The shaman’s eyes roved over the view. The high winds at this elevation buffeted him, whipping his loose red robe behind him. He smelled the water which meandered through the red earth below, and heard the screams of playing children as they splashed in its coolness and swallowed its power.
The rock on which he huddled was cold beneath his bare feet, and the forest behind him was abuzz with the cacophony of nature. He liked to come here often, this outcropping in front of the forest which lined the cliff overlooking stream and settlement. Verdant vegetation towered above the rocks and hanging trees gave the place a utopic feel. It was breathtaking from this point.
He fixed his gaze on the settlement in the distance. Some of the men were outside their tents while the women were preparing the evening meal,as evidenced by the growing number of fires. He even fancied he could smell the spices borne by the wind from the cauldrons which hung over the controlled fires. He felt rather than saw the men and women gazing surreptitiously at the sky, wishing away the darkness and its accompanying terror.
The settlement was beside the stream, so water was not a problem. The forest which grew around had ample supply of game. The valley was a beautiful place for his people, after all those years of aimless walking in the wilderness. But he didn’t like the place. None of them did.
As he fought for ever-eluding inner peace at this height, he also grappled with hate. Oh, how he loathed the dark-skinned people from the desert who made a game of the lives of his people. Their exodus had not been without bloodshed, and now the dark-skinned, horse-riding demons would usurp the land of his ancestry and eat the products of the good land.
Peace, he ministered to himself
But through the eyes of childhood, he still saw his father’s shocked eyes as the old shaman stood at the door of the tent,looking inwards. The shock in his noble and wildly painted face as his old wrinkled hands crept upward from his side until it encountered the point of the black arrow lodged in his chest. The arrow which had silenced him as he called for his young boy. He never even deigned look down to see the bringer of his death, even as the blood trickled down the sides of his mouth.
A screaming child brought the shaman out of his reverie. He examined the azure firmament above him without moving his head. No moon tonight. He thought he heard the howl of a wolf, and a slight fear gripped him. He stared farther away from the settlements, at the forest of trees which lines the great valley and through which the long river snaked to emerge in yet unexplored places. Places which had lain unexplored even though they were just less than half a day’s journey hence. The blue thin wall of light was there; the invisible boundary which defined the extent of his people’s imprisonment.
When the night came, a deathly silence settled over the settlement. The children caught on to the pervading apprehensiveness of their parents. The furtiveness was maddening. The fires outside had died after the thousands of the extant Agashi people had eaten their fill. The doors to the mud huts were locked, and families were huddled in the corner. The moonless dusk outside held the smell of horror and the coming terror.
The Shaman did not sleep,swallowed as he was in helplessness. Most in the village never did on these moonless nights. But there was a rampart in his mind, a small fortress which nursed a secret hope which he didn’t even allow to come to his consciousness for fear of discovery.
A tremble which announced the arrival of Qooqk began. It was the sixtieth hunt in the seventeen years of their pseudo-slavery. The demon had mastered the ways of terror,and announced his presence with maleficent spectacles. Two months before, during a moonless night, it was the wild hissing of a hundred snakes which washed over the camp before the destroyer came.
The shaman was not so afraid of the demon itself as for his people. He was the spiritual leader of the remnant of the once great tribe of hunters, and he could do nothing to come to their aid. He should be out there, but he was in his small hut, locked in with his young wife who barely suppressed her whimpers of fear. The heat inside the darkness irrupted.
The tremble aside ceased, and a faint thumping could be heard. Everyone knew what the sound was. The padded feet of the demon disturbed the sands as it went around the huts choosing its victim. Or victims.
It sounded far away from the centre of the village,but that was just part of the game, an illusion to be broken by its sudden manifestation. It loved the element of surprise, the taunts, keeping its unwilling slaves guessing which of them would become its sacrifice.
The howl of a wolf echoed from a great distance. All illusion, the shaman knew. The sweating began.
The first howls had come on that full-moon many years ago shortly after they had arrived here, when the shaman had begun his ministrations as a child, for he was a precocious one. The men had jumped in joyful agitation, most ready to seek out the strange howling animal. Armed with Iron spears, arrows, and cerated hunting knives fashioned from black ivory, they sprang towards the forest, their experienced feet making as little noise as possible.
By dawn, they found the wall. Scarcely any moonlight filtered through the think canopy ,and so they did not see the hedge with their eyes at first. Belom, the head-hunter had leapt straight into it. The small thudding sound as his head slammed into nothing was heard, and for a moment, there was a blue wall standing in front of them.
The others who lived afterwards described the sight; the leashes of lightning which embraced him from his point of contact with the wall, lifting the leader slowly as his screams and the aroma of burning flesh filled the air while they stood in utter shock and awe. Sorcery was not a strange art to the Agashi,but this was more awesome, and tinged with great evil.
The wall was never to disappear. The message was all too clear; no one was to advance beyond the ethereal hedge. The first hunt of the howling demon had begun on the very next moonless night.
The shaman heard the scream. It hadn’t begun yet. The scream only identified the victim. Before anyone around him would be the wiser, the chosen, uncontrollable in his madness, would open the door to his abode, inviting the demon inside for a feast of blood; that was how it happened in the last four huntings. Before that, it just materialized in the darkness of the hut among the huddled group and ripped them all to shreds. Sometimes it spared other people present. The shaman despised it for this sadism, allowing those present to watch the slaughter of their loved ones.
He didn’t care to see the demon, his bloodline was versed in magic, and ancestral memories of myriad devils were in his blood. He heard a door open, silence, then the screams of multiple voices. A roar rose above them, a round of heavy footfalls amid the screaming…and silence.
The young woman huddled in the corner of the shaman’s hut allowed her voice to rise in a muffled shriek.
The whole settlement knew when the hunt ended. The sounds of the night gradually filled the stone silence that accompanied the demon’s arrival, as though even the owls and cricket resumed their noise with trepidation.
The shaman felt heavy. In the beginning, he had stayed outside his hut in the nights of the hunting, eager to offer himself up as sacrifice, but Qooqk had avoided him. His bloodlines had produced five generations of Shaman’s before him, and he knew the demon could not waste its time unravelling the inherited wards which naturally protected him. He had seen the demon before. Still, the night-black,blurry mass of writhing fur which left a trail of thick smoke was a sight he did not care to remember.
But he now had a wife to cater for, and that had evolved his daring into protectiveness.
He stayed awake, arms around his wife until he heard the first loud wails announcing the victims.
Seven days later, Amik, the shaman of the agashi started from sleep. He cocked his head in the darkness,as though listening for something. Apparently satisfied, he shuffled to his feet from beside his sleeping wife, and exited the hut. The moon was gibbous and bright, and the sounds of the night were reassuring.
He moved silently through the row of huts near his until he reached the large clearing which contained the village square. At the centre was a large smothering bonfire. The children had been playing around a roaring fire the evening before, having blissfully forgotten the recent annihilation of a family. Amik touched his bosom while he stood before the warm glow of the dying fire as he paid yet another respect to his dead friends, Kur, and his pregnant wife.
The shaman untied the small pouch at his waist while an owl hooted somewhere in the distance, dipped his hand inside and brought it up again. It was filled with a light blue dust. He spoke into the powder and threw it into the dying embers. The finely ground leaves of the Abuli tree was a very potent fuel. The flames leapt with new energy.
He heard a sound behind him, but he didn’t turn. He was intent on concentrating on this conjuration. He felt his familiars drift away from him in fear, as the spirits divined his true purpose on this moonlit night.
Dekira, the shaman’s wife, watched her husband from the edge of the square. She considered that his destiny had been overshadowed by the coming of the demon. He only consulted with familiars whereas his father,according to lore, had dealt with much more. He was losing respect in the eyes of the tribe, though none could blame him for their captivity. As the years crawled by, the angst against the demon and their supposed shaman increased. He was a good judge, and a bad protector. But Dekira knew by the movement of her husband’s body that he was now undertaking a task of great daring. She had heard him moan in his sleep these past few moons. She had listened with a sinking feeling at the blasphemous things he had muttered against Qooqk.
She watched him. He raised his hands and spoke into the fire. He brought out more dust from another pouch. When it hit the fire, the flames turned blood-red and seemed to roar audibly. A small breeze arose, and with it a strange smell. She heard footsteps and turned around. More of the people, roused from sleep, were leaving their huts now. Gathering far around the square.
The shaman was lost to the world now. His eyes closed, he conjured an image of Selgar behind his lids. He had met the elephant god sometime during the last few moon on one of his astral excursions. In the valley of white ivory on the star called Dra, Selga ruled as king over a mighty and prosperous population of fantastic beings. He had entreated his help in ridding the Agashi of the malevolent Qooqk, for none of his familiars wanted anything to do with the god.
He had had to go to far because he feared that Qooqk might be dogging his steps. Selga had acquiesced to his entreaty for aid, and at a damning price. He had waited for these past few moons for the signal that would enable him begin the summons, and as he woke in the dead of this night, he knew it was time.
A howl could be heard in the distance. The shaman spoke the two secret names of Qooqk, inviting him to a feast. He uttered the secret appellation of Selgar, and summoned him to war. Soon, a shrill sound rent the air. The people gathered at a distance around the fire looked about in fear,but the Shaman knew it as the trumpet of the ivory-tusked elephant deity.
The shaman’s forehead broke out in a sweat. The coolness of the night seemed to flee from him. He heard whispers, his ears suddenly catching every sound. He looked into the flames.
Framed in the dancing flames of the red fire was the wolverine face of Qooqk.
His wife gasped at the image. She knew what it was. She turned her face away at the horror in the flames. The destroyer which had slain so many of her friends.
The shaman continued his spirited ramblings. The moon was gibbous tonight,so the demon would not feed. He was very aware of the gusto with which the demon would avenge this activity if it failed. He had staked his life on it and was absolutely terrified of the possibility of failure.
There was the sound of mighty footfalls from the jungle now. The ground actually trembled. The shaman stopped speaking, his strength drained. His nerves tingled with energy. He felt his wife and everybody else. He felt more like a spirit than a man. His eyes was trained on the fire.
The footfalls sounded near, as though some mighty giant was approaching…a pause, then he had the impression of the feet leaping of the ground, and the conviction that their owner had leapt into the fire,though the flames barely evinced it . Thunder rumbled above.
There was a roar from the fire. It stretched high into the air, the height of four men. At the very crown of the flames he saw Qooqk and the one known as Selgar. They were small, their flaming bodies lacking substance, but he knew it was merely symbolic of the deities. The two flaming figures joined battle at the top of the flames. The elephant using mighty limbs to pummel the wolf lower in the flames while the canine of the demon tore across the elephant.
The village looked on, spellbound as two deities grappled in the flames of shifting hue. The roars and trumpets erupted from the flames. The battle seemed to take an eternity, a vision of flaming figures and writhing tongues of fire. When the first golden threads of dawn stretched across the blue sky, the fire rose almost into the sky. The bottom of the flame left the ground slightly, revealing the hot ash beneath.
A full fiery elephant figure seemed to leap off the top of the wild fire. The head of the wolf could be seen following, about to disengage. Selgar suddenly fell back into the battlefield of fire, seemingly crushing the flaming version of Qooqk. The apparent force carried the two figures to the bottom of the fire, sending out a small shockwave and completely extinguishing the flame as they hit the ground. The roar from Qooqk was suddenly cut off. Dust rose and enclosed the prone shaman. The villagers gasped in fearful amazement, awed by the force of the last scene.
A chattering began, during which Dekira feared for her husband. The dust seemed to glow as the dawn quickly approached. As it settled, the source of the glow was now visible. The elephant alone, stood in the centre of the dust cloud. It was made entirely of gentle flames. There was no indication of the presence of Qooqk. Dekira and the others gathered instinctively thought of the translucent blue wall which surrounded the village within half a day’s journey. She yet feared to hope that the absence of Qooqk translated into the abolition of their terror. It was too much to hope for, for its veracity may usher them into a life of freedom from fear, a life which she had been too young to remember.
The Shaman felt the hedge disappear, far away as it was. He lifted his face and slowly got onto his knees, very aware of the presence in front of him. He raised his pale eyes to the elephant. His mind seemed to expand, his limits broken by the absence of the constraining wall of Qooqk. His knowledge increased, evincing unexpected details.
A shame, thought Amik, I shall never revel in it. Even now the elephant was undergoing a transforming. Moments later, the figure of a flaming man stood in front of Amik, hand outstretched. The fiery form stood somehow unsure,as though the battle it had won was now taking its toll. It was a most uncanny sight; one the Agashi would never forget.
Dekira watched her husband rise unsteadily to his feet. She longed to go embrace him, but she was held back by the flaming figure in front of him. Why was the victor still there? She didnt have time to contemplate a reasonable conclusion,shocked as she became, as the flaming figure thrust a hand into the Shaman’s chest. She heard her husband groan painfully. His body seemed to light up from within as gasps erupted from the gathered Agashi. A female voice even shrieked. Dekira looked on,petrified, as the glow in his body seemed to coalesce at his chest.
She understood the scene all too quickly.
A life for a life, the shaman thought through his pain. His magically enhanced soul for the destruction of Qooqk. It was more than he could have hoped for. He felt the life ebb from him, the myriad strands of consciousness congregating in his chest…in the hand of the flaming figure in front of him.
As his vision blurred into yellow dots, he thought of the children he would never have, and the child he would never see. The child whose life he had just detected within his wife. An heir she didn’t yet know that she carried.
Then came the part which would be told and retold with despair for generations to come. An audible ubiquitous sound,reminiscent of whispers, began sweeping through the village. The words gained weight in moments, until they resounded in a heavy cadence. The pronunciations struck terror into the heart of every man and woman. Along with the scene which was unveiled before them.
The flaming figure in front of the shaman suddenly reduced in intensity. From its chest, a curved point shot out. The fiery point moved upwards, patently slicing the figure of Selgar in two until it escaped from the top of the head. The villagers watched the destruction of Selgar in the light of that accursed morning. The two halves of the figure fell away to reveal the hulking form of Qooqk within. The demon was an abominable melange of spear-like jaws and writhing fur. Smoke seemed to form around him. The soul of the dead shaman hung suspended in the air now, and the wolf snatched it up into its mouth. The ubiquitous whispers stopped, and Qooqk spoke, his terrible jaws clenching and unclenching.
‘How attainable is it that mortal man would bring about the extinction of Qooqk Amineth, the deity of the forgotten peoples of unremembered isles. Qooqk, who in the beginning of days, established the moon of the dusk, and who shall quench it with blood when the end approaches. Qooqk is forever”
With that last, the beast sprang into the cold morning air, toward the petrified wife of the shaman amidst the wild screams of the now fleeing Agashi.
Sorry for any ridiculous typos 😥 typed the whole thing on my phone. Thanks for stopping by,really. I dinor know it reached 3k words, honest ( ._.)
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