Brothers Terra in the Sagas of Ma’Nyla

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Chaos Crashes at Blight Lagoon

“I see them…” hisses one of the painted hunters among the branches, his voice seemingly carried by the vines to his companions nearby. His arm is tense as a drawn bowstring, the venom-tipped javelin in his hand has never failed him. He knows this with confidence.

EmeraldEyes looks from the speaker to the other points he has placed his hunters and solitary warrior. He waits patiently to spring their long-practiced trap; honed for generations to bring down anything from ancient, gargantuan predators, to herds of beasts that would yield weeks of meat.

All other eyes glance to him in the shadows of what will soon become green hell.

"Why didn’t EmeraldEyes choose me?” SpearTongue grumbles loudly enough for CopperTongue to hear. “I am our party’s best tracker!”

A clubbing slap echoes through the trees. “That is why you are still considered a small horn, sister. Your skill may be great, but you lack the understanding of those who have shed many skins.” CopperTongue swiftly meets the challenge; such is their way. “Yes, you are the best tracker, but EmeraldEyes knew exactly where he could intercept our quarry. It is we who would need to track the prey, should they stray from the crossing or manage to flee the ambush. Did you think I did not foresee this?”

The scaled hood at SpearTongue’s neck runs red, the bright patterns across her nape rippling in both anger and shame. CopperTongue slowly turns to answer SpearTongue’s stubborn glare by clubbing his tail rhythmically, a low gargling starts in his throat. In a mix of ceremony and instinctual response, the crowd gives them space.

SpearTongue steadies herself; spear held like a coiled viper, her fanged dagger hidden. Her brother raises a shield to cover his chest, his heavy, obsidian-edged wooden club poised low to meet her first strike. It takes both a few seconds to notice the lone, hunched figure suddenly standing between them.

The elder holds twin bone daggers toward each of them, quickly diffusing the brewing storm. “There are pressing matters we must attend to,” she rumbles. “CopperTongue you speak of understanding, yet you take her hatchling-like posturing to be an actual challenge. Did we select the wrong packmaster for this hunt?”

Immediately, CopperTongue raises himself and eases his weapon. “My apologies, Maestra StormFang…” The crimson embers pulsating in his scars fade as he glances from his sister to the elder. “Yes, I will act in a manner befitting the leader of our hunting party.”

“I know family can rattle our scales differently, my grown apprentice. You show humility by accepting your errors. CopperTongue, you still have my trust in leading this party,” she announces. Her words are final.

A strange parade marches elsewhere through the jungle, quite missing easier paths as they find their own toward the land bridge connecting the two territories.

“Mi’lord do you really expect me to carry this lumbering beast all the way to their border?!” exclaims Kofe, his breath a bit staggered as he supports the giant stag draped across him.

“Hahaha! This coming from a fellow lumbering giant? I hope you fare better than me because your lord is already getting tired of carrying this pale one. She may be small, but IvorySting is as heavy as a spool of steel cord,” replies VeiledMaxim, shifting the weight on his shoulder. “Actually, you might have to take her from me soon.”

“This creature on my back seems to enjoy the ride. I don’t like it,” he retorts, hoping fervently for his healing magic to finish running its course and finally allow the stag to walk. “What about Jojo?”

“Jojo has carried his fair share of weight in the past,” VeiledMaxim says with pointed finality.

Kofe is silent for a few seconds, before commenting fondly, “You’ve always favored your pets more than your companions, mi’lord.”

Both glance toward the ape behind them and the figure cradled in his arm; quickly enough to see Jojo’s hopeful grin and PiercingGaze’s puzzled but amused expression as he offers fruit to her gagged mouth. She feels their eyes immediately though and falls back to a glare.

“You know me well, battle brother,” VeiledMaxim continues casually, smiling as he looks ahead again. “Though Jojo is not a pet. Like you, he is a companion. Although yes I do favor some over others...”

His tone starts to falter as he recognizes an all-too-familiar dread around the crossing, the very air electrified. “Kofe...!” He and his guardian react too late, as a blur of fire-hardened wood darts past them toward the two behind.

The flashing heat running through his frills is the same as on his first hunt when he brought down the prized matriarch of the thunder-beasts. That kill had laid the foundation for his glory-filled life, from tribal warfare to hunting beasts of legend.

“For my ancestors! May your favor be upon me always!” EmeraldEyes launches the dart with his prized atlatl a spear thrower carved from the tusk of the matriarch, feeling the notches beneath his palm and remembering each prey they represented by name.

The first dart signals the eruption of chaos, its barbed tip to write this conflict into the air among countless others. Only the jungles of Ma’Nyla, the near-eternal witnesses, are the true victors of these many warriors; from those simply vying for daily survival, to those protecting their supposed claim on the land. The blood spilled and flesh rendered feeds its roots.

The minotaur’s name cried out by the last voice she may ever hear. Such an ugly way to leave my shell. Her vision blurs and seems to slow as PiercingGaze falls to the ground. So much pain. What even hit me? A scoff that cannot escape the abyss. My last thought is a useless question, my last memory the cry of an insufferable city elf…

“Ooff Off!” A sound pierces the veil. She realizes she still breathes and opens her eyes to see Jojo leaning over her. The ape’s face is different though, almost veiled with eyes sunken; he salivates profusely. The second thing she sees is a javelin pierced clear through the beast’s meaty arm; which had evidently blocked all but the very tip from her.

As PiercingGaze sits up in alarm, she finds the ropes at her wrists jarred loose and scrambles free of them and her gag. She inhales and Conversacion con Animal escapes with her breath. “You are poisoned, friend,” the warrior confesses in the beast’s tongue. “And it is strong poison.”

Hhhaaa ha hhaaa ha.” Jojo nods in agreement as his body collapses.

“This is no laughing matter!” she exclaims, her efforts to push him upright in vain.

As she stares around and realizes they are a distance from the crossing, a lizardfolk exits the brush to announce, “He will be in good hands, my lady.”

“Where have the scouts of Punong Sangre been?! My actual savior here is wasting away from poison after we were attacked by the crossing,” she barks, choking down the lump that is forming in her throat.

“Our apologies, my lady. We came as soon as we heard the battle cries.” A second figure, an elf this time, emerges from camouflaged shadows on her other side. “We believe your protector and the outsiders are still fighting.”

“I will assist them,” PiercingGaze declares, managing to stand slowly despite the gash in her abdomen. “You two make sure my friend here lives. I would like to get to know him better. Your spear, way-watcher.”

She extends her hand to the lizardfolk scout and his apprentice, a flash in her eyes almost daring them to object.

VeiledMaxim knew the dart had been aimed at the princess as soon as he saw it. At his beast companion’s pained howling, he remembers whispering to Jojo to protect PiercingGaze as he would protect him.

“I wish my brother was here.” He says to himself as multiple figures emerge from the trees and charge towards them. The air is heavy with blood and a faint, unnatural acidity. He closes his eyes a moment to steady himself.

“Jojo, take the princess to safety,” he smoothly commands, freezing his overwhelming worries behind a forced calm. “You’re no use bleeding like that. Be a good lad and follow.” The ape staggers but obeys, crashing away through the trees.

The ranger turns and hurries into cover, shrugging IvorySting off of his shoulder. “As for you, it’s time to stop pretending you’re unconscious. Your mistress needs help!”

There is no sound of a body hitting the ground. “The next time you betray us, I will make you watch your friends and - brother, was it? - die at my hand,” IvorySting vows to VeiledMaxim as javelins fly past them, her slit eyes glaring into his. “Now unbind me.”

“Agreed,” he replies, using IvorySting’s knife to cut the rope around her tail before offering its handle. VeiledMaxim barely notices it leave his hand before he feels a sting and blood runs down his cheek.

“In case you need a reminder of my promise, city elf.” In quick succession, the pale huntress cuts the knots at her wrists and ankles, then runs into the foliage, leaving a trail of sliced rope.

“I deserved that,” he admits, chuckling as he turns to his guardian, who has already deposited the distressed, lowing stag by a log. “Kofe, handle the rear while I take those javelin-throwers. Be careful, the big one looks mean.”

He speaks with gusto. This is where he belongs; in the thick of battle where life or death decisions are made in slivers of moments. His brother had said the same during one of the many times they had fought side-by-side.

The young lord throws his hand axe at a branch on which he had last seen a dark figure, despite knowing he would miss. He senses the breath and spike of blood lust at the seeming mistake and fires a volley of bolts into an adjacent tree.

After a series of thuds of iron impaling flesh and age-old bark, the adversary’s tail and toes dangle into sight, blood streaking the vines like a tropical downpour. His jagged javelins scatter to the ground.

“This outsider knows of the hunt!” crows one of the attackers in Draconic. “Truly a battle that would please the ancestors!” VeiledMaxim catches a fleeting look at the speaker’s bright eyes as he circles high above the others, leaping from branch to branch using an odd flap of skin.

The largest of the lizardfolk roars in agreement, her horns and spines seeming to bristle as she barrels toward Kofe. She drags a great axe from her back, briefly cleaving ground and flora; arching earth and scattered leaves fly upward with every swing.

Kofe takes in his opponent’s show of martial prowess and meets her charge in kind. He levels his horns to her pulsating crimson chest, his halberd braced at his side. His body remembers the glory of the coliseums and sparks his soul to life.

HornedMaw scoffs at the charging bull, seeing only a minor obstacle in her path and remembering how many thunder-beasts she has faced. She fells him the same way; drawing his eyes with her raised axe, then spinning sideways and whipping the back of his passing knee with her tail. The minotaur crashes down and across the brush, tangling into prehistoric roots and blooming saplings.

The smaller prey has his eyes above in search of EmeraldEyes, his back turned to the guardian she had incapacitated, oblivious. HornedMaw barely slows as she crouches mid-run, relishing in the pained cry of shock and regret as she slams into his upper back. She halts just as suddenly and pushes off the elf from her blood-slicked shoulder spines and collapses.

She catches her breath as the prone figure manages to turn to her, his pale face faintly reflecting the burning red of her scales. Splitting this body would be easier than most firewood. HornedMaw utters the prayer of thanksgiving while she aligns her weapon, as is customary before a hunt’s finishing blow.

Payapang lumipas, alma.”

Kofe finds too late that his foolish daydreaming has left his lord’s back exposed. VeiledMaxim trusts him to a fault. Their teamwork has been forged in the fires of combat; their mettle stronger than steel.

He struggles to free himself from the jungle’s grasp, and dashes toward his ward’s position. The massive lizardfolk’s poised great axe and crocodile-like bulk are not enough to block VeiledMaxim completely. Kofe sees his lord looking at him directly, his eyes free of hate or blame, his lips curved with an honest smile.

“You shall not take him!” Small stones vibrate and jump at the intensity of Kofe’s voice. His hooves tear the ground even if he can see how far he still is, and how close the blade is. “I am not enough. Master, grant me strength!”

In the apex moment of all three worlds - that of desperate rescue, of glutted victory, and of welcomed peace - all three are denied. A tremor shakes the jungle, radiating fiercely from some unseen point, and rippling plants and puddles surge upward as it passes.

The great axe cleaves down but splits little more than a sudden wave of leaves and vines. Both heavy fighters are left dumbfounded, staring at the tangle of overgrowth where the ranger had been a second before. It wilts and dissipates like mist.

A surging party of claws and scales streak past a stone pillar, monolith to a tribe beyond the tongues of their old-mothers, remembered only by the Great Mother now.

“Past this point, we cannot delay, do not stop. The other tribe’s way-watchers stalk these trees as regularly as our own. Our slowest will set the pace at the front, our fastest must guard the rear and flanks,” CopperTongue barks, and the pack swells and reforms to obey, their positions known and accepted. SpearTongue leads them, CopperTongue anchors the center, and StormFang comforts all by securing the rear.

Hours pass, but their pace remains steady, and all know the crossing lies just ahead.

“There are things rushing toward us, closer than our prey. I can taste them in the air, but they mask their scents,” SpearTongue breaks the silent, fevered sprinting.

“Do not stop! We shall fight while on the chase if we must!” CopperTongue commands. The rest of the party readies their weapons, this type of warfare is not new to them. Whether more outsiders or enemy scouts, nothing would keep the hunting party from their quarry.

The meeting of their strength and skill seems to have been glorious. The elegant strokes of their blades have left masterful cuts in each other’s bodies. To the one that survives, great will be their collected scars.

IvorySting arrives with her tribe’s way-watchers near-simultaneously with the ambush’s reinforcements. Both sides are momentarily awed by the titanic power of minotaur and lizardfolk already deeply immersed in battle.

Her tail severed, her spines broken, his horn cracked and streaked red, the hairs of his body soaked in blood. This clash is not of survival, but for glory and vendetta. The new arrivals are eager to join the fray.

IvorySting disposes of most warriors from the safety of branches above but knows the leader of the vanguard still lurks somewhere, waiting to strike. Are they really trying to finish us here or delay us? She asks herself.

She senses danger piercing the shadowed veil of protection from her tree, the shifting of the air’s vibration felt in her crest. She moves instinctively, the dart missing her head by a fraction, but realizes her attacker is only slipping free of her defensive line.

She feels only dread when she tastes a familiar presence in the air behind her. They know she’s coming! IvorySting’s throat expands, bright red in color as her voice is carried far, “Mistress! Stay away from the fighting!”

EmeraldEyes’ constantly flicking tongue savors the scent of their original quarry. The princesa is near. This hunt may end sooner than I thought. He loads another dart, still calm and steady but burning with excitement.

Her protector calls a warning, but the answering echo declares, “I will not hide from my enemies! This battle will be spoken of for generations, and I have a score to settle!”

PiercingGaze leaps out of the treeline, screeching the battle cry of her tribe. Even the elder trees are familiar with this voice. Her spirit blazes, but her gaze scans the battlefield in the wrong direction. She catches EmeraldEyes’ dart through her shoulder, though he is impressed that she still manages to throw her spear at him before tumbling through disturbed earth. It passes under his arm, missing narrowly.

He leaps from his perch as he has a thousand times, ready to slow his fall at the last moment and watch his final dart continue ahead into his exposed prey. The princess stares up at him, the look in her eye assuring him she knows that she is looking upon a legend.

EmeraldEyes spreads his arms to glide, but his usually perfect form falters. His confusion only swells as the princess speaks grimly, “Payapang lumipas, alma.”

The length of foreign metal pierces through EmeraldEyes’ hip, breaking bone and shattering scales as it exits through his abdomen. He turns in time to see the minotaur standing victorious over HornedMaw, his arm, and dark eyes now on him.

The force of the outsider’s foreign javelin carries him skyward to be impaled against an ancient branch. Oddly, he feels no pain from the mortal blow, only a light sting in the stretched skin under his arm, torn by the princess’ spear.

“She was bait for the true predator,” he realizes quietly to himself, his head drooping to his chest. “Ancestors welcome me...” His dying breath paints its last stroke into this green hell, the canvas complete.

A true legend is a soul who has passed, whose legacy can no longer be continued or sullied.

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