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Reaver’s Claim: Chapter One

Ryven

“Don’t you get bored at all, out there with no one else around for company?”

I shook my head, eyes focused on the pack before me.

“You know me,” I answered. “There’s only so much of you all I can take.”

Yalen hit my shoulder hard, but there was no real animosity in it. He was well aware that he was the only warrior in the clan I had any tolerance for.

Not much, but some.

“Try to make it back before the end of the rainy season this time. Let me know you haven’t been flooded out of that burrow.” He frowned. “Last time the Elders nearly declared you rogue.”

Finally satisfied with the arrangement of straps, I slid the pack onto my shoulders and rose to my full height, clasping my friend’s arm.

“Tell them to come see my workbench. I’m far too busy to go out marauding.”

At his laugh I turned away, waving for the guards on duty to raise the gate placed into the thick palisade.

Two kept a keen eye on the forest, crossbows at the ready, while the third set his shoulder to the wheel, slowly winching the wheel about until the counterweight swung free, letting the heavy gate pivot open.

I frowned. Something in the mechanism didn’t sound right.

Perhaps I should stay another day, see what needed to be adjusted.

“Get if you’re going,” Makot, the oldest of the guards growled, his red scales dulled by the years. “We’re not here to wait upon your whims.”

Suddenly I remembered why I had been so anxious to leave.

Other people, even the warriors of my own clan, talked too much and said too little of any worth.

With a quick wave at Yalen I headed out into the forest, the slamming of the gate behind me, the sound of freedom in my ears.

I quickly crossed the scorched earth that delineated the territory of the Fort from the surrounding forest, the fire baked clay holding solid even in the increasing downpour.

The other clans had not been so foolish as to try to attack the Vak’ki  in our stronghold for years now, but still, we were prepared.

There would be no sneaking through the underbrush, no setting the forest aflame around us to drive us out.

No, our enemies would have to cross a wide, barren expanse exposed to our arrows before they reached our walls.

I glanced at the sky before entering the shade of a crimson leafed checha tree. The Sen’ki were another matter, but a system of watchtowers throughout the forest were positioned to give us warning of any incursion into our territory.

The winged ones were not to be trusted. 

Every clan cub knew that.

Except…

I thought about the strange artifact I had been given weeks before. The bright colors on its surface still a mystery, the marks of some language I did not know.

Chesepufs, the woman Sarra had called them.

Her companion, a Sen’ki warrior, had been willing to barter anything for her safety.

The light of a coming battle had been clear on his face, but his eyes softened for her.

I grunted as a slight weight hit my shoulder as I passed under the heavy branches of a tree.

“I see you had good hunting while I was gone,Tali” I told the orkin kit who butted its head against my horns before taking her accustomed position at the top of my pack.

“Better hunting than the day I met the strangers,” I continued. “I wonder what you would’ve thought of them.”

The female, her soft strange body such a frail shell for the burning will inside of it, sitting so trustingly next to the Sen’ki warrior, Dakath. 

I could not remember a time when warriors of our clan had met without battle, had sat together.

Talked freely.

And yet, I had done so.

I wondered what awaited them in their mountain fastness, if their mission had been successful.

“But I don’t think we will be paying them a visit anytime soon,” I reached back to scratch at the soft orange striped fur. “Do you?”

Tali did not answer, of course. The perfect companion.

The day wore on as we traveled, the dim sunlight that made it through the constant rain filtering through the trees drawing ever changing patterns in our path, while thoughts of home and the project that awaited me there filled my mind.

My burrow, Yalen had called it.

It was true, as far as it went. I was digging for answers to the mysteries that surrounded us, as much as through the soil.

And while it might be nice to have someone who understood my work, I knew better than to expect it.

The mysterious shell I had found on the Stav plains had obsessed me, my other projects gathering dust while I explored this new puzzle.

Sarra had called it a pod, had expected it to be filled like that of a flower.

But there were no seeds, nothing I understood. Its inner workings were almost like the devices of the Makers, yet different enough to leave me further baffled.

“We will stay all season until we discover its secrets,” I told the kit. 

A glimmer of light caught my eye and I realized we had already reached the river bank.

“Stupid,” I chided myself.

The dangers of the forest were many, and while they would not be a threat to a wary warrior, to one wondering in a daze? “Stupid,” I repeated. “You do not have to agree with me though.” 

The kit’s belly rumbled and I laughed. “Come, let us see about our dinner.”

During the last rainy season the bank had caved in under a massive pair of checha trees a short ways down the river.

I had harvested one for its wood months ago, but the scooped out section remained, a cut-out twice as long as I was tall.

The waters of the stream swirled into an eddy, making a perfect place for fishing.

“With the start of the rains,” I wondered idly. “It may have finally filled in.”

As I rounded the corner I stopped still. The fish trap was still there, its undercut earthen edges somewhat ragged but holding.

But the roots of the remaining tree had caught something else. Something unexpected.

A metal cylinder, the twin of the one I had found before, floated, one end buried into the mud of the bank.

Tali squeaked with displeasure as I threw my pack off, racing into the water, hands scrambling for purchase on the smooth sides.

“You’re not much help,” I muttered. Cursing, I ripped down low growing vines, ignoring my soaked clothing as I knotted the line together.

In moments I had dragged the machine to the bank, the beating rain slowly washing away the muck.

Tali balanced on her hindlegs to examine it, then chirped her confusion.

“I do not know, little one.”

My hand hovered over the collection of buttons set into the side.

I remembered every movement Sarra had made to open the empty pod.

What would I find in this one?

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