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Author Topic: A Gundarakite Tale  (Read 396 times)

Snarling_Badger

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A Gundarakite Tale
« on: February 13, 2023, 10:38:13 AM »
Balance Shattered - A Gundarakite Tale

22 Years Ago...

Branch and thorn cut into her flesh like steel razors, but the feeling of warm blood trickling down her arms only hazily registered in her thoughts as she tore through the undergrowth. Above, only the faintest streaks of moonlight illuminated the woods through the oppressive branches of the oaks and pines that grew thickly about the rough ground she scrambled over. Her mind was ablaze with dread, fear, and panic.

The suddenness of her reality breaking was unfathomable. At any moment, she imagined that a cold spearpoint would pierce her back, her throat would choke up with hot burning blood, and she would be gargling out her last breaths as she fell into the muddy leaves. Instinct kept her legs moving, her chest pounding for air as she struggled to crest a rise in the woods, and the gasping breaths of the small form next to her were the only thing that kept her mind from shattering apart from the insanity of this black and horrid night.

The headlong flight of the two Rakoczifalva daughters into the Tepurch Forest would have been unthinkable a mere hour earlier. They had been at supper with their mother, a quiet affair for Gundarakites of modest means. The fire of their single room home crackled with a liveliness that stood in stark contrast to the small bounty of their meal. Onion and leek soup, with a few bits of crusty bread and dried pork. Typical fair, for most nights... and most mornings and middays, ever since their father had died in a construction accident. A forty pound stone block had crushed his head as it fell from a scaffold rope, improperly secured. The Red Vardo Traders that owned the worksite offered a pittance of condolences for their father's death; half the remaining wages of the month for his work as a stonemason. The family survived, however. They had kin in Zeidenburg. Kin watched after their own. Onion soup was enough to get by. It could always be worse, couldn't it?

They had been playing a guessing game with their dinner. Their mother would describe an animal, and the sisters would take turns pondering its features until they discovered its name. Simple amusements for simple folk. She had been puzzling a creature with four legs, that swam as well as a fish, but built like a man. The answer was on the tip of her tongue, but there was a distant buzzing, an angry hum, combatting her thoughts. The clattering of horse's hooves accented the roar, breaking the peace of the evening. The sudden, anguished screams from outside destroyed any hope of calm returning. Adrenaline had already pumped through their veins as their mother had rushed to the window, peering through the shutters. "Grab the satchels from the rack!" Her voice was sharp, wild and hard.

The sisters scrambled to follow her cry, but small hands fumbled as if grabbing at unpowdered dough. Leather straps tangled about the wooden pegs as they ripped them off. She was shaking, uncentered fear grasping at her with sharp fingers, the feeling jittering and rapid over her stomach.

"Go to the river, the ford with the rocks. You jump across, you get to the other side, and you run! You run until you can't hear the river anymore and then turn east! You look for the old signs, the marks. Erika! Do you hear me?!"

The tears had started, welling up in her eyes as she tried to focus on her mother. She blinked rapidly, her tongue trying to move, her mouth working but without words.

"River, ford, run east! You do as I say! You find your cousins!" Her mothers hands grasped her by the upper arms, clutching her tightly, her green eyes locked onto hers, wide, insistent. "Do you understand!"

"Y-yes!"

The screams heightened, shouts and calls, roaring, louder, fierce, like a bear in anger, rage. Wood splintered feet away. Torchlight slipped through the cracks of the wooden boards.

Her sister's hands pleaded with the back of her shirt, tugging, pulling. "Come on, Erika!"

Her mother's eyes were the last sight she saw as her sister dragged her out the back door into the cool night air. She whipped around, tripping over stray hens that had been disturbed by the commotion in the yard. Onion sprouts had been carefully coaxed into the light a few days earlier and were trampled without thought. On the other side of the small house, a jumble of shapes and shadows; forms of men and horses surging about. It was a small hamlet, six or eight shacks and buildings clustered about an earthen square. Flames had started to flit across the dry thatch, grey smoke sprouting upwards. She caught the sight of a neighbor, stumbling with a long feathered arrowshaft through his shoulder, and another through his gut. A goat pleated in panic, the cry sharp. She turned, the grasping hand of her sister on hers. A crashing of woven branches as they broke through the garden fence, and then she heard it. Her mother was screaming. Pain so heightened that there was surely no solace from it in life; only in death.

They didn't stop until they had crossed the river, leaping over rocks and boulders that had before been skipped across in games and youthful fun. A pause to see the mark on the half-sunken oak along the shore, a shout of a hoarse voice, the Balok tongue, loud and rageful - "Gundarakite mongrels! Burn it all down!"

That had been an hour ago. As they reached the crest, their bodies shuddered, stalled. Gasping breaths as they doubled over, panting. The tears surged back, and she felt her sister stagger against her side, sobbing. "They're gone! S-she's gone!"

The sounds of the village inflamed, their childhood shattering, had long dwindled. The woods were as if they had taken in a long breath, and held it, hushed in the still of the night. The branches shifted, creaked gently in the wind. Slivers of moonlight gleamed through the gaps of the oaks, over bright, bloody streaks on her arms, but all she saw were green eyes.

Snarling_Badger

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Re: A Gundarakite Tale
« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2023, 01:13:52 PM »
17 Years Ago…

The twisting, crackling snaps pierced the frosty air, causing her to wince instinctively. A pair of mangy dogs tugged apart the carcass of a pig, rending flesh and bone as they pulled it hungrily toward themselves. She watched from her perch on the eaves of the warehouse, tucked back against the side of the upper roof. Her left leg had long ago gone numb from being wedged awkwardly along a supporting beam, and she rubbed at it with scarred fingers, trying to prompt a bit of blood flow back into her veins. She was shivering, but that didn’t matter. Food did. She could survive a bit of cold. She couldn’t last without another meal.

The courtyard below was nestled between a row of stone warehouses and the backside of a few two-story crosstimber homes. The sun had passed the horizon a few minutes ago, and most of the workers had packed up and gone home. A few stragglers, perhaps the owners or supervisors of the warehouses were still lingering about, moving a few small crates and checking over bags before the day was fully done. She had been up on the roof for hours, managing to sneak up a stack of bricks and lunge for the eaves whilst the workmen were at a midday meal. It was a busy yard, which had worried her, but the lure of a cluster of foodstore warehouses along the Gundar River on the outskirts of Teufeldorf had proven irresistible for her.

Those damn dogs eat better than I… she muttered in her head, her lips dry and cracked as she pursed them.

A squeaking metal hinge grinding shut snapped her out of her stupor. A swarthy Barovian man with a drooping mustache and little hair on his head had dragged closed the door beneath her perch, locking with one of several brass keys on a large ring. The figure turned about and tiredly left the yard, the pair of dogs trotting after him, the scraps of the pig naught but bone. There was a low hum of conversation from behind the yard gate as he left, then she heard the talking dwindle off.

She shifted, twisting back to ease open the shutters of a small window behind her. Inside and below, the storeroom was dark, silent. She didn’t hesitate.

The next several minutes saw her once empty pack stuffed with wraps of dried ham, biscuits, apples and potatoes. It was a good haul, one that would keep her and her sister alive for weeks without worry. Just as she was about to shimmy back up to the open window, she paused, noticing a chest tucked away in the corner of the storeroom, half covered by a tarp. The chest was well constructed, reinforced with iron straps, and an ornate looking padlock securing it. A sense of opportunity and curiosity took hold of her. She slipped closer, folding back the rest of the tarp. The lock was heavy, seemingly out of place for a foodstore warehouse. Nothing else had been secured inside the building. Why not?

A few quick prods with a pick she carried with her saw the lock click open. Swaddled between a few blankets like an egg in a bird’s nest was a brilliant blue gemstone. She had never seen the like before. Even in the faint light offered by the hint of moonbeams through the open window caused a glittering dance from the stone. She was mesmerized for a moment, but practicality soon drew her focus together. She slipped the gemstone into her satchel as well, and swiftly shut the chest and secured the lock again.

She made her way from the warehouses, the night becoming frigid. It had been an early winter this year, and frost forming along the ground was frequent. She liked the sound of her boots crunching in the dead, frosty leaves, and it distracted her from the hunger pains shooting through her stomach. She wouldn’t eat yet. She wanted to wait until she met her sister again.

Her route took her along the river, leaving the farmlands that sprouted about on the outskirts of the town. Most of the livestock had been taken in by now, though a few barns she passed still had shepherds prodding in stragglers with their crooks into their shelters. The soft bleating of goats was mostly overshadowed by the river, which was large enough not to freeze over from winter’s breath most years. Dim orange glows of fireplaces and candlelight twinkled through the shutters of the buildings, and a twist of hatred ensnared her for a moment. She used to have that simple comfort…   

As she passed the last farmstead, her eyes, adjusted to the moonlight, caught the hint of a campfire in the woodlands bordered the final pastures of the town. Past the tall, yet uncropped grass, she recognized the gathering of beech trees that grew along a depression in the earth from which a small creek met with the larger Gundar River. Yet as she drew nearer, making her way through the pasture, she could sense something wrong. She could feel it in the air, a tingling sort of electricity, a natural instinct. Her pace quickened, her fingers gripping tightly about the knife she had sheathed at her belt.

There was too much movement, too many shadows passing over the firelight. Her sister would have been settled, not moving, waiting. Erika broke into a run.

The scant belongings they shared were scattered about the little copse of trees, discarded, stamped into the mud. Somehow the fire still burned, but most of the dry branches had been kicked aside. She saw hoofprints, bootprints, and as a coldness shot up her throat, churning her stomach, her gaze took in two booted feet, worn and split, swaying slightly in the wind. She didn’t want to look up, she couldn’t, but her body felt like it was not her own… Her sister was in a noose, eyes lifeless, the creak of the beech branch with every whispering gust of the wind.

The Barovians had taken the last of her family. She was now alone.