The heart of the eternal

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Dangers of the past

Out on the plains the clans were approaching the next main camp site, everybody were relieved that the city could be placed in one spot for a few weeks and the kids and youths were busy leading the animals to the best pastures. This camp site was old, they had used it for centuries and everybody knew where each tent had to be raised and where the different other buildings ought to be too. It was an age old routine and nobody went idle for very long. Corrals were made for the riding horses, made out of sharp poles and rope, the ovens were assembled and tested and placed inside of the tents before the walls were erected. Things had a certain rhythm, a sort of age old order which couldn’t be broken. Since everybody knew what to do and when raising the tents and buildings were done in a surprisingly short amount of time, when the last stragglers arrived the main tents were already in place and the fire pits dug open again. Some hauled water, others went to find fuel and some went around and made sure that the camp site in fact was safe. Every rock and root was being flipped to make sure that there weren’t snakes or scorpions or even worse critters hanging around.

The bath tents were put up, the healers got their tents finished and then everybody found their designated place and settled down. It was a chaos but an orderly one and the atmosphere was a good one, they were tired from the long trek and now they looked forward to resting and regaining their strength. Ahravan was helping the ones who took care of the horses, he was putting up fences and helping them sorting out the animals they would need while in camp. The others were released to run free for as long as they stayed there. It was a job he had done thousands of times before and yet it always held the same joy for him. This night he would sleep in a decent bed again, and before that he would have a good meal and an even better bath. The dust of the journey had made his skin prickle for the last days. The girl who had been attacked by the huge snake had recovered well and was okay and they had checked every camp site extra carefully before they decided where to rest. This site was a good one for a long stay, there was a river close by, a lake too and a groove of old trees not far from the site. The trees were sacred but there were berries growing there and mushrooms and some animals were drawn to the place too. It would be some good weeks for sure.

Ahravan finished the job and entered his tent, the dividing walls were already put up and the roof was being pulled on too, it was made from very dense felt and on top of that was a layer of water proof tarp. The ovens were in place and lit and Ahravan sighed with a sense of relief and smiled to himself. This would be so good.

He found clean clothes and left the dirty ones in a hamper for the cleaners and then he walked off to the bath tent. Normally he got a tub brought into his tent so he could bathe in private but that never happened on the first day of a stay. People were just too busy to heat water for just one bath and carry it from the heaters to the tent. The heaters were a dwarven invention, huge metal containers which could be placed over a fire and the water could be brought to a boil very fast. The bath tent was almost as large as his and there were many separate rooms, very small with just room for a bath tub and a chair on which to lay one’s clothes. The tubs were made from a sort of watertight leather stretched over a thin frame made from some very strong wooden spokes. It did look a bit like a canoe, with the leather on the inside instead of the outside and they could be taken apart easily. Ahravan had a real tub, a metal one but that was not unpacked yet.

He entered a room and one of the servants did fill the tub with warm water and left soap and towels. Ahravan slid into the tub very gently and closed his eyes with bliss. This was what he had been longing for, probably for at least a week! He just relaxed for a while and then he washed his hair thoroughly and rubbed himself with soap, everywhere. The elves were very careful with their hygiene and not without reason, the beasts which ravaged the lands had a very acute sense of smell and nobody wants to be an easy target. He wiped the last water off his body with the towels and felt like a new person, the warmth had done him good. He stared down at his own torso, he had gained a few more scars since the last time he was here but they would vanish in time, scars never lasted very long on his kind. He did have tattoos, several of them, made in a very striking blue colour which really stood out against his dark skin. An ordinary tattoo would fade within a few decades but these would last as long as he did. They were made with the use of magic and they had been terribly painful but he was proud of them.

He got the clean clothes on and left the bath tent, some of the youngsters were digging latrines, also an important part of the camp life. They usually dug at least five long trenches which got covered with boards they had brought with them. A bench with holes were placed across the trench at the end and then it got moved forwards as the trench filled up and earth was shoved inn over it from the end. It was a very smart system.

He sat down to eat, someone had prepared a huge kettle of stew and he was hungry so he ate until he felt almost ready to burst, then he talked to the guards to organize them and determine in which order the men should be on duty and when he returned to his tent everything was in order. The bed was ready and he smiled and sat down on it. The bed was unusual, it was made from a huge frame which could be taken apart and the bottom was ropes. It formed a sort of box and the matrasses were put down into it. The matrasses were made from a thick fabric filled with straw and hair and moss and down and they were covered with several layers of sheets and blankets. It was both comfortable and very warm and he pulled off his socks and clothes. He normally slept in the nude and let a hand run over the top layer, silky furs which felt just wonderful against his skin. He rolled into the bed and pulled the top layer of furs over him, felt how his body started to relax. He needed a good night sleep and squirmed a bit just to enjoy the feeling of being pleasantly warm.

Here on the plains the summers could be brutally hot and the winters equally cold and he remembered nightmarish ones when they lost almost half of their livestock and many of the humans of the tribe did perish. It was usually the very young and the very old which died and it was always such a terrible thing. This winter looked as if it would become a rather gentle one and he was glad, but he also wondered what it would bring. Rhawan would return to him in a few weeks, with his new wife to be and Ahravan couldn’t help but think about it. What would she be like? It was a very pressing question but one he wouldn’t find an answer to before she did arrive in the flesh and he closed his eyes and let his mind drift off to sleep. He needed that now, and before long he was lost to the world.

The next morning one could have believed that the city had been there forever, people were scurrying around doing their business and Ahravan got dressed and felt good. He was whistling as he found his boots and sat down by his table to enjoy a quick meal. The servants had left him with bread, tea, some wine and then a huge chunk of cheese and some jam. It was simple food but good and he ate with a good appetite. This day the sun was in fact out and the wind wasn’t too bad so the temperature was nice. He walked outside after having braided his hair and he smiled and nodded at everybody he knew.

He was heading towards the paddocks, he had some horses he wanted to check in on and he saw that Laupir was standing next to one of the saddle racks, trying to untangle a huge pile of reins. Laupir was human and one of the best horsemen of the clans, he had grown up on horseback and knew everything there is to know about horses and then some. Ahravan did bow his head in greeting and Laupir smiled but made a grimace and pointed at the mess. “The next time we do move we have to make sure that the ropes and reins are sorted out beforehand and tied into neat knots. This is a nightmare!”

Ahravan saw that most of the reins were twisted together and it looked a bit like a huge bush. “The apprentices did this?”

Laupir nodded. “Oh yes, the kids. I know that they doesn’t know any better but by the Goddess, I want to warm their behinds!”

Ahravan chuckled. “Leave the job to them, it ought to teach them a small lesson. So, what do you think?”

Laupir scratched his head. “The mares?”

Ahravan nodded and Laupir put down the work, the tangle was just horrible and the tall elf didn’t exactly envy the poor souls who had to fix this. The man shrugged, Laupir was a very tall man but he was way shorter than Ahravan and he had a very slender build. Some said that Laupir looked as if the first real gust of wind would carry him away but there was strength in him, the wiry springy kind. He had shaved most of his head but kept a pony tail at the back of his skull and he had lots of tattoos. Laupir was known as the best horseman of the clans if you didn’t add the elves to the equation and that gave immense status, because of that Laupir was very important and had a lot to say and he was popular too. Ahravan liked him a lot, he had a lot of very good qualities and he was honest. Laupir was more likely to cut off his own legs than tell a lie and he was just like most men of the clans, he was rather quiet, a man of very few words. “You want my honest opinion and I have to admit it, breeding the two dun ones was a mistake”

Ahravan had a herd of brood mares and he had bought a few more that spring, just to replace a couple of mares who had been very old and died the last winter. “Are you saying that they are no good?”

Laupir nodded. “The tall one has thrown her foal for sure, she was pregnant but she isn’t pregnant any more or else you can call me a dwarf and the other one? She looks like a balloon on legs and she isn’t due for yet five months. Something is wrong with her”

Ahravan sighed. “Right, can the tall one be used for riding?”

Laupir tilted his head from one side to the other, he was grimacing. “She moves with the smoothness of a lame camel my liege, riding her is like riding…well, I don’t even know what to compare her with”

Ahravan looked down, the mare was very tall and he had hoped to breed some large foal out of her, large steeds were needed when they were fighting. “Alright, you can remove her from the herd of pregnant mares and add her to the herd of loose horses but make sure she isn’t being impregnated again before spring, and with only my best stud”

Laupir grinned. “Sure thing. The other one?”

Ahravan was thinking. “Put her in a corral on her own, close to the camp and keep an eye on her. It would be too bad if we lost yet another foal. If she does lose it though, sell her, I have no use for a sick mare”

Laupir gave him a swift nod and then he looked at the Ath’ir with a curious expression upon his face. “So, you are truly getting married again?”

Ahravan had to make a swift grimace, he didn’t like being reminded of this. “Yes, I am. So I have a task for you”

Laupir smiled. “I am all ears”

Ahravan made a gesture. “The woman I am to wed comes from the high valleys, they don’t have much horses there. There is a great chance that she doesn’t even know how to ride. I want you to find the horses I am to gift to her as a wedding present.”

Laupir did all of a sudden look very eager. “That is an honour my liege, so, what do you want?”

Ahravan took a deep breath. “Five good broodmares, of the best bloodlines. Five geldings, the best hackneys you can find. Three ponies of a gentle disposition and two stallions, also top notch and not of the same bloodlines as my own. I would also like to gift her with at least three mares for riding and a da’ifh”

The last made Laupir raise an eyebrow. “Ahravan, that will be tough. A da’ifh is rare, and costly. I will have to travel far to find one suitable for a woman”

Ahravan nodded. “I know, but you will be given free hands. I want my wife to be safe, and such an animal will protect her with its life. “

Laupir chuckled. “Well, if she doesn’t love you after having received such generous gifts then she is a fool. I will see what I can do!”

Ahravan smiled and petted Laupir on his back. He knew of very few breeders of da’ifh’s and the animals were extremely costly and held in high regard. He didn’t own one and none others in the twelve clans did either but he felt that the girl he was to receive would need some extra protection. A da’ifh wasn’t supposed to be ridden, it was a stallion which was trained to fight, to kill and to keep its owner safe. It would follow its owner and keep any attackers at bay as the person rode to safety. The da’ifh’s were of a very rare breed of horse, they were huge and rather stocky compared with a riding horse, not very fast but with terrible strength and they would fight until the bitter end if they had to.

Ahravan walked back to his tent, some men were arguing very loudly and he stopped, both me stared at the ground and one of them did place his hand over his heart. “Aht’ir, our apologies, but we need your wisdom”

Ahravan sighed. “I will give what is mine to provide, so, what is the problem?”

The youngest of the men sort of scoffed. “He has stolen seven of my goats, that is the problem!”

The other man shook his head. “I haven’t stolen anything, they have just wandered off and joined my herd, you ought to keep an eye on them!”

Ahravan rolled his eyes. “Seven goats? You are arguing like this because of just seven goats? Please, just get them back into the right herd and make sure that the goats are looked well after, end of discussion!”

The one who claimed that his goats had been stolen sort of grimaced. “But my liege, he has milked them! I want compensation for the milk”

Ahravan rolled his eyes once more. “Right, give him half a wheel of cheese and I don’t want to hear more about this, alright? I have way more important things to think about”

Both men bowed their heads and Ahravan swore under his breath as he entered his tent. This was one of the things he didn’t like about humans, their tendency to quarrel about everything and nothing and that at the same time. Their minds didn’t work at the same level as that of his race, their perception so much shorter. Ten years was a very long time to them, to him ten years was a blink of an eye. Two other elves were waiting for him in the room set aside for meetings, both were female and he bowed politely. “Dairhen, Shirhiel, I am glad you could come”

Both smiled. Dairhen was a very elegant female with white blond hair as long as she was. She wore a very elaborate dress made from braided sickles of leather in different colours and she had painted her forehead with intricate patterns of blue and green. Shirhiel was shorter and dark of skin and hair, her hair was divided into hundreds of thin braids and they were so dense she had shaped them into some rather strange forms. It looked as if she was carrying a small tree on her head. She wore a very simple gown made from wool and her arms were covered with rings. Dairhen took his hand and she cocked her head, smiling wryly. “So, you need to prepare for the arrival of the Eth’ir, and provide her with everything she will need”

Ahravan nodded. “Yes, clothes, shoes, equipment of every sort”

Shirhiel giggled. “Well, we will do our best, but remember, we don’t have her measurements so the clothes will have to wait for her arrival. But we can gather fabrics and we can also get her the other things she will need. Some clothes doesn’t need to be made to size, and then there is jewellery and hair ornaments and such”

Ahravan swallowed. “Yes, let’s talk about that. I will give you free hands here, ask the dwarves if they can create some elegant and not to gaudy things.”

The two women stared at each other and smiled simultaneously. “Yes, that is a good choice, we will do that. We will gather the best fabric available in multiple colours”

Dairhen bowed deeply. “Within a week from her arrival we will have everything ready for her, fitted and sewn according to her colours and style”

Ahravan let out a small sigh. “Wonderful”

The two left and he sat down, thinking about the upcoming event. He would no longer be alone, that had been the greatest problem when he was married last time. The woman he had been wed to had been clingy and jealous and he had felt as if she was trying to choke him. He just prayed that this girl was different. Being the Ath’ir did mean that he had to do a lot of work, even paper work. He had to keep an eye on the soldiers and their equipment, make sure that the weapons were ready at all times and receive reports from all over the area regarding possible threats. It had been quiet for quite a while now and he hoped that it would last. When he had finished the days chores he was hungry again and had some food before he went to help the warriors train the new recruits. Some young men and women did try to join the ranks each year and the training was very hard and had to be. Very few did make it to the end, most quit or were found to be lacking in one way or the other. One should perhaps expect that the warriors all were elves but that was far from the truth, about one third of the warriors were human, one third elves and one third dwarves. The attacks did require different types of soldiers and all the three races had some sort of advantage they could use.

Ahravan knew that the recruits this year were predominately human, the elves didn’t have any youths at the right age now and neither did the dwarves. But he had high hopes for many of the young ones and some could become very good fighters in time. He did change into some better clothes and went off to the training ground. Some of his officers were ready and he stopped and stared at the gathered group. They had twenty recruits in all and everyone did kneel when they saw him. He smiled and picked up a fencing staff from a rack, walked down to the flat area where the training was done. Here the ground was soft since every rock had been removed and even in the coldest of winters training was rarely dropped. They had to be able to fight, no matter what.

He spun the staff, staring at the group. Out of twenty two or perhaps three would become warriors of the clans, the rest would be fighters alright, but they wouldn’t be a part of the elite group dedicated to fighting the monsters. That was only for the very best of the best and he pointed at one of the young men, a slender but wiry fellow with short brown hair and the tattoo of a rearing horse across his back. “Ersha, show me what you have learned”

Ersha placed his hand over his heart with a bow and went over to pick up a staff, he did carefully chose one fitting his strength and reach and Ahravan did find a starting position. He was there to evaluate but also teach and he was an expert at seeing the flaws of these young ones before they manifested themselves as bad habits.

Ersha did attack, a very swift and elegant thrust with the staff which would have knocked the air out of a human opponent but Ahravan did just slide out of the way and blocked the staff with his own. Ersha did recover like an expert but Ahravan had already seen a problem, and he touched Ersha’s shoulder with his staff as a sign that the fight was to stop. Ersha did move into a rest position and Ahravan addressed the group. “Did you see what he did wrong here?”

The other young students did frown, they hadn’t seen any flaws with the seemingly perfect manoeuvre and Ahravan smiled. “It wasn’t large but it was there, let me demonstrate”

The officers made sure that everybody saw and he did copy Ersha’s move, just much slower. “See? It should be visible now!”

One of the other recruits did light up like a torch. “I saw it, I saw it, it was his foot!”

Ahravan nodded and pointed at the youngster. “Indeed it was, as he thrust forward he put his weight on the right foot and forgot his left one, if he had to say jump backwards he would have lost his balance and he would have stumbled. A good observation. Now, everybody. Grab a staff and try to copy our moves, once with the flaw and once done with the left foot ready for a swift move”

Everybody obeyed and he smiled as he saw the realization dawning on their faces, this was the best part of teaching. Not all got it right the first time but after a few trials they all moved the right way and the officers did not need to correct them anymore. Ahravan was standing there considering maybe showing them some new moves when he heard the sound of hooves and shouting. He turned around to see that three riders were heading towards the training grounds and he did recognize their clothing and hairstyle as typical for the local tribes of the area. There were small non nomadic or semi nomadic tribes on the plains which didn’t belong to the twelve clans and these looked as if they belonged to one of those. A tribe which moved around within a relatively small area, farming sheep.

The three riders stopped their stocky horses and dismounted, all three of them bowed very deeply as he approached them and he saw that neither of them were warriors. They were equipped as herders and he placed his hand over his heart in a gesture of greeting. The three looked as if they were a bit overwhelmed by being in the presence of so many elves but the oldest one did gather his courage and spoke. “Ath’ir, we have come to ask for aid, we fear that something terrible may have happened to one of our villages”

Ahravan frowned. “Something terrible?”

The man nodded,, his eyes on the ground. “Yes, nobody has seen anyone from that village for more than two weeks and one of the herders did ride in that direction to check things out but he saw a huge flock of ravens and didn’t dare to ride further.”

Ahravan knew that some of the tribes saw ravens as a bad omen and feared the birds, he shook his head at this superstition. “You fear that they may be dead?”

The man nodded. “We usually keep in contact, two weeks is a long time o honoured one!”

Ahravan had to agree, now in winter contact between the villages would be more sparse but two weeks? And ravens? He took a deep breath. “I will go with you and check this out.”

The three did look very relieved and they all bowed their head in gratitude. Ahravan did miss Rhawan now, and he sighed and raised an arm, got the attention of the officers. “Gather twenty of the best, and make it fast. We will ride hard so make sure their horses are ready for it”

He turned to the three. “Wait here, we will gear up and be ready in a short time”

He ran to the hut and found other clothes, put on his light leather armour and a thick cloak and he wondered what this could mean, if they were lucky the village in question had just deemed the weather to be too harsh for travelling but he somehow knew that it would be too good to be true.

He returned to the three and saw that twenty of his best riders were ready, with their horses at hand and he was handed the reins of his stallion by one of the officers. The three men did look nervous, a man came with three of the elven bred horses for them to ride back and they were almost twice the height of the sturdy plain horses they had arrived on. “Worry not, these horses will not let you fall off.”

The three men tried to look grateful but they had problems reaching the stirrups and one of the warriors decided to help them and simply tossed each man onto the horse like they were dolls. Ahravan smiled. “You will show us the way then, and do not worry, these horses can run for an entire day without feeling fatigue. “

The three nodded and the horses started to run and before long the group was heading out onto the plains at great speed. Ahravan was thinking as he rode, he and the horse were like one being and he let the stallion have his head and he just concentrated upon riding well. The smaller villages were never large, the land couldn’t support larger permanent settlements and the largest permanent city he knew of lay far to the south at the border of the southern mountains and it was a city built by the ancient order of mages. These days they were gone but others had taken over the city and now it was a place of knowledge and culture. Most of the villages contained perhaps three or four families and the number of people were rarely over forty. This part of the plains were wind swept and the snow didn’t stay long, they could ride fast and he knew that the horses enjoyed this, being able to stretch out.

The warriors did chat a bit as they rode and the three men were clinging onto their horses with a bit of worry on their faces. The elven bred horses were ridden without a bit of any kind and most didn’t even have a halter on so the three probably felt a bit helpless. As the sun reached zenith they rode into a very shallow valley with a narrow river and the three pointed up ahead. “The village is behind that ridge”

Ahravan nodded and the group rode on, there was a sort of path there but it hadn’t been used in a while and Ahravan did already know that something was very wrong. There hadn’t been any fresh tracks in the snow there, no sheep, no cattle. He looked up. Some ravens did in deed hover over the village and as they rode over the ridge he felt his heart sink. There were four huts there, made the same way as his. No smoke could be seen rising from them, and there were nobody to be seen anywhere. Some dark shapes could be seen in the snow between the huts and some ravens did take to the wing as the riders got closer. The three men were wailing, all looked terrified and Ahravan sighed and pulled his sword. This could be anything. He didn’t stop his horse until he reached the first hut, there he did dismount and told the others to circle and look for dangers. The three men remained on their horses, too scared to dare to dismount.

The dark shapes were dogs, all dead and covered with snow and the animals seemed to have fallen down as if shot. This told Ahravan that whatever had happened most likely happened during the night. There were no sign of the sheep and the cattle the village made a living from and he made sure that two of the other elven warriors were by his side as he carefully did approach the entrance to the first hut. These huts were made with a sort of extended hallway in front of the entrance, it kept the cold air out and the thick felt which served as a door was frozen stiff. He pushed it aside with his sword, Chelan and Orthur were right behind him and he pushed aside the lighter fabric which was the door into the hut itself. It was rather dark in there but light did seep down from the opening in the roof and Ahravan did feel faint as he saw what the hut contained. He had to swallow hard. The hut was ice cold and the bodies were covered with a thick layer of frost, the people did look as if they had died very suddenly, without a warning at all. A man sat by the small table, his head rested in a bowl of stew and he had the wooden spoon in his hand still. Two children lay on the floor, one of them clutching a doll and the face had an expression of sudden terror. A woman sat in the bed, a nursing baby in her arms, still attached to her bared breast.

Chelan did gasp. “It looks as if they just…died?!”

Ahravan nodded with a small growl. “People never just die! There is always a reason for it.”

He moved around, there were seven people in the hut in all and they were all frozen solid. They had been dead for a while. Something had killed them but what? Humans were susceptible to plague but no plague killed this fast? And where had the livestock gone? If the owners had died the sheep in special would have sought out the herds of the other villages nearby. He took a closer look at everything, nobody had reacted, they had all died within seconds of each other, dark magic?

The hairs stood up at the back of his neck and he squeezed the hilt of his blade, no, magic was something very few could hope to master and he would have sensed it. It always left a sort of stain, something in the air like a barely noticeable stench. Orthur did wave a hand. “Over here, look”

He stood by the hearth and Ahravan did walk over, the fire had died out a long time ago but there was something odd in the ashes. It looked like small golden lumps of something, like round pebbles? Marbles? Ahravan got a terrible suspicion and ran over to the table. He grasped the dead man and tilted the body backwards so he landed on the floor with a thud, legs in the air. He saw that neither of the people there wore shoes, the floor was covered with felt except around the hearth and he brushed the frost off the frozen feet with hammering heart. It was almost invisible, a small puncture wound, barely the size of a pinhead. Chelan and Orthur saw it and their eyes got large. “What in the name of the Goddess?”

Ahravan swallowed hard. “Check them all for such wounds, fast!”

He ran out of the hut and into the next one. There were ten people in there, including two old woman and all had died in their beds. The last hut was empty, it was a storage room and he ran back to the first hut. Chelan did swallow and his eyes were huge still “They all had a wound like that, some more than one”

Ahravan bit his lower lip. “Right, get a fire going. “

Chelan did frown. “Why?”

Ahravan did sheath his blade. “Because all this must be burned!”

He walked outside and stared at the three men who had warned them of this. “They are all dead, as you guessed. And this village must be burned to the very ground itself and not even the ashes must be touched until two winters have passed”

The oldest of the three did frown. “What? Why?!”

Ahravan pointed at the huts. “I know what killed them, and it is a terrible enemy, one I never thought I would see again”

He didn’t say anything more and a couple of the warriors did put torches to the huts. In spite of the cold the felt did burn since it contained a lot of greasy oils. He saw that the three were a bit in disbelief still and he tilted his head. “The sheep and the cattle has fled, probably eastwards. You may find them near the lake, the animals have instincts which are meant to protect them.”

The huts did burn rather well now, the heat made steam rise and the smoke did paint a grey streak across the skies. This could be seen from many miles in every direction. Ahravan was about to whistle for his horse when a sound could be heard from the third hut. It had contained just three dead people, a young woman and two men and they had been weaving as they died. It was a sort of shrill scream which couldn’t have come from any human throat and Ahravan did spin around and pulled his blade again, with a swift movement. The hut was burning vigorously and the flames were clawing towards the darkened skies, the heat was almost unbearable so close. The front of the hut collapsed in a cloud of sparks and then something shot out of the inferno, something tiny and extremely fast. The three men screamed like women and Ahravan let out a small roar and sprang into action. The creature did look a bit like a very narrow centipede, and it wasn’t much longer than his foot but it had a tail like a scorpion and two large pinchers at the front and it was lightning fast.

The elf did jump out of its way and bored the blade through the body with a hiss of disgust. The creature shrieked again and writhed on the blade for a while, it was smouldering and Ahravan grasped a torch from one of the warriors and made sure that the thing did burn into ashes. The three men were pale and Ahravan did clean his blade in a tuft of dry grass. “What…what was that?”

Ahravan straightened himself up again. “A beast I haven’t seen in centuries. They came with the monsters, back when the beasts first appeared. I had thought that they were extinct by now”

The oldest of the three was shivering. “Was it…an insect?”

Ahravan shook his head. “No, a sort of demon. Things do not need to be large to be deadly, and this thing killed everyone here before it laid its eggs in the hearths. When the spring thaw arrives the eggs would hatch and the spawn would have fed upon the dead bodies”

The three men turned green and Ahravan stared at the burning huts. Was this just a coincidence? There hadn’t been any sightings of this kind for many generations of men so where had this one been hiding all that time? He knew that these monsters could hibernate, they had seen that before but for many hundred years? No, that was impossible. He turned to the three men. “Listen, I will give you a very important task, if this beasts is just one of many, returning to the lands, then you need to warn everyone”

The three nodded, still trembling slightly” Yes”

Ahravan felt cold to the marrow, and it had nothing to do with the temperature of the air. “Find every village, every tribe and tell them that they must find as much wild Chirach root as possible, dry it in the hearth and ground it up into a powder, spread it around the camps and villages in a circle, with no holes in it. And place some fists of it under the floor, rub the dogs with it, wear some in clothes. It is the one thing which repels the horrors”

The oldest of the three did nod, his eyes still very wide. “Oh, we will do as we are told, but…how did it kill so many? So fast?”

Ahravan did sigh. “They are extremely fast, and they can make themselves almost invisible. But they are not dangerous in daylight, then they can be seen. It is inside of the huts they are a threat and out in the dark nights.”

The three swallowed visibly and Ahravan nodded. “They do fear fire, and can be killed. Ride now, you can keep the horses and if anyone sees anything like this let us know, immediately”

The three bowed their heads and turned their horses and Ahravan stared at the burning huts. He hoped that this one had been the last survivor, a relic from a past long gone. But he feared that he was wrong. Somehow he felt that this had been a harbinger of something way worse which was to come and he waited until the huts and the dead were reduced to ashes. The fire had killed the eggs and he was glad the three herders had been smart enough to seek his advice. If they hadn’t then this scourge could have spread. Each of these little terrors could lay hundreds of eggs and he remembered having burned large villages back in the past. The stench of burning flesh still haunted his nostrils and they had even found people who were still alive but being eaten from the inside by that terrible spawn. He had given those poor souls a swift death before they were burned, it was the only way. Nobody could save those who had been infected while being alive.

The poison the beasts did use to kill did sometimes just paralyze, and nobody knew why. But it could be that some people were almost immune to the poison and thus survived the first effects of it. The warriors did stand there, waiting for his orders and he frowned and took a deep breath. “Ride out, warn people. The three rode eastwards, ride north and west, the south is probably safe until further notice, these monsters never liked the summer heat”

The warriors did split into groups and rode off and Ahravan did mount his horse and stared at Chelan and Orthur. “You follow me back to the city, we need to teach the recruits what to do if they encounter anything like this. And I want more scouts sent out, I have a very bad feeling about this”

Both warriors did bow their heads and they spurred their horses and rode hard back, Ahravan did think about Rhawan, wherever his Si’ish were, he hoped that he didn’t have to struggle with something like this.
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