>This story is set in the Guild Wars 2 universe and draws heavily from the game (location names and inspiration for some of the events), lore (races and culture), and novels (Destiny’s Edge, Sea of Sorrows, Ghosts of Ascalon). Characters and events, however, are my own creation. I guess that makes this some kind of fanfic. I officially do that now, then.
The wind howled in from the far off peaks in the distance bringing a soft snow into the dim evening light. From their direction came the near silent buffeting of powdery white wings soaring low over the ground below the treeline. Through the white flakes emerged; blackened talons closed around the glove with the scrunch of soft leather, the bird was pulled closer, close enough that white breath gasped over the white form. A bare hand raised to the coal black beak of it and plucked from it a scrap of tan fabric. Fluidly the scrap fanned--moved to activate the olfactories. The cologne of man pierced through the cold, the smell of...human.
Tucking the shred under a fold of armor the figure shifted, transformed; two legs turned into four, nose into snout, a tail sprouted at the rear. The bird again took flight having lost its perch and wafted out into the distance once more. A sniff to the air and four legs padded off into the slow falling snow.
The creek of frozen flakes stacked countlessly ontop of eachother giving way to pawed feet echoed through the empty wood. Each step drew closer until it was found. Huddled under brambles near a crevice in a rock formation, gently covered in the deepening snow. A glance upwards and there sat the white one, tilting and turning its head, watching with it's amber eyes, sitting atop the pitiful attempt at shelter. Reverting its transformation soft footsteps approached the pitiful body.
A gentle hand reached for it, a soft whistle calling toward the cold form. No response; a pulse, but weak. Shifting both arms the figure cautiously wrestled the body to its shoulder carrying it the long trek to warmth and safety.
It seemed like miles in the now dense snow. There was no telling how far they'd gone through the thick veil, no reference but the trees a few feet ahead and behind to guide their path. Even so, as sure as the mountains lie the savior tread its path toward a dim light in the now
blackening sky. The warm glow already warming body and soul at the mere sight of it. Closer, the light opened to a small skin hut, huddled at the side of a cliff. A norn camp, just sized for one or two, a warm place meant for those lost in the wood and known only to those who have lived in the region, chiefly the norn--a large folk who claim a common heritage with the Jotun and other giants of the far north and easily stood twice as tall as any human. The fire outside the hut acted as a guide for those who may be lost, like a beacon.
A firm grip clasped around a piece of free tinder from the brazier, pulling it from its home and rising to light the way into the tent. Ducking, the savior passed into the hut, inside was furnished with naught but a fireplace, its orange glow dying, a simply carved wood bed covered in bear skins, plush and warm, and a table. A small cupboard was meant to house much of the simple utilities but they were spread about the place indicating that the hut was a habitation more than a refuge now and for some time.
Gently, the cold body slumped from the shoulder and came to rest upon the bed, then covered in the warm blankets to buy some time. The sparking tinder flew into the fireplace as well as a few dried logs, each one blazing and crackling as they disturbed the dying coals. Lifting the iron kettle, it was hoisted outside to be filled with snow and placed on the inner fire. As the snow melted the savior busied to remove the soaked and filthy rags upon the cold one. Carelessly the tattered cloth met the hard packed soil underfoot.
Steeled eyes wandered over the naked male form, trained hands seeking for wounds or breaks to be treated but the only thing found greater than bumps and bruises was a brand. Hesitation stopped for a moment, a moment later and the savior moved to check the pot. It had warmed enough and portions were ladled into leather drinking pouches and rested under the blanket at his sides for warmth. What remained was used to flush his wound so healing herbs could be placed and bandaged over.
The mind these working hands were connected to both did and did not think. This brand said far too much and far too little. They checked his temperature, still low, he would not make it unless... Thoughts aside, leather and fur fell from the savior's figure. A breast at first, then two. Every curve escaped into the warm hut before dodging under the skins where she would share the night with this stranger.
Breast, arm, stomach, legs all pressed against his rough physique on one side, soft and gentle his face nestled betwixt her bosom warmed bottles on the other. The grace of wolf had saved him. But why. The wisdom of raven was not with her as she gazed down at her mysterious bed guest. He would answer questions if he survived the night. His shallow breath, warm on her breast, gave her confidence he would, wolf would not have lead her to him had she not willed it so. Long did thoughts roll and toil through her mind until she had passed into slumber. The night passed in silence and stillness.
The body had warmed, nestled between breasts, enough now to stir the body before the break of dawn. Slowly he stirred; gently. The first sign of hope was a small twitch of the arm. Long moments later another, and the turn of his head. He felt the warmth surrounding him, the once warm water skins now lukewarm at his side, and something soft and hot as fire at his other. Weakly his eyes spread the darkness before them. There he found his savior. Pale skin lit in the orange glow of flames laying against his bare flesh.
Panic took him. Tugging at his own arm he attempted to dislodge himself from the female form without disturbing it. As long as those eyes were closed things could not get worse. But closed they did not stay. Eyes wide he watched as her lashes spread to reveal lavender eyes that pierced him to the core. Stunned, he did not move.
She shifted to raise her head and looked down upon him. He did not know what to do with this silence. His body, however, would not be so quiet. The wound at his side screamed at him. He groaned into the bed once more, unable to sit up and unwilling to.
She removed his hands from their guard with gentle but firm ease in order to examine the brand once more. Crimson spread slowly through the bandaging. The soft whisper of flesh and fur announced her leaving the bed. She rummaged through drawers, through clothes, and replaced the kettle of now cold water on the flames. He only lay stunned by pain.
Bandages were replaced. This time there was no silence. He howled and groaned, gritting his teeth as she dressed his wound. He quickly found this was the only protest he could make. He did not have the strength to stop her. He shared with her all the words he had. Vulgar words. Pleading words. It was not until she finished that she spoke.
“I know that wound. Where are they?”
He blinked in confusion. No answer to give with a blank mind. “What do you mean, you know this wound. I’ve only just got it.”
“I know who makes it. What did you do--how did you get it?!” Her voice grated against his very skin. His answer did not come soon enough. Before a word could be said she sprung atop him, straddling his waist, with a knee pressed against his wounds. With trained precision a dagger appeared in her hand as swiftly as it appeared at his throat. Her large hands easily holding his shoulders to the bed as her legs spread over him. She now gazed down at the helpless man with rage, fury, and something else.
The cold steel pressed to his throat as she leaned forward. She did not bark but hiss, quietly shushing him like a mother hushing a fussing child. The burning in her eyes would comfort no one. A hand raised to hush his lips, dagger still pinning his throat. “Who are you, why are you wounded so?”
His lips gaped and closed, indecisive whether they had something to say or not. Shrinking away from her he realized this was indeed life, he had not died in the cold winds. Now was the struggle to piece the situation together.
A gulp tested the knife at his throat as he scrambled for an answer, “I-I made a mistake. I did something...foolish. I ...I hurt the trust of someone I was trying--trying to gain favor with. Please...I mean you no harm.”
Her lip curled into a snarl at his words. Leaning closer, so close her breath wafted warmly over his face, she bit her words into him, “Of course you cannot harm me, human. I must know if I should kill you.” A twist of the wrist and the dagger pushed against his neck. Another could choke him. Her eyes sparked alive at him, a subtle but powerful threat. “I say again, why are you wounded.” her stare was unnervingly fixed, unblinking, unwavering.
He pressed himself against the bedding, begging for inches and getting millimeters. Knowing now he would have to tell his story, and knowing now his savior was no more forgiving than the ever frozen peaks to the north. He prepared for the consequence of telling his truth. He closed his eyes and sighed heavily, “I violated the trust of one of your kind.” Again his eyes opened; now glossed and shimmering. “I’m a thief by trade. Not a petty thug--but the sort who tries to lend his skills to those in need. Except, most people don’t believe they need the help of a thief. By our very nature we can’t be trusted.”
She grit her teeth. He dared a cowardly gulp. “I spent years trying to prove the contrary--to help someone. All attempts wrought with failure. So I decided to masquerade as a ranger. Maybe if they didn’t know, they would give me a chance. I stole a bow from a Modniir group that attacked our town. Told the group of adventurers who helped I had used the bow and was looking for someone to adventure with. They took me in. Two norn, a sylvari and an asura. Except I had no idea what I was doing with it. They could tell.” The impatience flared in her eyes.
“I stole the norn’s bow!” he yelped in a spasm. “It looked enchanted, some magic made it hit everything and kill in one shot. I figured I could prove myself with it. Do that... great hunt thing they’re always on about. I stole it in the middle of the night and planned to bring it back before they knew it. But...that didn’t work out. They found me before I killed anything. Told me to run and shot me with the damn thing. I don’t remember much after... ” He turned his head in shame.
The leather grip of the blade creaked with the tightening grasp of her hand. What little patience slipping from her with every word from his lips. The internal chaos hid perfectly behind her steely gaze as moments passed. She heard, processed, tensed. Every word a pin in her side. In desperation she slid from atop him and in the same fell swoop ejected him from her bed with a foot. Sitting there, one leg dangled from her now claimed throne, the light of the fire flickering, tantalizing, the form of her flesh. The tattoos of her beastial inclinations impling a sexual aesthetic; large hands grasp her shoulders, fingers traced over her limbs and torso recorded in brown upon her skin. For a moment she wrestled with herself, wolf how could you. She did not say a word but dared not look at the pitiful creature.
The dirt was cold at his back. The pain gnawing at his side. With a groan he shimmied himself away from her, fearful of her disposition. Something greater was at work here but he did not yet understand it. A hand nursed his wound gently. His eyes returned to her meekly, “You saved me….but why? I mean, thank you.”
Slowly her head turned ever so slightly to peer at him from the corner of her eye. Silent as they are a white snow owl drifted into the hut, perching itself on the bedpost near her side. She turned, raising a hand to stroke its head gently, its amber eyes watching the newcomer, “What did it look like?”
“The bow?” He asked.
A snarl answered him as she sat at the foot of the bed, “I know you are dull--yes, the bow. What did it look like. And the norn, a woman? Did she have markings like mine?”
He winced at her insult but looked her over in contemplation. “Yes, a woman with marking like yours. She declined to tell me her name--how did you know?”
She ignored his inquiry and pressed again, “The bow?”
“Ah, the bow...it was a longbow. Blue tinted wood inlaid between natural wood planks. The arrows almost seemed to shimmer as they took flight. And there was a white band at the end of each arm.” He would have asked again if not for her clenched fist, pursed lips and narrowed eyes.
Out of nowhere she rose to her feet, backhanding the pitiable man where he cowered. Her hand passed through his face in one fell swoop as she continued her turn away from him. Pacing back to the bed she stood again by her bird. Arms folded in front of her only for a moment as she doubled back and grabbed for his throat, crouching with spread legs before him exposing her very core to his eyes. If only he now had the freedom to downturn his gaze and look away from those fiery lavender eyes dancing in the firelight as she growled at him “And you let them leave. Do you know nothing of where they went? Tell me what you know!” A firm shake wracked his body as she lifted him from his seat.
His head felt light in that instant. He could have blacked out. Fear for his own life kept him conscious, head rolling limp against his shoulders. Drawing his head up with a groan he answered as honestly as he could. “I know nothing! They found me, beat me and told me to run. I don’t even know what direction I was going. All I know is they didn’t walk by as I scrambled to find somewhere to hide. It was all I could do to breathe...”
She dashed him to the ground again, staring harshly into his eyes a long tense moment. “You are nothing but a two legged dog, human. You will help me find them. You do not leave without my consent or I will hunt you down again--I will not be so kind as to leave you alive.” Rising to her feet she padded back behind the bed.
His mind was now the one to roll and toil. What had happened to bring him here. What concern did this woman have with that weapon. He leaned toward the warmth of the fire, reaching a hand and hoping that somehow it would clear his mind.
The thump of clothes beside him drew his attention back. Looking down it was his own tattered rags. Up he looked to find her face glaring down. It was no longer so much a look of anger--not at him he assumed--but a face of determination. Her body now dressed in the leathers and furs of her people though oddly she wore no footwear. He gathered his own clothing into his arms as she spoke, “We hunt.”
He scrambled into his ragged leathers as he watched her gather some things. A simple but seemingly well crafted bow, her dagger, and his tools. Without a second thought she wrapped their belt around her waist.
“W-wait. Those are mine.”
The look in her eyes bluntly told him how foolish a statement that was. Instead he backed off and buckled his trousers. She walked out of the hut, into the sun and snow.
The sky was clear. The brazier outside had reduced to bare coals. She laid several logs into it before they continued into the evergreen forests. It took his breath away to see the world cast in white after a fresh snow. The forms of trees now indistinct triangles jutting from the earth, echoing the sharp slopes of the Shiverpeaks far off in the horizon. His breath escaped in puffs of smoke as he tried to keep up with her gait. They walked for some time in silence.
The ground below him danced with shadows. Looking up he saw the white winged owl passing over head above the tree tops. He looked around himself, to the trees and endless white, to the woman he now walked with--she was almost as tall as the trees it seemed. He ventured a question, “What are we hunting?” She paid him no mind.
Again he tried, “That bow, it means something to you, something important. Doesn’t it?” She stopped, crouching in the snow. Her eyes passed over the same brambles and snow. He glanced and noticed, there was something familiar about this place. She looked, paced to either side, moved some of the bramble. Anything to pick up a trail but the snow was heavy. The trail was blank. In frustration she kicked at the dead brush and cursed.
He intended to take a step forward, mouth breaking to apologize, to anything. But she had already turned on him. Those sharp lavender eyes digging into him as she advanced.
“Where were you going? You were out for adventure; what were you doing?” She jabbed a finger into his chest. She could have beat the answers out of him just so.
He stumbled in the snow, taking the feet from under him till he made a seat for himself inside it. The air fell out of him, but the pain did not. It pierced through his side. With a groan he gasped, pleading for the air to return to his lungs. “Listen…” the words barely escaped on a whisper. “I want to help you. I really do. You’re obviously looking for it--that bow. I don’t know why it’s so important to you. I just….I don’t know where they are. How do I know you aren’t the bad guy?”
Just for a moment she had broken. Her eyes were sad, her face soft. But only a moment. Quickly she turned away, facing the wall of rock. She was clearly uneasy, pacing in her own mind, gnawing at the nail in her teeth. A hand rose to rest against the cold dark granite.
“It was mine.” she breathed the words in a puff of white against the stones. “The bow, it is called The Fang of Wolf. It was supposed to be passed to me. From Wolf’s own lips. It is my destiny.” She turned to face him. The tears thinly veiled behind her rage. “That woman, she is supposed to be my sister. She is the bad guy.” She turned back to the rocks, pounding a fist against the stone. “We made a bet at our Great Hunt. No, she made a bet. With father. Whoever managed the greatest kill should inherit the bow.”
“You lost.” He interjected.
“No!” She whirled on him, her face a mess of emotion. Her finger jabbed towards him still slumped in the snow. “No, she cheated. I tracked a giant ice worm off Hunter’s Lake. Before I could make a move I was taken by a group of Jotun. That is Svanir land. Jotun do not venture that far east. I barely survived. I return to Hoelbrak with a broken body and no weapon and what does she return with?”
“I...I had no idea…”
“You want an adventure? To prove yourself; now is your chance. Tell me where she went.”
“Ossencrest Climb. Some Priory scholars needed some help with the Modniir raids at Scholar’s Cleft.” he conceded.
A hand came down to him. Fingers spread, a fan of flesh before him. His eyes went up to hers; his a shimmering pool of confusion, hers as resolute as ever. Tentatively he reached for her hand, taking only the majority of her large fingers. With a yank he was on his feet, wincing at the pain. She turned and trod through the snow without a word. Clamoring behind her he searched for answers desperate to not be left behind again.
“How do you know she, or anyone, will still be there. It could have been days by now.”
Her pace was fast and steady. Where he tripped and stumbled she slid through as if this were a spring time waltz through a calm clear forest path.
“If it had been days you would be dead.” she said. He wrestled with this blunt truth. It had not as yet dawned on him the nearness of his dance with death.
“I know her, she will be there.” the words crackled through the air, flicking and spattering with cold bitter spite.
They walked and walked, on and on, until the sun fell low in the sky and the peaks were no longer so far. North, into the mountains. The trek began to take its toll on his body. He clutched his side, pressing as hard as he could in the hopes the warm liquid would go back, back into where it came from. This was far too much for a fresh wound. As hard and as stubbornly as he tried, against his will he stumbled into the snow. A hand burrowed into the snow, trying to keep himself from smacking flat into the ground; the white smeared with red.
She heard the fump of weight in snow behind her, the groan of agony. Turning she found him curled in a heap there. His eyes; they begged, pleaded for this to stop but his voice, cracked and coarse attempted to hide his pain. “I’m fine I just--” he broke into a coughing fit. Red fell from his lips and spattered against the snow.
Cursing under her breath she pleaded to the spirits. Owl answered. From the skies she heard a familiar call. The raspy warning cry of a snow owl foreshadowed the passing of her companion overhead. Something is near, it told her, be wary. Surveying her surroundings she found nothing but eyes are only so perceptive. She could hear them. Voices from a distance. Quickly she hoisted him again to her shoulder, he almost cried out in pain but kept control enough to merely groan. She set him behind a tree just off the path, gently into the snow. From there she watched. Waited.
Yards down the path they came around a bend. First a sprite sylvari, prancing along in the snow, then asura, stout body trudging along barely more than a head over the snow. Looming behind them both came two norn, towering over their figures. The female norn laughed haughtily, as yet unaware of their presence and enthralled in their conversation.
Until they saw the blood freshly spattered in the pit of snow. Each had drawn their weapons. Carefully, silently, she removed his belt from her waist and placed it in his lap. She then drew her bow from her back nocking an arrow to the string and held three others in her hand--a technique he had never seen before. He moved to grasp her arm, unsure of what she planned. A stern glance was her only explanation. Drawing her bow she eased out from behind the tree as the female norn called out, “We know you’re there. Come out and there’ll be no trouble.”
One, two, three! Before a breath had completely left his body her bows were loosed. Craning around the opposite side of the tree he could watch as the sylvari wailed and fell to the snow, the asura followed after with a howl. The third arrow pierced the other, male, norn’s shoulder. He did not go down but grasped at the arrow and broke it off with a grunt. Both norn drew their weapons; The Fang, and dual handaxes. Luckily the pain in his arm prevented him from drawing the second. He powered through and grasped it from his back but it would not do him so well in combat.
The female norn extended a hand in front of her fellow as she called again. “You finally left your hovel did you, Vhiki the Fallen.”
Those simple words coiled up in her hands, knuckles going white, the final arrow drawing back.
“You finally decide to write a true legend? I would hate to go down in history as a complete failure. Of course I’m an obvious target--take down a fellow to boost your own tale. There are few better with a bow than I but I don’t think killing me will help your infamy.” The two norn bellowed mocking laughter into the woods.
“The bow is mine!” she called out from the tree. Again he reached for her but again she ignored him.
“Is that really all you think about, sister? The bow is mine, fair and square.” She motioned to her fellow norn who moved to aid their downed numbers. He moved them back and off the path to tend to their wounds as best he could. Over the complains of the asura the woman continued, “I can only assume that dog is with you--all this blood. Here I thought I left him for dead. I must have forgotten where your shack was.”
He rummaged through his pockets, there had to be something that would help. He found some things but nothing would help at this range. He had to get closer.
Vhiki loosed her last arrow. The woman jumped and rolled through the snow to escape behind the cover of a tree, righting herself to nock an arrow. Vhiki did the same, nocking and holding three more arrows. “Come now Vhiki, too afraid of a fair fight. Come out here and we can handle this like adults.”
“What do you know of fair.”
“Oh please, those Jotun couldn’t be my doing. You really think I had an agreement with them. They were just...passing through.”
“The havroun said, wolf herself has said, the bow is mine. Your bet is meaningless.” Vhiki bit her next words down. Instead she darted from the tree, ran down the path hoping for cover enough to get a line on her sister and end this argument for once and for all. She could not escape the enchantment. The woman loosed an arrow and caught her in the lower calf. Vhiki cried in pain, falling against the nearest tree and shimmying for cover. A cackle echoed through the wood.
“Rorik! She’s imobile, are the others alright?” the woman called out, voice dripping with all the arrogance of a true villain. Rorik chuckled a hearty laugh, drawing up his weapons once more. “They’re fine, nothing worse than a mosquito bite on them.”
“A mosquito bite?! I don’t know what kind of wretched mosquitos you have in Hoelbrak but this is far worse than anything a mere insect is capable of, I’ll have you know.” Came the small, nasal voice of an asura.
“On the contrary, there are quite large jungle spiders throughout the Maguuma jungles that could easily consume you as easily as any other creature of relative size.” Chimed in the sylvari, all too happily.
Rorik, in spite of the irrelevant argument, had already made it halfway to Vhiki’s hiding spot. He twirled an axe in one hand--his good one--as he marched on chuckling menacingly. Vhiki could see him, but she was most worried about her sister. She hadn’t the arrows to take them both down without reaquiring her losses--unless the spirits were so kind as to grant her a clear shot. Her sister did not move from her refuge. A calming breath steadied her hand as she drew her bow. But she did not make the shot. With a gurgling choke Rorik clenched at his throat before the half giant fell to the ground, descending with an eery silence like that of a downed tree, his large mass throwing snow up with a great WHUMPH.
She searched, her sister had not moved, the other two were down--behind her. She saw the blood smeared trail in the snow. Her eyes followed it to a nearby tree just down the path from her and the mass of brown that huddled there, fiddling with pockets and daggers. He gave a coy smile and a wink that would have been more settling if he hadn’t looked a complete mess and on the verge of death once more. The look on her face steeled, perhaps it was in gratitude, perhaps in solidarity.
“Rorik! What happened? Rorik!!” the woman barked from behind her tree. Her conscious fellows wailed in kind.
“Are you quite sure you are the best archer the world has to offer, Frida Bloodbrand. We seem to be quite bested by a mere woman and a half dead human if we can even be sure he is involved and not bleeding himself to death somewhere.” the asura sardonically chastised. The sylvari dabbed at the asura’s ankle wound with a bit of cloth, resolute in her defeat.
“We haven’t lost yet!” the woman snapped back. “I have only just started.”
Frida’s warcry burst from the trees before her, bow raised and drawn. Vhiki stepped from behind the tree, determined and bound to her fate, bow drawn and arrows ready. She was hit before she loosed even one. The air left her as the enchanted arrow smacked right into her shoulder, boring a hole into the flesh, the singe of gore filling her lungs as the arcane power burned itself wider. Knees disappeared into the snow as she fell upon them.
In awe she watched her sister, taken by the arm by a wolf of white before she could loose another--before Vhiki could drag a breath in. She could hear his voice calling to her, using a name she had never heard from his lips. She could hear the snarl and snap of bone as the wolf writhed and tore at her sister’s arm. With all her strength she rose and stepped towards it--this wolf she knew without knowing, this wolf that called to her. Before much more than one step was taken it bolted off into the wood again, muzzle stained in blood. Crimson painted the white canvas ground, the gore of torn flesh was all that was left of her sister’s arm.
Frida clutched her arm without touching it. Wailing and crying her words were indistinct. The Fang lay in the snow. A hand reached to grasp it, glove soaked in blood.
“Vhiki!” Frida’s voice broke. Vhiki hesitated. “You witch! It’s mine! Mine….��� her howls turned to wails of pained sadness.
Her fingers wrapped the inlaid wood for the first time in years. Its blue wood pulsed with light, glowing in the falling sunlight. She closed her eyes and paused, My Fang, you missed me. “Did I not say, sister. Wolf herself said it is mine.”
Hobbling steps brought her back to him. Again, her strength drained, she fell to her knees beside him. Forgetting himself he placed a hand on her shoulder--the good one, “Vhiki--you got it back--are you alright? “ Her left side was now blanketed with blood. A weak nod answered. “Nothing but a bug bite…”
The two broke into laughter.
P.S. norn is dabes.
The desert can be a lonely, quiet place. Nothing to greet you but the soft whisper of shifting sands in the wind. If you listen long enough the whispers sound like words. This was Yowli’s favorite thing to do. You could often find him at the peak of a dune listening and watching. If he could he would sit in the dunes all day listening and watching the sky. His grandmother would never let him, though. Like every other day the whisper of sands slowly turned into the yowls of his grandmother calling to him.
She was a spry old thing. Most elders would retire from activity at her age. Like Juwa’s grandmother. She had grown so aged her hands were balls of knuckles so swollen you could hardly see the fingers and her vision had long gone, the cataracts clouding her eyes to a pure white that not even her pupils shown through but she would still knit. Yowli never knew how she did it, but despite her shortcomings she still knit the most perfect shawls and blankets. Not even a stitch missed or out of place. And she had the best stories. His favorite were the ones about the screamers; big black shapes that screamed as they crossed the sky.
“Yowli! Come down from there it’s almost time. You’ll miss everything. Your mother wants to see you before you leave.” The old female’s voice cracked through the sands and his daydream. Yowli rose from his haunches and turned to pad down the sliding sands of the dune.
His grandmother pat him on the shoulder and ushered him back towards camp. “Did you see any today?”
“Well, maybe you’ll see some out there. You’re older brother came back with a few stories about them, perhaps you’ll find some of your own? But, your mother wants to see her little boy off and there’s no way your grandmother is going to let her on her feet so we’re going to stop by to say our goodbyes and goodlucks and you are not going to be late. None of your brothers were late.”
Brothers. Always compared to his brothers. But his brothers were different. They liked being in the field. They liked hunting and gathering and couldn’t wait to grow up to do it. Yowli never liked it. But he would do it. What choice is there.
He ducked his head under the fly sheet and entered the family tent. It wasn’t so big as others but his family was relatively small so it seemed roomier. And with most of his family out and about it was just his mother and youngest sister to greet him. His mother cooed at him lovingly the way most mothers do. But this time it had a certain sadness. He crouched himself to lay at his mothers side and rub his face against her chest gently. He put a hand on his mother’s bursting belly. She was almost ready to birth and his new sibling was active. He could feel it kick at his hand.
His mother gave a warm laugh and stroked gently at his ear tuft. “My little boy. This is the last time I get to treat you like my little boy. When you come back you’ll be all grown up. Just remember what your father told you, ‘a mind that works is a mind that saves’. You will do well my little yaha. You’re a smart boy.” She squeezed him by the shoulder gently and pressed her nose to his forehead.
Yowli bowed a nod to his mother and said, “I will, mother.” The littlest one crawled to his leg and pat at it with her stubby little fingers and a slack mawed smile. Yowli scooped her up and pressed her to his chest before his mother nudged him. “You’d better hurry. The sun is crossing. Don’t be late. And don’t forget your hausi.”
He nodded, handed the babe to his mother and found his feet. Reaching to the rafters he plucked the hat from it’s hook and held it in his hands for the first time. This hausi had been in the family for generations. His grandfather, his father and all his brother had worn it. It was finally his turn. He looked to his mother and saw her warm smile, and his grandmother and hers. With a tense sigh he finally placed the hausi upon his head and turned to leave the tent.
The sun hit him in the eyes driving his hand to shield them where he found the hausi’s brim. He tilted it forward and his vision cleared. Across the camp he could see the bodies crowding the meeting place. He could hear the voices but not the words. Like the whispers of the sand.
He went to make his way there but was stopped short by the hand that grasped his tail and yanked it hard. Yowli let out a yelp and turned to find his eldest brother there, cackling himself silly. “Don’t be such a scardy Yowli. You’ll need to think out there. Keep calm.” His brother’s eyes were honest. Though, Seihi was the nice one. A solemn nod and Yowli turned to continue toward the meeting place only to find his twin brothers right behind him instead. Their smug grins indicative of their greater person.
“Yeah, Yowli, don’t be a scardy koa.” Kura said.
“Yeah, Kaibars can smell fear.” Echoed Ruka.
Seihi barked at the two younger men sending them scattered into the camp, cackling all the same. Yowli took his chance and trotted toward the meeting place. He burrowed his way through the crowed to the center. There were three other boys there, all of which Yowli knew. Everyone knew everyone in the tribe whether they liked it or not. Yowli usually didn’t like it.
Yowli was shuffled in line with the other boys, all much bigger than he, and the Sham Elder blessed them all in line. He chanted, echoed by his apprentice who also held the wooden bowl of pigment. A tacky orange paste that was spread over the forearms of each of the boys, the two hands of the Elder grasping from the elbow and dragging down the arm to the wrist. When the motion was completed he would flick his hands toward the boy’s face, splattering the pigment all over himself in the process. Yowli watched carefully. But didn’t understand the point. His eyes glanced to the skies, they were quiet. Instead he listened to the chants; the voices but not the words.
When the Sham Elder had finished his prayers a roar tore through the crowd. It split in two and on the other side Yowli could see his father standing beside the other boy’s fathers and the Chief Elder.
“Today!” boomed the Elder’s voice, “Today we say goodbye to our boys. They leave us for the field. There, they will find their manhood. They will prove themselves. They will learn. When the second moon returns to the sky they will be men. They will know, and they will lead.” he lifted his kauha into the air sending the shells and bells jingling. The crowd followed his cry as all the voices rose in celebration and encouragement. “Heyhaw! Heyhaw!”
Then everything and everyone started moving. Bodies crowded around the four young men and pushed them out, towards the kudu pens. There they joined up with the Kudu Master and his poor pack animal packed to the brim. The poor thing hobbled into the parade which now directed itself towards the rocky side of camp to the east. Yowli and his small party separated from the village a few meters beyond the edge of camp; the villagers stopped and massed into a whooping, calling and waving wall of bodies.
They walked for miles. Much farther than Yowli had ever braved to walk. He was nervous. But the others seemed unaffected. They teased each other. Laughed. Joked. Nothing seemed different. So he kept to himself. Stayed right next to the kudu and let the other boys be boys. Jrow would not have it, however. He was a big stubborn boy who would rather fight than not. He looked for a fight and called oit Yowli as his target.
“There’s no way sand boy is gonna make it. All he knows how to do is sit in the sand and watch for screamers. Screamers aren’t gonna help you, half pint.” a handful of clumped sand smacked Yowli in the back. He shrugged it off even though he wanted to say a thousand things.
Stupid thug. You don’t know anything about Screamers. You haven’t listened to the stories. They don’t listen to us because they’re not listening for us. If I could just figure out where they went he could get them to listen. But no one’s allowed to go to the Great Break. That has to be where they go. But he knew just what Jrow would say, ‘The stories of an old bag doesn’t mean anything. She’s lost her senses. What could she possibly know.’ But she could see once. She got close to one once.
“Yeah, see. The coward knows I’m right. Won’t even try and defend himself.” The other boys all laughed. Yowli curled into himself wanting to just hide or fall into the sands and whisper things forever. Why did he have to be stuck with these idiots
The Kudu Master pulled up at the center of a small clearing. He tied the beast to a nearby half dead tree and started unloading the cargo as their Escort rounded them up.
“Alright boys. We set up camp here. Help Kyai with the tents and unloading. Pyao, you’re his shadow for the next two suns.” Begrudgingly they set to work. Yowli did his best without complaints.
There was nothing for miles but some light brush. A rocky hillside lay to the North in the distance but overall it wasn’t much different than the surroundings of the main camp. There was just no camp. Until they had theirs built. The tents were smaller, and only the one. Plenty of room for four boys and two men. This year the group was small but the year before saw as many as 12 boys all huddled into this tent. The first sun was high in the sky and the second was rising by the time they finished. Kyam, their escort for the next fourteen suns, had grown irritable. He was the survivalist of the tribe. He hated when things didn’t go just right. They should have been done well before the second sun dawned but Jrow’s cocky attitude had put them behind and so he got the brunt of the barks. They lazed until the sun passed.
The first lesson began with Kyam rousing them from their beds. Yowli, Jrow, Pyao, and Shirrya all shuffled and gathered their basic survival kits as Kyam herded them out into the dimming sunlight. Both suns were falling in the sky so the temperature was due for a fall. The other three boys cried out as the sun bit them in the eyes, but Yowli made sure to wear his hausi. He smiled a bit to himself to watch their plight.
It was the rocky canyons to the north that were the cite for their first exam. Kyam stopped them a few miles off. “First task. Kudu hunting. We know there’re some in these canyons. Your job is to find them and bring one back before dawn.” Kyai chuffed and contributed, “We got a few ready for retirement so we gotta up the numbers. Priority is for young and female.”
Jrow rallied his team and charged off into the canyons. Yowli watched them disappear into a small ravine, whooping and hollering. He turned to look at Kyam, who shook his head slowly as he watched the trio. “How do I find one, Kyam-la?”
The Escort turned, wide eyed and surprised. He looked the boy over and after a moment gave him a word of advice, “They’re pack animals, but their biggest service is finding us water. They smell it before we hear or see it.” He gestured toward Kyai’s mount, “No eyes, so you don’t have to worry about being seen.” Kyam’s eyes returned to the canyons as he stood there, thumb stroking the hilt of his whip.
Yowli looked around. He could still hear the voices in the canyons. Not the words. He waited for them to quiet into the distance before he took off in the direction he assumed to be the opposite. And he listened. Yowli climbed up a gently graded slope of a plateau and sat at the top. In the distance he could see the dunes reaching towards the setting suns. With a deep breath he closed his eyes and listened.
It was silent. Until the white noise grew into colors. Behind him water babbled. Something was moving in it. He opened his eyes and crept quietly to the far edge of the plateau peeking his head over the edge tentatively. Below lay the end of a ravine, the lowest portions filled with a dirty pond. And in the pond a baby Kudu splashed about playfully as it’s mother lapped at the water’s edge. Yowli sunk below the ridge and took a few deep breaths. How the heck will he catch them. The mother is far too large. But the baby. He could probably carry it off.
Licking his finger he checked the wind, southbound. He was downwind of them. Looking over the rock formations he found a small path towards the east that would keep him downwind if the winds didn’t change. He started down the path but then he heard it. The voices. Jrow and his gang whooped and hollered at the other end of the ravine. He could flush the Kudu out toward them but a mother Kudu is far more likely to fight in a closed space. He couldn’t risk that.
Jrow had already drawn the mother’s attention. The baby retreated toward the closed end of the ravine, toward Yowli’s path. He watched as the mother charged toward the trio of trouble makers. She stopped short but stood her ground. The boys did not do the same. They shuffled backward until she stopped and with false bravado gestured aggressively with more shouts at the Kudu mother.
Yowli snuck down the rest of the path, slowly reaching for the babe. He snatched it from the edge of the pond and struggled right back up the path, kudu wiggling and squealing in his arms and making it far more difficult to climb. The mother about faced and charged toward the path but it was far too narrow for her. She could only bellow and pace, splashing water furiously about her.
He didn’t stop for a second. His heart pounded as he bolted and skid down the opposite slope of the plateau. His better judgment kept him atop the canyon formations, out of the reach of the mother or any other kudu. He heard the Kudu Master’s whistle give two short blasts and made a beeline for it. He hadn’t realized it but he had no idea how to get back otherwise.
He found the Escort and the Kudu Master just outside the canyons, he did not know if they had moved to find him or if they were right where he had left them. Kyam slapped a hand on his thigh, clapping approval as he noted Yowli at the crest, kudu babe in arm, sun’s last rays on his face.
Yowli descended and handed the babe to Kyai who tied it to his mount. The canyons were not quiet. Over the ridges came the bellows of a distressed Kudu mother and the cries and yelps of three young boys. Kyam grew restless at the sounds. He tried to be patient but he would never allow or live down a death on the first day. He goaded his mount forward and into the canyons.
It was well into the evening by the time they got back to camp. Jrow had thrown a fit the entire way back. He had until the morning, he insisted. An enraged Kudu was nothing to mess with and after seeing how they handled themselves Kyam knew it was not going to happen today.
Yowli was the only one who could not find sleep’s embrace, inspite of his success. Something did not feel right. He could hear the baby kudu just outside the tent mewling. He left his bed and found the poor thing in it’s cage near the other kudu. He reached a hand toward it sending it to cow into the far corner. Yowli sighed and crouched beside it. It shouldn’t be afraid. There is nothing to fear here.
The sky screamed. Yowli looked up to find a Screamer low in the sky. It’s deep screech following it across the valley to the east, the same direction as all the others. Yowli understood. He wasn’t listening either. No one here was listening.
He picked up the cage and hefted it toward the North. He kept walking until the camp was no longer in view and set the cage down. He unlatched the door and stepped back. The young kudu cowered in the corner for a tense moment. Yowli wasn’t sure what to do or how to help. Until it found its way; bolted from the cage and disappeared into the brush. Its squeal sounded in the distance, echoed by a bellow. This was right.
He looked to the east. The horizon spotted with stars and streaked with the amber trail left by a screamer. He had listened. And so would they. Without hesitating he followed the trail. As far as his legs would take him and farther.
Yowli found his way beneath the sands. Deep underground in a place unlike any he had even imagined. He followed the Screamers. They grew more frequent as he approached the Great Break and he could see them better. They had bodies, yes, but they weren’t soft and in most cases they had no wings. More often than not no two looked the same. They were also much quieter. They did not screech, but purred or chuffed. He followed the corridor hoping to get closer to them but they disappeared far below into the blackness within the crevice.
The corridor was banked on the left side by a rail and the open air of the crevasse. Leaning over the rail Yowli could see the darkness plummet below him for miles. So many miles it made him feel sick and he had to step back. He kept to the right side afterwards and looked at the shops that lined it. Each was set into a recess in the metal architecture of the corridor. He passed by most of them.
Until he found one filled with lights and buttons. They were so intriguing he had to pick a device up from the table at the front of the shop. He looked it over. It didn’t seem too special at first. Hard, square, flat. He turned it over and it had changed. The face of it was now an image. He reached out to touch the surface--if it was at all there--and he image changed. He played with it like this for a moment before a voice boomed over him but he could not make out the words. Instinctively his hand snapped to put the device back and he took a few steps away.
Before him stood a portly older man who stood over twice his height, with a scruffy face and arms and pale skin hidden underneath. He was clothed in brown which only partially hid the black grime. They looked each other over for a moment. The large man finally barked out gruffly, “You’re one of them surface dwellers. Ain’cha?” Yowli understood these words.
He assumed that was a yes, he did indeed dwell on the surface. But where else would you live? The old man leaned over to examine him closer before motioning him to follow deeper into the store. “You look awfully young to be down here. Can’t say we see many of ya around here. Whatcha lookin for?” Yowli wasn’t sure how to respond. How did that--thing--know how to speak? Where did it come from? His questions rendered him silent. It didn’t matter much to the old man. He rummaged through a box and pulled out another device. This one was not flat. The store owner motioned him closer, “Give me your hand.”
Reluctantly Yowli reached his hand out. The man took it and fit the cylinder around his wrist pulling its straps tight. “You figure out how to work that and it’s yours.” Yowli wasn’t sure how to handle this new attachment. He tried briefly to shake it from his wrist--which did not work. So he confronted it.
It took him a bit to press all the buttons, figure things out. But eventually he got it. And after a while he was camped out, sitting against the counter at the back of the shop running through menus. Over the counter came the old man’s face with a big grin. “Ah, not bad. Good work kid.” Yowli yipped excitedly to the old man.
“Say, what are you doing down here anyway. Shouldn’t you be off on your Exams or something? Can’t be old enough to be out here on your own. Such a small ball of fur like you.”
Yowli sank. He had almost forgotten about the Exams. He couldn’t go back now. He wouldn’t. The old man sighed.
“Say, you aren’t too bad with these gizmos. Maybe if you help out around here I’ll give ya that tablet you were eyeballing earlier.”
Yowli’s eyes lit up. He jumped from his seat and bounced excitedly, head barely breaching the height of the counter. It was his turn to yip and holler as he replied, “Yes, sir! Please can I?”
The old man’s face was grim and heavy but his answer was the kindest word Yowli had ever heard. “Sure. Pick up that broom for starters. My back is shot and the broom is hell on it. Hasn’t been swept in years.” Yowli drooped a bit, disheartened by the misleading offer. But he took the broom and struggled with its large size.
“Got someone looking for some help. Come up here.”
Yowli finished his solder and tilted up the protective lenses of his goggles. He looked to the front of house and saw a sharp looking woman talking to the old man. He was unusually gruff, he got that way around pretty girls. Yowli smiled and set down the soldering torch and removed his gloves. He was half done with the rebuild but he had the time.
He nodded to the woman as he had learned to do and she nodded back. “Yowli, this is Anan. She’s got an offer for ya,” said the old man.
“Well the offer was for you, Frank, but since you’ve declined because you’re a stubborn old gaffer I have to look elsewhere. Didn’t expect it to be…” She paused trying to find the right words.
“A surface rat.” The old man barked with more than a hint of disdain.
Anan smiled sweetly enough to Yowli but glared a glare of a thousand daggers at Frank. “No, I wasn’t going to say that. He’s more of a...raptor than a rat anyway. But you come highly recommended, Yowli.”
Yowli wasn’t sure what to make of the conversation. It wasn’t a great first meeting.
“Basically, the captain is looking for some tech support in the sky. The old heap isn’t performing and what she calls maintenance isn’t cutting it anymore. But we can’t stay on the ground or afford a new ship. If you can leave this life and play among the stars we’d love to have you.”
Anan’s smile was almost too sweet. Yowli wasn’t sure she could trust it. But the look on Frank’s face was different. Frank could see his hesitation. And in Yowli’s own tongue said but one word, “Screamers.”
Just a short story thing I wrote for my Creative Writing class. It could be better but I like it for what it is.