Story 3: The Kindred of the North

Ra’Kesh, an older and grizzled Nomadic Barbarian, was taking the long road home after an unsuccessful hunting trip further to the south. He was hoping to chance upon something before arriving back home in the mountains as he trudged towards his stopping point for the night. Ra’Kesh was aware that the land  had emptied itself of life in the once fertile hunting grounds. There were no flying birds racing overhead anymore, no animals to pursue through the woods. The only residents now were poisonous creatures, beasts and the Brown Harpies that circled the dead as they lie rotting in the thin snow.

 

His trip to the south had disturbed and he’d seen very few game animals. He walked past many gutted carcasses, and fading bones. To him, his homeland felt  more desperate; in fear of not surviving the winter having held onto too little food. There was a panic in the air. Now the North was stripped bare of its resources. For a Barbarian warrior like Ra’Kesh, he knew that grim times were ahead for his people unless some of the other hunting parties that had gone out from the tribe had been more successful. Somehow, Ra’Kesh knew that they were having just as little luck finding food as he was. This land is more dangerous now than ever before. He thought to himself.

 

The lumbering Barbarian plowed forward through the deepening snow which was now only about as high as the midway point of his shin. He knew, however, that the snow would deepen as he made his way to the top of the valley.  Ra’Kesh was a skilled Nomadic Barbarian, and unlike the Humans that ventured through these lands, he had no fear. To him the North was his ally; his home. He was at peace with the outcomes of his life yet he was not ignorant to reality.

 

In Ra’Kesh’s mind, there is no fairness in his people being deprived of food for the cold season, but it was a fact of life in the North. It was hunt, or be hunted. Ra’Kesh did believe that his ancestors would not let their people die of starvation this winter, but he did not know how it would come to pass. He held his axe in one hand and his shield was over his shoulder as he continued to march forward through the narrowing valley. The snow fell densely as he gained altitude and the sun sank lower to the horizon.

 

One more night out here. He said to himself as he unpacked. Ra’Kesh made camp here many times before after much more fruitful trips south. Tonight, he had no meat to bring home and an aching belly of his own. He insulated himself with a little snow-structure to, hopefully, prevent much of his smell from escaping his camp area and trap warmth. He did not light a fire as this was a bold action to take when traveling alone and a way to bring on unnecessary attention. Instead, Ra’Kesh laid his rolled furrs out over an area he had cleared, revealing the cold frozen dirt beneath. He tore into some jerky as twilight neared an end.  The swirling stormclouds above were veiled in darkness by the onset of night.

 

Something had been following Ra’Kesh for a portion of his trip home from the hunting grounds. Earlier in the day, it had stalked while the Barbarian marched up the valley slowly. Its prey had been unaware of its presence in the woods not far off his pace. It had watched while the Barbarian took to the side of the valley and established a place to set up camp. Now, as dark had come on, the creature went from observing, to hunting.

 

The clouds overhead could be heard to whisper as they moved with the furious northern wind. Somewhere in the darkness above the valley, they roiled. The temperature plummeted and Ra’Kesh tried to rest. The cold was penetrating his thick skin, but he could still fall into sleep. Just before Ra’Kesh had fully relaxed, there was a sudden clap of thunder.

 

The creature approached from the north coming down at his camp from behind his pile of snow he had made around himself. This monster relied on many senses, formulated plans and weighed options. It waited in the shadows, slinking low, still many feet away. The creature could smell his stink clinging to his clothes and furrs.  The creature salivated, crouched, recoiled and sprung into action. It hurled itself through the air and onto the camp at astonishing speed and with near perfect silence. The creature being of such significant size that when it landed it created a massive plume and blasted frosty snow thrown out in all directions. It tore at the bundle of rags, but found no one in them. Much to its surprise, Ra’Kesh had somehow known it was coming.

 

It was only then that, to the great shambler, the conspiracy became apparent. The suddenly stormy sky above unleashed a blast of lightning upon the Abominable as it lurched in the clearing of the devastated camp. It was struck with white-hot energy as it stood to its full twenty-five feet. Scalded and screaming, it raised its fist and let out a roar that echoed across the valley. It spun about, looking for its enemies while its flesh crackled and crisped across its left flank and back.

 

Scarred from the startling shock of the lightning, the creature whirred about and spotted Ra’Kesh. The Barbarian had  run far out into the open valley, but then turned around to face the creature in a combat stance. The Abominable squared up on the Barbarian and pounded its fists into the ground, galloping to a raging charge with its mouth gaping wide.

 

Ra’Kesh set his feet, and calmly recoiled his axe back behind his shoulder. As the massive creature advanced, the Barbarian aimed carefully and waited. He stood his ground as the lumbering colossus bore down on him at a fatal speed. Ra’Kesh hurled the axe with deadly precision. The twirling hand axe sank deep into the Abominable’s face, shattering its eye. The wound rocked the creature and it frenzied in wild agony. It swiped forward with extraordinarily vicious rage as it fell to the ground and flailed its massive arm across the open valley floor. The Barbarian was broadsided where he stood and was cast into the air like a thrown doll, disappearing into the night. It cradled its injured face with the other hand as it tried to stand, fumbling about, disoriented and in writhing pain. The creature pawed angrily at the axe and knew it still had an enemy out there somewhere. It peered into the darkness with its good eye.

 

The Abominable huddled in the snow, screaming from its wounds and franticly searching about. Behind it in the forest, a tree was uprooted swiftly and was brought down hard on top of the Abominable with choking speed. Branches snapped over it’s body and the trunk squarely clobbered the creature over its head. The force of the impact flattened the monster into the ground, while the tree then slid down and pinned the Abominable to the earth. Stunned by the sudden brutality of the attack, it groaned and tried to get back up. The clouds opened and a new bolt of lightning came down from the sky. This one, however, was much more pinpoint than the previous in its accuracy and it struck the Abominable directly on the top of its head as it lie flat on the earth. The force of the lightning upon the Abominable’s skull was like a savage weighted hammer brought to bear on a pumpkin. The tree then fell naturally to the ground, and silence reestablished control of the valley once more.

 

From out of the shadow of the woods several hundred feet away, a Jeshan Shifter emerged from the forest and began to trudge across the valley floor over to where the Barbarian had been flung during the battle. As he walked closer, he discovered the Ra’Kesh had been impaled against sharp rocks to the side of the valley where he had landed. The broken fragments of his wooden shield still hung onto the straps around his arm, which was sprawled lifelessly beside his mangled body. The Jeshan removed his hood and met the Barbarian’s gaze.

“I’m sorry,” The Shifter said. The Barbarian looked back at him with tired eyes. They both understood.

“How long had it been hunting me?” The Barbarian asked.

“At least since yesterday,” the Shifter said. “It is dead.” The Barbarian looked up at the sky and saw no stars, but could feel the cold breath of the North stinging his cheeks as the last drippings of life escaped from his body. “You didn’t have to help me.” .

“Yes I did,” the Jeshan said in reply. “We are kin of the North together, and you would have done the same for me. We all must protect each other in these dark times.”  The Barbarian smiled a little at that. My hope is not fading after all. He  mused to himself as he grew more tired.

“So,” the Barbarian said gruffly. “I always knew I would meet a Shifter one day. Your kind our the link between our world and the world of my ancestors. You have the light of my kin in your eyes.” The Jeshan said.

The Jeshan smiled, “you Barbarians, wasting your last words to wax poetic.”

A long silence passed as they looked upon each other, and the snow fall thickened.

“Thank you,” his voice beginning to fade. “The ancestors saw you tonight.”

“Soon, you will be with them. Become one with the Stream.” The Jeshan then pulled a vein of Stream out of the woods, knelt beside the broken warrior and passed it over the Barbarian’s outstretched hand. “The Stream sees everything,”  he said softly. “Tonight, you dine with the greatest warriors of your tribe in the grand Hall of Bones. Feast, my friend, and rest well on a full belly. The days of battle are over for you. I will take the Abominable’s flesh  back to your people. They will not starve this winter. They will live because of your sacrifice. The creature could not have been defeated without you and you die with honor tonight.”

“By the light of the Stream be bound!” The Barbarian said his eyes charged with intention, despite those being the words spoken by the Shifters who graduate from Naruna, not of anyone who comes from the Frozen North. The Shifter smiled and passed his open palm over the eyes of the Barbarian.

“May it show us the way.” He said in formal reply, and with that, Ra’Kesh was dead.

 

The Jeshan took about the grueling duty of skinning, gutting, cleaning, and packing a great deal of abominable meat into several bags and carryalls that he had. He used Ra’Kesh’s furrs to pack more flesh and the snapped limbs of the tree he used to pummel the Abominable to make a large sled.

 

The Jeshan Master was true to his word and he carried a great deal of fresh meat back to the Barbarian’s tribe, walking all night and arriving early in the morning. They were a famished lot that had been waiting for its few warriors to return from the hunt. The Jeshan told them that one of them would not be coming back. “He gave his life so that you all could live.” He said aloud as the tribe listened. “Let me tell you of how he died in battle.”

 

The Jeshan spoke of how Ra’Kesh the Slayer had, attacked and defeated the Abominable, and then fed all his people with it’s flesh. Ra’Kesh was a skilled warrior, and a brave Nomadic Barbarian and the Jeshan described his axe flying through the air and impaling the creature in its eye. He made sure the stories they will tell of Ra’Kesh the Slayer will go on through the generations.

 

Though they cried that their father, husband and friend would not come home, he would never be forgotten in the tales the tribe will tell that would pass down from the parents to their children. Ultimately, the Barbarians understood that this was the way of the North, and that death comes for everyone, in time. There are many more who die then there are who live to do great deeds. Now these Barbarians had a warrior of their tribe who had done both. The Barbarians gave some meat to the Jeshan and he accepted gladly. He gathered his belongings and prepared to go, having shown his honor to the Stream and to the tribe.

 

“We are all here together,” the Jeshan said before them. “We must all remember that we are kin of the North, not just kin by our race, and that we must protect our land and each other so that life may go on as it always has. I have always been here. I will always be here, watching.” With that, the Jeshan vanished into the night, as the wind started to increase and the snowfall around their homes deepened.

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