Published: January 7, 2012
Salpalmat is more than just our family name. It is our species, our blood, and our pride.
On the surface, we look no different than most humans, though one blood line can vary from alabaster skin to dark brown. Our bodies have the same shape and many similar functions, as well as herbivore dietary needs. Despite this, we are very different.
Our kind is tied intimately to stones in an unbreakable way. From birth, each of us has a stone that holds our soul separately from our body. Upon entering the world, it is nestled in our belly buttons, but as we age, it grows and changes to reflect us. For some, this means nothing more than hue variation, but some of us find the round pebble forming sharp edges.
If we lose it, we die in only a matter of days. Those that have watched their pack-mates die because of it describe it as falling into an inescapable depression. I prey I never witness nor experience this. Being run-through with a sword sounds more pleasant.
Even with our earthy origins, we are natural nomads, compelled by the wind and the seas to see everything. All of us travel, exploring the world in packs of two to groups of six. Most packs have two or three close friends. If there are more, it is two groups joined together, generally for the purpose of rearing young.
Our species is spread far and wide across the whole world. Because of that, there is no solid government. When our peoples gather at the birthing caves on the summer solstice, there is a general hierarchy based off of age and strength. We're barely there for more than three days before most of us leave, so there typically isn't too much fighting.
After all, each pack is self-sustaining and ordinate from birth. There was never a change in ranks or much need for rank with other packs.
Finally, the starkest difference, the most obvious one is how we are created. Though I cringe to phrase it so bluntly, it is possible for a Salpalmat to reproduce with a human. When we do so, it is done the typical way that humans reproduce from my understanding. Salpalmats have the proper "equipment," but for us, this is a means of social interaction, bonding so to speak. This is because our kind can't reproduce with sperm and egg, so it has lost its importance in that respect.
Well, any children produced have a fifty/fifty chance of coming out as human or Salpalmat. Whichever one they are, their blood is pure. There are never overlapping traits or needs. No one is sure why, but this works well to keep prejudice among the packs to a minimum.
For a pure Salpalmat to be born, the process is a bit...different. Among our kind, two males, two females, or a male and a female can produce a child together. This means that the bearer has to be chosen out of each coupling. The bearer carried both stones in a specially designed pouch, and after some time, the two will melt together and then start to grow.
Once they are fully meshed together, the pack begins on their path to the birthing caves. The stone will steadily grow, but it will never hatch if it doesn't reach the birthing caves. This means that most couplings try to time it so that they can go to the caves in summer or fall. After all, waiting through late fall, winter, and early spring usually makes the stone too large to carry. Too many children have been lost because of that.
Generally a week at the caves is enough time. Then the rock splits open, and inside their baby is nestled, tiny hands clasping their parents' stones and their own nestled in their navel.
Most conjoined packs try to form more than one coupling, even if only one of the couplings is in love. This ensures that the young will have a pack of their own when it comes time. If that doesn't work out, then the two packs will split up and the one that keeps the child searches out someone else to have a child with.
For the most part, couplings only last long enough for the child to be born, regardless, though some do stay together long enough to see the children raised, but this is rare. In fact, my own mother didn't bother with it.
Looking at Fallen, I thought back to how our parents had raised us, his mother, my father. Our other parents had stayed with us for about ten years, but then the sisters had moved on. My memories of that time was very poor, so all I could ever remember was Fallen, Father, and Mother anyway.
We were genetically unrelated, one of the few packs that was, but chose to call each other brother all the same. After all, regardless of genetics, there is no sicker crime than falling for your pack mate.
"I'm bored," my fair companion declared abruptly, reassuring me that he still couldn't read minds. At times, he certainly made me wonder.
Then again, I had considered all I knew about humans and about my own kind so often that even I was sick of it, so maybe he could. It wasn't really my fault that it confused me, being so alike to a species, but so different.
Rubbing my hand over my eyes roughly, I snappishly replied, "I'm hungry."
"Hunt," was Fallen's ingenious answer. It was a good thing that his dark blue eyes didn't flicker in my direction. He tended to find it offensive when I flipped him off.
I pointedly glancing in the direction of the two horses, who were unsaddled, unbridled, and keeping well away from us. With the most sarcasm that I could muster, I declared, "Now there is a thought. I wonder why I didn't-oh. That's right. My hunting equipment was smashed because someone couldn't let Balaur be for one minute."
Fallen groaned loudly, launching away from the tree that the two of us had been leaned against. As he stalked away, annoyance radiated from him, especially as he snapped, "That was a week ago. I forgot. You don't need to keep cussing at me about it."
"It is amazing that you can forget we're going to starve to death, but you can remember that I forgot to watch the fire one night when we were ten years old!" I snarled, leaping to my feet as well.
There was a smile on Fallen's lips as he took a swing at me, and I had to resist the urge to laugh, even though he held nothing back, hitting me. Grabbing at him, my hands wrapped around the material of his jacket and something ripped. Not hesitating, I shoved hard, trying to unbalance him.
Both of us ended up sprawled on the ground, and for a second, I was on top, trying to pin him. Fallen used his superior size to flip us, so I resorted to hitting him. In retaliation, he hit me in the face again, and I could almost instantly feel it swelling. Swearing, I kneed him in the crotch, making him tumble over.
The taste of blood seeped through my mouth, so I wasn't keen on letting things to just yet. In fact, neither of us was until we were both sprawled on the ground, bruised and bloodied.
For about five minutes, I focused just on breathing and calming down. Something about fighting was addictive to me. Once I got started, I just wanted to go farther and do worse, like find a bear to wrestle or something equally stupid since I wasn't sure if there were bears in that area.
Still, it felt good to have fought. Since Shinichi and Balaur were making it impossible to leave, having anything to do was a relief.
"Fallen," I sighed, knowing that the summer breeze was almost louder than my voice.
Still struggling to catch his own breath, he hummed acknowledgement.
A breathless giggle escaped me, and I challenged him, "I won."
When I got no reply, a frown instantly turned down the corners of my lips. He was supposed to argue that, deny losing, and normally he would have. Why he wouldn't was beyond my comprehension.
Rolling onto my belly, I swallowed the pained whine. Complaining was first nature, but Fallen was enough of an idiot to feel guilty. Blinking away the sting of tears, I prodded him gently and repeated pointedly, "I won."
Craning his neck to look at me, his dark eyes were dancing with mirth, obviously enjoying torturing me. Nodding, he answered, "So you did."
Whining, I shifted to my hands and knees, ignoring the feeble protests of pain from my body. Crawling over to him, I flopped across his chest, making us both suck in a sharp breath. Then, without any real reason, we were laughing. His arms circled around me, and I wiggled to lay on top of him, my legs tangling with his.
"Mom and Dad would kill us for doing this," Fallen told me with a laugh.
Nodding and pressing my face more firmly into his chest, I murmured, "Absolutely kick our asses."
"Getting beat up in the middle of a forest, where we don't know the wildlife," he sighed, his chest rising and falling with the heavy breath.
Chuckling, I shifted so that my arms were crossed and my chin rested on them. Gazing at his face, I joked, "I thought you meant adopting a new pet with no way to properly feed even ourselves."
Fallen made a face and protested halfheartedly, "We had Tha before Bal trampled your bow."
"Still, Mom and Dad would tell us to kill and eat him now," I told him, making a disgusted face. The idea of killing Thaddeus didn't appeal to me, even though he continued to growl at every little thing I did. Fallen insisted it was just him being a brat, but I would be a liar to say I wasn't a little concerned. I had never had the best of luck where dogs are concerned.
Shrugging and rubbing a comforting hand up and down my back, Fallen remarked, "Yeah, and they would also tell us that how we're doing things is wrong all around, I bet. They always had a plan, even if it was vague. We haven't once had a plan. We're just wondering and living. I am fine with that, and I thought that you were as well."
"I am, but it feels like we're doing things wrong and going to end up screwing ourselves over," I told him, my voice more honest than I cared to admit. Shaking my head and pressing my face more firmly against his chest, I told him tiredly, "I just wish things were easier."
"If life is easy, we'd be doing something wrong," he told me, laughing softly. Giving me a quick squeeze, he pushed me off and sat up. Shifting to my knees, I watched him stretch and grinned when he asked, "Remember a week before we left-"
"When Dad set his pants on fire?" I asked with a chuckle.
A vicious smile flashed over Fallen's face as he nodded. Poking me, he added, "And how you thought it was your fault?"
Nodding, heat bloomed on my cheeks, and I concurred, "I actually had a panic attack, apologizing and freaking out. It seemed so much worse in my head."
"I had a hell of a time calming you down," he recalled with a fond smile on his face. When he noticed my glare, he laughed and pushed his hand against my face. Sticking his tongue out, he teased me, "Don't do stupid things if you don't want to be laughed out."
"I never laugh when you scare yourself by climbing too high!"
"You do too! You laughed hysterically when I tripped over the edge of the ravine as well!"
"Only after I was sure that you were okay and only because you said I'd be the one to do it!"
"Yeah, because you do stupid things like that!"
"Apparently no more often than you!"
"You're delusional if you think that is true."
"Screw you! I don't screw up that much."
"In what world?"
The two of us had somehow ended up on our feet, screaming in each other's faces. Thaddeus had emerged from the forest, watching us with guarded eyes, while Bal and Chee had crept closer, worry apparent in their blue hues.
We realized about the same time that the animals were watching us with concern, and as our eyes met, guilt flashed in the dark blue hues, while mirth doubtlessly danced through mine. Teasingly, I told Fallen, "You know, if we laugh now, they'll calm down."
"Yeah, but it is so rare for us to get into an actual spat," Fallen protested seriously, clinging to the oddity. After all, we naturally got along like breathing.
Unable to resist, I chuckled softly and asked, "Wait-were you really fighting with me?"
A frown flickered over Fallen's features as he demanded, "Weren't you?"
Wrapping my arms around him, I nuzzled my face against his chest and murmured, "Of course not. I love you too much to fight with you."
Huffing with annoyance, he hugged me back even as I complained, "More like you don't love me enough."
Just like that, the air between us was clear again. We had fought about what was bothering me, the arrow, and figured out what was bothering Fallen, not knowing what we were doing. Though it wasn't mentioned specifically, we were able to fix everything, and tomorrow, once Bal and Chee stopped being difficult, we would saddle up and work with what we had figured out. Then, everything would be alright.
Smiling and hugged Fallen tight, I reminded myself that as long as I had him, things would always be alright.