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Earthbound

Started by Morgkha, July 24, 2019, 07:48:28 PM

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Morgkha

Morgkha was not a woman suited for hunting. As a child, she had been too frail, unable to lift the colossal bows needed to punch through the wall of blubber that hid underneath a Clefthoof’s skin. She had been too slow, unable to draw quickly enough for a talbuk to realise she was there, only for an arrow to land in its flank. She had been too sickly to ride a wolf, so she was given an old one - who longed to stretch her legs on the open plains, yet could not. Perhaps it was a test. Perhaps Kogra knew she had never hunted before, but also knew that Karanash, aged as she was, would quickly make short work of her prey - and it was hardly like she was hunting the most threatening of targets, at least in the minds of most. Prey that she at least attempted to stalk along the dusty outcroppings, hobbling forward with her uneven gait, a stick serving as a leg where her club foot would not. She tried to think like a hunter; or at least like someone who had the faintest clue what she was doing. Tahara would know what to do. She’d look for tracks… Or something, Morgkha thought, before she peered around; anything left in the cracked, dusty soil had been wiped away by the winds. Kyrazha would look for… Droppings. Maybe where they’ve eaten, yet there was no sign of either. Feraleye would… She furrowed her brow. What exactly would he do? She had barely any clue of who he was outside of the few times she spoke before him at the gatherings. Cutting him short was still something she was faintly embarrassed about… But that is neither here nor there, Morgkha. Focus. She scolded herself, and shook her head as if to dislodge the distraction. She continued to walk the path, grateful when the stony path gave way to the starlit skies, the summit of the many talons of the mountains.

She peered in all directions, trying to find something; but saw only the barren peaks and occasional shrub, shrouded in darkness. She tried to think like the others would; always beginning with a name, before trailing off. She did not know most of them half as well as they deserved, it was true. She had been distant distant - her head in the clouds, while they were earthbound; just as they could fly where they pleased, while she was earthbound. Perhaps that was the problem; she was trying to think like them. She was not trying to think like herself, though she had no clue what the stars could offer her - perhaps the only thing that offered her the faintest hope on this hunt. Still, she turned her eyes to the horizon, squinting as best she discern the brightest, in hopes of finding some teaching or knowledge that could aid her. She saw the mark of the crab slowly fading into the west, beyond the horizon, to return just as it had in the histories of Nagrand. She scanned the horizon, finally settling on the stars that caught her attention.

She saw flashes of a mighty beast. Hunts that ended in calamity, arrows that simply ricocheted off its lustrous pelt - merely drawing its ire before it tore those who sought to mount his head on their walls to shreds. A hide that axes could not pierce, and simply met the flesh like a hammer striking cold steel, unyielding. Claws that stone could not dull, as the maned behemoth idly dragged its claws across the rocky mountain caves it called home, digging deep into the dull grey. Fangs that bone could not snap, as she saw the beast gnawing on the bones of those who had wished to end its reign. When the vision ended, Morgkha saw that the butt of her staff had dragged through the dusty soil, forming a crude approximation of the lion. She knelt, and placed her palm in the centre of its body, to see, if only for a few moments, what it intended; the scent of prey hidden by the rocky cliffs - the musty scent of their fur. They scared easily, but they would not fear her. The summer had been bountiful in kids and food, yet their gluttony forced them to higher ground. The sight, and the meaning of it all faded as quickly as it began. She wondered if it had taken hours, or seconds - perhaps both, or neither.

She peered around. The faint smell still lingered in her nose, somewhere to the southeast. Shrouded by darkness, and lit only by the curved fang of the moon, she hobbled along the plateau, peering in every dark shadow, along every narrow pathway. Her mind raced, while her body was slow - time felt both entirely meaningless, but infuriating in its slowness. She dwelled on impulses that had not been there before. She felt a strength in herself that had never been present. She felt free, in a sense; moving with more weight on her useless foot, without the need to pause and clear her lungs, without the burden of her crippled form. She saw the shaggy beasts she was hunting, their stretch strong in her nose, before it faded entirely. They were wary of the foreign intrusion, but seemed to pay her little heed, dismissing her as no threat; not when a single charge of their thick-skulled heads would send her crashing down the precipice, to break what was spared the ravaging pox on the unyielding stones below. Morgkha paused for a moment; though shrouded in darkness, she could see they were large, healthy beasts. Their horns were spiralled, their eyes bright, with their peculiar pupils more preoccupied with stripping the shrubs from the dusty soil. Some small part of her urged her to pounce on them; yet the part of her that was still Morgkha urged her not to. She needed fangs that could pierce them, not the useless ones in her mouth.

She formed a dim ball of starlight in her hands. Tiny dots, like massed sparks from a flame, slowly converging into a single ball she held in her hands, glowing between her fingers. She walked along the long, flat top of the mountain, searching for something - a discarded spear, a rusting boomstick, anything to provide her a chance at slaying them without their horns casting her back to earth. The noises underfoot broke her train of thought. She could hear wood creaking under her foot in protest, even with her scant weight. She could hear the groaning as the rusted nails, lit by a dim starlight, struggled to hold the rotting lumber in place. Neglected since the days of Hellscream’s conquest, she could see the mould clinging to the wood, see the dusty valleys below through the holes time had gnawed in the wood. It would not buckle under her, but the weight of a flock of panicked rams would shatter it. With a small nod, Morgkha had found her claws.

She travelled back, following her own footsteps, tracing them in the dim light. She wondered on the words, shapeless as they were - a lesson conveyed without speech, imprinted in her mind by the strange wisdom of the stars. They would not fear her, but they would scare easily. Perhaps there was a rusted blunderbuss she could use to scare them across the narrow bridge, but there was no guarantee they would not simply charge at her - once she had fired, she had no clue of how to reload it, if she could even find anything to reload it with. Morgkha glanced at the stars again; but the mark of the predator that had guided her was silent. I need to think like Morgkha. Not like some beast that died however many centuries ago, some rational, chiding part of her mind butted in. Part of her loathed it; calling on the strength of legends had always made her feel like something else. Something more than Morgkha - the instincts and ferocity of a predator, the wisdom of an elder crone, the courage of legends; yet she knew it would not do to lose herself in stories, and lose sight of herself, disappointing as her own tale was. She sighed, and the fleeting strength left her body. The scent left her nose, the instinct gave way to reason, and the connection was severed.

The ball of starlight was still in her hands, malleable as it always was. She took one small part, and began to pull, watching as the links that bound the stars together stretched with it. She took another small part, tugging it - and another, then another, until it was too large to keep a grip on. She placed her fingers against it, binding it to herself, watching as the wall of connected stars grew bigger, a barrier between herself, and her hunt. One that left them with no escape. She tapped the butt of her staff against the stony ground, and mumbled to herself;
“I have never hunted. I am not the legacy you wish to leave behind. But with your blessing, I can succeed at something that you would have wanted. Ancestors, stars above - give me strength.”
She brought her staff up high, and down again; connecting to the stony ground with a deafening crack, and blinding flash. She shoved the starlit barrier away from herself, blinded by her own magic, towards the thundering hooves, terrified bleating, and the tool that served as her claws. She heard shattering wood, dull thumps against the stone, and silence; broken only by the occasional sound of a beast in pain.

When her vision returned, Morgkha carefully navigated down the winding paths, holding her starlit ball close once again, drawing closer to her prey. There were more of them than she expected, a vague mass of bleating, shaggy beasts, writhing in pain. She winced. She had hoped the fall would kill them - and it had for some of them - but much remained to be done for the rest. She moved quickly, not daring to take them out of her sight for too long, until she was finally before them. She inched closer, apprehensive of the colossal, curved horns she knew could crush her ribs without much effort, even from a beast with all four legs broken. The first, one of the larger, swung his head at her - she flinched back, but silently watched as he did not move. The effort was too much, coupled with the pain. She inched forward again, ready to fall backwards if she needed; but such a need never arose. Drawing her knife, she tried to recall her days in Garadar - when she was strong enough, butchering the talbuk. The tip of her knife dragged along the ram’s skin, never had enough to make the cut, searching for the place she could feel its racing heart through the steel of the blade. It was hard and strong enough for her to feel it as though it were her own fingers upon the beating flesh. She gripped its horn, trying to guide its head to her - meeting her amber eyes with the slitted pupils of her prey. She drove her knife in, just below its jaw, before she could hesitate.

The blood gushed from the ram’s throat. She traced her knife to another spot, and began to mumble the words - she did not know if Kogra wanted them said, but she felt it was right. The mark of the ram would not be in the skies for many months, but she wanted its favour when it came.
“I thank you for your fur, which will clothe me. I thank you for your meat, which will sustain me. I thank you for your horns, which will arm me. I thank you for…”
She trailed off.
“I am sure Tahara can find something useful with your bones. And I know Atar’ka will appreciate the hides.”
She grunted, dissatisfied with her own words. She could feel the flow of blood begin to slow, growing sticky in the cold night air of the desolate mountains. She moved to the next ram, silent - finding the pulsing vein, pulling its eyes to meet hers, and driving her blade in once more.
“I thank you for your fur, which will clothe me. I thank you for your meat, which will sustain me. I thank you for your horns, which will arm me. I thank you for your bones, which will help others. I thank you for your hide, which will protect others. I thank you for your innards, which will feed my wolf.”
There were six of them, more than she needed. She wondered if it was an amateur mistake, taking more than she required - she did not know. She had never been taught - in Garadar, she had never needed to know. There would be more. Six would not send the population into a spiral of doom, she thought. The young Shadowmoon moved to the third, meeting her gaze with the ram’s; “I thank you for your fur…”