I don’t know if this is my strongest piece ever, it was a little experimental (on my part) and a little rushed (under the circumstances, vis-a-vis having virus-interrupted access this week), but here’s my answer to this week’s Author Aerobics challenge:
This week’s challenge: Write an action scene (1000 words or less). The theme “light”.
I wasn’t really clear on my direction, in this story. I was struck by the idea in the opening paragraph, so I just kind of ran with it. Frankly, for an action scene, I could do better…
By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.
Taruth reached out and grabbed a beam of light. It pulsed and writhed in his hands, glowing warm and incandescent. Around him, beams and shards of light were dancing, shimmering, exploding. The battle was not going well. He ducked, gripping the beam tightly, trying to find a little cover in the long grass. His hands worked quickly. He bent the beam of light in his hands, twisted it, weaving it into a long oval shape, nearly the length of his body. A shield. Another shaft of light became a long spear.
He dodged as a glowing spear thrust past him. He batted it away with his shield of light, shimmering in the colors of his people: yellow and red and green. “Konde!” he cried. “Where are you?”
Crouching beneath his shield, he surveyed the clearing in the densely green jungle. Sukotu raiders were everywhere, their orange and purple spears flying and bursting, the trunks of trees scarred and blackened by their blasts. He couldn’t see Konde or Zokele anywhere, nor any of the pilgrims. For all he could see, he was the only Tabate left in the clearing.
He had to make for the trees. His shield was effective when he could see the enemy, but here in the clearing he was exposed, a target. And he had to find Konde. If she was hurt, he’d never forgive himself. He dashed through the brush, half crouched, holding the shield above his head. It was growing hot to the touch – he wouldn’t be able to hold it for much longer. Another purple lance exploded in the brush behind him, and heaved himself behind the nearest tree.
His breathing was heavy, fast, and he panted trying to pull himself together. The shield was too hot, now, and the spear not far behind. He quickly refashioned the shield into a long lance, took a quick glance around the trunk, and threw it at the first glimmer of orange and purple he saw. The spear he thrust into the soft jungle loam near his feet, and bent it so the light would not show his location. He waited only a second, then whistled, making the sound of the kataku bird. If any of the other Tabate were still nearby, they’d hear the call. He hoped Konde was out there.
A gash on his calf was bleeding. He could feel the warm, wet trickle running down his ankle. His tree shuddered as an explosion of light impacted against it. There wasn’t time. He grabbed his bent light spear and quickly refashioned it as a long trip-wire, turning the light against itself to make it invisible, and cast it from the shelter of his tree, to cover his escape. He swallowed the knot of fear that tried to claw through his heart. Where was Zokele? Where was Konde, and where were the pilgrims? He didn’t know what to do, but he had to move now. He pushed himself up, and he ran into the denseness of the jungle.
It was a risky move. There was less light to work with beneath the heavy canopy of trees. But that meant less for the Sukotu as well. He didn’t have a choice. As he ran, he made the kataku call again, making it trill to let the others know he was on the move. An explosion erupted near the tree where he sheltered. They’d tripped his trap. Long fronds of fern whipped him in the face as he ran, and he ducked artfully under low-hanging vines and reaching branches. Only a couple spears chased after him, impacting loudly in the dense foliage. Bonobos and frightened birds and other animals shrieked at the intrusions. Fear gnawed at his heals, panic nipped at his calves. Long, black shadows smothered him as he ran.
Then Taruth heard something wonderful. A kataku bird. Katakus didn’t live in this part of the jungle. He veered to his right, running toward the sound. And there, bursting from the brush, was Konde: long, lean, and dark, like a goddess, a spear of light shimmering in her hand.
Taruth’s face split into a massive grin, and he ran straight for Konde. She smiled back, dropping her spear, the light dancing away and rejoining a narrow beam from a break in the canopy. Taruth threw his arms around her, kissing her lips and cheek.
“I thought I’d lost you!” he shouted, blinking back the tears he feared would come. “The Sukotu were everywhere!”
She kissed him back, once, then pushed him away forcefully, shaking her head. “There’s no time, here. The attack against us was only a diversion. Zokele thinks they’re heading for the city.”
“He’s trying to divert them, with the rest of the bright-hands. He sent me to find you. He wants us to finish escorting the shadow pilgrims. They have to reach the shrine before the Sukotu reach the city of Timbota.”
“Then where are the rest?” If it was true that the Sukotu were going to attack Timbota, then it wouldn’t matter what happened when the pilgrims reached the shrine. There weren’t enough bright-hands left in Timbota to defend it against the onslaught of Sukotu warriors.
“Come,” Konde turned and ran, her long legs flashing through the shaded, green underbrush. Taruth sprinted after her.
His heart thumped in his chest, sweat running down his back. Another spear of light screamed past his ear, knicking him. The Sukotu had caught up.
But Taruth laughed. He had found Konde, and he would not lose her again. As Taruth ran, he reached out, and grabbed a beam of light.