Lightning Runners: the story

The beginning

After the seas rose and the cities sank, we built a new society and continued the Dreaming. We brought our different traditions together and found a new power source: the Lightning Stone. We no longer burned the earth to run our cities — the Lightning Stone’s power was clean and plentiful.

All was well for The People until the monster Burra'gorang grew jealous, and stole our Lightning Stone for himself. The giant Burra’gorang was created in the old times by clever people who misused their knowledge. He waited for years, gathering an army of goannas, magpies and green snakes to do his dirty work. Now he had the Lightning Stone — what would the Burra’gorang do with this kind of power?

Our whole mob came together to discuss this business. Then the Elders called young Tuktuk and Kuti, the bravest sister and brother of The People, to see them.

“We have met and chosen you to take the Lightning Stone back from the giant Burra'gorang,” said Uncle Gawaian, gravely. “Tuktuk, you are our fastest runner and highest jumper, and Kuti, you are the strongest of us. The two of you can also solve great challenges together because you share a special Life Link, which binds your spirits together. But be careful: what happens to one will happen to the other.”

Tuktuk and Kuti looked at the red scarves they had worn since they were young; a symbol of the special link they shared. The scarves glowed in response, ready for the adventure ahead.

Season One: The Time of Gathering

In the Southern clouds

It was a long way to the Burra'gorang’s lair, so it was lucky that the giant eagle Mananga was migrating south for the season. He gave them a lift on his back.

“What season is it going to be again, Mananga?” asked Kuti, for the fifth time.

“The Time of Gathering,” Tuktuk cut in, rolling her eyes. Mananga just smiled and kept silent. He didn’t mind Kuti’s humbug, but the brave young fellas sitting on his back would have to learn to work together on this mission.

Kuti shivered, and he remembered Uncle Gawaian’s parting words: “Mananga will fly you to the Burra'gorang's lair, but it's up to you to get the Lightning Stone and take it home on foot.”

On foot!? How are we going to do that? He was afraid. The Burra’gorang’s army would make it hard for them to return.

Don’t worry brah, replied his sister silently in his head. We’ve got each other, and the Elders will guide us through our bracelets.

She pointed to their bone-coloured wristbands, which connected them to an Elder at a second’s notice.

Reassured, Kuti smiled back. But then he saw the Burra’gorang’s stone fortress on the horizon. He narrowed his eyes, and got ready.

 

“Good luck fellas,” Mananga said, setting them down close to the fortress. “I have to fly further south for mating season. Get the Lightning Stone back home. There will be dangers along the way, and some creatures may need your help. Your Elders will guide you.”

With that, he rose back into the air, flapping his great wings. “Be brave and go well!” he cried, as he disappeared into the clouds.

Tuktuk and Kuti’s wristbands beeped.

The face of Aunty Sooz, one of their Elders, appeared in front of them, projected from Kuti’s bracelet.

“Elder @ HQ here. You're entering the Time of Gathering,” said Aunty Sooz. “Make sure you look out for useful things that could help on your journey!”

They nodded, and gingerly crept towards the fortress together. The Lightning Stone, thought Kuti. That’d be bloody useful.

Inside the fortress

“Gah!”

Tuktuk swayed, balancing on a small platform that was floating in the middle of a huge cave. They had found the Lightning Stone’s hiding place, but the Stone itself was at the top of the chamber. They could only get to it by jumping on the platforms, like small stepping stones in a pond.

But stones in a pond don’t move, thought Tuktuk. The platforms all wobbled up and down or side to side, and below her seemed to be a bottomless pit of darkness. The Lightning Stone floated high above, glowing a bright turquoise blue.

Balance is all in my ear canal, she thought. If I get dizzy, I need to stay level. Use my feet, like I do in my Get the Rhythm classes at home. I can do this.

Tuktuk made her final leap, flinging her tall and willowy body to the next platform. She grabbed the Stone and yelled triumphantly. “Deadlyyyyyy!”

Suddenly, there was a deep growl from the dark below. The sound echoed around the cave. Tuktuk skipped down the floating platforms to little Kuti, who was waiting at the edge of the pit. She was back on stable ground! But it was too late.

The whole cave rumbled, and a huge rock crashed down to block the exit! There was no way out.

Slipping the Lightning Stone into her reed satchel, Tuktuk ran to the rock and pushed. Nothing.

Aunty Sooz appeared on her bracelet. “Kuti is stronger, Tuktuk. Maybe he can move the rock,” she suggested.

Tucking his fighting staff under one arm, Kuti put his shoulder to the boulder and pushed his short, solid body against it. Slowly, the stone rolled. There was another growl from behind them. Kuti pushed harder, sweat rolling down his face. They saw a crack of sunlight. A final push, and they were free!

The poisoned pond

Running from the Burra’gorang’s lair was hard work. Kuti was bulkier and slower, but they made good progress by skipping along the ancient power lines between telegraph poles from the Time Before. (Luckily, modern society didn’t use the power lines, otherwise this would have killed them.) This also helped them to avoid the Burra’gorang’s goanna guards.

Always running, Tuktuk and Kuti had become Lightning Runners.

Along the way, Kuti found some lollies in the ruins of a shop from the Time Before. He ate the lollies greedily, but not long after he felt very tired, and sick in the stomach.

“I wouldn’t do that again,” scolded Tuktuk. “Now my tummy hurts too, and I only eat natural food, like fruit and kangaroo meat!”

Aunty Sooz appeared on their bracelets. “That’s right. Always remember your Life Link. Kuti, your sister depends on your choices. Tuktuk, you can hunt for kangaroos with your boomerang, but only kill as many as you need to eat. We need to keep balance in the world, or there might be consequences.”

“Of course, Aunty Sooz,” Tuktuk promised. In the days that followed, Kuti collected many healthy roots to make up for the lollies.

 

They eventually came to a pond. A giant frog stood before them, dressed in an old cardigan. There was a bad smell in the air.

“Erm, excuse me fellas!” said the frog, awkwardly. “My name’s Gudgad. My family is sick and I don't know why.” He looked around at the sickly green pond, and his children, all weeping. “Can you help us, please?”

Kuti saw that beside the pond was an old pipe that had burst. Green sludge was oozing out of it, and he sniffed it. Gross! That was where the smell was coming from — the frogs were being poisoned by the chemicals leaking from the pipe!

He knew what he had to do. Kuti went to the ruins of a nearby old building and found a large, heavy bin. He pushed it all the way back to the pond, and blocked the hole in the pipe. Success! Meanwhile, Tuktuk dug some trenches to drain the pond of the poison, and refilled it with fresh water from the creek nearby.

“Thank you!” Gudgad said, patting Kuti on the shoulder like an old uncle. “With that pollution blocked we can be healthy inside and out.”

The two Lightning Runners said goodbye to Gudgad’s family, and continued on their long journey.

Season Two: The Time of Rains and Floods

Digging in the rain

After many adventures dodging the Burra’gorang’s goannas, Tuktuk and Kuti noticed that the season was finally changing. It was humid, and the clouds were always sending down rain.

Looking for shelter, Kuti found a tiny entrance to a cave in the side of a cliff face. Unable to flex her long legs in the entrance, Tuktuk stayed outside and pouted.

If Tuktuk was one of her ancestors, she might’ve carried actual fire in her reed basket, rather than her modern Lightning Stone, which was waterproof. She was honoured to be the keeper of the Lightning Stone, just like the fire keepers many thousands of years ago.

Inside the cave, something slithered and hissed before Kuti’s eyes could adjust to the dark.

A green shape suddenly pounced! It was one of Burra’gorang’s snakes! Dodging its deadly bite, Kuti jumped from ledge to ledge, up into a higher part of the cave. That was hectic, he thought, gasping for breath. Jumping wasn’t easy for him.

There in the dark, he noticed a blue light. He edged closer, and found a giant marsupial at the end of the cave, glowing bright blue like a kid’s night light.

“I am Wambach, the wombat spirit,” said the glowing creature. “I’ve been sent to help you. Call on me if you need help digging soft ground.”

Wambach’s blue body then faded into the air.

“Deadly!” replied Kuti. A guardian spirit animal! He thanked his ancestors, and started climbing down. The evil snake was waiting for him, and lunged at him again. Kuti dodged it, but cut his arm on a sharp rock. “Argh!” he cried. There was a lot of blood.

He looked around desperately. If he had to fight the snake again, he’d bleed more. But out of the corner of his eye he saw a bright red cross — it was an ancient first aid kit, buried in the ground. It must’ve been there for many years. He tried pulling it out, but he couldn’t get a grip on it. He was strong, but didn’t have the right… claws. He remembered.

“Wambach, please help me!” Kuti called into the air. “Only a wombat spirit can dig this medkit out!”

There was a swirling sound, and suddenly Kuti was inside Wambach. He could see his own arms and legs inside the wombat’s big paws, as if he was wearing a wombat-shaped suit. They worked together as one, Wambach’s sturdy claws digging the ground around the medkit in no time at all!

 

Tuktuk was waiting as Kuti popped out of the cave, wearing a bandage on his arm.

“What happened, brah?” she gasped. “I felt your pain — it was nasty!”

“Uh, not much, sis,” he mumbled. “Just a scrape.”

“And where did you get that bandage?”

“Oh, here, I found a first aid kit inside. All good.”

She gave him a sidelong glance. “Hmmm. All right. Deadly.” She could tell there was more to this story.

They moved on, but the old creek bed was blocked by a natural dam made of silt. They could see some of Burra’gorang’s goannas patrolling each side of the ravine, wearing their black helmets. The only way was forward, but it was blocked by the dam.

How are we gonna get through? wondered Tuktuk.

Hearing her thoughts, Kuti smiled, and crawled up to the dam. “Wambach, I need your help!” he whispered. Wambach appeared around him, and together they dug a hole through the dam in a few seconds.

Come on, sis! he thought, and they crawled through.

When they reached the other side of the dam, Wambach was gone, and Tuktuk’s mouth was still hanging open.

“Who the frack was that? A guardian spirit animal?” she asked excitedly, and then frowned. “And why don’t I get one?”

The bleeding snake

Before they could talk more about Wambach they heard a noise ahead: a husky moaning sound, and then a hiss. They edged further up the ravine and found a huge snake curled up at the bottom of a telegraph pole.

Fresh from his fight with the snake in the cave, Kuti yelled and lifted his staff, but Tuktuk held him back.

“Kuti!” she hissed. “It’s not one of the Burra’gorang’s snakes — this is a red-bellied black snake. If you don’t pick a fight, it won’t either.”

Kuti lowered his staff and saw that the snake was hurt. There was a big gash down its side, and blood was pooling on the ground.

“My name’s Mun’dah,” she sighed, flicking her tail in distress. “Bah’naga the goanna beat me up, and I’m bleeding. Can you help me?”

“What can we do?” asked Kuti. “I think I used the last bandage in this old first aid kit. But here, Mun’dah, I’ve got painkillers.”

He rummaged around. Kuti knew that while ibuprofen was an effective painkiller, it thinned the blood, which would make Mun’dah’s bleeding worse. Instead, he gave Mun’dah some paracetamol from the medkit.

“Kuti, you can use bark from a paperbark tree to treat wounds,” suggested Aunty Sooz. “Can you find any?”

“Let’s split up and look for some,” suggested Tuktuk. “I’ll take the high way with the telegraph poles, and you keep following the creek bed, Kuti. Don’t worry Mun’dah, we’ll be back. Press on your wound with your tail — you won’t lose as much blood!”

They set off.

Consequences

Tuktuk danced across the ancient power lines, keeping an eye out for paperbark. The rain was beginning to ease.

Suddenly, a flock of Burra’gorang’s mapgies appeared above her and started to swoop down. Ouch! One bird nicked her on the temple, and she had to jump back down to the ground where it was safer.

Tuktuk was out of breath and exhausted. And very, very hungry. She saw some kangaroos in the distance, smiled, and got out her boomerang.

Not long after, Tuktuk ate one kangaroo greedily, while still more kangaroo carcasses roasted on spits above the fire. In fact, she’d killed far more kangaroos than she could eat, or even carry. There are plenty more where they came from, she said to herself, shrugging.

There was a growl from the bushes. She spun around, and saw a pair of red eyes.

A huge, hairy figure leapt out at her, grunting, its arms outstretched. It was almost human. Almost.

“Aiiiieeeee!” she screamed, and ran for the hills. It was the Dooligah, a monster from their childhood stories. She’d thought it was a legend, but it was alive, and it had come to punish her.

Aunty Sooz appeared on her bracelet. “Quick, Tuktuk, reach higher ground!” she said. “You’ve killed too many kangaroos and upset the balance of the land, and now the Dooligah is angry.”

Terrified, she made her way up the hill. Luckily, the Dooligah was a slow climber.

“You won’t do that again, will you?” said Aunty Sooz, wearing a stern expression. “We need you to stay alive for the good of our mob!”

“N-never again,” Tuktuk gasped, chastened. But she was too tired to climb further, and the Dooligah was gaining.

There was a rumble in the side of the hill, and a hole appeared in the ground. Wambach’s head popped out, with Kuti’s smiling face inside.

“Hey sis, this way!” Kuti said.

Sunlight and darkness

Inside the cave, Tuktuk didn’t have much time to feel sorry for herself.

“Argh!!” cried a voice in the darkness.

Kuti squinted and saw a giant ant waving several pairs of arms around. Behind her was a large ants’ nest, and a great many ants were scurrying around in circles, confused.

“Our home got really dark, and we can’t think because we’re too scared,” she said. “Please help us!” She pointed up to the top of the cave, where a hole in the ceiling had been filled with dirt.

Aunty Sooz called. “Kuti, ants need a balance of sun and darkness. Can you find a way to let the sunlight in?”

They climbed up the cave and found that their passage led in two directions. One side was blocked, so Kuti and Wambach dug through to the other side.

“I’ll find out what’s at this end,” said Tuktuk, popping through the hole. “You and your blue friend can check out the other side.”

At the other end of the passage, Kuti and Wambach found an opening to the other side of the hill.

“There’s been a landslide, Kuti,” said Wambach, pointing at the mud and rocks that lay halfway down the hill, blocking the hole that had been the ants’ skylight.

“It’ll take them forever to dig through that,” Kuti replied, “but it’s a perfect job for us!”

After digging through, Kuti jumped through the hole they’d made, back down to Wugatjin the worried ant.

“Thank you!” Wugatjin gushed. “With a balance of light and dark, our minds can work as one to collect food. Your help will be remembered!”

“No problem, Wugatjin. I’ve got to get home to restore power to my settlement on the shore. Come visit sometime!”

Kuti said goodbye and followed the cave further to a set of stone steps. He was almost too tired to climb up them. When he did though, he found a huge, beautiful tree at the top of the steps. It sparkled, and he felt his strength return. He closed his eyes and sighed.

“Hey brother,” said a voice behind him. It was Tuktuk. “This is the Boonah — the tree of peaceful healing. I’ve heard of them, but never seen one.”

“Where’ve you been?” he asked.

“You know when you dug that hole at the top of the cave? I found the paperbark we were looking for outside! I just went back and gave it to Mun’dah the snake. I’m so glad you didn’t hit her — she said that my help would be remembered!”

“Funny, that’s what the ant said to me, too.”

Tuktuk smiled, and then finally asked her question. “Now, about that wombat…”

Season Three: The Time of Heat and Dryness

Tuktuk gets her wings

Many adventures later, after dodging angry bees and eating sweet honey, the wet season was over, and they were entering the outskirts of the old ruined city that surrounded their home.

“You’re almost home!” said Aunty Sooz over their bracelets. “Well done. We’re doing okay here at HQ, but our backup power systems aren’t doing too well — it’s the Time of Heat and Dryness, so be back soon. And remember to keep hydrated!”

There was water everywhere, because the seas had risen to flood the city so many years ago, but not a drop to drink — it was all saltwater. The air was parched, and fresh water was almost nowhere to be found.

Tuktuk climbed to the top of each ruin. She wanted to see if there was any rainwater still pooled on the roofs of the buildings, but there was very little left.

Close to the top of one building, she swung her long legs over the parapet, pulled herself onto the roof, and was confronted by a blue bee that was taller than a person. Having been stung by several swarms of bees over the last few weeks, Tuktuk almost fell off the building.

“I am Naga, the native bee spirit,” said the floating creature, fluttering her wings. “Don’t worry, we native bees don’t sting. I’ve been sent to help you, Tuktuk. Call me if you need help flying high.”

“Finally, a guardian animal spirit for me!” Tuktuk trumpeted. “I need your help right now, Naga — I need to find some water, and all this climbing is tiring us out. Can you help me search for some?”

There was a swirling sound, and Naga appeared around Tuktuk’s body. Tuktuk’s arms and legs were a little long though, so they still stuck out of Naga’s body, dangling in the air as the two of them floated as one.

After Tuktuk showed Kuti her newfound flying ability, she set off to search for water. From her higher position, she saw an old reservoir, which used to supply water for a whole region. There she refilled all their water bottles, and they had enough water for days to come.

The burned echidna

The saltwater was getting deeper. They walked on top of the carriages of a half-sunken train, and came to a strange sight: on top of a building there was a huge echidna, dressed in a fluoro work vest with a massive drill bit fixed to one arm. This echidna was a miner!

Tuktuk sniffed the air. It smelled a bit like a barbecue.

“Uh, my name’s Burrugin,” said the echidna. “I fell asleep next to the fire and burnt myself.” He showed them his left side, which was burned black. It looked awful.

“Ouch,” said Tuktuk. But who was silly enough to…

“Yeah, I know,” said Burrugin, who knew what she was thinking. “But can you help me?”

Aunty Sooz beeped on Tuktuk’s bracelet. “Tuktuk, waratah leaves can be used to heal burns. Can you find any?”

Tuktuk knew what to do.

“Naga, I need your help,” she called.

Naga the bee spirit swirled around her, and they went flying in search of the waratah leaves. After looking high and low, Tuktuk saw a waratah tree growing out of the tallest building nearby. It had been so close all this time!

“Thank you, that feels much better!” said Burrugin, after wrapping his burns with the leaves. “Your help will be remembered.”

Home

Tuktuk and Kuti could finally glimpse their home settlement. What were once skyscrapers in the Time Before were now a collection of small islands — the just tips of the tallest old buildings jutted out of the water. On each of these, The People had planted new gardens and woven beautiful new buildings from bamboo. Bridges and rope ladders linked each island to the next.

The two Lightning Runners gazed at their home with pride. But where were all their mob?

Tuktuk touched her wrist to contact HQ. “Hello? Aunty Sooz? Uncle Gawaian?” Nothing. What had happened?

The answer came in the form of a huge claw holding a steel cage, which scooped up Kuti in an instant. No! Before Tuktuk looked up, she knew what it was.

The Burra’gorang.

It towered over the settlement, a nightmare combination of a kangaroo and a dinosaur. It roared, and all the buildings shook. It was the same roar she heard in the fortress when she’d taken the Lightning Stone. And now he had it back.

 

“Help, sis!” came Kuti’s tiny voice from the cage. It was hanging from a tall construction crane, out of the way. He’d already tried calling on Wambach, but they couldn’t dig through steel.

“RRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!”

Tuktuk, who still had the Lightning Stone, was drawing the Burra’gorang away from the settlement, jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper above the water, just as she did at the Burra’gorang’s lair. Balance. Get the rhythm. She knew what it wanted. I want to save my brother, but I can’t give this monster the Lightning Stone in exchange for his life, she thought.

Neither could she use it as a weapon. Without putting it in its rightful place in the Change Condenser in the centre of town, nobody could draw on the Lightning Stone’s power.

The Burra’gorang leapt over many buildings towards her, but she dodged to the next building. When the creature landed, every building shook.

She threw her boomerang at him, but his reflexes were lightning quick, and blocked her attacks with his armoured claws each time. She even had the latest homing boomerang, which always returned to her bracelet, so she had plenty of chances to attack. But to no avail.

She called on Naga and flew to Kuti’s cage, but couldn’t open it. The Burra’gorang made a terrible noise in his throat, and began spitting huge balls of green mucus at her. One caught her on the leg as they were flying, and it burned to the bone.

Even his spit is poison, she thought, gasping. I can’t do this on my own.

Just then, she heard a familiar voice.

“Thanks for helping me earlier, Kuti!” It was Wugatjin the ant, whom they’d helped back in the cave. “I’m gonna return the favour!” He had crawled up the tallest building next to the Burra’gorang, and then jumped straight into the monster’s left ear! Kuti cheered from his cage.

The Burra’gorang howled in pain, swatting its claws around its head. This was Tuktuk’s chance: she unleashed a volley of boomerang attacks at his belly, and this time the monster’s claws were occupied. He fell back.

Then Tuktuk heard a familiar hissing, and Mun’dah the red-bellied black snake slithered up, encircling the nearest building.

“Thanks for healing me, Tuktuk. Now I'm here to help!”

The snake wrapped herself around the Burra’gorang’s neck, and he tried in vain to tear her off as she choked him.

Tuktuk’s boomerangs kept dealing him massive blows to his unprotected belly.

She then felt a rumbling beneath her. A drill bit popped out of the roof next to her, and a familiar snout.

“My burns are better now!” yelped Burrugin the echidna. “I thought I’d put my burrowing skills to good use.” Not so silly now, thought Tuktuk.

The Burra’gorang had finally flug Mun’dah off his neck, and had Tuktuk and Burrugin in his sights. They jumped to the next building together as the Burra’gorang landed where they’d been standing.

The building shook, and collapsed. Burrugin’s drilling had weakened it, and now the Burra’gorang was twisted in its wreckage, sinking into the water. It reached up to the nearest steel girder, but Tuktuk’s boomerang struck its arm.

The monster sank into the water, never to return.

Epilogue

With the help of friends made along the way, the evil Burra'gorang was defeated, and Tuktuk and Kuti were welcomed home to much celebration by their mob, who'd been trapped underground by the Burra'gorang.

With the Lightning Stone returned, all the lights of the city came on again. The People continued to live happily and in harmony with each other and the land around them for many, many years.