The Hunters of Trepidion

I

Long before the Great Rains of Radiation, the people had divided into two races: the Hunters and the Heavyheads. The Hunters were a tall, handsome people – outgoing, fun loving, and athletic. They shunned the Heavyheads, pointing to their large ears, orb-like eyes, short bodies, slow feet, and their preoccupation with meditative arts as proof of their abnormality. The Hunters’ children were forbidden from playing with Heavyhead children for fear they would pass on strange thoughts, and intermarriage was prohibited. Eventually the Heavyheads decided to abandon their villages and move away from the Hunters. So they gathered their belongings, climbed high into the mountains, and crossed over the watershed to settle on the western escarpment.

Herbert was a young Heavyhead who had a special ability to write and sing songs, accompanying himself by plucking the metal tabs of instruments he had fashioned from bronze strips and wooden boxes. He would climb to the watershed where the echoes of his music rang on and on, filling the valleys and mountain passes on either side, some returning a full minute later.

One day Elana, a curious young Hunter who often strayed from her village, heard the echoes of Herbert’s songs. She was drawn high up into the mountains, where, after many hours of wandering through the hills and dales, she found the source of the strangely beautiful sound. As she listened more closely, a powerful urge came to her to somehow be part of the music. Discovering a long, hollow log at the edge of a stream just a few yards from where Herbert was perched, Elana gripped two stones, one with each hand, and began to strike the log in different places. At first surprised, Herbert soon began to enjoy this new accompaniment. The music took on a new and greater life, as if it had found a heartbeat.

Thus a great friendship began between Elana and Herbert. They would play together for many months, creating countless new songs and filling the mountains with the fruits of their labors. Herbert entertained Elana with stories of fantastic beasts, exotic planets, and amazing flying machines. In turn, Elana performed acrobatic dances and demonstrated her excellent skill with bow and arrow by piercing apples on the highest branches of the trees at a hundred paces or more.

Back in her village, Elana’s frequent journey’s away from town became a concern to another young Hunter named Jeric, who was secretly in love with her. Jeric made up his mind to follow her the next morning. He trailed stealthily from a distance for the better part of a day, higher and higher into the mountains. At last he came to witness the reason for her journeys. Angry and vengeful, he returned and reported the incident to the Chief Hunters.

Elana was forbidden to ever leave the village again, and when she ran away in the dead night to find her friend, she fell into a deep ravine and was never seen again on the surface of the land. As great sorrow turned to hatred and blame, the Hunters declared war on the Heavyheads, who were not inclined to violence of any kind and could offer no resistance. The Hunters crossed the divide and drove the Heavyheads down from the mountains and into the Great Cave at the base, which led to a dark, uncharted expanse of tunnels beneath the mountains.

At first blind, the Heavyheads slowly adapted their vision to the constant night there, and eventually found sources of light – cracks in the rock walls that led to deep ravines where there were waterfalls and streams and little lakes with fish and edible plants. Their greatest discovery was of a rare and special stone, which, upon being held in the hand, brightened to a luminous shade of blue. As they studied the thermodynamic nature of the stones, the Heavyheads began to engineer them for many purposes.

The blue stones served not only as a guiding light through dank tunnels, but also as a source of plant nutrients and warmth, and as a means for the creation of dazzling visual arts. Over time, they were able to navigate the multitude of passageways and begin to chart a course for their new civilization in this mysterious underworld. Here they would build whole colonies beneath the mountains and expand their knowledge in science, education, government, and art.

 

II

Some years later, the world above was struck by a great wave of radiation from outer space, which brought a plague upon the Hunters. The sunlight was poisonous, and even the slightest exposure might result in severe burning of the skin. The people covered themselves with heavy coats and blankets, but could not bear the heat. They became confined to the shelter of their houses, which, after time, began to wilt under the sun’s relentless scourge. So it was that the Hunters made their exodus and came to the Great Cave, and the entrance to the labyrinth beneath.

From their hidden vantage points in the mountain crevices, the Heavyhead High Chiefs looked down worriedly as the throngs of Hunters approached the Great Cave. A meeting of the High Chiefs was called to decide a course of action regarding this encroachment. Although the Heavyheads were a peaceable sort and would not resort to violence as a means of retribution, they were nonetheless very bitter, and their creative resources would be channeled so as to prevent the Hunters from ever becoming a threat again.

The Heavyheads set a plan in motion containing three mandates:  1) never reveal themselves to the Hunters, 2) prevent the Hunters from obtaining any blue stones, and 3) herd them, without their knowing, into a section of the labyrinth that would be designed to sustain their existence, yet restrict their physical movement and control their behavior. 

So the Heavyhead engineers designed and restructured a large section of the labyrinth, which they named Trepidion. Into that new city they would usher the blind and bewildered Hunters, thus ensuring their own protection. The city of Trepidion consisted of a series of sub-tunnels through which the Hunters could move about freely. To accommodate their privacy needs, the tunnels were lined with hundreds of small rooms, each with a bed and a water source. From hidden and secure locations, blue stones disseminated just enough light so the tunnels were not completely black. But try as they may to expand the boundaries of this place, the Hunters could not break the circle, which always led them back to the where they started from. After some time, the Hunters accepted their boundaries and began to adapt to the confines of their environment.  

All tunnels began and ended at one of two great spaces: the first contained a small lake. At the far edge was an opening to the outside world – the very bottom of a deep, deep mountain ravine, its walls of sheer, forbidding rock. The opening was shielded by a great waterfall, through which a dim, natural light emanated. The Heavyheads stocked the lake periodically with fish and edible plants as sustenance for the Hunters.

At certain times of the month direct beams of sunlight managed to reach the frothy waters of the abyss, creating magnificent displays of dancing colored prisms. From their hidden plazas high above the lake, the Heavyheads used their blue stones to refract and manipulate the incoming rays in order to create the image of a great Head with piercing eyes that hovered there within the waterfall. They had also designed instruments and a giant megaphone to project entrancing music that seemed to rise from the cascading waters, accompanying a rich and vibrant tenor that sang songs of faith and virtue.

The other great space in Trepidion was an expansive field. An enormous, flat stone wall stood at the near end. Directly in front of the wall was a winding rock staircase leading to an elevated platform. On the platform were thirteen seats, twelve positioned in a semicircle, and larger one facing them. Behind the platform was a great expanse of open space. This was the gathering place for the conversion of the Hunters, where, according to the Heavyhead plan, their chosen leaders would rise from the masses.

The Heavyheads used their blue stones to project onto the giant stone wall various shadowy images of objects representing all the things of Trepidion – different kinds of fish, plants, minerals, and strange tools and utensils that came with the territory. Playfully, they would display fabricated images of fantastic beasts, exotic planets, or flying machines. They would watch from their lofty places, proud of their handiwork and at first greatly amused by these Hunters clamoring to gain the high seats, arguing over what names to give these unfamiliar objects, and sometimes brawling murderously to determine who would have the final say in these matters.

After time, the Heavyheads grew weary of managing the affairs of the Hunters. Their heads were indeed heavy with the burden of determining the fate of others, and a sense of sadness they had never known before crept over them. The High Chiefs decided that they could no longer witness the base affairs of the Hunters. They would continue to provide food and light, but they would cease their artifices, and, in essence, leave the Hunters to their own devices.   

I have withheld one important piece of information regarding the city of Trepidion, and in particular, its wondrous lake: ever since discovering the lake, the Heavyheads were aware of another living being that hid in the shadows, and fed upon their leftover fish and plants. They could hear strange rhythmic sounds reverberating throughout the tunnels. Aware that this being was not like them, and that it was too quick, too adroit, and probably too strong to be captured, they ignored its presence. And so it remained a desperate, lonely shadow in the recesses of Trepidion until one day, when the greatest singer among the Heavyheads, Herbert, walked alone, deep into the darkest, unexplored regions of this underworld and called out boldly, “Elana. I know you are here. I have heard you. Come with me, please. Together we will make music for them, and then they will know what we know.”

And so it was. The Great Debate began among the High Chiefs of the Heavyheads: what to do now with these Hunters of Trepidion?

***

Pete Howard works as an English teacher, a musician, a writer, and a house painter.