Catalyst Moon: Exile (Part Three)

Part One. Part Two.

Aaand we’re back. Here’s more of Atanar’s story! Enjoy. 😘


Three

A fire burned in a brazier at the center of the kulkri tent while its smoke escaped through vents at the top. The heat remained. It closed around Atanar like a fist as he stood, back to the fire, facing the assembled kulkri who studied him with those arrow-pointed eyes. The hide walls of the tent shivered beneath the assault of the storm that raged outside.

 Sweat prickled along his spine and his heart raced, but Atanar stood tall; he would not be cowed by these scrabbling brigands. He spoke carefully, lest his voice betray him. “If you want to know, my name is Caradoc Keraasi Atanar.”

The kulkri cast one another wide-eyed glances, and more than a few murmurs of surprise ran through their numbers. Tikaani nodded once, his wizened face set with satisfaction, while Sivoy was silent.

Tikaani raised his hands in a call for silence, then regarded Atanar once more. “You are of the Caradoc clan, then? The son of Keraasi?”

“That’s what I said.”

There were only a dozen kulkri within this tent; save Sivoy, most of them were older than him. Atanar stood, surrounded. His scalp prickled beneath their scrutiny; his breath came in short, shallow bursts and his heartbeat thundered in his ears.

Another kulkri, a man, shook his head. “If you are of their clan, where is your caradoc, then?”

The emptiness in his heart where Ruuk should have been howled with grief. Heat stung Atanar’s eyes but he forced himself respond without hesitation. “Slain.”

The kulkri man was unimpressed. “How do we know he speaks truly?”

“I can vouch for his words,” Tikaani said before Atanar could reply. “I recognize him from the last Gathering.”

“But that must have been nearly a decade ago, Utu,” Sivoy replied. “How can you be certain this is the same man?”

A few other kulkri nodded in agreement. Tikaani, unfazed, glanced between the others, though his gaze landed on his granddaughter. “My body is frail, but my memory is still sharp. He is who he claims to be.”

But Sivoy shook her head. “As you say. But what does it matter anyway? If he’s vorunn, if he is dead to his own family, then he’s of no use to anyone.”

She added another dark look in Atanar’s direction. He tried to return it in kind, but the warmth from the fire swam through his head and his vision swam, as if distorted by rippling waves of heated air. His heart beat faster. That chorus of voices, that strange impulsion, whispered somewhere in the back of his mind. Kill it. Kill them all.

His hands tightened into fists but he managed to push his words out regardless. “If my presence so troubles you, kulkri, I shall leave. You are not obligated to treat me kindly.”

Sivoy glared, but Tikaani cleared his throat, drawing everyone’s attention. “What did you do, to have your soul taken away?”

“Aye,” another kulkri called. “Explain how you came to be cursed with vorunn.

Where once heat had flooded Atanar’s body, now a cold unlike any he’d ever known swept through each vein. Everything around him fell into blackness as his memory cast him back to that night.

He is surrounded, his enemies pressing closer, closer. But he will not fall – not tonight. His arms burn he lifts his claymore, again and again and again. Ruuk’s roar reverberates in his chest, echoes in his ears, but he ignores the caradoc’s panic. His blade bites into something hard, like bone, and the impact shakes him to his core. But he cannot drop his weapon.

There are screams on all sides, and Ruuk’s roars, but no sound as loud as the shrieking cacophony from within the darkest corners of his mind, Kill them!

It echoes through his mind, but it is not his thought. Nor is the anger pulsing through his blood his. They are invaders. He must fight them back. He must end this now. But surely the voice that crawls from his throat is too harsh to be his own. “Get back!”

Kill them all!

No. This is wrong. He gathers all his strength, tightens his grip around the slippery hilt of his claymore, and strikes one final time. It will be the last one. “Get away! You will not have me!”

 At last, at last the foreign feeling falls aside. Empty, weightless, he collapses to the cold ground, gasping…but alive. The air is thick with the iron scent of blood, but his own heart still beats and Ruuk is beside him, warm and alive. He has won.

When Atanar raises his eyes to the stars to thank his ancestors, he sees the remnants of his battle.

His heart beat so fast, he did not know if he could speak. Where was his soul? Gone, if indeed he’d ever had one. How could someone who’d done what he had done be anything but a monster?

“Answer my grandfather,” Sivoy barked, rousing Atanar from his thoughts. “What did you do, to be made ‘vorunn?’”

“I… murdered innocents,” he said slowly. “A hunting party I traveled with.”

Silence settled over the kulkri tent and Atanar felt the true weight of the others’ shock fall across him like an avalanche. As well it should, and press the life from his body in the process.

Tikaani closed his eyes briefly, but nodded once. “Why did you do such a thing?”

How many times had Atanar asked himself that same question? The answer never changed. He shook his head. “I cannot say, exactly. All I know for certain is that some madness gripped me; some strange will took over my own and made me act…” He took a deep breath to calm himself. “I didn’t want to hurt any of them.”

“But you did,” Sivoy said. “And you cannot even take responsibility for such heinous actions.” She snorted. “’Some madness.’ A coward’s defense.”

“I know how it sounds,” he shot back. “But it’s the truth.”

“What did your samaat say to this?” Tikaani replied.

Atanar lowered his eyes to the burning coals within the brazier, and did not reply. The fact that he was here, outcast from his home and dead to his kin, was answer enough.

“You see, Utu?” Sivoy said at last. “He is too dangerous to stay.

“He’ll bring nothing but trouble,” one of the other kulkri women added. “I vote we send him away.”

A few of the others nodded and cast Atanar more dark looks as they muttered agreements. He tensed beneath their collective gaze; he could feel the judgment in their eyes as surely as the bite of winter wind. He swallowed thickly and stared at the entrance to the tent, beyond which the storm raged. 

However, Tikaani’s voice was quiet. “Will you treat us the same way, Atanar?”

He had not heard his own name spoken by another since he’d been marked vorunn. The sounds were almost foreign. Almost. Atanar glanced up, into the old man’s eyes, and found them filled with, of all things, hope.

For what, he could not say. “I don’t know,” was the only answer he could give. Again. “I have no wish to harm you.”

“Oh, aye,” Sivoy sneered. “You would be perfectly happy to live among…what did you name us? ‘Kulkri?’”

Kill it. Atanar fought to ignore the urge that beat through his blood and instead regarded the kulkri samaat with what calm he could muster. “So your kind have been named by mine. But we are not the only ones who do such things; your brother called me ‘pikarac.’

Peals of laughter rang out through the assembled kulkri at the word. Sivoy, smiling, regarded him again. “You would let a child’s teasing offend you so? Truly,” she added gravely, “you are a fine warrior, to return such treatment in kind.”

Atanar flushed and glanced at Tikaani. “Your offer is well-meant, but I cannot accept a place among your people.”

“Nor are you welcome here,” Sivoy added. She, too, looked at her grandfather. “I have done as you advised, Utu, but surely you can see that he should not be allowed to remain.”

 Again, silence fell across the tent as the others waited for Tikaani’s next words. They were some moments in coming. When they did, they were quiet as before, but shaded with sorrow. “You said you have no wish to harm us,” he said to Atanar. “What, then, do you desire?”

The answer broke free of him before he could stop it. “To go home.”

“But you have no home,” Tikaani replied. “According to your own family, you have no name, nor life, nor even a soul. What will you do if we send you away?”

Sivoy made a noise of disgust. “Why does it matter what he wants? He’s vorunn. The world is better without him.”

“So have many of our people been named,” her grandfather said to her, sitting straighter. “Including those of your own blood. Vorunn does not always mean evil. I would not be so quick to cast judgment upon that which you do not understand.”

Sivoy gestured around the tent, where the walls trembled beneath the wind’s battery. “I understand enough. Everyone here is under my protection, Utu. I value your guidance, but I am the samaat of our people, now, and I say we send this…murderer away.”

Atanar released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. Of course, there would be no other judgment; if she was truly the chieftain of this “clan,” Sivoy had every right to turn him away. But now that such an outcome was upon him, he realized he’d wanted a different one. Even if it meant living among these…brigands.

 Just as Atanar was preparing to verbally accept this fate, Tikaani spoke again. “One month,” the old man said to his granddaughter. “Give him a full cycle of the first moon. If after that time, you still desire to, you may send him away. And in the meantime, I will vouch for him.”

Only because he happened to glance at the right moment did Atanar see how Sivoy’s shoulders slumped, briefly, at her grandfather’s words. A fleeting look of what Atanar could only think of as resignation passed over her face, but when she looked back at Tikaani, her expression was like cool stone.

“You will claim responsibility for him?” she asked.

Tikaani nodded. “Aye.”

Atanar’s breath caught and dread pooled in his belly.

Sivoy seemed to feel the same. “You know what this entails, Utu. If he–”

“I know what I say, Sivoy.” Tikaani glared at his granddaughter and his words cracked through the tent like lightning; even Sivoy recoiled slightly, as if she’d been struck. The others were silent. Atanar, too, dared not move, lest he break whatever now passed unspoken between the family members.

At last Sivoy glanced around the tent slowly. “Do any of you object to these terms?”

  Silence.

  Atanar straightened. “I do.”

You have no say here,” Sivoy replied.

“It’s my life you speak of. And if you’re asking everyone’s opinion, shouldn’t mine count as well?”

“What objection do you have?” Tikaani asked.

Before answering, Atanar surveyed the kulkri again. Most of them were fair-haired and blue eyed, as he was, with strong bodies fit for survival in the skull of the world. But flesh and bone were so frail. Every one of these men and women could be torn to pieces so easily. He looked at his hands; though they’d long since been scrubbed clean, he could still see rivulets of blood. And within him, vorunn waited.

No, he thought, closing his hands into fists. I cannot risk it happening again. “I don’t wish to harm you,” he began. “But I cannot promise that I won’t. Before, when I…” The words died in his throat; he took a deep breath. “When I killed the others…I don’t remember exactly what happened. All I know is I cannot promise it will not happen again.”

Sivoy looked at her grandfather; she said nothing, but her disbelief was plainly written across her face. The others, too, shifted and cast skeptical glances at one another – and at Atanar.

But Tikaani only rubbed his beard in thought. At last he nodded once and met Sivoy’s eyes. “Then we will honor the terms of vorunn, and not allow him to touch a blade. And at the first sign of trouble, we will send him away. Will that satisfy you, Sivoy?”

She crossed her arms before her chest. “I suppose he may travel with us, for a little while. We can always use another pair of hands when we hunt.”     

“Will you stay, Atanar?” There it was, again, that naked hope in Tikaani’s face, etched in the lines across his forehead and around his eyes.

Atanar took a deep breath, assessing his strength. The foreign presence was quiet now, calm. As he was. Perhaps, with time, he could learn to control it, if not banish it outright. Perhaps there was some strange Aredian magic that could even help.

Maybe there is hope. Atanar nodded once, so low it was nearly a bow. “One month, as you say.”

His heart lifted as Tikaani smiled. “You won’t regret it, tigu.”

Atanar’s breath caught at the epithet, but he only nodded again. Sivoy frowned, but rose to her feet in one fluid motion. “The matter is settled for now. The stranger will travel with us for one month. After that…” She looked back at Atanar. “We will see.”

Moments later, the others began to leave of the tent, presumably back to their own tents, for the wind had quieted. As they left, Sivoy helped her grandfather to his feet. “Why would you call him ‘tigu’ when he’s not part of our family? Are you planning on adopting him? Because I won’t allow it.”

“Give him time,” Tikaani said, looking between Sivoy and Atanar. “I think you will find a different perspective, later.”

Sivoy stared at him, then sighed and shook her head.

“What happened?” Corvac asked. He’d slipped inside the tent as the others had left.

His sister crossed her arms before her chest. “Utu asked that the stranger be allowed to travel with us for one month. I’ve allowed it.”

The boy’s eyes lit up. “Really?” When Atanar nodded, he grinned. “Do you like hunting?”

 Atanar gave a noncommittal shrug. “I can provide for myself and those around me, though…”

He trailed off at the sight of Sivoy’s claymore, strapped to her back. How could he hunt if he could not wield a blade?

“We have kuvlu,” Sivoy said, as if reading his thoughts. “You can swing a rope with rocks tied at the end, I hope.”

Atanar nodded and Corvac bounced on his heels as he continued to regard their clan’s newest addition. “I’ll bet you’re a great hunter. Siv, if he goes with you on the next hunt, can I come, too?”

“You’re still too young,” Sivoy said, frowning again. “Don’t even think of it.”

The boy rolled his eyes to the tent’s ceiling. “Utu, tell her I’m ready!”

“Corvac,” Tikaani said, touching the boy’s arm. “Your sister is right. It’s too dangerous for you now. Come,” he added with a nod to the tent’s exit. “The storm has died down. Let’s see if the others left us any supper.”

“There’s some,” Corvac said as he helped his grandfather out of the tent. “But not that much. Tartok was really hungry tonight.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Are you hungry, pikarac?”

“He’ll be along in a moment,” Sivoy said.

Once they’d left, Atanar glanced at the young woman again. “Why did you ask the others for their opinion? How many kulkri are needed to make a decision for the good of their clan?”

“We are not like you northerners.” Sivoy touched her sash: red, yellow, green, blue and white braided cloth. “We are one clan, one family. Everyone has a voice.”

“That’s madness,” Atanar said, frowning again. “You…vote on all decisions? How does anything get done? What is the purpose of a single leader if everyone has a voice?”

“I would not be so hasty with my judgments, pikarac. You are not in a position to be so fickle with your fate.”

“Apparently, I am,” Atanar could not help but say.

She shook her head. “Everyone who is one of us has a voice. But you are a stranger. You are still vorunn. You will always be vorunn.” She seemed to consider something, then grabbed his wrist with surprising strength. “If you prove my grandfather wrong,” she hissed. “If you bring harm to any of my people, you will regret it.”

The claymore at her back shifted as she spoke, emphasizing her words. Atanar’s blood beat faster at her sharp tone, at her fingers closed around his wrist, at the anger in her eyes. His vision swam, and for one moment, all he could think of was blood.

He shook his head to banish the feeling. Sivoy tensed, though she did not release his wrist, nor did she look away. At last, when Atanar’s vision cleared, he took a deep breath. “If I harmed your family, you would truly end my life?”

Her brow creased in surprise. “Aye. That’s what I said.”

“Good,” he said, and wrenched his wrist from her grasp.


Next time: The caradoc moved across the clearing with the effortless grace of one who feared nothing, though no doubt every sense was alert for a trace of danger – or supper.

Thank you for reading! 💜

Catalyst Moon: Exile (Part Two)

Part One here.

Enjoy! 😁

Content warning: suicide


TWO

Even Aredian mountains were weak. It took Atanar the better part of another day to find a suitable cliff, one that he could summit, one that overlooked solid chunks of rock that would show his body no mercy when it fell from a great height. Preferably sooner rather than later. Already the sky darkened with heavy clouds and lightning flickered on the horizon.

Atanar stood upon a cliff while snow-scented wind rifled through his long, blond hair, lifting the knotted strands as if in play. It was a very long way to the rocks below. Go, he told himself, nudging his feet toward the cliff’s edge. This is what you deserve.

At first, his body refused to listen and stubbornly remained on the cliff’s edge; no amount of mental cajoling would convince his feet to move. At last, he pictured Nel’s face, to remind him why he was here. The painful spike of grief was too much for even a Canderi warrior to bear. With his last breath, Atanar prepared himself and took a step into empty air.

“What are you doing?”

Atanar jolted away from the cliff’s edge and froze in place, heart pounding. He felt no anger now, only his body’s insistence to remain earthbound. Even so, the sense of otherness within him, whatever-it-was, pulsed brightly at the rush of blood through his veins, and his vision blurred again while his thoughts slipped out of his control. Kill, vorunn whispered, in that samechorus as Atanar had heard the night he’d destroyed everything he loved. Kill them all.

Something cracked through what passed for scrub-brush up here and Atanar shook away the whatever-it-was and managed to find his balance enough to turn. This time, his heart turned to ice in his chest. Nel stood several paces behind him, one arm outstretched, blue eyes round with surprise.

It was difficult to speak at all, let alone to a ghost. All Atanar managed was a croaked, “Nel?”

The boy’s forehead creased. “Huh?”

Blinking, Atanar took another deep breath and fought for control, fought to clear his vision so he could see properly. The other voices, what he’d come to think of as the voices of vorunn, fell away, and he was himself again. Another look at the boy confirmed this was not Atanar’s younger brother, but a stranger – and a Canderi. That much was evident in the lad’s fair hair, bright blue eyes, and strong build, though his limbs seemed too long for his body in the way of a gangly youth. Older than Nel had been, but not by much – perhaps thirteen or fourteen summers. He carried a slender Aredian bow and arrow, a brace of rabbits swung at his belt, and he wore a braided strip of multi-colored cloth around his forehead.

Even in his stricken state, Atanar recognized the mark of a kulkri, and scowled.

The boy must not have seen Atanar’s expression, for his gaze darted between Atanar’s face and the empty air below. “I said, what are you doing?”

Atanar opened his mouth to answer, but the words died in his throat. This boy was not Nel, but he was as close as Atanar would ever come, and there were some things that should never be said to a child. Even a vagabond kulkri.

 He shrugged. “Just…looking.”

“You looked like you were about to jump.”

“Your eyes are liars,” Atanar shot back.

The boy frowned again and swept his gaze across Atanar from head to boots. “What’s a pikarac doing in Aredia, anyway…?” He trailed off as his eyes fell on the place where Atanar’s claymore should have been. “Ea’s tits,” he muttered, taking a single step backward. “Unless…Vorunn. You’re exiled.”

Heat flushed through Atanar’s veins and his fists balled. “I am. Now leave me be, child.”

He emphasized the last word as he turned his back on the boy, and tried to concentrate on his own fate rather than the wild urge that suddenly beat his blood. Kill it. Kill it. Kill it.

Clenching his jaw, he tried to ignore the urge and instead focused on the fact that none of this would matter in a few moments. He was vorunn; he could not find peace with his ancestors, but perhaps there was something for him in what waited beyond.

But the boy spoke up again. “Are you hungry?”

It was too strange a question at this moment. Atanar shot a glare over his shoulder. “No. Go away.”

“I didn’t think I’d catch anything,” the boy went on, tugging on the rabbits. “I just wanted to practice. So if you’re hungry, we have more than enough food for supper.”

“Save it.”

“We have plenty.”

“My words stand,” Atanar said though gritted teeth. “Save your rabbits for your own people, and leave me to my fate. And don’t watch; you’re too young for such things.”

He pitched his voice to be a low growl, hoping to send the boy scurrying, but another growl – that of his stomach – undermined his words, and the boy laughed aloud. “Come on, pikarac.  A storm’s coming. You can always kill yourself after.”

Atanar bristled at being called “child” by a boy not old enough for facial hair, but…

Well, he was hungry, and the sky looked surlier by the moment. If he could not summon the courage to end his life now, he’d spend the afternoon in a snowstorm.

And even though this boy was not Nel, the sight of him stirred memories within Atanar’s heart; even after what Atanar had done, would Nel want him to die like this? Torn to pieces on a pitiful excuse for a mountain was not supposed to be Atanar’s fate.

Nor was Nel’s fate supposed to be death by your hand, Atanar reminded himself. He was vorunn; he deserved nothing more than what he had found in Aredia so far.

As if reading his mind, the boy said, “If you jump, I’ll watch, and be haunted the rest of my days. Is that what you want, pikarac?”

Atanar rolled his eyes. Ancestors curse this child to the fire and ice. But he knew when he was beaten and turned his back on the cliff. For now, anyway. “Very well,” he said as he approached the boy. “I’ll eat your rabbits, kulkri.”

The boy chuckled, but Atanar did not miss the flash of relief in his eyes. “Let’s hurry, then,” he said as he stepped through the nearby brush, toward the game trail Atanar had followed to reach this point. “My sister gets very cross when I’m late.”

*

Atanar soon found himself in another Canderi camp, a place he’d never thought he’d stand again. Several dozen men and women bustled about with evening tasks: cooking food over several scattered fires; grooming horses and herding children; securing the rounded tents made from animal hides. Despite the approaching storm, laughter and conversation rippled through the camp.

Kulkri, the lot of them, but for one moment, Atanar could have been back home.

Or it might have, had each kulkri’s eyes not marked Atanar for what he was, then narrowed to dagger-points.

The boy—Corvac—led Atanar through the others without a word to anyone, instead trotting toward one of the fur-lined tents in the middle of the camp. There, he paused and listened beside the entrance before giving Atanar a look that was almost concerned. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

Before Atanar could ask what was going on, Corvac disappeared within the tent, leaving Atanar alone in a camp full of people giving him dark looks. Well, he could return the favor, particularly to a bunch of thieving kulkri such as these. Perhaps he was vorunn, but he had some measure of respect for tradition.

So Atanar stood tall and met each glare with one of his own, until movement to his right caught his eye. A young woman strode toward him. She was a few years younger than Atanar, perhaps in her twentieth summer. Her hair was neatly braided in the Aredian fashion; it was darker than most other Canderi but still streaked with pale gold, and, like so many of the others, she wore a sash of red, yellow, green, blue and white, all woven together.

“Who are you?” she called as she approached.

Your name will be forgotten. As it should be. But he had no other to give. He shook his head. “No one.”

The moment she registered what he was, her stance turned even more hostile as her body became strung taut with tension. “Cor was right,” she murmured, halting just over an arm’s length away, one hand reaching for the claymore strapped to her back. “You’re cursed by vorunn. What in Nox’s void are you doing here?”

Atanar frowned over the strange word, Nox. The woman’s speech was Canderi, but was that word Aredian slang? Is that what happened to Canderi who left their home: they lost themselves and turned into those soft, weak folk? Ancestors strike me dead before that happens to me, he thought with a shudder.

He shook his head. “Corvac brought me.” She scowled up at him and he could not help but add, “For supper.”

Her scowl deepened. “Corvac is a child. He has no say in who or,” she wrinkled her nose, “what comes into our home.”

“And you do?”

“Aye, as far as you’re concerned.” She pointed the general direction he had come, where he could now see a rudimentary sort of passage that wound through the tents and cooking fires. Beyond these, in addition to a few large elk-like atsuula, there were a dozen or so scraggly Aredian horses, outfitted with Aredian saddles, bridles, and other gear. In fact, most of the gear he saw was Aredian in make.

Atanar frowned. A sloppy affair, this kulkri camp.

“Leave, now,” she said, lifting her pointed chin. “Save me the trouble of dirtying my sword with your blood.”

“Quiet, Sivoy.” An elderly man slipped out of the tent, Corvac on his heels. Like the rest, the older man wore thick furs, though he leaned heavily on a staff and on the elbow of the boy at his side as he regarded Atanar curiously.

“He’s vorunn,” Sivoy said. “Corvac never should have brought him here. I’m within my rights to cast him out, Utu.”

“So you are,” her grandfather replied. “And so you may. But your word is not the only law. We are not like them.” He nodded in the vague direction of Cander, and Atanar bristled despite everything. “I advise you to learn a little more before you toss this warrior back into the storm.”

There was greater meaning in those words than Atanar could glean. Indeed, Sivoy frowned, but regarded Atanar with a new sort of speculation. “Very well, stranger. I will allow you a chance to explain why we should not cast you away.”

Atanar frowned. Vorunn, he may have been, but these vagabonds did not deserve even his respect. He straightened and regarded Sivoy from his full height – considerable, even among the Canderi. “Your graciousness humbles me.”

 Sivoy glared back, but her words were honey-sweet.  “Corvac, please tend to our guest while I gather the others.”

 With that, she spun on her heels and marched away, disappearing within one of the other tents. Atanar looked back at Corvac and the older man, presumably the boy’s grandfather as well, given the resemblance between Corvac and Sivoy. “I have no need of your charity.”

The older man leaned on his staff and regarded Atanar with a shrewd gaze before he smiled; the expression shone through his white beard. “That remains to be seen, my friend.” He nodded to the tent behind him. “Come, sit. My name is Tikaani. Rest easy, warrior, and eat your fill, for now you are among kin.”

Tikaani spoke the benediction with a familiar, musical cadence that Atanar had heard more times than he could count. But even so gently said, the words struck Atanar in the chest as would a thrown spear or a stray atsuula hoof. At once he was overtaken by an ache so deep and powerful, he could not speak. Beyond the camp, the sky darkened further still, and each gust of wind cut more bitterly than the last, adding to the ache. Vorunn. So it had taken almost everything from him – almost. It would eventually take his life. It should take his life. Very likely it would, if he tried to weather the storm without proper supplies.

But death is what I want, he thought, clenching his jaw lest he reveal his battered heart to these vagabonds. Isn’t it?

Perhaps sensing his indecision, Tikaani said, “Outcast or not, cursed or not, you have no home. Please share ours – even if only for a night.”

Kindness…perhaps. In all likelihood the old man had an ulterior motive. Nevertheless, Atanar nodded once. “I may as well get out of the wind.”


Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think so far. 😊

Next time: “It’s my life you speak of. And if you’re asking everyone’s opinion, shouldn’t mine count as well?”

Catalyst Moon: Exile (Part One)

Featured

As promised, here’s the first installment to this unreleased Catalyst Moon novella. Enjoy! 😁


ONE

Atanar held Ruuk’s gaze and prayed the snow lion’s death would be swift. Although he could not hear Ruuk’s thoughts, he knew the proud beast’s heart and saw the fear in those vivid blue eyes – a mirror of his own.

Be at ease, my friend, Atanar thought, willing Ruuk to understand, willing his own terror not to affect his friend any more than it already had. It will be over, soon.

The snow lion, a caradoc, in the Canderi language, stared back. His breath still came fast, steaming the late winter morning air, but only Atanar’s ears rang with the memory of his roars, for the snow lion was calmer now. Even so, the half a dozen Canderi warriors that held the ropes binding Ruuk regarded him warily. The other Canderi who had come to watch the execution and exile kept at a safe distance, easily done on the flat tundra.

Atanar longed to place a hand upon Ruuk’s snowy mane; though he and Ruuk were separated by Atanar’s fellow Canderi, he could still feel the thick fur between his fingers. But the strong hands holding Atanar in place would not release him. Yet.

The samaat, the leader of Atanar’s clan, lifted Atanar’s blade—though Atanar would never touch it again—and the audience held their collective breath.

Atanar fought not to squeeze his eyes shut. He would not dishonor Ruuk by looking away. His blade descended.

Winter wind cut through Atanar’s furs and struck him as though it was the claymore he’d once carried every day of his life; the same claymore now slit his caradoc’s throat. The bond between them severed; Atanar felt the loss as if his own soul had been stolen. In a sense, it had. With a snarl of surprise, the massive gray-spotted lion collapsed in a heap of fur and bright crimson stained the snow beneath Atanar’s boots.

The samaat turned her cold blue eyes to Atanar. Though he’d faced that gaze many times, there was something different there, now, something he could not name. She pointed his claymore at him and said, “Vorunn.”

Atanar had known this was coming, so why did he flush at the shame, the degradation? He was cursed, had been so since that night. Vorunn. Now he had no soul, no ties to Cander – his home, his blood. Now, he was alone.

The other white-clad Canderi who surrounded them shifted at hearing the term, but none spoke. Only the wind dared to dart through the mountains that stood sentinel all around, kicking snow flurries over the snow lion’s carcass and those that watched alike. It was a mournful wind, and it whispered, Vorunn.

Ever since he’d awoken that night, Atanar had known this was coming, but somehow, hearing the word aloud was worse than everything else – even his beloved Ruuk’s death. Perhaps his mother had been right, and at twenty-two summers he was too young and proud and headstrong to know when to bow to fate. But no longer. Now he shut his eyes and dropped his head, as much in acceptance as from a desire to look anywhere else. The word echoed through his bones like a shout in a mountain pass. Vorunn.

But deep within him, where anger warred with bitterness and collided with grief, something else stirred. The edges of his vision blurred a little more with each increased beat of his heart, and the world seemed strange, dull and distant – just for one moment. His breath caught. No, not again.

Yes, again. Yes, always. He was cursed – he was vorunn.

The samaat cleared her throat and brought him back into the moment. Atanar looked up and the elderly woman gestured with the sword behind him; the crowd parted, giving way to the broad expanse of Cander tundra. Beyond the tundra was the Iyer River. Beyond that…

No. This was not supposed to be his fate. But what choice did he have? An honorable death was too good for him. Throat tight, Atanar looked back at the clan chieftain. “Please–”

But she cut off his words with a wave of the claymore; in her sixtieth summer, she may have been, but she held the sword as if it were a feather. “No, Atanar.”

The use of his name startled him. He wasn’t the only one. The surrounding Canderi of their family glanced at each other, bewilderment on their faces, but still kept their silence.

Perhaps sensing her misstep, the samaat raised herself to her full height and struck him again with that cold glare, though her eyes were red-rimmed. “You have killed your own kind. You have slaughtered an innocent–”

Her voice cracked, betraying her outward calm. But she composed herself almost immediately, she was the samaat, after all. “Your name will be forgotten,” she said as the wind lifted her graying hair. “Your voice will not be missed. You will die alone, and not even the crows will mark your passing.”

Atanar dropped his head again as his bonds were cut. Someone shoved him backwards, sending him stumbling, but he caught himself before he fell. “I heard you,” he couldn’t help but mutter. “I’m going.”

“Go faster.” She shoved him again, towards the borderlands that divided Cander from Aredia.

  The others echoed, “Vorunn.”           

 “Go,” the samaat said one last time.

He went.


Three days to reach the Iyer River. Three days without food and only a few sips of water from the flask he’d been allowed. Only enough to leave Cander. Once he left, he would not be allowed to return. Every morning, Atanar awoke in a cold sweat, heart racing, searching for the warm familiarity of those he loved, but he was always alone.

At last Atanar stood above the snow, atop a boulder at the river’s edge. It was swiftly flowing, but shallow, racing over smooth round stones to an end he could not measure from the skull of the world. The Iyer River might have served a better purpose if it were deeper, or if he could not swim.

If he had a blade, he could have ended everything days ago.

For what surely must have been the hundredth time that day, Atanar looked behind him at the mountains; blanketed with snow, distant and untouchable, but somehow comforting in their invincibility.

 No longer. That tight, painful knot of memory and grief that lived in his heart seemed to coil tighter at the thought of home.

Ancestors help me, he thought, then winced. He was vorunn: cursed, exiled, less-than human. He had no past, nor future, any longer. “Vorunn,” he said aloud. “That is all you are. You have no home. Go.”

The river only came up to his knees, so he forded it easily. Too easily. Once on the opposite, shore, he paused to inhale deeply, but the air smelled the same in Aredia as it did in Cander. Strange, that he’d thought it would be otherwise.


Next time: He was vorunn; he could not find peace with his ancestors, but perhaps there was something for him in what waited beyond.

But the boy spoke up again. “Are you hungry?”


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Legal mumbo-jumbo:

Copyright © 2019 by Lauren L. Garcia.

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Author’s note: Exile is supplementary reading to the larger story of Catalyst Moon. The events of this vignette collection take place before Catalyst Moon: Incursion. However, Exile may be read at any point prior to Catalyst Moon: Surrender.