Chapter 2 Five gods would found our civilization The second looked deep into the earth And found eternity in the stone. He observed the plans for our civilization and then carved it out of the moutains Behold Akol. Our god of sculpting and the past. Akol the crocodile pounded stakes deep into a slab of granite, his hulking muscles allowing him to do the work of four humans. Soon a block would be split from a slab. As he worked the reptile grumbled and hissed when he recalled bumping into Arvelion an hour earlier. Dam elves, He thought. They're nothing, but humans with pointed ears and fancy tools. The chief will learn the hard way. The mighty reptile blew his nose into the air. Anything to get the dust out of his nostrils. Then he started to cough. His lungs hacked so violently it caused his sculpted and rippled body to collapse in a fit of wheezing. He needed to build a fire before the cold came. He amassed whatever dry sticks he could on the bare mountain side, but he was at war with his treacherous lungs, which coughed him to the ground again and again. Whenever Akol was brought down hacking and wheezing he would force his fist into the ground and push himself back up. Yet as the cold blanket of night brought dew on to the grass, it also sapped his strength, his energy and his life. His lungs brought him to the ground just as he was about to rub two sticks together, and the night prevented Akol from getting up again. Like any other reptile in the chill, Akol became a stiff, tired and vulnerable heap. His slit eyes could focus on nothing, but sighted a blurry figure approaching him up against a starry and black background. The crocodile man did not even have the strength to lift his hammer in his defense, but he did have life in him to say one thing. “Come to carve me up huh, human?” he said as his eye lids became heavy. “That's alright, I ain't too young to die.” Akol's eye lids collapsed from exhaustion, and he felt pressure on his back. Must be the knife carving me up, he thought, for he realized he was too anesthetized to feel much pain. So does my life flash before my eyes or what? The outside world disappeared for the reptile as he passed out and started to dream. As Akol peered into the nothingness he suddenly found himself back in a city where a human boy begged him for coin. “Please,” he said, “my mother and I are starving.” He held out his bony hands. “Huh! Even the king can't make something of you humans,” Akol recalled himself saying. Why is it of all the things I could remember when I die, I see this? I have a whole life that could flash! Akol thought to himself. He recalled batting the child away with his muscular tail, and then showing the child the hard, plated scales that armored his back. He thought, I could have been nicer to that kid, even if he was a human. Nothing is constant in a dream. Many a dream shift without reason and this one did. Suddenly Akol heard the child's voice change in such a way to shock him. “I'm sorry, Dad,” the figure said. “But I have to go help people.” Without logic the dream had turned the human boy into a young crocodile, a crocodile that was Akol's son. As Akol's son jumped into the black void Akol screamed, “ Asheer, Nooooo!” He tried to grab his son, but couldn't because Asheer was just a transient soul. Immediately Akol saw the white light above him. Is that supposed to be heaven? It's not like I was good enough to go there. He thought to himself. Then he came to a sudden realization. It's the sun! I'm alive and I'm awake! The living reptile's eyes then swiveled to see the ashes of the fires that were lit next to him, and his ear picked up the sound of snoring, and he felt something warm and soft on his back. Akol then realized, "that the human wasn't carving me up. It was building a fire and sleeping on top of me to keep me warm." He gently tilted his body, and when the human slid of his back he caught her gently with his tail. The human was a woman whose body was emaciated and boney. Akol also saw her feet were calloused, worn, and scarred. On her head a few gray hairs split and splayed from what otherwise seemed to be a youthful face. The woman's eye lids opened gradually and when they did they looked into Akol's. The woman opened her mouth as though to say something, but after several contortions she failed to utter anything but a pained groan. Akol slid his massive claws under the woman, and lifted her into his arms, supporting her back and cupping her head like she were a child. Even in Akol's arms the woman decided to make one last go at speaking. She hauled her heavy arm to her chest, placed her hand between sunken breast, and uttered, “Cava.” “You're gonna live, Cava,” Akol responded. “You're gonna live.” Chapter 5 “Now you're getting one spoon full at time so it's easier on your shrunken stomach,” an old crocodile woman said as she offed up a wooden spoon full of Hadrasaurus soup to Cava who was teetering on a table. The Crocodile/human creature's bulky body cast a shadow on the skeletal woman, as it blocked off some of the fire light. “Hopefully the chief won't come stompin on by, he doesn't like humans.” The crocodile's words were lost on Cava, who could not understand the clicks and growls that made the reptile's language. Even so, something about the wrinkled bag of flesh under the crocodile's bottom jaw, and her nagging yet nurturing tone caused Cava to feel like she was with her grandma. The human was too weak to do anything but open her mouth, so that her reptilian “grandmother” could place the spoon gently on her tongue and tip it down her throat. Just as Cava gulped down her first swig of a substance that smelled like cooking oil, and tasted like liquid beef and chicken, the patron Crocodile of the hut pushed aside the skins hanging in the doorway and entered. “How's she doing, Soalay?” he said as his slit eyes darted up and down over Cava's emaciated form. Old lady Soalay sighed as she scooped up another spoonful of steamy soup and focused her sights draining it down the human's throat. “Well she's not doing great. She's starving and she still doesn't have any gusto. But at least that makes it harder for her to burst her stomach.” Akol held fire wood in his tail, but even as he placed it on the floor he did not look away from Cava. Soalay swung her toothy snout to her husband and then asked, “So this girl really saved your life? She looks like she can barely lift up her arms.” With a sharp nod Akol said, “Oh she saved my life alright. She really did.” Akol trailed off as his attention turned to stocking the fire. As he stared into the flames he pondered how he ever could have been rescued by one of his people's mortal enemies. He had little time to reflect however, for stomping foot steps and a bellowing voice ripped him from his thoughts. “Akol!” Yelled yet another Crocodile as he ripped through the door skins. Soalay's shoulders drooped and she seemed to shrink as she sighed some hope away. Akol on the other hand rose taller as he turned to face the newcomer. “Hey, chief. What did I say about barging into my house?” The chief looked past Akol with wide eyes at the human before him. “I can't believe this. You let a human into the village! Into your home even!” The chief's muscles tensed and he slammed his tail on to the floor like a whip. Even so, Akol stepped forward after throwing another log into the fire. “She saved my life so she gets to stay at my hut. If you saved my life you would get to stay at my hut too,” Akol growled as he looked right into the chief's bulging eyes. The chief's jaws fell open at his defiant subject's response. “This is completely irresponsible,” the chief said. “You're putting the whole village in danger. Humans are terrible, savage creatures. You of all people should know. You hate humans!” “Yeah. She looks pretty vicious,” Akol responded with a sarcastic nod. “She's can barley move!” As the two male crocodiles argued Soalay placed a hand on Cava's shoulder while her tail curled behind her to make a kind of seat. It was of little comfort to Cava, for even if the exact words of the reptiles were unclear the anger behind them was not. When the human stood up, using Soalay as support, it surprised everyone into silence. She scooped up one more spoon of soup and then began to stagger out the door. The chief did not take his angry eyes off the girl, but he stepped aside to let her go. Before Cava could get out the door Soalay ran to her and gave her a leather bag of soup. Cava gave a respectful nod before heading out the door. The human girl's endeavor was pretty hopeless, for she fell to her knees after only a few steps out the door. Akol sighed and then gulped. Then with a low growl, he said. “Soalay I gotta go for a while.” His wife tilted her head in surprise, but then nodded. The chief scoffed, and said, “Don't make me laugh. I know you could never walk away from your stone business. As Akol assisted Cava to her feet he turned to face his wife and stated, “I'll be back to get my tools, hon. I'm settin up shop somewhere else.” With his back to the chief and his village he and the human left. Chapter 6 Five gods would found our civilization The Fifth would recite our stories And teach us all to speak To make our history immortal She took up the stencil and invented all of our written words Hail Cava Our goddess of poetry and writing. Even in her tired state, Cava could tell that it had rained the night before, for water birds danced in the newly formed ponds, and a dense humidity hunge around her as it clung to her skin. The rocking motion that Cava felt when riding Akol's back almost made her doze off. She had to constantly force her eyes open to prevent herself from falling asleep. Akol pulled a cart full of stone carving tools like picks and chisels. Also piled on the cart were wooden beams that were used in a hut that could be disassembled for easier travel. The strength of the crocodile man impressed Cava, for he was able to haul an entire stone working shop piled high on a wagon. Cava was so dazzled that when she saw a seven-foot-tall, two-crested, carnivorous dinosaur in the distance she had no fear of it; she was sure Akol was strong enough to scare the creature off. As the two traveled, Cava was unable to fight a nagging question. Why do we keep walking past all these sources of granite? Isn't Granite the reason we're out here? She wondered. Bare granite boulders of various grains littered the suddenly lush landscape, and yet Akol gave them no attention. The croc and the human eventually reached a craggy hill with a bolder of granite on it. A chunk had been taken out of it. Akol's hammer and drill lay at the base of the boulder, for Akol had left them there the day before, after the coughing fit that almost took his life. Akol set down his cart, and Cava said, “Oh I get it now. This is the specific chunk of granite you need.” She lifted her head up and looked to the ground, ready to dismount Akol's back. The crocodile didn't understand Cava's words. Then, to Cava's surprise, Akol loaded his tools into the wagon and continued walking. Cava tilted her head in confusion, then said, “Why are you walking away from the granite” Akol strained to look at Cava on his back and then said, “Ressa !hoka de?” Cava formed a sly smile as she chugged down some of the soup from a leather pouch. She then wiped the viscus fluid off her lips and replied, “Don't know what you said, but you are probably wondering why I am talking to you when we can't understand each other. Someday I will tell you.” Eventually, Cava's eyes fell closed as she succumb to sleep, but she did not fall off. Instead, she fit neatly in the sunken center of the croc's back between two rows of scaly nobs. It wasn't until Akol stopped, set Cava on a blanket, and was well on his way to setting up his portable shop that her eyes began to flutter open. Her vision was blurry at first. Her only clear hint of what was happening was the hollow clacking of interlocking lumber boards being fit into place. When Cava could finally see clearly, she jumped up and gasped, for she could not believe where Akol was setting up shop. “What the? What is this place?” Cava said, when she had woken to find that she was surrounded by the walls of a relic temple, except much of it had collapsed, and only the foundation and some granite wall remained. Even so, the distance from the north to south wall could have been measured in hundreds of paces, and in Cava's mind evoked an image of a tower that once touched the sky. Akol grunted something in his own tongue as he caressed the granite siding of the great wall he set his shop in front of. It was then that Cava noted the wall was sanded to glorious perfection by some ancient people. “Oh, I get it now.” Cava said. “This wall is already cut and smooth. It must be a lot easier than getting a whole new chunk. But then why didn't you just work on this wall to begin with?” The croc sighed, while his hand slid back and fourth on the remains of the wall. He muttered something and then took a moment to rest his head on the wall. Cava went silent as she observed his connection to it. She didn't know what exactly he felt in it, but she realized her words could not do justice. The Crocodile took out a sheet of papyrus, which Cava surmised had a schematic of his plan drawn on it. Akol looked at the wall again, and in his own tongue he said, “Hisssan, grrrroka na ross. !konoka ssseathrra Norrra !a.” The croc sighed again. Then he touched the wall one more time, and with a hammer and chisel he began to desecrate it. Cava observed silently as the croc ground his chisel into the granite dulling the pointed end of his iron chisel within minutes. With a hole formed in the granite, the croc took out a bag of sand, which he then sprinkled into the hole. The chisel, though worn, proved useful for grinding the sand into the granite. At a rate barley noticeable to Cava, the stone gave way to the sand, for the sand particles were harder. Watching the reptile work prompted Cava to look at her own calloused hands. She rubbed her finger tips together, and their hard surfaces caused them to slide over each other. Then she recalled the life that made them that way. Her callouses were made from chopping down Quina plants, and beating out the hard, spherical seeds out off their stalks, while at the mercy of an unrelenting sun. She recalled, when she was little, that either direction she looked, she saw her family members working. She never once recalled anyone having been told to work; you just did. Cava's memories were interrupted when she heard shuffling foot steps from someone on the third floor of an adjacent ruined building that was missing a wall. After a second, someone came limping into the light, and because his light auburn hair was cut short, Cava could see his pointed ears. For a few seconds the elf's boyish, emerald eyes, even at great distance, locked her attention to him. Only after a mostly naked barbarian and a disheveled snake woman came into view was the spell broken. Cava's chest tightened at the thought that this peculiar and unfamiliar group of people might somehow be a threat, and she instinctively inched closer to Akol. The crocodile was far less afraid, and when he saw the elf he recognized him and recalled how his female companion pointed a gun at him. The crocodile gave a loud snort. The elf then backed away with wide eyes, and then made his way back into the shadows. The serpent girl and the barbarian followed, except the barbarian quickly ran back to grab leaves from a vine that had grown its way up the floors. After stuffing the leavers in his birch skin bag he dashed to catch up with his companions. With the group gone Cava tried to sigh away her tension. It was to no avail, for not only had the incident made her tense, but there was nothing to distract her from the guilt of not working when someone else was. For a while she sat telling herself that there was nothing she could do. Then embarrassment welled up in her as it sunk in that some strangers saw her lazing while someone labored. She knew if her mother, father, or even her younger siblings saw her they would have given her stares that could stab into her back. Her fingers twitched and she fidgeted until finally she had to do something. Cava crawled over to the plans that were drawn on the papyrus paper, anxiously trying to find something to do. What she saw made her gasp. She was stunned by the details of the design. She snapped out of it and said to Akol, “This is going to take forever, but I am going to find a way to help you.” Akol was suddenly torn away from his project when he saw the human girl rummaging through his things. She had already retrieved a different kind of chisel by the time he was there to stop her. He made a low growl as he took the chisel form her hands and put it back into the bag. Then he pulled the satchel to his tail, so he could guard it while he worked. Akol realized that he would need more sand in the hole, but when he reached for it he accidentally bumped into Cava who had grabbed some sand to offer it to him. The croc gently nudged Cava away with his tail so she wouldn't get bumped again, but when Cava pushed back he growled again. “I know you don't want me to help you,” Cava said as she held her ground against the croc that was many times her size. “But I am not going to just sit around while you work.” Akol thought Cava's words were gibberish, but her unblinking stare into his eyes was not. He lowered his head, an invitation for her to climb on his back. On his head Cava was able to drop sand into the hole whenever he pointed to it, but several times grains of sand got to within centimeters of his eyes. Cava gritted her teeth and cringed whenever this happened, so when the croc offered his tail she jumped on it. With this new system, Akol would point to the hole and use his tail to bring Cava closer to it when he needed sand. After only two tries, the pointing became unnecessary, as Cava could know what to do by simply being carried near the work area. Within four turns, Cava and Akol had refined a strong rhythm of grinding and applying sand to cut into the granite faster. The two worked more efficiently as they came to understand each other. Akol was able to give Cava more complex instructions with hand signals built on prior communication. Cava was able to apply sand with more precision and pick some off the ground as her conception of what Akol wanted became more apparent. With Cava's help, Akol regained much of his lost time, and as the sun began its decent into the western mountains, they had sanded a deep, smooth, diagonal, gash into the stone wall. When she compared the work done to Akol's drawn plan, Cava realized that much still needed to be done, and yet she held her head up high when she looked over what had been accomplished. Akol took out yet another satchel, which was filled with timbers of kindling and bushels of dry grass. He tipped it over and out the timbers spilt. He said, “Sssaya.” The sky turning orange and red reminded Cava that a cold night was approaching and so she replied, “Ssssaya...that must be fire.” She then assembled the sticks, while repeating, “Sssaya means fire, ssssaya means fire.” Akol lifted his chisel to start the next part of his project, but then he coughed. It stopped him for just a moment. Then he coughed some more. tThen like a dam being broken open, the hacking started. As he fell to the ground, Cava tried to hold him, even though he was too wide for her to put her arms around him. The once powerful crocodile was forced into a fetal position, as he hacked a thick gray mucus. Eventually the hacking subsided, and the crocodile was left on the ground wheezing, and gasping. Cava placed hand on the might reptile's shoulder while her mind carefully examined every option. In the end she was left with only one. The two of us cannot survive out here, Cava thought. I have to track down those other three people. The elf, the barbarian and the serpent girl. She then took one of Akol's plans, and wrote something in the margins. “I'll be back,” Cava said. She then headed out and gulped down the guilt she felt for leaving an ill friend alone.