The Burnt World of Athas

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The sun was a huge glowing ball of crimson flame in the western sky and the heat made Ler-Kinions tongue swell, filling his mouth.  His gaze swept across the pool of water that he had spent the last four days watching.  When he was finished the first thing he would do is slake his thirst in the waters of the pool.  He had been without any food or water for nearly seven full days and he was very weak from dehydration and exhaustion.

He forced his eyes back to the pool, knowing that if he missed his chance he would never get another.  A large drop of sweat, begriming its trials, rolled down the line of his spine, cutting a long track through the green and brown paints he used to camouflage himself against the trees of the Agafari wood.  "At least I am shaded" thought Ler-Kinion, the massive, spreading branches of the Agafari trees all around him.  "How can the merchants of the Dunes stand this heat out in the salt flats and sandy wastelands?" he asked himself.  "They must be madmen."

He settled down patiently, to await the noble beast, concealed behind both a large Agafari tree and much thick undergrowth.  He made his mind a vast blank expanse, it helped him to not think about his thirst and the pool of water that was within so easy a reach.

As his mind goes blank images begin to form, he sees himself at the age of five looking up at his father, a mighty hunter Noble and Judaga of Gulg.

"Ler-Kinion son of Kinion" he says, his deep, low voice causing a slight shiver of fear to run up and down the small boys spine. "You are my son and you shall be a mighty warrior and Judaga, as am I. Today begins your first lesson."

With that his father had thrown the spear that was always by his side.  It sank into an Agafari tree less than a hairsbreadth from his left ear.  He managed to control his shaking long enough to say,  "Yes father."

Ler-Kinions father was a hard teacher and brutal but he taught his lessons well.  Before his eighth Moon Ceremony, he was as good a hunter as many of the ones who walked the trees as Noblemen.  Yet he was no match for his father.  His father hunted with only his single spear and bone daggers and left the city with no retainers or supplies.  He had once seen the corpse of a Sloth creature his father had killed in the forest and it was marked only by daggers.  His father was truly one of the Noble hunters and he truly fit the title of Judaga that he held.

Ler-Kinion worked constantly as he grew and was as comfortable in the forest as he was in his city.  More comfortable in the forest actually.  his mind distracted, Ler-Kinions hand stole down to feel his totem.  The totem was beautiful, he had spent months sculpting it from the hardest Agafari branch he could find.  It was shaped in the form of a Kirre killing a Crodlu.

In his heart he knew that he was the Kirre.  The Crodlu his future prey.  He needed only to prove it to everyone else "When I return tonight I will have proven to them, not only am I Nobleman but Judaga as.."

His thoughts scattered like sand grains on the wind when he heard a slight sound in the brush by the pool.  He focused his eyes intently on the small patch of undergrowth that was rustling slightly.  He slowly moved his hands to the pair of bone daggers strapped on his waist which were, along with his single Agafari spear, the only weapons he had. Hands on the hilts of his daggers he waited.  The rustling grew louder and then suddenly stopped.  Ler-Kinion remained still.  The brush parted and the head of a Tigone emerged.  "Close"  Ler-Kinion thought, "but not the one I want"  Content his prey was not eluding him he settled down again to think.

He remembered the ceremony that had preceded this hunt.  He was chased from his Dagada early in the morning and through a long line of his neighbors, who were holding thick Agafari switches and using them to beat the young boy mercilessly.  He reached the end of the gauntlet and saw his father, his own switch in hand, standing just outside the gates of the city.  He passed the gates and heard them close behind him.  His father whispered to him "You shall be Judaga, remember your Honor"  Then his father raised the switch and in his deep voice chanted the same thing the neighbors had been chanting.  "Not a boy and not a man, leave our home."  Then he brought his switch down on Ler-Kinions back.  He held nothing back and Ler-Kinion felt as if he had been hit across the shoulders by a falling tree.  The thick Agafari wood snapped yet Ler-Kinion still stood.

"I shall not fail you father" he had said.  He then left into the forest.  He had been here now almost seven days.  The trial lasted but seven days.  If he did not complete his quest by the time Ral met Guthay in the sky tonight he would not be welcomed back to the city.  He must complete the hunt, he must return to the city with the Kirre.  He would be allowed back inside without it but he would be dishonored in the eyes of the Oba and, more importantly in the eyes of his father.  He blanked his mind once more, not wishing to imagine the shame in his fathers eyes if he finds that his son fails.  This time he succeeded in clearing his mind.  He once more settled back for a long wait.  The sun eventually lowered, its brutal life stealing gaze replaced by the glowing moons.  Ler-Kinions eyes focused on the reflection of the moons in the pond when once more he heard rustling in the brush.  Slowly, cautiously a sleek Kirre emerged.  The Kirres head turned left and right, its keen nose sniffing the air for danger, or prey.

Ler-Kinion silently moved through the brush, hands on his daggers, trying to circle around behind the creature.  He moved like a shadow in the night his deep black skin, hunting paints, and caked mud on his body making him virtually invisible.  He circled behind the drinking Kirre and drew his two bone daggers.  "I will be Judaga" he thinks.  Then "Oba protect me and make me strong" he prepares his move.

The Kirres head lifts from the water and it spins quickly around to face Ler-Kinion.  Perhaps it had heard the slight sound of his daggers rasping out of their sheaths.  Perhaps it had caught a sniff of him on a vagrant breeze, or perhaps it was pure instinct of a creature that had been hunted to near extinction by his kind.  The two moons were bright tonight and Ler-Kinion could see the beast clearly.  It was a young male, like himself, and powerful.  The gray and black striped coat gleamed like silver in the light of the moons and its eight legs tensed, the vicious claws on them extended.

Ler-Kinion moved into the light, knowing his surprise and all chance for an easy kill had been lost.  He and the Kirre circled each other each looking for an opening.

Suddenly Ler-Kinion felt a searing pain in his chest.  He looked down and saw that the creatures claws had scored a thin clean gash across his chest.  The Kirre was quick.  He needed to be quicker.  He lunged forward with his daggers slashing.  The beast met him and they battled fiercely for several seconds, finally the Kirre broke off to access its wounds.

His breath was steaming as the heat of the day quickly evaporated under the thin night air.  The beast lunged forward again suddenly and Ler-Kinion felt it score on his chest and leg.  They kept at it and this time it was Ler-Kinion who broke off, throwing the beast to the ground and scrambling away.  He had lost one dagger, his gaze frantically around for it and saw it stuck in the Kirres side.  Ler-Kinion looked down and saw four more slashes on his chest that were fairly minor.  He looked at his leg then and he gasped.  The Kirre had bitten away a chunk of raw flesh bigger than Ler-Kinions two fists, he was bleeding badly and knew the fight was, for him at least, nearly over.  He began a slow, fumbling run.  As he ran towards it the Kirre gathered itself to leap onto him, hoping to score with all eight claws.  As it leaped Ler-Kinion made a last ditch dive, twisting in midair to pass underneath the leaping Kirre, facing its belly and slashing his one remaining dagger across its underside, splitting it from jaw to groin.  He felt the creatures spiked tail rip across his back tearing him open.  He screamed in pain as he felt his consciousness being ripped away from him.

He opened his eyes and saw that the moons above him were nearly touching.  He looked quickly at his leg, a wound such as that had caused more men than him to bleed to death.  He sighed in relief and made a quick prayer to the Oba when he saw that the blood flow had been stopped by the heavy body of the dead Kirre that was laying across him.  His eyes searched the grove as he picked up his daggers and re sheathed them.  He had succeeded and now needed only to return to Gulg.

His hand reached underneath his krietcha and to his belt pouch.  He felt inside and found his totem.  He pulled it out.  A soft yellow glow lt his hand and the totem felt warm to the touch.  He smiled. "Thank you mighty spirit of the Kirre, may you aid me in the hunt from now until the moons collide" he spoke the words softly, reverently.  "I will use your power wisely and shall be the best Judaga since my father."  He stood shakily and assessed his wounds.  He had been slashed at least a dozen times and he felt a huge open gash on his back from the creatures spiked tail.  He looked down and saw a huge tear in the front of his Krietcha, he swallowed hard.  One of the Kirres claws had very nearly unmanned him.  He looked to the Kirre and saw that his daggers had scored more often than he and thought as well.  The kirre was marked with as many marks as he including the killing stroke across the belly.  He used his bone daggers to remove the horns of the Kirre.  He would use them to make his Judaga daggers, a sign of his title.

He walked slowly to the pool.  He gazed into it and it seemed that the two moons were gazing back at him.  Along with the two moons was a stranger.  The stranger looked a little like him except it was infinitely wiser than he could ever be and it was covered with its own  blood, a claw mark running across its cheek from eye to the corner of its lip.  A moment later the figure smiled and he finally knew who it was.  It was his father, bursting with pride of his son.  As he felt his heart soar inside of him he felt a smile of his own creep across his face.

Nels Anderson