A Golden Trail
“Let me learn you something. You can never trust a rumor.”
A gnarled, strong hand gestures out from under a cloak toward a distant mountain pass.
“They used to talk about a Caravan. About a trail leading back to our Golden Age. Promises.”
Both as emphasis and a curse to the the idea of promises, a rope of salive is spit unceremoniously onto the ground of the town square. The words weren’t spoken to any with any expectation of response. Sam the Spitter wasn’t known for caring who listened so long as someone did. It had been years since any outsiders had ventured to Bear’s Pit. The elders had decided that based on the old maps that it was nestled near what used to be Montana of the Old United States. It’s nestled back up near an edge of a butte overlooking a rather large lake that doesn’t quite line up with anything from the old maps.
Bear’s Pit isn’t a large settlement. It isn’t the smallest. Mostly it keeps to itself. In part due to the land formation it is on and in part because there are still some elders who sing songs of Warlords burning those who would stand down with cold fire and thunder made form. It isn’t regular that people believe those stories, not anymore. What kind of man or woman could do such a thing? Sam the Spitter wasn’t done talking though.
“You can’t trust a rumor, though,” a wetness grated on the edge of the ears of everyone in the square, “It’ll just turn out a lie. Last promis this town got left four dead.
Sam was exaggerating. They lost two goats and no one was sure they were dead. It was a trade deal made by a trusting farmer to a smooth talking traveler. Sam spit again with even more distaste.
“But it’s what they’re saying right now. What they’re talking about.”
The Wise Council has been debating what to do ever since a girl was brought in with a fever, raving about a train to the Light. A trail to the Golden Age. It was an old story but she spoke of it like it was as tangible as the spit on the edge of Sam’s mouth.
“There’s rumors of a Caravan.”
The sun has already risen and is slowly warming the moisture off the grass and leaves and rooves and streets of Bear’s Pit. The day animals have started to rustle. Work will need to be done soon. Lilac had been proactive the night before however. So those tending to her farmland would already be well accomodated with hearty food and refreshing, clean water. Her pride and joy, an old Golden Age food and water processing unit was still running circles around the other kitchens in the settlement. She called it Aura. Both because it glowed when it hummed to life and as a reminder of where it came from. She had traded for it with someone who needed more supplies on their way to some promised land. A fabled city. Stories for children she thought.
“Ma’am Lilac!” a voice pierced the morning stillness. One of the working children, no doubt. However, there was something offputting about the tenor of the voice. A banging at the door and again, “Ma’am Lilac!” She waddled over and undid the clasp. The child who stood before her, Skef or Skorf or something equally silly, was in a panic.
“What is it child?” a moment of calm reasurance as she adjusted her white hair out of her eyes and into a bun. Usually preperation for work needing to be done.
“Cloud Pirates,” Skruf was not calming down. A moment of cold terror passed through her spine at the words, however. Not since she was a child had she seen them close. Mostly stories about raids on other towns. She liked to talk with the other elder women in nearby towns when the season permitted travel. Stories of abhorent masses of chittering carapace, like an insect that didn’t understand its place in the world, riding dark clouds of strange shapes blocking sunlight and raining lightning down on anyone foolish enough to be in the open. The stories made them out to be a force of nature. She new better.
“Get inside child. Get down. Now where?” a shivering finger points toward town square, “Now stay here,” a motion to enter a cellar as she lifts the handle on a hatch in the floor, “And wait for me to come back for you. If I’m not back in an hour, get out and run.” Skruf nodded vigorously and hid. Lilac picked up her shotgun. She new better because those pirates, those Eliskni – a name which burnt the inside of her nose to think – took her home from her as a child. Left her for dead when they attacked a caravan passing through her old Village. She wasn’t losing this home.
She hobbled to the town square, shotgun still in hand. Loaded and ready. But those dark clouds weren’t stopping today. They were passing over. This was something new. Something different. Those fallen creatures were fleeing.
She had given up cover and was bewildered by shapes traveling overhead. Not slowing for an instant as they passed. Others in the square were worried that they were just scouts and that something worse would follow. Lilac knew something worse would follow. Not for Bear’s Pit, though.
As a new shape entered the sky above the town it turned back. She stared in wonder as others shrunk in fear. This new shape it circled one more time then came close. In front of her appeared a form. Tall and hard. Armor. A banner at their waste and a rifle in their hand. For a moment she felt fear, but that soon faded.
And that form spoke and she was left speechless.
She quitely reminded herself, “There’s rumors of a City.”
“Girls can’t be Titans!”
An unfriendly taunt frequently leveled at Juniper. When they’d play with sticks in the forests around the edges of town the older children would tell her to go “play Warlock” in the square with the other babies and the girls who refuse to be Hunters. Juniper didn’t understand why she had to be a Warlock or a Hunter, and no answer ever satisfied her.
“Can, too! I can be just as much The Wall as you are, rock-head.” Jasper did not being stood up to very well. He squared up and shoved her hard into a tree.
“That’s just a rumor. You can’t even plant your feet right. That’s why girls can’t be Titans,” kicking moss of the roots of the tree at her to punctuate his remark. This infuriated Juniper. She was tired of getting bullied, and the adults of Bear’s Pit didn’t seem to see it as an issue. She was tired of being dismissed. Only Olive, the lonely woman on the edge of town with the best kitchen – it glows when she cooks like magic – would ever listen to her. She’d tell her stories about her great-grandmother and The Last City and how Bear’s Pit is on top of a Golden Age structure so a deal was struck to allow the people to stay but The Last City would watch over the settlement.
Tears streaked through the dirt on her face. The same dirt all the other kids had. Tears of frustration. Nothing she knew about the Risen – Guardians – could make sense of these boys not wanting a girl to play as a Titan.
It was in this moment she was reminded of some of the stories told to her by Olive or overheard at celebrations that have filtered out into the wilds from The Last City. Stories of angels made of light and angels made of darkness. Guardians and Space Rhinos and the Rhino who wanted to be a Guardian. Juniper stood and stared down Jasper. She balled her fist. A glimmer of satisfaction in her eye. Olive’s favorite way to tell that story ended with a gauntlet and the words: THE LAST AND SUREST ARGUMENT.
That evening her fist hurt, but she was satisfied. Jasper had a broken nose. Of course she was scolded, but most of the town was proud. The other kids appreciated Jasper being taken down a notch. And she gets to play Titan. Not just a rumor.