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.

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