Kah’ria’s breath came in gasps. She had never traveled this high into the Bruu-Ga-Belimar Mountains, home of Northolme, before; and it was suffocating her. She couldn’t catch her breath as she ran along the ancient, dilapidated hiking trail. “Here’s as good a place as any, I guess.” She wheezed as she took a seat on a fallen, snow-sodden tree. Her wolf-hide coveralls were tanned with rendered fat to prevent the melting snow from soaking through. She pulled off her leather bag, and took out dried meat and her water-skin. It wasn’t a feast, but it would give her the energy she needed to make it to where she was going.
She lowered her fur-covered hood, to reveal her fiery mane, and for anyone close enough, her vibrant golden eyes. These eyes weren’t normal, light brown eyes, but truly golden. Light reflected in the iris, almost like a wolf’s in the night, shining with life and vitality. They were slightly larger than a normal, too, with slits like a cat. Truly, any who look upon the Danzi look upon a feral adaptation of Humans to Faerie. Her slightly pointed ears were focused on every snap of a twig, bird’s call, or particularly loud wind. The thick piece of jerky would prove difficult to humans, but her mouth full of sharp teeth tore through it with no problem. It was spiced by one of the cooks in the Shabet-za’s Council – the cultural leadership of her Shabet, her migratory village – and it was laced with mashed Trulac, a natural pain reducer and muscle relaxant. Though she seemed relaxed to the untrained eye, her muscles were coiled under her soft feminine skin, like steel springs under velvet, so the Trulac was a welcome seasoning on a long journey.
She looked around her, taking in the winter-dead forest. Nothing seemed to move, but she could hear the life milling around her. The path she was on was long-since abandoned, but the wildlife still remembered how to stay out of sight of strangers travelling along it. She checked the way behind her, to make sure there weren’t any unwanted stalkers, and the way ahead for any possible problems. “You nervous pup,” She chided herself in her native tongue under her breath. “Even on a hike, you are paranoid someone’s going to jump out of the nearest bush.”
She finished her meager lunch, and with a swig from her water-skin, put the sack over her shoulder again. She stretched her legs and torso, so that she could get ready to run again. She wasn’t the fastest Danzi, but she was definitely faster than even the fastest human; and she loved to run. All of her bags were fastened to her so as to avoid excess bouncing, and the hiking path was clear, so her journey up the mountainside was relatively unhindered.
She went over the next ridge, curved to the left, and almost tripped over her feet – right off a cliff.
The curve in the path hugged the edge of a cliff, and the entire disputed lands forest was laid out before her at the foot of it as far as the eye could see in breathtaking beauty – she was just under the cloud line, so she saw it without the misty mask she would have at higher points along the trail. Far to the north, the forest gave way to the plains of the Wolfen Empire, and to the south she could see the fields of the Eastern Kingdoms. In between was a carpet of trees, with breaks here or there for a meadow. She saw the spires of a human settlement in the distance, Sweet creek she thought she had heard it called. On the edge of the horizon, she thought she could see the glimmering ocean, a mere speck of light in the distance. It always amazed her how much more you could see the higher you were.
She set off again, onward and upward.
At the foot of the mountain, setting off on an ancient, nearly forgotten hiking path that wound its way around the Northolme Mountain Range, and passed by a particularly damning group of Danzi Ruins, Fifka stood like a statue, peering at a cliff top. He could have sworn he caught a glimpse of fire and gold up there not two seconds ago. His prey was further along than he thought; he would have to pick up his pace. He let loose a long whistle as he started off at a sprint up the trail.
Frigid wind tore at Kah’ria’s exposed face; she had left the shelter of trees some time before, having passed the timberline. The golden sun bathed her path in fire, and elongated shadows gave away the normally inconspicuous tufts of grass along the passage. A hawk soared overhead, calling out and searching for a nice mountain rodent for dinner. In the distance, she could make out the shadowy shapes of the ruins nestled behind a ridge; relief bloomed in her chest, and worry in her stomach.
She slowed to a trot so that she could gather her thoughts and prepare herself, something she found easier while not at full speed. Just a few weeks ago, she had no worry in the world, and no reason to search the ruins out. Her worry tried in vain to rein in her thoughts, but the memories broke free and ran rampant through her head…
…One month ago, she was standing on a dirt mound in the center of the Shabet’s encampment, regaling the gathered throng with another of her ‘painted histories.’ The occasion was the birth of Reino, a very loud Danzi baby boy, born to Ik’ren, who thought she was barren. Kah’ria is the sister of the Shazni-Kratos, Juni, and has a small amount of talent with the Shazni arts herself. As such, he passed her the Histories which she picked up almost immediately. With her training from the Shabet-tza to be the next leader, and her affinity for music and dance, she became the source of entertainment for every celebration in the Shabet.
Kah’ria was retelling the history of Kriknic, the Danzi warrior that fell in love with the moon, and that lives among the stars with her. Those of her tribe, and those Danzi that visited during a festival, acclaimed her as the best story teller, juggler, and musician they had ever seen or heard. This only served to make Kah’ria’s cheeks flush, and redouble the volume of the song she was playing, or to start another story, to change the subject. The story of Kriknic was always met with tears when she told it, though she did not know why. She always thought it a happy story, in the end. She finished the story with a poem written by an elf about Kriknic’s love. Exhausted, Kah’ria stepped down from the mound.
“You’ve done it again, sister.” Juni chided, his eyes on the crowd, as they peeled themselves away from the party. “You have half the Clan Trajek crying for you to participate in the Telling in the next clan moot.”
“Oh, I would never be able to do remember my own name, much less the histories with all of the great Shazni-Kratos watching and listening!” Kah’ria blurted earnestly.
“The Great Shazni-Kratos, eh? So what am I, a suckling babe?”
“You know it’s different with you, Juni. You know me, and I know you, it’s just that…”
“I was just teasing, you. You’re so easy. But I didn’t bring you aside to make fun of you. There’s something more serious I need to tell you.” …
…Two weeks ago, Kah’ria sat at the table with seven of the Shazni-council members, sweat trickling down her forehead. “Did you hear me, sweetheart?” the most aged member, Darkaan, rumbled soothingly through his translucent teeth.
“Y-yes, Elder,” Thoughts racing, she couldn’t put more than three words together. Why me? What about me is all that important? What could I do that anyone else couldn’t? She could feel the apprehension in the Shaman seated around the roughly worked oak. “But why me?”
“Hah ha.” Darkaan coughed. “If I knew that, I’d be young and virile again. The Ancestors want what the Ancestors want. But their intentions are still, as always, as clear as a nursery rhyme translated from Gobbley.” Random chuckles of agreement peppered among the other six aged shaman.
“I seem to have no choice. I live to honor the righteous dead.” Kah’ria added the honorific response in a rush. “Where have I been called? This Beira Doceu?”
‘High in the peaks of the Bruu-Ga-Belimar Mountain Range, it is there that you must go to receive your calling. A map will be provided.’ Apprehension and confused concern flashed across Darkaan’s face, as he glanced at something unseen to his side. He continued. ‘You will pass through the Shabet once home to the infamous exiled Drauka, to gather supplies, and from there make your way, alone, to the ruins. Be wary there, among the Lost Ones; the evil that has struck at the hearts of the Danzi has root among those. Be well, Honor to the Righteous Dead.’ …
…Kah’ria laughed as she thought back to that last, it had her jumping at shadows. She was even suspecting the Shabet-za of evil, imagining dark scowls and plotting. His warm smile, and bravado… She blushed at the line of thought.
She was now behind the ridge hiding the ruins. The hawk circling above still circled, searching the winter-sparse fields intently. It cried. She set off at a sprint again, no use in delaying any longer. She saw that the ruins were very similar to the structures that have been known to be used by clans for their moots. She passed fire pits, ovens, stone tables, platforms, lodging… all seemingly forgotten, as if the clan that used them simply didn’t return one year.
A wall of stink filled her nostrils as she passed one of the lodges; her head swam and she almost passed out from the shock. She turned to look at what beast had died there, but couldn’t see anything from the outside. She started toward the gaping doorway, so that she could remove the corpse and return the site to its pristine serenity, but a voice coming from the center of the ruins stopped her; “Ah, Kah’ria. We’ve been expecting your arrival for quite some time. Come here, Child.”
Picture from H.A. Collins.