But we would still stop, at night I mean, without really knowing why. It’s not like we ever need sleep. Most of the time we would just sit there in silence, listening to the night’s noises, alert always for any sign of danger. When we spoke, which was rarely, it was usually in German, as he had taught me the language many years before, or in Urdu, which both of us had learnt a long time ago and were trying to remember.
It was during one of these nights that the Djall came. Ah, I see you’ve heard of them! Have you ever seen one? You did? Yes, I have been told they still keep some of them in the cities near the gates. To show the new arrivals. You didn’t find them very impressive, did you? Not on their own, they ain’t. Just a small insect, barely longer than my hand.
But, imagine a hundred of them. A thousand. Going after you mindlessly; attacking and attacking again until there is nothing left. The strength of the Djall was always in their numbers, and their speed. And their hunger.
When the swarm came, we had been sitting for a couple of hours. We’d kept our weapons ready because, you know, old habits die hard (or, as my old sergeant used to say: you get to die early) but we weren’t really expecting any trouble. There had been no sign of the Others for a few years by then. Still, we were ready and luckily we had a bit of advance warning: the trees sensed them coming before we did.
We managed to deploy the nets just in time and that took care of a few of them. After that, it was just the usual, long, protracted, and above all painful business of hacking, splitting and crushing them all one by one.
Listen to me, now, because it may came in handy one day: this is how you fight the Djall. They are fast, yes, and strong, and fully equipped with a variety of razor-sharp appendages, but they are still small, much smaller than you. And let’s not forget that, traditionally, their victims would be offered to them tied up and incapacitated. So, even if their exoskeleton is hard, it can be broken, their eyes can be gouged out, their limbs torn off. The trick, and hear me well here, is to ignore all the others while you are doing so. Grab one of them and maim it until it cannot move any more, with your bare hands if need be, but, if possible, use a knife or another kind of blade. Adolf had an axe that was good for that. Use a rock, even. Use another Djall! The trick is to make sure the thing is hors de combat before you let go of it and start on another one.
So, concentrate on the one you’re killing! You must ignore all the others. I know that by now they will be all over you, cutting and slicing and digging, but you must ignore them: slow attrition is the only way to win that fight. So, you forget the pain and go to work. Us, the old ones if you will, we know all about the pain anyway – it doesn’t scare us any more – and as for you… Well, you’ve been sent here to learn.