THE SOUND OF DRY LEAVES rattling from the warm summer’s breeze could be heard throughout the dwindled forestry of northeastern Thralnan. In a patch of short yellow grass, a female lay completely still. As the wind swept across her face, the long dark hair on her head tickled her neck. She slowly opened her eyes and saw the great blue sky above her. She blinked a few times before realizing she had troubles breathing; her throat was extremely dry. She closed her eyes again as she mustered the strength to sit up. While doing so she heard a sound: the soft trickle of a brook. She looked to her right and saw a beautiful blue stream flowing, only twenty feet from her. She had not the strength in her legs to stand so she crawled to the stream and drank her fill.
While pulling water from the stream with her hands, she noticed her reflection. She startled herself. She had pale skin and light brown eyes. It was at that moment she realized, she had no memory of what she looked like. She gazed at her reflection perplexed. She thought more intently, yet could not recall anything. Not a single memory of the past came to her; it was all black. The bright blue sky and dry forest around her was all she knew.
She, having now the strength, stood and examined her surroundings. She was in a barren forest. The ground was dry and crisp. There was a hot breeze slowly brushing against her. She looked to her left, away from the stream, and saw a small brown bag perched against a tree, near where she had awoken. She quickly gazed around again, looking for the owner of the bag. There was no one, and not a single sound other than the rattling leaves could be heard.
She approached the bag, picked it up and opened it. A stale wheat cake was inside, along with a small knife and an old piece of folded parchment. She took the piece of paper out of the bag and unfolded it. It was clearly a map. It captured what seemed to be a massive land filled with forests, plains, mountains, and lakes. It had many borders running through it, dividing the land into kingdoms. One of the kingdoms, a land surrounded by mountain ridges, was titled: the Kingdom of Peace. There was a small note inside the kingdom’s borders that read, in the common tongue: ‘Your people dwell within this land.’ There was also another note on the top of the map. It read: ‘Your name is Jezorin, you are a foreigner in a dangerous land.’
Her heart beat rapidly as fear filled her. She frantically looked around her again, there was a thick tree line not more than fifty feet from her. It was comprised of dead trees. Nothing looked familiar and nothing she saw seemed to be on the map.
A small and strange sound came forth from behind her. It was a voice but it spoke an indistinguishable language to her. She slowly began to turn around to see what foreign thing could be behind her.
“You are an odd-looking deer,” the quiet, crackling voice said in a language she knew.
She gasped and quickly turn around to see who was there. As she spun, the being leapt backward and took cover behind a nearby rock. The hearing of words she could and could not understand startled and confused her all the more.
Jezorin only saw the quick movement as a blur, but she knew the creature could not have been very large. “Who are you?” she asked. Her voice startling her. It was soft and had a high tone.
From behind the rock, she saw a large green eye peering at her. “Who are you?” the small creature responded.
She paused and look at the piece of paper in her hands. “My name is Jezorin.”
The creature crawled out from behind the rock. It was indeed very small, covered in straw-coloured fur and walked on all four of its limbs, unlike Jezorin.
“I am Lejalia. Where are you from?”
Jezorin began thinking of an answer, however, she could not recall where she was from. And then she remembered the paper in her hands. ‘This is where your people are,’ it read.
“The Kingdom of Peace,” she said almost in the form of a question. Those were the words titling the place on the map where her supposed people were.
The small feline-like creature approached her slowly. “That sounds like a nice place,” she replied.
“I would not know,” Jezorin whispered sadly.
Suddenly, a much larger version of Lejalia swiftly appeared in between her and Jezorin. That larger creature was not friendly nor timid like Lejalia, rather she was crouched on her four limbs with the fur on her back raised. She had her head bowed with her teeth showing and she kept an unwavering stare on Jezorin as she growled fiercely.
“What brings you into these lands, orken beast? And where are the others?” she aggressively asked.
Jezorin jumped back from the scare. She gathered her thoughts and remained puzzled by the question.
“Orken…” she muttered. It sounded vaguely familiar to her.
“Speak up, beast!” the large creature demanded. “Why are you in these parts of the woods? And how many more lurk beyond?”
“I—I do not know!” Jezorin blurted. “I awoke, only moments ago, alone and with no memory of these woods nor of being called orken!” she exclaimed while beginning to shake with emotion.
Lejalia stepped forward. “She says she is from the Kingdom of Peace,” the cub told her protective mother.
Those two creatures were of the Felnir race. The Felnir are agile hunters who, depending on their tribe, can conquer any terrain. These two were of the Lijan tribe. The males had thick manes of brown fur around their neck and could easily tear through most prey with their powerful arms. The females were just as strong of hunters as the males, however, they lacked the mane and were strictly covered in golden fur.
The larger felnir stood on her hind legs, appearing to have a similar physical form as Jezorin. This made Jezorin feel slightly more comfortable while still being gravely afraid. “Then you cannot be an orken. You seem to speak the common tongue well and now that I ponder such, you are far more beautiful than any orken I have ever seen.”
The words made Jezorin smile. Despite having very little memorable experience in the world, words still carried weight to her.
“I am Leha,” the felnir said introducing herself with a slight smile.
“I am Jezorin.”
“Well, Jezorin of the Peace Kingdom, I still cannot trust you. It must bring you before the leaders of my pack. They will know your true origin and if what you say about yourself is correct.”
Leha got back down on all fours and turned toward the forest. Lejalia smiled at Jezorin and followed her mother.
“I would advise you to come cooperatively,” Leha began, “you will not like the alternative.”
Over a misty, sunlit Kru’aka, did a clear sky lay. A vast land, riddled with hills and forestry, housed the great Orken kind. Red-skinned orken dwelt in Kru’aka and, since the inauguration of their new king, they had struck fear into the neighbouring races.
Nearing one month from the day, the Elder and commander, Ful’kag, approached the grand city of Krag-Ma’ak. He had taken a familiar path to the city on his routine visit. Two weeks prior, he had ventured through the southern reaches of the Hills of Krom and into the plain-lands that stretched south until the border of the forest country, Thralnan. Yet then, on his second trek to report to the king of his dealings as governor of eastern Kru’aka, he rode north, passing the spot in the Plains of Dal where he had submitted and given kingship to Dal’torr. He rode his rhunka near the Forest of Fal’kir, yet never entering its cruel brush. And alas, he ventured through the Valley of Kal’ka; a place of great emotion for him as he recalled what set forth a life-altering chain of events. His defeat then had led to an irreplaceable understanding of himself: he was not entirely of the Orken.
He had previously attempted to understand and explore the emotions that lay dormant within him but to no avail. His three hundred years of slaughtering and serving a master would take time and a teacher to incite the feelings that made him unique. Yet he knew he was not entirely unique.
As he rode up to the grand gates of Krag-Ma’ak, he looked to the satchel that was bound to his saddle; within it was a list, drafted by his gophelian acquaintance, Gerh, containing the names of the many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of orken who, as well, held blood that belonged to the Gizon.
The guards placed their right hands against their iron-clad chests and bowed in reverence to Ful. He entered the courtyard that housed the great statue of Ma’ak, dismounted his rhunka, gave the reins to a nearby stable worker and began his walk toward the throne room.
Uncomfortably for him, an armoury attendant accompanied the stable worker and took his axe. A thing Ful could have resisted, but then the question would be asked of him: does this Elder intend on using his axe against the king? The insecurity Ful already carried with him did not allow the room for such a question. Thus, he relented and released his grip on his beloved and fabled weapon.
He walked on and recalled his previous visit. Krag-Ma’ak had since been restored and even expanded in glory. The buildings had been reinforced with iron and new stone bricks. And Ful, as he gained oversight from the elevating pathway he was on, noticed a construction site being formed near a patch of the northern wall. Living quarters that had once been there were no more and the wall was bare in preparation for an expansion.
This construction had been discussed in the previous hearing with the Council and the king. As hatred for the Geerum swelled in the chests of the Torren, the plans to continue warring against them developed. An expansion to Krag-Ma’ak had been supposed by Kon’kra. That expansion would serve as a war front for the coming battles. Its design would be to fortify the northern reaches of the city and allow for troops to exit in the direction of the enemy.
Unlike the uncountable previous times Ful had entered the throne room, he used the entrance only Elders used. It was a door at the rear of the building which led to a spiral stairway and a bowed hall, connected to each balcony.
Ful took hold of one of the torches that lit the curved hall and used it to light the fire on his balcony, signifying his attendance. Two other fires were lit, and as he stayed, more began to light as the scheduled time for their meeting approached.
Ful sat at a wooden desk that was his own. An oil lantern sat on top and strapped underneath, was a small one-handed axe. He had hidden it there just for his peace of mind, being a former militant. He placed his satchel on top of the desk and unloaded its contents. He took a map out which was his copy of the current map of Kru’aka. With each meeting between the Elders and the king, their maps were updated by territories lost and gained during war times. But at that moment, not much of the map had changed nor required updating, especially compared to two months prior when an entirely different kingdom reigned in the land.
He also pulled from his satchel the list Gerh had given him. He peered down at the names and the titles that were ascribed to each one. He began at the first name: Deg’run, a Draken warrior. Of course, that Deg’run, if still alive, no longer remained a Draken. He would have either died loyal to Kul’drak or turned allegiance to Dal and would, hopefully for Ful, be in the city.
His city, previously named Maraka and, after its fall, named Krag-Ful’kag by the victorious Dal, was then renamed by Ful to a more humble name, for his liking: Krag-Akran. Krag, being the Orken word for city and Akran, a word meaning homestead, in the closest translation. At that time it housed him and a great number of former Maraken. He looked to the list he held in his hands and wondered if any good would come from recruiting those who may have similar struggles as he had. Perhaps they would benefit from the clarity he could offer them. Or they could respond in likeness to the king, who, upon hearing of the truth, turned from it and shunned any clarity Ful had to offer.
“What would Akran become if all were as I am?” Ful pondered in his mind.
At the end of his thoughts, all the fires in the throne room were lit and those grand doors swung open. Sunlight arrayed into the room and the shadow of the king was cast onto his great throne. He sat down as the doors closed and the nine fires of the Elders were the only source of light.
“Hail, king Dal,” all the Elders said in sombre unison.
Dal nodded in return. “There is much to attend to, thus we shall keep this meeting brief,” he began. He addressed each Elder individually and requested they report on all hearings and dealings of interest. No topic of intensity or interest for Ful arose for much of it was regarding the western villages, the farms, and the stores of supplies.
When the time for Kon’kra to speak came, Ful awoke from a journey his mind had wandered down. Pondering battles and landscapes: interesting topics. But Kon’kra’s dealings were very exciting to Ful.
War. The Geerum were recovering from the loss of their own king and the Orken were preparing for more assaults.
“The expansion plans are sketched,” Kon began in his raspy voice; an Elder aged near eight hundred years. “Lumber is the only restraint. I wish for quick work to be done with little exposure to the city. But for this, I require much more stores of lumber. My request, my king, is for a large force of Torren to take their axes to Fal’kir. With the Forest being vacant of orken, we can push back its reaches and use the lumber for the construction.”
“Whatever forces you require,” Dal began in reply, “shall be yours.”
“Kon,” Ful started, leaning forward. “Does the Forest not provide an advantage against the Geerum’s stronghold? I suggest we restrict the demolition from the western range of the Forest. At least then we would hold the tactical advantage still.”
“I agree,” Dal concurred. “And in clearing the forestry before the west, we would allow for concealed encampments to be forged.”
“A good measure for our continued warring,” Kon agreed. The other Elders remained silent but put forward their agreeance with nodding. One, however, spoke into the conversation.
“There is also Thralnan,” he said. “Vast in timber, and enemies. To harvest the resource would be accompanied by warring against the Felnir. How long did Kul’drak allow for their repopulation?”
“The strength of our foes is a breakable thing,” Dal said as he stood. “To the woods of Thralnan and Fal’kir, we shall cut! We are a united Kru’aka and our numbers are strong. Ful’kag and Dem’ku, you will oversee the harvesting of Thralnan. Any additional lumber harvested will be used for the expansion of Akran.”
Dal returned to his seat. “And to that, how does the Torren kin city fair?” he said as his gaze met Ful’s.
“Well, my king,” Ful answered. “Not enough time has been granted for my visiting of every village just yet, but our warriors are present in every one and slay any who doubt the Torren kingdom. Although there are very few who do. The Troagan slaves were executed prior to our taking of the city, this has allowed the former maraken to be occupied with farming.” Ful thought to himself for a brief moment about his list. “I do, however, suggest a mingling between our two cities.”
“What are you referring to?” Dal asked.
“The majority of Krag-Ma’ak is occupied by former draken and torren. Yet Akran is primarily of former maraken. Still, some torren have been housed there, but I fear the loyalty of the maraken would waver if they were allowed to remain separate.”
“What do you propose?”
“We are expanding Krag-Ma’ak in military and defence. If we expand it also in its ability to house orken, we could relocate the vulnerable.”
“And replace them with whom?” Dal asked.
“I have—” Ful looked down at his desk. “I have a list.”
Dal met his gaze and studied Ful’s fire-lit face. “Elders,” he began, “ponder such. We will consider Ful’s suggestion at our next convening. Until then, continue as decided.”
The Elders all stood and shuffled around on their balconies before exiting the throne room.
“Ful’kag,” Dal summoned, “walk with me.”
The two met outside the throne room and began a walk toward the barracks.
“Your list?” Dal asked.
“Drafted by myself. Militants from all three kingdoms whom I wish to make contact with.”
“Ful’kag… your notion does not sit well with me. Yet if you were to engage in mutiny against myself,” he said as he walked on,” I suppose you would have killed me in the Plains.”
Ful said nothing.
“I was defenceless and yet you gave me Kul’s axe. A gesture I will never forget. Thus, I suppose your recruiting of these orken is with no ill thought of me.”
“You are correct, Dal. You are my king,” Ful replied confidently, adding to what little sway he had to the flow of the conversation.
They walked into the barracks and oversaw the training orken. One sparring circle was empty and the pair made their way to it.
“A duel then,” Dal said as he picked up two wooden training axes. He tossed one toward Ful.
“My king?” Ful asked as he caught the axe.
“When did we last spar? Well over two hundred years ago! Do not let my being your king deter your fury.”
“It has been some time. I never was victorious,” Ful said.
“Well you are of the Torren now,” Dal replied with a grin. “If you defeat me I will put no further pondering to your request and grant it. But if I am victorious, you must do a task for me.”
“A task that you could not command me as my king?” Ful replied as he began to circle the king.
“I could… but a chance to reveal our inequality is worth the wager.” Dal echoed Ful’s circling motion and both of the former warriors hunched over as the first move was anticipated.
“Wooden axes now I see,” Ful said as the tension grew.
“Death, Ful’kag. War between orken is over and thus killing ourselves in training is too.”
Ful roared and lunged forward, chopping his wooden axe down. Dal swung the axe away with his own. At that time a great number of orken had gathered to view the spontaneous duel.
For many minutes the parrying and deflecting continued. The battle was filled with the pair’s roaring and clashing. Ful struck Dal on the leg but overextended his reach to do so. Dal countered by thrusting his axe against Ful’s shoulder. The two toppled backward but leapt up quickly to resume sparring.
Alas, Dal chopped his axe down and Ful was able to step sideways to avoid the blow. He held his axe in his left hand and brought it behind him. He reached behind him and took hold of the weapon with his right hand. And in a split second, he was about to plunge the weapon against Dal’s exposed neck. The blow would have ended the duel and granted victory to Ful. And though it was not for a kingly challenge, Ful knew Dal would lose a great deal of loyalty and there could have been another split.
The thoughts surged through his battle filled mind, an ability only possible because of his difference. He rested his form and willingly allowed his axe to leave his hand with the momentum. In the quickness of his move, to the outward viewer, it seems as if he had lost his grip in his quirky maneuver.
Dal responded to the supposed error, though not being fully convinced of it, by lifting his axe and striking Ful’s chest. Ful fell backward and lay submissively on the ground. Dal lowered his wooden axe and placed the dull blade against Ful’s red neck.
Roaring and cheering filled the barracks as orken beat their chests. The duel had been truly exhilarating and proved their king’s might once again.
Ful made his way to a stand and bowed his head before his king. The parade broke and the two of them walked onward and exited the barracks. They wandered in silence up the grand steps that lead to the war chamber.
“Lost your grip?” Dal asked as they entered the sacred room.
“It seems so, my king.”
“Very well. It is settled. I will then present your task.”
Shade from the great trees in Thralnan offered a coolness from the warm summer sun that wished to beat upon Lar’s skin. The still warmth that sat under the trees offered a sweet smell to her nose. The dry, leafy dirt below her feat aroused a scent that, mingling with the sappy trees, was truly pleasant.
Lar walked ahead of Noma and the pod. Their pace had been slow during the previous two months of trekking. With their larger number and quantity of tadlings, only half of the day was spent walking. They had not glimpsed a sight beyond that of the forest for the entirety of their journey. They had been travelling south and hoped to have seen the great landmark of the mountain to which they were headed. But no such sight had been seen.
Their lives had been simple and relatively undisturbed. The troagan stuck to their diet of insects and Lar had been educated by Noma on a vast amount of edible herbs and foliage in the forest. She, despite her heritage, thrived on the diet and enjoyed that a life did not have to be taken in order to feed.
There was a great number of felnir in the country of Thralnan. But the troagan posed no threat to them and their scent covered that of Lar’s: a hated orken. Thus, when the pod travelled past a pack of felnir, they were detected but not alarming and allowed to pass by. If they had been confronted by a felnir pack, there would have been very little they could have done to defend themselves.
Lar enjoyed the life of sojourning. Of course, she had a purpose and a destination, but the wanderlust of Thralnan and an untied, unchained spirit, birthed such delight in her. And her demeanour showed such. Noma had grown to recognize a truly contrite Lar as opposed to the curious, shamed and irritable girl he once knew.
The pair walked briskly through the forest, humming along with the wondrous green buzz. Their conversations were of little depth at that time as they had deeply explored one another’s cultures and history in the previous months. Very little knowledge remained unearthed between the two unlikeliest of friends.
“The ground,” Lar began in a questioning tone. “Does it feel different to you?”
“Now that you have made a mention of it, yes indeed it does,” Noma replied curiously.
They walked on and shortly realized the dry dirt began to taper off and a rocky floor emerged. The density of the trees also diminished as the hour continued on. A breeze struck Lar’s bald head and a distant light began to form on her black eyes.
“Ahead,” she said and gazed forward.
“Perhaps you and I should proceed alone, with caution,” Noma replied as he noticed the sight. He croaked to the pod behind and went on, staring at the white blankness that began to appear through the thinning forest.
They were completely afoot on rock then and the trees had turned to brush. The bush was still tall enough to conceal the pair but once they emerged, a ghastly assault of air struck their figures and the mere shock of their sight took them aback. A land that was an undeterminable vastness, stretched out a laying of forestry and mountains. And separating the foreland from Lar and Noma was a cliff, on which they stood, that plunged thousands of feet downward. They dared not look beyond the edge but knew, just from the sheerness of what lay before that the cliff was deeper than any height imaginable.
Speechless and in awe, the two grasped each other and held tight as they looked beyond. Lar had never seen such a height, the nearest being that of her time atop the War Hall in Krag-Ma’ak. She shuttered at the recalling of her descent.
“Who knew such heights and grandeur were at Kru’aka’s hand?” Noma exclaimed. His history formed in the east, and despite his wisdom, he knew not of any such landscape.
“It stretches farther than I can view!” Lar exclaimed in turn. “How even can such a height exist?” In a state of curiosity, her foot found itself stepping forward, causing a few loose stones to trickle down the cliffside. “I wonder if I could—”
The notion was interrupted by Noma taking her hand tightly again. “Veer far from the edge! You may be overwhelmed and lose your footing.”
The following moments were in likeness to the suspenseful surprise for the pair. A shriek sounded from below the edge. Its tone was high and raspy. Lar thought of it as if two sharp stones had scraped against each other; though it disturbed her far more. The second shriek sounded nearer and pierced the air as the first one had.
The two braced themselves for the approaching unknown. And suddenly dozens of shrieks shot forth accompanied by their dreadful makers: winged bat-like creatures almost as big as Noma. They aggressively swarmed the air and dove toward Lar and Noma. The hideous creatures were scarcely studied by Lar before she had it in her mind to flee. The two retreated into the tall brush and sprinted for the forest. Noma had noticed the small tubular weapons each of the beasts were holding to their mouths. From those weapons, came forth a barrage of darts which assailed the two.
Once they had successfully run into the density of Thralnan’s forest again, the pursuers were not able to fly as fast through the trees as Noma could hop and Lar could run. Lar saw the pod ahead and quickly turned to her right. “We must lead them away from the pod!” she yelled at her troagan friend. Noma turned in accordance with the idea.
After a few minutes of dodging darts and running through the forest, Lar and Noma finally broke free from their assailants. The creatures had chased them long enough for their liking without avail. The shrieking ceased and Lar and Noma slowed to a brisk walk. They caught their breath and then ran back in the direction of the pod.
Every member was safe and unharmed. Noma checked Lar for darts, unknown to any fact or poisoning or sedation. She was not struck and nor was he.
“What were those?” Lar asked as she breathed heavily.
“I know not. I have no knowledge of that edge either!”
Lar thought on the edge itself and the moments before their attack. “Noma,” she started slowly as she stared into the forest, “do you recall seeing the mountain of which the Geerum king spoke?”
Noma pondered. “There was a range of mountains on the right side of the view. Which I suppose if we have travelled south would be far west.”
“He made no mention of such a cliff;” Lar began, “he spoke of our journey to only be south and onward to the mountain. Just a mountain. And I saw no city on the horizon. Perhaps,” she said with a shuttering pause, “we have veered off and are not travelling south. Perhaps we have been wandering away from our very destination!”