■ My submissions
■ Partner’s submissions
“Jaro, they’re ready for you.”
The words snapped him awake from a daydream’s slumber. Memories of simpler days and flashes of past triumphs curled a smile into the corner of his mouth. His tribe and village were always at the forefront of his mind’s eye, even after his conditional surrender to the ravenous empire that swallowed it. And now, months had felt like years as he adjusted to a strange new culture in a strange new land, performing duties as a cultural advisor to ease the final stages of elven imperial conquest.
His participation in negotiations proved advantageous before, and now the prime council of Torros had another use for him. Jaro was summoned to the military stronghold of the empire to aid with the rehabilitation of a newly acquired specimen. After a series of checkpoint stations, he was directed to a high security vestibule to await official approval. And now, it seemed, the preparations for his arrival were finalized. His acknowledgment came with a nod to the guard before lifting himself from his chair. Jaro straightened his belted robe while making his way past the click-clack of a reinforced steel doorway as it locked behind him.
A broad corridor funneled itself towards a waiting elevator, and Jaro’s mind drifted again. His thoughts reminisced of huntings past as a young yaja following his chieftain father, covered with plant leaves and twigs caked upon their bare skin with mud and clay. The afternoon’s humid haze camouflaged them further as both father and son prodded through the Injahii forest, in steady pursuit of a large male enjua, an ill-tempered deer-like species. After a time, Jaro’s father lifted his finger to maneuver towards an adjacent tree for cover. Their quarry was close at hand.
“Always aim for the heart,” Jaro’s father quietly instructed while stabilizing his bow and arrow towards the prey feeding intently a few lengths away. The enjua was larger than a tamed spojo, and males were known to charge under duress. The bowstring snapped, the arrow flew, and within seconds a violent shriek tore through the forest, frightening several birds to escape with frenzied wings into the pale sky above.
With another jolt, Jaro realized the elevator had finished its descent. The elvish emblem of a soaring falcon stared at him quietly, painted across the seam of the interior doorway. Finally, a hydraulic sound split the two halves of doorway apart, revealing another elven soldier waiting to escort him across the hallway behind him. “With me, please,” he curtly instructed. “And put this blindfold on.”
More time would pass as a blind Jaro was led across a series of pathways. Quiet mumblings from doctors and nurses juxtaposed themselves against strange mechanical sounds along the way. Occasionally what seemed like whimpers or muffled cries could be heard, though Jaro couldn’t be quite sure, even with his keen warrior ears.
Finally, mercifully, the whispering hallways faded, and it seemed like their journey was nearing its end. “The commander is waiting eagerly your arrival,” the soldier stated flatly to Jaro after removing his blindfold. He then gestured towards a large, iron door behind him, decorated with military insignia. “She has been quite the nuisance thus far and we’re hoping you can bridge the gap of communication and calm her down.” With that, the soldier excused himself with a salute and reassumed his post.
She? Jaro quietly pondered as he knocked on the door to announce his arrival. Quite honestly, during his time in Torros, he had grown wearisome of time spent with females. Many elven maidens had discretely offered themselves to him, taken by his appearance but reluctant to express their interest amidst public eyes; he was once an enemy of the empire, after all. They all seemed so spoiled and gossipy to Jaro, with pretty faces compensating poorly for their frail frames. Nothing like Manae, he thought to himself while waiting with patience plastered across his face. I suppose she was an exception to these clucking hens.
Indeed, his wife had been the bridge to salvation. Stumbling upon his village some time ago, she was taken prisoner only to learn and love its newly ordained chieftain, succeeding his father. Jaro and Manae soon wed under Yajana tradition, and she taught him the elven language which proved essential towards arranging his village to be spared as the unstoppable elven armies pressed forward, hellbent on domination. But even the relentless conquerors marveled at the physical specimens now dead or squirming under the pressure of their rule.
Jaro himself was certainly an interesting site to behold, taller and stronger than most other elven males, whose reliance on technology for ease of life had seemingly made physical strength obsolete. His shoulders and arms were broad and chiseled, with a provider’s genes meant to satiate many hungry mouths. Much of his skin was calloused from the daily demand of outside labors. Tattoos across his arms and chest were hidden under a simple blue robe with gray and maroon adornments. His amber eyes occasionally shifted towards a lime-ish green, most often when he daydreamed. His hair was a deep umber, long and braided, flowing almost to his small of his back.
The door finally creaked opened to reveal a large room with instruments and dials, a small group of military personnel, doctors and nurses; and the subject of interest who lay strapped to a table. She looked equally familiar and out of place, with her tribal markings and garb conjuring memories once more. Jaro’s father’s markings were not dissimilar, and again his mind floated, ever so briefly before the silence was broken by a nasally elven voice.
“Ah yes, here he is. We certainly thank you for coming, Jaro. It looks like our specimen has just opened her eyes again, so great timing as well.” A decorated official motioned his approval for Jaro to approach the woman, which he did with consciously relaxed footsteps. He wanted to ask her name but knew better than to do so. There were still suspicions of his loyalty to the empire from various influential politicians, and any misplaced curiosity towards his past life would fuel the rumors further.
Walking over to her, Jaro hummed a sound which in his village was meant to soothe agitated children. Once he was close enough, he placed his hand over the woman’s eyes and recited a prayer, the same blessing which he as a child recited to the fallen enjua, blood sputtering from its mouth. Ehn jah yashawa kenlo imgahe anna lar.
A moment would pass as the elven personnel behind him watched with silent bewilderment. Jaro then took a breath and steadied his tongue to pronounce what came next. The dialects of the northern tribes were substantially different, but he hoped most of his inquiry would be understandable to the restrained warrior woman. Rijana plenko gasholo sar?
Alllllll righty then! I love to dive right in with prompts, and now I’m off to the races. You’re free to interpret the tribal text as you see fit. I’ve hope it wasn’t too much to digest as a first post. I can definitely cut things back for future posts if you’d like, although things may naturally take that course. I also wasn’t sure if you wanted to PM this RP or use an official E thread. I’d also be open to discord if that’s your preference… my handle is Idrawcoolcrap#8297. At any rate, I hope you enjoyed and look forward to your response!
Also, your preliminary character sketch for my prompt sounds wonderful, so I hope that’s in the works as well!
Una had stood against the overwhelming tide of Imperial forces alongside her family, and the rest of their village. Combined with a handful from each other nearby village, those that had been too weak or old to stand in fight who ran. Her’s was the last on this island in the far North, and there was no where else to run. The lands further past the river were too harsh even for them, unable to be farmed even in summer.
The burning anger she felt for the death and destruction of so much of their lands left no room for fear, and she fought furiously with her people despite being out numbered and the lesser strength, technologically. With the wild abandon of someone with nothing left to lose, she cut down a surprising number of soldiers, before she found herself the only one trying to hold the line. There was a moment of realization, as she was surrounded, as something struck her in the left side, several places in her legs, and then in the head. The energy from the weapons the elves used was often fatal, but this time had simply pierced through her side cleanly, others puncturing or grazing her.
The tall woman had fallen back from the blows, toppling onto the body of one of her fallen comrades. The round shield and sword she had held fell from her hands, and she couldn’t seem to find the strength to curl her fingers around them again. Let alone lift them.
Pale eyes, a silvery, ice blue, stared up at the sky, trails of dark smoke from fires scattered around the land marring what would have been a pretty, if cold day. Despite the sun on her face she felt cold as she lay there, and after a moment of thought, she decided this was as good a death as she might ask for all things considered.
Her blood caked around her hairline where she had been cut by the grazing shot, and seeped out from under her armor where she had been pierced in the side, she looked dead when the medics started scanning the field for survivors. Mainly, the elves looked for their own, knowing it was quite rare for any of the wild fighters to allow themselves to survive a battle. But even so, the dutifully panned the small device around to search for signs of life, even over the piled bodies of fallen barbarians.
“There, heat signature.” One young man stated, and strode across the torn, bloody earth to the three bodies in a rough pile. It wasn’t the man on top, who had his head neatly shot through. It was under that. “Lift this one up?” Holding the scanner closer to the woman revealed by his colleagues, he blinked in surprise. “She’s alive!” There was disbelief and a bit of excitement there. They would receive a great deal of praise if they could keep her that way. She was quickly placed on a stretcher and rushed away.
It was two weeks of intensive care, and throughout it all they kept her so heavily sedated she was practically in a coma. Careful stitching and wound care, antibiotics, and an IV with fluids and nutrients nursed the barbarian back to health. Finally, the doctor’s agreed to allow her to wake, cutting off her medications at the urging of a captain who was chomping at the bit to get information from her.
They expected her to take a full 24 hours to cycle the drugs out of her system and slowly wake. Instead, it was roughly 12, and when she woke in a confused state, it was sudden and violent. An elven nurse, a young healer apprentice, had been leaning over to check her vitals, noting them down on a clipboard from the quietly beeping monitor near the head of the bed. Una surged up from the bed, ripping off a handle of leads to then use them to wrap around the woman’s neck. “Missä minä olen?!” It was all she said, before guards surged into the room at the screaming of the nurse and managed to subdue the panicked woman with a combination of greater numbers and sheer weight. It was enough that the nurses were able to jab another sedative into a pinned limb, her struggling and angry cries soon stopping.
The next time she woke, she was firmly strapped to the bed. Ankles and wrists, plus a band around her chest and arms and thighs. The only thing she could freely move was her head. At first, she screamed curses at the people that came and went, calling them cowards for binding her, and bastards for not letting her die. Or did she die and they brought her back? A disturbing thought, but she pushed it aside. After the initial anger cooled somewhat, she fell utterly silent, and all attempts at communication on the elves’ part failed.
A half day was all it took before they brought in someone to, theoretically, talk to her. Una hid her surprise when he entered. Not an elf, but a member of a more southern tribe, she would guess? A traitor! Her teeth gritted as he came near, and she bared her teeth in a warning scowl as his hand came near her face, for a moment, the nurses looked nervous, speaking to him to warn him that she might indeed bite.
Her face was tattooed with several small indigo marks, dots and lines, following the natural lines of her sharp bone structure. Her pale blonde hair, nearly white from being sun-bleached, was braided, pulled back away from her face, revealing the curve of her neck before it vanished into the plain white medical gown she’d been put in. The cold hue of her eyes watched him with clear anger and aggression, along with a healthy dose of suspicion. The blessing he recited wasn’t entirely known to her, but she felt…patronized. How dare a traitor bless her when she was strapped down and being poked and prodded on like some insect with it’s wings pinned?
His question was ignored in favor of her spitting toward his feet. “Painu hellvettiin!” This was in a dialect different from his own, but the inflection was clear, she was telling him to go to hell. She switched to something more his speed to add, “Traitor!”
The shaman’s return was always Jano’s favorite annual celebration as a child. In accordance with the tribal tradition, after the third summer moon, a designated shaman was to make the difficult trek to the peak of the holy mountain and bridge the living world with the spirit world; once a year he would return with proclamations and predictions around a roaring campfire, as well as lively rumors centered around border tribes and the occasional vague message from a long-dead relative.
Jano also loved his uncle Injaha. He was a spry old fool, full of life and questions and clever observations. There would oftentimes be a clash between his chieftain father trying to maintain order and his silly uncle rousing laughter and amusement any way he could from those within earshot. But in the end his uncle knew his place and his limits, never crossing the line into outright disrespect.
Jano’s uncle always sat beside him when the shaman sat to share his prophecies. And no time would be wasted delving into his playful inquiries.
“Ah yes, of course, Mano’s future wife will be quite beautiful… that excludes about half the women here?.. That’s too bad about the plentiful crops, I was hoping to lose this belly of mine… You know, I promise to communicate a direct narrative to our descendants when I’m the other side…”
His father always watched Injaha perform with a frown, and would sometimes interject: “Are you mocking the shaman?”
His uncle would always refute the notion, meaning no disrespect with his curiosity. Then the ridiculous claims followed…
“I’m making the trek to Mount Rojaesha to hear for myself what the spirits have to say.”
His father wasted no time shouting his disapproval. “You will not, and if I ever hear of your attempting such an act I’ll be sure to whip and salt your hide!”
Injaha’s belly would roll with a laugh as he nudged Jano’s ribs. But Jano never imagined that he we would actually follow through…
Jano’s uncle was typically the chosen ambassador who would visit and trade with border tribes. It was commonplace for him to be absent for days at a time before returning on his horse with cured meats and strange spices to share across the tribe.
The last expedition ended with no bartered goods and no horse. Instead, Injaha brought with him a message of unbridled fear.
“I went to the mountain!” Injaha mustered through frantic breaths. “I went to the holy mountain, and the spirits spoke to me!..”
“You did what?!” Jano’s father roared incredulously. “How the hell could you do that!”
Injaha continued, unperturbed. “They told me. And showed me. The elven nation. The empire… their weapons… they’ve found a way to… they’re going to wipe us out!”
Injaha’s conviction did instill a moment of concern in the chieftain’s mind. He turned to the shaman, who promptly stamped his staff into the ground. “Ridiculous.”
“Weapons of fire and thunder!” Injaha implored, his gaze now desperately seeking belief from someone… anyone. “Our bows and arrows will not mean a thing against them. Nothing!”
Jano’s father snapped his fingers and Injaha was subdued and imprisoned. The manic ravings continued, and the tribe by decree ignored them. Jano’s father scheduled the following morning as a trial for his impudence, but the lifeless body found as the sun rose shocked and bewildered every tribesman to their core. A scrawled note on a small piece of enjua hide only furthered the mystery:
Anjito brachas enclur monos roz.
Loosely translated, it read:
Times breached, worlds merged.
Jano couldn’t quite understand the warrior woman’s initial response, but her venomous barks spoke more than enough for themselves. Then came the unmistakable follow-up: “Aitren! Traitor!” Jano stood and took the accusation without reaction or response. He did not want to provide any hints into exactly what being exchanged between them.
There did exist common words across the dialects of scattered tribes, north and south and in-between, and traitor revealed itself in the proper context at the proper time. The insult didn’t sting, how could it? It was a cold and necessary truth.
Jano took another moment and slipped a sigh. He already knew. There would be no compromise with the warrior woman. The northern tribes were as stubborn as they were strong. Her hate would drown any and all efforts by Juno towards common ground. There would have to be another approach.
He stated firmly to the woman, so as to not evoke suspicions amongst the elven observers. “Yashej kano leptua. I’ve earned the empire’s trust.” Jano hoped his emphasis would convey the proper insinuation.
He then turned his attention to the group of onlookers behind him. “She’s angry about her straps.” They nodded and muttered their understandings. Jano continued, “She also asked why she’s still alive. I told her I would ask you directly.”
The decorated officer stepped in. “We’re looking to end hostilities amongst nations. Our efforts towards expansion were mistaken as an invasion. There was a disagreement over territorial lines, and our armies defended themselves accordingly. Our hope is that future conflicts can be avoided, and disagreements discussed on equal terms.”
Jano couldn’t help but narrow his eyes for the briefest moment. He could not believe the delusional justifications falling upon his ears. Despite this, he remained steadfast and silent.
“With that goal in mind,” the official continued, “we’re looking to recruit ambassadors. If we’re able to communicate appropriately with other tribes, there’s confidence that future bloodshed can be avoided.”
Dear Spirit above, Jano realized quietly. They’re looking to expand eastward.
Jano quietly absorbed the officer’s explanation, then posed a question. “What would it take for the woman to be freed?”
A brief discussion ensued between the doctors and military types. The nurse spoke for them.
“She’d of course have to behave herself. We’re eager for her to be processed and integrated into the elven kingdom. The sooner the better, but if she refused the idea then other methods of inclusion would have to be explored.” She paused with a breath. “The hope still remains that you could possibly act as her sponsor and escort, and we can arrange for a sharing of quarters if that makes things any easier.”
Jano nodded and turned to the bound woman.
“You’ll have to cooperate with me to be freed,” Jano stated calmly. “I fear the torture awaiting you if you decline.”
The seething rage the woman felt, both toward the elves gathered around her like she was some sort of oddity and the man who was clearly in league with them, was evident on her sharp features. That heated gaze flicked back and forth between the people around her, but snapped back to the tribesman when he spoke again with a sigh.
“I’ve earned the empire’s trust.”
And what did that mean, exactly? What had he done to do so? Betrayed his people. He even wore their clothes, the robe he wore looking much like a woman’s dress to her. His comment clearly didn’t sway her, as expected, and she made no effort to hide the disdain in her expression, yet she also didn’t comment. Why waste her breath on telling him how she felt, when he had clearly given up everything he had been for the empire.
Una watched as he spoke to the elves gathered, her eyes narrowing a little. She understood only a little of what was said, enough that she knew they were talking about her in some way, but the grammar of the elven language was still a mystery to her. She only caught random words, “tribes, bloodshed, defend, terms” So…talking about herself as well as the tribes? As the Southerner spoke again, she looked at him, her eyes still narrowed in heavy suspicion.
Cooperate or be tortured? That was almost a surprise, for some reason the idea they wanted her alive for anything but a prisoner hadn’t occurred to her. The woman started to speak and clearly had to bite back her initial reply. It wouldn’t do any good to let her anger make her say something that would cause them to give up on her “cooperation”. Before, she had thought there was no possible way out but death, now he had given her something to consider.
Una had been out collecting pelts when she first saw the smoke far on the horizon. At first she was only mildly concerned, a brief thought that a storm had set a wildfire in the deep forests on the main land. It wouldn’t reach them across the water, at least.
When she returned to her village, it was buzzing with activity. A scout had arrived, back from the main land. “They came in endless waves, the survivors said. They swept across the villages and ate them up as if they were nothing.”
The empire had reached them.
Before, they had been satisfied with the South, now it seemed they wished to take even the far North. Her village would eventually be attacked, certainly. They started preparations immediately, building fortifications, storing arrows, sharpening blades.
Each survivor that trickled in had the same story, they fought until there were no more warriors. Then the empire had taken whoever they could capture and whisked them away, leaving the villages in ruin.
If she cooperated long enough, perhaps she would find a means to escape, or even to strike back at the empire? It would be a sure death if she managed to attack, but to take more of them with her would still be a more desirable outcome than being tortured to death.
“What do you want from me?” The words were laced with ice, but she was clearly not so angry as to not have her wits about her. Vaguely she wondered what they would ask, if they expected her to betray her people as this traitor had, they would be sorely disappointed.
The fact her hands were clenched into fists where they were strapped down was an indication of how easily she could be tipped from clarity into that berserker rage that she had succumbed to on the battlefield. It would be a great effort for her not to simply attack and force them to kill her should they remove her bonds.
“I will never be a traitor.” The words were stated with a faint accusatory tone. She would never be like him, in other words. But it was also stated as a sort of warning.
The passion was refreshing, at least. Months of submersion within the Elven Empire’s culture had gradually dampened Jano’s warrior spirit in ways he never could have anticipated. The elven people exhibited a strange, infectious arrogance that even he could not defend against. All around him were presumptuous minds that knew not tenuous ifs but only whens. The war was treated as but a minor inconvenience before the inevitable victory, discussed with casual broadness on the telescreens to passive ears. These people have never hunted, have never known the satisfaction to provide, for family and tribe.
And yet out in the streets, he saw many elven men older than Injaha, sharing many similarities to his uncle’s lifeless body, only they were quite alive indeed. Despite being masses of wrinkles with arched backs, the ease of life had ensured their longevity. Well then, Jano thought in consolation to himself. At least I likely have many more years of life ahead of me.
And now, this woman, barking her fierce demands despite her disadvantage… she was a reminder of the convictions he once held as unwavering truths. Tribe before all. Death before surrender.
Jano had purposely kept his discourse brief so far. There were eyes directly upon them, and any lengthy exchanges could arouse suspicions of collaboration.
“I’ll handle the betrayals between us. Bide your time.” And with that he turned his head towards the decorated military officer. “She’s ready to be freed.”
The doctor nodded and approached the table to loosen her straps as three armed soldiers briskly filed into the room. “Never can be too careful,” the military man explained. Their rifles were not trained upon the woman but seemed ready at a moment’s notice.
Jano quickly reassured her with a phrase. “Espitu safa nupta. They’re here to escort us.” The woman seemed honorable, though he still didn’t know what to expect. She certainly appeared ready to die for her convictions.
The woman’s wrists were released first one at a time, then her ankles. The elven observers held weighty stares as the air stiffened between captor and captee. Moments passed.
“Looks like everything is under control,” the doctor sighed after a time. “Jano, if you could accompany her to processing station, we can have her logged and assigned.”
Jano didn’t hear him. Instead his attention affixed itself to the warrior woman now on her feet. She reminded him somehow of Aenjek, the mother of his good friend Shenwa. Fiery and vibrant, Aenjek was quick to scold but also entertain with treats and jokes. His mind floated once more, towards the comfort of untroubled times.
The loud snap of his father’s fingers brought Jano’s mind back into focus. “Enough daydreaming!”
“A warrior must always be present and aware!” Jano’s father further chided his son while exemplifying the group of men around them, still and alert. There Jano sat with crossed legs within the ceremonial dome made of thatched branches and twine, joined by his father and five other head warriors, as well as the healer and shaman. The glowing flames of a small fire danced and played across the peaks and valleys of limbs and faces, all caked with fine white powder.
With a motion of his hand towards the dirt floor, the shaman calmly discarded all distractions. “It’s time,” he announced through a slow exhale, and reached into his small green medicine bag.
Injaha’s cadaver was there as well, the same uncle of Jano who’s death shocked the tribe a night before. It was carefully prepared with a burial cloth soaked in blessed water, laying otherwise naked upon a thin stone slab. His legs were outstretched and arms spread apart, bent at the elbow with open palms filled with salt and ground jaku. His eyes remained open with fitted pieces of translucent ishka sealing them from the air as they gazed blankly through the small opening of sky above. The entire arrangement disturbed Jano, and in turn he hazed his focus.
“Anra jimae izasha wentu.” The shaman began by tossing more jaku upon Injaja’s chest. “Inta sepawa.”
“Shivala. Breather of life. Blood mother. Please join us now to guide us.” Spiritual summonings were typically rare and utilized only for the blessing of ailing crops. But with the strange circumstances around Injaha’s passing, it seemed like the only recourse for investigation. There were no marks, no blows, no discolored flesh to indicate how he died. Seemingly no clues at all. The chieftain suggested poison despite the lack of froth in Inajho’s mouth, but the shaman shook his head. “Injaho’s life tether was torn in the realm of spirits. The answer can only be obtained with the humble inquiry of the Mother Spirit.”
More jaku was dispersed across both Injaho and the fire. Eventually the flames shifted in hue, from red to purple to blue, and began to whip and twirl like ropes desperate to entwine, until the contours of a heavenly face glowed cyan to the group of warriors.
The shaman took a moment to observe quietly. Then he began to speak soundless words. The heavenly face responded with rippling lips of blue fire. They were communicating on the spirit plane. Jano watched with intrigue that fell short of awe. He had of course experienced his own visions and dreams, usually wordless occurrences meant to steer his emotions towards placidity during a hunt or punctuate a speech before his tribe.
As Jano continued to watch, time itself seemed to simultaneously speed and slow. A soft, puttering sound began to fill his ears as the flames shifted towards pulsing, sunburst rays. Memories of his uncle seemed to stack themselves sequentially with indescribable permanence, lasting through all ages and eons. There were also glimpses of memories never to be had, forfeited with Injaha’s passing.
One moment of time stood out in particular. Jano and Injaha were tending to a wounded entiwa, a white wolf that served as the enduring symbol of the Entiwaja tribe. They braced its leg and released it, watching it rejoin its pack with quiet satisfaction. The puttering sound aligned its rhythm with the entiwa as its paws jogged on the soft ground towards the forest edge.
Jano then turned his head above and saw a roaming falcon, small and distant until it began to approach. With less distance it grew larger, but the scope of its size wasn’t apparent until it began to dart down to claim the entiwa. Jano couldn’t react; time had trapped him in place as a solemn witness. He finally realized this was no ordinary bird of prey. It seemed to be growing larger…
…larger and larger as it descended, until the wolf was clutched within its massive talons. It shrieked and howled in terror as the hellish bird made a sharp pivot towards the sky above. The entiwa writhed and struggled until it went limp, legs dangling in the sky below the broad wings of its feathered slayer as it flew towards the distant horizon, silhouetted against the setting sun.
Jano turned to his uncle with eyes begging for explanation, but beside him stood instead Shivala, bright and cyan. She moved her lips to speak but no words graced Jano’s ears. He tried to listen, but he was just a boy; his ears weren’t keen enough. He wasn’t focused enough. All he could hear was that damned incessant puttering. After a time the cyan apparition surrendered to the wind, floating away into nothingness. The feeling left with Jano was indescribably somber.
The sound in Jano’s ears was thrashing now, rudely forcing its way through his potent vision. The realization set in that the skies above him were opening up, raining harder than he had ever witnessed before. Water splashed through the ceremonial dome and quickly doused the fire below. Any remnants of a spiritual presence seemed to fade away all at once into nothingness, never leaving a trace… save for Injaha’s forehead. A message was scrawled across the cold, dead flesh: Anjito brachas enclur monos roz.
Jano’s father stood abruptly, waking from his own vivid trance. “What happened!” he forced out with some effort. “What did she say?”
“Shivala,” the shaman with streams sliding down his cheeks. “She’s dying.”
Una was still seething, he could tell, fingers clutched to fists, the muscle in her forearms stood out faintly against the restraints. The nurses that had been dealing with her till now stepped back, away from the bed as Jano said she was ready to be freed.
Icy eyes darted from them, to the men that filed into the room. Was he lying, already? Trying to make her calm only to be led to her death? If he was, she would aim her fury at him, first. His words were meant to reassure her, but the fact they were clearly warriors and held the strange weapons that had torn through her tribe did not make her feel any more calm or reasonable.
Oh, how she wanted to tear their throats out!
But instead she forced herself to remain still when the doctor moved to her and loosened her bonds. First the one across her arms and chest, and then her wrists, and finally with a nervous glance at the soldiers, the cuffs on her ankles.
There were bruises there on her fair skin, both ankle and wrist, she had strained and struggled so much that they had to keep tightening them and the straps had bit in. As the doctor stood back, relieved to not have her leap at him as she had the nurse, she slowly sat up. The firm set of her jaw made it clear if anyone came near her it could break the calm she was barely holding together.
When she stood, he’d find she was tall for a woman, though still a head shorter than him, she actually rivaled some of the male soldiers that now were cautiously watching her. The plain, thin gown she wore hid most of whatever figure she had, but her forearms and calves looked strong though clearly feminine. A handful of small, thin white scars scattered here or there, some larger and some smaller, showing she was likely not a farmer. Bare feet were silent as she took two steps toward Jano, her eyes cold.
Waiting just a beat, the soldiers then moved to flank them, one leaving ahead of Jano, and the other two following a couple of paces behind the woman. This made her clearly nervous enough that she glanced back at them, eyeing them skeptically. When she was sure they weren’t simply going to attack from behind, she reluctantly turned to follow the elves leading her.
Fortifications did nothing. Neither did their arrows slow the tide of black clad elves, and their odd ships that moved across land more easily than the Northern tribes horses could. Faster, as well. Their defenses were cut down so easily, their homes destroyed by some sort of alchemist fire, they were forced to retreat and make a final stand further next to the river.
“Una! Right!” The cry was from her older brother, and she spun with sword and shield, catching a shot of energy on the latter. They had found that only metal shields worked to stop whatever weapons they were facing, and those with only wooden shields were quickly cut down from a distance. Luckily, her family had metal. But it wasn’t enough to save her brother. The sound of the energy tearing through his chain mail was unmistakable after she had heard nothing but it for the last hour. Her sword jabbed through the odd visor of an elves helmet, before she spun, sparing a glance for her brother. He was on his knees, and she moved to him, shield lifting to try and cover bother herself and him.
“You have to get up.” The words came out through gritted teeth, she could see the blood, it wasn’t a minor injury.
“I can’t…Una…” His hand gripped her sword arm fiercely, with the last of his strength. “Fight.” The sorrow had to wait, as she was forced to leave his body to stand and defend herself against another tide.
She’d never get to give him a proper burial. The thought spiked through her and made her feel sick, and for a moment she struggled to keep her expression neutral. It wasn’t long before they reached a new room, and she silently entered after the man who had told her he’d “handle the betrayals between us”. It wasn’t something she believed at all.
The train moved forward with a slight jerk, shifting Jano forward in his seat as it pulled slowly from the boarding dock. He and the warrior woman were led through the labyrinth of the Elven military complex, past several checkpoints and brief conversations with curious officials. The need to act as a buffer quickly became apparent to ensure the hard-earned placidity of the warrior woman, and Jano acted appropriately.
“Let’s not test our luck,” he explained with a stern eye to the sanitation personnel, trying to direct the warrior woman towards a showering facility. “She can bathe when she’s ready at her domicile.” The identification card was an apprehensive but necessary exercise; luckily the process was quick, photograph, designation number and all.
After a final checkpoint, the pair found themselves at a boarding station leading into the heart of the imperial capital. A sleek, oblong train waited for them.
They were alone in the train car, some twenty or so seats empty save for Jano taking the large middle seat by the escape hatch window, and the warrior woman sitting where she pleased. Though not really alone, of course; two other cars flanked them front and back with soldiers waiting to mobilize and engage upon the slightest disturbance. The peace was certainly tentative, but considering the volatility of the warrior woman, they had made great strides with her cooperation thus far.
Jano stayed quiet. He stared outside his window as the train continued on its track, watching the blur of forest green fade into open field; the distant imperial city approached with its tall ivory cylinders stretching into the sky and beyond. His mind drifted as if often did.
Time passed, hours or more. The rigid lines of buildings outside his window interrupted Jano’s daydream. The downshift of the train’s engine made it clear that their destination was close at hand.
Eventually, the train pulled to a rest. An intercom announced the imperial city waiting outside, prompting Jano to lift from his seat and motion to the woman. “We’ve arrived.”
Outside the train’s platform waited yet another checkpoint. Beyond that the city center stretched far and wide with a pale concrete floor, between two long rows of ivory buildings that joined on either side of the capital building. Elves strolled and roamed around them, tending to their business, while merchant stands advertised their wares and prices. It seemed a busy day, and rarely did curious eyes investigate the two tribal warriors.
The occasional grand statue of nameless elven champions floated stoically, arms extended with rapiers towards the heavens. There were no cables or visible means of suspension, only the blue hum of a flat, cylindrical machine some distance below, generating an invisible pillar. Jano kept his awe to himself.
They were escorted by only one unarmed soldier now, though it certainly felt as though many pairs of eyes were still affixed upon them, watching them closely. Jano turned to the undoubtedly weary woman and offered some reassurance. “We’re going to arrange a place for you to rest.”
Finally, they arrived at the processing center, a short building made of crystal clear glass, reinforced with silver-colored mortar. Several broad podiums with Elven officials beckoned all entrants forward after a security scan. The soldier escort directed them to a pleasant sounding woman, already initiating typing a series of strange glyphs on her telescreen.
“So, Jano, I see you have volunteered to be the woman’s sponsor. Will you both share a domicile or should the woman be assigned her own?”
“Assign her one,” Jano stated hastily with a slight widening of his eyes. He was suddenly glad the warrior woman didn’t understand a lick of the Elven language. Or so it seemed.
“We’ll keep hers near yours if that’s all right.” Jano nodded his agreement.
“What is the woman’s name?”
Jano balked briefly at the question. “She doesn’t have a name. Is it necessary to provide one?”
“She’ll have to tell us her name, or she’ll be designated a name.”
Jano lifted his finger to pause the matter, then turned to the woman.
“I anticipate your reluctance, but you must tell me your name, or an Elven name will be given to you.”
Jano was in one of his rare better moods as he sat down beside his wife Maena to admire the setting sun. The cool grass of the field felt good against the undersides of his legs after the long hunt during the heat of the day. Flames of campfires lit the not-too-distant horizon as families gathered to tell stories and enjoy supper.
His eyes traveled briefly across his wife’s midsection. They had been trying to conceive for almost a year now, and his wife’s belly had yet to swell; the lingering fear of sterility had fully solidified. Jano was likely a yunta, as was his dead uncle Injaha.
The realization made him feel ashamed and inadequate. The tribe had been very supportive, but quiet discussions had already begun to trickle throughout the families as to who deserved the line of succession. Looking upon them, knowing he was unable to carry on his dead father’s bloodline, Jano felt the shriveling roots of his heritage beneath his feet. He would soon have to designate a proper, potent chieftain to take his place.
He shook off the dread of impending abdication and turned to his wife. “Tell me about the Elven race,” he said to Maena. “What are they like?”
Maena blinked at the question before smiling. “Oh, there’s no easy way to encapsulate them. Some are hunters, not unlike yourself. Others lead lives of luxury with riches and slaves. Still others are trained soldiers ready to die on command…”
Jano listened closely as his wife described buildings, belief systems, strange cultural habits…
After a time the weight of his shame prompted him to reach for her stomach, placing a soft palm upon it. “I’m sorry,” Jano offered somberly.
Manae smiled again. “It’s not your fault. I still love you.”
The sun gave way to a bright full moon, tracing the contours of their faces with slivers of light, forcing blame upon no one.
“Shortly before I left the city,” Manae continued, “there were rumors circling around. An explorer had found a strange door hidden in the mountains. It was locked with no keyhole to be seen. The shamans took an interest in discovering how to open it…”
Manae paused, implying there was more story to tell. Jano stayed silent, letting the mystery lie. He already felt the winds of change coming, ready to sweep away all he knew after it crumbled before his eyes. He did not wish to die, but the thought of death comforted him.
Una spoke the barest of the elven language, only enough that as he spoke with others she caught a word here and there. Something about luck, as they stopped at one area with grey uniformed people. They wanted her to go into a room, without the Southerner. The set of her mouth made it clear it was a good thing Jano intervened, as she would have come to blows had they tried to take her clothes from her. Instead they reluctantly handed her a pair of slippers, which she eyed but slipped onto her feet as they headed further along the odd corridor.
The train starting to move had been enough to almost cause her to panic, at first. And she gripped one of the shiny metal poles that were near each seat with a white knuckle grip as it moved. They left the two of them alone, and her brow furrowed in confusion, turning around as if looking for some sort of trap.
The Southerner sat down and seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. It left her with few options, and she eventually sat in a seat several paces from him, where she could keep an eye on him as well as the moving scenery outside.
It was shocking and confusing, the speed that they traveled at. In fact, it was enough to make her start to feel ill, but thankfully there was no actual food in her stomach to lose. Still, by the time the train came to a stop, and he stood saying they’d arrived…where? Biting back the question, she stood and followed him, soldiers leaving the train cars on either side of them to trail along, ready for any action on her part they deemed threatening.
That was the main thing that kept her from attacking. The other was the awe she felt for where they were. She’d never seen structures so tall, or the kind of magic that was holding up the tall statues that they passed. Soon, there was only one soldier that was walking behind them. If she had been thinking clearly and not exhausted, she might have been able to escape.
But to where? Certainly none of the elves that were walking around about their business would help her. They would feel no sympathy for a random tribeswoman who had been taken prisoner.
Una blinked as he spoke of getting her a place to rest, wanting to deny that she needed it. It was a weakness she didn’t want them to see, but logically she was weak and tired. The wounds had just recently fully healed, she hadn’t had actual food since the day she almost died, and she was stressed and anxious on top of that.
The woman who started speaking and tapping at an odd glowing tablet made her brow furrow. Catching a few words between them, but not enough to understand what was going on. The Southerner turned to her and said he expected her to argue, and he was right.
“No.” She said simply. They could call her whatever they wanted, she wouldn’t give them any more ways to control her. Of course she didn’t understand that they didn’t have the same sort of wise women and witches her tribe did, that names weren’t quite the same here. Finally, she relented, not wanting to have some random elven name tied to her either. “You can call me Soturi.”
It was simply the word for warrior, which he may or may not recognize in the differing dialects. The woman typed some things in, frowning a bit as she tried to translate it into the elven language appropriately. “There, Satori.” The woman handed him a key to her room, and she blinked a bit, the woman hadn’t gotten the word right, and she almost protested.
But with a small tired sigh she let it be, it really didn’t matter. The soldier followed them to her new room, and he’d note it was very close to his quarters. The difference being she wouldn’t be able to open the door from the inside. Una wouldn’t enter first, but when he stepped inside, she slowly followed, her eyes darting around the room.
He could see it in her eyes, she was looking for weapons. Or anything that could be used as such. Of course nothing there was actually a weapon, but she definitely seemed the resourceful type. The soldier took up his place outside her door, explaining briefly to Jano “There will be a guard rotation, just in case.”
Una narrowed her eyes at the elf as he stood outside the door, not missing the significance. Then she stood in the center of the space and looked at Jano, back straight as she waited for…well, whatever happened next.
What could he say? Standing there dumbly before Soturi’s domicile, Jano’s visage settled into a sort of quiet amazement at the warrior woman’s cooperation thus far. She would curse him with her eyes, but he wasn’t tasked with having his feelings hurt. Though certainly uneasy, Jano had established some kind of bond with Soturi. All things considered, the Elven officials presiding over his duties must have been enthusiastically impressed thus far.
Of course it wouldn’t be long before those same officials pushed their agenda, and Soturi would undoubtedly have none of it. The woman’s fate seem destined towards either death or escape. Should he try to convince her otherwise? Jano knew resolve in her eyes. It was a warrior’s resolve. It would be pointless to discuss the ill repercussions of Soturi’s seemingly inevitable rebellion, as her terms of her own captivity were abundantly clear. Death before servitude.
The silence between them lingered and teetered towards discomfort. Jano’s gaze slid towards the floor before he rolled back on his heels with a declaration.
“You must be hungry.” He lifted a finger to prevent an argument. “I will fetch us food. Remain in your room until I return.”
The reflection was obvious when Jano left the dormitory towards the marketplace nearby. She’ll of course reject whatever food you offer, thinking it poisoned or refusing it out of spite. It really didn’t matter to Jano at this point. His guidance was ultimately an incidental endeavor; the woman’s decisions inevitably became her own responsibility. If she had a death wish, so be it. Jano had chosen a different path for himself, one which sacrificed his past but strode ahead with the shining promise of longevity.
The sun held high at its apex as noon tucked away the blue shadows of morning. The agora was busy as always, lining the city square with elven shoppers and vendors politely conducting transactions with coins of gold and silver. Elven maidens occasionally strolled past with cursory glances; whether they were suspicious or curious was anyone’s guess.
Yamago’s Meat Market had a line as expected, and Jano took his place to patiently wait his turn. Slices of meat were weighed and wrapped with ivory paper to eager customers who nodded and bowed their thanks. It wasn’t long before he was standing before the wide cutting table, covered in blood and fleshy remnants.
“What’ll have ye, bucky?” Yamago’s attendant always wore a toothy grin that seemed to hurry orders along with its charm.
“Two cooked portions of flanked steak, thank you.”
“Ah yes, what animal ye lookin’ to roast?” The attendant stepped back to allow Jano a better look at the carcasses that hung on hooks behind him. “Red-hided enjua? Water or land fowl?”
Jano mulled on the thought for a moment. “Enjua for both portions, thank you much.” It was one of his favorite childhood meals, after all, and perhaps it might entice Soturi as well.
“Have ’em spiced, would ye?” Jano shook his head politely at the offering.
The attendant rung a bell to signal the order to the cook behind him, presumably Yamago. “Enjua, twice cooked! Nay spice!” The instructions were barked loudly but lacking in rudeness. Jano took to a side to wait until his order was prepared as other customers moved forward to greet the attendant’s beckoning hands.
The large hunks of meat were each delivered within a thick wrapping of wax paper. The inviting smell permeated through and caused Jano’s stomach to grumble. A handful of silver coins fell into the attendant’s palm, prompting that contagious smile once more. “Be sure to come again… next, please!”
Weaving his way through the crowd towards the archway that bridged the square to his dormitory, his return would be interrupted by the call of his name above the crowd’s bustling murmur.
“Jano! Wait, Jano!” The familiar voice of his own sponsor perked Jano’s ears… a small, meek-looking elven woman with glasses named Ianea.
Jano’s feet stopped in their tracks and turned to greet “Hello, Ianea. Lovely day for shopping.” A practiced smile curled itself upon his cheek.
“Indeed it is,” Ianea agreed while adjusting the spectacles across the bridge of her nose as she approached. The woman was attractive enough in her middle age, her crimson robe hugging along motherly curves, and Jano held the feeling that her younger self might have discreetly invited him over to her residence. “How’s fares the warrior woman?”
“She fares well enough, I suppose,” Jano proclaimed through a sigh. “Still salty and distrusting, but coming around slowly.”
“I can imagine,” Ianea remarked with an air of apology. “Still, great strides you’ve accomplished today.” She took a pause before tending to the weight upon her mind. “Do you think she’d be ready by tomorrow for induction as an ambassador?”
Jano took a moment to mull on the question, the hesitancy on his face evident. “In all honesty, I’d wait at least day or two longer. There’s a bit of stubbornness that I’d like to iron out beforehand.”
“Of course, of course.” Somehow, Ianea’s voice suggested that Jano’s recommended delay would be the most she could offer. Beyond that, the most glaring concern remained. “You don’t suppose she would… attempt anything rash, would you? Violent or otherwise?”
Jano had anticipated the inquiry and carefully planned his response. “I do believe she’s settled beyond that possibility, but my recommendation would be to continue a close observation. Guards at the ready and close at hand, in case a clever facade is at work.”
“Yes indeed, fair point.” Ianea’s voice seemed genuinely pleased at the suggestion, her amber eyes sparkling their approval. “Good job, Jano, I’ll leave you to your work now. Enjoy your evening and keep me abreast of any worthwhile developments.”
“Of course. A pleasant evening to you as well, Ianea.” With that, he excused himself with leveled eyes upon a slight bow.
The meat wrapped in waxed paper found its way into Soturi’s hands, to do with as she pleased. Jano stood before her at her domicile’s doorway once again, his own meal tucked against his side with his elbow. And once again, he found himself lacking in what exactly to say to the woman… which in itself wasn’t altogether a bad thing. The longer their conversations, the more chance that suspicions might arise from Elven spies which were undoubtedly lending a wide ear.
“If it’s revenge you seek, perhaps a rush to death would be the least beneficial way to achieve it,” Jano stated flatly in his native language. “Salvaging the little that is left of our tribes might pave the way to future triumphs.” His steady gaze never left Soturi’s eyes, perhaps attempting to pass along a message of its own. “If you need anything, my residence is down the hall.” His finger pointed directly towards the door within eyeshot. “A good evening to you, then,” he managed with a rushed voice before stepping away with an awkward bow.
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