2: New in Town
Two days before.
No trees. The land wasn't barren, its hills rolled like the ocean waters to the east with the greenest of grass and shrubbery, but there were no trees. Not like in Ru'ara at least. The city of Khraw was grand, filling the eye wherever one turned. Smoke billowed from hundreds of homes creating thin tendrils reaching into the sky , and the smells of fresh-cooked meals filled the air. Nevesa Ru'ara hadn't felt the toll of her travels until just then, the heat somehow making its way through her hooded garb.
Nevesa held her head high as she strode into the mud-packed city of buildings. Higher than she knew she'd ought to, but she didn't care. She was taught to never show weakness, for that, she was told, provoked danger to rear its ugly head and strike. She made sure to stare the gawking passersby in the eye until they were the first to look away and pretend things at their feet were far more interesting.
Other Ru'ara kin had traveled here recently. They spoke of how kindly they were treated, and of the celebrations that were held in honor of the first Ru'ara visitors in many cycles. However, she hadn't felt any welcoming attitudes from the Khraw thus far. Something seemed off, but she continued onward.
She had never seen a city of buildings before. As a matter of fact, she'd never left the Ru'ara jungles in her four and a half cycles of life. Not many Krenon left their respective clandoms, it was too dangerous. Especially after the alien crystals started falling from the sky, causing havoc wherever they landed. But she knew the planet had been accustomed to destruction long before the Storm-Fallen arrived, at least that's what her mother, Saveen, had said.
Not as many of the green-skinned Khraw were moving about in the streets as she'd expected. All of the shopping centers and merchant's carts seemed closed or abandoned for the day. Even the homes seemed shut off from the rest of the world and it wasn't even midday. The Krenon she did see about in the streets were hurrying off somewhere further into the city.
"Excuse me," she said, getting the attention of an elderly kren walking in the opposite direction. "Where is everyone? Why are none of the shops open?"
"Do you live under a rock? Today is-" he cut off as he saw underneath her hood more clearly. He gave a shocked gasp then breathlessly muttered obscenities as he shuffled away from her. The only things she understood from his jabbering were 'dark-skinned' and 'young ones these days', so in her sudden insecurity she drew her favorite hood further down over her eyes and gripped her travel pack tighter. What had he been about to say? she wondered as she began her aimless search once again.
The buildings among the outskirts of the city were large and rectangular, segmented in rows upon rows to accommodate the large population. They weren't overly tall structures, not like the great trees back home with the Pa'yet spanning between their trunks. Nevesa was sure she wouldn't see any Pa'yet homes anywhere around here. Ahead she noticed two hatchlings-one was a kren and the other a krena-still young enough to have tails, gallivanting ahead of their parents and yelling in thrilled voices.
"The Separator is so cool! I wonder if we'll see him," the kren hatchling said.
"He's not as cool as Runa!" his sister insisted.
"She's not even Krenon, how could she be cooler?"
"Just because she's from beyond the sky doesn't mean she's not one of us." The two hatchlings continued their banter but Nevesa stopped listening.
The Separator was the kren she searched for, and he was here. Why were these hatchlings throwing his name around so casually? The parents continued to hold smiles on their faces as their young ones admired a killer. Her cheeks flushed with hot anger and all she wanted was to throw off her hood and cool down, but she resisted.
Curious as to where the family was heading, Nevesa followed, making sure to stay within ear-reach, which upon her closer inspection the Khraw appeared to lack altogether. She caught more snippets of information such as, "Liberation Day," and "The Magistratus' speech," and she pondered what she knew of the topics. Her mother had spoken of a clandom truce to fight off the Storm-Fallen, creating what was known as the Union.
This so-called Union was responsible for finding warriors strong enough to defeat the new enemy and sending them to the lands overtaken by storms to liberate them, thus being named Liberators. According to Saveen, however, the Liberators fought their way into the Ru'ara jungles under the false pretense of a Storm-Fallen presence and slaughtered many innocents until driven away by the Ru'inn guild. The Krenon warrior who led those Liberators during that raid was whom she searched for. A kren named Myalin Khraw the Separator.
A low roar ahead snapped Nevesa out of her thoughts and she looked up. Nothing around her resembled the city she'd witnessed only minutes before. The buildings were taller, almost twice the size of the ones on the way into town. They hadn't made any turns that she could recall, but the street did seem to curve.
How far had she walked? she wondered before noticing the mass of Khraw piled on top of one another trying to see over the heads of those in front of them. The family she'd been following quickened their steps in excitement, almost leaving her behind, so she picked up her pace. As she arrived at the back of the crowd she realized just how large the assembly was.
Thousands of Krenon were packed together in what looked to be the city center. It's design was oval in shape with streets jutting off in all directions, each overflowing with Khraw. There was a large wooden stage at the heart of the assembly. Chants resounded all around her, some in unison, while others attempted to get their own started. It wasn't a particularly hot day, but with all the bodies crammed together the heat seemed magnified by ten.
Nevesa was determined enough that it didn't bother her as she squeezed through the pulsing body of the assembly. She needed to find him and nothing would stand in her way, except the thousands of Krenon between her and the center stage. Most Krenon gently moved out of the way, even the ones reluctant to let her pass soon drew back as they saw her hood. She was able to near the front in a matter of minutes.
A regal looking krena, with shoulders draped in brightly colored cloth, walked among four of the fiercest warriors Nevesa had ever seen, other than her clandom's Ru'inn fighters of course. On the left stood two kren, both looking annoyed at being paraded in front of a crowd, while on the right were, what Nevesa assumed to be two Lorrallen, comparatively much smaller in size. She had never seen their kind before, but had heard many stories.
The Lorrallen wore shiny plates of armor that covered the majority of their bodies, and it glided with their movement, but what Nevesa found most intriguing was the almost translucent skin of their face that teased to display the bones underneath. They were beings from beyond the sky, like the Storm-Fallen, but they helped fight against them. Why fight with us? she wondered.
The krena in fancy garb turned to the anxious crowd, her arching hat swaying with every step. "These warriors, these four Liberators... are our hope for a better future," she said in a shrill, commanding voice that calmed the audience to near silence. Nevesa watched as the white-haired male Lorrallen standing behind the speaker gave an introductory wave, before his smaller female companion nudged him in the ribs.
As the speaker moved closer to the edge of the stage, the guards standing before the crowd grew more tense. How important was this krena? Nevesa listened even more intently in hopes of finding out. "A future in which the threat of annihilation does not exist. The Storm-Fallen have terrorized our planet for almost five cycles now, appearing without warning to destroy our homes, our land, our kin. They have no right!"
Short shouts of agreement burst sporadically throughout the mass of green complexion and the speaker continued, "With the help of our Lorrallen friends we have been able to take the fight to them. With the aid of their advanced technology we can now take back what is rightfully ours, and eradicate the enemy with barely any resistance. No longer will their storms spread and kill without consequence. The Storm-Fallen have come to the wrong planet and we will show them that we are a force to be reckoned with. We are taking Hedos back!"
The audience roared as her voice reached a crescendo and she raised a clutched fist high in the air. Nevesa was almost compelled to join the celebration, but her mind wandered to the Storm-Fallen. She'd never seen or experienced the effects of their apparent storm making abilities, let alone knew what they looked like. If she were a betting type, she'd wager that the majority of the audience hadn't the faintest idea of what the enemy looked like either. The ones who did stood before her, straight-backed and proud. Then it hit her. The kren she hunted must be on that stage, but which one?
As the cheers and chatter tapered off, Nevesa's eyes glared at the two kren from beneath her hood. Which one are you? The speaker held a broad smile as she spoke once more, her sharp teeth glistening in the sunlight. "These four are the ones we've chosen. That's right, to prove our strength we are only sending four to liberate The Decrepit Forest." The speaker swirled to outstretch a clawed hand in the direction of the first Lorrallen as members of the audience whispered in astonished curiosity.
"Darlowe Slyton, a fine Lorrallen soldier unmatched in skill among his kin," she said, as Darlowe gave a sweeping bow, causing his female companion to roll her eyes. There was a smattering of applause and a few curt shouts, but that was all. With such small amount of enthusiasm from the crowd she wondered if he wasn't liked, or just not well-known. The speaker moved on.
"Runa Marien, praised for her involvement in the Liberation of Faraway Isle near the clandom of Po'muja." Runa seemed to have a wary look in her eyes as a large portion of the audience cheered. Nevesa maintained her glare on the two Krenon warriors, waiting for the speaker to announce his name.
"Jozz Khraw! One of our very own who became the champion of our last Gauntlet." The noise elevation soared beyond anything Nevesa had ever experienced before. The Khraw were an extremely proud clandom and did every bit to make it known. Nevesa glanced around to see the guards on edge at the reception of Jozz, tightening the grip on their spears. Hats were launched in the air, young ones raised hands while atop their parents shoulders, and Krenon nearby embraced each other in celebration, making obvious note not to get too close to the hooded krena in their midst. However, Nevesa only had one thing on her mind.
The last Liberator standing on that stage was him. The one she held solely responsible for the humiliation her mother was forced to endure after the raid on their village. He was just standing there smiling, awaiting his moment of fame as if he'd done nothing wrong. He would not get the chance as long as she could help it.
"Please, please," the speaker said over the exorbitant amount of cheering. Before the audience's celebration fully subsided, she continued, "Last, but not least, we have another of our own on stage. Many of you may know him, as we all should, as the kren that led us to near victory during the Clan Wars. A former Nam'el in our military, the one and only, Myalin Khraw!"
The crowd erupted once more and she knew this was her chance. She would expose him in front of everyone as the fraud he was. She pushed her way through the last few Krenon in order to reach the open area surrounding the wooden stage. At some point during her advancement she heard someone scream. It melded in with all the yelling and chanting of the assembly, but was distinct enough to stand out to her.
"Assassin!" another yelled from up front. That's when it hit home and she stopped in her tracks only to see the speaker pointing down at her with accusing eyes. With her hood and her dark skin tone, how could she forget how easily she stood out as a potential threat? Guards swarmed in as the crowd shoved backward into itself, somehow creating more space to form a circular gap around her. The atmosphere became dreadfully silent as sudden awareness spread throughout the city center. All eyes were on her as she removed her hood. Short gasps came from those who saw.
"You don't understand. I'm not an assassin," she pleaded, but to no avail.
"Don't hesitate! They are trained in the art of deception. Arrest her," the speaker ordered, and she heard a voice from behind follow suit. "Protect the Magistratus!"
The Magistratus? The speaker was the Magistratus of the Union? How could she be so careless? Her mind swam in desperation before footsteps stormed in from behind. Darkness invaded her sight as a hard object struck against the back of her head. In the last moment before unconsciousness took her, she saw Myalin, one hand keeping the Magistratus back for protection, the other wielding a giant axe.
Don't worry, I will make sure that you suffer for what you've done to us, father.