Shinowaru licked the blood off his claws before returning his bracer to its rightful place. He held his lance high above his head, showing the decapitated head to its brethren.
“Now, would anyone else like to plead for mercy?!” he shouted from the battlements of his prize. He had taken the small outpost a few minutes ago to ensure that no resistance would be met when the Shigu main force, led by no other than the Brutal General herself, finally crushed all the resistance in the outlying Northern clans and proceeded in its conquest of the Sailzane.
Kyatchi looked to his Lieutenant. The elderly Southern Sergal simply stared in defiance at the imposing silhouette that stood triumphantly where he had been defending not even a few minutes earlier. Kyatchi couldn’t understand how his Lieutenant could act so brave when he could hardly keep himself from shaking out of his armor. The Northerners had come out of nowhere; a wave of grey washing over the landscape. The small Reono outpost that Kyatchi had been stationed at was only garrisoned with a mere twenty soldiers, and was forced to surrender immediately. At first, Kyatchi thought that he might be able to get out alive, as the Northern leader, Shinowaru he had called himself, had asked his group of prisoners if anyone wanted to plead for mercy.
That was when Kourc’te had stepped forward…
That was when Kourc’te’s head had been ripped from his shoulders…
Kyatchi had tried to avert his eyes, but a Northern soldier had grabbed him by the mane and forced him to watch. Kyatchi had almost lost his lunch, but the dagger at his throat was incentive enough to keep him steady.
“Now that I have your attention…” Shinowaru’s massive towering silhouette called out over the crowd as it slowly raised a banner above it... Kyatchi gasped.
‘How beautiful. The southern maggots are playing just how I want them to.’ Shinowaru thought to himself. He would need to make an impression on the southerners of the Sailzane. A big impression. An impression that would precede the army of the Brutal General a month’s walk before her army finished cleaning up all the resistance up north and advanced to the Green-Belt in its conquest of the southern lands. And Shinowaru knew he wouldn’t be able to make an impression if he didn’t have witnesses. He plucked a polearm from one of his honor guard and raised it above his head. The banner of the eye of death theatrically unfurled from its mast high above the crowd.
“Gaze upon the eye of the Brutal General!”
“I need you to deliver a message for me!” Shinowaru shouted from the top of the battlements. Kyatchi stood staring the colossal figure as if his life depended on it… because it probably did.
“The Great Shigu Clan shall wash over the puny Ground Shelf, leaving only death in its wake. If you desert now, you may be spared…”
“Now that you have the message…” Shinowaru’s evil grin spread across his ugly face. Kyatchi finally started breathing after so long of holding his breath; perhaps he would be set free?
-----Shadow of a shadow
Jax tightened the double-layered blind-fold that covered his eyes. He could see well. Much too well. Even the night sky lit up with innumerable blinding fires in the heavens, where there had once only been faint star-light. It had been this way ever since that fateful night; the fires that lit up the sky with such brilliance before descending on the Reono settlement with such wrath. Now, everything was too bright. The shadow of night was bright enough, but daytime… daytime was unbearable. Even with the thin rag tied over his eyes Jax could feel the cool tears running down his cheeks from his burning retinas.
Jax kept walking. It was getting hard to keep his breathing steady. There was movement in the brush behind him, but if he reacted he knew whoever was following him would know he knew he was being followed. Jax was approaching the area he had left Ava, and decided he would confront his stalker there.
Ava paced around the small circle of dead grass in the center of the camp as he had been doing for half an hour already. It was morning, three days after the Shigu clan invaded their first Sailzane-based Reono town. According to the Sergal, Ava had been unconscious for two days after the attack, and he had finally awoken in the middle of last night. The Sergal had left a note saying he would be back before noon. Ava, after thoroughly over-straining each and every leg muscle he had, sat down to think. Oh, how his life had changed. After so long living in a relatively peaceful existence in the outskirts of the Sailzane, the images of slaughter were still fresh in his head, floating in and out every few seconds, adding another wave of hopelessness just as he managed to wrestle the previous one into submission. And to think the Shigu forces had penetrated this deep into Southerner territory already? What ever happened to the Green-Belt clans? Sure most were scattered and divided, but the Inu clan had control of the entire world’s trade not two generations ago. Was it possible that they had even put up a fight? Did they even exist?
‘Typical’, Ava thought to himself, hubris dripping from his beak as he scoffed, ’This is what I get when I trust Sergals to get something done’
And now, with such limited resistance in the Green-Belt, was there any way for the Southern clans, such as the Reono, to even mobilize? Ava had been in the Sailzane desert to alert the Reono and other outlying city-states of the impending threat, but with only brief accounts of how the Shigu were unifying their own homeland, the southern farmers had more to worry about from their crops then a far-off clan conquering a few of its neighbors.
Or did they?
In five years the Shigu clan had managed to unify the entire Totala range, an expanse of harsh terrain that covered of half Vilous’s landmass. In only one season Shigu vanguards were apparently starting to leak past the Green-Belt buffer zone, how long before the Shigu’s attack on the city-state Ava was in became an everyday occurrence?
Ava’s breath rate increased slightly. This situation was getting out of wing. This entire planet was getting out of wing. But…
was it better than the alternative?
Was it better than the Nomads?
Better than their horrors?
Ava had never known them as his ancestors did, but he did know his ancestors. His mother was never one to back down from a fight, to be frightened by anything she hadn’t a right to be frightened by. But the Nomads… The Nomads scared her. And through her stories of their unthinkable powers, the Nomads scared Ava too… which caused his mind to wonder about the strange creature that had rescued him. The Nomad that had rescued him. If he was a Nomad; Ava knew the symbol on its collar like the back of his wing, more so in fact, as Nevrean wing structure made it difficult for Ava to catch glances of his own wings. But would a Nomad have saved him? And besides, what was a Nomad doing on this world? Ava’s mother had told him that they had all left, and that Ava only had to fear what they had left behind. Did the Nomad who had saved him mean they were coming back? As scary questions as to his savior’s existence bubbled into his head, vivid images of the horrors the Nomads’ return could have implied caused his heart rate to jump.
Realizing his dark plume had been ruffled by such thoughts, he got to work on grooming it back into place, deciding there was no reason to think so far in the future. He had done so in warning the Reono about the Shigu, and such efforts had bore no fruit; no, Ava had to see the world from his current view. The creature’s arrival at noon. His rendezvous with fate. That was the most pressing concern at this time. Should he try to escape? It was earlier than noon, and perhaps his best chances of survival were to simply flee. Ava pushed the flight instinct out of his head. What would running accomplish? Returning to his old life with the Reono, trying to prevent the Shigu from taking Ground Shelf? No. Perhaps this strange Sergal offered some change, some way of stopping the Shigu. Some hope.
After a few moments of mulling the pros and cons around in his head, Ava decided to stay; the creature had already had a chance to let him die, and it had decided to let him live. Though he was timorous to the prospect of confronting the shadowy specter, there could be some knowledge gained from him.
And knowledge was power…
Ava knew to guard it well.