This week's Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge involved a random-sentence generator. I played a few times, and ended up with the sentence, "The novice crawls underneath the doomed mount." I tweaked it just a bit to make it work.
User warning: This story is a little grimmer than my usual.
Death of Innocence
When disaster struck, Yonson was a happy-natured novice zergmunt tender, learning to care for the complex beasts from the ground up, as it were. The disaster, as so often happens, came in the form of human prejudice. Someone stirred up the people to fear the great, horned, flying creatures, and next thing the zergmunt aerie knew, they were under attack by peasants with pitchforks and torches, denouncing the beasts as demonic invaders.
Within a week, Yonson was handed his riding harness and a bow, and told he was part of the mounted flying corps, ready to pair with a zerg and fight for his new home. He didn’t mind, since they let him pair with Gorg, the zerg he’d been most drawn to from the beginning. As a novice, he had tended to the needs of a number of as-yet unpaired zergmunts. Translated, that meant he’d mucked out the stables. A vegetarian creature the size of a small cottage produces a lot of by-product, so Yonson had been busy. But Gorg always acknowledged his presence, and he always took a moment to stroke the zerg’s head.
Rider training usually lasted months as the youngsters learned to harness, fly, and direct the zergs in lifting and hauling. Then they’d be sent about the country to help build large projects and move freight. Now Yonson learned as much as he was going to in a week, thanked his stars he already knew how to shoot, and began flying patrols. The aerie sat atop a high hill, not quite a spire, to give the creatures an edge in launching themselves. A zerg could launch from flat ground, but it took more effort than most cared to expend. That one fact had saved them, as the disgruntled peasants couldn’t attack effectively up the near-vertical slopes. A pair of the alien fliers with armed riders could protect the aerie. The Zergtenant had sent to the king for help, but no one expected too much. The unrest seemed to be wide-spread, though no one at the aerie knew who or what had started it. The king had plenty of problems, bigger than a threat to a minor zerg aerie in a distant province.
So the aerie was safe, but the beasts had to eat. They had to eat a lot. And that meant flying to nearby meadows where they could graze, as the villagers would no longer send up hay and oats for them. Two riders remained in flight to guard while the rest of the herd grazed, their riders lying around in the sun and resting, though still watchful. Yonson landed Gorg with the rest, and stroked the large, furry head. Gorg leaned against him a moment, a slight, fleeting pressure that spoke of the unusual bond between them, for the beasts seldom acknowledged their riders when dismounted, though they obeyed willingly in flight.
The zergs had been grazing for some quarter hour when the first one raised its head, gave a mournful gurgle, and toppled over. Yonson, along with the other riders, stared in horror, then ran to his mount, as the realization came over him: the field had been poisoned, salted with one of the many local plants deadly to the aliens. Yelling for them all to stop eating, he prayed he was in time, though he believed in no gods. Gorg had been a little later arriving than the rest. Surely he had not eaten as much as dead beast had, and would be fine if he could be made to vomit up the poison.
He reached the animal’s side in time to see a half-dozen more zergs topple over, and knew in his heart he was too late. Still, he tugged at Gorg’s head, reaching an arm fearlessly into the great mouth and down the throat, hoping that zergs, like people, would vomit at that stimulus. Vomit Gorg did, but it was too late. One last time Gorg touched his head to Yonson’s shoulder, gave the same gurgle as the others, and sank to his knees. Before the beast could topple and crush him, the novice rider crawled from beneath his doomed mount and held as much of the head as he could while Gorg died. By the time the zerg breathed his last, Yonson was a novice no longer.
Slowly he stood and faced the valley. In their ignorance and superstition, the fools had killed the animals that only served to help them. Creatures that, for all their size, could not or would not kill.
Yonson was no zerg. Covered with the vomit of his dying mount, broken with grief, he stood unmoving and made a vow, and as he did so his face hardened and aged. Those who promoted fear and suspicion of that which was no threat would know the dread and horror of his vengeance. The death of Gorg had slain the happy-natured boy, and left only a cold, angry man who knew neither love nor mercy.