Archive for the ‘Lelra’ Category

My mind raced as I noticed the missing magic. Looking around, I started to recognize the area and I realized that my feet had carried me back near the village of the Lelra.

“You are alone, apprentice Dorua,” a Lelra voice whispered behind me. The presence I had sensed, but could not see.

“I am no longer an apprentice, ” I said, steadying racing pulse. “And I have news for the matron.”

I turned and saw what looked like one of the two Lelra who had first found Mhorik and me, but I wasn’t certain. I never even learned their names.

His pale green eyes looked into mine and a frown perturbed his serene face. “I see. I fear I know the news, and I will take you to the matron. She will want to hear.”

He walked past me, and I followed. This time, I was able to see the path he was taking. I was still surprised when we came to the village, as the buildings were still not easy to pick out. My guide lead me to the doorway I recognized from what seemed like forever ago, and we entered the large room with walls made of plants.

The Matron sat on her chair, looking down, but something was different. Her color had perhaps faded. The green of her hair seemed to have a bit of brown mixed in.

“Dorua,” the matron called as I entered. She stood up from the grand chair and walked toward me. “You come to tell me the news I have already heard from the wind.”

“Mhorik is dead,” I said flatly, delivering the news.

She fell to the ground as if a blow had struck her. Attendants rushed to her, but she raised her hand and waved them away. “I had known and I did not want to believe. But now you are here with his staff and show me the truth. It is true, he has left further than our ancestors.”

I took a few steps forward and lowered myself to the floor. I set the staff between us.

The matron reached out and laid her hand on the smooth wood of the staff. “He was a beautiful soul. Bold and kind in the way that only you wizards can be.”

She looked up and our eyes met. “You are the same.”

Again, people compare me to him. I looked away, emotion threatening to overwhelm me. I could only nod.

The matron stood up, then offered me her hand. I grasped it, and she helped me to my feet.

“I would ask you to stay with me, but you have a village to protect. I only ask one thing: stay here for the night, so that we may remember Mhorik together.”

I smiled and nodded. “I would like that.”

The matron sent others off to prepare a feast for that night. We sat and told stories. She told me her version of the story about how she had met Mhorik, young and brash and disturbing the careful balance. As she talked, others entered the hall and listened. Some told stories of when Mhorik stayed, about how the wizard taught them the value of learning form outsiders.

I showed everyone the pouch of ashes, and after a deep breath, told he story about how Mhorik had found me that night when the forest burned. I felt ashamed as I finished my story, telling of the destruction of a forest in a place of such beautiful nature.

“He was wise to see the promise in you,” the matron said as we were served slices of a sweet fruit. “You have power, and he taught you to control it.”

“I feel I have more to learn yet,” I said quietly. “But, now I have no teacher.”

“The wisest of us realize that we never stop learning. And, that we can learn even without a teacher. Now you have that wisdom for yourself.”

We spent the rest of the evening talking about Mhorik, remembering his life. As more people told stories, I realized how many lives he had touched in his life.

I slept well that night, for the first time in what seemed like a long time. The soothing food, the comfortable environment, and pleasant memories of Mhorik lulled me into peaceful sleep.

The next morning, I found some of the sweet fruits and some bladders of the sweet water waiting nearby. An attendant ran off as soon as I stirred, and the matron arrived to greet me soon after.

“It was pleasant seeing you again. I appreciate that you told me the news.”

“You seemed to like him.”

“Very much so. And I like you as well. If you should need anything, know you have friends here.”

“Thank you.”

“Please, take these items on your journey. I wish we could spend many more nights telling stories, but you have responsibilities.”

I nodded and gathered up the supplies. “I appreciate this. I appreciate our friendship.”

The matron smiled. She summoned a Lelra over and spoke with him quickly. “He will guide you along the way out of our village. I hope the wind carries you back soon.”

“I hope so, too. Farewell.”

I walked out of the hall and through the village. I could spot more of the buildings and doorways now. I waved to the people I saw, and many waved back. My guide lead me out of the village and through the woods on a faint path. I was lost in thought, and the guide didn’t say much until he turned, said something and left. I watched him leave and continued on my way, still lost in thought about all that had happened to me on my trip.

The day I walked almost by instinct, still wrapped up in my own head. I should have found the river that we followed to get toward the sea, but I had been too preoccupied with my own thoughts.

The sun was low in the sky when I stopped to rest. But, as I looked around terror gripped me: I had no idea where I was.

One of the Lelra who had originally found us guided us through he woods. I couldn’t see the paths at all, but Mhorik didn’t seem to mind. After what seemed like a long distance our companion stopped, waved to us, then turned back the way we came. Mhorik and I continued on toward the thinning edge of the forest.

“You’re probably wondering,” Mhorik said, “what that was about.”

“I’ve learned a lot on this trip, and not just the things I expected to,” I replied with more frustration in my voice than I had intended.

“Remember I told you that I hated magic at the start?”

“Yes,” I said, controlling myself better.

“After a while, I accepted it. I reveled in it. I wanted to control magic as much as I could.”

I stumbled over a tree root, caught myself, then steadied myself on the trunk. I was captivated by his words and hadn’t been paying attention to my footing.

“I went on a journey after I had learned the basics from the old wizard in our village. I found out how easily I could manipulate the magic, and how it flowed at my command. It was exhilarating to control the power so easily!”

Mhorik reached out and grasped a bit of magic. He made it glow, weaving it back and forth between his hands, playing with it as he continued.

“I found this forest and found the spots without magic, and I wanted to show off my mastery. I decided I would spread the magic from outside the forest into the areas inside the forest.”

Mhorik let his hands drop and fell back against the nearby tree. He slumped down, his face pained. I didn’t move, couldn’t move if I had wanted to, I was engrossed in his words.

“The Lelra found me. They were not kind to my intrusion. I found out later what a terrible thing I was doing.”

Mhorik looked down, tears catching the last light of the day.

“I didn’t know….”

“Know what?” I finally found my voice to speak.

“The spots with no magic are special to the Lelra. It’s where they put their ancestors.”

“What do you mean?”

“Where they store their dead.”

I was shocked at the words. “Store? Do they not burn the dead?”

“No. They bury their dead under the ground. But, they must do it in the special place as handed down by their traditions. If they don’t, and if magic infests the bodies, then they walk again.”

“Their ancestors come back to life?”

“They do not come back as they once were. They become the walking corpses we fear. Mockeries of the people they used to be.”

A shiver ran down my spine. I heard stories of the walking corpses, and the fear they brought. Mhorik had warned me that magic should not be used to explore death. He did not have to tell me again, as it seemed obvious even to someone as reckless as I am. But, the dead bodies come back to life because of magic? That was frightening.

“The Lelra who found me took me to their matron, and she kept me in her hall. I stayed there a few seasons, and she learned our language from me. Then she gave me the clay slab.”

“What was that? Some sort of symbol?”

“It was my punishment.”


“Did you see the green wisp that escaped from it?”


“That was an ancestor spirit. I was tasked with keeping it alive to prove I did not intend harm.”

My mind reeled at those words. Mhorik had a spirit with him all this time? Had he dealt with death using his magic? “Wha… ho… uh…” I stammered.

“I had to keep it safe while I kept the slab. I let it use some of the magic. I kept it alive, as I was bound to do, until I returned it.”

“How long…?”

“I first met the Lelra when I was about your age,” Mhorik said, quietly. He sagged to the ground then, fatigue washing over him completely.

I figured he needed to rest, so I settled down and took stock of the supplies given under a bit of summoned light. The waterbags were made from some sort of plant material. They were a bit smaller than the bladders we used, but the seal was tight. I had turned one of them over again and again trying to find the spout. When I found it and tasted the water, it filled me with life. I gave some to Mhorik, and he looked better as well. I looked at the food, small squares that were pale and soft. I ate the tiny piece and felt incredibly sated. The taste was… how can I describe it? Like eating cooled sunshine, unforgettable.

Morik roused himself a little while later and ate a bit as I packed everything away. We got up and continued into the darkening gloom. Mhorik kept quiet, so I did the same. We made good time and soon left the forest behind. We continued walking as the sun rose and I realized, we hadn’t stopped to rest that night! The matron had said something about the water, did she not?

We kept walking during the next day, stopping to eat a small meal near midday, but otherwise keeping a steady pace. Just before nightfall we saw a small village near a clear stream. Guards met us as we approached, gave us a friendly greeting then one of them took us to the fire in the middle of the village.

The village was small compared to the others I had seen. Only six huts surrounded the central fire, and one was obviously a place for drying. A few men sat near the fire, fidgeting with a nervous energy. Hunting spears planted upright into the ground nearby. A large man sat a little ways away, obviously the chief, surrounded by a few women and a large number of screaming and scampering children. It was a restless tribe that had finally settled down to form a village. The chief stood up to greet us.

“You are not Lelra,” he stated.

“No, we are travelers.”

“Not many out here. Where are you going?”

“We are wizards going to the convocation.”

The mood all around us soured. The guard’s eyes narrowed, the men near the fire sat upright and turned toward us, the women made quick noises that got the attention of all the children. There was a sudden and brutal silence.

“What do you want?”

“A place by the fire to sleep for the night is all we ask. We can share some of the supplies we got from the Lelra.”

“Our wizard has already left,” the man said flatly, as if that explained it all. “She will not be back for a while.”

“Who is your wizard? Perhaps I know her.”

The big man turned and walked away from us. The women were moving their children away from us, and none of the men relaxed.

“It’s cold here,” I said quietly. Mhorik only nodded.

We set up our sleeping hides near the fire, taking a lack of “no” as permission enough to share the fire. We broke out some more of the supplies, but nobody joined us. I felt too scared to say anything, so I just sat and watched the fire until weariness overtook me and I laid myself down to sleep.

It seemed like only a few minutes later when Mhorik nudged me and whispered into my ear. “We leave now.” he said in a tone that would tolerate no argument. “Grab your pack and furs and go.”

I blinked, confused to find it still dark. The fire was still going brightly, so it there really had not been much time passed at all. I could hear Mhorik making small, precise movements getting his stuff together. I hadn’t really unpacked, so it was easy to put everything away. I was rolling up the sleeping furs when Mhorik gave a shout. He bolted up and started running. I slung my pack across one shoulder, grasped the furs in the other hand and ran after him. I was running nearly blind, just trying to keep Mhorik in sight. Behind me I heard the snaps of twigs as someone (maybe two people?) were in pursuit. I heard a whoosh and the thunk of a spear hitting a tree. A curse reverberated behind me, but lacked the force of magic to power it.

I just kept running.

The two figures appeared from nowhere. One moment Mhorik and I were alone, the next we were not. I jumped back and instinctively grasped for magic that wasn’t there to try to protect myself.

One figure walked toward me, holding a club ready in his hand. He (I think it was a ‘he’) had rich, dark skin and impossibly green hair that came down to his shoulders. His clothes were unadorned, made from some sort of fine vine twisted upon itself instead of the usual furs and hide. I looked at his face and a sound like a babbling stream came at me. Despite the panic that should have been overwhelming me, I felt almost passive.

My attention snapped to Mhorik who was saying something in quiet but quick tones. Even without magic, he still had an edge of authority to his voice that demanded attention. I saw him carefully take out something wrapped in an old hide from his pack. He put it gently down on the ground and unwrapped it, revealing a slab of dried dark clay. He picked it up carefully and handed it to the other figure standing near him. The figure looked at the slab, then turned to the other figure, making some noises that sounded more like speech, but nothing like actual words.

“Be still, Dorua. I have this under control,” Mhorik said, a sense of controlled urgency in his voice.

I tried to respond, but my tongue just wouldn’t move in my mouth. The figure near me turned away toward his companion and I felt a weight lift off of me. “Mhorik?” I managed to croak.

“Just be still,” he repeated. I shook my head and tried to regain my senses.

The two figures talked for a bit, then the one turned back to Mhorik and reverently handed the clay slab back to him. The strange person made some hand motions and turned away, putting the club away on his belt.

“Dorua, get ready. Don’t worry, everything is fine.”

I felt my body fall back under my control. I took a deep breath to steady myself, then I got to my feet and went to my pack. I quickly put things back in and slung the pack over my shoulder. Mhorik had put the slab back in its hide wrappings and put the bundle back into his own pack. He got up and put his hand on my shoulder. “We will go with them.”

“Who are they?” I asked, having completely shaken off the stupor from before.

“They are the Lelra, guardians and masters of this forest. We will see the matron.”

“Matron?” I asked, not familiar with the word.

“She’s the female that leads them.”

“Like a wizard?”

“Not exactly,” Mhorik said quietly. “All the Lelra seem to control magic in some way.”

I looked at Mhorik in shock. “All of them?”

“All I have met. Their magic tends to be subtle, though. Do not try to use magic while we are here.”

We walked in silence the rest of the way. We took no discernible path through the forest, but the Lelra didn’t hesitate, merely walking through the area and turning at seemingly random times. I ached to reach out and see if there were some magic guiding them, but I didn’t dare go against Mhorik’s words.

Finally we stopped. One of them turned around and held out his hand.

“We wait here,” Mhorik said quietly. The figure turned and left.

I finally dared to look around, and the sight took my breath away. What I thought was a merely a dense forest turned out to be a small area full of… people… like the two that guided us here. Some nearby carried filled baskets, entering what I now saw as doorways into buildings made of living plants. They moved quickly, stealing glances in our direction. Looking carefully, I also saw a few small ones peeking out from lit doorways, eyes wide in wonder at us.

My attention was drawn back to the figure who returned, stepping through what I now recognized as a doorway. He waved us toward him, and Mhorik put his arm around me to guide us through.

We entered an impressively large room, the walls made of living leaves of nearby plants. There was a dim, green light infusing the area, and it took my eyes a minute to adjust. Mhorik had already taken off his pack and had taken out the bundle again. He was unwrapping it as he stepped forward.

Just as I thought I couldn’t be startled anymore that day, my eyes fell on the magnificence of the far end of the room. A lavish and ornate chair, fashioned from the living wood of a tree, dominated the whole far side of the room. Upon it sat a dark matron, unquestionably powerful just by her mere presence. She sat upright, looking down upon the rest of the room and all the people below. I felt insignificant in her presence, and then she spoke.

“Mhorik,” she said, the words sounding odd on her lips as if she had never spoken aloud before. She drew a breath and started again, “Mhorik, you are returned.”

“Yes, matron.”

“The cycles pass and time weighs upon you. But, my mind blossoms with joy that you have returned.”

Mhorik’s hand reached up and stroked his beard. “It has been so many seasons.”

“Yes. You have brought back the symbol.”

“I have. I have kept it all this time as you told me to.”

She reached out her hands, seeming simultaneously spry and supple like a young girl’s, thin and wiry like an old woman’s, and powerful like a hunter’s. Mhorik held the slab out and gently gave it to her. Her face lit up as she held it. The matron then blew on it gently, and the symbol glowed a bright green. She gasped, obviously surprised. She then grasped the slab and with great effort cracked it in two. A small wisp of green came out and floated away as she spoke something that sounded like the rain against a roof at night. She then looked at Mhorik.

“You have proven yourself powerful, dangerous, but kind. You have also proven some of our wisest to be wrong in their assumptions. As we agreed so long ago, I will give you one boon. Name it.”

“I only wish free passage through your domain, matron. Perhaps some supplies, if you can spare them.”

A laugh like the quiet ocean waves came from her. “Easily granted, wizard, for you and your companion.” She said something and two figures ran off out of the room.

“Tell me about your companion, Mhorik.”

“This is my apprentice, Dorua. I am teaching her the ways of how to properly control magic.”

“Dorua,” the matron said, feeling the form of the words as they left her mouth. “I like that name. I see she has part of your power.”

“Yes, it is as I had hoped. Our ways are not so different.”

“I see they are not, as you told us seasons ago.”

The two figures came back in, carrying a bundle of supplies with them.

“Take these with you. The water is from the sweet spring here and will give you energy. The food is nourishing and will clear your mind as you need.”

“Thank you, matron.”

“You know our rules, but I will explain them to Dorua,” and she looked directly at me. “You are under our protection in this wood. Stay to the path we will show you. Do not harm any living thing intentionally. Do not bring fire into our bounds. Leave the stone cairns as you find them. Finally, do not alter the balance of magic here. Do you understand?”

I had no choice but to nod. But, looking into her face I saw her mouth break into a smile. “Learn well, Dorua. Mhorik has proven himself a potent teacher.”

I withered under her glance. “Thank you, matron,” was all I could manage to say.

The physical wounds would heal in time, but Heena felt pain that plagued her soul. She was able to keep moving, but she rarely looked at anyone besides Prin and hadn’t spoken a word since the fight.

The tribe dragged the sledges with the wrapped bodies of the fallen tribe at a slow pace. Prin had babbled directions to the nearest sacred space and Tama got the tribe to move toward that destination. They did their sacred duty with or without Heena leading them.

It was the fifth night when they stopped to make camp that Heena went wild. She shrieked and ran toward the sledge calling her sister’s name. “Dees! Dees! I won’t leave you!” she screamed, fingers tearing at the ceremonial wrappings on the bodies. It took Tama, Duni, and Wod to pull her back and hold her down, so great was the frenzy that overtook her. When she realized the futility of her struggle, she went limp and simply started sobbing. The sight of it shocked Tama and Duni, not accustomed to seeing their leader break down. Wod laid down next to her, holding her close to him and making quiet, comforting noises. After a moment the others away drifted away to find wood for a fire.

Night fell and Heena finally found sleep. She clung to Wod as newborn Laen clung to his mother.

The morning sun came, but Heena seemed more withdrawn than before. She refused to move until Tama came along and helped her, having to treat her like a child. She helped Heena wash and get into fresh clothes. When the tribe was ready, Tama made sure Heena moved along with the group. Low whispers were shared between the tribe, wondering if Heena could recover from the tragedy.

At the end of the tenth day, they had found the sacred space. Prin had found her resolve and taken the lead, directing the group the last little way without hesitation or error. The tribe was glad to finally be able to put the disfigured bodies properly to rest. Heena still sat passive, not participating in the ritual, so Tama lead it to the best of her ability. Her words were clumsy and awkward, but she knew the important part was bringing the bodies to the sacred space.

After the grim work was done, the tribe collapsed, exhausted. The trip and the rites had taken a toll on them. Some started to set up camp lacking any other plan, planning to just rest for a little while.

The finality of putting her old tribe mates into the ground sank in, and she just felt tired beyond understanding. She wandered away from the bustle of the camp absentmindedly, wanting quiet not not quite wanting to be alone with her thoughts.

Prin still felt like an outsider. The tribe had taken her in after finding her, but she felt alone and adrift. She had focused on putting her old tribe to rest, but now that was over, what would she do?

She saw Heena sitting on a log, her dim eyes staring off into the distance at nothing. Prin sat down next to Heena without a word, staring off into the distance. Finally, Prin broke down and started crying, the frustration, alienation, and pain hitting her all at once. She doubled over, tears streaming from her eyes onto the ground.

Heena seemed to come to her senses and looked over at the weeping figure next to her. Perhaps it was motherly instinct, or a mutual understanding of two people in deep pain, but she reached out and held Prin close. Heena cried as well, expressing her wailing grief. Some of the tribe checked on them to make sure they were okay, but mostly left them to their grief. Time passed as the two sat huddled together, hugging each other close and sharing their mutual loss. They spent that night in deep slumber after the catharsis.

The next morning Heena was up and about as the sun rose over the horizon. Tama went over and gave her a strong hug, welcoming her back. When everyone was up, Heena called for attention.

“Thank you, my friends. You cared for me when I did not, and you kept me going when I could not go on. I cherish you.” Heena smiled for the first time in a long time.

“Let us also welcome Prin into our tribe. She has also suffered great loss but has shown strength in leading us to the sacred spot. Truly the spirit of Bralla lives on in her.”

The group came together and embraced. They fixed a meal and ate together, things almost feeling like normal.

But, in the night, the disfigured face of her sister shambled in Heena’s dreams. She talked to Prin, who shared the same dark dreams, and they formed a bond that lasted for the rest of their lives.

Heena set a brutal pace for the group. Wod had to convince her to stop because Prin couldn’t take it anymore; the girl had broken down crying as they neared the location she described. The battle happened several nights ago, but Heena felt an urgency to find her sister. The sun was already low in the sky and she knew they had to be close.

Walking over to Prin, Heena put her hand on the young girl’s shoulder. “I am sorry, Prin,” she said, trying muster patience and understanding for for the girl. “I wish to find my sister and make sure she is okay.”

Prin swallowed hard and nodded. Heena stroked her tangled hair and pulled her into a caring embrace. “I need you to find her.”

Wiping her eyes, Prin stood up and nodded. “I am scared,” she said, sniffling. “But, I will go on.”

Heena nodded and went to collect her pack. “We run again!” she yelled, prompting her tribe to pick up their gear and start moving.

Prin moved slowly to the front, taking deep breaths to steady herself. She looked around, taking in her mental map, and then pointed in a direction. Heena nodded then started the run as Prin had pointed, the young girl following close after.

Heena slowed down from her run when she recognized the precise location Prin described. She moved to the side as others came along and stopped nearby. The group dropped their packs and caught their breath.

“Here?” Tama asked, looking around. Prin nodded.

“I found blood,” Wod called out, crouching near the ground near a bush. Heena rushed over and saw the traces of dried blood on the vegetation.

Prin shook as she fought her tears unsuccessfully. “Oh, Bralla,” she cried, falling to the ground as the strength left her. Sobs racked her body. Heena dropped down beside her and lifted Prin’s head to her chest, making made quiet, comforting sounds.

“No bodies?” Tama whispered in Heena’s ear from behind.

Heena shook her head, but then said, “Dees must have taken them to a sacred place.”

Tama stood and walked off to talk with the others. Heena just held Prin close, letting the grief wash over her. “Sorry,” she whispered. “So, so sorry.”

They sat next to the bush for a long time as the sun moved down to the horizon. Heena heard the rest of the tribe setting up camp some distance away from the bloody site, but she didn’t move until Prin finally sat upright and wiped her eyes.

“Hungry?” Heena asked. Prin nodded, so the two stood up and went to the fire to get some food.

The meal was simple and quiet. Something wasn’t right for Heena. Even as the others went to sleep, she got up to walk around.

“Cannot sleep?” Wod asked as she walked near where he was keeping watch.

Heena looked at the moon and nodded. “I wish Ree were here,” she said quietly. “She would be able to comfort Prin better.”

Wod gave a quiet laugh. “I think you give good comfort.”

Heena shrugged. “Maybe.”

“The girl is scared,” Wod said, the mirth leaving his voice. “After what she saw….”

Heena nodded and shivered. “Let us go nearer the fire,” she said as she got up. The fire warned her body, but the growing sense of unease was not dispelled by the heat or light.

They sat in silence for a good part of the watch. Near the time of the deepest night, Wod went to get Skiro and wake him up for his watch.

After the old man had gone to relieve himself, he came near the fire to warm up and wake up. He saw Heena sitting there and grunted a curt greeting. Heena just nodded.

Wod was just about ready to go to sleep when he heard something. “There!” he whispered, pointing beyond the fire. He took a spear and went around the fire to the other side. Skiro grabbed his spear and went the other way, while Heena moved back carefully.

She heard the footsteps clearer now, most likely the sound that Wod had heard. The moonlight showed a figure moving in the night, heading toward the camp. Heena squinted and moved away from the fire, trying to get a better look at the figure. Hope welled up in her as she saw what seemed to be a familiar figure.

“Dees,” Heena gasped, tears coming to her eyes. She jumped up and started to move toward her sister. But, then, something in her mind screamed in fear.

The figure had finally come within the range of the firelight. It was Heena’s sister, but it was not Dees anymore. The face was frozen in a mad expression, her face a pale mask of flesh that once belonged to Dees. The thing faced Heena, blank eyes not focusing on her, but the figure still shambling toward her.

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” Heena cried. Not Dees!

Then the creature opened its mouth and screamed. It screamed for an eternity, leeching away all hope. Darkness swallowed Heena, blocking out the light of the fire and the moon. She felt as if she were falling in endless space. The darkness surrounded her, suffocated her, squeezed the life from her.

Heena caught her breath as she saw Skiro standing where the thing that had been her sister was. His spear had pierced through the thing’s body, and the stench of rotting and death filled the area. Heena doubled over and retched the contents of her stomach to the ground.

Wod gave a shout as other figures appeared in the night. The rest of the tribe was rapidly waking up and leaping to action. The two men barked orders as the others grabbed spears. In the distance, she recognized the forms of others from her sister’s tribe: Erdt, Natik, even Bralla shambled in the darkness toward the camp.

“No, no, no,” Heena sobbed, the acid taste still in her mouth. She fell to the ground in mindless fear as shouts and screams came from all directions.

The green beast jumped, claws stretched in front of it. The spear wasn’t swung around in time, and claws found their target in unprotected flesh. One hand dug into the shoulder while the other reached up and gashed the throat. Blood sprayed across the dry grass and she fell over, limp and lifeless. A few of the green ones swarmed to the body, biting and clawing at it.

Dees lost the last of her self-control; seeing Shae fall to the beasts was too much. Not even her consort Natik’s death had touched her so deeply. But Shae, her sister in all but blood, fell to the ground and was savaged by the frenzied green swarm. Her vision darkened as grim reality set in. The jeering green beasts were all around her and she became a spirit of death.

Dropping her spear, Dees took up two stout clubbing sticks and ran toward the body. Swinging with reckless abandon, she caved the skulls of two of the green ones. Another jumped back out of range, then leaped at Dees in a vicious attack. She easily side-stepped the attack and then brought one of the clubs crashing down on the creature’s skull. It fell to the ground and twitched a few times before finally expiring.

The body was still there, blood still weakly gushing out of the gaping wound in the neck. A blank eye stared upward at nothing; the other burst in it socket, pierced by a claw scratching at the face. She would have been overcome with grief it the battle rage hadn’t taken control of her. A scream of another green one charging drew here attention away from Shae’s body.

She spun around and flung out her leg in a savage kick, catching the green one in the face and throwing it to the side. It landed rough, but gained its feet quickly and jumped at her almost instantly, only to catch a club on its shoulder and crumple to the ground. Dees stepped forward and crushed its neck under her foot.

Looking up, she saw two other green ones near by; their bloody mouths showing that they had been gnawing on the fallen. Her eyes narrowed and with a shrill battle cry she charged toward them. One fell as she beat it against the side of its head, but the other dodged out of the way and ran off. She gave chase, her long legs allowing her to outrun her small green prey. Raising her club over her head, she swung hard and brought it crashing down on the back of its skull, dead before it even reached the ground. The body tumbled a few times then landed in an ungraceful heap.

She looked to the left to find other prey as another green one crashed into her from the right. It pinned her arm against her body, claws digging into her ribs. She swung wildly with the other club, but the awkward angle made it difficult to hit the beast. It grasped tightly, digging claws deeper as she fell over on top of the creature. She jammed her shoulder into the creature, crushing it beneath her as it dug its claws in one last time before going limp.

Dees stood up and looked back to where she had last seen the others, but nobody was there. She started to run back, but a pain in her side slowed her down. Panic built up as she didn’t see any of the rest of her tribe near the area she had left them.

Behind a bush, she finally found what was left of her tribe. Erdt was slumped on the ground, a pool of blood around him in addition to a pile of green corpses. She heard Prin sobbing and followed the sound to the other side of the bush, where the young one was bent over. The body of Bralla with dark stains over her clothes finally brought Dees to her knees. The battle frenzy had worn off, and the horrible truth finally sunk in.

Dees tried to speak, but couldn’t get enough air. She felt as if she were drowning in the middle of land. Dropping one of the clubs, she grabbed Prin’s clothes and yanked to get her attention.

A tear-stained face met her gaze. “Dead, they’re dead,” Prin wailed. “Oh, why?”

“Prin,” Dees said, finally finding her voice. “Go to the Slow Fishers. Find my sister.”

Prin blinked, then muttered, “Heena?”

Dees nodded. “Go!”

“The bodies! We must go to a sacred place!”

Dees shook her head and coughed. Pain shot through her side and she heard an unnerving crackling noise from inside her chest. “No, go. I’ll do it.”

Prin just looked at her, then looked down and turned pale. “Dees, you’re….”

A scream announced the arrival of a new group of green ones, cutting Prin off. “Go!” Dees said with all the force she could muster. Prin stood, grabbed a spear, and started to run as fast as she could.

Dees leaned over Bralla’s body and whispered a word for the dead. “I will see you soon, wise one.”

Grabbing her club, she struggled to her feet and faced the direction the scream had come. Let them come, she thought. Let them come and meet their doom with me.

She stopped in the middle of the forest, straining to look at the shadows darting between the trees in the distance. The sweet reminder of summer fruit was dancing on her tongue. The light dimmed as the trees closed in, a dense canopy blocking the sun. From somewhere above, a pod fell and hit the ground with a dull thump. A single ray of light broke through the trees and illuminated the place where the pod fell. A plant sprouted forth from that place, so green in the ray of light that it hurt the eyes to look at it. She blinked away the tears as the plant grew. Its leaves rustled as the plant took form, the breeze carrying the hint of words. “I come,” the whisper said in her ear and she felt a quiver of excitement.

Heena sat up and heard the heavy breathing in the darkness. She sensed the bodies around her, already moving.

“What?” Heena said, looking around at the shadows moving around her. Was it still dream, or was she waking up? She felt a hand gently placed on her shoulder.

“It is Ree,” Tama said quietly. “She is restless, but not awake. Wod noticed first.”

Heena sat for a moment, pushing the haze of sleep out of her mind. Ree and the plant. Something she should know.

“The baby!” Heena finally said, coming fully awake. “It comes.”

Tama counted quietly to herself. “No… too soon…,” she said with concern.

“The little one thinks different,” Heena said, standing up and taking charge of the situation. “We must do the ritual.”

Tama stood up with Heena, but hesitated. She look at Heena in the dim light of the moon, then slowly turned to get everyone ready.

Heena strode over toward the sound of heavy breathing. She went to the sitting shadow closest and leaned down toward it. “Wod?” she asked.

“Yes, dear. I am here.”

“Ree’s child is coming. We must do the ritual.”

His head turned in the dark, the moon’s light shining in his eyes. A sharp inhale of air showed he understood. “I will get her ready.”

“There are trees toward the mountains,” Heena said. “We will go that direction.”

The camp exploded with movement once the decision was made. The tribe gathered their items up as quickly as possible, although Skiro grumbled about being woken up in the middle of the night. In a few minutes everyone was ready. Wod and Tama supported Ree between them as they set off in the direction of the mountains. The tribe moved quickly to the trees Heena remembered.

When they arrived, the tribe moved with a purpose to get ready. Ree was sat against a tree as Wod went to make a fire as instructed. Heena went through her pack and found some of the dried herbs she had in a satchel. When the small fire was built up, she put the herbs on to burn. The sweet smell quickly filled the immediate area.

Heena went to where Ree was sitting against the tree. Everyone else had moved off, assumed their positions guarding the ceremony. Heena sat down next to Ree and took her hand and gave it a brief sqeeze. She matched Ree’s breathing, deeply inhaling and exhaling in time. Ree’s eyes fluttered open and she turned to look at Heena.

“He comes,” Ree whispered. Uncertainty played across her face.

Heena nodded and looked into Ree’s eyes. “I know. We are near trees now. It will be fine.”

A hint of a smile crossed Ree’s face, comforted by Heena’s voice, then she closed her eyes and concentrated. She clenched her jaw as the spasms started in force. Heena gripped her hand tightly in support.

It wasn’t long before the green motes of light finally appeared. They were small and few at first, slowly accumulating around the tree that Ree was sitting against. Heena looked up and gasped in wonder; even the first motes were so bright at night. The motes grew larger and brighter and more numerous as the time passed. Ree’s breaths became deeper as the lights drifted downward, circling the tree. When most of the lights had settled near the base, they floated around Ree.

Heena shifted into position to guide the birth. Heena heard Ree grunting and gasping, fully in the grip of labor. With a twitch, Heena saw the head come out. She stroked the wet head of the newborn, giving it the first sensations of life and encouragement to come out. As the time passed slowly and the motes danced around her, Ree continued to push and the baby continued to move outward. With a last, muffled groan, the baby was delivered to the world.

The motes of light started to fade away. Heena heard them whisper a name, “Laen” as most of the light faded, leaving only a soft green glow mingling with the orange glow of the fire.

Heena held the newborn in her arms. He looked around, bright eyes taking in the beauty of the motes still left. He reached a hand to clumsily grasp at a mote as it floated by.

It was another few moments before Ree’s eyes opened. She took a deep breath and looked up at Heena. “A boy,” she said with fatigue clouding her voice.

Heena smiled and nodded as she gently settled the child into his mother his mother’s arms. “His name is Laen.”

The mother held the baby to herself as the last of the motes faded away, leaving only the flickering fire and the moon to illuminate the area.

It was the fast one who became restless first, as usual.

The group had spent many days digging out the rock to form a small cave. It wasn’t large, but it suited them well enough. They slept quite a bit and listened to the sea. The hungry one even went into the waters to look for new types of food and found some strange, shimmering creatures there. The fast one was the only one that dared to follow even part way, the rest decided to stay away from the large body of water with seemingly no end.

The fast one was moving around the cave, back and forth in a show of restless energy. When the others were finally getting up and around, the fast one made the beckoning sound and moved toward the cave. The small one moved eagerly to follow. The hard one also lumbered toward the cave entrance, leaving the last two in a quandary. They really didn’t feel the need to get up and go, but the group had never been separated before. In the end, the hungry one decided it was time to eat and the old one followed in order not to be left alone.

The fast one was pleased at being able to lead the others for once. The old one was a good leader, but it was time for a change. The group traveled away from the sea, toward the tall mountains where they had found each other. It was the fast one that had found them back then, gathering them together and forming the group. Since then, the group had always been together.

They had been traveling for a while when they stopped near a stream. The hungry one made a noise and went off in search of something new to eat. The old one sat still, concentrating on the sound of the stream as it ran over some rocks. The low water made little noise, and the old one thought about how the water sounded different than the sea. The others wandered around, taking in the sights of the area and finding things to taste.

It was the small one that noticed the spots on the horizon first. He made the warning sound and the others stopped what they were doing to look around. They all watched the fast approaching creatures. When the creatures got closer, the group sat down and hunched over, disguising themselves like the rocks in the area. They kept careful attention on the strangers, and watched quietly as they ran near then stopped. Members of the other group were putting down items they had been carrying.

They were tall and thin, and most of them had long pieces of wood tipped with stone. One was leaning against a tree when another approached. They made a series of sounds to each other, similar to the way the group communicated, but with more variation. Others drank from the stream and made quiet noises as well. After a short while, the group picked up their items and started running off in the same direction they were heading before.

When the last one left toward the distant horizon, the fast one stood up and looked after them. The fast one made the beckoning sound again. The group started to follow, moving in the direction the strangers had run, if not quite as their rapid pace. The sounds had interested the fast one, and he wanted to know more.

It was late at night when they saw the other group again. They had set up animal hides over wooden poles and had built small fires. The old one quietly made the pleased noise when he saw the bright fires. The others echoed the noise, and they settled in for the night, watching as the tall ones went about their nightly chores before settling down to sleep. The group decided rest as well.

The morning came before any of the group decided to stir. The others had already taken their items left the area early. The group went over to look at the place they had stayed. They noticed that small piles of fresh dirt covered many areas, including where the fires had been. They found other signs as they looked around the area.

It was the old one that first noticed the pile of stones nearby. He made the beckoning sound to draw everyone over. Everyone stopped and looked at pile; as quiet descended on the group, they felt the one thing they had all shared but never felt since….

They felt the force that had given them life all around the area.

For the next three days the two tribes traveled toward the mountains far to the north. They had not been moving fast, instead sharing information and enjoying the time together; it was a pleasure they did not get to enjoy very often.

But, both groups went to work as they traveled into new territories. Bralla and her apprentice Prin memorized the lay of the land they had not taken time to explore before. Heena followed her senses and tried to find new sacred places, but none had been found so far.

“Why do you still search for the sacred places?” Dees asked one morning as they were eating breakfast in the dim light right before dawn. “Mother told us about the sacred places, but we only put the dead to rest there.”

Heena sat and concentrated on the point at the horizon where the sun was about to appear. “She told us to find them. I can sense them so strongly, so it fell to me to find them.”

Dees just shrugged. “But, you could do so many other things! Exploring fills me with more excitement than trying to follow a feeling.”

“The law is that we must put the dead in the sacred spaces,” Heena said, repeating in a reverent tone what their mother had told them many times. “Without sacred spaces, we would not be able to give them proper rest.”

“But, there are many sacred spaces,” Dees countered. “All the tribes are within a day’s journey of sacred spaces. Even explorers like us try not to stray too far from them.”

Heena smiled. “So, you need me to find more so you can explore more. And with mother resting in a sacred place, there was nobody else to carry on the work.”

Dees didn’t respond and let the topic drop. The two sat together in the waning moments of the night. Slowly, the sun peeked over the horizon, sending rays of light across the plains. The sisters sat in silence, watching as the light chased away the darkness, bringing the start of a new day.

“Where are you heading next?” Dees finally said after the sun’s spectacular arrival.

“Bralla mentioned some areas to the north that may contain sacred places. There are areas we have not seen yet up there.”

“Yes, some beautiful lands in the hills before the mountains,” Dees said, smiling at her memories of the area.

“We have some maps Bralla described for us,” Heena said. “And, you, where will you go?”

“We will go exploring!” Dees said with barely contained excitement. “The western areas are yet unknown to us. So, we will take Bralla and Prin there to remember the areas.”

“No other tribes have been there yet?”

“Not that I have heard. Bralla has no memory of those areas, and has heard no stories. So, we will go explore.”

“Perhaps find other tribes?” Heena said with a chuckle.

“Who knows? We may even find those other tribes from campfire stories.” Dees said, smiling. “I think they are out there.”

“I know. Do be careful, sister.”

“Oh, don’t worry, we can handle ourselves. It is our job to find the unknown!”

“Stay close to the sacred spaces. I think they can bring peace,” Heena’s voice trailed off.

“Bralla will keep the sacred spaces in her mind as we travel, and she will not let us go too far.” Dees playfully grinned at her sister.

“Perhaps I am worrying too much again,” Heena said, giving a half-smile in response.

“You are,” Dees said, standing up. She leaded over and gave her sister a kiss on the forehead before moving off to join her tribe.

Heena sat quietly and let the sun’s light warm her for a few minutes more.

After a few days with the Slow Fishers tribe, the other tribes started feeling restless. Exploring was in their blood and could not be denied for long.

Heena and her sister Dees had spent the days together, catching up and recounting yet again their old adventures. They decided their two tribes should travel together for a bit. Heena would show wise Bralla where the sacred places were so she could remember them for her maps. Dees’ tribe would show the others around some of the newer areas they had explored.

“What bothers you?” Dees asked after they had been hiking for part of the day away from the sea. “You have been very quiet.”

“I worry about Saska,” Heena admitted with a frown.

“Sister, you always worry too much. She is staying with the Slow Fishers, nothing will happen to her there.”

“It is not that she is in danger, but I worry that I give her too much responsibility.”

Dees scoffed. “She does not look unhappy to me.”

“What if she pushes herself too hard to please me?” Heena said, looking at her sister. “What if she thinks I expect too much from her?”

“I think you are being too protective.”

“Can a mother really be too protective?”

An uneasy silence fell between them, guarding them from going too close to the uncomfortable topics the both preferred to avoid. They continued for the rest of the day in silence. Near sunset, the two tribes stopped, set up camp, and shared a simple meal of dried fish and water.

“I’m sorry about before,” Dees said, finally breaking the silence between the two sisters.

Heena looked up and took a deep breath. “No, I understand. You might be right.”

“I see that Saska is happy. I don’t think there is a problem.”

“I still worry, though,” Heena said, her voice trembling.

“Because you are a good mother.” Dees embraced her sister. They sat together watching the sun set, then they went off to find their places for the night.

The next morning it was decided that they would run to the sacred place. Everyone gathered up their pack and set off in a long line. Heena lead the procession, following her senses and her memories of where the sacred places are. The fast pace meant that they would not be able to talk, so Heena had to choose a clear path and decide when to take breaks. She pushed the group far and fast, stopping after a while to make sure that all were okay. The sacred place was still a distance away, but they could cover that easily after a break.

“Heena,” the older voice came as Heena was leaning against a tree and drawing some strength. She looked up to see Bralla approach.

Heena stood up and frowned at herself. She had not gone to talk to the older woman before they had left. “It is good to see you, Bralla. I heard about Moun…”

“He rests now,” Bralla said with an edge sadness in her voice. “I miss him,” she admitted with a sorrowful sigh.

“Do not fear, he rests in a sacred place. He is at peace.”

“Yes. I remembered the place you had shown us before. Moun said he found the place beautiful, so we took him there.”

Heena remembered the place well. “By the stream in the mountains? With the field of flowers?”

Bralla smiled slightly. “Yes! I didn’t think you would remember.”

Heena laid a hand on Bralla’s shoulder. “I remember all the sacred places. They are important,” she said solemnly.

“I remember them, too. It is my job.”

“You do it well. Nobody can replace you,” Heena said while smiling at the older woman.

“Not true, Heena. Prin has been learning everything I know and remembering all the new places. She will replace me sometime.”

“Not for a long time, I hope!” Heena said. She was a bit taken aback by Bralla’s attitude; did losing Moun turn her thoughts so dark?

Bralla just nodded quietly and appeared to be lost in her own thoughts.

After the break, the group picked up their packs again to get ready for another bout of running. The sun was reaching the top of the sky by the time they stopped near a small cairn of stones near a copse of thin trees. Heena sat down her pack at her feet and breathed deeply. She could feel the sacred area, the energies flowing all around.

“We are here,” she announced. Many were already sitting down and catching their breath.

A young woman approached and waited patiently as Heena lost herself for a moment in the sacred place. She finally looked over and caught her breath. “Prin. right?”

“Yes,” the young woman smiled shyly. “This is the sacred place? The pile of stones….”

“Yes, that is the marker. I wish you could feel the essence of this place.” Heena inhaled deeply, the energy nearly intoxicating her.

“I feel… something. Perhaps it is more than just the fresh breeze from the distant sea.”

Heena smiled. “An explorer who can detect sacred places? That would be a blessing.”

Prin gave a quick laugh and smiled. “I am happy learning to be an explorer. I do not think I need more work!”

Heena laughed as well. “We value the work that you do. Learn well, Prin.”

Prin looked away bashfully, then said a quiet goodbye to Heena. She went to talk to Bralla and the two women, one old and one so very young, talked and pointed out different landmarks they could see from the area.

Heena watch them for a moment, then closed her eyes and lost herself as the sacred place washed over her once again.