After following CiCi through the woods for at least half an hour, not following any trails but rather, some path of her own rhyme and reason, she abruptly stops. I slam into the back of her, having just vaulted a moss blanketed fallen tree.
Arms out to stop me from moving past her, she shushes me. I fall back without a word, and prick my ears. I realize there’s a distinct lack of nearby animal sounds. Far off, there’s the faint echo of birds chattering, but it feels like a blanket of quiet has been tossed over our nearest surroundings.
Nervous, wondering what CiCi has brought me into, I hiss, “What is it? Why are we here?”
CiCi turns her head towards me, and puts her finger to her lips, but she’s smiling. I relax, but only just. She turns her head forward again, and motions me to move with her. She’s creeping now, crouched low. I’m always taken a bit aback by how lithe and silent she can become when she chooses to be. It’s a bit jarring, even having known her for going on four years.
I drop to my knees beside her and try to peer through the brush in the direction she’s gazing, but I still can’t see anything.
“You need to climb up that tree and look down into the clearing,” she whispers almost soundlessly, pointing at a gnarled, mossy tree stretching up into the canopy, about five feet in front of us. I shake my head and jab my finger at her. She shakes her head back, and hisses,
“You know you’re better at climbing than me. Go! And be quiet!”
I sigh, seeing the obstinance in her face. I’m mildly annoyed because I don’t understand why she’s being so secretive and suspect it’s because she knew I wouldn’t come to see whatever this is otherwise. Ugh, she knows me and my painful curiosity too well.
Still crouching, I move forward towards the massive tree trunk. As I put my hands against the mossy bark, I feel a droning vibration in the wood, and there’s a scuffling sound coming from the clearing-possibly footsteps? I raise my foot, then kick off my soft bottomed sandals. Digging my toes into the vine wrapped trunk, I begin to climb.
I had hoped that I would be able to see straight into the clearing by pulling myself up onto one of the lower branches, but there are too many smaller trees, vines, and other branches in my way, so I have to keep climbing, until I’m probably about fifteen feet up. A branch juts out towards the center of the clearing, and I reach out and push on it a bit to see how strong it is. It creaks slightly but seems strong. The foliage hangs over it like a curtain, so I should be able to look down into the open space without being seen. With a puff of breath, I blow my hair out of my face, and clamber onto the branch, reaching out with my tail to steady and balance myself. The branch is thick near the trunk, getting thinner as it reaches out, but I’m light. I carefully shimmy out onto the branch, and the sounds of voices filters up to me. Men’s voices, but in a language I don’t quite understand, though it sounds vaguely familiar.
I realize I’m holding my breath, so I let it out slowly through my mouth, and cling with my fingers and feet. I reach out and brush aside a clump of leaves, and see something metallic, large-a big car maybe? There’s no road leading to this place so that doesn’t make sense. I need to move a bit further to get a better view. As I move to release the foliage, I see someone walk around the edge of the metal thing, but they quickly move out of my line of sight. Hmm. I lift my hand to begin crawling forward again and the branch beneath me gives an ominous groan. I freeze. After a moment, when I’m sure nothing has shifted, I take a deep breath and start to creep cautiously out further. The branch is now swaying a bit, and I can almost reach around it with both of my hands. My palms have gotten a bit sweaty. I know I shouldn’t go any further, that I should back up, and just as I stretch my leg back to see about moving closer to the trunk again, I hear the voices again, and one of the men is RIGHT below me. Slowly, deliberately, I lean forward just a bit, reaching to move aside a swath of leaves blocking my view below. Careful not to cause undue rustling, I grip the branch and sweep it towards my leg, leaning to peer down through the little window I’ve created. I have enough time to look down at the top of a head of very dark hair, and to notice what look like ears pointed like mine when several things happen all at once. I feel before I hear an enormous CRACK beneath me, and instinctively I lunge forward to try and grab the branch above me, but I’m already plunging towards the ground, gripping onto thin air and a few leaves that shred loose in my fingers.
I don’t even have time to scream.
The ground rushes to catch me, and the breath is knocked out of me in a whoosh. Ouuuuuuch. Luckily, I guess?, I came down on my side, and caught myself on my hip and elbows. There's a rush of incomprehensible loud talking, but catching my breath is more important. As that comes back to me, I realize my hands are scraped from hitting the ground and pushing up to catch myself. I sit up gingerly and look at my bloody palms, then my focus falls beyond my hands, to my feet and then just past that. Dark grey, fitted pants, black boots. My eyes travel up into the face of one of the men-but-not really a man, he can’t be much older than me, maybe 17 or so? It’s the dark haired one I was looking down at a few seconds ago. And he looks stunned, though his expression is quickly changing to suspicion. He barks something down at me. I stare up, hands still curled in pain in front of my chest. Two other guys, also young, come around the-wow. In spite of my soreness, I clamber to my feet, in awe. The thing I mistook for possibly a large car at a glimpse is clearly NOT that. For one thing, it’s huge. More the size of a long, low house. Shiny black metal with blue and silver accents. I don’t know what it is but I know what it looks like.
“Is that a spaceship?” I turn and blurt out, pointing, as the guy I landed nearest to turns his head towards his companions and they all converse in that snarling tongue. I feel like I should know what they’re saying, it sounds like something I’ve heard before, but I just can’t place it.
The guy turns back to me, and on his face is a smirk, and for the first time (I know, I know) I start to get genuinely nervous.
“You don’t know if that’s a spaceship?” He says, this time in clear Portuguese, but heavily accented. I don’t like his tone, or his smirk, but his eyes aren’t hard, unlike those of his companions.
“I-“ One of the companions snaps something at me, and the leader, as I’ve now come to identify him as, from the way the others’ body language and tones seem deferential, and from his own carriage, nods, and says, “That’s a good question. What were you doing hiding in that tree? Who sent you to crawl around in branches like a spying monkey?”
My face gets hot. Ummmm…my mind flies apart in ten different directions, and before I know what I’m even going to say, I blurt,
“I was, uh, looking for my….” I glance around, then bend down quickly and pick up a sizeable stone, and laugh a little giddily. “My pet rock! And look! Here it is!” Where are you, CiCi?! I begin backing slowly towards the edge of the clearing.
“So sorry to disturb you!”
“Pet? Rock? What does that mean? Is this some sort of Earthen term?” His face is comically perplexed. The companion on his left, a tall, muscular sandy blonde clearly asks what I said. The main guy responds without turning his eyes from me. He’s wearing a dusky teal fitted coat with a high, stiff collar. There are some medals and embroidered words on the breast. I begin to wonder if they’re some sort of military men, because the other two are wearing similar coats, but in grey that matches their pants, and whereas his sleeves are rolled back to his elbows, theirs come down to their wrists.
I realize he’s waiting for me to answer his question.
“Pet rock? Um, yes, it’s a…human thing. Just something kids have-you find a rock and-“ He holds up a hand and cuts me off.
“Now I know you’re lying. You say a human thing? But you aren’t a human!” He laughs, and then makes a flicking motion with his head, and the two guys on either side of him move forward towards me.
Just as I am about to break to run, CiCi bursts out of the underbrush and lets out a scream akin to a panther and leaps at the closer of the two, who is short but strong looking, with close cropped black hair and pale eyes. I duck from the grip of the sandy haired one, and see CiCi grappling with her guy. Her teeth are bared and she looks feral, hair coming loose from her pigtails. As the blonde grabs my upper arms, I twist in his grip and slip a thin knife from under the waistband of my skirt, and shout at the leader, who is standing coolly by, watching this happen, “Call off your dogs or they’ll lose their eyes!”
I am NOT a fighter but I have no intention of being manhandled by these aliens, as surely they must be. I whip my knife hand up and press it against the cheek of my would-be captor, not taking my eyes off of the leader. At the same moment, I see CiCi sliding her knife out of her boot as she dips down to avoid the grasp of her adversary. The leader’s expression doesn’t change but he barks a single word and the men freeze. I step back, towards CiCi, who steps with her back towards me. Both of us still have our knives out. My breath is heaving, and I feel her shoulders rising and falling rapidly as well.
I may not be a fighter, and I don’t often refer to myself by my official title, but instinct stirs in me, telling me that now is the time.
“Did you just attempt to take me hostage? I guess you don’t know that I am the Queen High Priestess of Santa Veta? I should curse you and your entire family.”
Granted, I don’t actually know how to curse people, but hopefully it sounds imposing.
His face remains impassive, then his eyes narrow.
“You call yourself a queen?”
CiCi stirs beside me and snarls, “Queen High Priestess, to you.”
To Be Continued...