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There was a time when women were tough. On the island nation of Palambara, a place unknown to the more sophisticated, advanced civilizations of the world, women were not revered as goddesses; rather, they fought alongside the most courageous of men of the nation's army, spilling their own blood as their mothers and grandmothers before them.

They hunted. They murdered. Their faces were dirty, their skin was cracked. They wore tattered clothing. They walked easily along hot and cold earth with bare feet. Their tangled hair hung in strings and often went unwashed for days on end. They were truly the unsung heroes of their time.

One woman stood up and out among the rest of the female Palambarans. Her name was Aspena, which, in their dialect, meant "wolf". She was agile and devious. Her long golden hair traveled down her back in soft waves. Her face was perhaps the most dirty of them all, although gruesomely handsome. Her wide, almond eyes held a trace of apathy for the well-being of her enemy. Her battle cry was heartbreakingly patriotic.

In the day she performed all the mundane tasks that were expected of her. She traveled along the Apuche-kina, which, in their dialect, meant "the tears of angels", keeping a keen eye for sizable fish and other sea creatures for the warriors' evening meal. When she spotted one, she quickly stabbed it with her wooden spear. The blood of the dead animal would taint the peaceful stream. It was as if the flow of the water stopped to mourn over the death of a monument. The warrior did not notice and turned on her heel.

She delivered the seafood in a woven basket or carried it in her arms when she lacked one. The men and women were often impressed at the amount she returned with. No one in the camp went hungry.

In the night, after a brief rest, she turned to the woods and hunted small animals for the morning meal. She would occasionally kill them with her bare hands if she was feeling savage enough.

One of the fairer warriors, a woman named Ishuni (which, in their dialect, meant "princess"), approached Aspena one morning upon her return to the camp. Ishuni was a woman with a creative mind and sharp tongue, a fiery red-head that abandoned her life as a priestess' daughter and joined the camp in hopes of becoming an accomplished warrior like Aspena.

Ishuni was up early, awaiting Aspena's return. She had bathed in the Apuche-kina while the others were still sleeping or were drowsily rubbing their eyes. She spotted Aspena trailing back to the camp victoriously as the sun peeked through the trees.

Aspena sat crossed-legged on the earth and emptied her big bag of prizes she had won over the course of the night. The animals had kept her on her toes. She was weary from the night's hunt for the first time since she first joined the army. In the end, she came out triumphant. She had been able to trap and kill seven opossums, nine squirrels, three raccoons, and four rabbits. They would feast at nightfall. She deposited the corpses next to the large fire pit, pulled an opossum from the pile, and began the skinning process.

Ishuni sheepishly came to Aspena, careful to step gingerly around the sleeping warriors. She observed Aspena's blood-stained hands and nearly choked on the foul stench of death. Aspena worked nimbly and swiftly. Ishuni sat beside her, watching the blur of her hands in awe and admiration. Aspena took no notice of her presence; she had grown accustomed to the women of the army observing her during her morning routine.

"I want to learn from you," Ishuni said softly.

Aspena did not look up from her work. "You will have to start by learning to communicate using less words and more actions. Skin this squirrel." Aspena tossed one at her. It landed in Ishuni's lap. She nearly gasped in surprise. It was a foul thing, attracting buzzing flies and various bugs. Nevertheless, she took the knife offered to her and began skinning.

Aspena watched her for a few moments with no expression. Then, clearly dissatisfied, she slapped Ishuni's hand. "Your hands move slowly and clumsily. You must move faster and not cut the meat." She pointed to a small slit Ishuni had made.

From then on, Aspena took Ishuni under her wing, teaching her to fish, hunt, skin animals, swim, climb trees, shoot a bow, sharpen and make a spear, and most importantly, fight.

Ishuni was more skilled at these things than she had expected to be, especially swimming and fishing. She felt comfortable with the water and all it had to offer. It enveloped her, welcomed her with open arms when everyone else shunned her away.

In turn, Ishuni taught Aspena to think, especially creatively. Aspena often did not think of anything but what her next move was, what she had to do, who she had to kill. Ishuni taught her words of their dialect that she did not know, words that were pleasing and pretty.

One night Ishuni, while lying next to Aspena, began asking her questions about her past. "Where did you come from?"

"Perhaps a place I should not have been."

"Why did you decide to join the army?"

"It was not a decision. It was instinct. It was a calling."

Ishuni paused, listening to the crickets chirp a happy song and the stream babble the background music. The stars and moon were shining brightly on them, illuminating Aspena's hair and Ishuni's pale face.

"Where do you think you would be if you weren't here?"

Aspena did not reply right away. She thought her answer through. "I would be nowhere. Probably just a chumika." Chumika, in their dialect, meant beggar.

"You have much more potential than that," Ishuni whispered.

That was the extent of the conversation they had for a while. They still hunted, fished, and slept alongside each other, but they found ways to communicate besides talking. Aspena spoke with her eyes, Ishuni through her touch. The months passed; the hot sun soon burned less brightly and the cold wind settled in Palambara.

One day as they were traveling along the river, preparing to bathe, an arrow struck Ishuni's leg. Aspena lowered her to the ground, holding her carefully. She yelled in fury and in anguish, cursing under her breath and holding her hand against the wound. Ishuni winced, but did not cry. She knew better than to shed tears for something so silly when the wound could have been much worse.

As if she could read her mind, Aspena said, "It is okay to cry, you know. It is just you and I here. No one will know." Ishuni allowed a few tears to escape her. Aspena kissed them away. "My sister," she said softly, stroking Ishuni's hair. "You will be okay."

Aspena called for help while Ishuni stared at the sky as if seeing it for the first time. She felt like a child, so small against something so massive. She felt as if she were carefree again, lying in her father's fields back home, watching the bountiful white clouds go by. But she was not in her father's field; she was lying in the field beside the Apuche-kina, where she had just been hit in the leg with an arrow by an unknown assailant. The clouds weren't white and friendly; instead they were iron gray and hung heavily above her. She felt like she could touch them. While lying there, she tried to grab a piece of cottony softness; she, instead, grasped a fistful of air. She sighed and tried again. Her father had always told her that anything was possible with even the slightest amount of will and determination. It was a sentiment she believed to be true. She focused and reached up again. Nothing. She feared agitating the wound, so she lay sitll and tucked away a tiny ray of hope deep inside her. She'd get her cloud one day. She knew it.

Aspena soon returned with about ten warriors, one of them being the makeshift paramedic. He attended to the wound and stopped the bleeding with a worn rag.

The eldest man of the army, Yukemina, stood over Ishuni. He looked at Aspena with a fire in his eyes, a fire only a leader would ever possess. "Aspena," he growled. "Who could have done this?"

Aspena stared back at him, a leader herself, the fire in her eyes identical to his. "I saw not the shooter, but will see his family and his army, dead, slain by my own weapons." She bowed and turned her attention back to Ishuni.

Yukemina was highly satisfied with this answer. "This means war!" Yukemina bellowed. Hundreds of battle cries answered him, ringing throughout the wilderness of Palambara savagely.

"It could only be Wikenima." Wikenima was the neighboring island, the same nation Palambara had been feuding with for generations. He spat in disgust. "They must have invaded our camp. We cannot allow them to overtake us. We fight upon sunrise! Men, women, gather your weapons and get some rest. We have a war to win!"

The entire camp drifted to sleep early that night, their minds clouded with thoughts of slain enemies and puddles of blood. Aspena and Ishuni were the only two that had not yet entered the subconscious realm by morning. Ishuni was still in pain and was uncertain whether or not she would be fit to enter into battle. Aspena was enraged and too angry to sleep. She needed to kill someone.

She turned to the woods, although specifically instructed not to do so. Equipped with her bow, her spear, and her sack, Aspena slinked through the trees with caution, knowing what awaited her. She knew the land, knew every bump and every curve, what the bark of every tree smelled and felt like. She was ready.

A Wikeniman warrior charged at her, although blindly and stupidly. She awaited his approach, somewhat unimpressed, and placed the edge of her spear about a foot in front of her. He, unable to see, ran straight into it, lurching forward as the sting of the blow set it. His eyes went wide and his body went stiff. She withdrew her spear from his torso and he collapsed to the ground. She bent and offered a short prayer over the body. Ti gombara yon a treais, which, in their dialect, meant "forgive me, for I do this for my country." She placed both hands on his head and twisted hard; his head came cleanly off. She dropped it into her sack and went on her way.

The smell of blood so early in the morning energized her. She took not ten paces when another warrior attacked. She drove her spear between his eyes.

It went on like that for hours, until every Wikeniman warrior that inhabited that part of the woods was dead. Aspena, soaked with blood and dirt, turned and walked back toward the camp.

When she arrived, the warriors were awake and preparing themselves for battle. The eldest ones, including Ishuni, were looking for her.

Before any of the warriors had a chance to speak, she reached into the sack and withdrew the head of the first Wikeniman she had killed. "Today," she bellowed, "my brothers, my sisters. We will be victorious!" She shook the head in the air with every word, the blood that had not yet dried dripping to the ground. Battle cries flew into the air once again, and the warriors set off to battle.

They hiked for miles through the bitter cold. Once they arrived and engaged in battle, many Palambarans lost hope.
It was perhaps the worst Aspena had ever encountered. The Wikenimans were on the top of their game, thumping off her brothers and sisters left and right. The Palambarans performed just as well and soon one could not walk without stumbling over a corpse. Without Ishuni by her side, Aspena became more thirsty for blood than ever. She killed recklessly, twisting off heads, robbing the dead enemy of his possessions. She had many a prize by nightfall.

That night the Wikenimans ambushed the Palambaran camp. Aspena, still bubbling with murderous energy, fought diligently alongside the others, eager to avenge her friend. The ambush soon calmed and the stench of death filled the camp. Aspena breathed it in deeply, proud that she could take part in such a calamity. She soon fell tired and drifted to a hard sleep.

She awoke the next morning with Ishuni in her arms. Ishuni had taken shelter there from the cold, and Aspena embraced her upon her awakening. She kissed the redhead and took part in the morning meal.

Over the next several days they hiked, their destination being the top of Mount Hichibe, where the Wikenimans were camped. Aspena did not bathe and smelled of blood and death. It was a stench that she wore with pride. She was respected, she was revered.

Upon their arrival to the Wikenimans' camp, snow dusted the ground. Ishuni was unfamiliar with the substance and looked at it in a bewildered manner. Still, she marched alongside Aspena without comment.

The battle held there was worse than the last. Four of the oldest Palambaran warriors, including Yukemina, were slaughtered, their bodies thrown over the side of the mountain by pompous Wikenimans. The rest of the Palambarans fought back angrily to avenge the deaths of their fallen leaders. They were successful in killing all the leaders but one: Rolikema, which, in their dialect, meant "cloud".

The Palambarans slept heavily that night. Aspena stayed awake to guard the warriors, Ishuni snoring softly by her side. The sun took too long to rise, and Aspena was weary when it finally did. Nevertheless, she prepared herself for battle.

Ishuni awoke and swore she felt better, or at least good enough to fight. Aspena shook her head in protest, but in the end let Ishuni participate in the fighting. After all, they had one more man to kill to win the war.

Before the fighting begun, a younger Palambaran warrior named Malinka approached Aspena and Ishuni and told them that Rolikema wished to speak with Aspena. Aspena, suspicious, armed herself and placed Ishuni in the care of one of the elder warriors. She traveled, spear in hand, to the Wikeniman camp.

Rolikema greeted her, an ugly smile on his face. He offered Aspena some opossum. She declined and crossed her arms. "What is it you have summoned me for?" she asked coldly.

"I have a confession to make." His voice was deep and rich, laced with poison and apathy toward her. "It was I that shot your friend in the leg. This whole war has been waged because of it. Let us settle this peacefully, sister."

Aspena bubbled over with fury and tightened the grip on her spear, ready to attack. Her instincts stopped her, and she decided to save the kill for Ishuni. "No," she replied simply. "You will die. I swore it to my leader Yukemina, who is now dead at the hands of your warriors. An eye for an eye." She bowed and left the camp.

The battle had not yet begun when she returned to Ishuni. "You wanted to capture a cloud?" she asked Ishuni. "Your wish has been granted." She thrust her own spear in Ishuni's hand. "Go, my sister. Carry out what I have taught you. This is your moment. You will be victorious. I have faith in you."

Ishuni bowed knowingly and kissed her sister's forehead. "In case I am not?"

"You will," Aspena said, not willing to argue. It was a truth that she simply knew and believed in every part of her.

The Wikenimans attacked not long after. The fighting was gruesome. Many Palambarans and Wikenimans alike were slaughtered, dead where they lay. Trampled on and tripped over. Blood stained the pretty snow and the skin of all the warriors.

Ishuni fought well. She had killed three men within the first hour of battle, men twice her size and strength. Once, while charging torward a Wikeniman, she tripped over a slain Palambaran. She looked back without knowing why and discovered that it was Malinka. She gasped; tears filled her eyes but she forced them away. That was just the reality of war.

She became overcome with hatred toward the Wikenimans. She charged with more vigor than ever, stabbing men through the heart, the skull, pushing them over the mountain. She did it for Aspena, for Malinka and Yukemina, for all her dead comrades.

Finally she spotted Rolikema. He slinked up to her, his spear gripped tightly in his hand. His demeanor was calm. He raised his spear and let out a wail. She knew he wouldn't use it.

She charged at the same time he did, quicker and more nimble. She made it to him first. With one last cry, Ishuni thrust both her own and Aspena's spear through his heart. He fell to the ground so hard the very earth beneath their feet shook. The warriors stopped fighting. No sound came from the alive or dead alike. Ishuni placed her foot on Rolikema's torso. "Ti gombara yon a treais! Sih nimano...ti wina!" (Which, in their dialect means, "Forgive me, for I do this for my country. Victory is ours!") She held the spears over her head; the Palambarans roared triumphantly. Aspena kissed her comrade proudly and took her spear back.

She and Ishuni swung Rolikema's motionless body over the side of Mount Hichebe and watched as it shrunk against the massive darkness of the ground below. They watched until they could no longer see his dead eyes. Then they turned back to their army, alight with smiles and happiness. The war was over. Ishuni had captured her cloud.




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writerfreak21231This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jul. 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm:
It was really great! I had tears in my eyes as well. good job and keep writing! :D (Sorry for advertizing) I just wrote two stories called the beast and nightstalker. If any of u could check them out, that would be appreciated. And please post comments saying if u liked it or not or if i should change anything. Thanks! :)(:
 
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Bass said...
Jul. 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm:
Wonderful work. Tears were in my eyes by the end of the last paragraph.
 
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ChucktownWolf said...
Jul. 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm:

As always, your write a breath of fresh air.

It's been a while since I've read this, and I'm incredibly honored to have inspired it. Much love, Melliana!

 
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