Zodiac Tribes: Book One

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    Kifu
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    Zodiac Tribes: Book One

    Post by Kifu on Sat Apr 04, 2009 9:03 am

    ♦Chapter One♦

    A DARK ORANGE hue was present in the sky. Even the trees and distant mountains matched its glow. Darker still was the sun, setting below the earth. As it disappeared, the cool summer breeze stilled and it was quiet. The pines stopped their dance, crickets ceased their chirping. Not a single firefly said farewell to the star.

    Quickly it grew dark and all that was frozen suddenly came back to life. A harmonious song erupted from the woods as the wind relieved the creatures from the heat. Stars appeared in the inky sky, but it was not enough to see.

    Before long, a bright moon rose into the sky. The stars stationed near it vanished once again. The light from the near-full moon set an eerie light on the land.

    With enough light to see, I rose. Knowing my parents would be angry about my late appearance, I set my feet north. Under them little rocks littered the pine woods. As I moved onward, they gradually disappeared, just leaving the needles. With my bare feet they pricked me every few steps, causing me to cringe.

    Once the moon was well into the height of the sky, my feet found a trail pounded hard by generations of footsteps. I increased my pace, now confident I wouldn’t stumble.

    The trees soon thinned, revealing to me my village. Small huts blistered the packed earth, arranged in a neat circle. In the center of the homes a smoldering fire was left unattended until morning. The fire reminded me of my father’s temper and I dashed to my dark structure.

    With careful movements I opened the door and helped it fall silently closed into its jamb. Quietly and purposely I spun my figure around. Only darkness met my stare. My breathing turned fast and my heart raced as my eyes slowly focused on the room.

    Dark outlines of the room’s features gradually turned into focus. My parents’ dark doorway was to my right. In the center of the room stood our table. On my left side was the entrance to the room I shared with my brother.

    Confident I could make it to my bed without waking anyone from my family, I crept across the room. My bare feet made only a whisper against the cool stone of our hut’s floor. With only a few strides, I successfully made it to my room.

    Shinka, my brother, slept soundly under the open window. The silver beam from the moon shone on his pale skin. The soft breeze caressed his unkept hair. As he was a light sleeper, I moved my back against the wooded wall and inched to my own bed-mat.

    Once in the comfort of the soft mat, I quickly fell into a dreamless sleep. I had entered my home without waking anyone from my family again.


    Shinka shook me to consciousness. “Kifu!” he said urgently, “Wake up! Pa wants you in the Big Room.”

    I batted my hand out, trying to push him away from me. Sleep pulled at me and I wanted to follow it. “Don’t touch me,” I mumbled and rolled over.

    “Kifu!” Shinka begged. He pulled his hands from my body. “Pa needs you in the Big Room. He sounds mad.” A whine crept into his already high pitched voice. “Come on!”

    “I wanna sleep,” I complained. Nevertheless, I pulled myself into a sitting position.

    “Pa wants--no, needs you, though,” Shinka insisted.

    “I don’t care.”

    “Kifu!” Pa thundered. His voice was belligerent and it instantly woke me up. “Get over here right now!”

    Gulping, I quickly pulled myself from bed and changed my clothes from the day before. That night I didn’t bother to change into bed clothes. Once fully dressed for the new day, I skittered into the Big Room and stood in front of Pa. His angry eyes caused me to drop my gaze to my feet.

    “Yes, Pa?” I asked quietly. I was sure I already knew what he wanted.

    “Where were you last night?”

    Without looking up I answered, “Just outside of the village.” As soon as the words left my mouth I regretted them. A nine year-old was expected to stay in sight. I should have said, “In my usual place.”

    “Exactly why were you out of the camp, Kifu? Look at me!”

    I obeyed his order, but refused to look into his fiery eyes. I didn’t answer; I didn’t know how to.

    “The Zodiac Tribes could have take you!” Pa warned.

    Unable to hold my tongue, I retorted, “I know you made them up, Pa, just to scare us from leaving! The Zodiac Tribes aren’t real.”

    Pa’s mouth opened, but closed again. His jaw muscles popped out.

    Ma stepped up beside Pa. She had been leaning against the doorway to their bedroom. “Kifu Kaze! Answer your father: Why were you out of the village? You know you’re not supposed to be.”

    I stares stubbornly at her face. “I don’t believe in the Zodiac Tribes.”

    “There are bears and wolves that roam in these woods, Kifu.” My Ma’s stern tone made me shrink.

    “But I didn’t get hurt.”

    “You could have,” Pa interjected.

    “But I didn’t!”

    “Kifu, go to your room. This will be the last time you leave the village without an adult escort. You aren’t to leave your room until supper, do you hear me?” Ma demanded. Her matter-of-fact tone couldn’t be swayed.

    “Yes, Ma,” I grumbled. I turned to head for my room, but my Pa grabbed my shoulder.

    “Kifu, don’t tell anybody that the Zodiac Tribes don’t exist.” Before I could ask why, he left through the only door. Ma and I were the only ones left in the house.

    Defeated, I left to my room.

    I sat on my bed and looked out the window. A calm wind brushed the pines’ branches, causing them to gently tremble. The golden yellow sun shown down on the village almost from directly above. I slept through half of the day.

    Sighing, I stood up and tried to peek over the tall ledge. The hut next to my family’s shunned me. Its dark shadow pooled between the gap between the two structures.

    From the clearing I heard the laughter of the little children. I could easily pick out Shinka’s high cry. They sounded happy, free. I, on the other hand, was stuck in my hut.

    Gradually the sun lifted itself into an arch and the shadows moved to its manipulation. The shadow grew black around my window as the sun began its descent to the other side of the earth.

    My stomach growled. Because of my banishment to my room, I had missed the midday meal and games. The only thing I could eat was the sun-down meal, also called supper. I moaned as my stomach made another protest.

    The sky began to darken outside my window. I refused to watch Ma cook supper in the Big Room, afraid I’d loose my control over myself and dash across to the food.

    Finally, after an eternity, Ma called Shinka and Pa for supper. “Kifu, you may come, too.” I walked to the table, waiting politely. “Did you learn anything?”

    I thought before answering. I knew this punishment wouldn’t stop me from going to my rock that overlooked the woods and far away mountains.

    “Kifu?” Pa prodded, waiting for the meal to begin.

    “I learned that…” I began, racking my brains for an acceptable answer without flat-out lying. “That woods are dangerous.”

    “And?” Ma asked. Apparently ‘the woods are dangerous’ wasn’t enough.

    “And that leaving the village was a bad idea.”

    My Ma nodded, appeased now that I half-liked my way from more punishment tonight. “Normal rations,” she informed me.

    First Pa took a bite and then Ma. Once they began eating, Shinka and I were allowed to begin ourselves.

    Due to my day of punishment, I stayed silent. Ma and Pa took my lead, but Shinka chatted about the midday games. Today the adults sparred with hands and sticks.

    I was always fascinated by fights, even if they were just play. I loved how the people moved so expertly and quickly. They hit with strength and ferocity. Even though I am female, I wanted to be one of the people who sparred when I grew up.

    After supper I left to my room with Shinka. We lay in our beds and I starred at the roof.

    “Shinka?” I asked into the dark.

    “What?” he squeaked.

    “Do you believe in the Zodiac Tribes?”

    “Yeah,” Shinka said gravely. “If you be bad, they take you away.” He turned in his bed. “Kifu?”

    “Huh?”

    “Don’t be bad. Zodiac Tribes take you away.”

    “Shinka, the Zodiac Tribes aren’t real. They can’t take me away. They’re just a story to make us behave.”

    “Zodiac Tribes take you away,” Shinka repeated. “Be good.” Without further argument, he turned away and feigned sleep.

    I didn’t fall immediately to sleep. I worried about whether or not I could get to my rock without detection. Ma said I needed an adult escort out of the village. I was almost sure she and Pa would keep a good eye on me for moons.

    With a deep breath, I sat up. I let the moonlight wash over my body and the wind pull at my clothes. Taking another deep breath, I closed my eyes. I imagined myself at my rock only inches away from the wild, untamed land. I pulled more images of my place and took a deep breath. With surprise I smelt the pine trees surrounding me vis-à-vis the slightly meat-roasted atmosphere my house held. Startled, I opened my eyes and transported back into my room. I looked around just to make sure.

    The soft support of my bed-mat provided me was still there, rather than the hard rock. Shinka slept soundly, his breathing coming lightly and regularly. With a little fear I settled down into my bed. How had I done that?

    Before I knew it the sun stabbed at my closed lids. A translucent red registered in my brain. I rolled over before opening my eyes; I didn’t want to stare into the sun.

    I pulled off my bed-clothes and put on some day-clothes on in their place. My focus rested briefly on Shinka’s thin form. He may be a brat when awake, but he looked precious when sleeping.

    With a little hesitation I walked into the Big Room. Pa’s anger probably still smoldered like a nighttime fire, and I didn’t want to be caught in its center. To my relief only Ma sat smiling.

    “Ohaiyo, Kifu,” she greeted warmly, handing me a bowl full of berries.

    I took the fruit. “Ohaiyo,” I answered and added, “Thanks.”

    “Eat well, honey,” she said and kissed me on top of my head.

    “Yes, Ma.” I pulled a blackberry and stuck it into my mouth. It was a little too young and tasted tart.

    Shinka then walked through our doorway and into the Big Room. “Ohaiyo,” he yawned to Ma.

    “Ohaiyo,” she replied and gave him his own bowl of berries and kiss.

    “Thanks, Mama,” Shinka said and sat next to me. His first pick was a blackberry, too. He made a face. “Ew…sour!”

    “The blueberries and raspberries are good, though,” I informed him, popping one of each in my mouth.

    He followed cue. “They’re okay.”

    “No, they’re good.”

    “Uh-uh. Strawberries best.”

    “Ra--” I was cut off.

    “Stop it you two!” Ma scowled. “They’re all good. Just eat.”

    “Yes, Ma,” Shinka and I said in unison.

    We soon finished our sun-up meal and were allowed to go outside. The sun began to dorwn on the clouds, whom threatened to rain. Shinka stared distastefully at them. I smiled at his reaction and followed him to the small group of kids his age. Every child in the village was around five, except me.

    “Kifu?” Seiko asked. He was three years-old and lived in the village. “You play, too?”

    I studied his anxious expression. The rest of the children, including Shinka, wore the same expression. “Sure,” I agreed. I was five years older than them all, but I was the only my age. “I’ll play.”

    The group burst into cheers. Their exaggerated cry almost made me fall down with laughter.

    Ringo, another five year-old, came up and touched my shoulder. “You’re it!” he cried and touched another three kids, each time saying, “You’re it!” I followed the group’s cue and didn’t yet move.

    Once everyone was tagged, he stood in front of the fire in the center of the camp. “War,” he stated simply. “Not ‘it’, hide and stay away. ‘It’, find and chase. Not ‘it’ caught, go to jail.” I smiled at the simplicity of the rules. “ ‘It’ counts!” he cheered and ran off.

    “How high do we count?” I asked Haruki, a six year-old who was also “it”.

    “Ichi, ni, san!” he answered, calling loudly into the thickening sky.

    “Up to three?” I cried incredulously.

    “Yup,” Haruki said, confident. “Now we go find them.” He sprinted in the direction of the growling clouds in the sky. I had to admit the young people knew when to have a good game of hide-and-go-seek-tag.

    I turned my head around and tried to find where the children disappeared to. After not seeing any after a few heartbeats, I took off in a random direction. I immediately saw Aimi. “Aimi!” I called. My call only made her run faster. With my longer strides I caught up to her and tapped her shoulder. “Gotcha,” I said triumphantly.

    “Why’d Ringo make you it?” she pouted. As if she were in control of the weather, it began raining to her mood.

    “Ringo was smart. He knew a storm was coming. He also knew I would make quick work of this game,” I bragged.

    “Not fair.”

    I pointed to the jail, where a four year-old already sat. “Is too fair. Jail’s over there, Aimi.”

    She crossed her arms, and I thought she was going to protest, but she stomped over to the jail.
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    Re: Zodiac Tribes: Book One

    Post by Kifu on Thu Aug 20, 2009 5:17 am

    Satisfied, I ran off to find more people to jail. Puddles began to form and the rain fell down harder, but I ignored it, intent to finish the game because were done, not because our parents made us.

    Before long I found Ringo, hiding in a bush. “Ringo!” I cried and rushed forward to tag him. He was faster than Aimi, but I was still more speedy than him. “You’re caught!” I trumpeted.

    “I know,” Ringo said. His voice still sounded cheerful, despite the fact he lost.

    I waved him good-bye and started to slowly jog around. I splashed through the puddles, making a lot of noise. Suddenly, the clouds began pouring the rain down ever harder and the drops pelted my skin. Rivers of water fell from the huts’ roofs.

    Shinka came up from behind me. “Kifu, Ma says we have to come inside.”

    I turned to face him. “Why?”

    “Rain too hard,” Shinka explained. “We go!”

    I nodded, downtrodden. “Okay,” I sighed. With heavy steps, I followed Shinka to our hut. We both avoided puddles, since neither of us wanted to meet Ma’s wrath.

    “Thank-you, Shinka,” Ma said upon our entering. “Now both of you, go get changed into some dry clothes and hang your wet ones by the table.”

    “Yes, Ma,” Sinka and I said in robot-like tones. We headed straight for our room and stripped ourselves. I grabbed a brownish shirt and a tan pair of loose-fitting pants. Shinka wore the same. The costume was a uniform that all of the villagers wore. Sometimes women wore a light skirt, but that was basically all the choice we had. I didn’t mind.

    I quickly changed into the new clothes and gathered up the old. They were heavy with water. In a stumbling walk, I carried them to Ma. She took them from me and said, “Play quietly in here, okay?”

    “Yes, Ma,” I agreed. I waited for Shinka to give Ma his clothes before saying, “What do you want to do?”

    “Don’t know,” he answered, shrugging.

    I put my hand to my chin, thinking. “How about we look at our rock collections?”

    Shinka looked at me with sad eyes. “Chiaki took all mine.”

    “What?” I cried, “Why’d you let him do that?”

    “He made me,” Shinka sobbed.

    I sighed. “Shinka, don’t let him bully you around.”

    “He’s scary,” Shinka whimpered.

    “He’s only six!”

    “So?”

    “You’re four, not two.”

    “I don’t get it.”

    Frustration rose inside me. “Shink, you have to stand up for yourself.”

    “How?”

    “Just…tell him ‘no’.”

    “Kifu, can’t you tell him no? I’m scared.” A whine crept into his voice again; tears formed in his eyes.

    “He’s not my problem.” I crossed my arms and looked away. I knew if I looked into his eyes, I would have to do as he asked. Chiaki was stubborn and I didn’t want to deal with him.

    “Meanie!” Shinka pouted.

    “I can’t always deal with your problems.”

    “Why not?” Shinka shot back.

    I opened my mouth to answer, but I couldn’t voice my reason. Instead, I took a different approach and side-stepped his inquiry. “This’ll make you stronger.”

    “How?”

    Four year-olds and their petty problems, but millions of questions. I waved him away. “You’ll figure something out.” Quickly, before he could ask how again, I said, “So what do you want to do?”

    (2,894 words)
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    Re: Zodiac Tribes: Book One

    Post by Kifu on Thu Aug 20, 2009 5:17 am

    ♦Chapter Two♦

    I STARED AT THE CEILING from my bed, unable to sleep. I could hear Shinka’s soft breathing next to me, he obviously asleep. Suddenly, a devious plan formed in my head. If Shinka was sleeping, then my parents were most likely, too, since Shinka had a hard time succumbing to slumber. And if Ma and Pa weren’t awake, I wouldn’t be caught if I leave to my special place.

    My mind had a new purpose. Therefore, I tenderly sat up on my bed-mat. When Shinka didn’t stir, I slowly erected myself onto my feet and guided them carefully to the doorway. The Big Room just a breaths away from my nose was as black as an octopus’s ink. I had to use my other senses to find my way to the house’s main door. Carefully I eased it open, slipped through, and had it silently close behind me. The woods were just within my arms reach.

    No longer I took any caution. I was sure no one would hear my feet patter across the packed earth as I made my way to the rock. The full moon was high in the sky, marking midnight and the path I chose. All the better, I thought happily, because now I don’t have to worry about otherwise unexplainable scratches. With light, I won’t have any!

    It didn’t take long for me to reach the smaller, less used path that led to the rocky cliff I called the rock. The trees and undergrowth thickened because of it. And therefore I had to slow to a light jog, rather than the near sprint I used to get here.

    I pushed past the almost indistinguishable entrance and then muscled my way through the narrow path. The moon that had illuminated my route now hid unhelpfully above the needled canopy. Thick vegetation nearly ate the orb whole.

    Before long, I stumbled out of the trees and onto the rocky outcrop. The moon, who had been hiding previously, finally showed her face to me. The pine forest that surrounded the ledge on which I stood glowed silver in the light. Fireflies blinked their messages throughout the sheltered floor, spreading their own brilliant light for all. Crickets chirped softly into the air as if singing a lullaby.

    The sight was majestic. I breathed in deeply the fresh air to my lungs. My legs needed a rest from the run so I sat down. The rock held me there, in the midst of the fantasy, yet real, world.

    Suddenly my head grew heavy and my eyelids threatened to close. At first I felt compelled to oblige, but then I realized what would happen if I went to sleep at this cliff. My Pa’s anger would rise again and I would be treading in deep water. I had to get home before I feel into a slumber to morning.

    A yawn pushed at my jaws, and then I took off. Beads of rock tore at the soles of my feet. Slender needles pierced my skin, but the numbness of sleep took the pain away. The limbs I pumped with lost their power as my body fought for rest. Tired, I slipped to my knees. Darkness overtook my vision as finally my body’s please were met.


    I woke with a start and scrambled to my feet. I studied my surroundings with squinted eyes, discombobulated after the rest.

    “Oh, no,” I moaned, sinking low. Morning had arrived and I was not yet home. Should I run to my home and try crawling through the window? Or would the better choice be to stay away from my family for the day?

    Decided, I sprinted down the well worn path and into the village that I live. The fire in the heart remained unstoked, which I took as a good sign. If no one had yet tended it, then my family should not yet be woken.

    With renewed energy I dashed to the Kato homestead and placed my hands on the sill to my room. I tried lifting my body through it, but my nine year-old body didn’t have the strength to do so. Panicking, I looked around for some type of stool so that I could step up over the puddle into my room.

    Not far away I spotted a nice sized rock. The only thing in questioning was whether or not I could lift it to the window. I had to be swift so Ma and Pa wouldn’t know I had left.

    Mustering as much strength as I could, I began rolling the small boulder over to my window. I climbed on top of it and reached for the sill again. I came up a little taller, yet I still couldn’t climb through.

    I began to hear rustling from the neighboring hut. I knew that time had almost run out. I stepped back down on the damp soil and took a couple steps back. I tensed my muscles and gauged the distance from where I stood to my destination. Taking a deep breath, I shot forward, leaped up from the rock and propelled myself upward into my window. From my perch I saw that the noise from the daring stunt landing had woken Shinka from a deep sleep into a much lighter one; therefore, I couldn’t make another sound.

    A small plan began to form. Shinka’s bed was just under the wide open window, so I had to jump over him to the floor, silently. Then all I had to do was get on my bed-mat and pretend I had just woken up.

    Before I attempted the stunt, I had to calm my racing heart. I felt as if it were going to jump up my throat and leave me for dead. Once I was sure it wasn’t beating loud enough for Ma and Pa to hear, I climbed into a springing position. Panic rose in my throat. What if I made a large thud, or even worse, what if I broke a bone?

    Blocking the vile thoughts from my mind, I instead focused back on the important task ahead of me. I took a deep breath and launched myself through the still air. With only a muffled and relatively painless thud, I was safe over Shinka’s bed-mat and in the middle of the room. I let the stale air out through my parted lips and stayed motionless. Suddenly a tingling pain from the shock crawled up my legs. I almost moaned and got up to dance the pain away, but knew it would blow my whole plan thus far. Instead, I clamped my jaws shut and squeezed my eyes closed. Soon, the shock subsided.

    With my attention fully on the bed-mat in front of me, I rose. My muscles didn’t contract, but let me stand to my full height. I stumbled out of the room, right after staging my bed, pretending I had just awoken.

    “Ohaiyo,” Ma greeted cheerfully.

    “Ohaiyo,” mumbled I, even though I wanted to glow.

    She walked up to me, gave me a quick hug and kiss, and then game me my bowl of fruit. “You feel warm, Kifu,” she told me softly.

    I immediately seized up. “I… I feel fine,” I assured her.

    Her gaze penetrated my skin. “Are you sure, honey?”

    Quickly, I nodded and tossed a strawberry into my mouth.

    “Alright,” she said. Her expression told me she didn’t believe me. Before her eyes made me confess, I turned away. To myself, I sighed with relief.

    My bowl of fruit was almost gone when Shinka rolled out of bed. He exchanged good mornings with Ma, and then received his own bowl. We all ate in silence. I felt uncomfortable, like they knew about my midnight trip.

    Finally, both Shinka and I finished our sun-up meal and we were allowed outside. The sky was clear and the air was still. It was warm, but not hot. Judging by the silence, with an exception of the birds, Shinka and I were the only children outside.

    “Let’s find some sticks,” I suggested.

    “You always win,” he complained. In other words, no.

    “Then what do you want to do?”

    He put his little hand up to his chin, as if he were making a life or death decision. “Not that,” he said finally.

    I rolled my eyes and tried another activity. “Why don’t we go down to the stream?”

    “Uh-uh,” Shinka said, shaking his head, “Trouble.”

    “Ack!” I cried. My fingers itched to tear at my hair.

    “Then why don’t we go get the other kids and play, run, walk, stop.”

    “Yeah!” Shinka whooped. In a blink of an eye, he disappeared to gather the waking children. I stayed behind, not too enthusiastic about the game, even though I suggested it. Instantly, I found my brain thinking of ways around the game, and out of the village, either alone or not. My mind wanted me to go back to the rock, where I wasn’t able to spend much time tonight, before I collapsed, exhausted, on the ground.

    I started forward with my eyes fixated on the exit of our village. I didn’t care that I’d be stopped, all I cared was that I was leaving this boring world behind.
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    Re: Zodiac Tribes: Book One

    Post by Kifu on Thu Aug 20, 2009 5:18 am

    My walk quickly changed into a trotting gait, and speeding up with the more ground I covered. I just reached the exiting path when I stopped, my feet kicking up dust, despite the fact that it just rained the day prior. Even though I desperately wanted out, my logical voice came to reason with my spontaneous side, stopping me just before I committed wrong. Breathing hard, I turned back around to face my village where I grew up. It was so peaceful, with no one in my line of sight. I wanted peace, but the village offered a different kind of peace, the kind that I hadn’t any interest in whatsoever.

    I glanced back over my shoulder with my lips pulling into a frown. If I left and never came back, I was sure to die. But if I stayed put in this small community, I knew that I could expand outside of it, but be smothered within. My eyes darted back to the heart of the village, the fire. Still no one stirs from their huts, which create a circle around the fire and then continue on and out of sight, twisting through the saplings and behind other huts. If I made a break for it now, no one would know that I had left for a while, giving me a head start. If I was smart about it, I could keep it that way until they quit looking for me. Then I’d be alone for the rest of my life, unless I came upon another village, which I thought highly unlikely. Would sacrificing my safety be worth gaining my intellectual and physical freedom?

    I stepped forward, away from the forest that surrounded our village. I twisted my feet just enough to face me neither forward nor backward, but my shoulders in line with both. My mind suddenly came to decision and my right foot moved over my left, taking me away from home, when Shinka walked up to me, Chiaki by his side.

    “Where you go, Kifu?” Chiaki asked, stopping me in my tracks. He looked up at me with big, brown eyes.

    “Nowhere,” I instantly lied, jumping around to face them.

    “You close to leaving, Kifu,” Shinka pointed out.

    “No, I’m just asking Akira if she’d like to join our game,” I lied again, feeling more confident. Now that my mind wasn’t solely equivocating over whether to stay or go, I was able to take in my surroundings more closely. The three of us were standing right on Akira’s doorstep.

    “Oh,” Shinka said, appeased. “Then I’ll get Ringo!”

    “Good idea,” I told him, forcing a smile. “Chiaki, see if you can grab Haruki, okay?” Chiaki nodded and scattered away. For the second time, I was left alone, but I didn’t set my eyes on anything but Akira’s door. I raised my hand and knocked on the wood, sending an echo through the house. No one answered immediately, leaving me dancing uncomfortably on their doorstep. Even though I was their neighbor, I still found it awkward to go over to other peoples’ houses and ask them to come out and play.

    After only a few moments, though they felt like a few eternities, Akira’s father opened the door. “Yes, Kifu? Do you want Akira?” I noded. “I’ll go fetch her.”

    “Thanks,” I said, dipping my head respectfully.

    He left me, disappearing into a shadowy corner in his hut, presumably where Akira slept. Before long, she emerged from the dark and stood before me.

    “What we doing?” she asked in her squeaky voice.

    “Shinka wants to play run, walk, stop,” I explained, turning away to the center of the camp, where Chiaki and Haruki already waited.

    “Run, walk, stop?” Akira inquired, jogging to catch up with me.

    “Yeah, where the person who’s ‘it’ turns around, calls out either ‘run’ or ‘walk,’ and the rest of the people do exactly what ‘it’ says. If they say ‘run,’ they have to say ‘walk’ before they can say ‘stop.’ When ‘it’ says ‘stop,’ they quickly turn around and catch people who didn’t stop right away. The person who makes it to ‘it’ first, becomes the next ‘it’ and we keep playing.”

    Akira’s eyes stretched wide. “That sounds hard,” she squeaked.

    “It isn’t,” I assured her. I waved a hand, as if to brush her worries away.

    “Where’s Shinka and Ringo?” I asked once I met up with the two boys.

    “I don’t know,” Chiaki answered, “but I think he’s still waiting for Ringo.”

    “Did anyone get Aimi? Or Seiko?”

    Chiaki put his hand on his chin, as if the question was a trick question. “Are they here?”

    “No. Chiaki, go get Aimi. Haruki, you can get Seiko, okay?”

    They both nodded and scurried away.

    I turned to Akira after they left. “I’ll be the first ‘it’, okay?” She nodded. “Just do exactly what I say, exactly when I say it, okay?” She nodded again. “Good. If you do that, you’ll do just fine!”

    “Thanks, Kifu,” she said, dipping her head. The gesture surprised me, since I wasn’t even considered close to a grown-up.

    Before I could say anything about it, Shinka arrived with Ringo. “Where everyone go?” Shinka asked, walking up to my side.

    “Chiaki went to go get Aimi. Haruki went to get Seiko. We’re only waiting for them four.”

    “Oh,” Shinka said simply.

    Chiaki came running back, Aimi on his heels. With a displeased look on her face, it looked as if Chiaki wouldn’t wait up for her once she left her hut.

    “Slow down, Chiaki,” I ordered. “We aren’t in any rush right now.” Grumbling, Chiaki slowed down into a walk, stopping when he reached the circle we had formed.

    “Haruki and Seiko aren’t back?” he wondered.

    “Actually, yeah,” I said. “They’re just coming around the bend.”

    “Tell them to hurry up!” Chiaki growled. I thought back to when Shinka told me Chiaki was a bully. No wonder, I marveled. The kid doesn’t use any pleasantries!

    “No,” I denied, hoping to get my deeper meaning through. “They’ll take their own time.”

    When Haruki saw us waiting, he tapped Seiko on the shoulder and quickened his pace, without any encouragement from me or Chiaki. Within a few heartbeats, they joined our ranks.

    “Great!” I called out, standing tall. “Now that we’re all here, I think we can start the game. I’ll be the first ‘it’,” I began, “just in case all of you don’t know exactly how to play. Just follow my instructions as quickly as you can, okay?” I received a chorus of affirmations. “Alright, I’ll move over onto the head of the path, and you guys can move to the village entrance --” My mind flashed to my decision to leave just prior “-- and when I call out my orders, just run around the fire and by the buildings, okay?” Every child nodded their head. “Let’s go, then!”

    Shinka turned around and led the group to the egress, and I sprinted to the path leading to the greater part of the housings. I turned around and faced them, until I was sure they were reading, and then turned my back to them. “Run!” I called. The sound of their bare feet stamping against the packed earth reached my ears. I let them run for a few breaths before calling, “Walk!” The sounds became louder just before they turned almost invisible. “Stop!” I cried, whirling around. No one moved a hair, except for Aimi, who quivered with excitement. They still stayed tightly in a group, and still had to cover about half of the distance. I flashed them a smile and slowly turned back around. “Run!” The pounding of their feet started up again. “Walk,” I called, more softly because they were closer, almost immediately afterward. Using the same breath I shouted, “Stop!” and spun my body around. Chiaki had pulled ahead of the group, but he was struggling to keep his balance after a quick stop. I stared at him for a while, hoping he’d fall, but he didn’t move. Disappointed, I turned back around and quickly went through the sequence again. This time, Haruki swiveled his arm around, keeping himself upright, but I didn’t cut him any slack. “Haruki, you moved,” I pointed out.

    “Sorry,” he called, disappointment obvious in his voice. Without saying anything else, he turned around and jogged back to the beginning. I studied the rest of the children in the time it took for him to go back to the start, and Aimi still couldn’t completely keep herself still, but I decided to let that pass.

    I turned back around and shouted the pattern in one breath, turning around sharply. This time I caught Chiaki falling forward, keeping one arm outstretched to catch himself. “Chiaki,” I prompted.

    “I’m moving!” he snapped. He pulled himself back onto his feet and slowly walked back to the beginning, where Haruki already got a good start.

    Ringo sneezed. “Do I have to go back?” he asked, twitching his nose.

    “No,” I said, smiling. “Actually, yeah,” I apologized, after he moved to itch his nose.

    “Aw man!” he cried, turning around to get back home. Once he was shoulder-to-shoulder with Chaiki, I turned back around and called, “Run!” I let them move for a little bit, until I could hear their feet almost upon me, and called out, “Walk!” and then “Stop!” I spun around and saw that Shinka was ahead of everyone, almost touching me. Haruki reached the half-point hut and Chiaki was just behind him. Ringo was still near the beginning. No one moved this time. I turned back around and just said “run” when Shinka’s hand tapped my shoulder.

    “Yay!” he cried. “I win!”

    “Good job, Shink,” I said. I patted his back and jogged to the beginning with the rest of the kids.
    “You’re right,” Akira said, falling in step beside me. “This is easy!”

    “See, I told you,” I praised.

    We reached the beginning and I couldn’t help but look back over my shoulder at the woods beyond our village. My heart tugged that way, and I would have disappeared into the green haze, but I knew that would be impossible with everyone surrounding me. I moved my gaze back to Shinka, my mouth pulled into a frown.

    Faintly, I heard my brother cry out “Run!” and I ran along side of Aimi, not wishing to pull ahead of the group and win. I had an unfair advantage over them, and I didn’t want to brag about it. I slowed down into a walk when everyone else did, unaware that Shinka actually cried to word. When he turned around, I assumed he said stop, but it was too late.

    “Kifu, go back!”

    “I think I’ll just go in the hut,” I told him, pushing past Ringo to get out of the circle. Aimi was good at keeping up with the older children.

    “Why?”

    “I don’t feel like playing anymore.” I saw Akira start to move, following my lead, so I quickly added, “But that doesn’t mean the rest of you can’t keep playing.”

    Shinka didn’t notice Akira’s movement, because he was entirely focused on me. “Fine,” he said, turning back around. “Run!”

    I moved out of everyone’s way, ignoring Shinka’s commands. I pushed past him to get on the path that lead to our hut, and entered. Ma winked at me as I opened the door, and I answered with a quick wave. Quickly, I entered my room. For once, I was able to let my thoughts wander to what exactly would happen if I left my family and lived with the wild creatures of the woods.

    (3,484 words)
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    Re: Zodiac Tribes: Book One

    Post by Kifu on Thu Aug 20, 2009 5:18 am

    •Chapter Three•

    I PRETENDED I WAS ASLEEP when Shinka entered our room that night. I lay still on my side, facing the wall. Even though I was terrible at faking, I think he bought it. Without opening my eyes, I visioned him getting dressed and then slowly dragging his feet over to his own bed-mat. I heard him finally puff out air from his lungs when he threw himself to the floor, finished. After hardly a wait, Ma leaned onto the frame of our doorway and softly blew Shinka a kiss. “Oyasumi, honey,” she whispered.

    “Oyasumi,” Shinka replied, shifting in his bed-mat.

    “Oyasumi, Kifu,” Ma said, even though she believed I was asleep, as well.

    Oyasumi Nasai, I told her in my head. I didn’t want to suddenly give away my act and dismiss her properly—I wanted her and Pa to go to sleep, so I could leave the village, this time for good. I felt like I needed to jump up and hug her, to give her the proper good-bye, but I couldn’t even let them know what the surface of my plans were. I needed to leave without any intereferance from either of my parents.

    Without me saying anything, she left the room. Almost instantly, I heard Shinka’s breathing deepen and regulate, and Ma and Pa’s voices disappear. The village was silent once again. I stayed in my position for what seemeed like an eternity. Before I couldn’t stand it any longer, I slowly got up into a sitting position and made sure that Shinka wasn’t just faking his breathing pattern. He wasn’t. I slowly rose to my feet and walked into the Big Room, leaving my brother behind for the last time. I snuck over to the table, grabbed a slice of bread and eased our front door open. I stepped into the warm night air and slowly dropped the door into it’s frame. No one stopped me. So far, I was safe.

    I glanced to my right and left, making sure no one from the village was around to witness my escape. I was more on edge than usual, because, for once, I knew I wasn’t coming back. I was running away. I placed my bare foot carefully on the ground and quickly looked over my shoulder. Still, the night air was empty, from all but me. With exaggerated carefullness, I slowly walked along the path and into the village’s center, where the embers from the fire still smoldered. The redness of them seemed to glare at me with an intensity I couldn’t bear. I turned my eyes away from them.

    With less caution, I tip-toed to the egress of the village and finally left. With my whole life behind me, and in front of me, I picked up my speed and dashed blindly through the forest. The shinning moon hid behind clouds, giving me nothing to guide my path. Should I have taken that as I sign?

    I followed the hard path without any thought. Before I could bring my head back to what I was doing, I noticed, too late, that my feet were already unconsciously bringing me to my rock. I stopped abruptly and looked back over my shoulder, but I decided that because I was never coming back, I might as well say good-bye to my rock as well.

    My feet crunched softly on the foliage that dropped to the ground. I ignored the pine needles that nestled on the near-invisible path and the little sharp rocks that rested beside them. After brushing aside a few pockey branches, I reached the cliff that I claimed as mine. As it always has before, it took my breath away and claimed my heart.

    “Good-bye, Rock,” I whispered into the soft breeze. “I’ll miss you for as long as I live.” I studied the soft outline of the misty trees against the inky sky. I watched as the bats flew around the moon, scooping up bugs invisible to my eyes. Lastly, I memorized my feelings as I stood up tall over the land that belonged to my village and any other animals that shared it with us. No, not us, because I was no longer part of that village.

    I let a single tear slide down my cheek as I turned my back on the rock for the last time. I controlled the lump that formed inside my throat and forced my inner cries to stay back. I forced my emotions in check.

    Quickly, I left the familiar land of the village I once belonged to. I didn’t give myself time to think, knowing that if I did so I would turn back and accept any punishment I might receive.

    Before long, the path I was following began to thin, and then disappear completely. The plants and other vines that bordered the path near the village slowly began to creep closer and closer to the heart of the trail, and finally choked it up. At first, I struggled to push the greenery to the side, gradually worming my way through, but it eventually became too thick for even that. Heartbroken, I studied the trees around me and noticed that somewhere along the way they became oaks and maples, rather than evergreens.

    Deciding that pushing through the floor of the forest was too daunting of a task, I moved my focus to the treetops. The limbs seemed thick enough for me to move through, and close enough to the ground for me to get in. I reached up and grabbed the closest branch to me, and pulled on it until I lifted my weight off of the ground. Instantly, it snapped under the stress and sent me tumbling to the hard ground. The echo reverberated throughout the space of the forest. Suddenly terrified, I held still.

    After the snap of the tree, I heard nothing. My body throbbed where it impacted against the ground, but I was otherwise unhurt. I didn’t move from my sideways position on the ground, afraid that if I moved, something from the woods would jump out and eat me, or I’d find that I was in more pain that I initially thought.

    Just when I thought I was safe, I heard a snap that didn’t come from me or the tree that I just broke. My thoughts of shifting position evaporated in a quick second. My eyes quickly shot to the general area in which I heard the snap. I couldn’t see anything.

    Suddenly, a dark figure appeared underneath the dark shadows of the tree. I wished it were daylight so I could get a better glimpse of whatever the figure was, but I only had the light of the moon to help me. I couldn’t make out of it was human or maybe a bear. . . .

    “Hello?” it called. I assumed that the figure, which I could identify as human, was male by the gruff tone to his voice. I didn’t answer. “I know you’re here,” he said, “and I want to help you if you’re hurt.”

    “Do you think that when they fell . . . they knocked themselves unconscious?” a woman’s voice asked the man.

    “Possibly,” replied the man. “But I doubt it. Did you hear where the sound came from, Taylor?”

    “I think from over there,” the woman, named Tay-lor, said. I still couldn’t see her, but I imagined her point-ing in my direction.

    “You go look over there. I’ll check . . .” he trailed off. “Taylor, hurry up. We need to get back.”

    “Yes, sir,” Taylor said, her voice closer to me. I didn’t even hear her move through the thick underbrush.

    I suddenly couldn’t stand sitting still anymore. “Help,” I squeaked, my voice coming out in a whisper. “Help, I’m stuck.”

    “Hello?” Taylor asked, even closer now.

    “I’m here!” I cried, shifting.

    “Hold on and stay still,” ordered Taylor. “Grev-chee, I’ve found her. She’s right here.”

    “Alright,” Grevchee answered. “I’ll wait where it’s thin.”

    I shifted again, hoping that the sounds of my movements would lure Taylor closer, so she could free me from my wooded trap. “Hurry,” I begged her. “It hurts.”

    “Hush, honey,” she said, soothingly and ever clos-er. “I’m here to help you out. Just calm down.”

    “Okay,” I said.

    Within a few more moments, Taylor was by my side. She wore the weirdest clothes I had ever seen, but she was strong. She pulled me up, grabbing my arms, and lifted me over her shoulder. “Hold still and I’ll get you out, okay?”

    “Okay,” I repeated.

    “That’s a good girl,” she congratulated, picking her way through the branches. I couldn’t believe how many holes she saw in the maze of green and how quick-ly she moved through them. Before long, she set me down right next to Grevchee.

    “Hallo,” he greeted, bowing his head slightly. “My name’s James Grevchee. This is Annalisa Taylor.” He waited, most likely expecting my name.

    “I’m Kifu,” I told them. “Kifu Slick.”

    “Hello, Kifu,” Annalisa said cheerfully.

    “So, tell me,” James began, “what brings you out so far away from any civilization in the middle of this forest, all alone?”

    I stared at my feet. “I ran away from home.”

    “Why?” Annalisa gasped.

    “Hush, you don’t have to answer her,” James murmured. “Slick, why don’t you come with us? We’ll give you a home.”

    “You sly fox!” Annalisa cried to James.

    I stared at them, confused. “Where?”

    James took a breath. “Taylor and I—“

    “Why do you keep using your last names?” I butted in.

    Annalisa chuckled. “It’s proper etiquette,” she ex-plained simply.

    “As I was saying,” James, or Grevchee, continued, “Taylor and I come from a village not made up of fami-lies.”

    “How’s that possible?” I marveled, cutting off his explanation again.

    “Listen, honey,” Annalisa, or Taylor, told me, no longer joking around.

    “We come from what we called the Zodiac Tri-bes,” Grevchee finished.

    “The Zodiac Tribes!” I exclaimed. “But they’re just bedtime stories!”

    “Oh, so she’s heard of us,” Taylor commented to Grevchee.

    “What village do you come from, child?” Grev-chee inquired me softly.

    “I don’t know,” I admitted. “It doesn’t have a name.”

    “Uh-huh,” Grevchee mumbled. “Will you come with us?”

    “But Ma and Pa told me the Zodiac Tribes were evil,” I informed them.

    Grevchee and Taylor both laughed, but Grevchee cut off his first. “We’re not evil! We actually treat our people better than most villages treat even their elders!”

    “But anyone that takes children away from their families are evil,” I protested.

    “Oh, I see,” Grevchee sighed. “Slick, we wouldn’t exactly be kidnapping you, now would we? You already ran away from home.”

    “So? You’re still taking me against my wish!”

    “I don’t think so, honey,” Taylor soothed. “I think you think that any home is better than no home, yes?”

    “The Zodiac Tribes will give me a home?” I asked softly.

    “Of course!” Taylor chortled. “We don’t hold slaves, we all work
    together. Our community is very even and fair, unlike most villages that children come from.”

    “What if I want to go back home?” I demanded.

    “You can’t, Slick,” Grevchee sighed. “Now that you know about us, you either have to join us . . . or die.”

    “What?” I snorted. “That doesn’t sound very fair!”

    “Oh, Slick,” Taylor begged, “Just join us.”

    “What if I don’t?”

    “Then we have to kill you and leave your body here,” Grevchee explained. “We’re sorry; it’s not much of a choice.”

    “Fine!” I cried. “I’ll follow you!” I thought I had just freed myself of bindings, bindings from my village, but these strangers from what they claimed were the Zo-diac Tribes were just going to retie those ropes to a dif-ferent place. What if I wanted to be free? What if I didn’t want to live with other people, and I wanted to live alone? Grown ups just didn’t give you any choice.

    Although when I studied these people, they didn’t even look that old. They looked experienced, but they weren’t old.

    “Oh, thank-you, Kifu Slick!” Annalisa cried, throwing her arms around me. “I couldn’t let you be killed!”

    “Whatever,” I mumbled darkly into her arms.

    (2,030 words)
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    Re: Zodiac Tribes: Book One

    Post by Kifu on Thu Aug 20, 2009 5:19 am

    •Chapter Four•


    ANNALISA PULLED OUT of the hug and grabbed my hand. “Just follow us and you’ll be fine,” she told me. From the corner of my eye I saw James roll his eyes and begin walking away.

    “Come on, Taylor. We need to get moving, or we won’t make it to the Gathering in time.”

    Annalisa’s face only brightened up. “I haven’t been to a Gathering like this in . . . in seasons!” she exclaimed.

    I looked at her with a confused expression. “What’s a gathering?” I asked her.

    Before answering, she started to follow Grevchee through the woods, pulling me along with her. “A Gathering is the most important part of a Zodiac Tribesperson’s life.”

    “No it’s not,” Grevchee disagreed from ahead. He didn’t look back to see Taylor’s tongue flash out.

    “Well, I think it’s the most important part of our lives.”

    “Goes to show how smart you and your Tribe are, Taylor,” Grevchee yawned. He picked up the pace, forcing Taylor and I to move faster through the forest. I didn’t recognize where we were going, because he started to leave the path to my village and head in a totally different direction. I couldn’t tell for sure, but I think he was heading toward my rock, only a different part of it.

    “Hey—that’s mean!” Taylor exclaimed. “Just because you don’t live in my Tribe doesn’t mean you can trash talk it!”

    “What,” I cried out, “are you talking about?” They didn’t answer me.

    “Everyone knows that anyone from the Earth Tribe doesn’t use their brains,” Grevchee continued, as if I never had interrupted.

    “You just say that because you don’t know how our Tribe works. Do you think we think that the Water Tribe is all that great? No!”

    James abruptly stopped and whirled around. “Shut up! Without us, all of the other Tribes would be dead! None of you can tell the difference between poison ivy and cranberry! One’s good, one’s bad.” His voice turned from belligerent to taunting as he went on.

    “And what would your Tribe do if we didn’t supply your wood? You wouldn’t be able to slink away and hide in your mountain, now would you?” Taylor shot back.

    “Stop!” I cried, covering my ears. During the fight, Taylor let go of my arm and took on a classical, comical pose. “I don’t care how much you hate each other! Stop!”

    Taylor glanced over her should to me. “Go on, Grevchee. We need to get back.” Her voice was soft again, not at all angry, as it was just earlier.

    Grevchee grumbled incoherently and turned back around. His stride was still choppy and angry, but he at least didn’t retaliate.

    “Thanks,” I mumbled to Annalisa. She continued on, and I followed her again. “Anyway, you didn’t tell me; what is a Gathering?”

    “Never mind that,” Annalisa said cheerfully, but she didn’t look me in the eyes. “You’ll be told once we get to the island.”

    “What island?”

    “Oops. You’ll find out in due time, I just know it. You just need patience, is all.” She finally turned to me and gave me a warming smile.

    “What was that fight about? Earth and Water?” I burned with questions, but Taylor wasn’t giving me very good answers.

    She sighed and slowed her pace infinitesimally so she could speak to me. “Slick,” Taylor said, but stopped.

    “My name’s Kifu,” I told her.

    “No, in the Tribes, we call each other by their last names, unless they’re close friends. Close friends are only allowed to call each other by first names.”

    I nodded my head slowly. “Okay. I guess that’s why you two are calling each other by your last names.”

    “Exactly,” Taylor said.

    “Would you two pick up the pace? We need to be at the Gathering Island by the full moon!” Grevchee shouted from ahead. He had his arms impatiently crossed in front of his chest.

    “We’re coming!” Taylor called, picking up her pace again.

    “But I still don’t get why you were fighting,” I prodded her. Was she purposely avoiding my questions about the Zodiac Tribes?

    “Oh, yeah, that,” she said, slowing down again.

    “Get your woody legs moving!” Grevchee hollered.
    “Hey, shut up!” Taylor shot back. “Slick has the right to know where she’s going.”
    “Slick will find out about where she’s going at the Island,” Grevchee disagreed. “She can wait ‘till then.”

    “I’m right here,” I muttered under my breath. I didn’t like how they were talking about me when I was right there.

    “They won’t tell her what went on while we were taking her there,” Taylor said softly.

    “Would you two just stop blabbering to each other?” I shouted, exasperated. “Not to mean any disrespect or anything, but you two just won’t stop! We can easily keep up with your pace, Grevchee,” I explained, making sure I didn’t become a hypocrite. “While we do that, you can explain to me about the Zodiac Tribes, Taylor.” I stared at them both, one after the other. “Okay?”

    Grevchee gave me a menacing glare, but he didn’t say anything and moved on, faster.

    “Great going, Slick,” Taylor cried playfully. “Now we’re going to have to run to keep up!” She started into a jog, just to prove her point.

    “What exactly is Grevchee’s problem?” I asked Taylor, jogging beside her.

    “Oh, Grevchee? He’s just a watery ol’ grump.”

    “I heard that,” Grevchee called over his shoulder.

    “Good,” Taylor shot back. “Maybe you should change it.”

    “I wouldn’t bet your life on it,” Grevchee growled, and then ignored us again.

    “Gee,” I whistled. “Nice fellow.” I shook my head. “You still didn’t answer my question, Taylor. Are you avoiding it?” I voiced what I thought aloud, but thought it might have been a better idea not to. It looked as if I offended her.

    “Why would I avoid it purposely? I don’t believe in telling people lies. Besides, you’re not supposed to lie in the Zodiac Tribes.”

    “Then tell me your answer,” I sighed. Taylor sure did have a lot to talk about.

    “Oh, yeah, right!” she exclaimed. “What was it?”

    I snorted in place of a laugh. “Uh,” I said, recalling it. “Oh, yeah! Um, what was the fight about?”

    What fight? Taylor stared at me blankly.

    “You know, about Earth and Water,” I said, hoping I could jog her memory.

    “Oh, nothing to it!” Taylor exclaimed, a new light in her eye. “Grevchee’s part of the Water Tribe, and I’m part of the Earth Tribe. There’s not a big rivalry between our Tribes, but not every Tribe gets along with everybody.”

    It was my turn to stare at her with a blank look.

    She exchanged my glance, and then fired up again. “Right, you hardly know anything about the Zodiac Tribes. I can’t expect you to know anything.”

    “Thanks,” I said sarcastically. I didn’t like being out of the know, let alone have it pointed out openly.

    “There’re four Tribes,” Taylor began.

    “I already know that.”

    “Okay. Air, Earth—”

    “—Fire and Water. Uh-huh. But what about tribe rivalry?” I asked.

    “Different Tribes don’t get along very well together,” Taylor explained. “As a whole,” she added quickly. “Some members could be friends, but all in all, they just have some problems. Every Tribe thinks they’re better than the other, when in truth, every Tribe is equal. Without the Earth Tribe, no one would have enough wood to satisfy their hungry fires. Without the Water Tribe, everyone would fall ill and die. Without the Fire Tribe, fighting would be made impossible.” She took in my confused expression. “Fighting is a major part of Tribe life,” she told me. “And lastly, without the Air Tribe, everyone else wouldn’t have deerskin blankets, and most importantly, real meat. Not fish. Ew.”

    “Fish is good,” Grevchee called from ahead. “Admit it!”

    “Never, you fish!” Taylor cackled. “See? I don’t like fish at all. Grevchee’s a fish, a fish’s a fish. Fish are icky.”

    “Uh-huh . . .” I said. I didn’t understand what she was getting at.

    “So, yeah. That’s that. Tribes just don’t like each other. Individuals can be friends, but not the whole Tribe.” She thought for a second. “It’s most the Air and Earth Tribes that clash, and Water and Fire Tribes. Otherwise, the other Tribes sort of get along better.”

    “I think I’m ready to start war with the dopy Earth Tribe, though,” Grevchee said.

    “Whimp,” Taylor muttered to me. “He’s bad talking my Tribe, but from a distance. He’s afraid that my superior strength will pummel him before we even start.”

    I giggled, not because it was funny, but because of Taylor’s naiveté.

    We traveled on in silence—which I thought was impossible with Taylor by my side—until we reached a place I thought was vaguely familiar. I studied it closely, and then realized that I was looking at my rock. I wasn’t on the rock, but nearly underneath it. The cliff stood tall above my head, where I normally sat.

    “My rock,” I whispered under my breath.

    “What, honey?” Taylor asked, sidetracked.

    “My rock,” I said more loudly, not expecting her to understand what I meant.

    “Where’s your rock?” Taylor hummed.

    “Never mind,” I said, shaking my head.

    “No ‘never mind,’” Taylor scolded. “I told you the answer to your question; I expect an answer to mine!”

    I bowed my head. “My rock is a place I come when I feel bored or lonely. I left my hut at night and hiked up to my rock and just stared at the mountains, trees, moon and stars.”

    “Mountains?” inquired Taylor. “Where?”

    I pointed. “That way.”

    She stared at the direction I was pointing and laughed. Her gleeful cries stopped both Grevchee and I.

    “Why’s she laughing?” Grevchee asked blatantly.

    “I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “I said something about my rock, and she thought mountains were funny.”

    “Mountains? Where?” Grevchee asked, almost exactly imitating Taylor, though not on purpose, I could tell. It was my turn to laugh. “What’d I say?”

    “Only the exact same thing as Taylor,” I laughed.

    “Oh,” Grevchee said, not flattered. “Anyway, where’re the mountains?”
    I pointed again, trying to stop my giggles.

    “I know why she’s laughing,” Grevchee said gravely. “What was so great about those mountains?”

    “I don’t know,” I answered, trying to figure out in my head why they were so interested in the mountains. I came up empty. “My eyes were always just drawn toward them. I always wondered when I saw them what would happen if I were free to . . . to make decisions for myself and if I could explore the world outside of my village.”

    “Slick,” Grevchee said softly. I was surprised he possessed such a quality. “Do you know what’s so important about those mountains?”

    “No,” I told him. “That they’re big and far away?”

    “Actually, they’re not,” Taylor butted in. I didn’t notice she had stopped laughing. “They’re about a day’s journey away, and kinda small.”

    “Yup,” Grevchee agreed. I couldn’t believe my ears. These two were getting along! “But those mountains do have a wild quality to them. Those mountains border all edges of the Zodiac Tribe’s territory. I don’t know why, but they always seem as if they’re farther away than they really are.”

    “Maybe it’s a protection to our identity,” Taylor guessed.

    “We only have guesses.”

    “So what’re you saying?” I asked quietly.

    “I think you were meant to be a Zodiac Tribesperson,” Taylor said. I couldn’t detect anything that would point to her lying. She actually meant it.

    “Everyone that truly belongs to the Zodiac Tribes, as a child, they stared at the mountains and wished they could go there,” Grevchee said. “Everyone that feels most comfortable with the Tribes. Everyone that feels more at home there than they ever did at their first home.”

    I stared at the pair with disbelief. “I’m confused.”

    Taylor smiled weakly and shook her head. “You understand it, you just don’t want to.”

    “Please, explain to us why you ran away,” Grevchee prodded.

    I tore my eyes away from them, this time embar-rassed. “Well, I felt that I didn’t really belong there.”

    “See?” Taylor said softly. “You didn’t belong there, because you belong with the Zodiac Tribes, us, in the mountains.”

    “Kifu Slick, what you did wasn’t wrong. You most likely won’t be able to see your family again, but you’ll make new friends and have people so close-knit that they’ll be family in the Tribes.” Grevchee sighed, determined to make me understand why I belonged to the Tribes, but couldn’t find a way to explain it. “Slick, why did you feel you didn’t belong?”

    “I was nine, and everyone else was five,” I answered promptly.
    “Other than that. That’s a petty surface problem. What deep challenges did you have deep within yourself?”

    I refused to make eye contact, even though Taylor rested her hand on my shoulder. “I . . .” I forced back a sob and some tears. “I felt that I wouldn’t have a full life, and that I’d die unhappy if I stayed. I needed to get out, like an animal caught in a trap needs to get out.”

    Grevchee smiled reassuringly. “You do not fret, young one. We all felt like we betrayed our family when we left with the Zodiac Tribespeople, but we did not. They live on in the deepest part of our hearts, and we’ll always love them. They must understand that that life wasn’t the life we were to live, and that we would be unfulfilled in our lives. As a Zodiac Tribesperson, Slick, you’ll be able to do everything you could in your Tribeless village. Please understand.”

    My gaze switched to my feet. “Just leave me alone or take me back,” I grumbled. I didn’t want to go back, but if everyone in the Tribes made me feel so guilty about leaving my first home, I wanted no part of it.

    “And that,” Taylor whispered, “we will understand.”

    (2,336 words)

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    Re: Zodiac Tribes: Book One

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      Current date/time is Fri Nov 24, 2017 10:50 am