Age of the Immortals – Chapter One – Part 2

The roars and cries of the strange beast in its death throes did not escape the notice of locals. Once the world quieted a moment, a young uluman who walked on a set of the blhoat’s crooked legs stepped out into the clearing by the mountain. He had heard the cries, and then listened and waited for them to stop. Delightfully, he was the first one there. Quickly and with a weathered eye on the sky, the horned and shaggy young man gathered his knives and tools and rushed out to the beast, ever weary of the world around him. To an onlooker his behavior might be something they could liken to those of a wild bhloat or elk, his caution exaggerated by the many joints in his legs as he started and froze at noises perceived and visions imagined, his long animal ears popping up and open and twisting. But no bird sang, nor was there a death toll from the mountain’s gongs. He was safe until he got closer to the mountain, though any open air place within the shadow of the mountain was a kill zone for travelers or the larger of beasts. Wallas had grown up in the area all his life and he had been a scavenger for about as long, his knowledge of the area had been hard won and his life was brutal and simple. Like many ulumen who were born to those more animal than man he had been given up to the wild, left to make his own way in the world.

Thankfully, for his kind he was an early bloomer, a few hours after birth he could walk and run and hide successfully. Since then he had made a living showing tourists around the area, though there was little to see in this region so close to the Valley of Shadow, there wasn’t a safe route through to the marshes on the other side of the Valley or through the barrens deeper into the desert. The mendhorn he came upon was by far the most interesting find in months, and as it had expired it was also the least deadly thing to wander in his path for some time. Wallas had seen some of its kind before, but as he circled it he got the feeling it was different somehow. It had a sour stench, the smell of raw magic’s. The mendhorn hadn’t fallen there, but had either dragged itself or been dragged by others to this place under the canopy. It was clawed and mauled in many places, its eyes ripped out and its brains leaking from the wounds, and whole portions of the body were dissolved away in a pool of black ichor that bubbled and hissed even now and stretched into the clearing. The flesh was raw, bloody, as if it had been savaged open but scant moments ago. The blood trail leading into the shadow of the mountain and he could guess what had happened.

It wouldn’t have been the first great beast to fall prey to the Ixitilil, the great flying serpent of the mountain. Many thought it a sort of dragon but Wallas didn’t bother himself with details. He had seen it himself once, attacking settlers who were traveling too close to the mountains: the Ixitilil materialized from the mountain side and struck as a whirlpool of screeching fury, reaching down from the sky and rushing through their midst with such speed that he could feel the wind from their passing even so far away. The wails and pleading for help went on only very shortly, soon after their screams were silence and their corpses strewn about the field, the Ixitilil gone from the sky as if it had never been. Nothing he had ever seen before was fast enough to outrun them, though he had on occasion there could be seen wild beasts who strayed in too close. It had also been a clean way to deal with his pursuers, though few pursued him in the wilds any longer.

After cutting away the torn and savaged bits he took a guarded moment to investigate it thoroughly. The meat wasn’t completely ruined though one whole side had been torn or melted like fat on a fire. All that could be taken from its remains was carved with skilled haste but still the process ate away at the hours of light. Soon more predators would come seeking the carcass but if he was fast enough he could pile on enough to profit to afford some small comforts. Skilled hands turned bones and sinew into an improvised skiff to pull the meaty and bloody prizes. It was great luck! The haul would feed him for months with the best of foods, clothe him properly, and the rare bits and pieces would put enough coin in his pockets to buy him a few much needed tools, possibly even a burdog to help him protect his finds and pull skiffs.

Wallas was walking with his head swimming in thoughts of the great bounty of fortune, even as he dug his cloven feet into the ground with the strain to pull away his prize. He barely made it away before the crashing sound of predators fighting over the discarded flesh redoubled his efforts. Out here it could be anything from lions to vashaaz, where either or any other beast in between or besides was more than he was ready for. With all the haste he had in his limbs he pulled his skiff directly for the city of Cassium. All he needed to do was deliver his find to the right people and he’d walk away with enough tokens to keep him out of the city for another two or three seasonal arcs. It was like a mantra he repeated over and over to himself, “Two or three whole arcs away from Cassium”, he was wanted for many crimes, both those he actually committed and those he was merely accused of, admittedly mostly the former.

City life didn’t mesh well with this young entrepreneur’s chosen profession. Seems scavenging from houses is a little different from scavenging the caves and ruins. Even so he had found a niche there, working for one of the crime lords that ruled the dark underbelly of the city. It was them that made him fear the city, not his record with the guards. If they found him they would take everything he had, maybe even his life, though if they did spare him it would be only under the conditions that he return to their service. He shuddered, knowing how they would ensure his compliance in the future if he didn’t agree to those circumstances. It was a long haul to the very real risk of losing his life, but it was the only town he could peddle his wares to that wasn’t even further away or through more treacherous territory than the city itself. That and the meat would sell for less if it were to dry out completely instead of the mild salting it had received while being harvested. As he thought about it, pulling the skiff along smoothly, he made a mental note to get more salt for future bounties, if he managed to once again escape Cassium with his life.

Yet fortune found Wallas even sooner than he could expect as he came across a hunting party of fellow ulumen some hours into the long haul later. They looked haggard as they approached him, dusty and torn from long wear and recent battle. They were also big and tough looking, rather off-putting to the lone, well-laden, would-be merchant now pulling along a skiff of what their obviously flesh eating bellies would surely consider a delectable feast. Yet the promise of profit was far more tempting than the fear which licked at the back of his mind. Wallas stopped his sojourn and waved to the travelers who were only a short distance away by then. The clearing was big enough for them to see him well before they could fire any sort of weapon, though from the distance he could see the slave collars on them all and thought that unlikely.

When he waved them down with a hunters call they seemed to relax more and approached casually rather than cautiously. Perhaps they were seeking out some sort of lost prisoner, more than one prison in the desolation would send out packs of prisoners like this one, each collared with something they couldn’t remove that would do something terrible to them upon their failure to return. They settled about the field around him as he greeted the leader. Their leader was a mostly humanoid woman with only the face of a hyena who was clearly the tracker of the group based on her outfit and the way everyone else was following her until she took this momentary pause in their trek.

“Hunter. Trade?” she asked him, yet the wild glint in her eye foretold that she clearly knew what he had to offer, and was not prepared to accept any refusals. Being so struck with fear at her dominate attitude Wallas nevertheless gracefully pulled back the skin to reveal the haul from the mendhorn. The strange uluman lady paled visibly beneath her light coat of grayish fur. Even though she had the muzzle of her bestial forefathers she seemed to frown around it.

Their Trade language was rough and the muzzled ulumen tongue of her people screamed of the Driftfolk and lowlands of Morn, dangerous and far to travel, as they spoke amongst themselves. “I have mendhorn meat, bone, horn and blood. It’s not the usual sort either, this blood has the raw stench of magic to it.” He pulled out a jar of the blood he had saved. It was red but in the right light it had an opalescence, he showed it off in the sunlight and replaced it swiftly when her interest wasn’t immediately visible. “I also have its brains and teeth, but I wish to keep those for myself.”

The leader barked an order, literally, and the other ulumen, all canine in some respect, snapped into line behind her. “How did you come by this?”

Wallas suddenly didn’t feel so lucky, “it was already dead in the clearing behind me by the Mountain just over yonder a few hours back.” He gestured back the way he had come. As she looked down at his offerings, her eyes betrayed a mournful thought, like he had carved up a family pet or similar loved one rather than some dangerous beast. The leader looked over the skiff then pressed enough tokens and coins into his hands to buy all he was willing to offer and more.

“Your silence, extra prizes too.” Two of their number were given whispered instructions and disappeared off through the forest, while the leader ordered the others to strap into the skiff so as to pull it with greater ease. They headed off in the direction he had pointed them, he might have lied to them, but their keen senses would’ve picked up the turn in his trail too swiftly and his escape would’ve been nearly impossible. As soon as she was out of sight, Wallas pocketed the money and raced off with all the haste he could muster, dropping down onto four legs to make the journey shorter. It had been a truly enriching day, and he planned on not being there when the hunters were attacked by the swarming predators, nor when they realized that he had taken something that he hadn’t left on the skiff.

He had thought it was just circumstance, but seeing the same thing on the slave collar around her neck had dissolved that notion. He had been sure to tuck the crystal into his satchel, in a safe and secret pocket which he had sewn into the bottom of it. The rest of the haul had meant very little compared to the stone and if he had a hope of collecting anything from said crystal it lay in his limbs as he crashed through the underbrush, leaping logs and crevasses with the grace his odd heritage had bestowed on him.

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