Darklaw – Episode 53

KAMI HAD TRAVELED through the Dark Quarter after escaping Sahrdon. She changed from her body into a falcon’s body and back again many times before she reached the Demonforest. She knew soldiers were pursuing her. She also knew they would not be able to catch her. She needed very little to survive and could rely on the help of many simple souls along the way.

The land seemed to think ahead of her, not simply responding to her needs but anticipating them. Small animals appeared, ready for slaughter before she knew she was hungry. Streams seemed to change their course to arrive at her feet just as thirst took hold, and she wondered if she could become a fish but didn’t know how. Trees shed their leaves to provide her bedding and, once, a bear rolled dead at her feet as the wind began to grow cold. She wore his thick fur until she changed into a falcon and shed her clothing once again.

Kami found moments blurring into days. She had no map, merely felt drawn in a particular direction. She moved on until she found the great river, and then she turned tradeward. The Wealth River emptied into Illusion Bay, but tributaries fed the Gasjamey River that flowed into Agate Bay near her home.

Avestar’s forces couldn’t follow her across the continent, especially after she passed into the nomads’ lands. Darklaw patrolled and policed its empire primarily by ship, moving men and trade through the seas and along the numerous rivers of their mountainous realm. When it came to marches through rugged lands, they were ill-prepared to sustain pursuit. 

She didn’t know when she had lost the soldiers, and she didn’t care. Her days became celebrations as she danced with the Wild. In the body of a falcon, she wandered, although curiosity drew her to explore odd formations and people.

At her first sight of the nomads who lived on the steppes of the Dark Quarter, she flew low. They seemed a hearty people who depended on stout horses. Her appearance amazed the horsemen, but she didn’t understand their language.

She left and flew high, until she found herself at the highest point in the world, Adonja’s Peak. Despite the bestial body, her mind was sharp enough to understand where she was. The sky goddess lived at such heights because her face was so beautiful that to behold her in her full beauty would blind a man. In her glory, Adonja had to hide her face behind clouds and flocks of birds, but Kami discovered it wasn’t the heights that held beauty worth weeping over. It was the world below.

She landed on a rocky crag of a steep slope and gazed down. The Wealth River, wide as a city, forced its crystal waters through stony narrows and dramatic canyons and fed a soft-blade grassland whose end was beyond even her horizon. On the other side of the Sahrot Mountains, in the Ice Quarter, instead of grass, yellow algae covered a high chaparral dense with shrubs and small trees. The bright ground gave the illusion of an eternal sun, though the Unsetting Sun lived nearly half-a-world away.

Many weeks later, she passed into the Demon Quarter. Time away from the cities of men had allowed her senses to return, and she grew aware of every life around her. That, she realized, was her power. The light of Instinct allowed her to see life as the web that held the world together. The connected heartbeat of life was the only order she cared to see in the Chaos she worshipped.

When she closed her eyes, she could feel Darklaw soldiers still pursuing her, but these were tradeward of her. They rode horses along a shore, and in her mind she saw silhouettes of black ships shredding green waters beyond them. They had come around the coast. They drove the wild beasts from their path. The web of life vibrated with their reckless passage. Kami could sense where the forest ended, where its bounty of life became like a desert, absent of sounds and smells but for a little knot of arrogant men pressing toward the magnificent artery of the continent.

Kami left the peak and avoided the few villages she passed as she immersed herself in the forest. There, she experienced a growing calm, a contentment and familiarity that began to make the past few years feel like a bad dream.

No memory or sensation felt bad when she was alone in the trees, not even her missing hands, which didn’t prove a problem when she took on the body of a beast. She had eaten well, enjoying especially the wild blueberries and wondering why the bears had not already stripped the bushes. After days of running through the trees, she turned into the face of Sula, preparing to sleep.

Featherwood was near.

Within a few days, she came to the clearing outside Featherwood. Home, she thought, and it was then she had the odd feeling that she wasn’t home, that she had some way yet to go. Home was beyond the village. Beyond the forest.

She stopped to relieve her bladder and sensed someone watching her. She searched the trees with stealthy eyes. When she detected movement, she made her way around behind the location. Before she saw the intruder, she knew who it was. She whistled through her teeth and the spy emerged from the brush. The black wolf with three legs stood staring at her. Its eyes were bluer than she remembered. “You’ve come a long way, Wolf,” she said. “A dream and a future.” The sound of her voice was harsh against the background music of the forest—the chirping of birds and rustling leaves and squeals and howls of creatures engaged in the drama of life and death.

Published in Darklaw |
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