One of a Hundred Stories
Arith knows about the Wraith, of course; every child does, Athosian or Genii or Wastren' Ra. They are blue, the elders tell them, and have hundreds of teeth, all of them sharp as needles, all the better to rip your life from your body and chew it slowly while you watch. If she ever sees one, she is supposed to open her mouth and yell as loudly as she can, then start running into the woods.
Damman, who learns with her, says his father killed a Wraith once, but no one believes him. Arith used to hate him for telling that story, but his mother was taken in the last culling, so she cannot hate him too strongly. There are not many children like Arith, who still has both her parents.
But Arith knows about the Ancestors, too -- how they were bright as the sun, and how they bravely fought the Wraith, and how they would one day return to the city of Atlantis and bring it forth from beneath the waves and destroy the Wraith forever. Arith, like most children -- most people -- likes that story the best.
So Arith is naturally surprised to see people come through the ring of water who claim to be from the city of the Ancestors. Halling tries to scatter them, saying that this is not business for children, but that just makes them hide behind bales of hay and grass and peek out at the newcomers.
"They're not golden," her friend Naim says, sounding disappointed. "The Ancestors are supposed to be golden and flowing, like sea creatures."
Naim's brother Fyor snorts. He thinks he's so mature because he's a year older and already betrothed, but Arith knows for a fact he still sleeps with his small stuffed creature. "When have you ever seen a sea creature?"
"I've seen pictures," Naim hisses back, glaring at him. "And anyway, the Ancestors didn't look like that." She nods at the people talking to Teyla Emmagan. Their clothes are different, and they carry strange metal objects -- Arith thinks they are weapons, but she's not sure -- and they speak the same language as the Athosians, even if their accents are a little different.
"None of you are listening," Damman says, squinting at them. "They said they came from the city of the Ancestors. They didn't say they were Ancestors."
"Well, the Ancestors wouldn't let just anyone in their city," Arith points out, earning her a glare from Damman.
"They would if they're all dead."
"Damman!" Naim and Fyor are, for once, in complete agreement, and yell at him as one.
"Damman--" Arith tries, putting a hand on his arm. But Damman shakes her off and glares at her.
"Leave me alone!" he yells, getting to his feet. He stops when he notices it's attracted the attention of the elders and the visitors, then turns bright red and runs for the trees.
"Damman!" someone yells, startled -- Arith thinks it might be Halling, but she's not sure -- and Arith, almost against her will, finds herself standing up and saying "I'll get him."
Now everyone's looking at her. Arith can suddenly see why Damman bolted.
"Thank you, Arith," Teyla Emmagan says, nodding her head at Arith. Arith nods back and hurries after him.
* * * * *
"Damman!" Arith yells, looking around. He should be easy to find; he's only got a couple of seconds lead on her, and his shirt is blue. But it's a dark blue, and it'll be night before too long. This, she realizes, was not her best idea ever.
"Go away," says a voice a few feet away, coming down from the treetops. Arith squints upward but cannot see him.
"Damman, please come down," she says, still looking for him. "They seem very nice."
Damman snorts, sounding remarkably like Fyor. "You haven't even talked to one. You just think they look nice."
Well, they do. Their clothes are strange, and they know enough to dress in things that could help them blend in with the forest. It's the most exciting thing Arith can remember, and she's missing it because she's stuck looking for Damman. Damman, who made her cry when she was barely in trousers by telling her stories about the Wraith.
"Fine!" she yells, not caring who hears her. "Stay here all night if you want! I'm going to go back and talk to the newcomers!" She folds her arms across her chest and glares up at the treetops, as if she can see him.
And that is when the beam from the Wraith ship comes down and starts tearing through the trees.
For a moment, Arith only stands there.
Then Damman yells "Arith!" at the top of his lungs, and "ARI--" before he's cut off, suddenly and sharply, and Arith turns and starts running.
Arith has never been one for prayer, but deep down, she believes in the Ancestors, believes they will never let something happen to Their children. Especially not now that people have come from Their city.
Ancestors, please, she thinks silently, and keeps running.