The cliff dwelling where Anaxis and his family lived wasn’t far from the village center. It was one of the bigger dwellings, as the Hume family had occupied it and a prominent place in village life for nearly five hundred years. The years on planet Valor were short, on account of its quick transit around Arum, but five hundred of them was longer than most other families had called the village Talx home. The Humes were some of the best hunters in the village, and were integral to planning the annual cannar hunt, which was just around the corner. Anaxis’s sister and brother had both participated in the hunt before, but this year was to be Anaxis’s first. His whole family had been talking about the hunt for weeks and trying to get him excited, but he found it difficult to share their enthusiasm. Though he appreciated the hunt as necessary to survival, the prospect of mass slaughter turned his stomach. He wanted to make his mother and father proud, to live up to the family’s reputation, but a part of him wished he’d break a leg or get deathly ill so that he didn’t have to participate.
“Is your sister home?” Mills asked as he and Anaxis came to the cliff dwelling.
“I don’t know,” Anaxis said. “She’s way too old for you, Mills.”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t look,” Mills said.
“Gross. She farts in her sleep, you know that, don’t you?”
“I don’t care.”
Anaxis opened the leather flap into the main chamber of his dwelling and let Mills enter first. A fire in the center of the circular room cast the pair’s shadows on the wall as they crossed to a stone table cut from the bedrock. There was a bowl of kug fruit and a basket of owry nuts sitting out, which the boys started to eat.
“Kug season!” Mills said happily, juices flowing down his chin. “I love this time of year.”
“Did your mom make jam yet?” asked Anaxis.
“I think she’s doing that today and tomorrow.”
“Steal me a jar?”
Anaxis stuck a finger in his mouth and poked at one of his teeth. “I think Balta knocked one of my teeth loose,” he said.
“Oh, no,” said Mills. “Does it hurt?”
“No,” said Anaxis. “Not yet.”
“You’ve got to get it taken care of, before it gets infected.”
“That would require telling my parents I got beat up again.”
“You can’t just let it get infected, you have to tell them.”
“I’ll see how it feels tomorrow. I hate that look my dad gets in his eyes when I tell them I got beat up. And the fact that my mom won’t look at me at all.”
“You could tell them you fell down.”
“It’s disappointment to them either way.”
“Are they really so hard on you?”
“You don’t get what it’s like coming from the Hume Clan. Proud warriors, strongest in the village and all that. You don’t know what it’s like to be the weird one.”
“Sure I do,” said Mills. “We’re both weird. That’s why we’re friends.”
Just then, Anaxis’s sister, Illox, appeared at the top of the ladder leading up to the sleeping quarters.
“What are you wimps doing?” she asked as she descended.
“Hi, Illox,” Mills said, swooning.
“Don’t eat all the kug,” Illox said, swiping one of the fruits from her brother’s hand. “Mom and Dad worked really hard to pick it.”
“I know,” Anaxis said, trying and failing to steal the fruit back. “We’re only having a little bit.”
“What happened to your face?” Illix asked, her mouth full of stolen kug.
“I fell down,” Anaxis answered.
“Yeah, right. You got beat up again, didn’t you?” asked Illox.
“Wow, Anax. What is that, three times in the past ten days? You’re ridiculous, you know that, don’t you?”
“It wasn’t his fault,” Mills said in his friend’s defense. “Balta is a bully.”
“Wah wah wah,” Illox mocked. “Life is a bully. You have to defend yourself or you’ll get stampeded over. The faster my brother learns that, the better.”
“You don’t think I know how the world works?” Anaxis asked.
“Do you? Because if you did, you’d come train with me and Mom and Dad. You’d try to get stronger so you can fight back. You wouldn’t waste all your time reading and stay up all night looking at the stars.”
“I like reading and looking at the stars.”
“And you like getting beaten up, too, I guess.” Illox took the bowl of fruit from the stone table and put it up on a high shelf. “You two have had enough to eat. Save the food for people who need it.”
“What, we don’t need food?” asked Anaxis.
“To sit around and do nothing all day, no, you don’t need as much as those of us who actually do something with our lives,” answered Illox. She stretched up and out, causing Mills to blush and turn away.
“What are you doing today that’s so important, anyways?” Anaxis asked her.
“Getting ready for the Hunt,” Illox answered. “You two chumps want to come to the training circle?”
“Not really,” said Anaxis.
Mills couldn’t bring himself to speak.
“You’re going to disappoint everyone, Anax,” Illox said, turning to leave. “Again. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Nice to see you, too, Illox,” he called out the entryway after his exiting sister.
“God, she’s so hot,” Mills said after she had gone.
“She just ridiculed us both,” Anaxis said. “Did you not hear her?”
“I don’t even care,” said Mills. “She can say whatever she wants.”
“Ugh,” Anaxis groaned. “It’s hard to respect you when you talk like that, Mills.”
“You can say whatever you want, too,” Mills said with a grin.
Anaxis spit out the pit from his fruit at Mills, who deflected it.
“Go ahead and spit your pit,” Mills said. “I’m too fast to get hit.”
Anaxis laughed. “You want to see something cool?” he asked.
“Come on, it’s up on the roof.”