Chapter 101

Chapter 101

Vulre , Chief of the Lukra'Dotreka'Suma

As the village rallied about the Great Stump, Vulre watched with tense posture beside the balcony. Below him was a view rivaled by few other places within the borders of the tribe's territory: carved out from within one of the oldest trees by the wisdom of those who had lived before the great wars of the past. Everything, from the room behind him, the floor beneath his feet, or the balcony in which he rested his hands, was heritage.

"I believe our immediate need for concern has passed." Behind Vulre, a confident tone spoke. "Our transgressions seem to have gone unnoticed. This... creature is content, for the time being."

"So it appears." Vulre replied, letting his fingers drum along the wood, silently appreciating the sturdy replies the motion granted. Perfect and powerful, the fibers of the great tree were as strong as they were malible. An example to follow, if there had ever been one. "The beast may not have noticed, or it may simply be testing us."

Eyes narrowing, Vulre peered down at the festivities below: listening as the booming voice of the God's servant reached out through the surrounding air. The words were lost at such a distance, but the power of them... it reached even this place. Sitting atop the Great Stump, Vulre could clearly see two spirits of flame orbiting the divine beast. An almost insignificant of blue, thin and fragile as blown glass. Weak... harmless, pitiful, and yet it was deception: a lie so great, that it might drive even a warrior such as Vulre to know fear.

Waiting down below, was a God-slayer.

"You've summoned me here, and now you speak in riddles among yourselves." Another voice spoke, and Vulre recognized it as Yules. One of the Tribe's oldest. The elder continued with a withering tone from the council table. "Did I not know your father, Vulre- were it not for that, you'd be short at least one member in this council." Several murmurs rose in agreement.

"I understand, Yules. You have my utmost thanks for your attendance." Turning to the room, Vulre nodded in the elder's direction. It was honest, respectful.

The faces that watched him, some curious, others without an visible expression: these were the being of true power within the tribe. While Vulre himself was indeed the acting chief, he was not a king. Without their blessings, absolute authority and power were not his to wield.

"Are we truly certain that the Forest's Guardian has perished?" Another Elder, one beside Yules, questioned. "Are we're absolutely certain this Serpent is not the Great Owl reborn? I too find it difficult to believe the Guardian of the Forest- the strongest being of these lands might fall so easily that we not already know of it."

"Having witnessed the creature below myself, I am yet to be convinced they are not simply one and the same." Another voice joined them. "What else could command such power? What other beast could call forth such worldy strength?"

"Elders, council, for hundreds of years it has been your blood, your kin that have guided our people." Vulre turned about the table and those seated about it, letting his eyes rest upon the many faces. "From the reckonings of the ancient war, to the calamities which followed. From the edges of a final defeat: it is this blood that protects our people by cost, and bargain, The sacrifices of our ancestors are a mantle we must carry." Carefully, he reached his hands to the wrapped cloth hanging snug upon his belt, lifting it free. "So it is not without great consideration that I say: our God is dead."

"Then you must give us proof, Chief Vulre." Ancient Yules rose, before slamming a fist to the table's surface with a deafening crack that silenced the room. "Proof! Before you brand us all heretics, or worse!" Haggard and furious, the elder glared at him. "Did I not know your father! Had I not watched you raised from a boy, I would never-" The elder's shout found itself aburptly silenced as Vulre raised his hand, and all eyes fell on what it held.

A wrapped cloth, carefully folded to the length of one's forearm. Vulre stared back at them, expression grim.

"I understand the need for proof, my council. I understand your concerns all too well, for I too found myself uncertain: torn between two paths I might travel." Stepping forward to his place at the table, he laid the cloth in his hands down for all to see. "That was, until my most trusted scouts returned from the ruined-region last night to deliver this." His hands settled once more on the fabric, nimble fingers beginning to unwind the knot of cord that fastened it together. "It is worse than we feared."

"Worse, you say? From what is known, half of the southern lands are stricken with plague! The feral beasts which guard our lands are dead, or dying! It will take decades to recover even half their numbers- how can it be worse?" Many at the table rose, fingers pointing as angry shouts lifted, but again they were silenced.

Silenced as Vulre began to peel back the fabric, his hands reaching down with reverence to lift the contents of the cloth for all to see. One by one, the words of protest died on their lips.

There, upon the table lay single feather.

Pale, almost white were it not for the strange tinted glow that still hummed from it, in anything but size it appeared almost plain. Yet, it was not ordinary. Longer than a warrior's forearm, it seemed disproportionate to any common avian species, and those markings... for those who knew: those who had travelled down the roads of learning and secrets, ritual and sacrifice, it was clear as day. There within the feather, lay the pale tint of ancient magic. A steady glow that radiated out upon the cloaked and hooded faces. Many who watched it drew in breath with horror, astonishment clear. For they knew: this was no ordinary feather.

Judging their reactions, in silence Vulre waited. Watching, observing as all those who'd shouted against him not a moment before seemed to wilt, like vines beneath the sun. Soon, all their eyes had returned, meeting his own.

"The God himself lays upon the soil, and our ancestor's efforts with him." Vulre stated solemnly. "Our Guardian, has fallen."

"Gaia have mercy." Ancient Yules coughed out the words as his hood fell back. "What horror has happened for such to occur within the Far-Forest? How did your scouts come to find this?""

"We must know, we must!" Others joined in, shouts and clamor atop one another reaching a fevered pitched before Vulre raised his hands to quell them. Their attention was all-but reverent now. None so much as whispered, while they waited for him to speak once more.

Vulre basked in it.

This... this was how a Chief was meant to lead. Not by following the demands of politics, but by taking the reins himself.

"My scouts witnessed the Great Forest God lift wing and soar above the lands, as it always has in the past rituals. They followed as best they could from the canopy, with the close proximity to our planned offerings and tribute- and yet! It was then that they witnessed it! A long and terrible fall."

"It fell? You mean to say that the Great Forest God was defeated in the sky? Such a thing is not possible! It has defended these lands for centuries! None can rival it-"

"SILENCE!" Vulre shouted above their interruptions, watching the fear grip them. Without delay, he continued. "The God was struck by a force invisible to my scout's eyes! As we all know, there is not a single beast that could have dared approach the Guardian- not among the wind and sky."

"Invisible?" A question rose among the fearful faces. "What could it have been?"

"The cursed ones?"

"No, they would never dare-"

"In flight as it was, the Scouts were too far to see clearly!"Vulre spoke above them, lifting the feather from the table in his clentched fist, "But they could see something had struck it, for its wings faltered, and its movement seized!" He opened his hand, letting the glow of ancient magics settle towards the wood below, twirling down through the air. "As it was, they were soon forced to search for its body to confirm- but before they found it..." He let his tone simmer, anger replaced by fear. "Elders, ancients, I must ask for your advice. The feather alone, the god alone- I fear it is still worse."

"Worse? Worse you say? While we bow and grovel for some impostor, you claim this can be worse!" One of the Elders rose with a shaking fist. "We should draw back our bows and raise spears this instant! We should strike it down by our final dying breath!" The others in the room gave nods and shouts, many murmuring agreement.

"Yes, Elders: I fear there is a calamity upon our lands. Like none other I have ever known." Vulre let out a heavy sigh, sorrow gripping his words. "To the Far forest beyond our village, no longer does a single beast still draw breath. All lie dead or dying before the coming hours. The village scouts suspect that even their very flesh to be tainted- twisted and corrupted by some terrible plague, and at its center..." He trailed off, relishing the looks of yearning: their faces desperate for his every word. Ever so slightly, Vulre smiled. "At its center, the forest floor was burned."

"Burned! Then the creature below-"

"Has undoubtedly brought disaster! Not only to our God, but to the Forest itself!" Vulre slammed his palms to the table, harsh shout startling those closest. "It slays without mercy. It takes and does not give! This Serpent is DEATH!"

It was in that moment, that instant, Vulre knew he had what he'd long-sought.

At first it was but a few, then another- then another still. One by one he saw their expressions change, twisting from the calm and unreadable, to the look of rage. Of anger- but more importantly: of loyalty.

At last, he had them.

The great families: not simply one, or two: but all of them.

"I will not stand for it!" An ancient spoke firmly from the far side of the table. "My sons will gladly fight, and my daughters as well!"

 

"Our family has long been faithful to the Lukra'Dotreka'Suma." Another rose. "If the Forest God has been slain, then we must drive this terror from our village! We must slay it before it can spread its horrors! We are with you, Chief Vulre!"

 

"Yes! We must!" Others rose in agreement, their voices joining "It must be defeated, here and now!"

"NO!" Vulre shouted above them all: jumping upon the table with a resounding stomp to look down at the shocked faces among him. "NO, we cannot! For as a rare few of you might know: that has already been attempted."

The elders voices silenced immediately, looks of concern and astonishment showing clearly as an uneasy hush befell the many figures gathered about the table. Scanning their faces, Vulre continued with tension in his voice.

"You have not misheard me. Late last evening, upon word and witness of the proof, I made my greatest effort to such a cause. Twenty drops of the refined and bitter Gnarn Root were counted, placed in flask, and mixed upon the creature's wine by my own hand."

Gasps came at this, many pulling back hoods in shock.

"Twenty drops?"

"Is such even possible?" The murmurs began anew. "By the ghosts of blood..."

Of the many astonished faces though, only the Ancient Yules nodded in understanding. Cane in hand, the elder slowly rose from his seat with a grimace of pain, before turning towards Vulre once more.

"You used a poison more dangerous than any other known to us. So terrible that it might be used to kill every man, woman, and child in this village- yet somehow the beast still lives." He stated, withered hand gesturing towards the balcony below. The others turned to look down and the unknowing sounds and sights of celebration. "Unharmed, no less... such a creature is truly powerful. It would rival to any force we might hope to gather, perhaps even win."

"You mean to let this, this thing take the place of our beloved God!" Another Elder raised a hand slamming the wooden table loudly in objection. "I will not stand by it! My sons are true warriors- my daughters are trained in the magics of our tribe! We will fight it!"

 

"Settle your nerves, foolish boy!" Yules cracked the cane against the floor with anger. "Inciting panic and bloodlust is the worst thing we could do! From what Chief Vulre has told us, I fear it may be much too powerful for us to take on directly. Not only a god, but the creatures of this forest have fallen. Were it strong before, now I can only imagine! We can not be so eager to rush towards shallow graves."

"Such a creature should not exist." Vulre stepped down from the table with the perfect grace of a warrior in his prime, to stand beside the Ancient elder, pointing back towards the balcony behind them. "Look there, all of you. See the creature we face, and witness its weakness! It has made no complaints of suspicion, only arrogant demands." Gesturing the the scene below, the sounds of celebration filtered up over the open-edge of the room. Voices of merriment singing out into the early afternoon. "We must be cautious, plan carefully. Only then can we strike."

"But how?" Another rose, shouting, "With what plan? If it can not be poisoned, it must be slain by the spear! By the bow! By the knife!" The protests began to rise once more, before the "clack" of a wooden cane settled them.

Ancient Yules turned, with a grim expression.

"We know little of our enemy, but what knowledge we do possess is clear: the creature is strong. More powerful, perhaps, than even the God who once protected us." Yules spoke with a bitter- yet stern tone, hand pointing towards the celebrations soon clenched to a fist. "Raising the banners of war will only bring death to our people. We can not, and shall not, act rashly."

"Then what can we do? What choice remains?" The question settled all into dismal silence, none certain enough to propose another solution.

Ancient Yule spoke again.

"Vulre, as Chief and warrior you have learned the great wisdom from those who came before you, and on this you have already acted bravely once- failure or no. In the teachings of your father who was Chief before you, and perhaps his fathers before him, forgive me. I must ask a difficult task of you." The many Elders stared in silence, all eyes falling upon Vulre as he looked to Yules, letting himself sit down upon the stool of wood. "Ask you, who has already acted once on our behalf, yet I must ask again: Do you have a plan for which we might find victory over this evil?" Yules and the others watched and waited as Vulre's hands slowly and reverently covering the glowing feather once more with the thin cloth.

He took his time, smile hidden away beneath a stoic facade. He let them watch, as the feather and cloth found itself tucked upon his belt once more, and his hand traced the wood on which it had laid.

Finally, after that long moment of consideration, Vulre gave his reply.

"My father spoke to me often of the forest's wisdom. How even the weakest creatures might have their strengths." He said softly. "My father... he once told me that a spider of the vines does not fight its enemies with strength, but instead with careful planning. Preparation of a trap, and then a single decisive blow from the shadows." Vulre watched as many of the elders nodded, and he turned towards the attentive and experienced eyes of Ancient Yules.

"If we are to defeat this creature, I believe we must build a web of our very own."