Red Ryder - Chapter 10 by Rtesian ()
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"You are weak. You are outcast. Of what importance can your words have?"
Maila felt strange burning wood and feeling nothing. Her sister kept the Forest of Myth immune from sorcery. It did make her weak.
She poked a half-burnt log with a stick and watched it crumple into the fire, crackling and sizzling. Re-ignited embers floated up on heated air. No words had disturbed the night's stillness. Her ears had processed no sounds because an image of two fingers crushing an ant had entered her mind, the classic Xiloi 'word' for weakness. Another picture of guards dragging her through the woods and casting her out to the Barrens swelled within her mind's eye. The same scene followed, then again and yet again as one by one the Xiloi elders imaged their agreement.
"I have come not to give words. They, indeed, have no importance. I have come to show you what my eyes have seen." Maila closed her mind. A rude gesture to be sure but meant to show she had no fear. That courage belied any weakness. The Eldest emerged from the trees even as a gust wafted smoke from the fire separating them.
"Show me, Maila Dragonrider. Show me what you have seen."
"A human female has come and is near." Maila poked at the fire. "She travels from the east." Again she poked. "An orphaned Xiloi accompanies her." For a moment, stilled silence greeted the declaration. A passing breeze caught loosened embers. Mental chaos erupted.
Around her Xiloi elders rushed into the small clearing. Mental imagery flew everywhere accompanied by grunts, barks, and snorts. Some waved arms, others stomped feet. Their agitated frenzy intensified. Maila poked the fire.
"Halt!" The blasted image silenced the clearing. One by one, the Elders slinked back into the tree line. Betraying his own nervousness, the Eldest dropped to all fours and paced in a slow circle. He stopped to face her. "Did he speak? Is he Boulka?"
"No. He is not werewolf. Of course, his vocabulary is primitive but he saw my imagery and I saw his." The Eldest resumed pacing but again stopped. This time with his back turned.
"Why do they not accompany you? Where are they?" A long pause followed. He spun around. "What do you want?"
A stream of imagery flowed from Maila showing how her sister had lied, plotted, and deceived the Xiloi. Showed the deception that caused humans to fear, hunt, and kill Xiloi. Showed how with reckless, malevolent intent she had sent their cubs, siblings, and sires into provinces to wreak havoc then enrich herself by betraying their locations to human hunters. From the surrounding trees, fanged jaws snapped, growls rumbled and deepened.
"What better proof can you have of who the humans are then that the Maiden has arrived from the east and delivered unto us our rightful heir. The Xiloi prophecy is fulfilled. By a human." Excited Elders repeated her image of Lukas and Red. The Eldest turned around and moved closer before rising to his full height.
"What do you want Maila Dragonrider?"
"Long ago a Wizard bequeathed my family to the Xiloi that through our voices you would know peace with humans. I want to regain my family's honor and restore to the Xiloi the legacy earned in battle and deserved in life."
Elders reinforced her image with every repeat. Malai rose to her feet." Follow me, Xiloi. Follow me to the East Boundary that you may see with your own eyes the prophecy fulfilled."
The ground had been leveling for some time and as Red descended from the hills she pulled the reins to stop and scan the open ground remaining before her. A vast forest lay ahead and it already blocked the sunlight that had only minutes left. Maila had said to enter but only one word came to mind as she looked in: foreboding. "Must be the Forest of Myth." she said, more to bolster her own courage than to break the dead silence not even insects interrupted.
Lukas turned his head to look at her. He stared hard, squeezed his eyes, and Red watched as frustration again surfaced. "No, Lukas. I cannot speak Xiloi but soon you'll be with those who do." Red looked away that a passing breeze would dry her eyes and prevent the emotion of once again losing someone close.
They entered the tree line and everything darkened. And yet, an eerie, low-level, blue-green light with no discernible source permeated everything. Red doubted it would prevent her losing all sense of direction but nothing could approach she would not see. Still, she loosened her sword and the straps holding her shield.
Bayard snorted and Lukas' fur bristled. Her eyes widened trying to pierce the dense foliage. Something flickered through the leaves. A light! A torch light. The trees gave way to a small clearing. The far side showed Malai holding a torch, an immensely tall, gray-furred Xiloi, and others strung out on a line. Barks and snorts shot across. Lukas grew agitated, shaking his head as if to clear it. Before Red could shout for them to stop before they overwhelmed him, they raised their heads and howled as one. Long and hard they howled as if their lungs would never empty. Their voices lifted beyond the trees and rose to the heavens. Without warning they stopped. Lukas' chest swelled and answered with a howl that rolled over limbs and leaves and reverberated across a forest. A howl that claimed all unto itself. The Elders joined in affirmation.
Chattering ceased and heads turned. Marlen gave the courtiers a dismissive wave as she stepped away, her footsteps echoing off the throne room's stone floor. She leaned out the window just as the howls died. A moment later the voice of a lone Xiloi sounded. She marveled at its power rising above the impenetrable canopy and bridging a distance beyond any chance to image. It echoed off the trees making location impossible. Try as she might, the howl remained unrecognized. A chorus joined in and the leaves seemed to vibrate. Marlen could not remember the Xiloi ever doing such a thing. What had happened? A chill raced down her spine.
to be continued...