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Short Story • 4 Minute Read

Caravan North

By Rayla Heide

Ojan's knife whittled the edge of the ironwood into a soft curve. As an eight-year-old, he wasn't the most practiced craftsman; his wood block was just starting to resemble something round and spiky.


Ojan's knife whittled the edge of the ironwood into a soft curve. As an eight-year-old, he wasn't the most practiced craftsman; his wood block was just starting to resemble something round and spiky spiky.

His sister, Zyama, leaned down from her bunk and grimaced.

"What's that? Rhoksha dung?" she said. "No one will want to buy that."

"It's not dung, it's a great and fearsome god, with his armor and everything! And it won't be for sale. It's for luck."

"We're traders, little brother", she said. "Everything here is for sale."

The caravan clinked and clanged as it rolled over the dunes. Every space from floor to ceiling was packed tightly with jars of spices, leaving just enough room for the family's narrow bunks.

"Something's chasing us from the south!" Ojan's mother shouted from outside. Ojan heard her whip crack, urging the camels to hurry their pace.

Zyama leaned out the window, staring through her most prized possession, an ornate spyglass.

"They're Kmiros! I'll ready the arrows", she said. "They must be after your Rhoksha dung."

Ojan replaced her at the window. Sure enough, hundreds of beetles the size of dogs swarmed over the dune behind them.

Zyama returned with a bow and quiver of colorful arrows. She fired, taking one beetle out, but the mass of insects charged on without pause.

"How many arrows do we have?" Ojan asked.

"About forty", Zyama said, looking into the quiver. She frowned.

Their mother's voice carried from the front. "We'll have to outrun them. Hold on!"

Whips cracked once more and the caravan jolted forward, knocking Ojan to the floor.

Zyama loosed another arrow into the swarm, spearing two at once. The creatures fell, but plenty more took their place.

"Oil! In the left cabinet!" their mother shouted.

Ojan ducked away and returned with a flask of lamp oil and a wad of rags. He doused a piece of cloth before wrapping it around the tip of an arrow. He lit the bundle on fire and carefully handed it to Zyama, who blasted the flaming shot into a cluster of beetles. They burst into flames, screeching as they burned. Ojan grinned.

Together they bombarded the horde with flaming arrows, firing as fast as Ojan could wrap each arrowhead. The air smoked with burning chitin. The caravan accelerated, and the gap increased. They were nearly safe.

Ojan's stomach dropped. The Kmiros spread glittering wings and rose to the skies as a unified black cloud.

Ojan flinched as a heavy thud shook the cabin from above. More followed, and the wooden slats groaned under the weight of the oversized insects.

"Hold on!" his mother shouted from the front as she veered them sharply left. Beetles tumbled from the roof, but Ojan heard a discordant scratching from above and knew more had landed.

Pincers broke through the layered beams in the ceiling and an enormous beetle tumbled into the caravan. Zyama drew her dagger and stabbed it, but her blade was unable to pierce its tough carapace. She pushed Ojan back and waved her blade before her, desperately trying to hold it at bay.

More Kmiros dropped through the smashed roof, all snapping jaws and clicking pincers. Ojan dove beneath his bunk, desperately kicking the insects as they clawed for him. He prised the round wooden figure from his pocket.

"Please, Rammus Rammus, I pray to you", he whispered. "Help us!"

The caravan jolted as beetles landed on the roof. It pitched back and forth like a ship on a rough sea. Then the world tilted sideways as the caravan overturned completely, skidding in the sand.

Ojan shielded his face from tumbling objects as dust clouded his vision. He was flung against the wall, his ears ringing and head throbbing as the caravan swerved. After a moment of stillness, he felt a hand tug his arm as his mother dragged him from the rubble. He squinted in the blinding sunlight.

The family huddled in the wreckage of their caravan, coughing in the dusty air as the Kmiros circled. A beetle charged forward and Ojan's mother stabbed it between its clicking jaws. She skewered another as it scrambled to bite her daughter, spilling rank yellow innards across the sand. A third beetle leapt from the top of the caravan and landed behind them. Zyama screamed as it seized her foot in its pincers.

The beetles froze abruptly, halting their attack. They hunkered low to the ground, antennas flexing. In the silence, Ojan heard a distant whirring. He watched the western horizon as a sand cloud rushed toward them in a fury of dust. The family brandished their weapons in readiness to fight this new threat.

A round armored shape exploded from the flurry of sand and smashed into the nearest beetle with terrible force, crushing it to pulp.

The shape barreled barreled on, smashing beasts left and right. Though the insects snapped at the shape with their sharp pincers, it was unstoppable, and in a moment, no living Kmiros remained.

The dust began to settle once more, and Ojan glimpsed spiked armor jutting from the round shape ahead.

"Is that... ?" Zyama said.

"Rammus!" Ojan shouted. He scrambled down the hill to meet his hero.

The creature's shell was intricately patterned with spiral scales, and his claws were sharp as knives. He gnawed slowly on the hairy leg of a beetle, juice dripping from his mouth.

Ojan and Zyama gaped.

Their mother approached the Armordillo, bowing her head deeply.

"You saved us", she said. "We are grateful."

Rammus crunched the beetle leg as the family watched. Several minutes passed.

He rolled to the fallen caravan and rummaged through the debris, emerging with Ojan's wooden carving of the Armordillo. The likeness wasn't perfect, but certainly discernible.

“That's you", Ojan said. "Please, take it."

Rammus knelt down and bit the wooden figurine in two with a crunch. He turned and walked a few paces before spitting the pieces into the sand. Zyama stifled a laugh.

"Hmm", said Rammus.

He tore a leg from another dead beetle and dragged it through the sand as he rolled away.

The family watched him disappear over the horizon.

Ojan ran after Rammus to retrieve the broken pieces of the statue. He pocketed them and bowed.

"For luck", he said.