WITH THANKS TO MEREDITH BARNES, WHOSE PICTURES ENCOURAGED THE CREATION OF THIS STORY, WHICH MAY BE THE GREATEST THING I’VE EVER WRITTEN. THIS IS PROBABLY THE LONGEST STORY I’VE EVER IMPROVISED AND DEFINITELY THE LONGEST STORY PUBLISHED ON MY BLOG
Here I stand, making marks appear on an enormous white zone. Black and squat outlines of trees stand in the distant horizon, behind acres and acres of white, flat snow. A large and inelegant gander flies above me, a reminder that I am not alone in this white woods. In the tracks I make green grass are uncovered, survivors of the frozen tundra taking shelter under the ice and snow. Where there is grass there is life. But the illusion of isolation, of an open world with no one but myself within it for miles and miles around, is a comforting one that I indulge for just a while. Then, I drink the last of the hot sap water from my canteen, and continue my journey across this landscape, making little trails behind me.
In the vast expanse of flat clean snow, a white and shining floor formed from yesterday’s downpour, a black speck sauntered through, leaving a trail of shallow footprints. A young lady, hardly fifteen years of age, wearing a thick coat of slain beast’s pelts. Beneath her thick hood her hair was black. Her eyes narrow, the frost biting at her face where her black scarves didn’t cover. Her boots trudged over flat snow. She was headed a general direction where she would eventually come to the Kutikiy forest, where beasts of all manners live.
The snow was endless from her point of view. Each step she managed took from her sweat and breath. In fact, the snow was actually far shallower for her because of her unusually small weight. A heavier person’s footprints would be deep enough to pour a full canteen’s water in. Considering the size of the sack she wore on her back along with the rather large dagger by her waist it was amazing she could tread so lightly. Nevertheless the trek was now taking its toll on her and she began to move slower and slower.
A goose honked above her. It echoed across the landscape as the bird flew towards the forest. The girl looked up, shielding her eyes from the bright light.
An hour of walking later and navigating the vast empty snow, the lady’s feet gave out from under her and she sat down only half a dozen meters from the first trees of the forest. The looming evergreens in front of her were a wall, taunting her weakness.
I like the snow. I really do. Usually, I am able to navigate it easily. But today the snow overcomes my ability. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t rested well for the last few days…too much trouble happened back at my log cabin. The nature surrounding me doesn’t wish to leave me to live peacefully. Every night I safely sleep through is earned through work and battle.
Snow is cold, but it’s a constant of my time in these tundras. We didn’t have much snow back home; we only had green grasses and some red rocks. We had warm earth, fertile and full of potential. Snow is snow and barren and you can’t make fruit from it.
But one doesn’t live on bread alone, and the barren has its use. It is a lonesome life at best, here in the cold.
The young lady dragged herself onto the roots under a pine tree. There she huddled, under green shelter. She didn’t see or hear any oncoming threats approaching and decided to stay still and warm up, get her energy back. She had already drank the last of her hot sap drinks and to drinking snow would sap her body of its precious heat. The canister she had used to store the liquid was still warm, however, so she scooped up some snow for later. She looked back at the tracks she had made. They made a charming thin line across the white plains, but it would be snowing in two days time according to her sources. Hopefully, she would finish this journey before that so that she could follow her trail back to the cabin. After that her friend would come for her and bring her home, to her sunny and green hillsides. Maybe she would really miss the barren snow.
She sat beneath that tree for ten minutes, watching the shadow of the pine tree retreat under the evergreen leaves. It was now noon.
Where I’m from there is always so much to do. There are people to please, friends to work and play with, creatures beautiful and eldritch to fight and befriend. Back at home, everywhere you look is a grass, a hill, a village of stone and wood. It’s comforting being somewhere where just the act to walk creates a mark, even if they’re all temporary. Being alone is nice, not having to talk to or fight with anything most of the time…
With a swing of her knife she slit the throat of the monstrous snow beast before it’s eight inch claws, attatched to its muscular paws, could swing and rip into her. The beast made a guttural noise and its dying body fell, almost crushing her. The scent of blood from her jacket was a danger now, but she had no other coat and would have to weather whatever other beasts were drawn to her scent.
It had been a large beast, but it must have been adept to walking in the snow because she had not heard it coming for her. It was as large as a gorilla, an animal (some species sapient) native to her home, and was bipedal. Its face was hairless and dark grey and had flat teeth. Maybe it wasn’t a meat eater, but it had definitely lunched for her.
This forest was no safe place, but she couldn’t flee. Not now.
She skinned the beasts hind and cut bits of its fatty muscle tissue and stored them in a container in her bag. She could eat them as rations later. Then she took off.
Eight days ago I was in a warm land: the land of the grass, bugs, and warm meals. My room mate, my partner and best friend in the whole world, slept near me on our sofa. I had other friends too: all of them people I have fought beside and against at one point in time. There was magic, readily bought in marketplaces that solved all of life’s problems. And if magic didn’t work? Well, there were machines, medicine, and fire and special oils and herbs brought to us by merchants from distant lands.
I didn’t know anything about my ancestor’s life before I made the decision to travel up here. I never knew my human parents. My parents, the two Albino Serpents who found me in a large hat upon a child sized sleigh of animal bones, raised me to be warriors of the Lands of Hills and its neighbors. I was taught mainly stories of heroic serpents facing evil wolves, but my parents also dug up old stories of my ancestors. It was so considerate of them. I was happy with the tales of serpents, but they took the trouble to make sure that I knew of my roots.
And now I’m in the north. Once upon a time here lived my ancestors. They did not have a word for magic. When the lighter skinned men and elves came to this land they introduced the word “magic” to our vocabulary and “educated” us about it. My ancestors didn’t disbelieve in magic, but we didn’t believe that it was magical when we spoke certain words in our sacred places and the world answered our calls…when we requested rain or sun and it was granted, was that magic? My people didn’t believe in that.
Nine days ago, I lost a fight…
The sky was still clear of clouds, but it was getting dark. Soon the temperature would drop significantly. The lady was prepared for a cold night under the sky, but it would be preferable to find shelter; somewhere she could lie down. Despite what most people knew shelter refers to having somewhere warm to lie down on, not a roof over one’s head. A roof was secondary.
The snow she tread through was a little thinner in the forest than out in the open: plenty of animals had stomped upon it, leaving much of it flattened and solid. The young lady held her blade in her hand, ready to strike anything that approached.
What if more of the bipedal beast came after her? What if something other than that appeared before her? She tried to remember all of the stories she had heard of her ancestors. In the stories, one of the most prominent animals were the fox. The wise fox, a deity she supposed, was a trickster beast, though they probably weren’t sapient, they were only tales after all. The stories all mentioned bison, but they were hunted near extinction by the elves who conquered the land a long time ago. But elves didn’t live up so north, so perhaps there were still some around?
While she pondered on this thought she did not notice what she was passing by to her left until it were almost too late. She tuned her head to reach for her water bottle full of snow which was probably at least lukewarm by now, and she saw the abandoned sight. An area walled off by an old sign and wire fence. Within the wire fence, which was seven feet tall but torn up in some areas and connected to the trunk of trees, was an old neighborhood.
The houses had round half-dome roofs of soil and the walls were made from logs. Around the houses were scorch marks upon the earth and abandoned tools. A swing set made from leather hang from a low branch, large enough only for a small child or a gnome. Or maybe an apa’iin, a northern dwarf, like in one of the stories the serpents had told her of.
The lady, now ignoring caution, ran to the fence to get a closer look. She could see a circle of stones around what could have once been a fire place. There were objects around the circle, but she couldn’t make out what they were from here. The sign on the fence was written in white humans’ language, which she understood better than her own ancestors’: “No People Or Savages Allowed. Restricted Sight.” Underneath the words was a double-knotted flower, the symbol on the flag of a powerful country. The sight was definitely abandoned of people, but perhaps there were beasts within the houses. She discarded the thought and climbed up one of the trees to get over the fence.
The climb was easy for her: she had spent most of her youth climbing up and down trees, fences, mountains and even castle walls on quests with her brother and friends. She had been on dozens, maybe even over sixty adventures and visited many walled off abandoned places.
There was the abandoned wizard’s city, sealed off due to a leak of harmful magical air. She and her brother, the serpent Mamba-Agwo, wore suits to block off the magic to explore the city and fought off an enormous and powerful hydra.
There was the abandoned village of Saint Goldplum, what was once a thriving white human’s village that turned out to have been razed by a beast incomprehensible by mortals that stowed away in the village well. They fought it with magical eyes and killed it.
There was the mine of Gen, which was sealed off as a safety hazard after it collapsed. It turned out to be an entrance to a dazzling subterranean city of sapphire inhabited by non-hostile golems. She remembered staring in awe at the sapphire roof, so large it resembled a dark blue sky, and the sapphire floor that looked like an ocean.
But this place, this cold place of wooden houses that she was in, was not one of those places. She felt fear, and didn’t know why. This land was sacred, perhaps, but it wasn’t treated that way. It was sealed off and now abandoned.
She walked along the abandoned road, a very thin layer of snow covering it, down towards the circle of stones. As she passed by the wooden homes she peered inside of it. They were all empty; sometimes she saw a bed or old pelts hanging on hooks but something prevented her from taking a peek into the homes. Their were iron nails to hold the wooden homes together, meaning the elves and white humans had already came when this place was made.
She arrived to the circle. The objects she could not make out before were a carved branch, a clay pot, and a stone with faded black paint on it. Each object was placed about a foot apart from the circle. She remembered reading about this ceremony: Each man of the tribe had a spirit, though the word spirit was often translated into “Gods” in the books she read. They found their “spirits” at an early age when they went on a vision quest: they would fast and put themselves through considerable pains until the spirit revealed themselves to them in a dream, and from that day on the man would honor their spirit and the spirit would protect and guide them.
When a city was being made it was a special time. A new city meant a new beginning and a new chance for the young ones in the group to grow up and prosper. The men of the clan performed a ceremony to determine what buildings would be built and where. Logistics and practicality was considered, but so were the spirits of the deciders.
The men performed a ceremony to consult their spirits: A symbolic item was placed around a fire one by one for a medicine man, or a “priest” as it were called in the books she read, interpreted the fire. This was simply a fire to guide the men, to build a city.
Celebrations such as these made the white humans and elves angry. Her ancestors had tried to explain the importance of consulting spirits and ancestors in their culture. It was a big part of who they were. The white humans and elves didn’t like this magic and used theirs to stop it.
She reached down and wiped one finger along the carved branch. It was well carved, and judging by the texture, metal knives weren’t used. How difficult was it to carve so well with stone? The village was so very cold now that the sky was dark. It was cold and lifeless, a remnant of a culture not taught. She felt cold.
I held a sword. I wore a helmet of iron and one protector on my left shoulder. In front of me stood the leering and smirking grey ogre. Black Ogres and White Ogres were two separate sub species and mating between them was a taboo. Their kin, the grey ogres, were powerful juggernauts like the one in front of me.
I hadn’t fought a grey ogre before. They weren’t common and the few times I had met one before we were not hostile to one another. This one was part of a gang, however, that me and my brother were asked to face off against. In the midst of the battle, a great battle, me and my brother were separated. I wasn’t worried, he could handle his own: if serpents were easily killed they would have been wiped out by the white humans and elves long ago in the age of barbarian wars.
The ogre leered at me. Then it spoke to me: “You aren’t from around here, I know. You’re-“
I had tried to lunge at it while it was still speaking instead of fighting to try and topple its defense, but I failed. My blow was parried and I was the one who staggered. The creature was confident in its advantage over me and didn’t capitalize on my error. It continued talking.
“Your skin is dark, but not the same as the Ndi Maddu. Your face resembles a Dong-Fang man, but you’re too dark for that…”
Ndu Maddu were people who originated in the Ndi continent. Their skin color ranged from brown to black. Many of my friends were Ndu Maddu but I was not. Dong-Fang was a derogatory word for any one from East Merri continent. His casual belittlement of these people made me angry, so I lunged again, but I couldn’t get past his powerful defenses.
“You speak the language of the pale-men, but you certainly aren’t one. Your accent seems snake-taught,” he said.
I snapped. He not only used pale-men, a word that compared white humans to zombies, but the word snake. I gave a cry and swung my sword at him with all my might. He blocked it with his sword and the impact made me stumble. This time he did take advantage o my folly and grabbed my hand weilding my sword and his fingers aimed for my eyes. I instinctively moved my face so that instead of hitting me, he knocked against my cheeks and broke some teeth. It was the best I could do against his speed.
He smiled. “Your blood is a northern savage’s”
He said that to me and then threw me off of him.
I didn’t say a word, the pain of the broken teeth stung me. They have broken before, it was reparable damage.
“Your people are dead, girl. They were primitive men who were beaten to submission years ago and their histories wiped out. The nature they worshiped did not choose them in the end.” He smirked at me. “You have the blood of cowards in your veins. What is your name?”
I could not tell him my true name. He had humiliated me. I couldn’t give him my name to hurt me with more. I gave him the name of my cousin. “My name is Viper Agwo, and my people are the Amazing serpents!”
And he said, “So you choose to take the snake’s name, eh? Wise. Between the two, the snakes are infinitely the better choice.” He raised his fist. “But it didn’t help you in the end.”
I raised my sword but he parried it with his fist. I don’t know whether I at least cur his arm’s skin. I was struck and fell.
“Die,” I heard him say before a fat and lithe shadow pounced upon my foe. I heard shouts of struggles, and then fell into dream.
And in my dream, I saw a campfire, I smelled charcoal, cooking game meat, cries of laughing children…”
There was a low growl coming from the left. She looked up from the forgotten stone circle and readied her knife. She turned quickly, and saw the snarling face of not one, but several…
…They were four legged animals. They had the horns of rams and long, black fur. They had hooves.
The lady who told the grey ogre she was Viper Agwo looked at these creatures in wonder and recognition. “Bison,” she whispered to herself and lowered her knife.
The bison didn’t charge her. They didn’t stop watching her, either. She wondered if she should put her blade away. She didn’t, but she didn’t wield it threateningly. She was wary, but didn’t want the bison to leave.
“Um…hi!” she said.The closest bison stepped back. Was she too loud?
“Wait, don’t go. I won’t hurt you,” she said, lowering her voice to almost a whisper. She put her knife away.
The bison didn’t move. She counted the pack, there were six large bison. They usually gathered in herds as large as forty, as the book she read said. Did this small group splinter off from the pack? Was the entire pack nearby? All of a sudden, she wanted to see it! The thought excited her, making her feel like a five year old, instead of the incredibly sixteen year old she was.
“Where are the rest of you? Do you guys know how to speak?” She tried to speak to them in all the languages she knew, including some northern words she memorized from a book of “northern people.” There was no response. They didn’t speak.
For some reason, the lady wasn’t deterred. Something told her that, even though the bison did not respond to her words, they were communicating. It wasn’t communicating through words; it wasn’t even communicating through body language. It was…magical?
No. That didn’t sound right.
Spiritual? Now that she thought about it, though more accurate than magical, the word spiritual felt so vague. The language she used, the language of the serpents, didn’t explore this sensation she was feeling deep enough. She wanted to contain the word, bottle up the sensation of momentary kinship that went beyond communication…a word deeper, sharper, more precise.
But with no word to define the feeling, it spread out in her mind, wonder filling her as she watched the bison. Every detail of the bison seemed fluid as it stood still in the snowy path. Flakes of snow slid down their fur, their breathing so steady and subtle, like tiny waves of the river, or small coughs of wind on brushing her cheek, barely noticeable.
The illusion was broken by a grunt from the closest bison, however, and for a moment she considered grabbing her knife. The beasts didn’t approach her, though. The one closest, she supposed it was the leader, turned to go and the others followed it.
The thought of continuing through the woods alone yet again was not a pleasant one, so the girl who called herself “Viper” considered her next steps. Waiting until she were a respectable distance from the bison, she then followed from behind. Their tracks pressed deeper into the snow than hers.
The bison didn’t look back. They were following a different trail in the abandoned camp than “Viper” had taken, which made sense as she doubted they could climb trees. They walked around cabins, houses, and unfinished or broken down churches (they looked like churches, anyway, and could be as some of her ancestors could have converted to the white people’s religion). Only now did “Viper” remember that she felt thirsty and reached for her melted snow. It was better than lukewarm, it was hot. She had planned too only take a little of the water to lessen the chance of food poisoning, but the water was too hot to have bacteria in it. She slowly drank a lot of it.
It was dark. There was no light source. “Viper” didn’t know how the bison were seeing; she herself had eyes had been gradually modified all her life by her serpent family to see in the dark, but it wasn’t perfect vision. When it was dark and she saw the world through the eyes of a serpent, her behavior could become like a serpent if she didn’t watch herself.
When they made it to the border, she hissed loudly. The metal fence had been ripped apart, leaving an opening for the bison to comfortably walk through three at a time. “Viper” knew that the forest was filled with beasts, but the thought of facing something that strong and capable was frightening, especially while weighed down by all of these warm jackets.
The bison looked at her for a moment. Then two walked through the fence. Then the young one went through, and then the rest followed suit, and then “Viper” followed. She took a second to examine the tree trunks the woods covered. There were claw marks as deep as two inches in the bark.
She shuddered, not because of the cold. Also, she could feel the water she drank reaching down.
The world is now dark as I follow these bison. I can see them even though they are far away; their heat signature is very visible in this frozen landscape. I slither- I mean to say I walk cautiously, following the marks they make in the snow, their tracks.
Is it wise to make these tracks in the snow, in these woods? Their hoof prints are so deep and much more noticeable than my shallower footprints.
I remember the dream I had when I was beaten by the ogre. There was fire and I could smell burning wood and meat. The wood is familiar but the meat isn’t: I have never smelled this meat before. I saw many little children: they weren’t white or black or east Merrian like all of my human friends were: they were Northern. They were like me. I tried to get up to go play with them, but someone held me back.
But they didn’t hold me back with a hand. I turned around and I saw a tree with low branches. A voice came from below it and it was strange and familiar. Hidden under the tree’s roots were two golden eyes with slit pupils.
“You should not play with them,” the snake told me. “Not yet.”
“Why not?” I asked it. I wanted to play with the children, even though now that I am awake I realize it was a juvenile want. I also wanted to see the snake’s face. Why was it hiding under the tree, moving its branches like a puppet?
“Fully realize yourself, first,” said the snake.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I reached out but the eyes seemed to recoil. I stopped reaching, I didn’t want it to leave me, but already the dreamed up cozy fires and cries of children were fading away. “I don’t know what you mean?”
Suddenly, I was in another place. It was day, and it was white, with nothing but a white floors across a vast snowy world, with only the sight of some forests in the distance. The world was like a white board. I wanted to move my feet, which were a foot deep in the snow, and make some prints in the snow. But something told me not to do so, not yet. I was being told something. The whisper of the snake filled my ears:
“Come to the final villa…seek the dreams here up north. Fulfill your rites as a Northern Woman.”
The white world was then fading away. I suddenly wanted badly to make a mark, so I bent down and put my hand print in the snow. Then I woke up.
I woke up to hissing and a forked tongue licking my face. Mamba-Agwo was holding me in his fat body.
“Sister!” he said to me. “Are you okay? Can you stand?”
I tried to speak, to tell him I was okay, but my teeth had been broken. I simply nodded to him and pointed to my teeth. Then I pointed to where I believed the grey ogre had been.
“I bit him thirty times after he struck you down and he fled. He was the only one to get away, but I filled him with so much poison he might as well had died here. Come on, let’s get to a wizard or a medicine seller and get your mouth fixed,” he said.
When we were all healed up I told him about my dream. I wasn’t afraid he’d think I were mad for considering it were true. He never judged my beliefs. We were raised by very open minded parents.
“What do you think it meant?” he hissed. It wasn’t a bad hiss. It was a solemn hiss of importance. Or just plain curiosity, either one.
“I think it was a…vision,” I said. “The kind my ancestors believed in.”
My brother looked at me. He probably knew before even I had known that I was going on a quest. He might have even known that I needed to go alone. Serpents don’t have a “sad” face like us humans, but they do have a “sad body,” and the way he curled up while he watched me read through books that night portrayed all of his sadness.
The next day, after I had read up all about the geography of the land, and found out about the Kutikiy forest, the last known area my ancestors were known to live, he showed me what was inside the large hat I was found inside of: a piece of rough paper with a word written on it.
I was found with this word by my side, and it became my name.
Nutaralak didn’t stop treading through the snow until she saw that the bison had too. When they stopped for one of them to urinate on a tree, she ran to the closest tree and relieved herself. When she was done, the bison were standing upright. They were staring at something to their right.
Nutaralak looked too. If she were raised by humans, humans of any sort, her eyes couldn’t see the many threats approaching. But the warm glow of the many winged beasts was all too visible for her. They looked like tall hairless humanoids with large flat domes for heads. They had the bats’ wings, but with tufts of feathers covering the back of them. They had not only large beaks but teeth, all of them sharp. Their leathery skin was white-grey, perfect to camouflage with snow or a silver cloud filled sky. Their feet had enormous talons, three to two inches in length and an inch thick. She recognized the form of these creatures from a book: she could not remember their names, but they were notorious, perhaps even evil.
The bison all surrounded the little one as they were approached. The winged fiends didn’t seemed interested in accosting Nutaralak. Two of them swooped downwards, a third following behind. The bison leaped and rammed into the beasts, horns meeting talons, and seemed to parry the first two fiends, but the third winged beast grasped the back of one of the bison. The caught bison leaped and fought as the winged beast flapped its wings, lifting the adult bison an inch off the ground, prying it away from the baby.
Nutaralak reached into her bag’s side pocket and produced three round objects and an ice pick. She took the round objects and threw them at the winged creatures. There was a loud spark and one of the winged creatures felt the spark and leaped up into the air, but the others persisted. With precise aim, Nutaralak threw the ice pick at the winged beast attacking an adult bison. A wing was struck but though the beast screamed it didn’t let up. Now the adult bison were split up fighting off the beasts, the circle around the baby no longer tight enough to secure it.
“No,” Nutaralak said and ran towards the creatures. At her pace she wouldn’t reach the bison in time. She reached into her breast pocket and produced a small toy that seemed to be made from hollow antler. She blew into it, hoping to make enough noise to capture the winged beasts’ attention.
A loud noise. The antler seemed to produce three noises, not one. It resembled the moans of three great beasts, synchronized. Nutaralak had never used the horn before and didn’t expect the noise to deafening. It was if all the trees themselves were crying out. The beasts stopped attacking and, momentarily, even the bison were stunned.
The winged beasts all watched Nutaralak for a moment, who had retrieved a hammer in one hand and her blade in the other. Then the rams attack, one of them even managing to leap atop and pin down one of the winged beasts. The others fled, now approaching Nutaralak.
With a hiss, Nutaralak leapt onto the trunk of a tree and up into the air, meeting the beasts in the air. The air was their territory, but she had experience facing harpies, which these beasts resembled. She struck one in the face with the hammer and spun down with finesse, landing a little sloppily in the snow. There were five other beasts attacking her, all attempting to keep her surrounded. But Nutaralak moved around them, as lithe and slippery as a great serpent. She struck down another winged beast with her knife, and watched it fall. It was her hope that this would cause the others to flee, but they attacked on. She took a defensive pose, employing a martial arts stance. She struck with her blade and blocked and parried with her hammer, felling the winges beast one by one.
Sometimes they tried to fly upwards where her weapons couldn’t reach her. When they did that she hoped they were leaving and would have let them escape, but they always tried an aerial strike or tried to reach the bison. The aerial strikers fell to her reflexes and parry, and those reaching for the bison found that they could not fight off the bison alone, though the adult bison were showing signs of fatigue.
Nutaralak struck down the many of the winged beast, but the bison that had pinned down a winged beast had scratch wounds all over it and its opponent freed itself. Another beast was attacking the bison, Nutaralak could see it was luring the adults away from the child. She leapt at it from behind and struck it down.
But the final beast, its wings trampled, grabbed the baby bison. With its monstrous strength it ran off. The adults howled after it but were too exhausted to move. Nutaralak wasn’t, however. She bolted after the beast, following the cries of the baby bison.
The creature knew its way around the woods better than Nutaralak, who had trouble keeping up. Even without its wings and while carrying a heavy it could navigate better than the mere human trying to keep up. Nutaralak was losing strength now, and the beast could tell. As Nutaralak disappeared behind it the winged beast gave a frightening laugh of victory, a feral guffaw that echoed throughout the woods drowning out the baby’s helpless squeals.
There was a sudden whistle of wind as an object sailed through the air, a satisfying noise of the object hitting flesh. The creature stopped laughing, and crumpled over, its body falling atop the young bison. Half a minute later, Nutaralak arrived panting heavily. It had been a long chase. She moved the creature’s body off of the bison and checked to make sure it was unharmed. She retrieved the dagger from the winged beast’s body.
Again, I don’t know why I did what I did. Yes, I am biased since I want the bison to live, but I had no true evidence besides a few notes from a book that these winged creatures should have been killed. But there was a feeling inside me telling me not to allow them to have their way. If I follow that instinct anywhere else, at a market, at a politician’s meeting, I would not trust the feeling. But yet, I feel that I can trust this sensation here, in the final documented home of my people.
My ancestors trusted “visions,” which were dreams that only they could see. Their personal spirit revealed themselves to them in visions and guided them through life. Visions came in the form of hallucinations, dreams, and imaginings born from sickness. In the culture I am from we separate dreams from reality, any accuracy called a coincidence and repeated accuracy magic. My ancestors believed it was something other than magic. Spiritual. Natural. Right.
I had taken no magic with me on my journey. Only as many supplies as I could fit in my large bag, which is more than one would think. If it turned out I would need magic on my journey, I’d make it here with whatever I could find. I didn’t refuse any help, save any that involved coming with me. Through some friends who had excellent contacts, I acquired an abandoned cabin that I could use for as long as I want. A librarian (working in a royal library in a castle my friend lived in, in fact) chose the knife I would use; it was custom forged by another friend of mine and the design chosen for my personal style of use and best for cutting fat off of animals.
On the day I left, I packed my things and said goodbye to my friends on the way to the launch site, where I would leave upon the back of an enormous hawk. The last to say good bye was my brother, Mamba Agwo. He was worried, but knew this was an important journey for me. He didn’t want me hurt where he couldn’t save me, I could tell. After our parents, both of our parents, were killed we were the closest family to each other there was.
“I hope you succeed, whatever that means. And I hope whatever happens, you come back happy,” I remember him saying.
The hawk flew me north. Then another hawk flew me up here, where it was too cold for the first hawk to do so. It gave me instructions to send a smoke signal if I ever wished to go home, but it would only pick me up at the cabin, nowhere else. Especially not at the Kutikiy forest.
At first, I didn’t know what to do. The cabin wasn’t completely safe, at night coyotes curiously scratched at the cabin. Sometimes I had to repair the house before anything came in and I didn’t sleep at all the first night as I had to fight off many coyotes. It took a few nights to develop a routine that allowed me a full night’s sleep.
Even after that, I found myself searching the open fields for a place, any place, that resembled the magical empty land I had seen in my dream. I didn’t find it for many days. On my sixth day, two days before today, I didn’t eat breakfast. I fasted. I remember fasting was important in a spirit quest, I had read. So I did, but nothing happened.
It happened on the seventh day, when I still hadn’t eaten a thing and was feeling a little sick. Any longer and I would end up dead in this weather. Fasting in the cold wasn’t smart and this had to end soon. I went to a frozen creek, holding a hammer and ice pick to break the ice and wash my face with the water and keep me awake.
When I looked into the reflection, it was a different person that I saw. Before this adventure I had a few scars on my face from adventures with my brother and friends. However, the reflection had no scars. Of course, this was because the water was waving and moving and the reflection wasn’t clear.
It was then that I remembered the reason I was here, the cruel words of the ogre that probably made me have that dream and made me go looking for myself, following dreams. His words had stung. They opened up a part of my mind that was ashamed of a part of me I never used or exercised; the part of me my human parents left behind on the sled of rib cages sixteen years ago. I needed to prove to that ashamed part of me that I, all of me and not just the part of me who was raised by serpents but the part of me that was a Norther Woman, was worthy of respect.
I took the hammer and placed it gently on the teeth that had broken when the ogre struck me down, and bit down just enough to feel pain. I stopped before any damage was done, but the pain remained. I began walking, not to the cabin, but out in the field. The pain made me want to walk. When it began to fade, I bit down again. It hurt, but it didn’t damage.
I walked, now no longer following the pain but rather something else, something my serpent-taught language didn’t have a word for. A feeling I couldn’t define, but trusted to get me where I needed to be.
Soon I was in an open field. I climbed up a small hill and put the hammer in my mouth again, ready to bite.
But I didn’t. Something told me, that was enough. I looked down at the wonder before me. I had always been in a vast open landscape of only snow, but I had found the right place: the place that felt right. I could see snow, untouched by any mark. I looked back and I saw that I couldn’t see my cabin anymore. The thin and narrow trail I took to get here stretched back to nowhere. I wasn’t afraid, I could follow the trail back to the cabin anytime and I didn’t feel sick anymore.
In my dream I had left a palm print right where I stood, and I reached down to do so again. I did so without a glove on. I pressed down on the snow and felt something. I retrieved a horn, carved from antlers. It had little symbols written on it. None of my books had told me of these ones…
Nutaralak would have been hopelessly lost if not for the young bison instinctively tracking down the tree it had relieved itself at. The adult bison were not that far behind. Nutaralak felt thirsty again, but had no water.
She followed the little bison, which was running happily to the little pack, but couldn’t keep up. She felt faint. She knew she was going to fall and panicked. Suddenly, in her mind, a low voice called out to her before the world went black:
“Do not worry…”
“Can I play with them now,” I ask the tree again. I know I’m asleep. I know it’s juvenile. But I really want to play with my kin, the childhood I couldn’t have.
“Not yet, child.” the snake under the tree says.
“Why not? When shall I be worthy?” I ask, and watch the children dance an swing their twigs and carved stones. I yearn to play with a tick and dance with them.
“You are already ready to play. You’ve worked so hard. But yours is a special mission,” said the snake.
“Mission? I thought I was finding myself,” I say. The fire feels so warm…I am thirsty and by the fireplace there is warm water…
“You are, and you have…but what is needed is something else…you are worthy to join the children in their happy play. But you need to be worthy of something more…something that will save us all.”
“What does that mean?” I say. “Can I at least wait by the fire? I’m so thirsty.” But even as I say this I can feel the fire fading away. The children are becoming quieter.
“They are taking you there now. All will be made clear…”
And then I awoke.
Nutaralak opened her eyes. The sky was pitch black, but she could see a campfire a few feet away from her, along with some homes, but they were not the same as the abandoned homes from the site. These homes seem to be made from trees that still grew, alive and with trunks and branches twisted into domes. She had seen similar homes before so they surprised her less than they would a less experienced girl, but still she wondered where she was. Beneath her body was something warm, furry and breathing. Two large bison slept around her.
Atop her was a blanket of furry pelts, but it weren’t the same pelt as the bison. This fur was brown and may have belonged to a bear’s. She removed the pelt and stood up.
Around her was a village, perhaps abandoned? She didn’t need her snake’s vision to see it because of the fire. There were no people around, but if not who lit the fire? She doubted it were the bison.
“Hello?” she called out. Her voice echoed through the trees.
“We’re here,” a low voice said behind her back. She turned around, but didn’t see anyone. She looked down at the bison, who was stirred awake by her shouting. Peering over of them, was a fox.
Nutaralak leaned down to the fox, but the bison suddenly stood up, knocking them both over. The two bison left, leaving the two alone.
“I’m sorry,” the fox said, standing up. “They do whatever they want.”
“Is this village inhabited by sapient foxes?” Nutaralak asked.
“Sapience, non-sapience, the line between the two is thinner than you seem to believe,” the fox said. “And it isn’t just us foxes, but the many bison, the mighty bears, the practical rodents and the agile birds.”
Nutaralak looked around the village again. It had seemed uninhabited, but in truth the village was full and busy with life. Birds chirped and chatted atop the roof tops of the houses. there were squirrels and minks and rats and mice running around, and when she peered into a window she saw the shape and form of a large bear. These animals seemed to live together.
“Amazing,” Nutaralak said.
“Not really. It’s just home for us,” the fox said, coming up beside her.
“Do you all live in the trees?” Nutaralak said.
“We take care of them, and they take care of us. We don’t “live in” houses like you seem to be thinking, rather we exist beside them and form relations with them. We coexist together,” the fox explained.
“How do you know what I’m thinking?” I asked.
“I just know. You’re allowing me to know, offering me to know and I’m accepting. I’m sorry, this would be much easier to explain if the language we’re sharing had the right words.”
“No, I’m sort of getting it…you’re not speaking, then?”
“I am, just not the way you find normal.”
“Then this mind sharing, or rather mind give-and-take…I’m doing it too?”
“Is it something that can only be done in the woods?”
“No, but it’s done more often here. Theoretically, it could be done everywhere. But it’s easier here, and not everyone knows how to use the thoughts trade outside of here. If you know how to take thoughts you still need someone to be offering them. If you’re offering your thoughts free to share maybe there’s no one who knows you’re doing it. Talking the way you know how might be easier where ever you’re from.”
“It’s still really cool, though.”
Nutaralak looked back at the grizzly pelt. “Did, um, did that fur belong to a someone who could talk?”
“We don’t judge sapient or non-sapient, here. He was a bear, and whether he had thoughts to offer or not didn’t make him more or less a bear for us. He died at age 24, just a week ago. Killed by the wingdigos,” then the fox giggled. Nutaralak looked at him surprised.
“I’m sorry, even though the topic is somber, the pun still makes me giggle. We call them Wingdigos because they are descendants of the ancient Wendigo, but have wings. But anyway, are you hungry?”
“Yes,” Nutaralak said. Wingdigos, eh? She didn’t know who Wendigo was, but she could guess that Wingdigos were probably those harpies that tried to steal away the baby bison. “I fought some. There were around seven of them, but they’re all dead now.”
“We know. The bison had told us. You have our thanks. Now Atertak has been avenged,” said the fox and they walked towards another fire. Nutaralak could see a bear, a caribou, another fox surrounding it. There was a pot atop the fire.
“I’m sorry for your lost,” Nutaralak said.
“It’s sad, but we know he’s okay. The spirits came to take him to the other side, leaving his body here for us to do as we needed,” the fox said.
“Wait, I never asked. What’s your name? And what of these spirits?” Nutaralak said.
“I am nameless. Not all of us have names. If I’m needed, they call for me and I know it’s me their calling. What’s yours?”
“That’s a good name. And the spirits are our guides in this cold world. They watch us, collect and store our stories and tell us tales of our ancestors. They are the ones who taught us to only take from the bodies of the deceased and only fight off the evil spirit-born, like Wendigo and his descendants. We used to hunt for our survival, much like the Humans before us.”
“The humans!” Nutaralak said. “Those were my ancestors!”
“We guessed so. You don’t look like a white human, or an elf so you had to be an ancestor of them,” the fox said. “It’s been so long since one of your people came to these woods.” They came to the fire. The bear saw them and carefully opened the pot with two paws. “We saw that you had a beast’s arm in your pack and it was starting to go bad. We cooked it for you. I hope you don’t mind, but it was too valuable a delicacy for us to waste.”
“No, I don’t. But I’m not from here,” said Nutaralak. The bear scooped up a stew with meat in it into a bowl and handed some over to her. She took it gratefully. “I’m from the south, in the hilly grasslands of Irilland. I came here following a vision.”
The other animals’ ears perked up and they all turned to face Nutaralak. The fox took the bowl away from her. Nutaralak protested but the fox simply put it down beside him and said, “A vison?”
“Yeah. In it, there were playing children around a campfire and then a snake under a tree told me to come here. Then that dream brought me to what I think was the open plains just, um, I think East of the forest. And when I came here I found this at the spot in my dream,” Nutaralak said. She pulled out the horn of antler from her pocket.
The fox sniffed the horn. “That’s a toy children of your kin play with…and it’s freshly made, too. There must be more of you out there…”
The animals looked at each other and said nothing. However, she could feel that they were “talking” to one another, thoughts and ideas were being handed out that she was barred from having. She cleared her throat.
“Um, can I have some water? I’m still very thirsty,” she said.
The fox looked to his comrades for a little bit, then back at Nutaralak. “Water, yes. But I can’t let you have a taste of this stew.”
“But, why not? It was made from my meat!” Nutaralak said as the bear picked up her bowl and poured its contents back into the pot.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t eat just yet. Follow me, I’ll bring you to speed and some water,” the fox said.
Nutaralak walked with the fox to another part of the village. She was impressed by how large it seemed to be. Did the spirits help make the forest? Did the trees obey them> Did the animals somehow make the village themselves? She had so many questions, but the fox talked as they walked and Nutaralak listened silently.
“The animals owe much to your human ancestors. They knew and followed the truth, that all living and non-living things were connected to the spiritual world, for all things have spirits. This is still true, and truth remains truth even in absence of those who follow it.”
They came to large lake. It was beautiful: the night sky’s moon and stars glistened off the surface of the lake, surrounded by trees which were twisted so that they would have been frightening and wrong if Nutaralak didn’t know the reason they were like this. As she cupped her hands and scooped water to her face to drink the fox continued:
“It is said that your ancestors were defeated by the white men and that their culture had been too. It is true that many of your ancestors were killed by the white humans and elves. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’ve known that all of my life,” Nutaralak said.
“It’s true that there are few, maybe even none of your fellow people who follow the old knowledge of spirits and shamans. But what they believed in remains true, even so, and the practice they had created hasn’t died off. Our ancestors, the foxes and bears and so on, were already followers of the old ways in our own way, so the culture would have survived without the humans. But it is because of your ancestors that we have a new and better way to live and a relationship with the highest spirits. Your ancestors had powerful shamans to connect with the spirits and open communication to them. There were so many shamans that the spirits did not need to speak with the lower castes directly, let alone us animals. But soon, there would be fewer and fewer followers of the spirits.
The last of the followers sought these woods, the Kutikiy forest. They planned to live here and begin anew. The invading white men and women had destroyed much of their customs, but they were always willing to begin anew even if their fall had been a great one. They planned to name their community Nutaralak.”
“That’s my name,” said Nutaralak.
“It means, ‘baby.'”
“What?” Nutaralak said, indignant.
“Your ancestors believed a new beginning was worth everything. The name Nutaralak symbolized a new potential, the possibility of growing up into something grand, and making their mark in the world.”
Nutaralak considered this. She thought about her life, and how wonderful it had been. She thought of her many adventures, her family of serpents, humans, and many other friends. She thought of her battles, victories and accomplishments. She wondered, when her parents left her near the home of two serpents with the word for baby written next to her, did they know what that baby would grow into? What she would become? Did they hope for this?
The fox spoke again: “The dream to make a new village was lost: they were forbidden from entering these woods again by the white men and evacuated. Before that, however, they made a decision that would change the Kutikiy woods forever. The people made one request to the spirits. They spoke thus: “We are in danger of becoming a disenfranchised people…our descendants may be forbidden from the knowledge we share; of the spiritual world and how to respect it. Before that, however, we have one request: open the path of communication between the animals of this woods. Give the knowledge of the spirits, and the wisdom of us and our ancestors before us to them and let them continue where we leave off. Please give them more of a chance than the invaders have given us.” And with that the spirits did as they were asked to, and opened up bounds between spirits and animals. They taught us how to live as we do now: in happiness and together.”
Nutaralak sat down as she heard all of this. So this was the truth she sought. The story of her people: a lost tale she could never have hoped to learn of in books written by the “winners” of war.
“I share my name with my ancestors’ hope…” she whispered herself.
“Yes,” the fox said. “I’m happy you know our story now, and one of the stories of your people. It’s the spirits’ favourite one to tell.”
“It’s a very good one,” Nutaralak said.
“I agree. But now, we have work to do.” The fox then walked up to Nutaralak. “Usually, a vision is a peek into the world of spirits, a dream or hallucination, a medium the spirits use to tell you what you need to know…and then it ends.”
When he was close enough, the fox stood on his hind legs. Nutaralak suppressed a giggle. He looked cute. He leaned to her shoulder.
“However, your dream was different. It wasn’t just a peek into a spirit’s words, or a visit from one. Your dream took you into the world of the spirits…the world of the dead. The snake you saw was your spiritual animal that has been with you since you were born.”
Nutaralak had been left in the care of serpents. She could see in the dark. Her spirit animal being that of a snake…it wasn’t unbelievable at all.
The fox continued: “And those children by the campfire are the spirits of those yet to be born and they are in great danger.”
Nutaralak stopped smiling. “Wait, What?”
“The spiritual guides told us of this danger: in their realm there is a system for the creation of a soul: the physical plane is looked at to see if there is a need for them. If a thousand pieces of sand clump together and make a sandstone, a spirit for that sand stone is made and sent off into the world to join the spirit of the sand. This is easily understood enough, but there are ways to make spirits that are harmful to whatever they inhabit.
Right now, there are very few of your people left in the world: perhaps less than tens of thousands. However, child spirits are being made. Their purpose isn’t to inhabit a child’s body, but to inhabit an ideal: wrath. Their is much hate for your people in the world: those who know nothing of your ancestors belittle them and make life for their descendants like yourself very difficult. To offset that hate, to counter the horrible treatment your people of whom the spirit world has an affinity towards, something is being created, and the spirits can’t stop its creation.
That thing is wrath, spite, violence and all the hate that is produced in the minds of those belittled. The hate is not only directed at those who belittle the memory of your ancestors, but also that very memory itself: the memory of a people their descendants are ashamed to be associated with. And the children dancing in the woods? They are about to be transformed into the evil spirits and possess the bearers of that hate.”
The fox paused. He stepped back and let to allow Nutaralak to ask questions if she wished, but she was still and quiet, processing what she had heard.
“You, Nutaralak, were brought here by your spirit animal. Your spirit animal brought you into the spirit world, which is no small task and with many risks to itself. Your spirit animal wants you to perform a task. Me, bear, deer and the other fox believe that you must save the spirits. Tonight, while you are still weary and hungry, so that you may again have a vision and enter the real of the dead.”
“Saving people?” saving people was right up Nutaralak’s alley. If this were her task, she accepted. But how? “How do I save the children?”
The fox furrowed its brow and looked down. “I don’t know.”
The two of them sat in quiet. Then Nutaralak said, “Can’t you ask your spiritual guides for help? They’re the ones who brought me here, weren’t they?”
“No. Our spiritual guides always said that it was very unlikely the children could be saved, and seemed to be resigned to accepting their fate. Your animal brought you here to complete the quest on his own, probably not consulting anyone. In any other situation, none of us would do anything behind their back, but the thought of those child spirits becoming something far worse than the wingdigos… I will help you even if I must do it under the spirit world’s detection, but if we fail and are found out I will take all of the punishment for my village if I can. That’s why the animals with us at the fire made a promise not to tell anyone of this, so the rest of the village could be free of blame.”
“That’s brave of you. So, my spirit animal is doing this without anyone knowing? That’s brave of him, too.” She took out the antler horn from her pocket. “I want to save the spirits…”
She indicated her horn to the fox, who nodded. She blew into it. The sound of three voices called into the sky, echoing around the many trees. The fox watched her as she blew into it. Then he stood up.
“The symbols!” he said.
Nutaralak stopped blowing and looked. She had forgotten about the symbols written on the horn. They glowed now, visible in the night.
“What do they say,” she said, excitedly. She held it close to the fox, who read it.
“It’s barely legible…but one of them looks like a symbol for the word ‘BECOME’ while the other looks like it says…it’s not what it means, but in the language we’re speaking the closest is ‘ANGEL’ or ‘MESSENGER’ or maybe ‘SLIDER.'”
A “slider” was someone who could enter parallel universes or other realms.
“More specific, it means something that is capable of traversing through the bounds between the realm of spirits and this one. The being is believed to be a being of benevolence and the opposite of wrath and hate. It is filled with love for the forest, love for creatures and love for the world itself,” the fox explained.
Nutaralak thought about this for a moment. Then she decided what she would do.
“I think I have to become this being,” she said.
“What? That’s impossible!” said the fox.
Nutaralak looked at the horn. She grasped it in her hand and brought it to her face. “I think this horn is important. If all things have spirit than so does this horn. I think I can get information from the spirit of this horn.”
“Trading knowledge with a non-living thing? That’s beyond anything we have ever accomplished. We’ve done it with insects, fish, even trees. But never a stone, or a dead twig, or soil…”
“I’m going to blow into this horn, fox. Focus on the sound. If it offers you any idea, knowledge, or anything at all…it’s up to you to get it for me.”
With that, Nutaralak blew into the horn, letting the sounds echo out into the woods and over the lake. The fox first simply stared. But something surprised him and he perked his ears and closed his eyes. After a while he told Nutaralak to stop.
“What did you hear?” said Nutaralak.
“It told me to tell you…hold the horn, think of the snake…and walk into the water?”
Nutaralak nodded and, without a word stripped naked.
“You can’t go in the lake! You’ll freeze!” said the fox. But Nutaralak, cold and hungry and very tired, walked into the lake. The water was ice cold and when it touched her skin she flinched. But she did not stop her stride and walked until she was completely submerged.
And then I open my eyes and see that I am in a dark woods. The trees aren’t twisted up like those in the village of animals…they have low branches and deciduous maple leaves. I am still naked, but that doesn’t matter to me now. I still hold the horn in my hand.
“I am here,” I whisper.
“I know” is the answer. I look down and find the source of the low and familiar voice. Two snake eyes glare at me from under a tree.
“You’re my spirit animal.” I say.
I can’t see its head, but the eyes blink once, the same way a serpent confirms a ‘yes.’
“You want me to save the children spirits,” I say.
“Yesss…I have been with you for your whole life, Nutaralak. I made sure you were found by good serpents, for I know which are good and which are bad and I sent you to the best there were in the area. I have watched you grow into an amazing child, a true warrior and adventurer. I am so proud, child.”
I feel tears in my eyes. I’m reminded of my parents, my mother and my father. “Let me see you, please.”
“I cannot. Not yet. I must remained unseen, for I am defying the spirit world to give you a chance to save the children. I, like most spirit animals, know very well about the malice borne of hate for your ancestors. I have spoken many times with the spirit animals of people like you, descendants of the Northern People. They have told me of how their children grow bitter towards the memory of their ancestors and lash out against the world. I feared you would too.
But I have seen you face off against many threats! You have accomplished many tasks deemed impossible, defeated foes thought to be unbeatable, befriended those no one else would approach and saved many lives.
When the shame against your ancestors began to take you too, I knew I had to step in. I first took you here.”
“Here?” I say. The eyes turn slightly, indicating to my right. I turn and see the campfire. I didn’t know it was there because I didn’t hear any cheering of playing children.
“Then, I showed you a vision. That vision was made from the memories of a child like you. The previous owner of the cabin you resided in for the past few nights. That horn belonged to him. He was killed by his drunken father, a disenfranchised Northern Man who was consumed by the hate we are fighting against.”
I look down at the horn. It was a symbol of my ancestors. I imagined the boy blowing into his toy horn and his father hearing the sound of a people he resents…his people…
I ask my spirit animal, “How do I save the children?
“I will give you a gift: a gift any spirit animal can bestow their child but the child must be worthy. Nutaralak: you are more worthy of this gift than any person I’ve ever known. Place your hand beneath the tree.”
I lay down on my knees and place my hand into the roots of the tree. I feel a sharp pain as my spirit animal bites it and wince. An energy flows from my hand into the rest of my body. I can feel my body transforming from its human form into a different one; a body more energy than flesh. I can see my body turning into a blue flame, intensely hot but also colder than any snow or tundra. And more than anything, I can feel the power of hope: I am a being of pure hope.
“Now go,” my spirit animal says and disappears into the darkness of the roots. “You may go to them now. Give them something else to be…”
I make my way towards the campfire, where I see the children are still there. But they are not playing, or dancing. Their faces are devoid of any emotion. I can see that their skin is beginning to pale. But I make my presence known to them there is a bit of wonder in their eyes as they stare into the brilliance of my flames.
“I am hope” I say it aloud, and as impressive as I can manage, which turns out to be very impressive indeed. My voice booms across the camp and beyond. I may have made the entirety of the realm known to my being here.
“Why are you here?” said one of the child, though he sounds not like a child and more like a creature of the night. A creature I would normally fight against…slay…
“I am here to make you chose a different course. I am a being of hope, love of life, and love for the world. If you become spirits that would bring such things, you may become my spirits.”
“We would not be at home within you. We are spirits of wrath and despair and hate for this world and all who live in it,” said one of the children.
“For what purpose would we join you? If we did, we could not change how the world treats the memory and descendants of the Northern People. It is not in your power,” said another one.
“You do not know just what is within my power! I have done many things. I saw a world where there was only snow and bleakness and recognized the beauty of it. I traversed the forest of beasts and death and discovered the brilliant animals in its hidden village. And with you, I will bring a new face to represent the memory of the Northern People! Come with me, and become something far more powerful and far more uplifting than the spirits of useless hate!” I said.
The children were quiet. Then, they came to me, one by one. I saw their faces changed when my brilliant light engulfed them. I saw the dread in their eyes dissolve into wonder and hope, I saw their sad pale forms transform to brilliant light. And then it was done.
The fox waited by the lake all night. It was almost sunrise when Nutaralak came up from the lake, gasping for air. She swam for the shore and ran from the frigid water’s grasp. The fox dragged the bear’s pelt to her and she wrapped it around herself.
“H-How m-many bear furs d-d-does this vil-lage have?” she said, smiling but shivering.
“What happened?” said the fox.
“It’s done.” Nutaralak said, simply.
“…It is? Really?”
“Really.” She smiled. She produced the horn of antler. It was no longer glowing.
The next day, Nutaralak slept on a pelt bed by three bison in a warm house of twisted tree. She slept until noon, and then packed her bags.
She spoke with the fox, whom with she had become great and loyal friends.
The villagers led her to the edge of the village and the fox and a pack of wolves protected her through the Kutiky forest. During the walk, Nutaralak and the fox spoke about some loose ends while the wolf listened in, interested.
“So, are you an angel now, or have you become human again?” the fox asked.
“I think I’m mostly human…but my spirit feels different, if that makes sense.”
“Well, you have many spirits of hope and love within you right now, if what you told me is true. A regular human would burst from that.”
“I don’t know…maybe.”
They wandered in silence for a while. “Do you think I’ll ever see my spirit animal’s face?” Nutaralak asked.
“There should be no reason to hide the next time you have a vision. But you shouldn’t seek him out while you’re awake: vision quests are taxing,” the fox said.
“These past few days have been taxing, especially last night. But I like it here. Still, I can’t wait to sleep in my own home tonight.”
Finally, they made it to the edge of the forest. Nutaralak could even see her old trail coming from the cabin. She said her goodbyes.
“Will you be okay?” she asked the fox.
“I don’t know if the spirits know of my involvement in the freeing of the children. But if they do, I hope that they shall be lenient.”
“I hope they treat you like a hero,” Nutaralak said, smiling. She hugged the fox, and then turned to leave.
Within half an hour’s trek she was at her cabin. She ignored the coyotes, who all seemed to stare at her but didn’t seem to want to approach her. She packed her things and began to make a fire out in the back.
Soon, the giant hawk saw her smoke signal and came down to take her home.
I’ll be back home soon. Now that I’m in the air, I am at the same altitude as the ganders. I give a mock caw and they respond. The ground beneath me is white, but not as white as it was before I came.
I’ll be home soon, eating with Mamba Agwo and telling him about my amazing adventure. He’ll probably wish he could have somehow been with me, even though he would hate the snow. He’ll be as happy as I am now when I tell him that I have found myself.
There was never a part of me I should have been ashamed of. I feel nothing but pride at the whole of what I am and I will share my pride with the world. I will spread hope to those who have none, and encourage love for this world no matter what ugliness rears its head.
Not that I won’t smash down on that ugliness myself; I still have my hammer in my bag.
The world is brimming with amazing things, some in the past, some yet to be formed. I want to discover it all.