Bogleech.com's 2017 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Nausicaa Harris
This is one of the more recent additions to the lyric tradition of the !onek culture, dating back to the early 2200's (Gregorian); this particular version was translated in the 2270's by an !onek raised in the human nomadic spacer culture. Her translation preserves the meter, although not the rhyme.
Her name was There-they-passed-the-sea-where-ice-and-fire-flowed;
She dwelt upon the !onek cliffs with steady hunter's blade,
And so she ranged into the heights where too-dark placed its egg
To see, that fateful too-dark, how dead hosts made their return.
She'd tracked a stubborn kokh'ror beyond her torpor-time,
For hunger killed her sleep and led her deep into the woods;
She found the clearing stained with blue, the kokh'ror collapsed,
But butchery was stymied by a blinding wash of red.
Ocelli saw, while compound eyes recovered from the glare,
A curving shape descending through the far-off canopy.
When Tuya tried to seize the kokh'ror, she hissed in pain,
For sickly flames licked at her claws as it approached the ground.
She hid among the trees and clutched her steady hunter's blade;
Her sight returned, she saw the thing, with smooth ceramic's shine -
But never was a potter hatched could shape a pot so grand -
No potter of her current world, she reeling understood.
Her first impression was of ships that sailed the bay below,
Constructed for the upper air by crafts unknown to her;
She hunkered low and focused on the web of living minds
And chittered when she felt the ship alive with sparking life:
The hardened shell and gentle curves and pulsing mind within
Suggested not the shipwrights'labors but those of the queen.
No vessel wrought for upper air did Tuya wondering see:
Instead an egg laid by the too-dark sky and soon to hatch.
And hatch it did, before her eyes and twitching, sparking horns -
The cracks were neat and angled right, the shell was sucked within,
And swift replaced by faces that the hunter could not bear,
For Tuya saw and felt the shrouds of those she'd left behind.
Their hooves were split, their collars bore no manes that she could see,
But soft-skinned, milk-fed animals with forward-facing eyes
And upright tread and vivid thoughts still turned her eyes to green,
Remembering the molts she'd spent pretending at their game.
She quivered in her hiding-place, for no Song had been sung
Of hosts in eggs like mighty ships descending through the trees,
And though her basket squirming warned of danger in the scene,
The chance to learn outweighed the caution that her hosts had taught.
The truth seemed wingflesh clear to her - hosts hatching from an egg
Could only be the molted-world, rewarding their good deeds
Of raising rynyi children uncomplaining through the years,
And granting them an honor living rynyi now possessed.
A choice she had to make, and soon, lest Time withdraw her claw,
As murmurs urgent sounded from the hosts'short blunt-toothed snouts.
And undeciding Tuya, as one strayed outside the Lines,
Hid frigid fearing to disturb the doings of the dead,
Yet fearing also to let by the chance to see her herd
And hold and thank them for ensuring her imagohood.
She nibbled at her claws and watched them, mumbling, find her prey
And realized that her crying blade betrayed her sacrilege.
Her choice then made, not by her mind, but by her own mistake,
She'd face the blame for sacrilege if such would be her end;
And if the dead were kind, she'd get to see her hosts of old again:
She stuck her blade within the ground and rushed to greet the dead.
She stood to greet the dead and thank them, still not knowing why
She had been chosen to behold their trip to Ll'rynyi;
But gratitude swelled faster than the flow of haemolymph
As she embraced the dead, not heeding their surprise.
The dead embraced bold Tuya back with hesitation clear,
But even hornless, they perceived her joy and touched her head
And let her dress the carcass as she reeled with disbelief
That she had got to see and hold once more her nymphhood kin.
They let her to her business, just as shocked, she thought, as she;
They vanished in the wood with silent step - one looked at her
Before it left with awe; it let her know, with eyes ringed white,
She'd found her way into some Song sung by both quick and dead.
Notes on the translation by line:
1. "There-they-passed-the-sea[...] This is a common !onek naming pattern, not a fantastical innovation.
3. "too-dark" Rynyi are crepuscular.
4. "hosts" Rynyi are brood parasites; !onek language has a word for the species they foster their nymphs with, but it is considered impolite. "Hosts" is used euphemistically.
5. "kokh'ror" A kokh'ror is a common herd animal native to the Great Continent of Ll'rynyi.
11. "Tuya" A tuya is a type of subglacial volcano, and was the easiest way to translate the short form of the protagonist's name.
19. "web of living minds" Rynyi's hornlike antennae give them an electrical sense similar to a shark's; as rynyi went down the biological rather than mechanical technological path, their language surrounding electricity stemmed from nervous activity.
22. "queen" Rynyi are eusocial.
33. "Song" The !onek lyric tradition places emphasis on certain legends and histories; the word used to refer to these is an emphatic form of the regular word for "song", hence the capitalization in English.
35. "squirming basket" Rynyi have a close-set tangle of separate ganglia rather than a single brain; many ryny cultures find the shape comparable to that of a woven basket.
43. "Lines" Ll'rynyi has a narrow habitable zone.