The Last TritanbyWaterBurn©
Authors note: I had a really hard time deciding where to put this story, so as a friendly warning The Last Tritan is a teeny bit sci-fi, but not overwhelmingly so. If you think this is the wrong category for this story, please don't hesitate to drop me a line! Also, this story has a 'slow burn' but if you have patience I promise it will be worth it ;)
Any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated, so don't be shy!
I was eighteen when the capital city of Tritan fell. With the element of surprise on their side, the fight was relatively bloodless, and over within a week. They crushed our communication network, and it was days before we even knew who our attackers were. Once we saw the black and gold banners of Caledonia however, our attempts at self defense were virtually nonexistent - they were known for being ruthless in battle. It was assumed the Caledonians had attacked Tritan for her abundant resources. And it was true - to an extent.
With the government disabled, mass panic quickly followed. Families trying desperately to escape the tattered carcass of Tritan fled to the northern country of Elora - only to find doors slammed shut in their faces. The Elorans were terrified of incurring the wrath of Caledonia. And they were right to fear. Our enemy had more than a reputation for blood lust - their elite soldiers could channel energy into the weapons they carried. Specially modified guns that could fire blasts of pure energy so hot, it burned through anything it came into contact with. They are absolutely deadly warriors, unmatched in any known arena. It was, however, obvious that using their energy guns came at the price of draining them while in the heat of battle; they used these weapons only in emergencies lending us the belief that they were not completely invincible.
But the true horror or our invasion had yet to be revealed. Renowned for our genteel natures, slight statures, fair hair and complexions, as a people we were valuable for our contribution to medical sciences and bountiful food production. The target of Caledonia's attack however, were the priestesses - Tritan women who could feel the energy of every living thing around them. The most powerful of the priestesses had the ability to manipulate things as they grew, like trees, plants and animals. They were famous healers, using their abilities to detect and diagnose ailments in their patients, and directing the body's own energy to heal any injury. As medics, they would have been invaluable on the battlefield - but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I'm the daughter of a Tritan politician, and though I possess the gifts of a priestess, my father forbade me from honing my craft. It seemed harsh, but he wanted the best for me and thought my intellectual talents would be wasted in a life of selfless worship. His biased decision saved my life - the priestess' temple was the first place the invaders attacked.
We realized much too late that by some cruel stroke of fate, the Caledonians could enslave a Tritan Priestess and bind her to one of their own Elite warriors. This allowed them to act as a conduit to the living energy of the world - energy only the priestess could channel. With a Tritan Priestess bound and enslaved to a Caledonian Elite, they became invincible warriors, with a limitless amount energy at their disposal. There was no chance of a rebellion after that.
But it wouldn't be a story worth telling if it ended there. I escaped the city before the fighting reached us, because my father used his position to get me to safety. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to secure the same for himself and my mother. It was the last time I saw them, and to this day, I'm not sure what happened to them. I may never know.
There were some of us who managed to find temporary safe haven in the vast old growth forest separating Tritan and Elora. We weren't rebels - just people trying desperately to avoid the nets of those hunting us. I was among those small clusters of terrified people, and though I never met another priestess, it became obvious the Caledonians wanted even the ordinary citizens of Tritan. Our unusual coloring made us highly sought after in the slaving markets across the world.
It wasn't long before the small group of terrified Tritans I was hiding with, was attacked by slavers. I imagine finding us would have been very easy; we knew nothing about survival in the forest, and even less about hiding our tracks. We had agreed however, not to have a fire, assuming the light from the flames would draw too much attention. And yet, I awoke late one evening to the merry sound of popping and crackling flames. One of the men had brought down some type of fowl, and had started a fire to cook it. The smell of fire roasted bird soon woke the remaining sleepers, and though we knew better, it was a temptation none of us could resist.
There was only enough for each of us to have a few mouthfuls of the succulent meat, but as the hot juices dripped off our fingers, I was sure it was worth it. That is, until the slavers came crashing through the brush, weapons drawn. The sounds of the camp, which moments before had been contented eating, became screams of terror as everyone scrambled for safety. It was my first good look at the dreaded Caledonians. If Tritans are known for being slight and fair, the Caledonians must also be known for having considerably large, heavily muscled frames, with dark hair and eyes.
I had but a moment to make this observation, before my impending enslavement became apparent. I was a Tritan priestess, albeit an untrained one, but I couldn't allow myself to fall into the clutches of an Elite warrior to be used against my people in such a perverse way. To my everlasting shame, and having no close relations with my fellow camp-mates, I took the opportunity the chaos offered, and slipped away. I knew I wouldn't have long before the slavers were finished subduing my countrymen, so I took to the trees. The branches of the largest trees were thick enough that I could jump from one to the other, effectively distancing myself from any incriminating trails. It was also clear the large statures of my pursuers would prevent them from following me.
I had a head start, and I wouldn't waste it. I slept the rest of that first night huddled inside a hollow log on the ground, after I had nearly fallen from a tree to my death. I woke the next morning with bugs crawling over my skin, tangled in my hair. As it turns out, sleeping in a rotting log isn't at all pest free, and far from the cleanest place I could have chosen.
Pushing aside my revulsion, I brushed away as many as I could, and listened for any sounds that could be out of place in the silence of the forest. Thankfully I could hear nothing, and carefully crawled from my hiding place into the brisk chill of early morning.
I quickly realized I was facing more problems than evading capture. If I didn't find a reliable food source, I would likely starve to death before the long winter months. Rain was frequent in Tritan, occurring on a daily basis, so water was not an issue. Being raised with the privilege of being a politician's daughter, I had never been lacking for fresh meat and vegetables, though I was certainly feeling it now. As far as I knew, starving to death wasn't even the worst of my problems. If I didn't have access to fresh fruit with vitamin C, I could develop scurvy, and all sorts of problems associated with malnutrition. Deciding I would have to deal with that as it happened, I went about creating a snare for a small animal. I had seen plenty of squirrels and rabbits as I made my plans, I just needed to catch one.
It was three days before I managed to trap anything, and by then I was weak with hunger and spent most of my time sleeping. I knew with a detached certainty I didn't have much time before I wouldn't be able to drag my tired body to safety if the slavers found me. But to my immense satisfaction, within a few hours of those dreadful thoughts, I had a plump rabbit caught in my snare. Now all I needed to do was kill the fluffy little thing. I placed the blade of my knife at the soft throat, and braced myself for the kill.
I should have closed my eyes. Instead I found myself looking into the inky black depths of this innocent creature's terrified gaze, my fingers began stroking it's soft brown fur of their own accord. It's little heart beat so fast against my palm, I began to worry it would die from fright in my hands. Realizing I ought to have been eager for it's death, my grip loosened, and with a whispered apology, I let it go.
I'd showed mercy to an animal that would have made my existence much easier. But looking into those beautiful dark eyes, and seeing the absolute terror I had recently had a taste of, I felt a certain kinship with the captured rabbit. I just couldn't bring myself to push the blade through it's soft fur and take it's life.
I was still facing imminent starvation, and now I was without the strength to check my remaining snares. The chance to change my mind had passed, and I realized sadly I was looking at the end. I collapsed on the forest floor, staring at the thick foliage and squirrels as they raced along their treetop highways. As I lay there spread eagle, I noticed the tree I was staring at had large green fruits hanging from its branches. Though I didn't recognize them, I was in quite a state of malnutrition, and was keen to try anything. Looking around, I realized there were several of the large fruits scattered across the forest floor. The squirrels certainly seemed to be enjoying them, so I hoisted myself off the ground, and reached for one. After all, I was beyond the point of caring if I died from eating a poisonous plant.
I bit into the green husk and promptly retched - the flavor and texture made it clear the thing was not for eating. Hurling the offensive fruit against the nearest tree in disgust, I watched with detachment as the green husk exploded, leaving behind an ovular black pit. Frowning in confusion, I crawled over to the palm sized pit for a closer inspection.
"A walnut!" I exclaimed, excitement lending me the energy to find two rocks. This I knew I could eat, and I bashed the walnut into smithereens in my enthusiasm. Gleefully picking the editable pieces out of the shell, I stuffed the 'meat' into my mouth, knowing without a doubt that walnuts are jam packed with nutrients, proteins, fat, and vitamins, and would keep well during the winter months. At the very least, I knew they would keep me alive.
I spent the majority of the day collecting walnuts and throwing them against trees to remove the husks. Touching them with my bare hands produced a dark brown stain that no amount of washing could remove. After I had amassed enough nuts to keep me going for a few days, it was time to find a shelter. It was at this point that I began to look on the wildlife around me with a new light.
The animals thrived in this environment, where I could barely take a step without blundering it in some way or another. So I sat and watched the squirrels and rabbits for the better part of a day, hardly daring to move for fear of disturbing them from their regular habits. I watched as they ate some plants and avoided others, as they stored food for the coming winter, and fattened themselves on the bounty of the forest.
Most importantly I watched as the squirrels darted in and out of their homes, hidden in the very hearts of the trees. My face cracked in the first genuine smile since the horror of the invasion - I had a plan.
Wandering the forest, always heading in the opposite direction of the soldiers at my back, I searched for a tree. I knew it had to be a magnificent grandfather-tree, one so old and large that I wouldn't be able to see the top, or wrap my hands around the middle. After days of searching, I finally came across the perfect specimen - an oak tree, older than living memory by several generations. It was so large its canopy blocked out the sun, creating the illusion of dusk at high noon. The branches reached far into the space of neighboring trees, and some brushed the ground, having bowed under their own weight after hundreds of years of life. If there was a more perfect tree in all of the forest, I hadn't found it in days of searching.
Climbing into the massive arms of my new home, I settled in and began to dig. I chipped away in the crook of the oak tree until there was a shallow indentation. There was enough space for me to sleep, albeit curled in a ball. I shall spare you the tedious retelling of how I carved out my home, but I became utterly obsessed with making the perfect hideaway, and spent all my time slowly digging out a small room.
It was nearly winter before I was finished, and I had just enough time to create a trapdoor for the roof. I included several nearly invisible windows to be used as ventilation shafts, so I could have a small fire when the cold of winter settled in. They would also prove invaluable should someone try and sneak up on my location.
I discovered burning walnut shells produced a brilliant, hot flame with very little smoke, and I created a small stone fireplace, so I wouldn't set my home ablaze. They were quite literally the perfect source of fuel, and with my trap door, and tight sleeping quarters, I had created a cozy little winter-proof nook.
You would find very few of my actions over the next two years interesting, but every day I remained free was a blessing, and every new skill I mastered was a treasure. I made flour out of acorns, created my own clothing, expanded my tree apartment, and created a virtual highway in the treetops - though I never shared my paradise with anyone. I had learned the risks of exposure the hard way.
There were three major events that played a role in defining who I am today. The later two spawned from the meeting of one small, battered family. The winter had just set in, and I'd spent the summer hollowing out two more trees, for use as food storage. I was on my way back from the closer tree, when I saw a small ragged group of dark haired people with olive skin. There were four of them, all throwing wild eyed glances over their shoulders.
It was clear to me they were being hunted. Pushing aside the instant kinship I felt with these people, I immediately tried to slip away, unseen. I knew the danger of traveling in large groups, and surely the slavers wouldn't be too far behind these poor people.
In my haste, I stepped on a branch, the crunch louder than thunder to the fugitives below me. Frozen, I could barely draw breath, terrified they would see me in the shadows. My fears were well founded.
"Father! There's someone in the trees!" Said a soft girlish voice in a hoarse whisper. After a moment, a man interrupted the silence of the clearing.
"Can you help us?" He said, the despair evident to everyone present. "Please?" My mouth opened, but nothing came out. I was very unaccustomed to speaking, and hadn't realized it until that moment. I cleared my throat, and tried again.
"Who are you?" Brilliant first words, to desperate people. But my head was spinning, and my hands were shaking with the need to end this conversation and flee.
"My name is Jake Trapper, and this is my family. Please, Elora has been invaded, and the slavers are after us. We need help, please, you have to-"
"Elora?" I said, taking a step forward, shocked.
"A Tritan!" Said the woman, speaking for the first time, her voice shrill in the silence of the clearing. I'd made the mistake of stepping into the light, such was my surprise to hear of Elora's invasion.
"Miss, have you been in the forest since Tritan fell?" Said Jake quietly, taking a tentative step in my direction, clearly just as surprised as I was. When I didn't answer, he rushed forward. "You have to teach us how to survive here - please. Save my children!" My eyes widened in surprise, and I stumbled back, my feet catching on some branches. Feeling the world tilt, I flung out my hands, grabbing at the tree for balance. Jake continued, as though I hadn't nearly fallen from the tree in shock. "We can help you! You have to see that." His eyes filled with tears, as he looked at me.
"I - I can't, sir, I don't know -" I stammered, crumbling under the pressure this man put on me.
"Just some food and water. Please?" We both knew the moment I gave them food and water I was trapped, but he was begging, and the dirty tear stained faces of his children stared back up at me.
"Stay hidden," I said after a lengthy pause, and melted into the foliage. My survival instincts screamed this was a mistake. Helping these people would make me vulnerable - and that made me incredibly uncomfortable. After all, it was my freedom on the line here. I had been given a choice, and though I felt trapped by Jake's sad eyes, I could easily disappear in the forest and never see them again.
"Here," I said quietly re-emerging from the semi-dark canopy, and I dropped a handmade bag full of nuts and acorn bread at his feet. "There's a small stream just through this clearing, walk through here and you can't miss it," I said pointing. His children fell on the bag, and immediately started eating the bread and cracking walnuts.
"Thank you," he said sincerely, pressing his hand to his heart.
"I don't have enough food stored up to feed everyone," I warned.
"Teach me," he said, holding eye contact. In the face of his determination to survive, I could do nothing - except agree. I nodded.
"Find somewhere to sleep tonight," I said, and turned to leave.
"Take us with you!" His wife screamed, the sound making me drop to my stomach and hug the branch in fear. After a few moments of desperately listening for the sounds of approaching slavers, I glared back at the hysterical idiot.
"Control yourself!" I hissed, anger making my thin veil of civilization disappear. Jake moved to put a hand on the woman's arm, and she jerked away from him.
"Tomorrow?" He asked, his eyes begging me to forgive her.
"I'll find you," I said, and fled. It was winter - I had no idea how these people expected me to keep them alive with no food, but I decided to try.
In the morning, I traversed my treetop highway until I came back to the place they had been. I could track them easily from the trees, and had no doubt the slavers would find it even easier to hunt them down.
"Lesson one," I said descending from my perch, my feet touching the ground for the first time in at least a week. "They can track you easily through the snow - cover your tracks." I demonstrated, as their eyes followed my every movement.
"You're clothes are funny," said the youngest boy, plucking at my pants.
"I made them," I said, more than a little uncomfortable with his proximity.
"Do they keep you warm?" Asked Jake, pulling his son closer. Luckily, they all appeared to be dressed for the weather - it had taken me months of trial and error to create the rough wool-like cloth I now wore as a sweater. I'd created it from strips of well worn plant fibers, and the threads of my old clothing. My pants were even more unique, having been fashioned from large chunks of tree bark, and the remains of my original pants. I looked like a crazy battle-ready forest nymph, and I knew it.
"Very, but I keep moving most of the day - especially when it's really cold," I replied, fidgeting. "Tell me about the war," I said abruptly, wanting some more give and take from our relationship.
"Well, after Tritan fell, we knew we were next. The Empire of Caledonia has been forcibly taking over countries for years now - we just didn't think they would come as far north as Tritan and Elora. We're peaceful, developed countries, for God's sake, and we've never had problems with the Caledonians before." He paused to eat some dried berries from the fresh bag I had brought, and continued. "Tritan fell so quickly, we didn't have a chance to help, but it gave us some time to shore up our defenses. It won't make much of a difference. Their Elites use your priestesses like supercharged batteries, and they've spent a good amount of time developing new weapons. They're unstoppable." I grimaced, and he apologized, though he couldn't have known the cause of my discomfort. "We left before they took the capital, and we've been running ever since."