I sat in the middle of the great hall, watching the glimmers in the fog. Great beasts appeared all around me, some valued for the food they would provide, some had to be caught alive so they could be trained as beasts of burden, others like the Alk were valued for the metal in their bones and their antlers.
I wondered for a moment, what would we find on our journey? There were many animals that I’d heard of, but never seen.
“Show me a Cephrog!” I called out.
The glimmers faded and then a creature seemed to emerge from a body of water. It’s many arms like coils folded over each other to pull it’s great bulbus body out onto land. At the last moment two of it’s arms shot out with amazing speed towards me. I leapt back in fear but found the glimmer had faded when I looked back. In a few moments the random glimmers returned.
I was reluctant after that to call out another animal. In time though my curiosity got the better of me and I tried again.
“Show me a Gleff!” I called.
The glimmers faded again and at first a tiny object appeared in the fog circling again and again, growing larger each time. Then the great bird came into view as it circled down and finally landed in one of the branches of the tree as if it were in the hall with me. Its talons were the length of my forearms and it stood as tall as two men. The glimmer faded before I could get a good look at its features.
I called out more beasts, until a thought emerged.
“Show me the man that caused the error!” I said.
There was no change in the glimmers.
“Show me the error!” I tried.
Still, there was no change.
“Show me the plague!” I said.
The glimmers did not react. I wondered why they could show me any beast I wished, but not these other things. Was the Guardian only able to see the beasts for hunting? That would seem to be the case.
I thought it was strange that our town was centered around the Glyph, when it did nothing for us but declare errors. It would make more sense to center the town around the Visitor’s Center where so much of the people’s activities surround.
It had been a long and trying day. Although I wanted to keep calling out to the trees, I found my eyelids drooping and my ability to think draining away. I lay down on the bench and fell asleep.
I woke to Jash shaking me.
“Boy, wake up. We’re here to begin the hunt!” He said, his eyes beaming with enthusiasm.
I shook off my slumber and arranged myself. My hunters were calling out the name of beasts, some of which I’ve never heard of, and the trees showed them in the glimmers.
“Did you secure provisions?” I asked Jash.
“As I promised. You need to declare the start of the hunt so we can move out.” He answered.
I nodded. “Gentlemen, begin the hunt!” I called out in the hall.
I started to see Jash’s wisdom in his choice of companions. I had never had a group of men eager to follow my direction before. By choosing men that were adequate hunters but often passed over, they were eager to go out. That wasn’t the half of it.
As we walked out of the Visitor’s Center, Jash showed me the provisions. “Morg Feder has an uncle that runs a storehouse. By appealing to him to invest in the hunt with his food and dry good supplies he will get paid back with Morg’s cut of the hunt.” Jash explained.
He continued, “Similarly, Thain Jessop’s father had a cart pulled by a trained Mastodil. This will be very useful for moving our supplies and any animals we harvested. Lien Mills’ cousin was a smith, and was able to supply us with arrows and blades along with leather goods.”
Of course Jash knew all this when he had me pick them. Their enthusiasm for the hunt made their relatives eager to supply us, even if we hadn’t paid yet.
There was a small crowd of well wishers standing by to see us off. I looked for my parents but didn’t see them. I was terribly disappointed that they wouldn’t be there to see me.
All our heads turned at the sound of a faint whistle and then a terrible thud.
Jash wheezed a breath. An arrow stuck from his chest. He staggered backward and fell.
I ran to his side, not knowing at all what to do. I looked up to see where the arrow had come from, but the crowd was scattering making it hard to make sense of things.
Jash writhed on the ground. I tried to hold him down but the violence of his fit was too great for me and he threw me off.
Someone approached, as I looked up to ask them for help I recognized it was my father. He was carrying a bow.
Jash calmed at his approach, he smiled. “Tow.” His final word.
“Father! What, what did you?” I stammered.
Father didn’t take his eyes off Jash. A look of sorrow mixed with anger.
“Mechal, get on with the hunt.” Father said.
“But Father!” I objected, pointing at Jash’s body.
“Son, don’t disobey me! You go and you go now!” He shouted. His eyes were full of fury. “I’ve paid my vows, even if you won’t see them fulfilled.” He muttered as he walked away.
I cannot remember what happened immediately after. The next thing I knew I was sitting next to a fire as the sky dimmed.
“Is there any food?” I asked.
“Oh, he speaks!” Morg mocked.
“Leave him alone Morg, he’s in shock after what he’s seen today.” Thain said.
“This hunt is cursed! It was spawned from a Glyph error, Jash is dead and our hunt master is a brain fevered boy.” Lien said.
Hane brought me some bread and I ate. My senses began to come back to me.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“In the wilds.” Morg sarcastically answered.
Thain huffed at him. “We’re five spaces out from the village. We weren’t sure which way to travel, but you kept pointing in one direction so that’s where we went. That’s all we could get out of you.” He said.
“We’ve made poor time then. Five out is too little for our first day. We’ll have to make it up tomorrow.” I said.
“You little drit!” Morg spat. “Did you do anything to get us here? No! Now you think we didn’t work hard enough to get here?”
“I’m just stating a fact. We had a bad start, we’ll do better tomorrow. Get some rest and be ready.” I said.
“I say we get rid of you and pick a new hunt master.” Morg said.
“That would be unwise.” I said.
“Why? You think you can take me? I’ll kill you faster than you can draw your bow.” Morg threatened.
Thain rose to react to him but I held my arm out in between them.
“You probably could, but the sisters are out here waiting for us. They joined this hunt because of me. I still have no idea why, I was going to ask Jash. What do you think they’d do if you interfered with what they wanted?” I said.
Morg sat back down. So did Thain.
“You don’t know why they joined this hunt?” Thain asked.
“I think it has something to do with a promise my Father made to Jash, but he never got a chance to tell me what it was.” I answered. “We’ll settle this when we meet up with them. Until then, get some rest.”
We settled in around the fire that Hane and Dilan kept up. The fire was primarily for cooking, but at night kept some of the smaller predators away.
A few times I caught Lien staring at me, like he was observing an animal to catch in his traps.
The sky was growing dark and I quickly fell asleep. I woke up with my head pounding. Thain was sitting next to me.
“You gave us quite a night. You kept screaming. It’s not easy to sleep through that and we were worried it would bring in a Felorex. Lucky for us, none came.” Thain said.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” I asked.
“Tried. Morg even punched you in the arm and you never woke up.” Dilan said looking visibly distraught.
“I’m sorry.” I said.
“Look, let’s just get to work. That might help.” Thain said.
“That’s a good idea. We need to set up a plan for how this hunt should go. First, we should figure out how to find the sisters. Then we need to move quickly to the error. Once I find out the cause of the error and do whatever it is I’m supposed to do with it, we can make a base camp. Lien can set up traps and we can start a proper hunt.” I said.
“We’ll be crossing a lot of ground. Be a shame to pass up on setting traps along the way.” Lien said.
I nodded. “That’s fair, you can check them on the way back.”
“Are we even sure we’re headed in the right direction? We went the way you said to but you were in a brain fever. You coulda’ been pointing any which way.” Morg said.
“I’ll have to climb a tree so I can get a view of the village. I should be able to get a bearing from there.” I said.
“I can help you up.” Hane said.
I looked about us and picked a suitable tree. Hane boosted me up to the lower branches and I started to climb. I made it three quarters of the way up when a bird flew down and landed on the branch next to me.
I was taken back by it’s boldness. It looked like a common enough bird but I worried that it was going to attack me somehow.
“Are you a technical observation worker?” the bird asked.
I stared at it for a moment. I must have gone insane. The strain of the last day must have made me crazy.
“Are you a technical observation worker? Are you a T O W?” it asked again. It’s voice was like the Glyph’s but quieter.
“Tow is what they called my father.” I said.
“Your answer is unclear. Are you a T O W? A genetic test in thirty locations on your genome match that of a technical observation worker on record.” it demanded.
Obviously I was either crazy and somehow associating myself with the guilt of my father killing Jash or this was how my father got the nickname.
“I am a Tow.” I said.
“Understood, please be more direct in the future. I will function as your interface, unless you desire a different one. Do you require information?” It said.
“Uh, I’m looking for the village right now.” I said.
“Information unavailable. Please designate a landmark near the site you require.” it said.
“The. . . the Glyph, where is the Glyph?” I tried.
A mist came down from the tree like in the great hall of the visitor’s center and an arrow pointed out the direction of the Glyph with a number five floating below it.
“Are you ok up there?” Hane called.
“I’m coming down.” I called back.
I was shaking with a mixture of excitement and fear. I had heard stories of things like this told by the old woman Melsa. She taught children to read and told stories about when a single man could kill an Alk in a day. The time when the Glyph would answer a man. I had doubted her word, even though adults would insist it was true generations ago.
My shaky hands made it hard to climb down and a few times I felt off balance. My heart raced even faster. By the time I got down to the lower branches, I was shaking uncontrollably.
Hane reached up for me. “Are you ok? You’re pale.”
“Up in that tree, something um, something happened.” I said.
“You didn’t mess yourself did you?” Hane asked in a worried tone.
I actually checked to make sure I didn’t. “No, I” I looked up into the tree. The bird flew down and landed next to me.
“Can you speak?” I asked.
Hane looked perplexed. “You’re asking the bird?”
“An unusual question considering our earlier conversation. Are you feeling unwell?” the bird said.
The rest of the hunting party took notice and started to approach.
“You can hear the bird too then?” I asked Hane.
Hane simply nodded with his eyes wide.
“Show me the position of the Glyph again.” I said.
Again a mist formed under the branches of the tree and an arrow formed.
“What is this?” Thain asked.
“It asked if I was a Tow. I answered yes.” I said.
“Isn’t that what Jash called you father?” Thain said.
I nodded. “What is your name?” I asked the bird.
“I am your interface, unless you choose another. I do not have a name but if you want to give me one, I will respond to it.” the bird said.
“Are you male or female?” I asked.
“This Pidgemartin is female, but that can be changed if you wish.” it said.
“No, that’s ok. I’ll name you Melsa.” I said.
“Very well Tow, my name is now Melsa, would you like me to speak in a more traditionally female voice?” Melsa said.
“Er, yes. That would be good.” I said.
“Done.” It’s voice now sounded like the guardian of the hunt. “Would you like a report on local constructs?” It asked.
“Constructs? Yes, give me a report.” I answered cautiously.
“There are thirty local constructs above one kilogram. There are three local constructs above one hundred kilograms and one local construct above five hundred kilograms. Which category are you interested in observing? You may answer all. You may also choose micro life.” Melsa said.
“Above five hundred kilograms.” I said.
A mist formed again and an arrow with a 1.1 under it.
“A Scytheboar is in this direction. Do you wish to lock it in this area for observation?” She said.
“Lock it, like you can keep it from running away?” Thain asked.
“Information unavailable, incorrect permissions.” Melsa answered.
I tried. “Melsa, by locking, you mean it won’t run away?”
“An unusual question, are you sure you are a Tow?” she said.
“Yes, I’m a Tow. I was. . . just asking for the benefit of my friend Thain here.” I tried.
“Understood, but it is a breach of permissions to allow access to this system directly or indirectly to someone that does not have proper permissions.” Melsa said.
“Um, yes. I forgot, sorry, won’t happen again.” I said.
“There is no need to apologize, I do not become offended. I cite permissions so you do not become locked out and need an administrator restore them.” She said.
“Can you, give us a few minutes to talk? Maybe you could fly up to the top of the tree for a while?” I said.
“I can shut down this interface until you call my name.” Melsa said.
“And you won’t hear what we’re saying?” I asked.
“Correct, I will only reactivate when you say my name. I will lock this Pidgemartin so it will not leave the area.” She said.
“That sounds good.” I said.
“Shutting down.” Melsa said. The bird began pecking at the ground and walking slowly in a circle.
“Ok, what do I do?” I asked the group.
“I think it’s evil, we should kill it.” Lien said.
“Are you stupid? This is important.” Thain said.
“Do you realize what that thing said?” Morg asked. “It can tell you where animals are. We can find any animal we want and this thing can lock them in place.”
“But it seems like you can only do certain things while it’s around otherwise it will take away permissions. We have to be careful how we use it.” Thain said.
“I can see why Jash and the Sisters were interested in me going on a hunt.” I said.
“So the Sisters want to use this thing. I say it’s ours and we cut them out of it.” Morg said.
“I’m more interested in what they know. They knew that this would happen, so it must have happened to my brother too. They must have been told what my father brother did with it for them to be interested. They’d also know how my brother died despite being a Tow. He might have done something wrong with it.” I said.
“This is trouble. If it’s tempting, it means that there’s danger.” Lien insisted.
“You’d know that better than any of us.” Morg said.
“Well then, we don’t use it until we know more.” Thain offered.
“I have one thing I want to do though. Melsa!” I said.
The bird perked up. “Interface restarted.”
“Melsa, the Glyph said there was an error. Can you find it?” I asked.
The bird cocked its head. “The permissions on the Glyph have been locked down, I’m unable to access the error you refer to. An administrator should be contacted to correct this.” it said.
“How do we contact an administrator?” I asked.
“The Glyph can direct you to an administrator.” Melsa said.
“Ok, we’ll work on that.” I turned to the others. “We need to find the sisters.” I said.