Leading those of the roaming Tribes that would follow him, Nagral of the Coati, once consort to the Ukunfazane, invoked the ancient agreement between his people and the Orders to cross the Claustrine Gates. Pairing with Master Everard of the Order of the Sword, Nagral and his people roamed the lands west of the mountains, only to be turned away with polite words by local nobility.
Passing through the lands of the Russ – and gently but firmly guided that way – Nagral and his W’adrhǔn reached the borders of the province of Riismark. There, taking advantage of the turmoil in the land, while Nords and Dweghom run rampart, and the threat of the Alchemist and the Spire of Nepenthe ever loomed over the land, Nagral decided to change tactics. Despite Everard’s protests, the W’adrhǔn guide ordered his people to carve a place for themselves in the marshes of southern Riismark. To avoid provoking an overwhelming response, he refrained from attacking any cities or towns and instead drove the local population from farmlands. To ensure that Everard’s concerns were addressed – and to force local nobility to think twice before they moved against him – he appointed Everard to lead the operation and carefully remove local population.
The first to take notice was Duke Hemish of Bartenstein; but, despite Everard’s fears, his approach was almost friendly, offering settling rights if Nagral and his people bent the knee and fight to secure his borders against the Russ. Refusing the offer and hoping a King would offer more, Nagral chose instead to send riders and scout the situation North, where King Fredrik was engaging Nords and Dweghom alike. When his riders returned and reported that Fredrik had managed to fend off the Dweghom for now, rather than take Everard’s suggestion to lead his forces north and show he covers Fredrik’s flank, Nagral decided otherwise. Suspecting that the mere presence of the W’adrhǔn would present a challenge to the Dweghom, he decided to take Everard alone and ride to meet the man in person.
After a stealthy trip, Everard met on Nagral’s behalf with the King, who offered Nagral a choice: assist with the assault against the Nords, in person, and he would gain an honest and open audience. Despite his reservations, Nagral chose to join the fight alone, leaving Everard to inform his people of his fate, should things turn sour. During the assault of Angengrad, Nagral proved his worth many times over, by pushing further and deeper into the city than any but the King’s own infiltration force, aiming to kill the Nord Konungyr himself. But just as he was closing in on his target, the forces of Nepenthe struck, with Stryxes spreading mayhem in the city with their noxious gases, while elite forces flanked the human forces. Not without resentment, Nagral chose to abandon his chase of the Konungyr and instead help escort the isolated Fredrik out of the city.
His choice did earn him more than an audience. True to his word, Fredrik acted as a mediator between Nagral and Brand, the ruler of the lands his W’adrhǔn had occupied. In the negotiations, Nagral chose to act as a Vassal to King Brand, offering a number of warriors to protect the King’s lands, while being allowed to properly settle the lands they had already conquered.
Chant’Atl, the Wet Home, would become a stable base for the W’adrhǔn; but not all who followed Nagral would settle there. Too small a land for so many a Wa’drhǔn, the clans would rotate, with some seeking their fortunes elsewhere. Seeing some of his people venture into the unknown, Nagral pondered how the W’adrhǔn would change – and what that meant for the man who had led them there.
The wind’s whisper was busy. It spoke in strange, nervous words and metal sighs, the same metal that burned his nostrils when he sniffed the air. He winced at the noise. He grimaced with the smell. He snorted annoyed and looked down, concentrating on the feel of the sun on his back and the sound of the dirt shifting with each step; a familiar sound, comfortable if not soothing. He kept walking. He had always been walking, he thought.
His tribe had lived like nomads for generations. Where once the Coati had settled on rich soil, now walked rotten feet and the land had died anew. With the Oases long settled, no room was left for his displaced people and the Coati had not been the only ones to have had suffered such a fate. Tuskbow, Peccari, Broken Jaw, Red Hummingbirds, Pale Owls… they all had been forced to abandon the fertile lands left behind by the ashen rain of the Bloody Dawn and roam in the wasteland.
The Speakers said they had been farmers once. Imagine that! To tame beasts is one thing. But to tame the land… not enough songs were sung about such a feat, he thought. Instead they sang of hunts, of scavenges, of raids to the broken Great Turtle, deep within the dead land. They sang of the open skies and the different colors of the horizon. They sang of walking, all your life, without end.
He had kept walking after he met Her. Once one witnessed perfection, it was impossible not to follow it. And what a path she had carved for them! From Tribe to Tribe she went, teaching, guiding, inspiring, demanding and ordering. And he always followed, her Huitzilin, her aide, her messenger, her consort, sharing her glory of shaping the hearts, minds and the very destiny of an entire people. Yes, once he had witnessed Her perfection, it had been impossible not to follow it.
A horn blew from far above and he winced again, shutting it off and remaining focused on his feet as he walked. He had brought the nomad tribes here. He had left Her and the wastelands beyond. It was the path he chose, when she had yet again refused his pleas. And it was their choice to follow him into new lands, a new life, a new destiny. But She had been here before him. It would be Her deal that would allow them to pass and Her offered price they would have to pay when the dead followed. Each step he was taking even now, on this new, unknown ground, he felt as if it was falling on the footsteps of another, walking on a path walked before. The wastelands taught you that walking on the footsteps of others spelled safety. No rattlesnakes, no scorpions, no needlebeaks. All he felt was the bitterness of metal in his mouth, as wheels shrieked, chains rattled and the door before him sighed tired while it opened.
So these were the humans, he thought. He had seen some before but only from a distance. They made patrols and even led missions beyond the dead lands, every now and then. Good. They will know what his gift to them is. They will know what it means. They will know of Her deal with their emperor.
He threw the dead one’s helmet at the human’s feet and waited, his eyes fixed on him. The Tribes were following, he knew. Sure enough, voices screamed in his ear from high above the walls and bells started ringing. He had to fight his every instinct in order to shut them off. The wastelands taught to stay alert when you can’t see the horizon; the greater the cover, the bigger the danger. He was in the presence of mountains.
The human looked at the helmet, then him, frowning. Then he nodded and raised a hand and the true noise begun as orders were shouted, voices raised, yells echoed around the canyon. And the Gates began to open, as the human motioned for him to come through. He did so.
“Will she come?” the human asked in the language he had been taught to expect, once the screams and sighs of the Gate died out.
It is impossible to escape Her, he thought, his eyes looking at the mountains above as he walked. The sky was no longer the limit. She was. But not for long. Even She had not stepped beyond these Mountains. He said nothing, lowering his gaze to look at the human, who was looking at his people as they appeared beyond the Gate.
His beasts were uneasy but to untrained ears they probably sounded threatening. His warriors were excited but to those with soft voices they must have sounded angry. His people’s eyes were hungry for rich lands with bountiful green but to the pampered ones beyond the Mountains they would look bloodthirsty. And there were over three Tribes with him but in the eyes of humans he had an army.
“I will be meeting with your land-masters” he answered.
Can you arrange a meeting?: These Orders once held great influence and there is much that is not known about the customs and ways of humans. No doubt the presence of his people will be used but in the end their games matter little. If he is to talk to them, they must not be running and screaming.