High in the sky’s sapphire vaults, hunting birds hung almost motionless in the distance, held aloft by the strengthening westerly wind as their sharp eyes scanned the branches far below for an unwary prey seeking to satisfy a long winter’s hunger on the new green of the Kalgrunic timberland. Their wings were silent on the spring breeze as they effortlessly rode the thermals rising more strongly now, with Heliopolis nearing its perihelion.
Easily seen, but ignored by the high-flying raptors was a herd of plains deer grazing hungrily on the new grass of the south. They too gladly filled their bellies with the tender and supple blades of new grass that pushed its way out of the hard ground and winter debris to gather in the sunlight. They had enough gnawing the bark of northern trees to fill hungry bellies during the deepest of winter’s cold embrace. They swiftly ate, knowing that this brief respite, this window of peace would soon close, as it often did in nature.
The herd’s lead buck, a broad-shouldered male with spring velvet still covering his new season rack, gave a start when a low snapping sound echoed over the plain. With vigilance meaning survival to the deer, any unusual sound found its way quickly to their attention. As had this sound; head up and ears pricked forward, big brown eyes swept first in one direction, then another, searching out the low, almost inaudible sound’s source.
Ears tuned to subtleties of sound that would escape creatures not so dependent on caution, the stag felt his body tense as he finally recognized the sound, now grown loud enough to be felt through the thick stuff of their hooves. It was the sound of Men, of hunters, come to reap a deadly harvest from the flesh of the stag’s charges.
The stag didn’t hesitate from that point; swinging his magnificent head around, he bounded for the trees northward, his herd hard in his shadow.
With his back to the south, the stag’s sharp eyes didn’t see the dark shadows flitting through a large grove nearby. Even if he had though, even his vision would’ve been hard-pressed to make out the forms behind the shadows. But it would hear the shrill whistle it made, piercing the air as sharply as any arrow could as the herd dissolved into the forest.
Ever graceful the Stag and it’s herd struck out deep into the timberland, not bothering to consider the warble and its possible implications. All knew to swiftly seek shelter when Men were about. Especially in these days of turmoil amongst nature and the two-legged dwellers.
After what seemed like an eternity the Stag finally slowed to a crawl, the city of bark parting into a natural glade. With dangers of Men far behind the herd, the buck resigned himself to the comforts of the clearing, lowering its massive rack to graze upon the bounty of green and sweetgrass afforded them. To bask in nature’s blessed windows of peace and escape the greed of Men was their existence.
The little peace afforded to the buck and his herd blunted their ever-sharp senses as they missed the shadows filtering silently within the forest's border. Then the nearest passed through a column of sunshine that had managed to penetrate the new growth forming the grove’s canopy and, for the briefest of moments, it was revealed.
It was a man, bent low over the back of a bush. His face was hardened and chiseled by long months exposed to the elements and by days of trial and travail spent striving against nature. Even harder still were his eyes; chips of stone as they stared ahead, fixed on a distant goal, his battle-hardened body draped about with furs and a tunic of dull and plain colors: browns, grays, and blacks. That clothing showed the signs of heavy wear and travel, his fur cloak still damp from the last snow the man had traveled through.
In an eyeblink, the man was joined by a score of others; silent as ghosts, dangerous as a pack of wolves. Bent low, the dark company pressed for the edge of the grove, marked by a splash of sunlight in front of them.
Then, with an explosion of sound and motion, they burst out of the grove to pound recklessly across the ground, clods of sod flying in their wake. Revealed in the light, the company numbered twenty souls and the smell of death lay close to them, both man and animal.
Panic set in, the Stag was quick to attempt a retreat, but a second company burst from the rear.
Then the hard-eyed man set upon him, stone-tipped spear effortlessly striking like a scorpion’s stinger until it sawed through flesh like butter.
The pain came like a sudden squall out at sea, a searing fiery burst pulsating at the jugular, intensifying with each dragging turn, jarring and brutal. A spear shaft jutted out the Stag’s neck. With each staggering step the pain amplified, the bloody muscle quivering and his consciousness ebbing.
All around the buck, his cadre were put to the blade, slaughtered with brutal efficiency. Not one escaped. Finally, legs gave out, bring the massive buck to the ground. Black mists swirled at the edges of his mind as his murderer approached, affording him a final glimpse of the man’s visage.
Handsome in the way only Vallamir were, the slender hunter was pale and intense, with a face chiseled by an artisan's hand from stone and eyes of brilliant sapphire. Locks of golden hair tinged with streaks of white-capped his skull in a topknot, to keep them from blurring his view of the world and hindering the sensitivity of his pointed ears.
With grim determination and the slightest hint of satisfaction dancing across the man’s face, the Stag was drawn into sweet oblivion as it’s wooden companion piece was dislodged from its neck with a sickening 'crunch'.
The wiry man knelt before the majestic creature, planting his weapon hard in the dirt between then. ”Rest in the flames, wee’ king. For’ from the cycle you came and to the cycle you return.”
Oath still hot on his lips, the blonde Valla drew a stone dagger from the folds of his furs and deftly set about dressing the kill. All about the glade Valla were abuzz with activity, a number went about cutting into their kills as well, expertly opening up the carcass and removing entrails, careful not to puncture certain organs and risk tainting the meat, while others materialized from the forest shadows, producing flat sleds made of Kalgrunic wood and twine with logs of stark white wood stacked atop them.
A team of two Valla dragged one of the pallets over to the blonde man. One of them, a wiry Vallamir with his cobalt blue hair in a neatly trimmed topknot and eyes a bright green, flashed him a wicked smile, sharp canines on full display.
“Steady now, Lugo, you vibrate wit tha song of tha wild!”
The one referred to as Lugo swung electric blue eyes the Valla’s way, wiping clean his blade on the hollow belly of the buck.
”Come naw Arth, ta have been part o' something so magnificent, how could’a man not?” His normally strong and assured cavalier throaty with his wonder.
The second Vallamir, easily as tall as the blonde hunter, was powerfully built for one of her kind. Her loose huntsman's garb doing nothing to hide muscular arms and legs, a deep chest and jutting breasts. Yet, despite her size and obvious power, the brown-haired valla woman moved with the grace of a hunting cat, her brown eyes still darting this way and that, even though the prey lay dead all around them.
“Aye aye, both o’ya burnin daylight. Permafrost ain’t wait for any ol’valla. Help me wit tha blessed thing.”
A smile dancing on his face, Lugo stepped back to allow Arth and Udele through. Quickly they hoisted the stag up and onto the sled with a heavy thump. Then with leafy twine they strapped the carcass down and took the white logs they had brought with and stuffed it full with the timber. Cut from the arms of the Brumal Tree so common in their homeland, the logs were naturally cold to the touch, imbued with the deep and intense chill of the Permafrost.
“Frost me solid, ol’bastard weights bout’a father ice bear. Master Hunter blesses tha tribe.” Udele breathed heavily, stretching to pop the knots in her back.
”Aye, tha lowlands bounty is plentiful.”
Arth tied the heart and the liver in a bundle of brumal before looking up. “Lowlands ain’ our place. Should be hunt’n Kalmar’s bounty in our own lands.”
Lugo felt his jaw clench in response at the slight yet said nothing, choosing instead to clean the blood off his spear tip and set off into the forest.
“Oi oi.” Arth called in vain, quick to fall in step with him. “Come now you know I’m not wrong. Help me here Udele.”
A ghost at their backs, Udele had quietly taken to dragging the kill through the forest, as had the rest of the company. Like wraiths they moved through the forest towards the icy chill of the Permafrost.
“I’m not one fer beatin’a dead doe, but Arth has a point. We all do.” she affirmed, her powerful brows furrowing with concern.
Lugo sniffed. He had been the one to lead the Exodus north, his natural charisma making him an obvious leader of Men. With Arth by his side, they fought their way to and settled in frigid frontier they called the Yataul–a name taken from the first of the dead on their journey–picking up dozens of brethren along the way. With time the Yataul gained a second name as the permanent sting of the white barked forest and icy plains set itself deep in the bones of its denizens: the Permafrost.
”What tha people say is war, Udele.”
“Be that such a’bad thing?” Arth countered. “Ain’t it tha Frostfire actin’ outta turn? Instead of unitin’, chasing us and tha other outta tha hunting grounds. Game gettin’ scarce.”
Udele spoke up. “Tha other tribes have called tha Iceni to convine on matters, Lugo. Tha people is expecting’ you to go. Wi’oot to do something bout this and quickly. ‘Fore our children face they pyers.”
”So wi’set our brothers and sister to burn?!” he counterd as sharply as a spearhead. ”I’m no bricka’ice Udele, I know what’s on tha line here. I just fear what Drephin and tha Frostfire willin’ to do to keep they selfish grasp on the Yataul. What they doin’ this for?”
“Frost what tha motive is!” Arth bit back. “Who knows with that ol’bastard Drephin?”
“Wi do what we need to do to survive, you’oot to know that better then anyone.” Udele breathed. Lugo set his lips in a hardline, a painful memory resurfacing like bile rushing up the throat.
A quiet settled between the trio, and with time the soft patter of crushed grass became the hard crunch of angry ice, the Kalgrunic timberland melting into the brumalwood of the Yataul. Here frozen fruit grew on the trees and everything exuded a bone-chilling cold, and here did the most daring and hardened of the Vallamir settle, seeking safety from the lowland predators. Yet they found only an enemy within themselves. A greedy Valla leading an even greedier cadre of kinslayer.
Soon the soft firelight of the Iceni longhouse pryers came into view, beacons signaling the end of their hours' long journey. As they reached the edge of the village the company split, those dragged sleds veered towards the storehouse while the bulk made for the main house.
Arth placed a knowing hand of Lugo’s shoulder. “Aye, and tenday away be the summit, make sacrifice and send prayers to Kalmar, we trust you not lead us toward oblivion.”
With that he left for the heat of the mainhouse, the jovial sounds of lore Valla singing the tales of the Exodus and the feats of the Iceborn, the warrior men and women who sacrificed themselves to protect the newborn travelers.
Lugo stood alone, the last vestiges of warmth leaving the place where Arth placed his hand, exposing it to the endless cold of the Permafrost.
In the Kalgrunic woodlands, a company of Vallamir expertly ambush a herd of deer, cutting them down with brutal efficiency. The killer of a great Stag is a Valla known as Lugo, who quickly begins to skin and dress his kill. (these are a valla who have acquired stone tools themselves). Other Vallamir appear with sleds packed full of Brumalwood. (adding wiki page soon, for now, look at frigid forest page) Two valla approach Lugo, a male name Arth and a female named Udele. They joke for a bit before stuffing the kill full of brumalwood and putting the stag on the sled and leaving for their icy home, known and the Yatual/Permafrost. It turns out, that these Valla apart of a clan called the Iceni, who traveled here during an event know and the Exodus, (vallamir birth and travel) led by Lugo and a company of warriors who became known as the Iceborn. The Iceni aren’t the only ones who inhabit the Permafrost. This place is also shared with a number of other clans, one in which has taken up arms against the others and has begun to aggressively push the valla from hunting in the Permafrost, keeping the hunting lands for themselves. This tribe is known as the Frostfire, led by Drephin. In a few days, the tribes will meet to seek a solution to this, and many whispers of war, something that Lugo seems to fear.