The Kalmet and the Glowing Ones
Spirits of Rock and Sky > The Servants' Path

Hotal 71 ceased her efforts with the fire-starting bow and bent to blow gently on the newly glowing ember. Shavings of Estin's Wood reluctantly caught light; scented smoke rose past the young Jentik's face. The wind made it difficult for Hotal 71 to make fire in the rock hollow, but Lotun blocked the steady breeze with his robe and body. The small flame cast orange and yellow light over the rock and Servants of the Provider, overwhelming the diffuse Light of the One God. The acolyte sat up, placing the small fire-starting bow in her lap. She massaged her hands, aching from the time spent over the wood shavings.

"Are you ready?" Lotun asked, with a smile. She had laughed at his expense after he had failed to create any embers. Lotun's leatherbound, painful knee prevented him from crouching above the wood. His attempts to find a position in which to use the fire-starting bow had finally worn down Hotal 71's reserve - she had giggled and then laughed. Lotun had not been amused, but now the acolyte suffered cramped hands and sore thighs. The wind blew apart the thin trail of smoke rising from the smoldering wood. It followed the moving air, scenting Hotal 71's hair.

"Let me move before we begin." The Jentik shifted around the small hollow in the rock, flame-cast shadows moving with her. The Light of the One God was bright this wake and covered much of the Lightward Sky.

Earlier that wake, the stars had slowed, stopped and finally reversed the direction of their movement; the elder Initiate and young acolyte had both made the Three Essential Observances as the Time of Still Sky came and went all too quickly. Hotal 71 would have commenced an artwork had she still dwelled on the High Plateau. Lotun would have joined his Family at a Shrine of the One God had he been among his Tribe. The travelers were alone on open rock in Susyan territory, however, and the Provider required different rituals.

"Do you recall the gestures?"

"Tumnil 146 taught me not many tenwakes before we departed. I remember, Lotun." Hotal 71 was nervous; as an acolyte in Tumnil she would not be doing this. Lotun should be the one to perform the Ritual of Still Sky, but the Ritual required that the Initiate who spoke and gestured also light the wood. The young Jentik breathed deeply and deliberately to calm herself. Fragrant smoke rose from the embers before her as Lotun waited patiently, the breeze tugging at his hair. Hotal 71 mouthed the words to herself in preparation for the long chant.

"Servant. Jentik." The sudden voice was soft but purposeful. Lotun and Hotal 71 both straightened, startled from bowed meditation over the last glowing sparks amid charred wood shavings. A tall flax-robed man, a Susyan, had come upon them so quietly that neither had noticed and stood, respectfully, a bare five paces away. Light from the Sky cast his shadow away to the ridge he must have crossed. The man raised a finger to economically gesture left, right and upwards. "Wind. Sweet smoke." A thin fuzz of new hair barely covered his scalp, the serene composure of his expression barely changed as he spoke. A small leather bag tied by his side swung as he bowed to the seated travelers. "Tomen."

Lotun reached for his staff and began to get to his feet, favoring his injured leg. Hotal 71 regarded the newcomer with curiosity. His robes were unadorned but otherwise similar to the Initiate's robe Lotun wore. Yet this Susyan was no Servant of the Provider.

"Tomen of the Kalmet?" Lotun pulled his robe into shape as he spoke, leaning on his engraved staff.

Hotal 71's eyes widened. "Kalmet!" she whispered to herself.

The newcomer nodded once. "Yes. Time passes. I am capably pursued. I regret what will come."

Lotun frowned, taken aback. "Pursued? Do you seek my protection?"

Tomen waved a single finger in the negative. "Not warriors" he replied, indicating the Wohken and the Jentik with a small, quick movement of his hands. Lotun drew breath to speak, but the Kalmet opened his palm. "Listen. Few heartbeats remain. Underdwellers follow." He moved his shoulders in what might have been a shrug. "Too far from the Underworld. They will go farther. Your smoke is Estin's Wood. No warriors. Underdwellers also have noses." Tomen made a short, wry smile with one side of his face.

"What is he saying?" Hotal 71 asked, confused.

"We must leave. He is telling us that Glowing Ones are close. Gather your pack!" Lotun swapped his staff to his other hand and hefted the leather-wrapped Gift from the rock at his feet, wincing at the pain from his bound knee. "While we are in ceremony and while I cannot run," he muttered to himself, "the Provider must not want this journey to be easy for me." Hotal 71 hurriedly gathered her few loose possessions and stuffed them into her pack. Their shadows bowed and dipped across the irregular rock.

"Servant?" A look of mild concern suffused Tomen's face. "'Cannot run?'"

Hotal 71 crouched in front of Lotun, both pressed back into the inadequate shadow of a small overhang. It had been the best they could find with the Light of the One God so bright this wake. Both breathed heavily from their exertions, trying to make as little noise as they could.

"What is he doing?" Hotal 71 whispered quickly between breaths. Tomen stood a bowshot away, atop a ridgeside facing their hiding place. The robed Susyan was shouting; short bursts of sound carried away by the wind.

"Attracting their attention," hissed Lotun. "Quiet! We do not wish to do likewise."

The Jentik chewed on her lip. That Lotun was worried made her fearful. She repeated to herself the curt reassurances of the Kalmet: he had said the Underdwellers would have difficulty seeing into shadows in such a bright wake. But didn't the Glowing Ones live in the dark under the World? Were they not familiar with utter darkness? Hotal 71 tried to avoid the conclusion that shadows would not hide her from an Underdweller. Her heart beat all too loudly against her ribs. "Why doesn't he run?" she whispered to herself.

Lotun gripped Hotal 71's arm tightly and pulled the Jentik back into the shadows until she was leaning against his bony shoulder. "Quiet..." he breathed close to her ear. The Kalmet had turned from the top of the ridge and quickly vanished from sight. "They must be coming."

Heartbeats passed in an agony of suspense, but the first Underdweller appeared all too soon, preceded by a dancing shadow and the echoed clatter of bones. Hotal 71 caught her breath. The heavily built Glowing One was clad in laced bones and tattered leather. Long, thick lengths of matted hair bounced as she loped towards the ridge where Tomen had stood. The Jentik's first coherent thought was that the Underdweller appeared little different from Dispossessed petitioners at Tumnil. Under the purple Light of the One God, the divine blue-green glow of Underdweller flesh was hardly noticeable. Another Underdweller followed, bone club held in both hands as he leapt across a depression in the rock. A group of three scarified near-naked men followed him, the glow of their skin stronger in the patterns cut into their bodies. They ran in silence amidst the noise of wind and the rattle of bone on bone. More Glowing Ones came into view, rapidly ascending the rock slope as their leader reached the ridgeline. She came to a halt, breathing heavily, and turned to watch the first of her followers run past out of sight. Lotun's grip tightened on Hotal 71's arm, as it seemed the Glowing One looked right at them. Hotal 71 held her breath and closed her eyes, willing her racing heart to slow or beat in silence. More than twenty Underdwellers ran and leapt along the slopes of the ridge - the last passed within thirty paces of the travelers' hiding place, looking neither left nor right. The silence of the pursuit scared the Jentik as much as the fierce expressions and readied weapons. She offered up a wordless prayer to the Provider and the One God. Her heart pounded, but the expected shouts of discovery did not come. The sounds of bone on bone slowly faded, and Lotun relaxed his white-fingered grip on her now bruised arm.

"They have gone, my acolyte." He breathed deeply, once. "We should do the same, quickly now."

Lotun and Hotal 71 had slowed their pace somewhat since the first hurried and difficult kloms, and now rested. Lotun was unable to travel as fast as he would have liked in any case, and his limp became ever more pronounced.

"In all my cycles, I have not seen such a thing," said Lotun, rubbing his injured leg as he sat against a large, ancient wooden route marker. "There was a story that went untold this wake, Hotal 71."

The Jentik stood nearby, staring into the far Godward darkness, the Light of the One God to her back. Her shadow stretched out before her for ten spans. "Do you think Tomen will escape them?"

The old Wohken did not reply for a moment. "Do you want my honest answer?" His voice was carefully level, and Hotal 71 shook her head without turning around. Lotun watched her. "I have met few Kalmet. They are not like you or I, but I am not sure I could act so well under the same circumstances. We will speak of this to other Initiates so that it may find its way back to Tumnil."

The young Jentik sighed to herself. "Look," she said, sadly, pointing Godward. "I can see the Plateau." In the far, far distance, faint purple reflections of the Light of the One God outlined the vertical kloms of her Tribal territory.

[ Posted by Reason on February 5, 2005 ]