Sunday, Sep 23rd

Last update02:43:24 PM GMT


Shelly Vo

The wolf looked at the thicket of large trees that encased the entire forest in an abysmal shadow. Its eyes flashed up as it heard the sounds of leaves rustling, hooves pounding on the dirt. A large elk accompanied by a deer, presumably its wife, ran out of the bushes, letting out distressed noises. Soon after, a shadow jumped from the dark green shrubbery, silver streaks flashing into a blur.

The figure pounced on the elk, pinning it down and quickly throwing another blurry object at the deer running for its life. It landed to the ground with a thud, a pool of crimson blood slowly encircling beneath it. The wolf stared as the hunter came into vision as a young man that wore a feathered headdress, his face covered by a circular mask with a peculiar design. He slit the elk's throat with a swift and elegant swipe of his blade and watched as the blood spilled out. The wolf came down from the slope and sat next to him, staring at the prize. It then let out a small quizzical whining noise, nudging the elk.
"Father's expecting this; sorry, but you can't have this one today. Take the deer though, I'm sure it'll fill you up to an extent," the young man spoke up. The wolf snorted before walking towards the deer, clamping its canine jaws in the hilt of the knife and returning it to the hunter. He took it, placing it in his satchel and stood up, heaving the elk up over his shoulders. The blood was still fresh, but it was not going to be a mess to carry around. After all, it would be unwise to leave a trail of his location. He trekked back to a small hidden settlement deep in the woods, where there was little sun and time was the least of their worries. The sound of wood crackling from the red fires was a comforting sound in the small settlement. It was the sign of the tribe being together, as well as dinner time. Another young man sitting near the fire looked up as the man brought in the elk. He smiled, shaking his head before resuming his job in making leather for the blacksmith.
"Your father is expecting you," the man said, not looking directly at the other man carrying the cadaver. "But he's in a meeting with the neighboring tribe. Just set the meat over there." He was pointing at a wooden table set up near a number of tents, a woman and her husband cutting bloody chunks of animal flesh, blood dripping onto the earth. He walked toward them, setting down the elk with a grunt.
"Ah, it's good to see that you are doing well," the woman garbed in black said to the hunter, smiling crookedly. "A fine hunt it seems, but when has anything ever gone wrong with you, my dear?"
"I...thank you," he said rather nervously. "I heard that my father is busy with a meeting of some sort. Is that correct?"
"Why yes, Prince Shikoba; Ujarak is speaking to our neighboring tribe's leader in seeing how our alliance is holding up."
"If you ask me, I think Quidel makes a better businessman than a leader; the man has no backbone whatsoever, always relying on his advisor for everything," the older man grunted in disapproval. "But I guess we can't do much about it since he is under Ujarak's protection."
The three at the wooden table turned to see a young man, around Shikoba's age running up to him and hugged him, surprising the elderly two adults. Shikoba looked around frantically as the clan was staring at them.
"Antinanco! People are staring!" he pushed him away. "Remember your place here when entering our tribe's vicinity," Shikoba glared at him. Antinanco smirked.
"Fine, I guess we have to wait until school, huh?" Antinanco said, looking up at the canopy of trees. "Hey, Shikoba?"
"What?" Shikoba was already preoccupied by cutting off the limbs of the elk. The elderly couple insisted that they take care of the meal as he should spend time with the allied tribe's prince's bodyguard.
"Let's go up to the canopies," he said with exuberant excitement. "We could probably see the school from there." Shikoba hesitated but sighed and followed Antinanco into the dark forest, climbing up a large tree, swinging from branch to branch. Antinanco made it up a few branches before looking around skeptically.
"Something wrong?" Shikoba asked as he caught up with him.
"I smell foxes." Shikoba blinked underneath his mask, looking around. Foxes, one of the tribes. Well, not technically the tribe name, but their animal that represents the clan. Clans are not known by their names but rather the animal associated to them. For instance, Shikoba is part of the Hawk clan while Antinanco is part of the Elks. The other clans consist of the Fox, Wolves, and the Serpents. Antinanco drew out his bow carefully, moving closer to the large tree trunk for cover and peeked out.
"Two scouts. I thought you guys had a peace treaty going on between the tribes," he whispered to Shikoba.
"There are Vagrants in every tribe, you know," Shikoba looked at the scouts. They were definitely Vagrants--rebels--from the Fox tribe. The pelts on their waist were dyed blue instead of the original orange that represented their tribe, eyes were searching the area with wild looks of savages.
"One for each?" Antinanco suggested. Shikoba told him to standby as he scaled up the tree, reaching the canopies, hidden in the thicket of dense green leaves. Not far from the two Fox Vagrants was three more. Of course; they would never be alone. Shikoba dropped down back on the branch quietly next to Antinanco.
"No go; there's five of them and two of us. Plus, I don't want to get into Vagrant affairs right now. We still have to form pacts of alliance with other tribes like the Serpents." Antinanco placed his bow on his back, motioning Shikoba to go down the tree first as he followed behind him.
"Why the Serpents? What are the shamans going to do? Cast some voodoo magic on the rest of the clans?" Antinanco rolled his eyes.
"...My mother was a shaman," Shikoba said monotonously. Antinanco was taken aback and remained silent as they trekked through the forest, heading back to the tribe. As they passed the entrance, Shikoba saw his older brother beckoning for him to come over near the fire. Antinanco decided to let the brothers talk and went back to Quidel in the Counsel Hall.
"What's up?" Shikoba asked.
"I need to tell you something, but I don't want to alert the rest of the clan," he looked over to see the other members shifting glances towards the two. "C'mon, let's go to the gardens."
"The wind will pick up our whispers, Brother," Shikoba said gravely. "If it's so important, why don't you tell Father?"
"That's the problem, because what I'm going to tell you will definitely ignite a fire in this sector." They reached the garden filled with medicinal herbs surrounding a large tree bearing apples for the Gods. Shikoba saw a beetle on its back, struggling to turn right side up at the foot of the tree and walked towards it. He was never fond of insects but found himself picking it up and placing it on the tree.
"Listen carefully, Shikoba. There's something going on about the Vagrants--"
"Speaking of which, I saw a group of them not far from the border," Shikoba mentioned.
"Then my speculations may be right," he contemplated. "Brother, I'll be blunt: the Vagrants may start an all out rebellion towards all the clans soon. Did you manage to see their weapons?"
"No...just that the Fox Vagrants had blue pelts. But that's normal, right?"
"Follow me," he motioned him to follow him behind the Tree of the Gods. Shikoba stifled a gasp as there was a Vagrant Wolf lying on the floor.
"Brother! You know it's against the rules to bring the deceased here!" Shikoba was appalled. His brother was never one to break the laws of the tribes. True, he was a bit more rebellious than the others, but it went too far.
"He's not dead, just unconscious right now. But take a look at his weapon," he knelt down and lifted up the poncho. "He's armed with a gun. A gun. I think you know what this means, Brother."
"And you don't want to warn the rest of the tribe?"
"I don't want to spread chaos throughout the tribes. We don't know who's supplying the weapons--" He suddenly drew out his blade. "Hunters." Shikoba turned around to see a man clad in shaman robes with a strange mask not representing any clan standing before them. A Serpent?
"State your name," Shikoba glared at the masked man.
"What you have said is a sign of the end of our era, Son of Ujarak. The whispers has reached the wind; the seeds of chaos as been sown. All shall know." The brothers stared at the figure as the wind suddenly picked up. Leaves of all colors swirled around them as the shaman took a step back before throw particles in the space between them. The salts started to burn the ground as a fiery figure rose.
"What are you doing? A shaman should know better than to summon a familiar in a sacred area!" Shikoba's brother shouted, bearing fangs. The shaman held up his hand.
"I am no shaman--I am a Vagrant Serpent."
"Son of a--" Shikoba drew out his blade. The Vagrant's familiar emitted a low growl before lunging itself towards the brothers. Shikoba jumped back and turned to see the Vagrant behind him with a staff. He swung his blade recklessly as the Vagrant dodged.
"Stay your weapons away from each other."
All heads turned towards the tree where a young girl was standing, dressed in a variety of feathers, pelts, and beads representing all the remaining tribes. The Vagrant slowly backed away as the girl walked towards the three.
"The rebel of the tribe Serpent," she started. "What good will it do to attack a brethren?"
"Folly," she shouted at him with a venomous tone. "It is your kind that taints the last of us. You disappoint me."
"Very well then," the Vagrant bowed, hesitantly leaving. "No one dares go against you, Lady Soul." As the Vagrant left, Soul walked toward the unconscious Wolf and picked up the gun from his holster before shooting it towards the Serpent Vagrant.
"Lady Soul!" Shikoba's brother was appalled. She turned towards him.
"There is no other way; the end of our own era is coming to an end. There's only a few clans left in this forest, and technology from the outer world is reaching towards us. The Vagrants already have obtained firearms from an unknown outside source, we're no match against them with such weapons."
"So what do you suggest?" he asked, crossing his arms.
"You and your brother, as well as the bodyguard of the neighboring clan's son have access to the outside world, yes?"
"I don't like where this is going."
"In every victory, there is a sacrifice. I have already told the other clans about what's going on, I hope to see that you receive answers as soon as possible." With that, Lady Soul disappeared behind the tree, never to be found again. The brothers looked at each other before heading back to camp to see their father, Ujarak standing before the hearth. The two stood next to him, staring at the flames dancing in the cold crisp night air, warm colors flickering onto their skin.
"Lady Soul told me what happened. I think that the era of the Tribes would end like this--our own people against each other. Is this what a civil war feels like?" Ujarak pinched his the bridge of his nose. "We finished all the pacts and now this. Will life ever be simple for us, or are we bound to a curse by our ancestors?"
"Father..." Shikoba placed a hand on his father's shoulder.
"I'm fine, Shikoba. You two should get some rest before heading out to the city tomorrow for your recon mission." The brothers nodded and headed towards their tent, Shikoba finally taking off his mask and looking at it, letting his hand trace over the decorative carvings. The Mask of the Ancestors. History will be lost on the Tribes one day. He knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, but it hit him so fast that he couldn't comprehend the entire ordeal. Shikoba sighed and placed the mask next to his pillow before falling asleep, the sound of the crackling fire and wood dimming from his consciousness.
The morning air was crisp, fogs of warm breath escaping from the nomads' painted lips. The sound of wood being chopped nearby woke up most of the villagers, including the sound of the birds screeching in the distance. Shikoba sat up from his bed roll and took a peak outside to see his brother already outside, sitting on a log in front of the small fire, chewing on a piece of venison. The younger walked towards him, wrapping a wool blanket around him.
"You should probably dress up soon," his brother said between chews, "Father wants to talk to us before we go to the city."
"I was just wondering what your opinion is on this whole epidemic," Shikoba sat down on the log, staring at the fire with sharp blue eyes--a birth defect that many saw as a "curse" from the gods as Ujarak married the shaman of the Hawks--Shikoba's mother, Zyanya. People believed that Zyanya was the daughter of the Gods as she had a mystical aura around her, as well as the fact that she could actually use the hidden powers of nature to help her aid others. The love story surrounding her and Ujarak depends on the eyes of the beholder. It could be seen as a romantic one or tragic.
Ujarak was next in line for the position of chief as the only son of the leader at the time, and the finest warrior in the Hawk clan. Zyanya on the other hand was originally from the Serpent clan and came from the north to act as an ambassador for the shamans before becoming the shaman of the Hawk clan due to the fact that the clan did not have one, causing a disturbance in the equality; each clan had to at least have one shaman as a mediator for the gods when performing rituals to appease. The two became acquainted through the chief at the time, slowly falling into a forbidden love that other members said to avoid at all cost. The only comparison to the outer world would be that it is equivalent if a nun was caught in an affair with a man; Zyanya was that nun. She was 'married' to the gods only to serve them, nothing else. But Ujarak saw it as a shackle from her true self and what she wants, telling her to do as she pleases. Of course, she grew up with shamans and knows very little of anything else besides the Tribes and Gods, as well as old customs. She was hesitant of the idea of marrying Ujarak, even when he took the status of chief of the clan. Torn between choosing to serve the gods or follow her emotions, she secluded herself in the gardens and meditated, seeking her answers through silence. She finally came to a conclusion that she would marry Ujarak but warns him of the consequences that will come, in which he knew already. Zyanya died after the birth of Shikoba due to a psychological disorder infliction that people believed was the consequence for going against the gods.
"My opinion on this? Just what Mother would say, 'Go with the flow and it will eventually lead you to where you want,'" Shikoba's brother handed a small piece of venison to Shikoba. He took it and nibbled on the meat. "What about you?"
"I don't know. I mean, we should embrace our culture, but we should also move on...I guess I'm sort of torn in between," Shikoba replied.
"Well, we know what Father wants, apparently."
"And what is that?"
"He wants the Tribes to exist, not to become some myth that people will see us as some kind of crazed group of people in the middle of the woods," he stood up, stretching. "Go get dressed and meet me in the Counsel Room." Shikoba did as his brother had told him and heading back to his tent, looking into the chest for the 'modern' clothes that he received for the recon mission. A white jacket with red, blue, and yellow accents, along with a pair of dirty navy jeans. As he dressed up, he almost reached for his war paint until he remembered how silly it would be for a teenage boy to be walking around with streaks of red paint on his face. He chuckled to himself at the mental image. How ridiculous that would be.
As he left the tent once more, he saw Antinanco standing by outside the Counsel, his black hair slicked back into a loose ponytail and green eyes scanning the area.
"Antinanco," Shikoba walked up to him. "You're coming with us too?"
"Apparently," he smiled wryly at the warrior prince. "Though I'm not sure why Quidel told me to go with you guys. I mean, Lady Soul said herself that it should be the sons of the birds, so I don't see why I'm here."
"You don't want to be here?" Shikoba tilted his head.
"It's not that. I just think its a bit redundant, this whole recon mission and all. People have different views on this crisis, but I think we should just move on from all this. We can't dwell in the past forever," Antinanco then beckoned him to follow him into the Counsel tent. Ujarak looked up from the wooden table, a thin sheet of leather spread out with a map drawn onto it. Antinanco pursed his lips, drawing a fist to them in contemplation.
"That district?"
"Do you know something about it?" Shikoba's brother asked.
"Cuauhtémoc, that district is where the first conflict started between the Wolves and the people of the outside world. If they know we're part of the Tribes, they will most likely execute us."
"Then I suppose it's the right place to look for information on the Vagrants," Ujarak nodded. "I have a contact in the city that will take care of you boys; be wary of your surroundings, as well as your actions. I bid you three the blessings of the gods." The three young men walked out the tent and headed up the slopes of the forest, hearing the sounds of nature fading behind them as loud sounds of engines zipping down the streets near the city made them cringe. Shikoba looked at Cuauhtémoc, seeing him tense up before taking out a sheet of parchment.
"Walden Street...near the library on Renzo Boulevard," he stuffed it back in his pockets. The three found themselves on the outskirts of the city, entering the small business area as cars were bustling pass them. It was rather quiet compared to other larger cities to the east, but they cared less about it. They had a mission to do. Upon walking down Walden Street, Cuauhtémoc took out the paper again to look for the address.
"What?" Shikoba looked at him, bewildered.
"That's all it says," Cuauhtémoc handed him the paper. He was right, all that was on the paper was the street names and 'fifth,' whatever that means. He looked around the area and saw a couple of young girls heading towards their direction. He walked up to them, surprising not only the girls, but as well as his brother and Antinanco.
"Excuse me, but can you help us with these directions?" he asked politely. The bespectacled girl adjusted her glasses and examined the paper.
"Walden Street on Renzo Boulevard...Fifth. Could it be the Fifth Café?" she looked at the other girl with long sleek black hair.
"It's the only building in the area with the word 'Fifth' in it. If you're heading for the café, just keep walking down the street and look for a small shop with umbrella-tables outside, you can't miss it."
"May I ask why you're going to the café? Are you studying over there?" the bespectacled girl asked rather exuberantly.
"Study?" Cuauhtémoc questioned. 
"Fifth Café is actually a popular place for the local students to study for the upcoming exams at Requiem Academy," the black haired girl pointed at the brooch on her blazer. "The most prestigious school in the district."
"Ah, we should probably hurry to the tutoring session!" the other exclaimed. "It was nice meeting you!" The two girls left as the boys looked at each other.
"Café?" Cuauhtémoc raised a brow.
"It's a place where people can buy drinks and light meals, as well as socialize," Shikoba explained.
"How do you know all this?" his brother crossed his arms.
"I came up here a few times before as an ambassador for the Wolves."
"Of course," Cuauhtémoc sighed. They walked down the street, seeing the townspeople mingling with one another. Such a sociable place--it made the three warriors uncomfortable. They were so used to a small area and little contact with others. Shikoba looked up to see umbrellas swaying in the soft breeze, teenagers around their age sitting at the tables outside with books on the circular table in front of them. They stared at the three young men as they headed in, following Shikoba as he seemed to know his way around the area. From behind, Cuauhtémoc heard them talking about the three.
"Ungrateful pieces of--"
"Cuauhtémoc!" Antinanco hissed. The elder grunted in annoyance before looking up to see a man at the counter smiling at them as they walked up.
"I assume you're Ujarak's mole?" Shikoba asked bluntly as the man merely smiled while nodding.
"Then you must be Shikoba and company. It's been a while," the man chuckled. "Haven't seen you boys since you were in diapers."
"...Do we know you?" Cuauhtémoc asked, raising a brow incredulously.
"You don't recognize your own uncle?" The two brothers nearly reeled back in surprise as Antinanco looked on, amused. "Don't tell me you forgot your own Uncle Ryder!"
"It''s been a while old man. I barely recognized you," Cuauhtémoc said quietly, still dumbstruck with surprise.
"Well I can't blame you. You guys were only three when we first met. How's your dad doing?"
"He's doing fine," Shikoba replied. "...Uncle Ryder, is there any information on our mission?"
"Well of course! Why else would you be here?" he motioned them I follow him into the back room of the café, opening into a large circular area with cushions everywhere, the air covered in a light fog of incense that smelled of a sweet odor. He told them to be seated, in which they complied and sat down, looking around.
"Guest room?" Cuauhtémoc smirked.
"You can say something like that. Now then," Ryder sat down across from them. "I'm assuming you guys already know what's happening around the Tribes."
"Vagrant population has increased in the past few months drastically, including the fact that they now possess firearms and who knows what else," Antinanco finally spoke up monotonously. "The reason why we're here is because we need to find out who is supplying the Vagrants and why under the direct order of Lady Soul."
"Your friend here is quite knowledgeable. But yes, that's basically the synopsis. You boys will go to Requiem Academy as students and find a connection to the weapons," Ryder nodded.
"Why the academy?" Shikoba asked, bewildered. "Is there a connection with the students and the Tribe epidemic?"
"'s a speculation; we believe that the students are affiliated in some way. Not only that, but some of them are Vagrants themselves."
"Vagrants? In the city?" Antinanco was appalled.
"I know, right? Total bullshit. You'd think they'd stay away from a city against the Tribes," Cuauhtémoc crossed his arms, sinking back into the cushion.
"Call bullshit all you want, it's a fact. Those students outside at the tables are undercover Vagrants trying to prove that I am a mole for one of the clans for the Tribes. Not bad for kids to get this far," he chuckled before coughing. "Here's  the keys to the loft. You're expected to go to school at six in the morning an meet here for work right after--your father's orders."
"Work?" Cuauhtémoc raised a brow. "What is this shit? Some spying crap?"
"More or less. But you guys should really go now before the others suspect something. I'll explain more when I can."
"What?" Cuauhtémoc looked at the shorter sibling. Shikoba was fiddling with his feather necklace--the feather of the legendary hawk that was the hunting partner of the first Hawk leader whose name has been lost through ancient times. At first, Cuauhtémoc has held the tribe heirloom for a while until he became of age to hunt along his father, but decided to give it to Shikoba. A 'sliver of the god's powers,' Cuauhtémoc said. Shikoba stopped and looked at his brother.
"We need aliases," he said before contemplating, pressing a finger on his jaw bone. He was never good at naming, especially since he was not used to the 'modern' names used nowadays.
"Is it really necessary? Can't we just say we're foreigners?" Cuauhtémoc crossed his arms. His talon claw tattoo was apparent from his rolled up sleeve.
"Our names are evidence that we're from the Tribes, and seeing how this town is an anti-Tribe area, it would be best not to allow our real name to be used to blatantly," Shikoba said calmly as he pulled down Cuauhtémoc's sleeve. "And hide your tattoo."
"This is ridiculous," Cuauhtémoc snorted.
"Everything is ridiculous," he said monotonously, looking up to see Antinanco. "Are you ready?" Antinanco nodded, pushing away from the wall.
"There was also something that...piqued my interest," he scratched his chin. "A few customers seem to be suspicious of us, which is not that surprising, but we should be on our guard. Also, I looked into the school we're going to and found its history quite...disturbing."
"Disturbing how?" Shikoba asked.
"Shikoba, I know that you've lived a sheltered life, but surely you've heard of the Requiem Warrior?" he asked, almost aghast. Shikoba couldn't tell whether he was horrified at the fact that he did not have a clue what Antinanco was talking about or the Requiem Warrior he mentioned before. 
"Like you said, I've been living a sheltered life; I have no clue what you are going on about but please, do hurt my manlihood," he retorted, crossing his arms with a disdain look on his face. Antinanco pursed his chapped lips before looking at the older brother who was occupied by the ceiling, as of he found it interesting.
"The Requiem Warrior was basically the first Vagrant, the one who committed treason against the Tribes by going away from culture and traditions. He sought aid from the local townspeople after being exiled and found it to his advantage that they had advanced weapons that surpassed the Tribes combined. The battle between him and the Tribes was known as the Battle of the Fallen. The Tribes couldn't hold much longer against the weapons Requiem had--that's when Solstice came along," Antinanco suddenly paused, twiddling with his thumbs. "Solstice was...close to Requiem before he turned into the first Vagrant. They were like brothers--"
"Get on with it," Cuauhtémoc growled in annoyance. Antinanco shrank and nodded, whispering a 'sorry' before Shikoba shot his brother a glare.
"Solstice managed to reason Requiem, or so he thought. Requiem made a deal with his friend, saying that he would surrender if Solstice will return to the outer world with him, to join him in exile. Solstice did not have much of a choice, so he followed Requiem, only to be murdered in the thickets of the wood--the same woods where Lady Soul resided. Infuriated, Lady Soul banished Requiem for good, even erasing his memories, but leaving a scar to remind him of his past life. Now, the people of the Outer World see Requiem as a hero for getting rid of the Tribes temporarily, but the Tribes see him as a taboo. Or something of the like," he sighed.
Cuauhtémoc looked away, annoyed.
"I'm going ahead to scout a bit. See you guys in a few. "
Antinanco sighed, tousling his hair before walking closer to Shikoba.
"There's also something else that worries me."
"Something that worries you? That's a surprise," Shikoba chuckled.
"I'm being serious here. You're my friend, and a good friend as a matter of fact."
"What are you going on about--?"
"Lady Night spoke to me in my dreams...she told me that you should be wary of your brother," Antinanco whispered, looking around to see if anybody was listening.
"Why? He's my brother--"
"And yet he killed you in your previous life."
Shikoba paused, staring at Antinanco.
"...We should get going," Shikoba said, shoving the other away as he stormed off.

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