This story is by David Heald and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I still remember it like it was yesterday, the day that they came: giant, insectoid monsters with powerful mandibles, massive wings, and an insatiable, bloodthirsty hunger. They attacked a local mall I was at without warning, crashing through the doors and skylights with malicious intent. My heart was racing and my body trembling at the terrifying events that were unfolding before me as they assailed countless innocents. Despite having a father who died in combat overseas a few years prior, I’d never been much of a fighter. With that said, I quickly began to look for something to defend myself with, self-preservation and all that.
Finding a metal shower curtain rod in the home living department of a Target, I brandished it, nervously holding it in front of me to fend off any freaks that threatened to come near. However, before I got much of a chance to use it, one of the monsters (quite possibly the group’s leader) spat at the rod, dissolving it with its acidic saliva, much to my added shock. Some of it hit my arm, causing me to cry out in pain from the burning sensation as I stumbled backwards.
Things weren’t looking good for me until she showed up. Standing about a good foot taller than me, she attacked the drones and their leader with rapid fury, slashing at them with her massive twin swords before the remaining few decided to get the hell out of Dodge.
It was after they left that I got a better look at my savior. Catching me by surprise, her appearance was much like that of a humanized cheetah with her long, lean legs, equally long tail, and her whole body covered in spots. Her arms were well-toned and muscular, she had a couple of battle scars on her face, and her green, slit-pupil eyes had a fire to them that I’d never seen before. There was a strong aura of ferocity, command, and respect that emanated from her.
However, when she first looked at me, the fire vanished from her eyes and was replaced with kindness as she extended a helping hand. Still trying to calm my nerves after all that transpired, I was a little cautious to accept it, but soon set my fears aside and let her help me up. I nervously introduced myself as Chance Seaver before she introduced herself to me as Slash (and I mentally chuckled a little as her name brought to mind the famous Guns N Roses guitarist), a member of a fierce group of feline-esque warriors known as “Felidae Erectus” or just “Felidae”. She told me about where she had come from, a world known as Elyora where her kind had lived peaceful lives under the rule of the queen sisters, two regal and immortal lionesses named Raina and Selena, who had ruled over the land for thousands of years.
When these insectoid monsters (who they referred to as “Lokneim”) attacked their land, they fought hard to defend it and, despite their land suffering from the attack, they skillfully held them off. However, their leader, Sarfax, somehow learned about our world and, using an ancient book of forbidden incantations he had stolen, opened a rift between our worlds allowing for his army to pass through when no human would expect (this event would become known to us as “The Fracturing”). Unwilling to let any more innocents suffer at the claws of Sarfax and his horde, the sisters dispatched a large group of warriors and scholars, the former to aid us in battle and the latter to aid us with intel gathered about the enemy.
Several months have passed since The Fracturing and the battle still rages on. Slash took it upon herself to teach me the Felidae’s way of self-defense for my own protection, despite me not being in the best shape physically. She began training me in an abandoned gym, one of many structures to be decimated by the Lokneim after The Fracturing. The training is tough and she’s an even tougher teacher, but this is understandable. Sarfax’s army attacks mercilessly and I can’t afford to let my guard down for an instant.
I was genuinely interested in learning these new battle techniques from weapons training to hand-to-hand combat to what I like to call “Felidae Martial Arts”. Slash made it look smooth and effortless compared to my awkward stumblings early on, but she says I’ve vastly improved with time. Additionally, she was nice enough to get me my own set of twin swords after our first several training sessions together.
These moments of training are a nice opportunity to bond with her. I’ve never had any friends before meeting her, being too awkward for most to hang out with, nor have I had any brothers or sisters. Seeing as Slash is a teenager and around the same age as me, I’ve come to think of her almost as the sister I never had. Actually, me being an only child would make her the sibling I never had. Once, during a raid on a Lokneim outpost, she complimented me on the saliva burn on my arm, calling it “a mark of pride”.
A few weeks after our first meeting, she introduced me to one of her closest friends, an adolescent snow leopard mage named Winter Mist. Winter Mist is surprisingly wise in spite of his youth and well versed in various Felidae subjects from history to astronomy to combat to spells. Even so, he’s become incredibly fascinated with learning as much as he can about human culture, which I’m more than happy to oblige him with given any free time I have, and, in return, he tells me as much as he can about their own culture.
Through him, I’ve learned about their traditions from a sort of aptitude test they take at a young age to determine the responsibilities they’ll assume upon maturity to the rite of passage of their warriors to some of the holidays they celebrate like the festivals for the changing of seasons. He’s also shared some of the mystical spells he’s learned over the years, though they’re of little use to an ordinary human like me, but, nonetheless, still fun to watch him perform. One spell he showed me was used to strengthen their weapons to withstand the Lokneim’s saliva. The Felidae’s technology isn’t near the same level as human technology and yet, strangely, they seem almost better off than us for it.
Over these months spent with Slash and Winter Mist, I’ve become worried about what might happen when this whole battle against Sarfax’s hordes comes to an end. I asked Winter Mist about it and he said that, most likely, afterwards, all of the Felidae would have to return to Elyora and the rift joining our two worlds would be closed forever, never to be opened again.
It only makes sense that they’d have to return home eventually, but, at the same time, they’re the closest thing to friends that I’ve ever had. Slash has made me a much stronger person than I was before and Winter Mist has opened my eyes to an incredible new world I never knew existed. I’ve learned so much from both of them, things I never would’ve learned without these events coming to pass. The thought of losing the friendship we’ve gained during this period is hard to swallow, even terrifying to me. How can one just accept something like that as part of the natural order? I’ve considered the possibility of moving to Elyora with them after this is all over, I doubt many would miss me. However, if I were to move there, would it be a good idea in retrospect?
Humans and Felidae are two entirely different species so finding a girlfriend would be a pretty awkward, if not downright impossible, task. But what if there was a way for me to become a Felidae? I once asked Winter Mist in passing if there were any transfiguration spells that existed to which he replied that there were some, but they were far beyond his own skills. He also mentioned that most spells, like the Lokneim saliva repellent one, performed on any living creatures could have unexpected and, quite possibly, deadly consequences.
Why can’t anything in life ever be easy? No matter what choice I make, I’ll just end up losing. Is being with these new friends I’ve made (the only friends I’ve ever made) worth leaving behind everything dear and familiar here on Earth? Is it worth never being able to one day have a girlfriend or start a family of my own? I wish I knew the right answer.
For now, I’ll need to go with Slash on another Lokneim raid. How can I tell her how much our friendship means to me when the inevitable is still there, lingering on the horizon? Hopefully, I’ll be able to figure out a way to tell her before it’s too late.