TO CONSUME, TO create life, to be consumed. These were the essentials for Kami or any Essanti of Instinct, as Umoman had taught Rook.
Rook met the little man with unkempt beard and sheepskin clothes, wild hair and lice, living in a shack in an unnamed valley of the Katan Ri. Rook had spent three weeks searching for Umoman, the only man he knew who saw by the light of Instinct. The few known to history were usually killed in self-defense or ran off to become hermits. Unlike those with higher visions, the Essanti of Instinct found their service among the forces of nature rather than the forces of man.
On the twenty-fourth day of her second sleep, Kami awoke. She sat cross-legged on a bedroll, staring at her hands. She looked up, blinked as if to clear her eyes, and looked around the shack.
Umoman entered and stood leaning on a cane.
“Welcome,” he said, his aged voice hypnotic. “May the vision never fail you and you never fail the vision. What emanation is it that lights your way?”
As Rook had taught her over the days in the cave, Kami repeated the formal words as she named the vision that had chosen her. “The light makes my vision clear; the vision makes my service sound. I see by the light of Instinct.”
“And who do you serve, Essanti?” the old man asked.
Rook’s body tensed.
Hearing the unspoken concern, Kami turned to him. “I’m the perfect animal, and I serve the perfect hunter.”
And Rook smiled because he knew he also served the perfect hunter.
“I hate this place,” Rook said to Umoman a few days later. They sat on the ground against a tree. Kami had wandered into the forest a day after she awoke. Umoman said she had gone on a quest to receive her gift.
Rook had no idea what gift an Essanti of Instinct received from the gods. His own gift allowed him to pass judgment, often ending the lives of those deemed unworthy by the gods. The Essanti who served Mercy could undo death. Essanti of Wisdom discerned truth from lies, and those who saw by the light of Knowledge knew the future. Before he had known Kami, Rook imagined only men who were barely men to begin with saw the emanations of Instinct and Cognition. The dim light guided wild creatures, rather than the civilized.
Indeed, Umoman was barely civilized, and Rook stared at him, amazed that he had not moved in an hour. “Is this what all your days are like?”
At the question, Umoman leaned forward, bracing himself on his arms and stood. “They’re usually quieter.” He turned and walked away, limping without his cane.
“Where are you going?” Rook asked, following him like a curious child.
“To find your Essanti.”
“You said she’d come back when she found what she needed.”
“But she may not find what she needs before I kill you.”
Rook followed Umoman through trails and thickening forest. Since they had left so abruptly, Rook only had time to grab his belt pack. Filled with coins, a knife, and flint, it jingled with each boot fall. Umoman stopped and turned around with irritation. Rook took to pressing the pack against his body as they walked.
The wilderness was like—Rook couldn’t find the word. The wilderness was the wilderness, and he despised it. It was filthy and uncomfortable, and the isolation was torturous. He had come to the mountains to save Kami’s life and had been as affable as he could with the taciturn Umoman, but the seclusion was maddening after a dozen weeks. He longed for company. He longed to drink whiskey and talk to men.
He wondered what Avestine was doing at that moment. She might be in battle against her brother along the borders of Koledoon. He would rather be at her side now, fighting two-to-one odds on a bloody battlefield than stomping through this primeval landscape in the company of a man who was barely a man.
Few things frightened Rook, and the years he had spent in his lone exodus from the Ice Quarter hardened him to tortures he had never imagined before. But the closeness and quantity of living things hanging all about him, falling onto him, tripping him, trying to eat him, made him uneasy, made him itch with anger, and, finally, made him panicky.
He had heard legends of Essanti of Instinct, saw what a few had done when they served the Architect, and knew savagery wasn’t beyond possibility. The vision that came to light the path of each Essanti was different, and his own vision of Judgment made actions that seemed unimaginable to others natural to him.
“Have you ever eaten a man?” Rook asked after they had walked awhile.
Umoman didn’t pause in his uneven stride as he replied, “Yes.”
“But you’d have to kill me first, and that wouldn’t be so easy.”
“Your pride’s misplaced. Does a wolf feel the need to prove himself to you? Does a bear care what you think of him? Among men, you are doubtless feared, but you take for granted that you possess here what you possess there. If I want to kill you, I will, or you will kill me.”
“You don’t fear me at all?”
“Fear is only for those who expect to live, and shame is only for those who expect to love. She expects nothing. Beasts live in the present. Only men live in the future. For the sake of your new Essanti, you have much to learn.”
When Umoman stopped, Rook braced, but the old man knelt and picked through something in the leaves. He stood up with a shredded bone in his hand. Horror clenched Rook’s stomach as he imagined Kami’s small leg.
Hearing Rook’s thoughts, Umoman shook his head and extended the bone toward Rook’s face. “Smell it,” Umoman ordered. When Rook stepped away, Umoman smelled the bone himself. “She shared this meal with someone.”
Rook asked, “There’s someone else out here?” The old man only confirmed what Rook had felt, that this forest was a malevolent force that concealed more danger.
They walked until the sky was dimming toward sunfall, and then the thick forest grew lightless. Rook created a fire with the flint he carried in his belt pouch. He was hungry, but Umoman had knocked the poisonous berries from his hand.
Rook sat near the fire, its light banishing the ominous jungle from his thoughts until Umoman declared he was hungry. Rook rose to accompany the old man, but Umoman said he hunted alone and then vanished behind the black curtain that dropped a few paces beyond the fire.
Rook returned to his brooding, thankful for the fire’s light and the smoke that kept away most of the biting flies.
With the warm fire and his drifting thoughts, the steady hum of jungle life lulled him toward sleep. After a while, it wasn’t the rustling of leaves or a cracking twig that drew Rook’s attention. It was the shout in his mind that drew him to stand, as something moved just beyond the light of the fire.
He called Umoman’s name once, then twice. He forced all his senses to search the darkness around. When that proved fruitless, he searched with his thoughts. What he couldn’t hear with his ears or see with his eyes, he might be able to find with his mind. When he reached out with that ability, one mind met his, a familiar one. With a quick twist, he was facing the other way, awaiting an attack from any quarter.
Rook recognized Kami’s voice. “Kami?” He stepped toward the voice. “Come here. Are you all right?” Rook took another step. From his right, something large broke through the sphere of firelight and hit him like a falling tree.
Teeth sunk into his shoulder, and Rook slugged the face of the beast. Before Rook could take another swing, the animal released him and backed away. Kami was suddenly above Rook, near enough for a good smell.
Rook slid away. Blood trickled in several streams, one pooling above the cap on his left wrist. The wolf that had attacked him stood beside Kami, who was naked, her short hair as wild as Umoman’s beard. Cakes of dirt cracked along her elbows and knees, and dried blood crusted on her chest.
“What happened? Are you all right?” Rook watched the black wolf as carefully as the wolf watched him, and he recognized the three-legged animal as the one he saw in Kami’s dream. He wondered how it was possible for a mindless beast to enter a dream. To Kami he said, “Come here,” and held out one arm, while using the other to block the wolf’s advance. He knew he wouldn’t have the strength in that injured arm if the wolf charged.
“It’s all right.” Kami dropped to a crouch beside the wolf and stroked its head. “He won’t hurt you now.”
“Umoman said you would come back.”
“Yes, I forgot for awhile.” She smiled. “But I remember now.”
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |