Exodus from Steel Horse Crossing - The Natural Ones
The gathering had grown smaller over the last few years, and particularly this last year. It had been a hard few winters, and many people of the town no longer understood the symbiotic nature of those that lived within it, and those tribes that lived around it. The tribes had taken the brunt of that failing, and none more so than the Kishwaukee. The Palwaukee, a sister tribe, had only recently given thanks to the town for their help eliminating a problem that threatened every last one of them. Others had protested at the gesture, claiming the town didn’t understand the burden the tribes bore, but the Palwaukee insisted that teaching those that lived within the soul of the land would help show them the importance of the tribes’ plight. The raider horde had added no small salt to the wounds that they suffered as they encroached further into the heart of their lands.
The Kishwaukee had been the scouts to the north, the warnings that were brought to the town, the caretakers of the Great Tree that suffered. They were the hosts to keep others safe. And yet, the Great Tree’s infection had spread to lengths very few truly understood, and the raiders were pushing south by the day. The Dark Moon had lost all of their children, small numbers at a time, until they began to cry out in the darkness from the beyond. The Pinefoot had slowly been falling as the northern border of the forest began to crumble. Their world, at one point static and known, had turned upside down.
Through it all, the Palwaukee had taken on the weight of becoming the backbone of the tribes. It was they that called the gathering, pulling together all the tribes that could muster for a decision on what was to be done. It would be the decisive moment when all of the blood must decide on what would befall the families that had lived here collectively over the many years. The cool wind slowly licked the great fire burning at the center of the circle as the last of the Pinefoot slipped into the clearing, only noticed by the lithe female figure that made her way adeptly through seated men and women of all ages.
“Elder Laya of the Pinefoot,” an older man spoke quietly, his head not moving to look at her, “the circle sees you and welcomes you.”
Without so much as a sound, she took an open seat closest to the fire with the other elders with a small nod to each. As she settled, despite the light, she seemed to fade into the shadowy background.
“Elder Timothy, it is good to be seen. The Pinefoot greet you all in turn.”
Timothy, raising his head slightly, allowed the light to reflect off his pure white eyes. He turned his head from left to right, more out of habit than anything, sightlessly scanning the elders’ circle.
“It is time,” he began, “to decide our future. The horde to the north will descend, and with it, will more than likely take these lands. The town is not prepared for this battle, and we can no longer mitigate the circumstances. We will not stand alone to die to the man and woman. This would be folly.”
In a guttural growl, a hulking man with intricate tattoos slammed his fist into the ground next to him. “The Dark Moon will not idly allow these creatures to take the souls of our children. They live with the land now, and we will not leave them.”
Murmurs of agreement were cut short as Timothy raised his hand. The silence was immediate.
“Elder Cold Bear is correct,” Timothy replied, allowing his hands to slowly fall to his side again. A crimson leaf, falling from overhead, danced into the fire and created a quick flare accentuating the point. “We will not leave the heart of our land to the sullied and foul brained. But we also cannot lose everything and allow them to keep it forever. We must be more intelligent than they are.”
“What do you suggest, Elder Timothy?” Laya questioned in a hushed tone.
The older man smiled, the white eyes trained on her as she asked the question. “We will retreat, until those that have forgotten the heart of the woods understand what they have lost. We will organize, and help them remember. We will return with them and take our home once they commit to taking their homes as well.”
Another murmur echoed through the gathered members around the fire, this time lingering a bit longer. Voices on both sides of the issue spoke their mind to each other in the darkness, but not one voice rose above the rest.
“With the Kishwaukee no longer as they once were,” Timothy continued as the crowd quickly exhausted their discussion to hear more detail, “we must share duties and thin our lines further. The only way we survive is if we all work together with our strengths.”
Laya, pulling her legs to her chest and wrapping both of her arms around the knees, smiled in the firelight. “We will, of course, run the forests and scout the movements? I can think of no tribe better to take on the task.”
The eldest nodded curtly, “Just so, Elder Laya. The Pinefoot are the most adept at this required task. We must ensure we have information from the slow advance. We must know numbers, locations, timing and even where they strike as they move.”
“And what would you have us do, Elder Timothy? With the Kishwaukee no longer with us, how will we be divided?” Cold Bear asked, his voice grave with the question.
“Elder Cold Bear, the Dark Moon have long been the most ferocious of fighters. Your people cannot stand against the tide that moves. Instead, you must take on the role of the Kishwaukee – defenders of the people. You and the smaller tribes will retreat, and the Dark Moon will take up the rear guard to make sure no more fall than the battle will take.”
Timothy’s voice was solemn, knowing he sent this tribe into the fray with assured losses. Cold Bear’s reaction was not surprisingly, but disarming for those that did know the man well.
“We will cull those we meet and return them to the forest,” the hulking figure responded, a grizzled grin spreading over his scarred face. “May the forest mother take them swiftly.”
Timothy nodded earnestly at the man, his head instinctively turning to his right where another elder once sat. The empty space of the Kishwaukee haunted him briefly.
“We will, as always, take on the task of coordinating with those that make it out of the town alive and whatever efforts are being made to reclaim our home.” he said with a note of sadness in his voice.
With the sentence spoken, the three elders sat a moment, staring at the fire in the quiet of the night. Cold Bear was the first to stand, the sharp tones of armor and weapons clattering as he did so. He took a skin of water and poured it onto the fire. Laya followed moments later, repeating the process. Timothy, with a slow sigh, stood as his joints popped softly under the loose, warm clothing. He raised his arms to the sides, at which point the smaller tribe elders began to move forward and cast water onto the fire. Timothy was the last, and the fire was already long out, but he still followed the ritual of his people and poured the skin of water into the soupy fire pit.
“And so it begins.”