• Joshua Blaylock

Chapter Three: Fuil Bláth

Updated: Sep 4

“What is this?” Regan held up a vile containing a thick orange liquid. Kevron swiped it from his older sister’s hand. She stood under the archway separating the main room of their hut from the sleeping room where he was. Her tone was rife with accusation. His younger sister, Sila, now five, stood behind her left leg holding on as though she might fall.

“It’s none of your concern.” He shoved the vial into his hip pouch and moved to leave the room.

“Fuil Bláth is dangerous,” she held out her hand to block him, “and you are too light-skinned to use it. It is entirely my concern what happens to the people in this family.”

“You are responsible for Sila. That doesn’t make you responsible for me.” He pulled her arm down hard and moved past her, heading toward the doorway that led outside.

“And what if you die, Kevron?” He stopped but did not turn around. “How will that affect her emotional state? How will the negligent death of a sibling affect the council’s view of whether we are still fit to raise Sila?”

He turned and opened his mouth, but he did not speak.

“More than a drop of that will almost certainly kill you.”

“That is exactly the point, Regan. More that one drop might kill me. But one drop is all I need to hunt effectively and forage. I have it under control, and I’m improving every day. Soon, I’ll only need it for foraging, and not even that once this thirst is over.”

The entire land of Sasana had been in a thirst for three seasons. Thirsts were rare and never lasted for more than eight seasons. During that time, the rain, which normally fell almost every day, often came only every three to seven. The Si rarely drank water. Instead, their skin absorbed the moisture in the air, and they retained almost all water present in the food they ate. But during a thirst, the air was dry, and the plants and animals which they ate supplied less moisture.

Kevron turned and left the hut. Regan remained, pinned in the doorway by their younger sister’s arms, wrapped tightly around her leg.

Kevron understood the risks of using the Fuil Bláth all too well. He had seen a light skin Si bleed from her pores as she foolishly tried to use it even though it was clear she was unfit. His medium-brown skin may not have been dark enough to denote a clear propensity for tolerance, but he had been certain that it was dark enough to survive a single drop.

That certainty did nothing to stave off his fear when the time came to try it. It had been a week since he saw his friend, Conlan, disfigured by an attack from a Cat Púca. He needed to be sure he could protect someone should they get into trouble like that again. The pain from that first drop of nectar was far beyond anything he could have prepared for. If he had not been inside a hut when it happened, he would have fallen to the ground below, either dying from the impact or from an attack shortly afterward.

The pain lasted around ten seconds, and for most of that time, he was certain he was going to die. But it subsided, and he remained, lying on the floor in the otherwise empty room. His senses had not improved so much as his ability to process them. He saw everything in his eye line in perfect detail. His brain no longer needed to focus on a single piece of the environment. The items in his periphery were as clear and those directly in front of him, and everything held the former equivalent of his full attention. His other senses were equally affected, each simultaneously being given the same level of attention, allowing him to build a clear picture of the world around him.

He was no longer scared of death during the moments after consuming the Fuil Bláth — that fear had subsided after the third or fourth time — but the ten seconds of excruciating pain had become no shorter or easier.

Kevron stepped out into the sun, his frustration still burning, though doused slightly by his sister’s appeal to his better senses. His family lived on the lowest level of his tiny village, only twenty feet off the ground — just out of reach from even the most agile of Coiníní Púca. A bridge went out from their front door, suspended between their hut and the central tree. On the other side of the tree was another hut belonging to two brown skins, both around 200 years old, who had been guards just like his mother.

Kevron sprinted across the bridge, vaulting over the left side as he neared the end to land on the platform that wrapped around the large oak tree. The stairway that led up to the higher levels made a clockwise spiral around it. It took a half turn to reach the second level and another full turn up to the third. On the outside of the stairway was a rope railing, threaded through small posts which stuck out of every tenth step. Kevron sprinted up the stairs, hitting every third step, until he was far enough to jump and pull himself up onto the second level platform.

Another elderly couple and two other families lived on the second level, each headed by at least one green skin adult. Their huts were nicer and mostly bigger. While the bridges on the lower level had rotting planks and frayed rope, they kept those on the second clean and always replaced the planks at the slightest sign of damage. They even had glow vines strung along them to keep them lit up at night. It was assumed, because brown skins are skilled at labor, that they could keep up with their area themselves. But after working on the higher levels and performing their other duties, there was little time left for any but the most critical issues on the lower level.

Rather than walk around the platform, Kevron climbed onto the railing that ran along the outside and pushed off toward the bridge that led to Mare’s hut. His toes landed on the glow vine covered rope, and he quickly pushed again, hoping to make use of his forward momentum to hop down before losing balance.

But his timing was off. Forward momentum had already given to a backward sway. His feet found little purchase on the rope, and the kick merely sent them flailing behind him. His chest came down hard on the rope, and he wrapped his arms around it, halting his descent and causing his body to swing forward, hard. Pain shot through his leg and lower abdomen as his upper thigh slammed into the bridge.

He breathed in deep, attempting to calm himself and find some sense of order as his body came to rest from the chaos. The pain in his chest and leg were less severe than the moments when the nectar was taking hold, but the throbbing made it difficult to concentrate. For the next few moments, the only thing Kevron could think to do was hang there.

Kevron was certain that he looked like an idiot to everyone who saw him. This was why he needed to use the Fuil Bláth. He was no hunter — hunters were agile; they could plan for every possibility, knowing what was coming and able to accommodate the unexpected at a moment’s notice. He had no desire to be a hunter. But he needed to. His father had been a skilled hunter, providing for them, for the entire village. But his father was gone now.

Their family may as well be a blight on their village. His mother was second guard, even though she was more experienced than the village’s other guard, because she was light-skinned and unable to use the Fuil Bláth. She also had never done well with hunting, which was unusual for a guard. Kevron’s passion was more around building things. He had recently rebuilt a significant portion of the bridge in front of the elderly brown skin couple’s hut when the man almost fell through one of the rotting planks. But the village also already had a dark-skinned builder who did a sufficient job taking care of what those on the second level cared about.

What the village needed was another hunter. What his family needed was to be needed.

He pulled his right leg up after a few moments, and swung his body around so that, when he let go of the rope, he landed with his back on the bridge. He limped the rest of the way across the bridge to Mare’s hut, his leg likely bruised from how hard it hit.

Mare’s father, Shaughan, was a blue skin. Male blue skins were rare, and they never held place over a female, but there were no female blue skins in their village other than his little sister. It would be at least thirty more years before his sister was old enough to lead, but once she had grown and finished her Freagrachtaí (a period in which she would apprentice under each member of the village for at least one year) she would take his place as the leader of the village.

Shaughan opened the door as Kevron approached. He was at least a hand taller than Kevron, and he glared down at him as he walked past.

“Mare!” he shouted back as he walked across the bridge.

Mare exited the cabin a moment later. Kevron had been friends with her his entire life. It was difficult to not have some relationship with every person in a village this small. But four years ago, they began noticing each other differently. Neither of them was sure of when their feelings changed, but the moment they fully came to grips with it was one of Kevron’s most vivid memories.

He was barely thirteen, and they were hunting just outside of the village. Neither of them were skilled hunters, and in the dozen or so times that they had done this, only Conlan had ever caught anything. This time, though, one of Mare’s arrows, having missed its intended target, found another. She jumped across the branches and pulled the chipmunk from the tree.

“It still counts!” she yelled, holding it up high.

They headed back to the village with her fresh kill, hoping that Kevron’s father would help them prepare it. As they headed down the steps from the second level, the animal caught on a post and slipped out of Mare’s hand. Kevron jumped over the rope toward the platform below, attempting to catch the chipmunk before it fell off the edge. As he landed, his ankle turned inward. The twist threw off his balance, and the pain knocked him down. He could do nothing but helplessly watch the creature slip away, and by the time they got to him, it was lost to the ground below.

Mare looked at him with pity, pride, gratefulness. She helped him to his feet, pulling his arm over her shoulders and guiding him over to the steps. Conlan moved over to the edge of the platform to see if he could spot the chipmunk. As Mare helped Kevron down onto the step, her face close to his, she looked at him with affection, thankful that he had tried to save her kill and perhaps a little guilty that he had hurt himself doing so. She could not even feel sadness for having lost the chipmunk, as she was suddenly overwhelmed with how she felt about him.

“Thank you,” she whispered. At that moment, under the light of a half moon and the glow vine that had recently been strung around the stairway’s railing, he saw a beauty that he had never noticed before. She leaned in and kissed him on the lips. He did not resist, but pushed his lips back into hers.

“Are you ready to go?” Mare asked as she shut the door behind her.

“Yes. Do they know where we’re going?”

“They’re fine with it, but we will need to hurry back. My father wants me here by dark.”

Mare’s father opposed her having a relationship with Kevron or Conlan, so they kept it a secret from all their families. It was not difficult since they often went out as a full group anyway — they felt that brown skins needed to stick together. It had been that way since they were young and vulnerable to the cruel whims of more fortunate children. They were certain no one outside their group had any suspicion of the romantic side of Kevron and Mare’s relationship.

“I would rather wait until your father is out of sight, if that’s ok with you.” Kevron tried to avoid Shaughan when possible. He always felt judged, and he was certain that Shaughan resented his family because he knew that Sila would take his place before he was old.

As soon as Shaughan started climbing the steps to the third level, which contained huts for political business and for housing official guests from other villages, they headed back toward the central tree and over to Conlan’s family’s hut. Conlan walked out as they approached, and they continued around the back. There, they had set a rope ladder to reach the more traversable parts of the trees above them.

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