Monday, December 29, 2014

The law of the plains, chapter 10

(This is chapter 10 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, the tribe sent a rescue party to find Wakaree and Yahnee that are lost in the plains. But the plains, at night, are a dangerous place....

Six riders and thirteen horses. Their gallop should have made enough noise to wake every animal and spirit of the plains, yet they were as silent as a prowling cat. Kotsoteka [Buffalo Eater], a stout Nʉmʉ as large as he was tall (which was not much, thankfully for his horse), was Gifted with the ability to muffle all the sounds in a relatively large area around him, a talent that was extremely convenient for hunters. Some braves did not like this Gift, saying that it was the mark of a coward, that they needed to proudly yell their war cries in order to strike fear in the hearts of their enemies. But Kanaretah was wise and she understood very well that there was no cowardice in following the Law of the Plains. Only fools disregarded Gifts that gave the tribes an edge, and fools usually did not live long.

Still, there was the problem of finding Wakaree. That was the task of Tabbananica [Sun Eagle], the other brave of the band Gifted with the Eyes of the Eagle. Eagles were a legendary species of birds that had lived beyond the stars and that were said to be able to see from the celestial vault to the deepest caves in the bellies of which the evil that stained the Plains was birthed. Sadly, Tabbananica had been wounded and had lost an eye, taken by a morlock who had bit his face. As a result, his gift was nowhere near as good as Wakaree's : he saw well but he had to look twice as hard, so to speak. Kanaretah swore under her breath. The band used to also have three women with the Gift of the Eyes but they all had died past season. One had passed away giving birth, another had been found killed by exposure after a particularly severe tornado had wrecked havoc on the band. The last one had died defending kids during a morlock attack. Sadly, it was nothing out of the ordinary, such was the life on the Plains, violent and brutal. It was the price to pay to live freely under the sky and not like a dog in a cage, like the coward dwellers of the fortified cities.

Kanaretah was a fatalist. Losing a member of the band was always tragic but the Nʉmʉ rarely had time to mourn and as their leader she had to think of the living first. Sometimes, it made things easier, and then again, sometimes it didn't. Tonight, it didn't. Losing Yahneequena meant the band would lose one of their main edge against the morlocks, their ability to detect them early and flee. She liked the young brave, but more than that he was an asset that could mean life and death for dozens of persons. Not for the first time, she swore and swore again. Foolishness was still man's worse enemy. How could he had gone scouting alone?

She was jerked out her ruminating thoughts when Tabbananica raised his hand. It was not the sign for a friendly.

"What now?", she whispered when she got near him. She never raised her voice, even when under the Gift of Silence. It was a bad habit, one which could get you killed if you ever raised your voice without somebody with the Gift near you. Kanaretah despised bad habits.

"I see Wakaree", said the wizened Nʉmʉ with the same tone.
"Then, why do you signal enemies?", she said.
"That's the problem," he said. "I see him at the edge of my eyesight. There is a whole pack of razorcats between us."
Kanaretah growled.
"Yes, it doesn't get easier, does it?" said the old man sympathetically.
"We just need a tornado and a morlock horde on our tails and we'll have accumulated bad luck for a lifetime on a single night. she said while trying to think of their next move. Little did she know that  she was soon going to be proved right.

"Well, at least you don't have warts on your ass like I do!" chuckled her old friend.

"Hush." She wasn't in the mood for banter.

Razorcats were a particularly vicious predator, even among the litany of carnivorous animals that roamed the plains. They looked a bit like a very big house cat, slim but very tall. They  had a long fur that made them look a lot bigger than they really were and that protected them of the harsh weather of the plains. But more than that, their fur were their most terrifying  weapon. In a similar fashion to their smaller cousins the morduans, who were able to hide in blade-grass unscathed by selectively hardening some of their fur, the razorcats hardened theirs in long blades that protruded from their back, cranium and paws. Their hunting strategy was simple. They went for the towering Kʉtsʉtoya, ran under them and slashed their unprotected bellies and legs. They were not particularly swift, since they only had to keep up with their relatively slow prey, but they were capable of lightning fast accelerations that enabled them to inflict multiple wounds while avoiding being trampled. Even Gifted humans were in danger when facing these killers and the safest way to handle them was either to scare them with numbers or to outrun them, which was reasonably easy for the natural born riders that were the Nʉmʉ.

Tabbananica echoed Kanaretah's thoughts.
"A whole pack, 9 of them. They have not heard us, but they are awake, the vibration of the ground must have warned them".
"Yes. Fortunately we are under the wind. If they smell us, we'll never be able to reach Wakaree and Yahnee."
Bowahquasuh [Iron Shirt] moved forward. "I'll distract them with Kotsoteka" she said. Of course she volunteered, of them all, she was the least worried by the razorcats. She possessed a rare Gift among the Nʉmʉ, the Iron Shirt she was named after. Her skin had a faint metallic gleam and was resistant to slashes and punctures, a mutation that was invaluable in the Northern Plains where some varieties of grass could cut like blades. Plus, it acted as a permanent sun protection, which was far from a trivial things in the sea of grass, where shade was almost non-existent.

"No. I need him. We don't know what wounded Yahneequena and what scared Wakaree so much, and I'd rather stay hidden inasmuch possible. Tosawi, can Pisunii reach Wakaree from here?"
Tosawi's eyes momentarily lost their focus as she talked to her partner. "No. I'm sorry, it's too far. She can't see him, she can't smell him, for her it's extremely difficult to establish contact without these."

"I could spirit walk to him, but it tires me a lot if I can't see them." said Tabbaquena.
"No, don't. Tabbananica, point me in the right direction. The spirits devour me if I can't track them! Then you and Bowahquasuh, you head away from where the Twins wake. As soon as you are far enough from Kotsoteka, the razorcats will hear you. Give them the mightiest cry, lead them as far as you can, then lose them and go back to camp."
"Haa Haa", said the braves in unison. They looked at each other and smiled. They knew that what they were going to do was dangerous, but they had seen worse and trusted each other and their mounts.

"I will ask the wind to stay with us. If they smell us, it's over", said Towasi. The young woman possessed a Gift that was quite rare among the Nʉmʉ: she was a Friend of the Winds, she could direct them somewhat.  The most potent Wind Wielders, as they were called in Gond, could create gusts out of nothing, but Towasi's ability was very far from this kind of magic. She could only instinctively influence the direction of the winds, an ability that probably had appeared to help humans survive the devastating tornadoes that regularly swept the plains.
"You do that", said Kanaretah. And like that, they got moving.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The law of the plains, chapter 9

(This is chapter 9 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, the tribe received Wakaree's cry for help and sent a search party to rescue him and his rider Yahnee, unconscious after a morlocks attack.

I have to apologize for the wait, but unforeseen events have stalled me quite a bit. I should be able to post on a more consistent schedule now.)

The departing braves left around fifty people behind them. A dozen of them were children, two dozens were warriors, and the rest were non-combatants and elderly people. Non-combatants actually was not really the word for it : most people on Yaghan were trained to fight the ever-present menace of the morlocks, and the people of the Nʉmʉ tribes even more so since they lived in the plains without walls to protect them. Suffice it to say that hunting and fighting was just not their primary occupations. 

They all started packing the camp, a task they were supremely efficient at. Their very survival depended on their ability to outwit and outrun the morlocks as soon as they detected them. Usually a party of braves would attract the attention of the monsters and lead them away from camp while the rest of the band fled in the opposite direction. The incredible eyesight of some braves, the Gift they called the Eyes of the Eagle, was a great asset to coordinate such tactics. The fact that they were way more mobile than the morlocks thanks to their superior horsemanship also helped, of course.

It was a dangerous way of life still, one which depended on everybody's ability to work together. The tipis were easy to disassemble and their long poles were loaded on sturdy little chariots that were pulled by tough carthorses. Horses were the pride of the Nʉmʉ. The telepathic ability displayed by some of their horses enhanced their abilities to a supernatural level, as man and mount acted together as if they only had one mind. There was more than five horses for each human, all bred for various purposes. Some were tough workhorses, some were very fast, some were tall and proud steeds that carried their riders fearlessly into battle. Herding so many animals was a daunting task, that was made easier thanks to the help of the Gifted ones as well as of the many big Gifted dogs that were the other companions of the people of the Plains.

Very soon, everything was packed in woven baskets and ready to load on spare horses at a moment's notice. The fires were put out, the chariots filled to the brim and harnessed to their puller. Then started the worst part of the lives of the Nʉmʉ. The wait.

Everybody knew that in everything were morlocks were involved, death was not very far away. They all had lost somebody, a parent, a friend, a fellow tribesman or an horse to this scourge of humanity. Even with the best organization, even with the best horses, spears and warriors on their side, nothing was ever certain. Morlocks were a changing subspecies, they always evolved, always got stronger. In every encounter, there was always a new variation, with a new terrifying mutation. You could never completely be prepared and the only solution was to be ready to adapt as fast as possible, which was far from easy when fear clenched your gut.

A young woman drew out a little wooden flute and started playing softly. The drums were packed, and making too much noise was probably not a brilliant idea, so the people that joined her tapped with their palms against their chest or thighs. Manoeka, an elderly woman, started singing slowly an ancient tune, the  moon song. Maybe it would draw out Ebimʉa, the blue moon which was a benevolent presence in the skies, a symbol of good luck, to replace Epimʉa, that was known as Rust in Gond, and which was an ill omen. The soft song, even if it was not played loudly, warmed the heart of all the humans present. In turn, their Gifted four legged companions picked up on their mood and relaxed, which helped calm the other animals that did not share the Gift. The voice of the old singer was like a collective respiration, a deep breath that released the grip of fear on their hearts. Patiently, they waited.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Law of the plains, Chapter 8

(This is chapter 8 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, a strange morlock saw Yahnee's spirit form and almost killed him in a combat of the minds. His Gifted horse Wakaree is trying to telepathically contact the tribe and bring him back.)

Pisunii was dreaming a horse dream, galloping gleefully in the morning dew with her rider Tosawi ["Silver Knife"] on her back, when it suddenly started to fade into something else. She saw her little brother, the young and happy Wakaree, running towards her. As he grew closer, the dew dried, the grass withered, the sky darkened and the wind started howling a song of anguish, pain and despair. She reduced her gait, from a gallop to a trot, to a slow walk. Wakaree caught up to her, his flanks heaving and glistening with sweat. His eyes were wide open, his nostrils flared and he smelled terrified. "Help!" he cried repeatedly, over and over. His voice grew louder and louder and soon Pisunii realized that it wasn't a dream. Wakaree was calling from beyond the dream world. She woke.

It was the middle of the night. Only the light of the sanguine moon lighted the camp. She shivered. That moon made her uncomfortable. Her tail started swinging nervously from side to side. Careful not to step on the sleeping humans laying on the soft grass, she headed to her rider/sister, Tosawi, and started nudging her. The people of the plains always slept lightly and the brave was no exception. She instantly woke, her hand reaching for the knife that never left her. Realizing it was her partner, she relaxed instantly and petted her soft muzzle.

"Hey, Pisunii, are you scared, love?" she said softly.

The Gifted horse turned her ears towards her friend and started projecting the pictures of her dream to the mind of the young hunter. The woman shivered when she saw and felt the anguish emanating from Wakaree's message. Throwing the furs she was sleeping in aside, she quickly got up and shouted the second alarm call.
The Nʉmʉ had devised different ways to get a whole tribe on the move quickly. One alarm call meant "The enemy is upon us, take your weapons and defend your lives". Another, the one Tosawi was yelling at that moment, meant "Everybody wake up, start packing your things and stand by for orders." Yet another simply meant, "Gather everything, we are leaving camp as soon as possible." Every Nʉmʉ new the meaning of each cry and knew exactly what they had to do. Her people started to rise, dazed and confused, but a lifetime of habit took over and they all got to their task as fast as they could. It was a strange sight in a way: the camp started to hustle with activity, but they all tried to keep as silent as possible. You never knew.

The women and the men of the tribes were completely equal. Your duty to the tribe was mostly based on your capacities and your particular talents. Of course, there was still more warrior men than women since they were usually stronger physically, but it was not the rule and the Gifts had evened the playing field considerably. Pure physical strength was a detail when one was able to create powerful wind blasts or to control where lightning stroke during a storm.

Hence, the warriors, men and women alike, headed towards Kanaretah ["One That Rides The Clouds"], the War Chief of the band, while the others started packing the camp. The Peace Chief, a huge man named Boyahwahtoyahe footnote:["Iron Mountain"] also joined the warriors: he had to know if the tribe was going to leave or stay in place, as he was the one in charge when the warriors were gone.
Kanaretah was a middle-aged woman who was Gifted with the ability to predict the weather, find any source of water, and condense any moisture present in the air. She was a fantastic equestrian and her horse Neraquassi  ["Golden Horse"], a magnificent palomino, was the fastest of the band. She was also a superb archer doubled with a talented tactician that stayed calm under the worst circumstances, but it was her gift that made her particularly fearsome : she could fill the morlocks' lungs with water and make them drown in the open air, or suck the moisture from their eyes and blind them. Apart from Tabbaquena the shaman, nobody was as Gifted as she was, which was also why she was chosen as War Chief.
She had gotten up with Tosawi's cry and she was already dressed. She tied her long raven black hairs behind her back as the warriors rushed to gather around her.

The twenty or so braves quickly formed a circle. When they were done, she hailed Towasi.
"What is going on, explain yourself, quickly!" You could guess she normally had a soft and beautiful voice, but right now, it was as hard as steel.
"Pisunii was contacted by Wakaree. She showed me the images he sent her, he was terribly afraid and Yahneequena was slouched on his back, unmoving. I don't know what is happening but something is very wrong".
"Why is he alone, by all the Spirits!" said Kanaretah, and there was ice in her voice.
"Pahiitʉ-Saari is sick", said a voice behind the circle of warriors. It was Yahnee's mother.
"And nobody else could go with him?" asked Kanaretah angrily.
Every person present suddenly found themselves studying their feet intensely. The Nʉmʉ owned up to their mistakes: the acts of one were the responsibility of all so no one even thought of pointing out that Yahnee had gone out on his own. Besides, they all knew that once this incident was over, Kanaretah would make them pay their lack of discipline with excruciating maneuvering sessions.
Finally, someone dared to speak.
"Any pʉetʉyai around them?" asked Boyahwahtoyahe with his low, booming voice.
"Don't think so. Wakaree probably would have shown them to Pisunii" answered Tosawi. "He was trying to bring Yahnee back, it seems. No sign of wound or anything, no blood."
"Haa Haa", nodded the Peace Chief. The braves of the band started muttering, all of them wondering what could have happened that Wakaree would send such a desperate cry for help.
Kanaretah was also the War Chief because she could make difficult decisions with incomplete information very quickly.
"Listen all!", she said, her voice loud enough to be heard by all the warriors around her.
"Everybody keeps packing the camp. I want everything to be ready for us to leave in the direction of  Gond, it is the nearest fortified city." She paused for an instant, staring at all the stern faces around her, making sure she was well understood. The Nʉmʉ never liked to ask for asylum in the fortified cities even though it was their ancestral right, because they had nothing but contempt for their coward inhabitants. Even though, they were survivors and fleeing meant you could fight another day, which was a good thing.
"I want 5 braves to come with me. We are going to rescue Yahneequena and bring him back. If nothing else is wrong, we'll unpack camp. In doubt, we'll leave. If something goes wrong, we'll flee to Gond."
"Haa, Haa" they all said in unison.
"Boyahwahtoyahe, you see anything unusual, you leave, got it?"
He nodded his assent.
"For the rescue party, I want you all to take one spare horse each. Towasi, you take another one for Yahneequena, Wakaree is probably spent. Tabbaquena, I hate to put you in danger, but if Yahneequena is wounded, we might need you."
The shaman stepped forward. "I think it is wise. I'll get ready", he said, then he left to his tipi to gather the herbs and potions he needed. He also started barking instructions at the young Nʉmʉs that were tasked with packing his stuff.
"Alright. All is set. Let's ride out, warriors", shouted Kanaretah.
The deafening war cry of the band answered her, then they dispersed to their duty.

Within moments, the rescue party was ready and riding out of camp.