Chapter 23: The Anthropologist
As Storm went to go get some extra food, I decided to leave the house to go hunting. I took a full quiver of arrows with me, with my bow and dagger, and I came back with a few skinny birds and some rabbits. I had killed more, but had discovered quickly that they had dust in their systems, and would not have been safe to consume. So… basically, they were wastes of meat, and wastes of my time, energy, and resources. But at the same time, at least they hadn’t mutated to the point of becoming a threat to the Village...
I took the meat that was fit to be eaten directly to Torchlight and Dew, and they eagerly took them, and prepared them. And I went back to the house with a few bird wings, cooked quickly by Torchlight as thanks, and a loaf of bread. They had given the rest of the food we needed for the next few days to Storm and my other siblings.
When I returned to the porch, I noticed that Valla was sitting outside of the porch. I flicked my tail and had to suppress a frustrated growl- I didn’t want to scare her, but I was beginning to wonder if she was understanding just how much the presence of the elves was unwelcome to most Chimeras. I approached, and she noticed me quickly, and glanced back inside.
“It’s gotten really warm in there,” Valla said. “Especially after your mom lit the flame.”
“Are you complaining?”
“Not exactly. I just needed a little fresh… well, fresher air, at the very least.”
I narrowed my eyes. I noticed that there was an open book in her lap, with a stick of some sort that had a black tip. I had seen my mother write with one before. Valla’s hand was glowing slightly; there was very little light filtering through the sheets protecting the village, and the glowing stones hung on the supports were dimmer than usual, and would need to be charged soon. Valla looked back down at the book and smiled a little bit, before taking out the stick and letting her hand stop glowing.
“What were you writing about?” I asked, kneeling in front of her.
“Oh- just everything that’s been happening, I… haven’t really gotten a chance to write anything since before that first dust storm.”
“So… it’s like an archive?”
“Not… exactly, it’s more of a record of just… all the things I’m learning about this area and even you guys. Would you like to read it?”
“No, I can’t.”
“Can’t read? Why not?” The idea seemed to shock her a little bit. I narrowed my eyes at her.
“Never had a reason to learn.”
“So… you’ve learned everything you know about surviving from other people?”
“Yes, that’s the only way to learn it.”
Valla nodded, but she didn’t seem to agree with me. “Well… most people in Akalai learn from books. Then again, most people in Akalai don’t have to fight as hard to survive… Gray?”
“Do you mind if I talk about you and your family in my book?”
“Why would you want to?”
“Because I’m learning so much about how you guys live. I wouldn’t mention you or anyone else by name but I’d just describe you and what you’ve been saying and doing.”
“I… still don’t understand what the point of doing something like that is.”
Valla looked up at the sheets, clearly trying to think of how else she could explain it to me. “Well… the word for the kind of work I’m trying to do is anthropology. The study of people, and cultures, and why people do what they do. And I think it’s important because, well… what if Akalai were to ally with your kind and they had no idea what you guys were like, or if they had an idea, it was just… prejudice?”
I was silent for a long moment. Then, Valla sighed.
“Look at it this way: if a man wearing metal on his head came up to the village and told the guards that he was there to speak to Sentinel, what would the guards do?”
“Tell him to fuck off?”
“Exactly. And normally, my country would take that ‘fuck off’ as aggression, and assume that your kind wanted a war, and it would get bad very quickly. But books like the one I’m writing can avoid that, if people read it and really consider it.”
“So you’re thinking that more people from your country may come here?”
“Yeah. But… honestly…” Valla glanced back into the porch, but then leaned towards me. “It would mean that your kind would be getting involved in our war with Lassania in some way…”
“We already hate them anyway,” I said with a shrug.
“Yeah…” Valla said. “But I’m just kind of… wary of my country trying to pull you guys in more than is necessary…”
“If we get pulled into the war, it won’t be your kingdom’s fault,” I said. “I think most of us wouldn’t complain about fighting Lassania. I know I wouldn’t.”
Valla nodded. “If I may ask, why does everyone hate Lassania so much here? I didn’t even see this level of hatred back at home, and we’ve been fighting them for centuries now.”
I felt my veins run cold suddenly. My mind went back to sleeping on the sharp stone floors, all of us piled on top of each other for warmth- our mom, and all of our siblings. And the harsh sound of creaking iron, the clang of a gate locking, and all of us being startled awake, and large hands wordlessly grabbing someone and dragging them out of the cell, or to the already bloodstained walls. I glanced at Valla, then closed my eyes.
“That’s a question that you really shouldn’t ask here,” I growled. She blinked, then nodded.
“I’ll… keep that in mind. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize-”
“No.” I shook my head, before opening the bag of the bird wings that Torchlight had cooked. “Did you and the other elves get enough food?”
“We did,” Valla said, glancing at the wings. “They look really good though.”
“Eh…” I took a bite of one and shook my head. “There’s barely any meat there. Everything I found that had meat, had enough dust to not be edible.”
“Ah…” Valla watched me, and I noticed it.
“...Are you sure you had enough to eat, Valla?”
“I- yeah, I did.”
I happened to look up and see Storm poking his head out of the house. He looked like he had just woken up from a nap, and he narrowed his eyes at Valla, and shook his head.
Valla was silent, and looked over at Storm, who came out of the house. “She ate less than the toddlers.”
Valla sighed. “I didn’t want to take any food that anyone else needed more. I haven’t been desperate for food before…”
“Everyone is around here and you will be soon too. Don’t try to sacrifice yourself.” I tore off a piece of bread and took out one of the more substantial wings and handed them to her. She used the bread to hold the wing, trying to stop her hands from getting too messy. I wondered how long that would last before she gave up. I knew very few chimeras who tried so hard to keep their hands clean. It was pointless.