Thank you to all my followers, readers, and commenters. Each one of you has touched my life in a way that encourages me to keep writing. As promised a month or so ago, here is a short story in the same world as the setting of my novel. I must thank my wonderful role playing group of friends who collaboratively created the world. The biggest thanks of which must go to our Dungeon Master whose effort in creating this world and setting was massive, and opened creative avenues in my mind I never thought possible.
I hope you enjoy the story, and if you would like to read more short stories and poetry let me know in the comments below. Keep on keeping on being awesome, my friends.
Finding the way home
“Who do you work for?” the officer yelled into the storm.
To drive home the point the earth shook violently for an entire minute. When it stopped, a sliver of light pierced the parting clouds. The closest assailant stumbled back and called out a warning. They and all their companions fled now they saw the Thunder Clan insignia. Specifically, they fled from him. His uniform was recognisable as one of the commanding officers at the Massacre of Morinoke. Wisps of cloud were burned away by the sunlight as the officer watched their swift retreat.
One final lightning strike brought his attention back to the matter at hand. Two of his own soldiers had been wounded and needed medical attention. Their scouting party had almost made it back to camp when they had been waylaid. Before he even gave the order two uninjured soldiers put one each of the wounded over their shoulder and continued in the direction of the camp. The officer did not walk with them. One soldier stopped and turned back.
“Sir, you are not coming?” they said.
“There is something here, something watching us,” the officer said. “I will lead it away so you can make it back to camp.”
“Yes, sir,” the soldier said. “But you know the general expects your full report at first light tomorrow.” They moved briskly to catch up to the ambling group.
The officer needed no reminder, but pushed the thought aside and moved into the trees as quietly as he could. Overlapping armour plates made more noise than was desirable but at least the wind covered up some of the sound. He made his way through a stand of trees before he stopped again, to listen. The faint sounds of breathing which had earlier caught his attention were closer. Slowly, he drew his wakizashi and sidled up against the nearest tree.
For as long as he could remember the Thunder Clan had been at war with somebody, and this inevitably led to death. Usually for those who didn’t deserve it. He detested violence, killing for the sake of killing which war proved over and over to him that it was, and long ago resolved to use it only as a last resort. But he knew there were people who thought differently. On all sides.
“Who goes there?” he said, from relative safety behind the large tree’s trunk.
Quiet scuffling greeted him in return. The officer cursed at his error of giving away his position. He felt he had to make a move now or they would gain the upper hand.
He lunged around the corner, blade at the ready. There was no one there. Not even a rabbit or a deer. A cold sensation ran up his side. He waited for the inevitable sharp pain of a blade. It never came. The officer slowly turned his eyes downwards. Where he expected Water Clan regalia or a bandit’s robes was neither. Instead, a small human poked at a gap in between his armour plates. Their wide innocent eyes met his. The child wore no clothing and shivered terribly.
Sheathing his blade, the officer crouched down next to the child. He removed his cloak and held it out. The child took it and immediately began gnawing on it.
The officer chuckled. “That’s certainly one use for it. How about we try wearing it as it’s awfully cold.”
The child tilted their head. “Awf-oo-lee coooad.”
The officer held out his hands, expecting to help the child wear the cloak. He did not expect the child to jump into his arms, but that is exactly what they did. Along with giving him an affectionate dog-like lick up the side of his face. It took him by surprise but was not by a longshot the strangest way he had been greeted. Wrapping the cloak tightly around the child, the officer looked around, as if hoping the owner of the child would appear out of thin air. Surely they must have come from somewhere nearby.
“Where is home?” the officer asked.
“Hooooome,” the child said.
The officer picked them up and set out in the direction of the camp, believing once he got there he could figure out what to do next. Before he had taken three steps the child pointed over his shoulder. He turned and saw nothing. Nothing except the mountain that rose into the clouds. When he looked back at the child something strange had happened. Furry ears had pushed up through their hair and wiggled happily. He took another step while looking at the child. Their smile beamed out as they continued to look past him over his shoulder. Many within the Thunder Clan had a skewed view of non-humans. The officer wondered if taking the child back to camp was a good idea. They may be treated with contempt, even though they were so young. The child squirmed higher and pointed over his shoulder, more fervently.
“Will there be something there this time?” The officer raised a doubtful eyebrow.
The officer turned around all the same, and this time there was something there. A glistening form beckoned with one glistening green arm before disappearing into the leaves. The officer did not understand much about the kami but knew when one gave direction it was best to follow. He began to walk where they beckoned, towards the mountain.
* * *
Every fifty yards he caught another glimpse of what he hoped was the kami offering helpful direction. Across a river, he was encouraged to wait quite some time for a bunch of deer to move on, before being guided around an impassable copse of trees, and into a thick bush. Thankfully the child was more interested in chewing the cloak than making noise. The ground vibrated heavily from the large number of feet marching in unison so it must have been an entire Water Clan regiment. The officer waited as long as he thought necessary for them to be out of sight, and then he waited that time again to be sure.
When he emerged from the bush he saw they had made it to the edge of the forest. A short distance in front of them was a crossroads near the base of the mountain. From the position of the sun the officer estimated it had taken a little over two hours to get there. At the treeline, the glistening green of the kami bowed and faded back into the foliage, having given no hint of where to go next. He was deep within Water Clan territory, and this was not his child, but he felt he could not leave them here alone. Intermittent squeaking echoed along the road. He held the child close, and readied himself to retreat into the forest if it turned out to be more Water Clan soldiers. But something about the sound encouraged him to move towards the road. The squeaking grew louder and a voice came with it.
“Thunder Clan raiment, of a very specific kind: you are far from home, are you not?” a voice said.
“I am,” the officer said. “But when one is led by the kami I have found it is best to follow.”
“You look hungry. Have you eaten, Captain?”
The cart rolled to a stop. The driver wore dark orange robes with the hood pulled low over their eyes. The officer was conscious he had not told them his rank.
“It has been some hours since I have eaten, if you could spare some food I would be grateful.”
The driver reached into the cart and rummaged around.
“Too heavy …” A clank. “ …that’s out of season …” A snapping sound. “Ah! This will do nicely.”
A red-orange flash flew over the driver’s shoulder. The officer deftly caught the soft fruit with his free hand. He nodded a thank you and took a bite. There was a satisfying slurp and he couldn’t help but close his eyes and enjoy it. It was the juiciest nectarine he had ever eaten.
“You look tired. Up the mountain you will find a village where you can rest,” the driver said.
The officer had every intention of politely declining the suggestion and continuing along the flat part of the road. But he suddenly felt very tired and had no knowledge of any other villages nearby. Besides, the driver seemed to think he would be welcome at this village up the mountain, even in his current attire. The squeaking started up again and the cart continued on past the path up the mountain. The officer looked at the path disappearing up into the clouds and sighed.
“How far is …” The officer looked up and down the road but the cart and its occupant had vanished.
* * *
The officer didn’t know how long he walked but the path eventually split, one half heading towards what looked like a small village, the other continuing on up the mountain. He assumed it must be the village the driver had been referring to as there had been none before it. The child slept the entire way up the mountain and the officer’s arms were now very tired. He trudged towards the closest house, hoping someone inside might know the child, or offer a place to rest, or both. With his hand balled into a fist, about to knock on the door, he stopped. The village was quiet. Too quiet. Almost automatically his feet continued walking on and further up the mountain. Unbeknownst to him, two figures wearing dark robes, with tattoos covering their arms, arrived in the village shortly after he left.
The path looked well travelled so the officer thought there must be something further on. His intuition was right, and a while later he arrived at a gate. Through it, a path led up to a group of buildings half-obscured by the mountain mist. The child still slept in his arms as he made his way to the impressive front doors. They were so wide across he wouldn’t have been able to reach from one side to the other. He carefully laid the child down at the foot of one door and rolled his shoulders over several times. The child was heavier than they looked. Each door had a hefty metal ring in its middle. He grabbed one and lifted it to knock. Again something stopped him. He looked down at the child. A smile still held on their face as faint snoring purred from their lips. The officer put his ear to the door and he heard the echoes of children playing from within. He couldn’t help but feel this was the right place. The sturdy oak door echoed loudly as he knocked twice. There was no answer. He knocked again. Three times. The mist holding in the air reflected sunlight which still peeked through, even though it was well into the evening. The beauty of being up so high, he thought. Something caught his eye further up the mountain. Almost indiscernible against the snowy ground, a figure robed in white watched him. The officer bowed, pointed at the child, and shrugged. The figure robed in white bowed in return, then gestured back the way he had come, down the mountain. He raised an eyebrow, looked down the mountain, looked at the child, then looked at the door. The sounds of children playing were louder now but still no one had come to the door. He looked back up the mountain but the mist made it difficult to see if the figure robed in white was still there.
The door pushed slowly outwards towards the child. He released his grip on the metal ring. Instead of a clank a faint shimmer emanated.
“Woah there, careful with that,” the officer said.
“Your arrival has been expected,” a voice from within said.
“Excuse me?” the officer said.
“This will be a good place for them.” The owner of the voice remained in shadow.
The officer raised an eyebrow. “May I ask; what is this place?”
“A place of peace.”
The officer’s foot tapped a quick steady rhythm, keenly aware of the ire he would receive from the general if he was late back to deliver his morning report.
“Do you have somewhere to be?”
The door shimmered in the fading remnants of sunlight as the officer took one last look at the child’s wiggling ears. “Take good care of them,” he said, then hurried back down the mountain as quickly as he could. He took as wide a berth around the village as the path allowed. It was not until he was halfway down the mountain that he realised he’d left his cloak wrapped around the child. His cloak held together by a gold clasp with the insignia of the Thunder Clan.
* * *
The heavy oak door creaked as it pulled slightly inwards. “Hello?” An orange robed figure leaned out the small gap between the large double doors with the metal rings. They looked up and down the mountain but saw no one. “Is anyone there?”
Their voice carried far but drew no response, save a quiet sneeze. The figure squeezed out the door and pulled back their hood. Beneath was the face of a woman wise beyond her middle-aged appearance. She looked down and saw the source of the sneeze, a child curled up cosily on the doorstep. If the monastery doors opened the other way the child may well have been rolled back down the mountain.
“That is an interesting cloak for a young person, and it is far from its home.” She smiled warmly. “But we accept all gifts which find their way to our door.”
The child reached out their arms, and wiggled their ears. “Hoooome.”