The warm spring wind whistled through the hollow reeds growing along the river while the sun turned the bathing pools into comfortable places to relax. Most of the town was playing in the pools and river enjoying the refreshing water as it flowed through our small community tucked away deep in the forest. Young children skipped stones as far as they could across the fairly wide river while the older kids sat upriver casting lines in hopes of catching the biggest fish and contributing to tonight’s mid spring feast. Elder lils sat in groups carving away at various bits of wood while others prepared roots and other plants for the feast lending a hand to the cooks.
I struck out away from the clearing where we built the towns center and our homes which spread out into the encircling trees that provided protection against major storms and big animals. When you’re only three to four feet tall you can often be some big cats dinner without warning and all lils are taught from a very young age to keep both eyes on their surroundings. Luckily for me I had been taught by Qua the towns best tracker and hunter who saw my skills with a bow and sling and took me on as an apprentice. She was called away by a friend of hers, she was now traveling across the realm and left me in her position.
The forest sung to me as I quietly stepped along the trail made by what appeared to be the paw prints of a long ear and bits of fur twisted up in a thicket confirmed the tracks. Soon enough I spotted the creature nibbling away at a thick cluster of mushrooms near a bush of sweet suckle. I stealthily pulled my sling from my belt and loaded a stone in its pouch. I held the sling in my left hand and drew back the pouch attached to two cords made from an elastic silk. I let go of the pouch and the stone buzzed through the air staying on target even as the wind tried to blow it off course. A loud thwack let me know the stone struck the long ears in the back of the head and I watched as the animal jerked several times before lying still. I quickly approached the dead animal and picked it up by its ears with a swift and firm motion of my flint knife I slit the long ears throat to insure it was truly dead. As I worked I sung a song of thankfulness to the animals spirit I made quick work of field dressing the corpse and preparing it for my backpack.
Over the next hour or so I killed two more long ears causing my pack to become heavier but I still needed to locate some herbs and spices for my mom who was making her famous meat pies for the feast. Several of the items needed were silver gilded mushrooms which grew in cool dark places and I knew of a cave that would be a perfect spot. My path wandered in and out of the warm beams of sunlight throwing shifting shadows turning the trees into animated figures, it wasn’t hard to imagine the trees as lords and ladies watching over the forest sending out their bird messengers to do their bidding.
The entrance to the cave slowly came into view as I approached a tall hill rising up from the forest floor covered in small shrub bushes and several cherry trees covered in ripe fruit. Carefully I examined the area looking for prints belonging to the big cats and other big predators that might call a cave home. the entrance looked safe and clear of any signs of dangerous hunters but still I kept my bow in hand with arrows ready to fire. With a muttered word my vision changed to dark sight giving me the ability to walk through the dark as if it was daylight.
the stone walls were roughly carved by small rivulets of water winding their way down to the damp floor where moss and fungi flourished. Along the steep walls small ledges and alcoves held roosting wide wing bats and beneath them on piles of bat guano grew silver gilded mushrooms some as big as both of my hands together. The ceiling was arched with fang like crystal formations refracting what little light entered the area giving the cave the feeling of a vault of treasure read about in old adventurers tales.
Moving into the main cavern I pulled a padded mesh bag from my pack and carefully started tucking cap after cap away into the medium sized bag. Mom would need a lot of these caps which was fine with me because the cave had a bunch of them and several other types of caps that could fetch a good deal at market. Once the bag was full I tied it to the outside of my pack and began to fill a smaller bag with a rare mushroom that was used by healers and poison brewers alike. the cap was small in size with a boxy shaped top with stripes of black and gold running down the stem and it gave off a rotting smell but I kept collecting. Tadris was a hard one to find and now that I knew the cave produced a good amount I’d return to collect more as needed. As I worked the bats remained calm and only one or two woke up to watch me forage about the cave I wasn’t worried about them but I made sure to leave enough caps for them to enjoy.
The back of the cave held a small pool with a thick bed of glow moss growing right up to the water’s edge. We often used the glow moss in lanterns built to keep the moss alive. I carefully cut two hand sized patches from the carpet and placed them in my canteen where the moss would be safe until it could be transplanted into several lanterns. The moss reproduced rapidly if it was given enough food and moisture which the lanterns offered. the moss was rare and most lil communities would trade fragments to add to their tanks which strengthened the next generation of growth.
A feeling in my stomach told me it was time to turn back, mom calls them gut intuitions and you should always listen to them. I gave the bats a friendly wave as I crawled out of a narrow tunnel exiting the cave on the top of the hill. I paused for a moment before I struck out towards home. My eyes swept the ground and trees searching for anything we could use for the town. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me but as I stood still and focused I could see a slight hazy outline far off in the northwest. I needed to get a better look at what this might be so I scouted around for a low branch to use as a stepping stone.
the branches surrounded me as I adjusted my climbing rope attaching another anchor which magically secured itself to the tree causing no harm. In fact the anchor wrapped an energy band around the whole trunk instead of focusing all the pressure on a smaller area. Got to love tinkerers they make some really neat gear. I swung up onto another huge branch which I could stand on with room to spare and pulled my pack up after me on a separate safety rope. the skies were more visible but I still needed to go higher.
in no time I was way up in the branches climbing like a tree cat moving with a rhythmic pattern. Birds took flight as I approached their nests leaving behind eggs. I stopped and changed my direction so I wouldn’t go near the nests, I didn’t want to make them leave forever and abandoned the eggs. The thick needles of the branches poked and prodded leaving behind small welts stinging with sap but I couldn’t stop I had to see if this was smoke. If a fire was sweeping through the forest we’d need to prepare the clearing and strengthen our wards.
During times of disaster animals would often come to the clearing because they knew it was safe and we set out wards spreading the safe zone so that even more animals could be protected. It was important to keep the forests animals alive so we can survive from cycle to cycle.
I finally reached the crown of the tree and let out a cheer of amazement, no matter how many times I saw it always hit me hard. the forest was vast and spread out all around me like a giant rolling green, brown, tan and even blue carpet of color. Birds flitted about while others perched on branches protecting their homes and younglings. Insects buzzed around landing on flowers and leaves alike, way up here big spikey shelled fruit grew everywhere and I took an KRa from a nearby branch and took a bite. the sweet juice from the KRa dripped down my chin as I gazed out into the skies confirming indeed that it was smoke dancing on the wind to the northwest.
My descent down the tree was much quicker than my climb and I left my anchors in place for future scouts who would use this tree to see the smoke for themselves and they would watch it all day and all night raising the alarm if the time came. I set off at a decent jog but with short legs long sprints just weren’t my thing. I dodged between trees and ducked under bushes and brambles making my path shorter but still it took longer than I liked before the clearing came into sight.
My mom’s house smelled of warm cooking things as I entered and gave out a cry of greeting. My mother entered from the kitchen and gave me a bright smile.
“Back are ya so soon?”
“Yes mom, my trip went fine, I’m fine thanks for asking.” I gave her a bear hug, “I brought back enough silver gilds for you to store away for summer. We have trouble brewing though, I spotted smoke to the northwest and it’s moving fast.”
She looked sad, “The wolf riders are up in that region I wonder if they can stop the flames? I can’t think of all them acres turned to ash and soot. May the Great Mother bring down a rain storm to drowned the flames.”
“Go through my pack and everything is there that you requested I found some stuff for market and even located some glow moss. My canteen holds two patches of the stuff and one of them stays with us and the other can go to market or if the farmers want to trade for it. I must go tell the council about the fire and ask the warders to start making the protection zones.
I stopped by my house and set about storing the items from todays forage before they had a chance to go bad. It only took a few moments and I was back outside moving across the clearing searching for the council members.
I located four of the seven members sitting on a meditation bridge built across the river quietly talking amongst themselves. they all looked up at my approaching shadow and Helia stood up to greet me.
“Hello tracker Dau what’s wrong, you look worried.”
I shook my head and glanced down at the glimmering river, “There is a fire raging to the northwest and it’s moving very chaotically. The smoke is thick and very dark in color which tells me a lot of hard wood is burning. The wolf riders territory is a blaze and it could easily sweep through here if the winds shift and within hours we could have a fire storm encircling us.”
Councilman ted let out a groan, “i’ll get the wards in shape and have runners set the protection zones for the animals. I’ll see if we can get energy donations to power the wards.”
“I’ll be heading out to track the fire and sending back word using scribers. It’ll take me a day or so to reach the riders territory and if I do I’m sending wounded this way so my mother can heal them.”
“Of course as always community helps community you might also tell them if needed we can help them rebuild. Our mills can produce timber which we can float upriver.” Councilwomen Madi pulled a pipe from her lips, “I’ll get crews working on marking the trails but I’d suggest having any wounded coming down by river.”
“We’ll gather the full council and make more preparations, before you leave please come visit us.” Hilia patted me on the shoulder, “We’ll write up some papers for you and give you a signet so you can show you have our authority. I’m assuming you’ll be going by foot or would you like to use a hound?”
“I’ll be on foot, the hound would only slow me down and be at risk if the fire should suddenly shift. I would like to request to take several water runes from the stores for my protection and in case I need to save someone else.”
“No problem, tell the storekeep where you’re going. She’ll provide you with several protective runes and wards.”
Thank you I’ll be back in a while after I put together a pack and set some affairs in order.”
they all nodded and waved as I walked off the bridge and headed towards my house.
My home was crafted from milled wood and placed up into the branches of several trees and a couple of sellers were dug to hold and chill meat. The house was where I butchered and cured meat brought in from my hunts. A drying hut cure pelts which would be turned into clothes and other gear for the town. A lot of the meat I brought in was sold and traded at Qua’s butchery where she kept the town well stocked on meat. Qua was my hunting and tracking teacher and she was good at what she did.
I walked through my house with an empty trail pack in hand as I gathered together the gear I’d need to stay ahead of this fire. Once I collected it all I laid it out on my dining table and began folding, rolling, wrapping, water proofing, checking and double checking my inventory. I had my cookout kit, healers bag and rolled all together into one bundle my blankets, hammock and rain cover which secured nicely to the top of my pack. I changed into my trackers clothes which broke my form up and blended in with the greens and browns of the forest.
I entered my bedroom and slid open a concealed panel revealing a deep alcove where I stored my weapons and other dangerous gear that wouldn’t be good if children stumbled across them. I pulled out my folded bow and tucked it into its case and slung it over my shoulder.
Once I packed everything needed from my personal stores I went to the towns trade and supplies to meet with Vay the inventory master. The storehouse always had a large amount of interesting and amazing items brought together from all over the realm via trade convoys, roavers and couriers. The building was tall with three levels and another four levels burrowed down beneath the roots of a giant wand wood tree.
“Hello Dau, what can I help you with?”
“I’m heading out to track a large fire to the northwest and I’m here to get a few protective runes and wards.”
“Sure thing, I have some good stuff that’ll help you out. Water runes that will surround you with a wall of water or you can use another rune to throw a wave in front of or behind you. I have fire shielding wards and air filters. I’ll make sure you have a nice supply of gear. Come back in about an arc or so and it’ll be ready.”
I gave her a wave and strolled out heading towards my mom’s earthen home. The clearing was a bit busier now as warders moved from location to location refreshing the wards and taking energy donations from adults. Younger children were put to work racing around filling buckets and barrels with water from the river and placing them near houses and community buildings. the older kids were given scythes and put to work clearing brush and all grasses making fire breaks. Ditches were swiftly being dug as earthers walked in straight lines using their powers to lift and remove the dirt. Two of the earthers were working on a system to flood the ditches allowing the flowing water from the river. We’d harness the currents to push water through the series of ditches and back out into the river downstream creating onsite water sources all around the community. This would make a stronger last stand and water would be closer at hand instead of running back and forth to the river. We could have more hands throwing instead of long supply chains. The water flowing through the ditches would also act as a way to move flaming debris or ash and hot embers away from fuel sources.
my mom’s house was created from earthen walls with lush plants and flowers growing from within the walls themselves creating really cool and intricate designs. Herbs grew along the windows also growing from out of the walls giving the house an array of warm and bright colors along the windows and doorways. The roof was a living tree with its roots supporting the roof and burrowing down into the walls and growing deeper into the ground building a vast support structure making the home and itself sturdier. The trees branches were already extending out over the roof and providing protection from the bright sun beams and hard rains.
A garden covered most of moms piece of land blending natural and imported plants together to create a living supply of components needed by healers. She would spend hours tending to her plants touching each one giving it a little boost of her own power which would cause it to grow stronger and healthier producing incredible tinctures and poultices. Taking a moment I paused in the garden and carefully gathered a pouch full of fresh Tukka which could be used to sooth and help heal burns, I’d no doubt need the powerful plant while out on my scouting adventure. I continued up to the back door and slipped my boots off and stepped inside.
“Hey Mom, you around?”
I followed her voice through the house until I reached a spiral staircase leading up to moms living area where she spent her personal time when she wasn’t working. The downstairs was built so she could distill and create her tinctures. In emergencies she could treat someone in house but the community built a house of healing which was large enough to hold half the town if there was ever a need. It was usually full of children during winter fighting off bone deep coughs and wet lungs.
Mom was standing in front of a window watching the work going on down in the clearing as she finished packing a small bag with healing salves and tinctures. She was dressed in her working outside clothes which were already covered in small spots of dirt and green stains from the Molyl leaves. Her favorite hound was curled up beside her snoozing away the day until he could enjoy the children’s giving nature during the big feast. As I approached the window he blinked up at me and gave a small yawn.
“Life never gets any easier does it old man.”
Mom laughed as she saw who I was talking too. the hound which we just called old man tilted his head for a moment and went back to sleep.
“You’d think he was up all night tracking down pesky tree cats.” mom tapped Old Man on the nose and grinned, “He’s a good pup.”
“I have two more stops to make and then I’m off to go track this fire. I have two scribers on me one for the council house and one for you. I left your scriber downstairs on the mantle, I’ll check in at least once a day. I’ve got plenty of basic food supplies and will gather anything else on the trail and I have a water purification crystal in my canteens.”
“I saw you picking some Tukka and made up this bag for you. Inside is enough medicine to treat slight to severe burns, materials to stitch up wounds and several small crystals containing the touch of the great mother for life or death situations. You’ll also find supplies for poultices and salves.
the council gathered to discuss what needed to be done, I gave my consent and left so you and I could talk before you left. I want you to be careful out there and don’t take any unneeded risks especially when it comes to raging fires.”
I gave mom a hug and sighed, “I know you worry about me and I am a bit scared about heading up into the wolf rider territory. I haven’t spent much time up there and with the fire moving so chaotically I will need to make sure I’m not trapped. I asked Vae for some water runes and she offered air filters as well.”
Old Man lifted his head and let out two quick barks and pointed his nose towards the front door which was his usual signal for someone approaching. Mom let out a small chuckle and gestured for me to look outside.
A tall man the size of a small bear strolled up moms front walkway wearing hunters garb and carrying a backpack slung across his shoulders. His upright ears gave him away as a houndsman along with his muzzle like jaw and nose. Timius was a bit of a mystery for most of the people but mom and I consider him our closest friend. He didn’t say much but after he saved a young girl from a tree cat attack Timius was the clearing hero.
“Looks like I have a partner for this adventure.”
“I suspect he wants to get a closer look at the fire as well.”
“Well lets go say hello and see if he has any suggestions.”
I led the way downstairs and crossed over to the front door and swung it wide as Timius walked up the steps onto the doorstone. He placed his pack next to the door and gave us a nod of the head.
“Hello Timius, are you going with Dau?”
“Yes, I asked the council to make sure I wasn’t needed here and they thought it would be a good idea for me to tag along.”
“I’m glad you’re joining me on this one, it will be good to have an extra set of eyes especially with big game feeling anxious with the fire ripping apart their homes.”
Timius could change into about five different forms of dogs and would often give the children rides and wrestle with them tiring them out before bedtime. He also spent time teaching the normal dogs to be good guardians of the little ones. His past was unknown to us for the most part but he never did anything to cause alarm or show signs of uncontrollable anger. He bought a plot of land and had an earthen home built which he uses to store his tools and only stays there when he’s not roaming around the forest in dog form. He works alongside me and Qua in the butchery.
One of the things Timius brought with him was the skill of making really good jerky and smoked cheeses, Qua invited him to sell it in her shop. in no time everyone was purchasing or trading goods for well-seasoned jerky and they’d pair it with smoked fish from Qua’s smoke house in their pack rations.
“I’ve been up in the area you’re heading to and can show you several shortcuts.” Timius adjusted his coat causing it to clink and jingle, “the riders aren’t always the friendliest bunch of people.”
“I hope this fire isn’t taking apart their homes and if need be I have authority to offer help to rebuild.”
Mom nodded, “The council should have the orders ready to go by now. You two might want to head out before it gets too dark. I asked the cooks to prepare a meal for both of you so you won’t miss out on the feast.”
“You knew I was going with Dau?”
“I had a suspicion.”
“She has the gift of sight that comes into play randomly but when it does it’s useful.” I smiled, “She always knew when I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to.”
I gave mom a quick hug and handed her a small bulb I found during my earlier scouting.
“I picked this up for you, I know you’re running low on Molla.”
“Thanks son, you two be safe and stay in touch!”
Mom gave Timius a small bag of medicines and a quick hug as well. He returned the hug and tucked the bag away in a side pocket of his pack. He stepped outside giving mom and I a chance to speak in private.
“Dau, I want you to write to me before the council. The council is working together at the moment but three of us aren’t happy with Helia’s ideas on protecting our range and it might cause a problem. If the riders aren’t going to be nice we need to know it before we start treating any wounded, back through the records it’s been said that riders will capture territory for their own.”
“You think the fire might give them the motivation to take our clearing?”
She sighed before looking me straight in the eyes, “Riders that have visited in the past were abrasive and rude, they thought we would let them take from us without a fair trade. Several of us had to convince them that stealing from us wasn’t going to happen without bloodshed.”
“I’ll have my bow, two slings and my Earther abilities. if need be I can insulate myself in a coat of mud.”
“you better go, the council will need to tend to the feast.”
She wrapped me in a hug and ruffled my hair, “Keep swift feet under you and keep Timius with you.”
“I’ll see you when I return!”
I moved out the door and quickly made my way towards the clearing which was still bustling with activity as preparations were still underway. Long thick tables were being carried into place and barrels of ale and fermented fruit juice known as sweet juice were being tapped as water mages surrounded them in ice. Dogs kept watch over the children as messengers road in and out of the clearing on their own hounds.
We trained the massive lil hounds as mounts much like humans ride horses and they offered us the ability to run long distances. I would of taken one towards the fire but I didn’t want to have the responsibility of keeping the hound safe as well.
I stepped inside the trade and supply where Vae was sorting through a crate of apples freshly picked from the western orchards. She glanced over at me and pointed towards a wax paper wrapped packet sitting on the sales counter.
“I gave you ten air filters, five single use wave runes, five water shields and five summon rain runes. is there anything else you need?”
“No thank you that’s plenty enough.”
“the council would like to see you before you leave.”
“They’re my next stop.”
She chucked an apple at me with an underhanded toss and went back to sorting through the crate. I caught the apple left handed and tucked both the packet of runes and the apple into my inner coat pocket. the door swung shut behind me as I stpped out into the evening air.
Most of the council was gathered outside the community hall seated around a round gaming table. The table had a variety of shapes marked out in different colored borders, game pieces could only move at certain times to certain colored sections. the council members were playing a pretty good sized game moving two or three pieces at a time. Even as I approached they kept playing with rolls of di and spins of metal wheels marked with colors.
Hilia gave me a wave and gestured for me to take a seat, “Hello Tracker Dau, why don’t you sit down and watch me take my fellow friends bets.”
She flipped two pieces across the board causing them to land perfectly on the chosen squares that would give her a strong position for the next few moves. Ted was up next and he had a strong offensive force but a weak defensive foundation but no one was able to get close to his home base without being removed from the board.
“I’m getting ready to head out with Timius my hope is that we can make good time through the night. Vae was kind enough to give me enough runes to be a big help and I’m in good shape and can use my abilities to stay energized for the next few days.”
Hilia handed over a medallion on a leather thong, “We the council grant you the authority on behalf of the community. You may offer any wounded or homeless lils affected by the fire sanctuary. You should know though that we have concerns about the wolf riders and their attitudes towards outsiders. the ones you send to us should be given a code word so we know they’re truly sent by you.”
“That’s a good plan, the word is bear hound.”
“Alright that is a good code phrase and we’ll make sure we don’t get tricked and ambushed. Go with our blessings and may the forest watch over you and Timius.”
They all stood up and patted me on the right shoulder and tapped me on the forehead before resuming their seats. I grinned at all of them and saluted with a traditional signal of the tracker.
I walked away from the table and into the outer edge of the clearing where the trees created thick pockets of shadows and the sense of growing trees, plants and animals. As the noise of the community melded away into the background bird calls echoed around me as they alerted every one of my arrival in their domain. Fresh droppings told me a long ears was somewhere tucked away in a burrow no doubt watching me as I passed through. A sharp scent caught my attention as I passed a thicket covering up the recent kill of a tree cat which meant they were too close to the clearing for our comfort.
I pulled out my scriber and wrote a quick message to mom informing her of the kill on the western edge of the clearing. hounds would be ran through the area to chase the cats out and away from the clearing. the forest grew darker as the thick branches grew in together over head creating a vast canopy providing the perfect hunting grounds for the big cats. Casually I pulled my bow from its case and slipped the spider silk string into place with one hand and smiled as I spread the limbs into place tightening the string. A final twist and the bow locked into place turning into a part of my body as I drew and arrow and set it to the string. Everything worked perfectly with the string pulling back smoothly and the bow staying in one piece.
The trail head leading to the northwest was marked by a patch of sunlight which fell through a good sized jagged hole burned through the canopy by a bolt of lightning. Timius wasn’t anywhere to be seen but that gave me time to pull out my stone pipe and have a quick smoke of kemir root until he arrived.