Echoes from the Lost Ones - Book 2 - The Song of Forgetfulness

By Nicola McDonagh

Sci-Fi, Action & adventure, Young adult

Paperback, eBook

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531
9 mins

Kyboshed in the Underbrush

Chapter One

Something tiptoed down my back. I clenched my teeth so as not to yell “Yak” and continued to crawl. My hands touched squish and prickle, bugs swarmed around my fingers and neck. Huffin’ hell and back, I was being chomped by all things natural and I wasn’t even a gnat’s breath away from the perimeter fence. I knew nowt about the Wilderness, except it was full to brimming with beasties that craved my flesh.

When far enough away so as to be no more than a speck in the distance, I stood and shoulder wriggled until whatever trickled through my flesh hairs fell off. I looked to the sky and with the sun on my right, headed north into the thick herbage.

The shrubbery gave way to towering trees crammed so tight that after a few steps I was surrounded by dark. Slim streaks of light slashed through the branches and I was able to see enough so as not to trip over the massive gnarled roots that spread across the ground like giant oldie fingers. I took in a breath of leaf rot and made my way all hush-hush through the forest, ears wide open for sounds of danger.

A snap to my left caused me to stop ’bruptly. I turned my head in the direction of said noise. All quiet. I was skittish to be sure not knowing if Wolfie or Agro were on my trail. Another crick-crack, but from the right. I waited for a sec, and then darted into the most densely packed part of the wood. The sound did not follow.

My lower bits began to pulse. Santy Breanna told me once that pain was merely a mind jest and if I forced my will to block it out, then it would cease. So I focused on my purpose; to find my bro-bro, and hoped that she was right.

She was not.

My thoughts turned to the soothers in my backpack, so I peered into the gloom in search of somewhere to rest. An unruly hairshambles of a plant high enough for me to squat behind became my hideout whilst I rummaged through my Synthbag and took out a bar of Sterichoc and a killpainpill.

Crouched and aching in the prickly vegetation, I swallowed down the tab, scoffed the confec and waited for the goodliness to take effect. I shuffled position and wedged myself deeper into the fronds. It was a robust shrub and I quite believed that I was safe, until the ground began to tremble. I looked through the leaves and saw a whole flock of legs of the male kind, coming my way.

A calloused hand grabbed onto my wrist and hauled me into the feeble light. His grip was strong but not as much as the pong that drifted from the cluster of raggedy youths that I was surrounded by. I turned my head upwind and pulled myself free of the dirt-faced juve. He jumped in front of me, eyeballed my choc, then tried to snatch it from my hand.

I punched him in the face and he staggered back.

No one takes my sweetie things, no one. Especially when I’m going through the redinesss. I figured that was what attracted them to me. Santy said that they sniff us out like Wolfies. Can’t help themselves, living apart from women-folk the way they do.

The teen bared his teeth, made a back-throat snarl and lunged. I sidestepped and he stumbled into the trunk of a tree.

Whilst he was occupied with rubbing his injured snout, I sidled away ready to run. But fingers unknown grabbed my hair and pulled. I reached behind and dug my nails into skin. They yelped and let go. I fell to my knees and scrabbled back to the bush to retrieve my Synthbag.

I thrust my fingers into the shrub and felt around until I touched something non-organic, slipped my hand into the strap and dragged it out. But before I could put it back on, the slit-eyed, teeth-bearing teenmales encircled me.

Some hiss-whistled through half opened mouths. Some cracked their knuckles. Some licked their wet lips and all gave off a sickly urge-filled stink. I turned and turned, looking for a gap in the wall of teen, but they packed tighter together.

I noticed them give each other a sly droop-eyed look, nod their heads, then slow step towards me. I thought my chest would explode so fast and hard did my heart thud against my ribcage. The juves crept closer. With nowhere to run, I raised my fists ready to slug it out.

A loud whistle sound stopped their advancement.

I heard the thump, thump of feet on dry leaves and the not-yet ‘dults stiffened. Two mud-caked hands pushed through the barricade and a thick-waisted male stepped forward. He released a loud, wet snort, and they backed off, breaking the circle.

It was a good job the ‘dult turned up when he did or I’d be but floor pelt for sure. Those teens looked pretty fierce all right, with soil splattered on their cheeks, necks and foreheads; their eyes staring wild and full of threat. Bits of greenery and twigs stuck out from their matted hair and if I didn’t know better, I would think them part tree so much of the forest clung to their bods. Even me, the Roughhouse Champ, would be no match against all of them.

I’m tough but not stupid.

I recognised the one who tried to pinch my choc. He stood opposite me clenching and unclenching his fists. I saw his knuckles turn white each time his fingers bent, and when I caught his eye, he glared back. The others thrust their shoulders forward ready to pounce. I squatted all quick, arms around my head to shield me from a full on attack.

“Pull back ye bulls. Abide by the guidelines,” the ‘dult said and fanned them away with an air swipe. He turned and gestured for me to stand. I did. He walked over, folded his arms and moved his gaze up and down my bod.

“Ye, ye are not one of us.”

I slowed my breath so as to appear all-calm like, and answered in a voice without quiver. “Well, nah. Visibly so,” I said, and then brushed some dirt from my pantaloons.

“From Cityplace?”

“Goodly guess.”

“No guess. Ye attire is crafted machine wise?”

“Surely so.”

“Not suited for this rugged terrain.”

“That I am discovering with every shoe weary step.”

“And yer eyes are of that peculiar blue that only the softies have.”

“I am no softie.”

“Perhaps not, but ye resemble them in pale of skin and light of hair.”

The not-so-big ‘dult, for he was no more than a finger joint taller than myself, scratched underneath the filthy pouch that hung around his pleated skirt and said,

“Name, girlie.”

I had hoped to end this chittle-chat without resort to mention of my moniker.

“Relinquish yer name or I will let the Nearlys have their frolic.”

“Let them try,” I said and put up my fists again.

“Wirt, what is she called?”

A flimsy-looking youth with long straggly brown hair approached and looked between him and me. Then he stared into my eyes, blinked twice and backed away.

“Wirt! Name!”

“Adara,” he said, and hung his head as if in shame.

“So that’s who yer are girlie?”

“Yes, but I’m no girlie.”

“That I can see,” he said and stared straight at my bosoomies. “A mistake I’ll not make twice.”

“May I know your tag?”

“Aiken, and do not forget it.”

“Not likely just yet, since we are surrounded by your namesake,” I said and pointed at the huge oak trees that loomed above our heads.

The grubby teens grinned and the ‘dult male rubbed his food encrusted grey beard.

“Adara. That means catcher of birds. Ye will be of use. Ye will enter our domain and deliver yer potential.”

That’s why I hate saying my name. Every huffin’ time they come out with the same thing, like I’m this mythical girlygig who goes around grabbing birds out of the sky so they can eat meat. I AM NOT! It’s just a name. A name that well suits me I grant you. Nonetheless, I avoid the broadcasting of it to one and all, save this kind of thing occurs. Tried to give a false one to the Flashlighters once, but they had a Namer there like this Wirt and I had to run quick-quick to avoid being nabbed.

“It’s been more than a while since any of us tasted of the beastie. These teens never, not in all their short lives. Ay, ye will be welcome, most rightly. Adara, Auger. Adara, Bringer. Adara, catcher of…”

“Birds, yes I know and I’d be thankful if you could refrain from repeating both my name and its meaning.”

“Ye should be proud. Ye have a gift.”

“And a curse. Everyone who finds out wants a piece of me.”

“Fret not. We only want yer voice, lassie. Give that to us without fuss and ye will keep the rest intact. So, now ye will come with us and do our bidding.”

I did not respond. Best not to. Best to let them presume I will abide by their request with my silence. Although an interruption such as this could scupper my mission, there was a chance that the Agro or whatever it was that pursued me would lose the scent.

“Show the Bringer to our home, laddies. And do not peek at her best bits or ye’ll be munching on moss for a month.”

Pulling my arm away from a particularly low-browed bull, I bent down and hitched my Synthbag up over my shoulder before it was noticed. Once in its proper place and invisible again, it discreetly melded into my back leaving my hands free, in case I needed to use them.

Santy Breanna was not eager for me to travel on my lonesome, but to whom could I turn? She was broken-boned from the latest skirmish with the Agros when they came to free the Praisebee’s and snatch my bro. Plus, there are no shifty pathfinders in Cityplace.

Nah, I am best alone. I creep and peep more wisely without the hindrance of a low-grade scout, despite this wooded area being an alien topography. Oh, I stared at the downloadliness of the place on Orva’s comp, but that was all 2-D’s. This, this was most severely 3-DD!

I walked with the males, who behind Aiken’s back took it upon themselves to poke and prod me as they tramped past. I flicked their probing paws away and they took to assuming a most leering look. Some pursed their lips and made a smooch noise, whilst others let their tongues roll around their mouths. I quickened my pace so as to be nearer to Aiken, my only defender against these lovelorn pubescents.

The thickness of the forest waned a bit and I was able to discern some high up blue. Although dread-filled in the extreme, I found it a comfort when I raised my eyes to discover that the sun was still on my right. It soothed me to think that I was on the correct path despite being hemmed in by panting males.

Things buzzed around my face and big-eyed whirling, flappy creatures skidded across my head and arms. I swatted them away and shuddered.

“Babbie, to be feared of the creepy crawlies,” a sneer-teen said. The others guffawed loudly and brushed past me as though I were nowt but a swaying twig. I sniffed, squared my shoulders and walked on.

A sound I had not heard since my first try at birdycalling halted the march. I cocked my ear upwards and heard Raptors screech screeching above our heads. I snickered at the so-called ‘Nearlymen’ when they ducked down and covered their heads with their hands until the circling birds of prey flew off. I stood straight and unflinching, showing them my fearlessness. Never hurts to have the upper udder, as they say.

Especially when there are twice as many of them than you and especially when you’re as scared as a birdybird landing on the ground.

Aiken was the first to stand, followed by the rest, who coughed and slapped their thighs to indicate they lacked sissyness. The ‘dult pointed his stubby finger at a tall, slim juve, who gulped and looked over his shoulder.

“Gifre, yes ye laddie, run on ahead and let Brennus know what’s what.”

“Aye Aiken, I’ll travel swift,” the teenbull said and ran away from us.

“See that ye do. A catch like this is proper welcome. Particularly in these hungry times.”

His words caused me to take a long look at the scrawny males around me. The bulkiness of their clothes made them look all-broad and muscle bound. But I caught the sight of collarbones protruding from their shirts.

I put my hand on the pulled-tight belt around my trousers, stared more deeply at my unwelcome companions and recognised the look of want in all their sallow faces. No wonder my presence was well sought after.

“We walk silent so as not to entice the Wolfies. Wirt, keep the rear,” Aiken said. I followed behind the slow moving machos afraid of both hound and Agro alike.

“Sorry.”

“What?” I said and turned my head. The Nearly called Wirt galumphed his way towards me. The long sleeves of his too-big green tunic flapped around his arms and I saw how thin his wrists were. He gave me a sadly grin and I could not help but offer back a look of forgiveness so earnest was the face he presented. He came up alongside me and took several sneaky peeks, before I stopped ready to swipe.

“Apologies. I did not mean to peer so. It’s just that I have never seen a Bringer before, or been so close to one with such power.”

I lowered my fists and patted Wirt on the shoulder. A cloud of dirt puffed into the air and I caught a whiff of something not quite fresh. They have a smell these teens. It’s not a nice pong, not nice at all.

“Ye wrinkle yer nose at my unwashedness.”

“No, yes, sorry. It’s just that where I come from such musky a scent does not filter though to trouble our senses much.”

Wirt sniffed his own armpits and frowned. “Ye have never seen dirt before?”

“Of course. Just not at home. My ma and pa were always clean. So scrubbed spotless that no damn virus could touch them. Or so they thought. Too squeaky for their own good, that’s what Santy Breanna said. Suppose she was right. First trip to the edge of the Beyondness, they catch a cold. My guess is you and yours fight infection with a layer of grime.”

“Rightly so. It has been our way ever since the Lastgreatplague. Nay, look, we have lagged behind. Will ye follow on fast?” I nodded and we hurried after the rest.

The trees became dense, so much so that I could not distinguish between trunk and twisted vine. The Bulls fairly sped on ahead, running over the muddy, thorn-ridden ground as though it were strewn in fine hand-woven mats. I stepped more heedfully, ducking from low branches that swiped at my face when a Nearly pushed his way through.

“What brings ye into our territory?” Wirt said low into my ear.

I do not know why, but I felt that he was a trustworthy sort, and I blabbed in full my one and only purpose.

“I come in search of my bro-bro and the Agro who stole him. Mark my words, those who think me weak and feeblewomb, I will find and kill the crotchless clod. See if I don’t.”

“A worthy mission, but I am surprised ye mam and da let ye travel alone.”

“I was a tot when they died, and my bro-bro still sucking.”

“I am sorry for ye loss. Ye must miss them greatly.”

“Not so much. The only thing I remember about them was that they always smelled freshly washed.”

“When one so close to us no longer roams, the tribe decides where their nearest and dearest shall next abide. Did the Cityfolk do same for ye and yers?”

“Cityfolk do not care about anyone but themselves. Too caught up in their own sterile world, too afraid they might catch something off someone else to stress themselves about the fate of two young ‘uns orphaned.”

A crick-crack noise to my left caused me to stop. I swivelled round expecting to see a movement in the undergrowth, but all I saw was a teenbull hitching his skirt up so that he could piss against a tree.

I shuddered at the thought that there was nowhere for him to wash his hands, then shuddered again when I saw him wipe said dirty mitt across the front of his chest. Wirt shrugged his shoulders, rolled his eyes and came up close.

“What became of ye after yer parents died?”

“Santy Breanna took us in and introduced me to all kinds of buggalugs. Not in the place we lived of course.”

“What? Ye were raised by one of ‘The Special Army of the Neworld Territories?’”

“No, I wish. Santy Breanna was destined now to live with us in our Cityhome”

“She must have missed the nomadic life some?”

“Rightly so I guess, but she did take us on camping trips into the one-and-only park. The times spent amongst the greenly stuff was apt. Made me strong, made me almost as brave as she. Her name suits. For she is the bravest female I have ever known, but then she used to be Backpacker in the Beyondness.”

“I have heard of these Backpackers. Aiken said that they do not fear the Agros.”

“‘Bout only folk that don’t. When I am of age I too wish to be a Backpacker and give the Agros a taste of my fists.”

I felt a sharp thud in the middle of my back and turned to see Aiken all narrow-eyed. He put a finger to his lips.

“Sshh. Do not make so much noise. Wolfies abound hereabouts. Move without chitter-chatter.”

“My fault, wiser man. I engaged the auger in-”

“That I do not doubt. Ye have a sissified way with ye to be sure. Now tramp silent or ye will be punished.”

I saw Wirt wince at Aiken’s words and found myself warming to this friendlier than the rest juve.

A rush of derisive chuckles rippled through the other bulls and Wirt’s face became as bright as the rising sun. For one of not too dissimilar an age as myself, I regarded his embarrassment as my own and made an effort to keep him close.

He had a way of moving that was unlike the others, a less bulky waddle that made him look as graceful as a leaf swaying in the wind. I snickered at my own poetic turn of phrase. Wirt turned his head, glanced at my cheesy grin and showed me his discoloured teeth. At least I’d found one Nearly who wished nowt from me but chat.



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