Tinamou watched as Judash studied the ground before them. For the past two weeks they had been tracking Zerosta across this barren wasteland. She still didn’t know how he had made it this far, but obviously Zerosta was more capable than she first thought. What really surprised her though was Judash’ unerring ability to follow the smallest sign in the land. It all seemed the same to her, yet he was able to note with certainty which path Zerosta took. Perhaps it just seemed that way. To her they had taken a straight path north. The odds were in their favor that Zerosta took the same path.
A few minutes later Judash stood up. He signaled Tinamou and Jaxes over to his side.
From their vantage point to the north, Stantion shifted. He could see the movement below. Tec had been right. There was someone else down there. He began to lift his weapon when he felt the hand on his shoulder. Glancing up, he found himself staring at Tec.
“No Stantion. We will go down and talk to them. At least I will talk to them. You will watch. Pay attention and you may learn something. Perhaps you will even see something that I missed.”
As Stantion rose to his feet, Tec headed across killing field towards the three. He noticed how they flinched at the sudden appearance of the Kin. At least the two humans did. The third only appeared to flinch. Tec smiled to himself. Judash was more adept at hiding his feelings than he had previously given credit for. This would be interesting.
Tinamou watched with growing trepidation as the two figures approached from the north. She couldn’t put a finger on it, but something was screaming at her, telling her to flee quickly. But it was already too late. The whole trip up, she had developed a bad feeling about Judash. Something was wrong and she instinctively felt the hunt for Zerosta was wrong, yet she never spoke up. Now this…She feared she had walked into a viper’s pit. She also understood that if her feelings were correct, fleeing would be the worst thing she could do. So, she stood her ground and promised to keep her eyes and ears open. Whatever was going on, she would figure it out. Moments later the two had arrived.
“Hello there strangers. I’m Tec. This is my son Stantion. What brings you this way?”
“Part legend, part myth brings us Tec. Have you ever heard of the travelling man? Well, these two are from his village. We are following his trail. He came into the wasteland after his village was attacked. I helped these two flee their captives and here we are. My name is Judash. This is Jaxes, and this Tinamou.”
As Judash introduced each, he made a small gesture to each of his companions. Tec nodded to each in turn.
“It seems we are not far behind him…perhaps less than a day. He seems to have lain in the dirt here for a while, and then for some reason diverted his direction and headed west. I was about to tell my companions when you appeared.”
“You’re lucky we found you and not some of the roving bands of killer men. As you can see from those two unfortunates they are in the area.”
Tec motioned towards the bodies of the two he had killed less than a day before. He knew it. There was another human down here! Better yet, it was the prophesized one. He had been within his sights and then vanished! Damn all the gods that would allow such an occurrence. He couldn’t understand how the travelling man avoided detection the day before, especially where he had walked so very close to him, yet he did. However, the gods seemed to favor him again. Judash would help them track down this harbinger of death and they would finally be free of the wicked prophesy. Man will never rise. The Kin and the Others will rule this land.
“Perhaps we can be of service. You will need someone to help in your search. We know the land. We can defend against the rovers. We will help you find this man.”
Judash stared for a minute at the Kin. What were they planning? He knew Tec. He had dealt with him on many an occasion, but he couldn’t figure out why he spun that tail of rovers. To Judash it was obvious that Tec himself had killed those two humans. But of course! He couldn’t let the humans with Judash know this. He wanted to find the travelling man as well. He wanted his head too. Perhaps working together, they could kill him? It would be worth working with Tec again just on the outside chance of success.
“We would greatly appreciate the help. Wouldn’t we?”
The last half he addressed to Tinamou and Jaxes. Both readily agreed, though Tinamou still kept her worries to herself.
From a rise to the south, Marcant’ny watched as his brother crouched, examining the ground. The two humans still travelled with him. Those fools! They had believed the story handed to them by Judash. They truly thought he was their friend. He wasn’t. The name should have warned them, but sadly, it seemed so much of their own history was forgotten by man.
Judash was deviously cunning. It was his intelligence, more than brute strength that he employed when dealing with humans. Always with the same goal in mind: to find the travelling man and kill him. Marcant’ny shuddered to think of how many times the ruse had worked. Still, it hadn’t produced the travelling man, though somehow Marcant’ny knew this time would be different.
He had just come to the conclusion that he must kill Judash. He must free those humans with him before they found the prophesized one. But would the humans believe he was their savior? Would they see him as an Other and think that he was there to bring them back, rather than save them? He didn’t know, but he had to try. It was as simple as that. He must give the travelling man a chance to fulfill his destiny. But then the opportunity was gone. Or, more precisely, it never existed and perhaps the deities were watching out for him.
As he started to rise, intent on making a mad killing rush at his brother, the two Kin approached from the north. He would never get close before they put a bullet through his heart. So, Marcant’ny crouched down and continued his vigil. Eventually he would get a chance to avert catastrophy.
When Zero awoke, he found himself on the outskirts of what remained of a town. Not a single building still stood, though the remnants could be seen all around. Slowly he wandered through the rubble, not really knowing just what he was looking for. Eventually he came to a hillside, where half-way up he noticed a large opening. Quickly he ascended until he stood before a huge cavern. Somehow he knew what he was looking for was inside, so, with not a small amount of fear he slowly entered.
Light seemed to enter the cavern from two locations. One, the entrance he stood in, and the other somewhere high above, perhaps on the plateau of the hill. Slowly Zero entered, letting his eyes grow accustomed to the limited light.
He walked for what seemed like hours, yet was perhaps closer to fifteen minutes when he became aware of eyes watching him. He froze in place, only his eyes glancing left and right, searching for his watcher, yet nothing appeared.
“Silly human and your feeble magic! What brings you to this place? Speak up now. I know you are there! I need not see you to be able to crush you where you stand.”
Zero’s jaw dropped! What did it mean by magic? Why would it crush him? He barely could stammer one word out, but then he regained some of his composure.
“Magic? I don’t know what you are talking about. Magic doesn’t exist.”
“Of course magic exists! I just told you that you were using it, right? Magic has always existed, though few understood what it really is. It is the ability of humans, and some other creatures, to affect the world around them, using only their minds. You are doing so right now, making yourself invisible. At least you are invisible to eyes. I can tell you are there because I smell you, and I hear your heart beat. Now why are you here?”
Zero’s heart beat faster. What was this creature that could hear his heart beating? Not knowing what else to do, he answered the question.
“My grandfather told me to come to this land. He said I must find a way to free my people from their enslavement. I want to free them. I want to kill all the Others, to prevent them from ever threatening my people again.”
“Well, which is it? Do you wish to free your people, or are you more concerned with killing the Others?”
“I can’t succeed at one without accomplishing the other. If I don’t kill the Others, they will just enslave my people again. By killing them, I save my people.”
“Perhaps. What if I told you there were weapons buried in this hill? Weapons that are like the ones which created the firestorms that swept over this land? Would you use these weapons against the Others? Would you use them knowing that in doing so you would also be killing your own people? After all, death is a release from slavery. That would succeed in achieving the goals you’ve stated. It would also fulfill the prophecy you mentioned. It does state the travelling man will be like the firestorms. That he will end all that was. Is that what you wish?”
Zero stood horrified. “No. I don’t want to destroy everything! I just want freedom for my people. Is that a bad thing? How else can I guarantee their freedom?”
“Just because someone is born as one thing does not mean they will be that thing. Are all humans alike? Do all humans agree on everything? Do you all react the same way? No. You are individuals. You have your own wants and desires. Every other inhabitant of this planet are the same way. They have their desires. They have their fears. Perhaps some even have goals similar to your own.”
“Yes, it is important to stand strong in the face of oppression! Yes, freedom is a precious right. Yet, it is a right of everyone, not just humans. You must not only stand fast against aggression. You must be willing and able to accept help from wherever it may come, even if it is from an Other. Otherwise you are no better than they are. You become what you hate the most. You become despotic. Do you understand?”
“I don’t know. It sort of makes sense, but I have never met an Other that felt this way. They’ve all attacked with such ferocity.”
“Think of it this way, they too have heard the prophecy. They fear it means their annihilation. If you back a dog up against a wall, with no chance of escape, it will fight with all it has. It will fight to the death, even knowing it will die. Just like you are feeling that you should fight to the death. The Others will be no different. If you give them no opportunity to retreat, then they will act as you see. They will fight, knowing no other choice is available. More blood will be shed that way. More death will follow. Perhaps it would lead to the end that the Others fear? Or perhaps, by giving that opportunity to retreat, you show another option. One that may lead to cooperation and mutual survival. You would forever end wars by providing a glimpse into a different existence. You would deliver freedom to all.”
“I think I understand. It still does not change things. I must free my people. Whatever the cost, I will pay so long as they are free.”
“I do not ask you to do that, chosen one. I only ask that you do not lead us all to destruction. I see the beginning of wisdom in you. I see much potential. You bring hope for brighter days. I will help you. Together, perhaps we will usher in a golden age; one where all living creatures can be free.”
With that, the speaker stepped forth into the feeble light. Zero felt his eyes widen to unbelievable proportions as his mind tried to come to grips with what stood before him.