Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Foundation of Allanak

This is something I wrote a long while back, about the foundation of a city called Allanak, from ArmageddonMUD.  It figures heavily with Tektolnes Senior, as well as the tribe known as the Red Fang.

If you don't play the game, or aren't familiar with Dark Sun, you probably won't understand most of the terminology, but it might be a good read anyway.

Foundation of Allanak

His sling fluttering in the wind at his belt, Cold Eyes looked down at the bleeding elf with overt hatred in every nuance of his facial features. The elf, richly tattooed with a variety of beasts across her open flesh, appeared not to notice. The harrying had been long, and the price steep, but no one out-smarted Cold Eyes for long. It had taken ten men just under fifteen minutes to kill all but one of the twenty member elven raiding party. All but this one. This ugly horror's daughter of an elf.

Bone rasped dryly on oiled leather as Cold Eyes drew a raggedly sharpened silt flyer claw from his belt, the crude knife showing much age as it came in to view. “What did you gain, elf? That's what I don't understand. That's all I don't understand. What is it you stood to gain from raiding us? We've nothing. The Madrek have far more than we, and yet you come to us. Why?” His every word pronounced with distaste and venom, Cold Eyes continued to walk a patient circle around his beaten enemy.

The elf spoke, ragged lips parting to expose red-painted canines for which its blood was named, the words halting in sirihish but the hatred very clear. “Practice, prey. To show children how hunt, little risk.” The elf laughed then, a wet sound from deep within, filled with pain and menace. Cold Eyes' hand became a blur, rising and cutting an arc into the air, hand stilling above his opposite shoulder, arm across his body.

Cold Eyes thought of the fourty one members of his extended family who had been put down in the last three weeks by the raiding of these elves. He thought of the tortured, horrified looks on their faces, he thought of the contorted limbs, the shattered skulls, and he thought about the few he had found who were partially eaten, covered with elven bitemarks. He thought of the smell of the sun-baked flesh, the spilled entrails, the urine, and he thought of the incessant buzz of kank flies as they circled the spilled brains of Anni who had sung so beautifully to him just the night before. He thought of all of this, and his heart grew stronger, the fury threatening to cause it to rupture his chest.

His weary, stubbled face turned again towards the elf, knife still raised across his body. “I've heard you elves value family among all else. So do I. You've left me with little, and I've left you with nothing.” He gestured with his free hand around at the littered elven bodies, one of which picked that moment to moan in pain. A swift squelch of an impacting spear from one of his tribemates stopped it. “I don't think that's quite fair, as what you took from me had actual value and yours did not. Regardless, I will let you live.” The elf's eyes blazed with open rage at the victorious human, lips caught in a razor-thin frown. “But not without marking you forever. Welcome to the rest of your life, tribeless cur. May treachery know every last moment of every heartbeat that your blood runs through.” The knife came down, describing a wicked arc in the failing dusk light. The blade, heavy and sharp, caught the elf on the right temple, cutting neatly down through the eye, across the nose, and catching again on the left cheekbone. The vicious gash, and ruined eye, spilled freely down her face like some gruesome veil, but still she did not cry out.

Turning to his tribemates, he gestured for a saddle pack on one of the kanks, which was brought to his feet. “Urit, start a fire. We may be here for a while as we have a long talk with our new friend. She appears to be made of sterner stuff than I thought.”

The night passed quickly for some, and much slower for one, but still no sound came. In the morning, Cold Eyes had Urit run to camp for an erdlu. By noon, the humans were again mounted and ready to go, turbans high against the glaring, cruel sun. Cold Eyes pulled another strap tight across the erdlu's back, and gave the elf's face a condescending pat.

From her uniquely non-elven position, the elf glared up at him, still silent, the wound long crusted over and beginning to attract flies in the heat of half-day. “Those straps should hold you, but I wouldn't suggest testing them. Wouldn't that be horrible, hmmm? Being trapped alone out there, in the great wastes, without any way to move?” The human laughed, a heartless and hateful sound, and slapped the erdlu on the ass, just below the elf's broken ankles and toes, sending it chasing off after the bouncing tuber that was tied just within view. Dust raised high into the still air as the erdlu sprinted across the open plains, every leaping stride sending jags of pain down through every last bit of the shamed, supposedly tribeless elf.

Cold Eyes had again earned his name, being one of the few in his tribe who chose his own name instead of what he was born with.  His heart had hardened during childhood, all the mockery from the other camp children about his name sounding like something a scrab would say had earned him Scrabface.  He never used his real name anymore.  He was Cold Eyes now, and his reputation made sure that everyone called him that.  Just the way he liked it.  Fear kept away trouble like the shade kept away heat, and he so preferred the shade.

Four days passed as the erdlu meandered around the wastes, picking at cacti and plants, the elf doing the same when opportunity presented itself. Dune Shriek had freed her left hand on the second day, and was able to sometimes gain some food or drink when brought within striking distance. On that fourth day, close to night, her kin had found her. Not a one mentioned the erdlu, which was killed for a feast that night, and not a one mentioned her shame. The story, as she told it, was quickly told and the mourning began for those who had fallen. The mood of the camp fell sour, and many of the other blood began to mark themselves with a scar akin to Dune Shriek's own, as a way to forever remember the hatred they have for humans, and vengeance began to be whispered within every tent.

Cold Eyes looked around the drinking tent at the scattered people. Seven tribes were represented, and each one unable to get along with the other. Each one unable to look past its own petty problems towards the obvious solution. His eyes darted from face to face, judging, analyzing, deciphering the proper path to take. Most of those that he would challenge were larger than he, but that would prove to be their undoing, and that would prove to be his victory in more than one sense. Cactus wine was flowing freely, and faces were flushed. His own cup remained mostly full, though he appeared to have been drinking all night, matching the gathered chiefs. The powdered red root graced his cheeks, and flecks of cleverly applied salt brought the red to his eyes. He stumbled forward, wine spilling from his bone cup, splashing onto the thirsty ground. Conversations stilled.

With an off balance sway and a ungainly gesture towards the assembled chiefs, Cold Eyes raised his cup, more purplish liquid hitting the ground. “Ey! All Ah hear is barrakhan chatter from th' hungry maws of children gathered in this tent. Children... unable ta do nothin but fight an fray bout toys one or anotha stole hundred years ago. Chillren.” He eyed the suddenly humorless faces of the gathered tribals, and could not help but think 'good, they're taking the bait.'

His posture slacking a bit as he listed to the left, planting his shoulder against a tentpole, he slurred, “An ya best mens 'ere, th' best ya tribes got? Chillren too. Little... baby lizards, scurryin about. Ah bet Ah could whip 'em in a fair fight.”

Turkus Doombringer glared at him from behind his macabrely tattooed visage, his words a rasp as he spoke, “Watch your tongue, young Chief. You're not nearly as blooded as half of one of us.” Muttered grunts of assent spilled through the smoky air.

Cold Eyes allowed himself a small inner smile, knowing he had the much older chief right then. Doombringer's lust for women was only overshadowed by his love of gambling, and it was no secret. “Ah'll betcha Ah kin. Ah kin. Ah kin take th' best man from each'a 'ese here tribes, one't time, back't'back, or all't once if ya wanna give 'em a bit of a chance. If'n Ah caint, Ah'll have m'people follow yers, Doombringer.” The offer was too good to pass up, as Cold Eyes tribe numbered near two hundred.

“You are a fool, and after tonight, a bloody fool,” Doombringer rumbled, his gaze going towards the gathered chiefs. “And tell if we lose this bet?”

Adopting a grin he had practiced so many times in preparation, loose and uncaring, drunken, completely masking his inner composure, Cold Eyes said simply, “Then y'all follow me. F'one year.”

The chiefs exchanged glances, and slowly Doombringer nodded, followed by Muark. Shortly after came Shadow, Ruby Scorpion and the Stone Men. Silt Hunters and Sekhal simply waved their best men forward. Cold Eyes stumbled from the tent, his right shoulder smacking into a tentpole as he did, cup still containing wine.

Seven men, none of them small, faced off against the young chief, all hands bare except for one wine cup. Cold Eyes sipped, and stumbled backwards. Rathus Doombringer stepped forward, alongside Jens Shadow, and both were met with a faceful of a mixture most foul: cactus wine, stinging salts and viper venom. Cold Eyes had had a reason for drinking so lightly. With the men blinded, he strode forward, using his cup as a crude cudgel to drop them both with swift blows behind the ear. Now it was five to one, and Cold Eyes looked across the fallen bodyguards. Turnk of the Stone Men came forward, his skin toughened by the rigorous ritual fighting of his tribe, but Cold Eyes had known his lover, and learned of his bad left knee. A quick kick folded that knee to the side, and removed another threat. The Scorpion and Muark tried to flank, while Sekhal came over the top of the three. Seeing the uneven footing of the third, Cold Eyes lunged forward, plowing into the tribal at the knees and flipping him backwards into the Muark. Coming up with both hands locked, Cold Eyes swung and missed, his blow much too high before the Scorpion slammed into his chest, knocking him a few steps backwards. Several rapid blows came from the scorpion inked woman. Cold Eyes swung, and she caught his fist. His other was quickly trapped as well as he tried again. Locked up close, the headbutt was easy to deliver, and she went down hard and fast. Swift kicks to the faces of the Muark and entangled Sekhal removed them. He knew the Silt Hunter would go down quick, and he turned to regard him. Dagger in hand, the Silt Hunter looked back, then put the blade away and showed palms in a sign of surrender.
Without another word, Cold Eyes retired to his tent, knowing the chiefs would look to him on the morning sun.

Life was good for over a month, with the tribes learning to live together and work on common projects. Many were the problems, but swift justice and a heavy hand does much to keep trouble in line, and Cold Eyes was good at spotting trouble before it truly took root. Combined, the tribes numbered a few thousand, and it was quickly becoming obvious that they were stronger together than apart. The tents were full, cactus wine flowed freely, and food was plentiful.

Reports had reached him through scouts that a large contingent of elves was moving southward, and that these elves were almost universally scarred. A shrewd man, Cold Eyes knew his mistake as soon as he heard of it, and departed with his scouts for a look. Five hundred, he spied from atop the ridge, and all as vicious as the day was long. His mind raced over the possible battles, the terrain involved, the path of travel, the numbers, and he ordered the scouts to return without him, covering their tracks. There was protest, but not for long. His orders were quick, stern, and brooked no argument.

Alone, the afternoon sun hammering down on him, Cold Eyes drew his knife and cut himself across the back of both legs, deep enough for a good wound, but not into the muscle. His life began to run free down his boots. With a leg going over his kank, he set off down the ridge at a good clip, the flecks of blood falling as he did, leaving a plain trail of a lone, wounded rider for the elves to find. A trail leading straight back to his home, a large tent nestled within the valley of two large mekillot dunes. Moving swiftly, he left his blood-smeared kank outside, and gathered his pack.

His mother, old, hunched and wrinkled, looked across the fire at him. His eyes softened as he looked back, and his emotion began to show. Her voice, as ancient as her face, creaked forth. “It's that time, is it, son?” His heart seemed to grow still. “I have dreamt this, it is no surprise. I am old, and I am proud of you. Do not fail on your path, brave child. We are stronger together, but keeping us together is a fight you will not soon win, Quintus. Do not give up.” She was the only one who still called him that. With those words, his mother stood up, her knees popping, to claim an aged crossbow from the wall. Reclaiming the seat by the fire, her old leathery hands worked the pull, and eventually the bolt was loaded.

Knowing no words to say, he merely kneeled, his kiss long and loving to the top of her head before he left through the back of the tent, moving at a limping sprint until he could duck up and around the left hand dune and join half of his forces. They waited, the tears stinging his eyes, wishing he could save her and knowing she could not. They waited, listening to the steady thump of approaching, swift footsteps.

The tentflap burst inward, a howling, scar-faced elf charging in, only to be blown back out moments later by the force of the bolt sticking through his jaw and into the back of his skull. Old, leathery hands tried to work the pull, failing to load a second shot before an elven blade cleaned her shoulders of her head. As it hit the ground, severed, she spat a gob of viscous spit onto the leg of the elf, who laughed. His blood began to ransack the tent, paying little head to the dead old woman's head which continued to glare at them. After a few long moments, he stepped outside to look over the rest of the warpack. His arms lifted and he shouted for attention, the general looting and cackling stopped, and all eyes were upon him.
A thousand elven eyes watched as an arrow entered either side of his head, crossing in the middle, and causing him to do a little jerky dance before he fell backwards. Moments later, the sky grew dim as a rain most deadly began to fall. Sharp flint bound to thin bone and guided by vulture feathers cut a clear path through the life of the elves below. Several turned and ran, which proved to be their life, while others charged worthlessly up the dunes, to be cut down on the path. One human was lost that day, and over three hundred elves lay dead, with another hundred wounded to the point where they could potentially make good slaves after being broken.

That night, around the fire, a hard-hearted Quintus Tektolnes looked over the assembled chiefs. With his toe, he drew a large square in the sand, and began to speak of walls. Walls bigger than any that had ever been built by man. Walls that would keep out the horrors of the wastes, the elven threat, and even the very wind and sand itself. Walls that would keep his children, and the children of all the chiefs, as safe as anything could be. His words were harsh and clipped as he spoke his orders, planning with the other chiefs until again Suk-Krath lit the horizon. Turkus, his old, tattooed face appearing weary, looked up into the eyes of Quintus, his leader, and asked what this great city should be called.

His voice was quick, brusque, and forceful as he spoke the word, yet he showed none of the emotion that burned within him. None of the pride, the love, or the fierce yearning to just hold her once more in his arms. His mother's name. “Allanak.” With heavy boots, he stepped towards his tent, knowing his journey had just begun.

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