Friday, November 07, 2014

The Law of the Plains, chapt. 2 and 3

(This is chapters 2 and 3 of The Law of the Plains. Find the other chapters under that label).

Chapter 2

Yahneequena was an adult according to the Law of the Plains, but at 16 revolutions old, he was still quite young compared to his more seasoned comrades. He knew it was a bad idea to go scouting alone but he felt he needed to prove his comrades that he wasn't a coward. During the last hunt, a kʉtsʉtoya had charged him instead of following the decoys and he had frozen instead of doing what was expected of a hunter, putting everybody in harm's way. He owed his life to the lightning fast reflexes of his war chief, Kanaretah [Ride the Clouds] and since that day he had felt as if everybody thought he was no braver than a puppy dog. Of course, he was mistaken: every sane hunter knew how terrifying it was when something with fangs the length of your arm tried to kill you. Nevertheless he wanted to do something that would clearly prove that he was as courageous as any other hunter of the tribe. So, instead of waking his friend Kʉtsʉteka, he carefully circled around camp and hid behind the tipis, waiting for his mother to be asleep. The thought that transgressing the Law of the Plains was maybe not the best way to prove oneself did not occur to him. Finally, he saw her doze off, it was now or never. He jumped on Wakaree's back and silently, they disappeared in the dusk.

Yahneequena loved the night, despite its many dangers. The noises of the plain were different, muffled, as if all the animals did their best not to wake each other... Which was probably the case. The predators prowled in the shadows, silent and patient, ready to pounce on a lone careless animal. Their preys were equally quiet, doing their best to stay invisible in the darkness, being ever vigilant. Riding by night was far more dangerous than doing so during the day, for obvious reasons. He had to be constantly alert, watching where his horse set foot so as to avoid any holes or burrows while scanning the area for herds of predators that could be a danger to the tribe or for any sign of a weather change that could forebode the dreaded tornadoes that often swept the plains. But his main task was far more important : he had to look for any sign of the mortal enemies of mankind, the dreaded pʉetʉyai [ghosts], which were called morlocks by the people from Gond.

Yahnee repressed a shiver when he thought of the nemesis of the tribes. The shamans' songs said that in a distant past, Tanasipʉetʉyai [KingGhost], the king of the evil spirits, got angry and envious of the Nʉmʉ. In his jealousy and rage, he cursed a tribe from a distant land and turned its people into mad animals that looked only vaguely human. Fueled by rancor and spite, Tanasipʉetʉyai instilled an insane hatred for the Nʉmʉ in the wretched creatures. He made them stronger, faster and more vicious than any other predator. Then, when his wicked deed was done, he sent them to breed and roam the land with one senseless goal: devouring the Nʉmʉ and every other human on the planet.

Because of the ravenous hordes of morlocks that plagued the plains, the duty of the scouts was of an utmost importance: the very life of dozens of persons depended on them. If they spotted a horde, they warned the tribe and then some braves rode out to lead the beasts on a false trail while the others packed the camp and fled. The braves then tried to kill the pʉetʉyai if they could do so without danger for their lives, but this was seldom the case, their enemy was usually far too numerous. The Nʉmʉ were courageous warriors and hunters, but they were not foolish.

Yahnee addressed a prayer to the spirits, asking them for good luck in his task. Fortunately, the Great Spirit had heard the tribes' songs and prayers and had bestowed wondrous Gifts to the Nʉmʉ. Young Yahneequena had inherited the pride of his lineage, the Gift his tribe was named after: the Eyes of the Eagle. Thanks to the faint light of Epimʉa and Ebimʉa, the red and blue moons of Yaghan, he could see as well at night as in broad daylight. More importantly, he could see amazingly far away, many many times the range of a normal person. This gift was a true treasure for his band's survival : it enabled him to detect a pʉetʉyai horde long before the monsters saw him. That's why he had dared to go alone: he felt that thanks to his Gift, he had not jeopardized the security of his people. He was a bit reckless but not foolish.

Despite the risk he had taken and the seriousness of his responsibilities, that night Yahneequena was riding with joy in his heart. He was young and proud, he was happy to be alive, happy to breathe the delicious and pure air of the plains. More than anything, he was happy to share that pleasure with his horse Wakaree. The name was a joke: Wakaree was one of the finest stallions of the band but Yahnee enjoyed teasing him and thus had named him "turtle". Wakaree was way more than a horse: some of the steeds of the tribes were also Gifted and among them Wakaree was a true wonder : he was able to communicate with humans by telepathically sending them the pictures he formed in his horse's mind's eye. He had a simple language which consisted of a few hundred picture-words but that was enough. It made him and Yahnee something more than mount and rider: they were as close as brothers.

"Happy, Wakaree?" said Yahnee. "It's a great night, isn't it? Watch your step, my friend, and let's hope we don't get to see any pʉetʉyai, right?"
"Happy. Good. Wind. Happy. Run. Brother Yahnee. Happy." said the horse, and Yahnee laughed. The picture for "happy" was actually Wakaree running with Yahnee on his back and the picture for "good" was him eating from a bucket of apples, a rare treat. It was a good night indeed.

A palomino mare and her foal, by Kvetina-Marie - under CC2

Chapter 3

They were about three hours away from camp when Yahnee first noticed flickering lights close to the horizon, at the very limit of his vision range, which meant dozens and dozens of miles away.

"Wakaree, I see strange lights in the distance. Let's canter in that direction. Don't tire yourself, I want you to stay fresh, but I need to get a closer look. Canter, Wakaree."
"Canter. Good. Run. Happy. Good. Run. Happy." replied the horse.
"That's right" said Yahnee with a smile. He tightened his grip on his lance, its reassuring weight bringing courage to his heart as Wakaree sprang up and took speed.

The horse loved to gallop so much, it was always a great joy for Yahnee to let him loose. But the usually carefree warrior was worried. Something did not feel right and suddenly he wished he had not gone alone. Those lights could have been anything: a yet unknown species of animal (very unlikely, but it still happened from time to time), renegades from the fortified cities (unlikely, most did not survive long), or just friends from another tribe (but they would never let themselves be so visible from afar)… Or it could be a new breed of morlocks with unknown abilities. That happened all the time, in every encounter there was a deadly surprise. If that was the case, Yahnee had to react fast and to report the information as quickly as possible so as to give his tribe enough time to leave camp. Taken by surprise, they could always just jump on their horses and flee, but they would loose many supplies that were crucial for their survival this coming winter. He started to worry. Was he loosing time? Or was he just overly cautious? What would Kanaretah do? Suddenly he wished he had her experience.

After what felt like hours, he got close enough to finally discern what was the source of the lights. It was a Wind Train, a long iron horse with a steam engine but that usually harnessed the power of the plains' formidable winds with its masts and sails. It wasn't the average wind train however. Instead of the stocky, armored box of metal that looked like a fortress on wheels he was used to seeing, that train was sleek, slender and elegant. Yet it also looked like a mighty vessel that could take on anything the plains threw at it. In fact, he golden letters on the engine left no doubt, it was the "Veronica", the new vessel of Gond's fleet. Yahnee could not read of course, but the train looked so modern that it only could have been it. It was already famous among the tribes that often traded with the capital of the plains, they had had the opportunity to see its training maneuvers all along the last revolution.

What a relief! Far from being a danger, the presence of this unique vessel and its crew of elite warriors meant that for once the morlocks were not the predators but the preys. Yahnee closed his eyes and again he addressed a quick prayer to his totem spirit, thanking it for this good omen. He gave one last good look at the Veronica, trying to commit this glorious sight to his memory so that he could talk, or rather brag about it around the camp fire. Then he gently pressed on Wakaree's flanks with his knees, asking him to turn around so as to come back on their original trail. After his long detour, another scouting party was probably catching up by now: there was always four or five of them circling around the campsite at all times, so he had to hurry.

Suddenly his vision got blurry and his ears started to ring. He felt dizzy, for an instant his eyes could not focus, he could not think clearly and he felt a strange metallic taste in his mouth. He only saw flares of light and a cloud of… dust, for a lack of a better word. Soon, he regained his vision and could not help but scream in horror.

The Veronica was suddenly surrounded by a swarm of morlocks, hundreds, thousands of them.

(to be continued)

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