Out of the Ice Age
By David bar Elias
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This is an (incomplete) story based on Tony Jones' Wolfworld
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Excerpted from translated glyphs from the Barama Monastery, from the Annex of Porto-Perta, New Laditril:
From the Mists of the Cold Age,
The world was changing. And the Tathol were not happy.
The winters were shortening, and the migrations to find the herds were becoming more and more strenuous. And the Tathol, the intelligent wolves who roamed the world in their titanic packs, were starting to feel the snowmelt ... literally.
The alpha male of this pack of Tathol was Arrrzkurph; returning from another hunt with his Hunters, who dragged the carcass of the hapless giant elk in a passionate fury driven by their hunger.
Arrrzkurph and his mate, Ailrrkrook, were the first to the carcass, along with thier cubs, Drjurook and Arrrzkullp. The rest of the pack began braying and howling in their triumph at the rising moon, which gave off a pinkish aura.
The world was changing, but for the time being, all that mattered was the Pride of the Hunt and the beauty of the Kill.
In another place, in another body, in another life, Barama would have been terrified of the spectacle of the Tathol helping themselves to a carcass. But he was used to the spectacle. When they were done, he would get whatever was left. Such as the life of a Human Hand.
Barama had no idea when he had been brought to this place. He knew that he had been very small when the Tathol had brought him to this valley; he knew because Arrrzkurph never ceased to remind him that if he had been discovered in this time ... when the food that the Tathold depended on was starting to fade away, he would have simply been devoured along with his father - whoever he had been, in any case.
Sitting on a stump, Barama, a boy of eighteen Cycles (or so Nsrilah told him), with light brown skin and brown hair, went back to idly kicking up a mound of snow. He was tied to a stump with the tough bark from the Djoorka trees ... which was often enough to deter even a Mammoth from rubbing against it.
Nsrilah, the daughter of a Shaman from the northern tribes (and the same age as he apparently was), sat down beside him.
"Greetings, Wise One," said Barama, watching the mist cascading from his breath.
"Greetings indeed, son of ignorance," she said, demolishing his snow pile in one swift kick. She was much shorter than he was, with jet black hair and piercing brown eyes.
She also had a perfect memory; the tribesmen of the Far Reaches were supernatural in their ability to do many things ... from reciting a story 1,500 Cycles old to having an inate sense of where to go.
Barama remembered being intimidated when he had first met her. The Tathol treated him with indifference; he was just scum from the "Human Wastes" to the south.
Nsrilah, by contrast, was accorded some tacit respect from the Tathol - or at least from the Alpha Pair. Northerners were more skilled with their hands than their southern relations, and were accorded some sort of autonomy.
Of course, they were still Hands ... the first to be killed when food went scarce. And, of course, Barama and Nsrilah were the only two Hands left after this winter. Now, Barama was tied to this stump ... and Nsrilah was on her way there.
Nsrilah looked at Barama, her brown eyes sparkling; she was an eye smiler, which meant it was impossible for her to lie.
"Tonight?!" whispered Barama. "Why now? In case you haven't noticed, the dogs aren't exactly in the most sedate mood."
"Because, son of ignorance," she whispered back. "Our beloved Alpha Pair will be experiencing company tonight. All we have to do is wait for an opening."
Barama nodded, and began kicking the snow nervously again; it was still red from the blood of the last Hand who had tried to escape. And from the last Hand slaughtered to feed the cubs of the Alpha Pair.
Flowing over moon-cursed snow,
The pack had stripped the carcass bare; Nsrilah brought several bones to Barama; effortlessly, she cracked them open, and both eagerly guzzled down the marrow ... they were lucky. Usually, even most of the bones were despoiled. But the pack had been whittled down this Cycle; the mammoths, mastodon, rhinos, elk, musk-oxen, bison, sloths, and saiga had been steadily moving north to escape the warming that was spreading from the south. The Tathol called it the "Human Curse," and they expressed their theories on the matter by snarling at the Hands.
Now, it was early in the morning. Both Barama and Nsrilah were huddled under a blanket she had made of mammoth fur.
And then, Barama felt a sharp poke. It was Nsrilah; she was cutting through the bark chain with a blunt knife made from the teeth of a plains lion.
The sentry supposed to be guarding them, a rather stupid Tathol named Forfaga (which literally meant "He who worries least" in a Tathol display) was dozing peacefully, his stomach bulging.
Barama knew better than to make a sound. As last he felt the bark go limp. Both humans huddled together.
"Any time now," whispered Nsrilah. Barama squinted into the gloom. He knew Northerners had excellent night vision (a side effect of living in almost perpetual darkness for most of the year).
Then, as his eyes adjusted to the night, he saw a shadow moving through the trees.
The attack came swiftly.
Three dozen wolves flushed out of the trees. Almost immediately, they were met by the sentries, who were far smarter than Forfaga.
In half a beat, the entire pack was charging into battle. Ahead of the pack was Arrrzkurph, roaring and howling his battle cry, which had often been enough to drive away the sabretooths, lions, and even cave bears he had encountered.
But these were fellow Tathol ... and they wouldn't be frightened so easily. They were a small pack that served the Chistir grouping. Arrrzkurph headed his own independent pack, and sometimes allied himself with the Chistir for raids against other small packs.
But now, it appeared the deal had fallen through. The new pack, not tired by a huge meal and lusting for food themselves, fell upon Arrrzkurph, his mate, and his cubs.
And while all this was going on, Nsrilah led Barama out of the late Arrrzkurph's hollow. They began to flee south.
"How did you know?!" demanded Barama.
They had put a lot of distance between Arrrzkurph's hollow; his pack was gone. The Chistir would feast tonight. Blood was blood, after all, and the Tathol had no inhibitions of devouring the flesh of a defeated enemy - be it human or wolf.
They were running; even as they ran, Nsrilah had scattered a fine powder behind them. Made of fire ashes and ground musk-oxen horn, it would cause inflammation for the nose of any Tathol who smelt it.
"I noted one of their scouts two days ago," she said calmly. "Would you rather I have told Arrrzkurph?"
"No," huffed Barama, struggling now to keep up. Nsrilah might have been short, but she was unusually fast in the deep snow. "I was just wondering if projected it."
They had reached a ridge. Below them now was a river, iced over but starting to thaw in the unusually early spring weather.
Racing down to the bank, Nsrilah halted. She grabbed a birch tree in a hug, stopped for a moment, her eyes glazed over, and then smashed her knee into the trunk, snapping it instantly.
"I did have a glimpse of what's to come," she replied. "But it's a feeling I can't control. It only comes sporadically. Now get to work. If we don't make a raft in two days, we are the dead." She then rushed to the next tree, and began the same process.
Barama knew better than to question her. He took out a knife that she had given him secretly the summer before and began sharpening the ends of the unlamented birch.
Cascading towards destiny,
The next several weeks were a blur. Nsrilah rarely talked; Barama was forced to do most of the work in regards to steering. Nsrilah, in turn, did most of the fishing. A couple of times, they discovered the half-frozen carcasses of a rhino or mammoth stranded on a bank. They had more than enough food thus far.
The snowmelt became more obvious as they flowed down the Great River south. The djoorka trees gave way to thicker and thicker birchwood forests. Even Barama knew that the mammoths couldn't survive in an excessively forested environment. Nsrilah, for her part, refused all of Barama's inquiries about why they were going in this direction. She would stare at him with her deep brown eyes until he backed down.
After several weeks time, they reached a large sea. Nsrilah ordered Barama to steer their faithful raft right onto the cold beach. The red sun hung low on the horizon as they disassembled their raft on the inlet.
Nsrilah spent her time making an axe out of the fragments of whale and Tathol bones she discovered on the beach. She then unceremoniously handed it to Barama.
"We need a larger boat," she said simply. "We leave in five days' time."
Barama shrugged. He'd given up trying to question her. He set to work on the first grove of dwarf spruce beyond the dunes. Nsrilah began gathering shellfish and molluscs from the tidal pools and rocky outcrops, killing the occasional gull or sandstrider that got too close.
Over the next five days, the two humans managed to construct a sturdy canoe. On the evening before their departure, Nsrilah and Barama sat around a blazing fire, feasting on the fish and crabs she had caught during the day.
"In two days, we'll arrive in a new place," she said, boring into his eyes, the flames dancing in her pupils. "You're journey can then begin."
"It's time I told you what you need to know," said Nsrilah. "Cycles ago, when I was captured by the Tathol, it was no accident."
"What?!" gasped Barama, spitting out a bone in shock.
"My father had a gift of foresignt far greater than mine," she said, starring into the red and yellow flames. "He simply told me that I was to be your guide."
"You're destined for something," said Nsrilah. "My father would not allow himself to tell me what you're to do, but it will shake the world asunder and alter the world in ways even he couldn't comprehend."
"You can't tell me why?"
"I'm not allowed to tell you, even if I did know," she said sharply in a hissing accent. "You'll have to complete the rest of the journey yourself."
"We're on our way to the first of the human powers," she said, suddenly changing the subject. "It's there that my role in this tale ends. Now get some sleep. Tomorrow begins the New World, whatever that means."
And with that, she wrapped herself in a sealskin blanket and went to sleep. Barama took a long time to fall asleep, his dreams haunted by vague images of pain, suffering, and the carnage of battles to come. When he awoke the next morning, he wouldn't remember a thing.
On Barama came,
Barama and Nsrilah cast off from their beach. It was only then that Barama remembered why this day was significant - it was the first day of spring.
And it certainly seemed that way. The sun shone brightly, and a warm wind from the south folded their canoe in its embrace.
The two took turns rowing, and rarely spoke. Once or twice Barama thought he heard Nsrilah reciting something, but it might have been the splash of the waves.
In three days, they crossed the sea. Then, in the early morning, Barama saw one of the most astounding sights of his life.
It was a harbour crammed with medium-sized coastal craft. Low hanging stone structures clustered around a gigantic square-shaped building in the centre of the city. Brown clouds of dust wafted over the city like a swarm of mosquitoes around a pack of Tathol.
"Where are we?" asked Barama in amazement.
Finally, Nsrilah answered him. "Hivampa, the city of the Vahapla."
"You'll soon find out," she said. "We've come during a religious festival. We should be able to find our destination without too much trouble."
"And where might that be, Wise One?" asked Barama almost sardonically. He was getting thoroughly tired of Nsrilah's vagueness, and her refusal to tell him what his "mission" was.
She knows damn well what it is; I'll get it out of her somehow. Smiling in spite of himself, he steered their canoe into the deserted harbour of the Vahapla.
It was in front of the Great Temple that held the sacred idols of Dihajrad (the sun god) and Jhomor (the lunar deity) that the crowds had assembled. The poor peasants, swaddled in their cumbersome black coverings had spent the morning filing slowly to the Temple, wailing to both Dihajrad and Jhomor to continue their coexistence.
The world was changing. And the Vahapla were not happy.
They were the heirs of an empire that had been born on the River Niirjbakpa and had expanded across the greenery of the savannah to the east, west, and south.
Then the heretics of Haknanri and Navvab (as well as Haderila, but that was another story entirely) had split from Vahapla; New Vahapla didn't let anyone leave anymore - lightly. All men, women and children belonged to Dihajrad and Jhomor (and by extension the Priesthood that had direct access to the Holy Idols [passed down through the ages]).
The men of New Vahapla believed that Dihajarad (as the sun) was good, and that Jhomor, the moon god, was evil, and that they clashed endlessly in the heavens. But in order for the world to survive, an equilibrium was needed between the two. Therefore, all men of the Vahapla were required to pray loudly to each equally, and to take part in the multiple religious festivals that permeated the empire.
The religious festivals had gotten more and more frequent as of late; the dry season was becoming longer, and the savannah was starting to contract. Already, the cattle herds were being decimated. And now, the human population was as well. Famine, pestilence, and dust storms were increasing from both the east and west. More and more people were fleeing to the Niirjbakpa, causing no end to the food supply problems. The sea levels were rising into Hivampa, which was itself built on a low-lying river delta.
The world was changing, and the Priests were worried.
By the One Law, they were all forced to go without surnames. The One Priest - the high priest who was responsible for all religious activity in this city - was named Voorl. Voorl's authority had been slipping; the rest of the city Priesthood was convinced that his lack of piety had been responsible for the recent climate catastrophes.
And so, Voorl did what he could; not only were there more religious festivals, but they increased in intensity. Today, it was the Time of Tithing. Sacrifices to both deities would commence - starting with several political dissidents who had been caught preaching against the Priesthood (something that would have been unheard of two generations ago).
Now, in the Square of Equilibrium, Voorl began his speech to the assembled crowds. As the One Priest, he wore only a black loincloth - in Vahapla, the fewer clothes you wore, the higher your rank.
"SUBJECTS!" he thundered. "We are failing in our mission. The One Mission to ensure balance in the heavens has been violated! Spit upon! DESECRATED!" At this, the crowd of thousands began to moan.
"Our Deities are not forgiving for lack of guidance!" thundered Voorl. "Before the first offering, you of the holy Vahapla must show your sorrow. BOW!" At this, thousands of bodies collapsed into a kneeling position in front of the two public idols that dwarfed their One Priest.
It was only then that Voorl noted the two people not bowing. One of them - the boy - looked like the few Inshalan traders who occasionally came to hawk their goods. The other (the girl) was short, with black hair and glazed eyes.
Heretics! Blasted Ones!
With the flick of his wrist, Voorl ordered the Priestly Guard towards the two heretics. They would bow, or they would die.
That was the way of the Universe, after all.
The burly men, wearing blackened leather armour and black cotton tunics, started towards the two foreigners, their spears raised.
"Err, what in the name of the Tathol are we doing?" asked Barama in a panicked voice. The pilgrims hadn't paid them much noticed. They had been wholly focused on the stone statues in the large square - which looked like an inverted triangle and a sphere, respectively.
She looked at him curiously. She said one last thing to him. It was in a hissing voice. "Clear your head, expand your mind; lead your brothers to freedom; leave the Old World behind."
But Nsrilah wasn't listening. Her eyes were locked solidly in the trance. Suddenly she began bellowing over the moaning pilgrims, even as the brutal-looking guards started towards them.
She screamed in a strange language - the exact same language that the Priest had been using.
If Barama had been fluent in Valaphan, this is what he would have heard:
"PRAY TO THESE SWINE ALL YOU WANT - THEIR WAY IS THE PATH TO STARVATION AND DEATH! BUT REJOICE AT THE END OF THESE FALSE PROPHETS! BARAMA, THE BLESSED ONE, HAS ARRIVED TO SET YOU FREE! REJOICE AND BE READY!"
At this outburst, the pilgrims stopped chanting. The Priest looked at them as though he had just been force-fed an icicle. The pilgrims looked on in a strange combination of rage and shock.
"Err, Nsrilah?" asked Barama faintly. She didn't answer.
Then, the guards resumed their strides towards the pair ... their looks of rage replaced by the expressions gracing a Tathol pack cornering a particularly troublesome snow lion.
Barama gulped involuntarily; Nsrilah didn't move a muscle.
AlternateHistory.com, where this story was originally posted.