Happy New Year!
I know that’s coming late but I’m finally getting caught up on my writing. This is the first big piece (aside from the next adventure) that I’ve been working on getting done. Below you’ll find the beginning of “Line in the Snow: A Celebration of Sacrifice” which is a story set in Ehdrigohr that details the gathering of a number of warriors to fight off the hordes of shivers in the “Long Night” in the wintery lands known as the White.
What’s special about this is that, aside from giving you a glimpse at a lot of Urali culture, it will be featuring characters made by backers from the Ehdrigohr kickstarter. This was an incentive that some backers opted for so I’m going to enjoy weaving the characters that I receive into the narrative. I don’t know how many parts this will take me to do. I’m just serializing it here on my blog and letting it take me where it takes me. When it’s all said and done I may gather it all together and publish it in a more normal book format. For now the goal is to try to get an entry up every couple weeks while Chicago dances with winter and provides me with many inspirations. If something catches your fancy in this narrative as it grows let me know. That’ll help me decide what I should be elaborating on in the next book.
Thanks to all of you who have endured my hiccups and stayed with me for the ride. It’s going to keep getting more interesting. Read on and I hope you enjoy.
The world seemed strangely silent as Aanu climbed the hill to the waytower perched upon it. The only sound that broke said silence was the crunch made by his slow stride as his boots crushed through inches of deeply packed snow.
There was a slight breeze in the air. It wasn’t strong at all, but just enough to cast loose snow about, peppering Aanu’s beard with white flakes that quickly faded to lingering moisture. It wasn’t terribly cold, but cold enough for the dampness in Aanu’s beard to freeze. This forced him to stop from time to time to brush out the ice.
At the top of the hill, repairing the stone spire known as a waytower sat Sinnik’tok and Makkitu’q. They wore their ilgaak, slitted goggles, to protect their eyes from the cold, and the glare of the sun, as they worked.
Sinnik’tok was skilled in the Mysteries, the magical flows that made up the world. There were myriad mysteries that people used in innumerable ways. In his case Sinnik’tok manipulated elemental flows, particularly that of Earth. He was well respected. They called him a Stone Caller. He whispered and sang carefully to the stone causing it to slowly “grow” and fill in the spidery fractures that had been caused by a great beast which had apparently taken refuge atop the hill a few nights ago.
He worked carefully, for the waytower is a sacred thing. It is one of many types of spirit towers that the peoples of the lands use. They are erected to protect the towns and villages from the nightmare things called shivers which arise in the dark of the night and hunt humans.
Waytowers were smaller than the spirit towers used in towns. The stone tower Sinnik’tok worked on was sculpted into shapes and faces representing the powerful spirits, known as the Graces, stacked as high as four men and facing different directions.
When a waytower begins to crack and wear, as this one had, whether from the effects of nature, or beasts seeking to hide from the shivers, the protective threshold around them begins to fail and they do not keep out shivers so well.
Makkitu’q, also skilled in the mysteries, whispered songs as she repainted the symbols in areas that her brother had already fixed. Her talents were with the Mysteries called the Principles. She possessed a natural ability for manipulating the Principles of Destiny and Honor which bound people to the world. She painted oaths and opportunities into every stroke and lyric, rebinding the small spirit tower to the flow of Mysteries that ran through earth and sky.
“Aay! How’s that coming?” Aanu called out as he got to the top of the hill, a little winded.
“Mmm,” grunted Sinnik’Tok.
“Mmm? What does that mean?” Aanu growled as he slowly found a seat on of the big boulders that ringed the top of the hill.
“It means. . .that I would have been done nearly and hour ago if you would stop interrupting and asking how it’s coming.”
“If you hurried up and got done, I wouldn’t have to interrupt you, ay?”
Both of them stopped to give Aanu a hard look.
“We don’t need a babysitter, you know.” commented Makkitu’q as she refilled her brush. “You’re just up here, bothering us, because you don’t want to do any work in town.”
Aanu huffed in feigned offense. “Well, I’m an old man and so it’s my prerogative to avoid a wall raising or two as long as I’m being helpful somewhere else.”
“Is that so? And where might that be?” chided Makkitu’q.
“Right here!” replied Aanu. “I’m your lookout! And, I keep you entertained with my sharp wit.” Aanu turned and gave them both an overwrought, squinting, broad faced smile.
“You’re a regular trouping jay. If you weren’t my uncle I’d show you how entertained I am and kick your saggy butt down this hill.”
“I love you too nephew,” Aanu mumbled wryly as he stood up and stretched his back while casting his gaze to the north. “You should be more respectful to your elders.”
The sky seemed to be a swirled mix of purples and reds that stretched out from the west to spill into the entire deep blue of dusk.
“It looks like Redsky has come a couple days early.” Aanu observed.
As the time for LongNight approached in the northern lands called the White, there is first a period of long dusks where the sky seems to be various shades of reds, oranges, and purples. This is generally known as PaintedSky. As the colors grew more red it was called RedSky. That redness let the people know that LongNight was almost upon them. Painted skies, in general, happened a lot during the winter in The White. There are periods during the painted sky times where one could see brilliantly undulating colors that lit up the night heavens. These undulating colors are commonly known as the Threads. Popular folktales claim that they are the excess threads of the creator spirit known as the Spinner. When they can be seen, the threads are falling to the world faster than the Spinner could spin it into the Great Hoop.
Makkitu’q turned to look at the sky with her uncle and tried to calm his concerns.
“A few moons ago, during the last LongSun moot, Old Kirsii said it would be an early RedSky. She said we shouldn’t worry, claiming RedSky would come sooner and last a little longer this winter.”
“There! I’m finished,” Sinnik’tok announced standing and brushing himself off.
Aanu sauntered back over and circled the tower. It seemed to have a slight silvered iridescence, a glimmer that outlined it against the sky. “I guess you two do some pretty good work,” he commended. Something caught his eye to the southwest. “And just in time, it would seem.”
He pointed with his chin and bottom lip and the others looked to see a small group of people, eight in all, walking through the snow and heading towards the hill.
The approaching group stopped and waved at them when they realized they had been seen. Aanu waved back. The travelers were dressed for a long outing in the White. They had snow shoes strapped to their backs on large traveling packs and to their sides hung axes and picks. Each person walked using an ornate spear as a walking pole. To either side of the group trotted the large, furry, white, spider-like creatures called Wicate-wa. They were as white as the snow, and nearly invisible in it, save for the harnesses strapped to them. Their eight legs were a quickly moving blur and their clustered, large, forward eyes reflected the reddening sky giving them an ominous glow. They seemed as though they were red stars moving across the tundra.
The wicate-wa were harnessed together and pulled a sledge that held other supplies. Normally, these creatures were dangerous pack hunters in the wild, but when raised from hatchlings they were great, smart, loyal companions who thought of the family they grew up with as their pack.
Two of the people broke off from the group and started running to the hill. They weren’t wearing furs like the others. They had long, cowled, blanket cloaks. One cloak was black and iridescent, alternately reflecting blues and purples and greens in its color. The other was was a dun brown with spots of white that made them look like a patch of earth with a bit of snow on it from the distance. If the brown cloaked person stood still they could almost blend perfectly into the environment. As they ran toward the hill the wind swirled around them casting tendrils of loose snow everywhere. Suddenly, with eight loping steps, they bounded across the snow and closed the quarter mile between them and the hill. Their cloaks flared out like wings with every lope. In the blink of an eye they were gliding to a stop before Aanu and his family.
“I see you, friends,” the darkly clad figure greeted them both in thickly accented Urali as well as with hand-talk. The hand-talk gesture had the dark figure pointing first to their own face with two fingers, then to Aanu and family, then ending with a backwards sweeping gesture revealing open hands which typically was to show that a person wasn’t dangerous and had no weapons. Aanu, knew better, however. This was a warrior of the Society of Crows. They were always dangerous. They were exquisite killers if they wanted to be. They’re hands were weapon enough. In addition to that they were masters of the mysteries of Wind and Body. The very winds heeded their call and their bodies could be forced to do things that seemed impossible for common people as well as other things that were downright nightmarish. He had traveled with enough Crows in his time to know the rumors to be true, having seen them for himself.
“I see you, friend,” Aanu responded also with the Urali language as well as hand-talk. The warrior in the brown cloak did the same, as did Sinnik’tok and Makkitu’q.
The black hooded figure pulled back the cowl to reveal the sharp, bronze skinned face of a man from the Shil, the savanna south of the White Rim mountains.
“I am called Gangi in my home.” He pronounced. “In my travels I am of the Crows and am called CutsMany for the many shivers that have fallen before my crow-lance. This. . .” he continued, gesturing towards his companion in the dun cloak. “This is Maka, she is of the Society of the Mourning Doves, and is known in her travels as BrownFox for her ability to hear even what the spirits cannot. We come to the White to give blood and walk The Line.”
Aanu, nodded and grasped hands and forearms with them both. He gave the warmest greeting he could muster. “You and the Bear Walkers travel out to The Line to soon.” he suggested. “There is at least a couple weeks before The Line must be drawn.”
“It is my doing,” offered BrownFox. “I had had heard that this tower had been damaged by a elder bear seeking shelter. I had dreams of this bear. It harbored great fear. When Mahto’s children wander to the towers so soon it is a bad sign. It generally means that the shiver numbers may be great and there might be an emergence nearby. The dream was a sign from MahtoWakan, the Great Bear. I believe that there is a vision to be had on this Way Mound. I have brought the Bear Walkers here to attune to the hill, enter Dream, and seek a blessing and a vision from Mahto.”
“Well, the tower is ready for you, thanks to Sinnik’tok and Makkitu’q here.” Aanu said, gesturing to his nephew and niece. “We’ll just gather our stuff and get out of your way so you can set up before sundown.”
CutsMany spoke up. “Actually we were hoping you would stay.”
“Say again?” questioned Makkitu’q as she stepped up to stand next to her uncle. She gave him a look that suggested he not say anything foolish.
“What do you need us for?” Aanu asked, allowing his attention to drift to the Bear Walkers and their beasts which were just now getting to the foot of the mound. “Hey! That’s Ja’qolimaq’s crew. They’re some of the toughest fighters in the area.”
“That they are.” offer BrownFox. “However, they will be accompanying me on a journey into Dream. We’ll need some people to guard, and we’ll need a Drum to help us begin the journey.”
Aanu was not happy. His eyes darted back and forth between the Crow and the Dove in an attempt to discern what truths they were not revealing.
BrownFox stepped up to him, pulling back her cowl and scarves, revealing a lovely, but life hardened face. She had the look of the D’Zul people from the region called the Sunder, which lie far to the southwest. Her hair was woolly and cropped close to her head, and her skin was a deep, rich brown. It reminded him of good soil, full of possibilities and with a softness that was warm and comforting. Standing closer to him, he was aware that she smelled strongly of sage – northern blood sage in particular which grew here in the White near the Line. She had smudged recently and it still clung to her. Her medicine was powerful.
“Please grandfather, aid us. We don’t have much time. We have been told of your talents and are greatly in need of them.” She reached out to clasp his hands while producing a pouch from her robe. She placed the pouch in his hands. He detected the strong, sharp aroma of southern tobacco wafting up from it. That was strong medicine. This was a formal request.
She knew his secret.
Aanu looked back to his nephew and niece nervously and then back to Gangi-CutsMany, the Crow. “They are all that I have left.” He explained. “Let no harm come to them.”
CutsMany, placed a hand on Aanu’s shoulder. “Your blood will be as my own, as my flock. My life before theirs.”
With that assurance, Aanu turned back to BrownFox and nodded. “As you wish. Let’s prepare the site.” He began to bark orders to the Crow, Dove, and Bear Walkers and they all jumped into action.
Sinnik’tok and Makkitu’q stared on in disbelief and confusion. Why were these people responding to their uncle like some old general from the Line? They’d never seen him as anything but an annoying old fool who got in the way more than he helped. They loved him, so they tolerated him. It seemed there was more to Aanu than they knew. Looking to each other they quietly agreed to seek answers later and then they too got to work.