangle and frustrated curses, and someone screams, "Oh my god, it's got Marji!"
I holler back, "Just get Jaci outta here!" And I look back and oh god, Pierce gets me; gets my left forearm in his mouth and he chomps down hard, and all I can think is that if his tongue weren't on fire from the hole I put in it, I'd have one less arm right now. Crap, I can't tell if all that warm liquid I feel is his spit or my blood. I scream once, but that's all the screaming I'm gonna allow myself. I grip my knife and then almost drop it; tears in my eyes make everything blurry and they can just go the hell away; I have to fight, damn it; and oh god it hurts so much; I grip the knife again hard, hard. I sit up as best I can. My left hand dangles out of the side of the drag'rto's mouth and it's all red, like I'm wearing a fancy glove.
I look right into Pierce's big yellow left eye, which is kinda half rolled-up from the yummy flavor of my arm, and I raise my knife. "Let's see how you like this, huh, Pierce?" And down goes the knife blade into the drag'rto's eye!
Oh, he roars! My arm comes free and I fall on my back, but I hold the knife in place in Pierce's eye, even though he's shaking his head to get the blade loose. Goo from his ruptured eye spills on my overalls. The eye isn't enough. I gotta get to his brain.
The punt'cerc gate is open and men run down the slope. Someone grabs Jaci and carries him in through the gate. But the rest of the men won't fire their baztid'rs because they're afraid they might hit me.
Oh good; Pierce stops shaking his head about and looks at me like he's gonna eat my face. I put both hands on the knife handle; one hand slick with eye goo and the other slick with blood. And I pump that blade down hard, goddamn it!
I hear bone crack! Pierce's body shudders for a few moments, and then he becomes still.
I yank my knife out of the drag'rto's skull. Pieces of his brain are stuck on the blade, and I smile. I've never seen anything prettier in my life.
* * *
We're safe inside the gate. I stop to comfort Tiarn'joq for a minute; he's so relieved that I'm safe that he's actually crying, but I don't mind. I limp up the hill holding my brother's hand, with my bloody knife holstered and my left arm wrapped in a quick bandage. All the school kids stand in a line in front of the school hut. I see A'andiank'n look at me, put her hand to her mouth, and start to cry. I think she likes me.
Srta. P'rtalo marches down the slope at me. She looks madder'n a nest of hornets. I guess I am a mess: clothes torn, bloody wounds, drag'rto eye goo in my hair. Srta. P'rtalo likes for her students to come to school looking neat. She stops in front of me and I shrug.
"Sorry 'bout the way I look," I say.
"Sorry? About the way you..." Srta. P'rtalo looks like she's going to make me stay after school, dang it. Then she says, "What are you doing over here? Why didn't you just turn around when you fell and go right back home?"
I think about the lady singers in Bogotá on the crystal wireless and I try not to roll my eyes. What a dumb question! I mean, really; you think I'm gonna let a bunch of stupid j'gyph'ns make me miss a day of school?
Article © Cody Stanford. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-08-30