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Akropa and the Ouqur
Writer: Ludwig Sandbacka
Tags: Akropa, Ouqur
The scream rang out, inhuman.
“Hold her down!” She bit the words out. Kreia the Bloodmatron of the Black Arrows, first amongst sisters, was shaken. “Fetch the fleshmenders!”
“Mistress, they won’t be able to do anything...” Adroya stood panting in the middle of the great hall, dripping foul ooze and blood onto the floor. She had carried Tazva on her back, home through the wilds for the Goddess knew how far.
“What happened?” Kreia turned her fury on the girl. “You were only sent out to scout the land beyond White Creek.”
Adroya shuddered as another scream ripped from the girl being held down on a sleeping mat by the hearth.
“We were taken unaware. Three beasts were upon us before we even had time to grab our weapons.” she swayed where she stood. “They were… Mistress, I’ve never seen or heard of anything like.. like that.”
“A warrior learns to be prepared for…” But Kreia’s words were cut off as Rakza, crimson crone and first among the fleshmenders was ushered in. She walked with the grace of a warrior but slowly and deliberately, her age showing in her gaite.
“Get off, her whelps!” She grunted to the warriors holding Tazva and held out her hand. The girl’s body grew still in an instant only tears running from her closed eyes. She looked very young suddenly, like the fourteen seasons she was. Her right arm and leg were a bloody oozing mess of shredded muscle and shattered bones, but more alarmingly boils, welts and black sores covered the edges of her wounds and large swaths of her body. Rakza drew a slow breath through her teeth.
“She won’t last until morning. The foulness has gone too deep. I can’t cut it out. If she does survive she’ll be like the beast that did this… or worse.” She wiggled her fingers and and Tazva’s pained face grew slack. “All I can do for her is to take the pain away”.
“There must be something” Kreia’s voice had gone hoarse. Tazva was to be the next Bloodmatron. Young though she was, she had all the makings of being the foremost warrior of her generation. A leader. She had been groomed and drilled since she could walk. It was such a senseless waste.
“I know only of one thing that could save her now...” Rakza’s face grew a little softer but her voice was steely as always ”...but you won’t like it, and neither will our sisters. The kindest thing would be to...”
“Tell me” Kreia kept her voice level, the crone was impetuous at the best of times.
“The twisted folk beyond the wall.” Rakza looked at Adroya where she swayed. “Go rest girl, you’re done here. All of you out.” She waited until the room was cleared of all but the Kreia herself and the girl and then said “If you want her to live it’s the only way”.
“They are a myth.” Kreia, was suddenly tired to the bone.
“Bah, they are no myth. When I was a girl just starting to learn the mending, a warrior fierce and strong, our matron came back in pieces much like the girl here. We tried everything, but the more we tried the worse it got. Finally a Nighthunter from the encampment in the east, come to trade, told us of the twisted folk. Said that they could mend anything and draw the foulness out. We were desperate, so in secret we sent a runner to the wall. I was sent away but by next morning our matron was healed and we few sworn to not speak of it again.” Rakza had sat down by the girl stroking her forehead. “Death is a natural part of life, we know this, we embrace this, but this here foulness is no natural thing.”
Kreia stood there looking at the scene before her. It would have been almost sweet, the crone and the girl, if it wasn’t for the blood and the dark marks that ravaged Tazva’s broken body.
“I’ll send for a runner.”
It was almost dark. Kreia stood outside the hall staring at nothing in particular. The girl’s wounded flesh had started pulsing and twisting like maggots under the skin. She had gone out to wait. She could barely see the village in the gloom but torches and fires were being lit and the smell of cooking meat filled the air. Then she heard, more than she saw something flying low over the trees, coming in from the east. It’s flight was swift but a little erratic. The large creature landed not far from her in the shadows of a whisper tree and in the lights of the village she could see it was a large bat with two small figures on it’s back.
She waited patiently trying not to show any emotions as the figures dismounted and started making their way up the hill towards her. They were dressed in green and brown tunics made of a raggy material, with hoods shadowing their faces. A man and a woman. Strips of the same mossy fabric was wrapped haphazardly here and there around their limbs, their feet were bare.
“Well met, I am Kreia, Bloodmatron and leader among my people. May the Goddess give you strength ” Kreia was becoming more and more unnerved by the situation. Inviting outsiders into the heart of the village, what had she been thinking. The woman looked up into her face and smiled. She was small, reached to about mid chest on the Bloodmatron, but was showing no signs of fear or apprehension.
“It is a warm night” She said and looked around. As the woman turned her head Kreia caught a glimpse of purple growths covering the left side of her neck. “Where is the child?”
“Inside.” Kreia turned quickly from the strange guests and started walking to the hall. As she walked she realised that she couldn’t hear the two strangers and turned once only to see that they had followed closely behind her. They had moved almost completely without making a sound. The woman smiled again.
A smell met them when they entered the hall. Rotting flesh, sulphur and something sweet that clung to your nostrils. The man who had stayed behind the woman up until now threw back his hood and hurried over to the girl and the kneeling Rakza. Very little of what could be seen of his body beneath his clothes was unmarked. His whole head was covered in bony growths that looked like horns, his scalp was puckered and scarred and his ears ragged lumps. He sat down opposite the the crone and held out is hands. In the fire light they looked like gnarled tree roots. Rakza leaned back away from the small man and Kreia couldn’t help but draw a sharp breath and turn away slightly. But she reminded herself that she was the Bloodmatron of the Black Arrows and turned back keeping her expression still and breath steady.
“Don’t worry” The little woman beside her said. ”Mist-on-the-River is a great soother.” She smiled again but this time at the man and paused for a bit. “Mist-on-the-River does not mind taking the burden from the girl.”
“He is here to mend her” Kreia held back any emotion from her voice.
“He will” The woman walked forward beside the hearth and looked around the room with curiosity. Kreia was going to say something back but suddenly the room grew darker and fire fell to a dull smoulder. Dark tendrils of smoke and oil had sprouted from Tazva’s wounds and twisted like snakes up towards Mist-on-the-River’s hands. Her body shuddered and there was a noise like a low hiss or growl.
“You don’t have to see this” The little woman had suddenly appeared in front of Kreia. “It will take some time. Let’s go outside”. She took Kreia’s limp hand and led her towards the door. The last thing Kreia saw was a dark tendriled mass exploding from Tazva’s chest and mouth.
It took all night. The little nameless woman sat on the ground and hummed to herself as she wove strands of grass together in small intricate patterns. Kreia had paced back and forth until her feet were sore and her eyes groggy with the lack of sleep. Screams, roars and shrieks had pierced the night but now in the early morning everything had gone silent. She had sat down next to the woman and just watched her work.
When the first light hit the roof of the hall Rakza came out with the twisted man in tow, now once again hooded. She looked as if she had aged ten years. The man walked slowly and carefully as if he was sore and Kreia noticed that his feet and hands now looked gnarled and inflamed, well more than they had before. The little woman hurried over to Mist-on-the-River and steadied him. Then she smiled at Kreia again and said.
“She’ll live, she is unburdened. And now we must go, Mist-on-the-River must rest.”
And with that they started to walk to the whisper tree where their bat hung from a low branch.
“I have never seen anything like it or been so … uneasy” Rakza’s voice was low as they watched the bat take off towards the east and the rising sun. “He ripped the foulness out of her and just drew it into himself… and then started mending her flesh easy as a nothing.”
“We won’t speak of this or what you saw him do sister.” Kreia shielded her eyes against the light of morning. “But tell the other fleshmenders. It might be worth keeping this knowledge alive don’t you think.”
“Yes, mistress” Rakza tilted her head and turned away.
It wasn’t until a week later it was noticed that one of the oath vessels was missing. An old and ceremonial cup passed down through the ages. As Kreia was watching Tazva wrestle Adroya, a spectacle during the evening feast she mentioned it to Rakza. The old woman’s lips drew to a half smile.
“Last time there was a rumor that someone had stolen one of the ornate brass spoons we use at the the blood searing. Perhaps they needed a bowl this time to go with the spoon. Who knows with those folks.”