Tale of the Flying Hummingbird

People in the Hundred Kingdoms are beginning to learn the name Nagral of the Coati and rumors about the sudden appearance of the W’adrhŭn barbarians in their lands have spread faster than the name of the man responsible. It is, perhaps, a testament to the seclusion offered by the Claustrine that the tale the tribespeople know is the exact opposite. While the fate of their kinsmen that crossed the Gates remain a mystery to them, the tale of how one W’adrhŭn led them there is common knowledge, recounted now by the Cult of Famine as the “Tale of the Flying Hummingbird.”

Nagral of the Coati was born under the stars of the wastelands. Son of Neagi of the Coati and It’teekal of the Raptor’s Fang, his mother’s pregnancy was painful from early on, so much so that it was thought he would turn out to be a Warbred. When it became apparent that this was not the case, he would be nicknamed ‘Warling,’ a moniker that would follow him throughout his life among his tribe. Neagi herself never called him that, however. “It is a great spirit I give a body to,” she always said, “not a cursed one that will break mine.”

Indeed, growing up, Nagral was neither the strongest nor the fastest of the Coati youths and his fate, it was thought, would be to be Bound to the tribe. Stubborn as a lazy Thunderbeast, the young Nagral detested the finality of such talk. At first, he would spend hours in the empty wastelands, far from the camp, trying to hone his listening. If he were to become a Speaker, he would not be Bound. But when it became apparent that he did not have the gift, he turned to a harder path. When his fellows would play, he would train, trying to build his muscles. When they sat to rest, he would stand, trying to increase his stamina. At nights, he would try and creep around the watches, aiming at stealing their weapons before he was seen. The thrashings he earned taught him hard lessons about stealth and hunting. Every year he would watch the Trials, observing and learning from the victors, while his fellows cheered and celebrated. Only when the Cult of Famine shared stories, would he be still, sitting quietly and absorbing the history of his people. In the end, although he was not disliked by his peers, his habits would often isolate him and in many ways Nagral had a self-imposed, lonely childhood. Lonely but not unwatched.

Finally, the year of his Trial came but Nagral never had the opportunity to test himself. When his name was called, Scion Aekundur raised his hand: “The Ukunfazane claims this one,” he said. With these five words, Nagral’s future had been decided on and he had been called by the Cult of Conquest. It was an exceedingly rare practice of a right, for the Cult usually chose its members, if any, among the victors. To be chosen before that, was one of the highest honors to both an individual and to their tribe, for it meant that one’s worth had been witnessed and recognized already and the tribe had raised an exceptional individual. But while the gathered Coati cheered and yelled his name, the young W’adrhŭn pleaded to be allowed to test himself regardless. “A man should taste the fruit of his labors, be it sweet or bitter,” he said but the Scion smiled. “Chew, son of Neagi, and chew for years to come. The skin and flesh of this fruit is bitter; but once you suckle on the seed, you will know what sweetness means.” And bitter it would prove indeed, for the neophytes of the Ukunfazane had to study in all positions of W’adrhŭn society for a year. For the next year of his life, Nagral of the Coati would meet the future he had spent his life trying to escape from: he was Bound to his father’s tribe.

As was the intention behind the practice, the next years would offer Nagral unparalleled insight into the society of the W’adrhŭn. Like any of the Chosen of Conquest, Nagral would learn to secure food with the Bound; he would train with the Braves, learn how to throw with the Hunters and to care for beasts with the Speakers. By his own admission, his favorite year would be with the Cult of Famine. For an entire year, Nagral would listen and learn about the stories of his people, his own tribe, and others and even of the Ukunfazane. With each of his apprenticeships, Nagral would come to truly know his people, their practices, the different mentality between different groups and tribes. And in the end, he would be introduced to the goddess, the Ukunfazane. Within a year, he was sworn as her Chosen and he never returned to his tribe, as was the custom. The year after that, he was named her consort.

By the age of twenty, his name was all but unused; Nagral of the Coati was a name remembered only by those few whom he had befriended in his travels. For the rest, he was Huitzilin, Conquest’s Hummingbird, consort of the Ukunfazane, her aide, her messenger, and an instrument of her will. He roamed the tribes with his goddess or in her name, helping her shape their people, dispense justice when needed and bring peace when necessary. The sweetness that his Scion had once promised, he tasted every day… but, some claim, he never forgot the bitterness.

Not even the Cult of Famine knows the tale of what exactly made him leave his goddess or, if they do, they did not share it around the fires and neither did Nagral. Some say it was simply time; unlike the King Consorts of old, the Huitzilin was not a life-long position, nor did they share her power and burdens. It was only natural that he would be returned to serve his tribe eventually. Others claim that he saw an injustice that the goddess was not willing to address; that while some tribes thrived in the oases, others struggled with starvation and extinction in the barren landscapes of the Wasteland, living as thieves and raiders. Others still would claim that he remains her instrument; that it was the will of the goddess that led him to his path. Regardless of the true reason and circumstances, two things are known: Huitzilin and the Ukunfazane argued repeatedly, or at least Huitzilin argued while the goddess listened. And then, one day, he returned to his tribe and was Nagral of the Coati once more; or so he claimed, for the Ukunfazane never replaced him and no other had been named Huitzilin in his place.

But Nagral of the Coati did not settle in his new life. Soon, he would speak to his Council, urging them to think of both past and future. Their tribe had lived like nomads for generations. Where once the Coati had settled on rich soil, now they walked on 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 Fall and roam in the wastelands. But the dead were now coming, and those lands were long gone.

But there were other lands, green and fertile, beyond the Mountains in the west…

Once he was back in the Wastelands, Nagral did not delay taking action and he visited the other nomadic tribes one by one. His message was simple: Enough. Enough warding off the dead. Enough living on scraps and enough infighting. While the oases’ tribes thrived under roofs of trees and warmth, the nomads struggled to make a living with the lean offerings of the Wasteland and the cold nights under starlit skies. All of them once wielded the knowledge of land-taming and that knowledge, he knew, had not been lost. It was preserved by the Cult of Famine, in stories, in songs and in records. All they needed was a land to tame. That land lay beyond the Wall of Mountains.

Nagral’s task was not easy. Many were the voices that spoke hesitantly in answer to his call. Predators feared for their beasts in the lands beyond the mountains, Mistresses doubted the future of their Bound and their influence should the lifestyle and needs of tribes change, while Chieftains raised suspicious eyebrows, for Nagral already spoke as a leader of warriors, despite belonging to another tribe. But the ghostly mantle of Huitzilin was still loosely wrapped around his shoulders. His words carried weight and the Scions and Shamans remained supportively silent.

Nagral answered with deeds to the doubts and cautious whispers, undergoing the Trials of every tribe he visited. Thus, he declared himself a warrior of each tribe, rather than his own alone, binding his fate to theirs. It was, in many ways, a purely symbolic move but not one without significance. After all, the Ukunfazane herself was leader of every tribe. With the Huitzilin binding himself in this manner to them as well, the nomadic tribes were now tied by a bond which, while neither unbreakable nor guaranteeing peace, spoke of a shared destiny. This, many believed, was not really enough and it is a known fact that Nagral spoke in private with many a Council Member that needed convincing. What these discussions entailed, few, if any, know. The more suspicious ones spoke of secret deals, coercion or promises, while others believed he simply relayed the Ukunfazane’s will openly to them. Judging by the way he handled matters, one thing is perhaps more plausible, at least for most cases, for Nagral, in practice, addressed the greatest fear of many. This did not mean a unification of tribes but an alliance. Everyone would share knowledge and traditions to ensure the success of the migration, but each tribe would be governed by itself. Nagral would negotiate with the land-chieftains of humans for the tribes and for that he needed a strong, unified front behind him. Beyond that, however, each tribe’s fate would be its own with one exception: should the Deal of the Ukunfazane with the humans be invoked, each tribe would send warriors under Nagral to fight the dead once more.

One by one, the votes of the tribe Councils started moving in his favor. First to declare they would follow him and the Coati were the Red Hummingbirds, renowned for their craftsmanship and the strong traditions that favored the Cult of War. Nagral put them to work immediately. For such a migration, weapons would be needed and new tools and new carriages and wheels, ones better suited for the lands beyond the mountains. Then came the Peccari, whose beasts were famed for their numbers and prowess. From their Speakers, Nagral asked for new harnesses for the beasts, tasking them also to train the other tribes when needed, on how to best employ their own beasts for the migration. The last followed soon, the Tuskbow, the Broken Jaw and the Pale Owls, and as always Nagral urged them to share their knowledge in one area, be it war or craftsmanship or how to fight death and disease. Already, some complained that Nagral was trying to slowly unify the tribes under him but the Huitzilin’s purpose was different. For the first time in generations, the nomadic tribes were forced to trade once more, a skill Nagral believed would be necessary when sharing the lands of humans.

While in theory his plan was a good one, tensions rose fast as soon as the tribes started gathering. Brawls and even skirmishes broke out throughout the giant camp only days after its foundation, thus endangering the entire enterprise just as it had begun. Only then did the Cult of Conquest speak to Nagral, and the Scion of every tribe met with him in council. No member of the Famine Cult was present to put into song and tale what had been said but all of them spun a tale for what followed. Without saying a word, without blowing his horn or ordering for the drums to beat, Nagral left the council of Scions and started walking West. Alone and uncelebrated, without a herald or an escort, Nagral of the Coati put the sun on his back and began walking towards the mountains in the horizon. And for a few short moments, the Huitzilin’s plan seemed to have failed just when it had been born in earnest.

The first horn to blow was that of the Coati and soon after the sounds of brawls died out, hesitant, as the engaged braves looked around confused. Then the cry of the Pale Owls echoed, followed by the roar of the Peccari’s Apex. Soon, the drums of six tribes of W’adrhŭn beat to give pace, as their people and beasts followed Nagral, carrying their livelihoods with them.

They would not stop until they had reached the Claustrine Gates. And then they would pass them.

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