The Fires of Loss
“I see the fires! Khari I see the fires!”
Khari looked up the mast to the young boy shouting with glee, she smirked and glanced out into the distance. There out of the darkness and shadows of night 2 pin holes of light shone through, a bastion of good, the only sign of life on the frozen tundra for miles around. The clouds moved as if knowing their journey was nearly at an end and let the moons’ light shine down. The landscape came to light in whites, blues, and grays. The distant peaks of Liliatus’ tears loomed just barely in the peripheral of sight, which meant they were home.
“Come down and gather your things, I'm sure our early arrival before the night of Ancestral Fires will bring the whole village a great joy” Khari said as she moved to take the rudder of the ice skiff and sent the crew to make ready for their arrival. She gathered the ropes and with one mighty well timed pull, the 2 long keels of the ship came up just as they moved onto the ice shelf. The ship jostled and groaned as it transitioned from sea to ice but lost almost none of its momentum in act. Khari was one of the best captains in the village and had been sailing on ice skiffs since before she was able to walk. Now she spends most of her time teaching the younger ones the traditional ways before they go out into the world of airships and ever advancing technology. She knew that most would never return to the village, choosing to stay in the sprawling cities and aboard the massive sky ships, swayed by the fast life and money to be made in the outside world. That life had almost swept her up in her youth, she had seen the world expand out beneath her from the deck of a sky ship. She had fought off bandits, pirates, and beasties of legend in the skies over a land she didn't even know the name of. She had drank deep of wines and sunrises in cities that seemed to be on different worlds from one another, loved and laughed with every race or group of peoples this world had to offer but her place was here. Here on the ice and frozen waters, here teaching the next generation of titarans the traditional ways, the ways of Ky’Ren, the ways of their ancestors, the way to survive.
“Make ready the lines! And watch your limbs on the dock. I’m not telling your fathers you lost your arm after 3 moons at sea because you were sloppy docking the skiff.”
The small crew of younglings all moved to their assigned spots as Khari pulled the sail and the skiff’s keels bit into the ice to slow their speed. As they pulled into the dock, an old hunched titaran holding a lantern called out as they approached.
“Welcome home Khari and crew, I hope Ky’Ren brings you home early with good fortune and not ill news.”
Khari tossed the man a heavy line and laughed “our hold is full of dozer crabs and young Merruk even found a tooth from an ancient dragon shark in one of the traps. I’d say that earned us a few days early pass, plus I long for ale and one of my loves ray cakes, what do you say crew?”
The children cheered as they secured the lines and rigging of the ice skiff before all turning to look at Khari. Not one dared ask out loud but their faces all strained with the question as they waited. Khari knew they all wanted to turn and flee up the gangplank and stream into the village to their home but there was one last tradition to do before they could disembark. She turned from them and gazed out the way they had come, closing her eyes and lifting her arms to the horizon she sang out, low at first, raising in volume and tone as the crew behind her joined in, moving their arms from the horizon up to the sky as they song grew and floated on the air. A tune that was all joy and sorrow at the same time, a cry of a lost love and the happiness of one saved, the melody danced like ocean waves on the air and as softly as it had started it trailed off into the stars.
The old man smiled down at the children and wiped a small tear from his eye, “I don't care how many times I have heard Liliatus’ lament in my many years, it still seeps into my bones and brings me back to my first voyage.”
Khari smiled up at the man and looked back to her crew.
“You all have completed your last gate, you have all learned the ways of our ancestors, in the way we titarans have been living since the day tears fell from the heavens and created the mountains that birthed us. Go now, no longer as children of the village but as titarans of Issenzar. I will see you all around the great fire.” She moved to touch each of them on the shoulder, dismissing each by name. Once the last had fled up the ramp and into the village did she gather her pack and follow suit. She moved through the frenzy of the village as it readied itself for the ritual of Ancestral Fires; smiling and hugging those that stopped to greet her and waved to the elders as they watched from the raised porches of their homes. She snaked her way through the well wishers and chaos of the crowd to her small home, as she climbed the front stairs she could hear the soft humming of her love. Khari flung open the door and dropped her pack at her feet with a grin that could rival the shine of a thousand suns, as her partner jumped and dropped the chair she was carrying.
“KHARI! My love! I didn't think you would make it before the Ancestral Fires, you could have signaled… I don't have anything ready.. The house is a ….”
Khari moved swiftly and scooped up the small umbriel elf and hoisted her into the air before kissing her deeply. Sarria, while average height for her race was still a waif of a figure in Khari’s arms, her dark skin broken only by the moonlight silver tattoos that spiraled over her body and marked her family and clan. Her snow white hair was pulled back and laced with leather ties to keep it out of her face as she readied the house for her first Ancestral Fires.
Khari put Sarria down and laughed “we filled the hold quickly and I know this is our first Ancestral Fires together so I wanted to make sure I made it back in time. Also I have to say,” she took a step back to look over Sarria again. “While this domestic look suits you well, I much prefer you in your leathers and plates.”
Sarria glanced down at her furs and whale seal skins and shook her head. “Listen, when we left that life behind and I hung up my pistols. I may put the leathers back on when we go out on the skiff, but not before I sew in a double thick fur lining. I don’t understand how your people lived up here for ages before joining the rest of the world, even the most determined explorer wouldn't venture this far north and think to find people.. But I am happy you are home my love, go bathe and wash the salt from your body and I will fix you something to eat.”
Khari leaned in and placed a surprisingly gentle kiss on Sarria’s forehead before moving off to clean and settle herself home.
As the darkness of true night grew Khari took Sarria into the village that was bursting with activity. The great fire was to be lit soon and would start the festivities for the Ancestral Fires. 3 nights of songs, food, drink, and joy that would rise up to the heavens and keep Liliatu from crying for another year. Khari explained all the meanings and reasons for each decoration on the houses to Sarria as they walked towards the gathering at the village center. The elders stood on an ancient stone stage and addressed the crowd.
“...as many of you know it is tradition to send envoys to the other villages and invite them to celebrate with us as they do in turn. We welcome the envoys of our fellow titaran villages, we welcome those of you that have joined our village, and those that are joined yourselves to ones of this village. Tonight we are all one people of Ky’Ren, we are all children of Issenzar.”
Khari felt Sarria squeeze her tightly as the elder spoke and they turned to greet and embrace those around them as was tradition. The murmur of the crowd was hushed as the elder spoke again, his tone changed.
“Now there is one bit of news. I feel I must speak before we light the great fire. Our neighbors in the village of the Whale Seals, their envoy never arrived and our envoy to them returned to us this very evening. Their village was empty when he arrived, signs of battle and death were all around, we do not know what happened but I am asking for extra eyes on the walls of the village and for everyone to keep a weathered eye on the horizon.”
The crowd spoke softly amongst itself and Khari turned to a large titaran next to her, he was one of the main mountain scouts and a childhood friend of Khari. “What is really going on?”
The man glanced to Khari then to Sarria before turning into the pair and keeping his voice hushed, “the drekon are stirring in the mountain passes, they are starting to gather in larger tribes. …now… I can't confirm any of this but there are whispers, one of their tyrants has stirred from its hibernation, its claimed a tribe and is preparing to unite those bastards for a war of conquest. Again I can’t confirm any of this but what I can say is they are getting bolder and the few scouting parties we’ve come across fought like their master’s whip were at their backs. One of our scouts claims to have even seen a seer among their ranks. We’ve known about their gatherings for months now, the elders did not want anyone to know but after our envoy returned they didn't have a choice. I know you both are retired from adventuring but for me, keep your weapons out and at the ready….hopefully you won't need them.”
Khari listened to her friend with a mix of confusion and concern, she held Sarria tightly as her thoughts moved to the route from the Village of the Whale Seals to here. It wasn't a great distance but the ice fields and smaller peaks made it for a slow go. She nodded and her hand moved idly to where the end of her axe would have been if it had been strung on her back. She glanced to Sarria and noticed her hands were at her hips where her pistols would normally be.
“Thank you brother. We’ll keep our wits about us and go light on the ale” Khari smiled softly to Sarria as she spoke to the male. All 3 of their eyes snapped up to the elder as the great fire was lit and the rush of heat washed over the crowd as they cheered.
Khari watched the fire dance in the night and her anxiety calmed, as the music started her mind drifted away from the drekon and back to the world at hand.
The great fire burned bright into the small hours of the night, soon the sun would crest the horizon and begin its short skim across the sky, never truly rising past far off the horizon and setting a mere few short hours after appearing. It was in this small twilight that the titarans would rest and recover before the festival of the Ancestral Fires would truly get into full swing. It was also the time the drekon tribal chief had chosen to wait for, and surround the village all the while the titarans danced and celebrated unknowing what lurked within striking distance. The great seer had cloaked their approach with foul fell magic and the first warning of their presence came too late as a hail of arrow ripped through the air and into the small group of guards outside the walls. No sooner had the first guard’s blood hit the ground that the drekons trap was sprung. Signal horns cut through the quiet peace of the false dawn, followed by the heavy thundering of the drekon bloodseeker as they barrelled across the killing field, ramming their massive bulks into the village gates one after another. The reinforced gates held at first but soon buckled and splintered as they were torn from their mountings and tossed aside. Through the breach poured the drekon with bows, arrows, sword and shield, their teeth bared as they overtook the village. The roars of the drekon soon mingled with the wales of their victims.
Khari sprang out of bed at the sound of the horn, their years adventing took over and both Sarria and herself dressed and armed themselves without a second thought or word between them. They rushed out of their house just as the front gate splintered and in rushed the horde. Khari looked to Sarria and smiled a smile of warmth and sorrow, Sarria returned it in suit and they both rushed into the fray. Khari swung her sordalite axe in tight circles as she waded into the small drekon that had first rushed into the shattered maw of the breach. She could hear the magical rush and pops of Sarria’s pistols as she picked off those that tried to circle around Khari. Many of the guardians of the village were rushing out of their homes to join the fray, they would turn the tide and send this horde back to the mountains crying to their whelping boxes.
Just then the air sizzled and cracked as a bolt of fell magic landed across the line of titarans exploding in a flash of blue and green. The seer cackled from beneath its hooded robes and pointed its staff again, unleashing another powerful bolt of fell magic. Khari was knocked off her feet and thrown to the ground some feet from where she was fighting, her ears ringing and head swimming from the impact. She slowly got to her feet and looked around for Sarria. The battle she thought was turning to their favor was quickly becoming a slaughter. The seer had unleashed his devastating fell magic, the archers now on top of the wall rained down death, the drekon rank and file slaughtered those that lay injured and dying, and the drekon bloodseekers waded through what was left, towering over even the tallest titaran and smashing all that stood before them. She couldn't find Sarria for what felt like forever in her mind but there some 10 meters away she laid in a heap, her white hair singed and soaked in gore and blood from battle. She wasn't moving, Khari raced towards her love but fell short as the large fist of a drekon bloodseeker struck her on the back. She hit the ground, her world black for a few moments, but still she crawled to Sarria, clawing at the ground to inch closer to her. Her skin tightened as she felt a wave of energy wash over her, she looked up at the drekon seer with one swollen and one bloody eye. The fell magic rolled off of its body and its voice cracked with power.
“Take this one, She will provide information about the other tribes and settlements”
Before Khari could speak or react, another hammer blow from the first of a drekon bloodseeker struck her head and the world went black, no star light, no moon, just a void of nothingness and numbness.