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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Thu Dec 09, 2010 12:14 pm 
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Karoa was pleased with the progress the raptor was making. There had been some sort of turnaround - the creature no longer shrank away from her touch. For the last couple of days, it had watched her alertly, and with apparent interest. She wondered, briefly, what it would be like to hunt with it.

“That would be slavery,” she said to the wolf, shaking her head. “And I won’t be a part of that.”

But what if they could talk to each other? It wasn’t an animal... and they had, after all, communicated. As smart as the wolf was, it was still only a beast, and would never, truly, be a full partner, however much she wished it. Complex commands and simple warnings were one thing, real communication was another.

She shook her head again. It still wasn’t right to take it away from everything it knew.

She glanced up at the raptor as she thought about it. It was watching her again, and she frowned. It was shifting uncomfortably, and she realised what it needed.

Well, this was as good a time as any to see if it could stand. She couldn’t blame it for its discomfort. Soiling one’s sleeping place was embarrassing enough. Having someone else have to clean it up was worse. The fact that it really didn’t have another option the first couple of days was immaterial. While it didn’t have facial expressions she could understand, it certainly had body language. Its disgust at itself was plain.

She crouched down beside it, and showed it her open hands. Then, slowly, so as not to frighten it, she stepped around behind it. With one arm underneath and the other around in front, she lifted. It tensed, which helped, then seemed to figure out what she was doing. It aided her by shifting its tail out of the way, and pulling its good leg beneath it. She held it from behind, until she was certain it was balancing on its one good leg, then, with her arm around it, she moved around to its side, bending over. It was shorter than she had guessed. At least it seemed to be light for its size.

It waited for her to be in position, then, slowly, it reached out to put its arm on her for support. It pointed with its other talon - no, it was a hand, and it seemed to be quite dextrous - in the direction it wished to go. She nodded, then swore at herself. It wouldn’t understand a nod...

But it seemed that it did. It had learned more than she suspected, watching her in the camp. Satisfied, it visibly steeled itself, then took a step.

It hissed as its weight came down on the injured leg, and involuntarily tightened its grip on her. Its claws - sharp as knives - cut into her shoulder.

She grunted, and bit her lip, but helped it finish the step. She should have worn her armour. The second step, it knew what to expect, and it took the step quickly, with her lifting it a little to lessen the weight on the leg.

In this halting fashion, they got far enough outside of the camp that the waste wouldn’t be a problem, and the raptor took care of its business, with obvious relief.

She helped it back in the same way, and got it back to its sleeping place, taking the opportunity to stand it beside a tree for support, while she shook out its blankets, and rearranged them.

It clung to the tree and watched her, then started suddenly as she turned back towards it. She followed its gaze, and looked down at herself. The cuts on her shoulder had bled freely, and stained her shirt. She shrugged, then bent down beside it to help it the last few steps. It stared at her, then looked down at its clawed hand, and flexed it. Impatient, she reached out, to set the hand on her shoulder again, and put her arm back around its waist. She would take care of the cuts when it was safely back on its pallet.

It took a moment before it was willing to lean on her again, but finally, they made the last few paces back, and she got it lying down again.

It was a start, anyway. She carefully unwrapped its leg, and examined the line of her stitches. None had burst, and the wound was still clean, and free of infection. It seemed to be healing nicely. She salved it again, just in case, and rebound it.

She treated herself, afterwards, examining the parallel slashes on her shoulder, and washing them carefully. She coated them in the salve, too, before bandaging them as best she could. Shoulders were awkward places.

The raptor watched her the whole time, even though it was clearly exhausted by the short walk. She wished she could reassure it. She knew it hadn’t intended to hurt her. It had had plenty of opportunity before now, had it wanted to do mischief.

She squatted down beside it. “Go to sleep,” she told it. “A nap will do you good.” It stared up at her, and she reached out to gently pat its hand. “It’s alright,” she said. “I know.”

She busied herself with camp chores. When she looked back at the raptor again, it was asleep.

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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Fri Dec 10, 2010 10:58 am 
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The shaped stick worked. Sunlight-Dances hadn’t been certain what it was, when the Newcomer made it, and gave it to her. But she understood immediately when the Newcomer demonstrated, leaning on it under an arm, and holding one leg up. Getting up was the hard part. She didn’t really like lying down - lying on her side wasn’t natural. She normally slept in a deep crouch with her tail curled around her. She would have to try that tonight. But for now, at least with the stick, she could walk alone again. She could leave the nest place to make water, and not soil her sleeping place. She was very glad of that.

It took her a while to be able to move far without being tired. She was getting better at it. Her leg felt better for the exercise, too. It hurt, but the pain was different from before. She must be healing.

The ability to move around again was exhilarating after the days of being forced to lie down. She explored the area immediately around the Newcomer’s nest with slow steps, and the Newcomer seemed pleased, and encouraged her to move around. It made many noise-words at her, and laughed when she cocked her head to listen to them. She had figured out another noise-word of their language, but the word - which seemed to mean ‘stop what you are doing immediately’ and was most often addressed to the animal - wasn’t in the tumble of words addressed to her. It made the ‘yes’ gesture with its head when it spoke, though. That was good. She continued her exercise, moving farther out from the nest-place.

She was pleased beyond expression when she managed to catch a small tree-climber. It had strayed down one of the great vine-covered trunks, and hadn’t seen her standing so still in the bushes, resting. She had made a short, swift lunge and snapped it up. It had been reflexive - she certainly wasn’t hungry. She had eaten well from the Newcomer’s provisions earlier.

She paused as she considered the implications of her kill. She could leave now. She could go, and with the stick to help her walk, she could manage. Oh, she might be a little hungry for a few days, and would have to take extra care to avoid any other predators, but she would be able to take care of herself.

She turned her head, and looked off towards the Newcomer’s nest place. It wasn’t visible from here. If she just left, what would the Newcomer do? Would it follow her, or let her go?

She shifted her weight while she thought. She was oddly disinclined to leave, yet. She still owed the debt, and had found no way to make even a partial payment. She lifted the dead tree-climber. She could hunt for the Newcomer, but it could hunt for itself. It and the animal made a surprisingly good team. What would it be like, she wondered, to be a part of a team like that?

Sunlight-Dances returned to the nest place, watching from the bushes as the Newcomer worked on some of the furs it had collected. That seemed to be why it was here. It had a good stack of them now. The whole second bundle was furs.

The animal was lying on the sleeping place she had been given. It lifted its head to look towards her, but didn’t give any alarm or warning save a movement of its tail. It put its head down again when she did nothing.

The Newcomer looked up when she entered the nest-place, and said something when it saw her kill. It made the happy face.


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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Sat Dec 11, 2010 11:38 am 
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She limped to the flat rock beside the river where the Newcomer cut up meat, and used her broad thumb claw to open the tree-climber. She deftly flayed it and sectioned it, and took one of the pieces - and the innards, for she liked them - for herself. It was her kill, after all. But she had eaten, and the small piece, and the innards, were more than enough to keep her full.

She pointed at the Newcomer, and tapped the meat with one claw, then spread her hand out in a gesture of offering. It stared at her, then made the ‘yes’ sign with its head, and took one of the pieces from the stone. It made a strange gesture - one finger lifted to touch its forehead - and set the meat aside for treatment at its fire.

Sunlight-Dances looked at the rest. She pointed at the animal, which was now watching her. It did not respond. She pointed at it again, but it merely continued watching her, tilting its head to one side. It thumped its tail on the ground as she grunted in frustration.

The Newcomer made a noise and she looked at it. It turned part way around to put its back to the animal - so that it could not see? - and made a deliberate gesture with one hand, patting the side of its leg. It looked at her, then did it again, pointing from her to the animal. It touched its eye, and pointed at the animal again, then tapped its leg a third time.

Sunlight-Dances thought about it for a moment, then looked at the animal. It was looking from the Newcomer to her, in confusion. She waited until it was looking at her, looked it in the eye, and patted her leg.

The creature jumped up immediately, and came to her. She chuffed softly at it, and put her own hand out to it, as the Newcomer did. It stopped, sniffed her hand, then stepped forward. She lowered her hand to touch it, surprised it had taken her so long to consider doing so.

It was odd, touching a living animal that she had no intention of harming. It was different than touching prey. She felt the texture of its fur, and ran her fingers through its thickness, careful not to hurt it with her claws. When she glanced over at the Newcomer, it was watching with interest. She looked back down at the animal, then took the remaining piece of meat, and gave it to it.

The animal took the meat with no hesitation, and carried it quickly off to eat, watching her as if she would change her mind and take it back. She laughed at it, as it gulped the food, then ate her own meat. It was good to have meat without the fire changes again. It wasn’t bad, the Newcomer’s way, but this was better.

The fur of the tree-climber wasn’t large, but she offered it to the Newcomer for its collection. It gravely made the no gesture, so she tossed it into the river, and watched the current carry it away. Something would eat it. There was no waste in the jungle.

Evening shadows reminded her that she wished to sleep normally that night - or at least try to. With care, and careful balancing, she excavated a small depression where her sleeping place had been, and used the two thick grey cloths to line it. She settled slowly into her crouch, and relaxed.

She could feel the pull on her leg in this position. It wasn’t quite painful, but it was noticeable. She shifted until she was as comfortable as she could get. It was still better than lying on her side.


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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Sun Dec 12, 2010 11:59 am 
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It was full night when she awoke again. Her leg hurt, and she had to make water. She groaned, and reached for her stick. She struggled upright as quietly as she could. The Newcomer was asleep, the animal curled up in the curve of its body.

She moved away from the nest-place, trying to keep silent, as if she were hunting. No need to wake anyone just because she couldn’t sleep.

She did fairly well. Her eyes weren’t the best at night, but she was functional, and she avoided stepping on anything to make noise as she crept away. She stopped in a little gap in the bushes to release her water.

The sound of it falling onto the leaves was loud, and she winced, but remembered that her hearing was better than the Newcomer’s. She leaned on a tree when she finished, and slowly worked her leg, easing the kinks.

Maybe sleeping normally wasn’t the best idea yet. Her leg didn’t like it. She didn’t want to make it worse again. She had already healed so much more than she had thought possible when she had seen the injury for the first time. She could walk. She could hunt. She shouldn’t push it. A few extra days of taking it easy would make the difference.

She thought about it. Spending time with the Newcomer wasn’t so bad, really. And she owed it. She owed it truly - a life-debt if ever there was one. She would have died there, with her children. As much as she had wanted that then, she knew now that living, not dying, was the answer. She didn’t know what she would do once she had healed, but surely she could find something, somewhere. Perhaps figure out how to make fine woven cloth, or how to tie wounds closed, so that they would heal. With such skills, all the People of all the tribes would come to her to learn.

She would teach them. Even the Blue Waters. What status that would be!

Her daydreams were interrupted by a faint noise, not far from her. She froze and waited, listening.

It came again, and she moved her head the tiniest amount so that she could see around the tree.

There was a Drummer there. It was creeping along the ground. The sound she heard was the rattle of the bones it wore around its neck as it moved.

There was another one behind it. And another. Still more followed. A hand, two hands, of Drummers, and more. They crept along in single file, metal claws in their hands. Some had the long weapons for throwing, with feathers tied to them. They wore paint on their faces. Although she could not see the colours that would be there, she knew what they were.

They were hunting.

They were hunting, and they were moving straight towards the nest-place of the Newcomer.

She was far enough away, and they didn’t see her. She would be safe. If they even were interested in her to begin with. More likely, they wanted the Newcomer, and its animal.

The animal that they had caught before, that had their blood on it when it came back.

She wouldn’t be able to stop them. She was hurt. She...

She could try. She could make enough noise, that the Newcomer would hear, and be awake and able to fight when they came, instead of asleep and helpless. With the animal to help, and no surprise, it might survive.

The Newcomer had protected her when she was helpless.

This was a fitting thing to do. She owed a life-debt. This was payment. Fair payment.

She turned, waiting as the first ones passed her. They didn’t notice her at all. Her own colours were perfect for hiding in bushes. Her shape was broken up by the wavy lines.

One hand of Drummers passed. She shouldn’t let too many more go by before she moved. She had to act now, before they got by.

Before she lost her courage.

She leapt, pushing off with her good leg, flinging the stick away towards the first Drummers in the column. A battle-scream tore from her throat, and she felt her toe-claws sink deeply into the Drummer she targeted. Her talons slashed at its face, and then she was in the bushes on the other side of them. Her leg hurt, but it held her, for now.

She turned, and picked out another one. They were all standing now, looking for her, but their eyes were no better than hers in the dark. One bent over its bleeding companion, its back to her.

Perfect. She had enough time to gather herself for the second leap, and aim. She severed its spine with her toe-claw, before leaping forward again, screaming a challenge. She felt her leg buckle on landing, but managed to throw her weight onto her good leg, and not fall over. She grabbed the next Drummer in line. It fought back with its metal claw, but it was still recovering from the surprise of her attack. The People didn’t hunt at night.

Her talons dug into it deeply, and she clung to it, reaching forward to snap at it with her jaws. She got a big bite of its shoulder and neck, and tore upwards. Its hot blood trickled down her throat, and she screamed again in triumph. Another one down, if not dead.

She didn’t have the chance to choose the next target. It did the choosing for her. It flung something at her, and injured as she was, she couldn’t dodge it. It struck her in the chest, and she fell backwards, reeling from the impact. Before she could move, the Drummer was on her, raising another weapon over its head. She drew back her good leg, and kicked with all the strength she had left. The Drummer shrieked as her toe-claw ripped through its unprotected middle, and its insides fell out. But as it collapsed, it drove its weapon down.

As if from far away, she heard the thunderclap of the Newcomer’s weapon, and knew that she had succeeded. She had roused her benefactor enough that it could defend itself.

Her last clear thought was wistful. She wished she had been able to tell the Newcomer her name.


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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Mon Dec 13, 2010 11:18 am 
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Grom’gol, Kaeevanrash thought to himself, was a hole. It wasn’t that the orcs didn’t try to keep it in some degree of repair, but the outpost was in dire need of maintenance. He paused on the zeppelin tower, to look down at the jungle outpost. It was early enough in the day that the full heat hadn’t built up, and a group of about a half dozen orcs was clearing the encroaching vegetation from the palisade. It was a never-ending battle.

He shook his head. Even burning back the trees hadn’t helped, and the orcs themselves knew better than to deliberately foul the soil to prevent things from growing back. They had enough shaman among them - not to mention their Warchief himself - to warn against such folly. The retaliation by the earth spirits would undoubtedly wipe this little outpost from the map, and no one wanted to anger them like that.

But this outpost was here for a reason. The jungle had its riches, and for those riches, the orcs were willing to put up with heat, rampant growth, and nasty natives .

Kaeevanrash descended the spiral ramp to the ground, and headed across the compound towards a ramshackle lean-to built against the wall of the palisade itself. It boasted little more than a table and a hammock, but the crates and sacks stored beside it were the objective of today’s visit.

While there were other resources to find in the Stranglethorn, the plant life itself was what he sought this day. The heat and rainfall in the Stranglethorn jungle produced some of the largest and most healthy plants he had ever encountered. Things that grew knee-high elsewhere were small trees here, and larger and healthier plants meant stronger and better ingredients for his family’s alchemy business. It was never a chore to collect the herbs meant for his family in Thunder Bluff, even if that meant coming to Grom’gol outpost. With luck, the shipment would be ready, and he wouldn’t have to stay long. His cousin Mani had been grumbling about low supplies for days.

He paused as he arrived at the lean-to, noting that the orc he sought, Angrun, was in deep discussion, haggling with one of his suppliers. Politely, he turned away to wait.

The little procession in through the main gate caught his eye. It was unusual to see a wolf pulling a travois here, so far from Mulgore. It was well trained, though, and drew the contrivance smoothly. Several large packs were strapped to the poles, and the beast - seemingly without direction - moved straight into the outpost, and stopped beside the local leatherworker. Whining, it turned its head and pulled on a strap on its harness. The harness let go, and the travois dropped to the ground. Free, the wolf turned, and faced back the way it came.

Following the wolf came another burdened figure, and Kaeevanrash started as he recognised her. She was limping, and her clothing was stained with blood. With a lot of blood. He grimaced as he hurried toward her. She was never a good patient at the best of times.


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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:26 am 
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The Tauren female set down her own load with a strange gentleness, and straightened wearily. By the time he reached her, she was already speaking with the leatherworker.

“That one is the leather for you,” she was saying, indicating one of the packs on the travois. “And I need a skilled healer - one who can speak with the spirits. Is there one here?” she asked. “I can pay them.”

“Karoa?”

She jerked, and turned towards him. “Kaeev?” she asked, blinking up at him. “What are you doing here?” She stared at him for a moment, then, her eyes widening, she grabbed his arm. “Kaeev! I need your help! Please, it’s important.”

‘Are you alright? You’re hurt... Were you hunting here? What happened?” He drew her away from the perplexed merchant, and sat her down on one of the benches near the - thankfully unlit at the moment - bonfire in the centre of the outpost. “The last time I saw you, we were working in the Grizzly Hills.”

“Hunting, yes.” Karoa brushed loose hair back from her face. “And hunted. I was jumped by a pack of trolls.” She moved a hand dismissively as he leaned towards her, worry plain on his face. “I’m alright. Just some small stuff. I’ve had worse. Preypacer is alright, too. He came off better than me.”

“You’re covered in blood,” he told her and she blinked again, and looked down at herself. “I’m not the best healer, but I can help.”

“It’s mostly not mine.” The huntress caught his hand as he began to chant. “I know you’ve said that ... water?.. doesn’t answer you as strongly as the other elements... but Kaeev.. Please. I need your help. Not for me. For... for my friend.”

Kaeevanrash stopped the sing-song chant he’d begun, and stared at her. “Your friend?” he repeated, puzzled. She met his gaze for a moment, then looked away.

“Please, Kaeev. She saved my life. It isn’t right to just... leave her.” Karoa shook her head. “Can you help?”

She retrieved and set down in front of him the load she had carried into the outpost. She drew back the stained woollen blanket. “Please, Kaeev?”

The shaman stared down at the limp shape, then looked back at his friend. In all the time he’d known her, the crusty huntress had never been so open, so expressive. She had dropped her eyes to the creature she had carried, and rested a hand on its head for a moment.

He crouched down beside the dead raptor, noting the bandage it wore. “Is it one of your pets?” he asked. “I thought you just had the wolf.”

“No. She’s her own person. I just... lent a hand.” Karoa raised her eyes to him. “Can you do it? Can you restore her? Heal her?”

“I don’t know.” Kaeev reached forward, finally, and turned the raptor over to see the gaping maw of the wound that had claimed its life. “I’ve never tried to restore an animal before.”

“She’s not an animal.” Karoa’s voice held steel, and her chin set in the stubborn expression he knew well. “Since when do animals wear clothing, Kaeev? Or ornaments?” She flicked the beads around its neck with one finger. “I don’t know why you people...” She bit off whatever else she was going to say with an obvious effort, and shook her head instead.“I’m sorry,” she said after a moment. “But I owe her so much.”

The shaman nodded slowly, his attention on her face. Her eyes held an immense weight of sadness, and he felt privileged to have been allowed to see it. So often she held everything back behind the mask that she wore for the world.

“Why don’t you go finish with the merchant?” he suggested into the silence. “Maybe get cleaned up a little. I’ll need to prepare for this, anyway. And the little bit of time it takes for you to do what you need to won’t change what I can or cannot do.” He saw her hesitation, and reached out to rest a hand on her shoulder. “Karoa. You can leave her here with me. I’ll take care of her. She should be cleaned up, too. It makes it easier.”

The huntress nodded, and slowly got to her feet again. “I’ll go rinse off first,” she said after a few seconds. “I’ll be right back.” He watched her as she trudged - still limping - out the back gate, and down the beach to the warm salt water. He looked back down at the raptor, and sighed. He’d done many strange things, but this would be about the strangest, he thought. If it worked.

A nudge from the side alerted him to the wolf, who whined at him. He reached out to scratch its ears absently. “Hey, boy,” he said. “I wish you could talk. This has got to be one good story.” The wolf whined again, bent to sniff the dead raptor delicately, licked it once on the nose, then followed his mistress out to the beach. Kaeev stared after him in surprise.


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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 12:01 pm 
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The removal of the raptor’s bandage as he cleaned it up only added more questions. The wound beneath was nearly healed, and showed signs of careful tending.

“Another day or two, and I would have taken out the stitches.” The huntress, wet hair neatly rebraided, settled down beside him. “She was doing so well.”

He looked up at her. Her face was devoid of expression, and she had missed a smear of blood on her cheek when she washed. She had rinsed most of the dried blood from her armour, at least. Most. Mostly not hers, he reminded himself. Mostly. He would heal her, too, when he got the chance. Whether she wanted it or not.

“Well, they’re coming out now,” he said, carefully cutting each knot, and pulling the thread out with a quick jerk. “If this works, she won’t need them.” He kept his eyes on his work, pretending not to hear the whispered words of her prayer. He suspected she didn’t know she said it aloud.

In all, he thought to himself, this showed an entirely new face to his hunting companion. He considered for a moment, then decided he liked it. She had a soft side. A well hidden, well guarded soft side, but it existed nonetheless. He only hoped that his skill was up to the challenge. He found himself not wanting to let her down.

He finished removing the stitches, then picked up the small totem he had fashioned. The blue stones in its eyes flashed, as he concentrated. Self-consciously, he picked up the raptor’s talon as if it were the hand of a person to began the ritual.

“What’s her name?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Karoa shook her head. “We never got to that point.” He stared at her, and she shrugged. “We played charades. They worked.”

Kaeev swallowed the rest of his questions. He would have the whole story out of her later. For now... he raised the totem, and began his chant, wording around the need to call the name of the fallen. He hoped it would work. He sent a silent prayer to that end, for his friend’s sake.

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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 10:27 am 
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She was burning. Every nerve was on fire, and she gasped and shook in agony. It seemed to last forever, but finally, a wave of strange warmth spread through her, and she gasped again as it washed the pain away, leaving only weakness behind it.

She blinked, her eyelids rasping over eyes too dry and filled with grit. Her mouth was dry as well; her tongue felt like a piece of old fur. She moved it with difficulty, and managed, after a time, to work up enough spit to swallow.

The scent in her nostrils was familiar. The Newcomer? She tried to move and became aware that she was being restrained in some way.

She managed to focus her eyes, and she turned her head to see where she was. She flexed one talon slowly, wondering if she would be able to free herself from whatever it was that...

She was half-lying on the ground, with the Newcomer’s arms around her.

She stared up in surprise, then closed her eyes as the world tilted dizzily. She felt herself shifted, and reached out without thinking to steady herself.

The Newcomer grunted, and the mouth-sounds it made were short and clipped. There was a reply. The voice was deeper and heavier than her Newcomer’s, and another hand touched her. Once more, a warmth spread through her and she felt stronger.

Sunlight-Dances opened her eyes again. Her Newcomer was looking down at her. There was dried blood on its face, and on its clothing. And new blood, too, where her own claws had sunk into the Newcomer’s arm. Again.

Another pair of hands reached forward to gently disengage her claws. She didn’t resist them - she was embarrassed enough as it was.

There was another Newcomer kneeling beside them. This one was of the same kind as her Newcomer, but huge. It was heavy and formidable, with sweeping horns. She watched with awe as its hands touched the place she had marked, and glowed with a strange green light. The green light spread out, and brightened, covering her Newcomer with a green aura, but she couldn’t find the strength to wonder at it too greatly. She was so tired.

This second Newcomer’s voice was the one she had heard - so deep in timbre that her bones felt it rumble. She looked away when its eyes turned to her.

The animal was there too. It whined as her eyes found it, and it thrust its nose in her face. It licked her repeatedly before she managed to lift her chin enough to escape it.

Her Newcomer made a short laugh, then spoke. Sunlight-Dances looked up at the sound, but the Newcomer did not have the expression of happiness that should have come with the laughter. She wondered why.

The exhaustion crept up on her while the two Newcomers spoke to each other. As she sagged, her Newcomer moved her, so that she was resting against it, cradled in its arms.

It felt strangely safe. Secure. Protected.

Sunlight-Dances closed her eyes and leaned her head on the Newcomer’s shoulder. She felt one of the Newcomer’s hands stroke her, running lightly down her neck and shoulders, and it brushed the top of her head with its cheek.

As if comforting a hatchling.

She drifted off to sleep.


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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 12:15 pm 
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“What are you going to do with her now?” Kaeevanrash asked, curiously.

The huntress looked back up at him, but her hands continued to stroke the raptor gently. “Let her go,” she replied evenly. “I owe her my life, Kaeev,” she said again.

The shaman frowned. “Near here wouldn’t be a good idea. The orcs don’t like raptors much. She might end up hunted, and that would be a disservice.”

“I know. There’s a decent place. She should be fine.” Karoa’s hand slowed as she thought about it. “She chose the place,” she finished.

Kaeevanrash studied his friend in silence, wondering if he should speak his own thoughts. His eyes shifted to the raptor that she held cradled closely.

Lovingly.

He cleared his throat.

“Karoa?” He waited until the huntress met his eyes. “What if she doesn’t want you to let her go?”

“What?” Karoa blinked. “She’s a wild raptor. Why in the world would she want to be dragged away from here? Stranglethorn might not be my picture of an ideal home, but it’s hers.”

“Wild raptor.” Kaeevanrash smiled. “And you just told me she was a person, not a beast. People don’t always do what we expect them to. I’d say she likes you, based on what I see... and you might want to consider the possibility that she would want to stay with you.”

Karoa flushed, but shrugged noncommitally. As gently as if it were a child, she lay the raptor down on the blanket. Quick steps carried her to her backpack, and the remains of the travois. She tossed the poles onto the wood for the bonfire, shouldered her pack, and slung her gun over top. She gathered the raptor in the blanket, carefully, and stood. He caught her elbow to help her up. She might be strong, but it was still a dead weight. He helped her arrange it for ease of carrying. She shot glances at him as they worked.

“I owe you, Kaeev,” she said at last. “Thank you. I’ll find some way of repaying you for this.”

“Isn’t this what friends are for?” he asked gently, and laughed at her as she flushed again. “It’s alright. I’m sure I’ll need your assistance for something at some point. I’ll let you know. We still have things to do up north.”

She nodded at him. “I’ll be around. You can leave a message with my sister in Thunder Bluff, if you like. Last tent to the right, around behind the big one, on Elder Rise.”

She held his eyes for a moment, then turned and walked away - taking care not to waken the creature she carried.

Kaeevanrash watched her go, wondering if she knew her own heart. Her face and words had hidden it well, but her hands had betrayed her. She already cared for the raptor. Person or animal, it didn’t much matter. If they both cared for each other...

He sighed, and turned back to his task. The herbs wouldn’t get themselves to Thunder Bluff.

* * *
* * * * *
* * *


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 Post subject: Re: Debts
PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2010 10:13 am 
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Joined: Sat Aug 22, 2009 5:30 am
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Sunlight-Dances was alone when she awoke. She blinked, and sat up, finding herself once again lying on the soft grey thing. She moved experimentally, but there wasn’t a single twinge of pain, not even from her leg.

She looked down. The bandage was gone. The only sign that she had been injured was a disarrangement of her scales. She wasn’t scarred that badly, really. What had the Newcomers done? This was powerful magic. Slowly she pulled herself upright.

As soon as she stood up, the animal appeared from some bushes, wagged its tail at her, and barked once. It came up to her, and thrust its head under her claw.

Bemused, she scratched it carefully, and looked around. The Newcomer’s personal bundle sat beside the grey thing, but this was not the same nest-place as before. In fact...

She froze, then turned slowly. This was her nest-place!

Any sign of her nest was gone, of course. Even the remnants of the egg-shells would have been carried off by something long ago.

She couldn’t help herself, and walked over to where the nest had been. Here, her dreams had been shattered. She would have to find a new dream, one more practical than her rather childish musings of the night of the Drummers. It wouldn’t come easily, but there would be one, some day.

The animal followed her, still wagging its tail. It was happy. She envied it having a place it belonged. She reached up, and fingered her clan-beads. Once they had symbolised the length and breadth of their land - dried mud from the ancestral places baked hard in the sun. How much did they really mean, now? The Green Hill territory had been taken by the Blue Water tribe, bit by bit, as the Green Hill numbers had dwindled. Some of her beads were Green Hill, some Blue Water.

One crumbled under her touch. Evidently, some had been damaged in the fighting she had done. She picked at the knot with the tips of her claws, and untied it.

The animal barked again, facing away from the nest-place, and the Newcomer’s voice answered. The animal leapt around it as it emerged from the tall grass into the small trampled clearing. It bore game with it: two small animals hung from its belt, already cleaned and skinned. Sunlight-Dances watched it, and tilted her head as the Newcomer beckoned to her.

It offered her one of the carcasses, and her stomach growled in response to the smell of the meat. She stepped forward, and took the food gratefully, clutching her beads to her chest.

The Newcomer made itself busy sectioning the second prey-animal with a metal claw, and tossed half of it to the animal. The other half was added to Sunlight-Dances’ portion.

It dug the wooden bowl out from its belongings, and filled it with water poured from a bulging bag.

Sunlight-Dances finished the meat quickly, and accepted the bowl, holding her beads carefully as she drank. She looked up to see the Newcomer folding the grey thing, and putting it away. It slung the bundle on its back, picked up its weapon, and called to the animal. It was leaving. It faced Sunlight-Dances for a moment, put its hand on its chest, and bent low at the waist. It was an oddly formal gesture. A respectful gesture. Sunlight-Dances guessed what it meant. She replied with the formal motion of her own, bowing herself forward and arcing her tail high.

Their debts to each other were paid. And saying ‘thank you’ was a thing that people did to other people. Thank you, and goodbye.

The Newcomer straightened, then turned, and began to walk away from the clearing.

Sunlight-Dances lifted the bowl she still held, in confusion. Was it a gift? This treasure of a bowl? Sunlight looked down at it, and turned it in her claws again. No. She couldn’t accept this. It was too special. It tipped her into debt again. She took a few quick steps after the Newcomer, and hissed to get its attention. She tried to return it.

The Newcomer’s stance changed. It closed its arms, folded them tight against its body, and made the ‘no’ gesture with its head, shaking it from side to side. It followed this by pointing at the bowl, then pointing at her, Sunlight-Dances.

It was obvious that it didn’t want the bowl back.

Sunlight-Dances lashed her tail once. She had nothing to offer in return. Certainly nothing with the same status as a gift like this. Her eye fell on her beads. She set the bowl down. Perhaps...

Carefully, she slipped them from their cord, and examined them. One more was damaged, and she set it aside. The rest, she separated into two piles, and re-strung half of them on her cord, in a pattern that seemed pleasing. She plaited a second cord from a handful of the tall grass, while the Newcomer stared at her in amazement. Sunlight-Dances hissed in laughter. Where did it think The People got their cords from? That they fell from the sky? Maybe the Newcomers thought the same about the feathers, and arm-wraps. It would explain a few things.

When she was done, she had two matching necklaces. She picked one up, and stepped forward, to offer it to the Newcomer. As a gift, it once meant far more than now. The Green Hill tribe was no more, but the symbol was there. She gave the Newcomer the right of her territory.

The Newcomer stared at her for a long time before reaching out to accept the gift. But it accepted it. It stared at the beads in its hand, looking from them to her, then took its bundle back off, and set it down. It put the beads down on top of the bundle.

While Sunlight-Dances watched, head tilted in wonder, the Newcomer removed a necklace of its own, that had been hidden under the clothing it wore. It untied it carefully, and separated out some of the beads. It held them in its hand, then pointed at the second necklace.

Sunlight-Dances stopped breathing. Did the Newcomer know what it was doing? It couldn’t.

The Newcomer pointed again. Slowly, Sunlight-Dances extended her own necklace, her heart beating like one of the Drummers’ instruments.

As she watched, the Newcomer re-strung the necklace again, its own beads mixed together with the clan-beads, in a simple but attractive pattern. It handed the necklace back, before unstringing the other beads, and mixing them together in the same way. It examined the now empty plaited cord with extreme interest, then tucked it away in the bundle. The necklace of mixed beads it tied back around its neck.

Sunlight-Dances slowly lifted her own necklace to her throat, and tied it in place. The Newcomer could not know what this meant. Could it? She wished she could ask; wished she could explain.

She looked up again, and the Newcomer had not moved, although it had put its bundle back on its back. It still stood there, leaning on its weapon, watching Sunlight-Dances with measuring eyes.

The animal whined, and the Newcomer glanced down at it. It spoke, and jerked its head, and the animal happily went trotting off ahead. Deliberately, the Newcomer turned to Sunlight-Dances, and made another gesture - one easy to understand. The word that accompanied it she put to her memory. One more word of the language she would have to learn, she knew.

“C’mon.” The Newcomer turned, and began to walk away again, looking back at her.

Sunlight-Dances bent and picked up the bowl, and took a few tentative steps after. Any doubts she had were washed away as the Newcomer waited for her to draw alongside so that they would walk together.

Together.

It was good to have a tribe again. Now, she just needed to figure out how to trade names with her Tribe Leader.

It would come. She had all the time in the world.


Fin


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