Well, I have something fun for you today: a short flash-fiction piece that I’m working on. This is a work in progress, but I think its in somewhat decent shape (though my apologies for any typos… and for the lack of pictures… not a lot that actually reflects the story out there).
Grunda shivered as he pulled his bearskin tighter around his squatted form, thankful for the windless day, despite the cold. The ice-field stretched out before him towards the horizon, broken sporadically by sharp, jutting splinters of rock. He raised one hand to shade his eyes from the sun, though the glare off of the ice wasn’t any better. From the vantage point of the low hill on which he stood he could see nothing but flat ice and rock to the far horizon, like a mountain had exploded and rained fragments of itself down across some wilderness lake. Of course, everyone knew that was an illusion. Just a foot or so beneath the ice lay nothing but barren, frozen, dead earth, a wasteland tundra that wouldn’t even absorb the water that fell on it. Grunda didn’t know why. Even the dreamwalkers of his tribe didn’t know.
He had seen something move on the ice. Flitting from one large stone splinter to another, but in the glare of the sun it was nothing more than a wavering blur. Grunda considered sounding a blast of his horn, but such a warning would cause the tribe to cease their ice-mining and they would lose precious water. The wasted time would prove just as much of a danger as most any lone creature of the waste. Still, he scanned the broken field before him, alert for movement, with one hand on his horn and the other wrapped tight around his stone-tipped spear. When it came the movement was inhumanly fast. Still nothing more than a light blur, but much closer than it had been the last time he’d spotted it. Squinting to keep the glare out of his eyes, Grunda fixed his gaze on the spur of rock–at least twice the size of a man–that it had disappeared behind, but he saw nothing.
For a long while it was as if the thing, whatever it was, had simply vanished beneath the spur, and the out of the corner of his eye he caught it again, or perhaps a second creature, moving towards his hill. This one also vanished behind a splinter of rock, and he wondered how many of them there might be. He considered sounding the horn again. If there were a pack of tundra wolves he could easily be overwhelmed, and any creature that could move through the stone or ice to avoid his gaze was sure to be dangerous, but the tribe had had no water for days and they were all thirsty. The ice-field was their chance to replenish their stores and they couldn’t afford to waste it. He stood though, and pulled his horn off of his belt, just in case a hurried blast was necessary.
Another blur of motion, almost at the foot of his hill sent the horn to his lips. He stepped back and raised his spear to thrust at whatever charged out from the rock spurs at the bottom of the hill, but again, whatever it was seem to have vanished. How long he held that pose for, heart hammering but breath slow and sure, he couldn’t tell. Every muscle was tensed, his squinted eyes scanned to and fro along the bottom of the hill, the horn pursed on his wetted lips until it froze to them, and yet he waited. After what seemed like it must have been a sun-cycle he allowed himself to relax, lowering the spear and wetting the ice on his lip with the heat of his tongue until it melted. Still, nothing moved.
Grunda returned to his crouch, waiting, though not knowing what he waited for. Either the thing had vanished, or it was a more patient hunter than he, and he was among the best hunters in the tribe. He let his eyes return to scanning the ice-field, though frequently they flitted back to the base of his hill, still waiting for something to happen. Then he heard a roar from behind him, and screams. Immediately Grunda lept from his crouch, running across the low hill towards the ice-mining camp to see chaos. Large balls of hail pelted the camp, crushing bones. Sharp spikes of ice exploded out of the ground, impaling some of the miners and sending the lucky one’s sprawling away. Two hazy blurred figures strode leisurely through the camp, and wherever they gestured icy terror struck the men of his tribe.
Grunda ran down into the camp, hoping that he could help. Perhaps kill one of the creatures, or even just pull a few of his injured brethren away from the camp. But as he entered the camp he ran headlong through one of the figures. In shape it was a man with no face who wore fox furs, a wolf-skull adorned his head. However, the image wavered and blurred, and Grunda knew immediately that the man was a dreamwalker deep in his sleep, untouchable by any mortal man, unless they knew where he lay. The figure gestured towards him, and Grunda rolled over his shoulders, gaining his feat and leaping away as a spear of ice shot out of the ground where he had just been. Hearing the screams around him and feeling the warmth of an emptying bladder in his furs, Grunda glanced around the camp, and then grabbed the nearest bag of ice and ran.
Years later, Grunda would tell the story of how he had fought a dreamwalker and lived to his children, and then to his grandchildren. He conveniently forgot to mention how a timely warning might have allowed more of the miners to escape, and the stains the soiled his furs when he’d returned to the tribe. Fortunately, no one else remembered those parts of the story either.