Skirmishes and Schisms by FibroJedi | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 1: Smoke Signals in the Night

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Overzealous Nature, Overzealous Chief

Everspring, The Forest of Doon
21 Jylta 545AFD, 20 Ur

“We have returned from a successful foraging trip, Chief”, the Woodsman announced. “Some birds of prey had been over-enthusiastic in their hunts and left us some creatures to eat.”

Ki-E-Vwa raised his head from thought and gave Calledth a smile, though the Chief was concerned about what appeared to be a more regular pattern of nature being overzealous. Normally, their Maple and Pine forest was at peace with the Elements, particularly that of Erdé, the governor of all that springs from the ground. Yet even creatures that were not hunters, or even preyed upon, were more restless than usual this year and he had not been able to discern why. 

“Well done, young one. You have learned that all life must be honoured. Do not hunt if Nature provides. Please, take this to the cook’s hut for tonight’s feast.” he instructed.

“As you wish, Chief,” Calledth nodded and bowed awkwardly.

As he turned on his heels, Ki-E-Vwa cleared his throat.

“Calledth, how long will you be waiting?” he asked.

Frowning, the Woodsman turned and shrugged.

“Do we have to go over this every time I visit?” he asked, put out, “Lyssah is too crucial to the defence of the Forest to be able to bear a child, even if I take over full parental duties after one was born.”

“But you are the only stable couple yet to embrace family,” the Chief noted sadly.

“While we have no offspring, we do have a family,” Calledth explained with strained patience, “outside each other I mean. You know we view the Foyii as family and defend them as such. While Lys and I disagree on a lot of things, in this case we do not. Being from our two different clans, we see our role as demonstrating unity and leading others by example. Please, let us play the roles the Forest currently needs of us.”

Sighing, Ki-E-Vwa watched Calledth retreat into the dark of the Forest before turning to his advisor, Ki-E-Jaisèn, who had sat silently through the whole conversation.

“I think they’re right, actually,” the advisor said.

“How so?” the Chief asked, unusually to the point.

“You have said you feel a sense of unease in the creatures of the Forest. We know not what causes it, for the moment at least. Until tranquillity is fully restored, disturbing Lyssah’s service for even six kadàga is too long.”

Compared to their Paràntii - or human - fellows, the Woodsmen carried children for only six months prior to birth and it was not unusual for fathers to do much of the early raising and protecting of their children either. Ki-E-Vwa closed his eyes and held his staff close to his body.

“I suppose you’re right. It is simply I sense they would make great parents. But it is true that their teamwork is a shining example to other Woodsmen. I’ll cease pushing Calledth, lest it makes him even less inclined in the future,” he sighed, "though I do wonder how it hasn't happened inadvertently."

"Conceiving, you mean?" his advisor asked, "I think the key was in the words Calledth used."

Ki-E-Vwa pondered that for a moment.

"'Let us play the roles the Forest currently needs'," he repeated, "then I owe him an apology, for Lyssah and he have been listening more carefully to Erdé's whispers than I have."

Let's hope I haven't missed something else through a simple disagreement, he thought.

Paw-steps South

The North Ruins, The Drift
22 Jylta 545 AFD, 21 Ur

Gathered around a crackling campfire, a small group of pale-furred Kyadii exchanged furtive glances as the snow began to fall once more. While the Deenfeiss Kyadii were accustomed to, and indeed most at home in, colder climes, the jagged peaks of the Zeloiiblàn4 had been more treacherous than expected. Those who had found their way to the ruined village counted themselves lucky to have not fallen to an untimely death during their gradual passage South.

Some of the clans-folk were sharpening knives and claws, readying poisons and mending their hide armour. Others had been sent East into Frostplain to hunt the bulls and wolves that survived there for that night’s meal.

The fire was more for what the hunting party found than to keep the Kyadii warm.

“Hard to believe non-furred people lived here at one point,” one male Kyadd mused.

“Only one more day’s trrrek West, you’ll find a village that’s still inhabited,” a female piped up, “Kinàtim it’s called.”

“Anyone there that we can call an enemy to justify a rrraid, Arrnwarr?” the male snarled, baring his teeth.

“No, and even if there was, that’s not our purpose,” a deep growl replied from behind him, "besides, bulls make for better sport than half-heights," he added, a reference to the Elelupii inhabitants of the village, "so you should have joined the hunting party instead of waiting for them."

The two Kyadii turned and their eyes widened at the approach of the clan leader, Ferrfeiss, called Iron Fur by some cultures, such was his renown.

Ferrfeiss continued.

“We are making our way towards Qalathian territory to test their strength, search for a lost Brother and to command them, forcefully, to stop enslaving nuch ghyta, our cubs.”

“Yes, Ferrfeiss,” the other two Kyadii responded in unison before returning their gaze to the flames.

As their leader turned away, Arrnwarr cast a sideways glance at him to see if he was holding up. Even with his strength, experience and weapons, this foray was unusual, and contained a number of unknowns. She trusted him, but was concerned he would not trust himself.

Ferrfeiss strode up the first incline of the naturally-curved cliff of Doomed Descent to survey the lands South. The Forest of Doon was their first major obstacle to overcome, assuming the so-called Woodsmen would object to their passage through the Forest, which they almost certainly would. While his clan’s warriors could reach Doon directly by way of The Drift, it was aptly named for immeasurable depths of snow, rendering nearly every paw-step of the way dangerous, possibly even fatal.

No, we will have to pass through the hills slightly further East, he thought.

Those hills contained the Viàn Falínai, where some Woodsmen were buried and funeral rites took place. The location was held as sacred by all in the Forest of Doon. It was a path he did not wish to take, knowing that, were the roles reversed, he would be as offended as he expected the Woodsmen to be. But try as he might, he could not contrive an alternative route to the Qalathian capital that did not add hours, if not days, to the journey.

We need to be away from Frostplain as little time as possible, he thought, I don't even know how any of us will fare today once the conditions become milder.

He stared at the way ahead, and idly fiddled with his Everice and bone necklace, finding the sharp, cold pain of the Everice a strange comfort.

“We had better be ready for a fight,” Ferrfeiss growled, “I hope they give us a good one.”

Sights and Smoke

Viàn Falínai, North of the Forest of Doon
22 Jylta 545 AFD, 22 Ur

Kighas1 shivered a little, glad his patrol would soon be at an end. Though he never resented his work, he found it particularly trying during the ice season, which usually occurred in the middle of Winter itself. The Woodsmen, by nature, were remarkably resilient to the cold, but they were not completely immune to its effects. His guard was over the Viàn Falínai or 'Way of Freedom', which was home to numerous tombs of Woodsmen who had fallen, or passed from natural causes, outside the Forest of Doon. Each burial cave was covered by an enormous, circular stone, held in place with a combination of rocks and tree sap, and fortified with enchantments. Unique to the Viàn, Red Pine trees grew - the tombs’ natural guardians - towering symbols of the unity of the Red Maples and Green Pine trees in the Forest itself.

Just when he was preparing to return to his hut in the Forest, something in the distance caught his eye. He turned his gaze towards the North Ruins.

“Smoke?” he muttered, “But no one lives near the Rensédaii Anúorma2, which means we have visitors. So much for going home tonight," he rued, "I guess I should send a missive to the Chief.”

The usual Foyii messengers, the blue Aszilmìsii birds, hibernated during Winter. In tune with Nature, however, in the colder months the white Blàmìsii3 took their place. Whistling in low tones, Kighas summoned one of the white-feathered birds to him and whispered his message. With a cheery tweet, the Snowbird took flight and sped Southwards to Everspring.

Kighas returned his view to the North, one hand on his hairy chin, the other naturally resting on the club hung at his side.

That smoke makes me very uneasy, he thought, sitting himself against a tree atop one of the burial mounds.

He reached into his pack for some bread and gnawed at it, hastily thanking the Elements as he did so. Sleep would have to wait until a reply was returned to him.

“It’s going to be a long night,” he muttered.

The Snowbird's Mission

Everspring, Forest of Doon
23 Jylta 545 AFD, 1 Ur

Covered in a leaf and feather blanket, and guarded by two night-watch Foyii, Chief Ki-E-Vwa began to embrace sleep. As was customary, the gaps in the roof and walls of his hut that usually let smoke out were closed over. This allowed his fire, now just glowing embers, and the pleasant smell of heated herbs, to keep the Elder’s home warm. As his eyes were about to close for the final time that day, a jittering chirping jolted him awake.

“That call is not of the Forest,” he grumbled, “which means it must be…”

As if to complete his sentence, a Blàmìs, flew in through a gap in the protected doorway, and alighted on the rough-cut stool near to where Ki-E-Vwa lay.

“Hello, friend. You’re a long way from home,” the Elder said kindly, hoping his earlier gripe had been ignored by the downy-white bird.

The creature bobbed as though bowing to the leader of the Woodsmen before launching into a song. Initially enraptured by the musicality of the Snowbird, the Elder’s smiles soon changed into a look of grave concern and ended with him closing his eyes in thought.

“A strange-looking band travelling South from the Zeloiiblàn Mountains4 currently in the North Ruins, you say?” he affirmed, “Yes, of course you may share my water, friend. You are on a long journey,” he replied to the bird’s question.

He forced himself back into a sitting position, with his legs over the side of the bed, reached for his staff and leaned heavily on it. The Snowbird hopped onto Ki-E-Vwa’s wooden cup and dipped her head in to enjoy some of Everspring’s crisp, rejuvenating water.

After a moment’s pause, the Elder looked into the ashes of his fire, as though fixing on a point where the burned wood met the ground underneath. As if sensing she would imminently be required, the Blàmìs fluttered back and landed on Ki-E-Vwa’s shoulder.

“There’s only one group I know who can inhabit those dangerous peaks. The fact that they’re encamped at the North Ruins, not far from Glàsdei Anorma, only confirms it. They’re Kyadii, and not the tribe we’ve built relations with either,” he mused, "but why would they be coming South? They don't migrate."

He reached for his mug to take his turn at refreshing his now-parched mouth.

“Thank you for not dropping any feathers into my drink, friend,” the Elder chuckled, which was reciprocated by a happy chirp from the Snowbird, “now then, I have two messages I would entrust to you.”

He whispered each to the bird; one would go straight to the King of Qal’ath and the other back to the watch-guard at the Viàn.

“And before you depart, I believe you’ll find plenty of grubs ànvia the capital. The hail from yesterday around the Stones of Myrn seems to have surfaced more food than even the larger birds can eat in one go!”

The Snowbird flapped its little wings in delight and sped on its way. While many insects were disliked by the Blàmìsii, worms and grubs practically fuelled their journeys. The Elder smiled at being able to make one creature so happy, despite the urgency of its mission.

Her mission,” he corrected himself and shuffled on his mat so his back was against the grassy, wooden wall of his hut.

“So, the Kyadii are advancing on the Forest and will soon pass through forbidden territory. If our efforts to dissuade them with words prove insufficient, our archers will do what they can. But we will need help if they have ill-intent. I just hope Carnael listens to my plea.

We need his support, but his methods are usually more direct than ours. I may need to temper his plan a little before it's carried out."

He did not want to resort to requesting aid from the Crystal Circle directly. The King of Qal'ath had already put laws in place designed to reduce the use of Foyiitùn in his Realm and, while there was no direct animosity between the two provinces, the relationship between Doon and Qal'ath was strained. The last thing he needed was to be thought as going behind Carnael's back to consult with the Guardian Mages. But unlike the Guardian of the Crystal of Light, a strong-willed woman called Claris, Ki-E-Vwa did not have Far Sight, the ability to see possible futures.

The chief pulled himself to his feet and groaned with the effort of doing so. If he had ten Ana of competence left, he would be pushing his physical limits. Brushing that unwelcome thought to one side he regarded the embers of his fire, judged them sufficient and began to search his various shelves for specific herbs and minerals.

"I might not be able to see time but maybe, with the right conditions, I could see distance." he mumbled.

"Chief?" one of his night-guards queried, peering into the room, "are you quite alright or do you need the Seer?"

Ki-E-Vwa shook his head.

"I am fine, thank you. And please don't wake the Seer. I will inform him of tonight's events after he is refreshed in the morning."

"Yes, Chief." the guard replied, before setting his face forward once again, looking deep into the trees around Everspring.

Making a mental note not to keep his future thoughts inaudible, Ki-E-Vwa began his preparations for the ritual he had in mind.

Who Will Wake the King?

The King’s Courtyard, Bezélan
23 Jylta 545 AFD, 3 Ur

Rusziné had just finished his patrol around the great city of Bezélan, ensuring that the homeless in Uranbé-Kur quarter had sufficient clothing and shelter for another cold Winter’s night in the Capital. While not part of his official duties, he had taken it upon himself to give a portion of his monthly coin to local artisans and cooks to help provide for those too poor to purchase property and not presentable enough to get work. It was a task he shared with another soldier, who had already played her part for the first portion of the night.

Although a high-ranking official of the Réjànii, the unit answering to the King’s Royal Guards, there was little he could do to alter a system that appeared engineered to prevent people from climbing the invisible social ladder. He did what he could with what he had.

“More than can be said for Carnael,” he mumbled, not for the first time.

As he turned into the pentagonal King’s Courtyard, he replaced his casual walk with an acceptable march and saluted smartly to his cohort guarding the towering gates to Bezélan’s Saf-Athan Palace. It was then he noticed something out of place.

“Marshall Jewan, please tell me you have a reason for having a bird on your shoulder!” he laughed, somewhat less acceptably.

Jewan smiled and gave a lazy salute.

“Yes, my Captain, m’lord, sir, mate,” he chuckled, mocking the over-done salute requirements that the current king imposed on them, “She’s here for you, apparently.

"And you worked this out, how?" Rusziné asked quizzically, knowing that his friends did not, as they called it, 'speak bird'.

Jewan shrugged.

"Quite easily, she wouldn't give us even a chirp or a whistle, let alone a song. When I explained there was someone who would understand her, she stuck around in silence," he patiently explained, "so, yes, I believe she wanted to find you."

Rusziné looked from Jewan to the bird and back again.

“Huh. I don’t remember the last time a girl came looking for me,” he smirked.

"Womenfolk are quickly drawn to you, you lucky man," Jewan pointed out, "the problem is, you don't know how to react to the attention."

"An annoyingly accurate assessment, Marshall," he scowled.

The Snowbird twittered her annoyance and flew until she was hovering between his face and that of Jewan.

“My apologies, Blàmís of the Forest, we feel the cold more than you and must keep our spirits up,” he explained,  “Please, what is your message?”

A few moments later, the jovial air had been replaced by a cold one to rival even the Winter climes of the Realm. Rusziné nodded gravely, gave the bird some of his leftover biscuits and released her back North. Being able to communicate with certain creatures was not a skill that native Qalathii had learned, or been instructed in. However, the man had not been born or raised in the Realm, but within the Byantē Territory on the opposite side of Bluelight Ocean5. While this skill marked Rusziné as strange, that ability had also proved very useful over the last few years, such as letting Carnael purposefully avoid face-to-face meetings with any of the Woodsmen, especially their chief.

"It makes more sense to send you as you share common ground and skills," he once said, "after all, nothing is better for liaising with forest people than one who was raised in a forest! I grant you this honour."

Rusziné never minded travelling to Doon, nor meeting with the Woodsmen. He just tired of the King making excuses, when being honest and saying he did not want to meet the Foyii would have been simpler and still have concluded with the same arrangement.

The man could not talk with many creatures, but early in his career he had saved a whole squad of specially-trained scouts and reconnaissance personnel from bears with words alone. And it was his intervention that spared a pair of Réjanii from Paxlizards last year that earned him a position only a little lower than the elite Royal Guards. The King disliked the Woodsmen but, to his annoyance, had had to accept that some of their skills and tools were useful in defending his Realm. Rusziné munched on a biscuit himself, aware that his subordinates were looking intently at him, waiting for him to explain the message he had just received.

Or they're staring blankly at me because they're tired! he inwardly laughed, it is really late.

“Do either of you have a kal-cube on you?” he eventually asked, in all seriousness, knowing full well the answer.

With twinges of guilt, Jewan and the other guard, a stern woman called Waryn exchanged glances and both pulled one of the inn-game stone blocks from inside their tunics.

“B-but Sir, most of us carry one,” Jewan protested, “we don’t play when on duty. Well, not often, anyway. You nearly always have one in your pocket. And I don't know why that's even relevant?” he added, confused.

Rusziné grinned and pulled out his own.

“I don't nearly always have one, Marshall. It is the only one hundred percent bet in the Realm that I always have one! Anyway, the first one to roll two even numbers in a row has the honour of waking the King!" he laughed.

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