It was raining.
Lightly, at first – a fresh shower. But the sky would soon darken, and the heavens deliver a torrent upon the already soft earth of the rolling hills and forests.
The boy stood and turned his face towards the sky, fat drops of water smearing the ash and the animal-fat pigment caked there from days ago. He ran a hand through his hair – still choked with mud, filth, and twigs from the morning – making a half-hearted attempt at removing the larger clumps. These he tossed casually onto the ground – landing near the corpses of some small reptilian beast and some of the blue-skinned beasts like at the Bright Clearing. These were too old for food, and bore no valuables for taking, but Chief Bann’ohn had deemed them important, and so the boy waited.
The other hunter was crouched in the dirt, over a jumble of animal tracks, the steadily-increasing rain already beading off of the large, strangely-shaped helmet of leather to pool in the paw prints before him. With his leather drape trailing behind him on the grass, he looked well-at-ease, and as the boy suppressed a shiver in the early spring rain, he could not help but respect the hunter. Tracking beasts was a skill he had never learned from his father, although the old man had tried to instruct him in the rudiments of the craft.
Crouched beside the Hunter was the tribe’s Wise Woman, an Ahlf, Chief Bann’ohn had called her. The boy knew that this meant she was not like him, but different, and that she had long, blade-shaped ears, like a fox. It may also be that all Ahlf were women – of this the boy was not sure – it seemed to be a subject none wished to discuss. The Wise Woman was consulting with the other Hunter, Jak – no doubt advising him in his hunt. Perhaps the boy would speak with Jak later – although the Wise Woman was often helpful, and it was important to have one in a tribe, she was not always right, and a warrior should trust himself as well.
At last some decision was reached, and a direction chosen. After much travel, with the others on their horses (Still no accounting for why, though. At this rate, they will always be slow) the tribe broke into an open field, in the distance of which could be seen a great tree, mightier and taller than any the boy had lain eyes on.
Advancing into the clearing, the ground was littered with more corpses, both of reptile-beasts and blue-things-that-scream. They are small, and frail, like Kellid lamb-girls, but with scales, or blue, and hideous faces. All are dead of battle-wounds – a mighty battle for such little warriors.
The tribe finally crossed the battlefield, arriving at the tree, and after tying up their horses, found a muddy hole which Chief Bann’ohn said must be the lair of the blue-things-that-scream. Where he knew this, the boy did not know, but perhaps the cheif knows these things, which the boy had never seen before. The rest of the tribe seemed eager to agree, and so the boy pushed himself into the hole, ready to crush the tiny bodies of more blue beasts.
Before he could get down the narrow chute inside, however, a pair of thin hands grabbed the boy’s ankles, holding him fast, and muffled words echoed behind him. Tugging his head out of the dirty tunnel, the boy found the Wise Woman clasped on to his legs, as she counciled Chief Bann’ohn not to enter the lair of the blue-things-that-scream so hastily. She may have been wise, but this was not her time. Now was the time to destroy the enemies of the tribe, and get vengeance for the attack on the Hunter Jak. Now was the time to slay blue-things-that-scream, and take back the ring of the good wife of the warrior Oh’lehk, and make a good allegiance with their tribe (who had many strong warriors) by returning what was stolen. The Wise Woman was good, but did not know all. Now was the time for warriors.
The boy threw himself in to the tunnel, proud to take blood for the tribe. Strangely, the Wise Woman did not let go – she held tight to his ankles, arriving down in the same dirt-walled chamber as he. Perhaps Ahlf Wise Women are also warriors? This is not unheard of, but never end well. “A wolf should to strive to be a wolf. A wolf shaped like a cow hurts the heart.”
Chief Bann’ohn slid into the chamber as well, clad in clothing of bright iron. This was good in a fight against men, but the boy did not think it would be needed here. The blue-things-that-scream had small, stone blades which hardly broke a warrior’s flesh, and were of little worry. Advancing on into the tunnels, the boy’s confidence caught in his throat, however, as a cold chill ran down his spine – from around a bend ahead could be heard the unmistakable sound of ratcheting clockworks, cold steel spikes sliding across each other, and tensing machinery.
The boy froze in his tracks, and turned rapidly to look at Chief Bann’ohn, who showed no fear. Inspired by his leader’s confidence in the face of great danger, the boy leapt around the corner, saw-toothed club waving in defiance as he screamed;