Eorzean Tales Series
Boco: Behind Enemy Lines
Chaos Theory Free Company
Ma’tree’skuu tore the opo-opo carcasses apart, picking out the unclean intestines with a practiced snapping of her sharp beak, and tossed them to the miterlings waiting below. She watched as they fought over them; it was a habit Garuda’s Flock had abandoned long ago, but the miterlings had learned it 60 moons ago, after Afreet’s Great Burning had remade the LifeNest, and all but destroyed the plants they had eaten for time beyond memory,
She placed the bloody meat in three bowls. These bowls were among her most prized possessions. Decorated with feather paintings and inlaid with gems from faraway lands, they were hollowed out and carved from the deadwood of The Tree Father Spirit. Her great-great-great-great grandsire had carved them as a wedding present: one each for her and her bond-mate, and one for her firstborn. Somehow, they had survived the Burning. Her bond-mate had not.
She reclined upon one of the branches in the treenest. She tried to imagine what it must have felt like, to fly upon the wind with your wings spread wide. Beyond memory, a sin of pride caused Garuda to put a terrible curse on her Flock: they were never to take to the skies again. Their wings, it was said by the storysingers, would be useless, hanging forever at their sides as a reminder of her displeasure.
The Ixali, who once ruled the skies of all the LifeNest, had to live with all the other creations of the Gods. Banished to the ground, doomed to fight the ground dwellers for food, for their right to worship, for their very existence! After the Great Burning, the ground dwellers would destroy entire nurseries, eating their young for food! For Food!!! Enraged, Garuda’s Flock struck back, but then were forced to flee and gather in Xelphatol, the beginning place, the First Nest.
While we are not strong-boned, we are very swift and agile, thought Ma’Tree’Skuu. And our clawed feet give us purchase over almost any terrain. And in Xelphatol, plans were made. She did not agree with the headstrong male Hunter’s Council, led by Nezuul; the Matriarchs were too blinded by the loss of loved ones to see reason. Nezuul screeched that she thought too much – didn’t her blood boil for the slaughter of all ground-dwellers? She countered, saying she at least had a brain in her head – had his beaded crestfeathers cracked his skull and pulped it to nut mash?
“Ma-mee! Can we eat, I’m starving!,” screeched her son, Ree’KuKu’Noru. “Make that two of us!” said a deeper voice, belonging to the tribe’s Wise Mother. “Your presence at our meal brings life to our tree and wisdom to our Nest,” Said Ma’Tree, in formal greeting.
Wise Mother wore the Cloak of Ancestors, made from the feathers of Wise Mothers of the Twelveswood Tribe from time beyond memory. The older feathers were losing their down, but shone with the oils of countless previous wearers. Her skirt was made from the hide of the bird-lizards of Ul’Dah, her necklace from seashells of Limsa. “May the All-Mother keep you and your family safe from the tempest of Garuda’s wrath. Now, let us eat before I devour this tender morsel you call your son!”
After they had finished, Ma’Tree sent Ree’ku to wash out the bowls. “He grows tall, like his father,” said the Wise Mother. “He grows tall in his questions, and taller still in his understanding and curiosity.” Ma’Tree paused, and tilted her head. “Reminds me a lot of his Aunt. ‘How are the winds made? Why does the stream flow this way? How come miterlings have so many offspring? Are all opo-opos curious?’”
Walking towards the tree nest, Ree’ku heard his mother and aunt laughing. It had to be about him. He could not help being awkward, having just suffered through his last molting as a hatchling. Soon, he would be sent for training as a warrior. He was the Tribe’s prize candidate for War Leader – he could outmaneuver, outrun, outwit anyone in Garuda’s Flock. Which would have been perfect, except for one thing.
Ree’Kuku’Noru did not want to be a warrior. Because, in spite of all his accomplishments, Ree’ku did something an Ixali warrior never did: he thought. Warriors did not think. It made the Ixali fierce fighters, almost unbeatable. Tell them what to do, and they did it, or died trying. Which was great when there were thousands upon thousands of Ixali. But now, there were only a few hundred. Garuda’s Curse, and Afreet’s Burning, had seen to that.
Ree’ku was named for the Gridanian warrior woman who had killed his father. In a brilliant strategic move, she had hidden in the trees as the Ixali warrior team his father led had pursued her. She had chosen just the right moment to drop down on top of him as he passed under her, and killed him. Other ground dwellers had also hidden in the trees, and of the 30 warriors his father had led, only 8 survived. Ree’ku hated the Gridanians. Sometimes he thought he saw shadows, and heard whispers when he walked in the Twelveswood. He hoped they were ghosts of his dead enemies.
“Ree’ku, come here,” screeched his aunt, “I have important news to tell you.” Sitting down between the two most important females in his tribe should have made him nervous. It did not. It filled him with foreboding.
“You are not a hatchling any longer, my nephew. It has been decided that you will travel with Nezuul on his next raiding party.” Ma’Tree stood up quickly, and shouted, “What madness is this? Has the Hunter’s Council lost what little wit they have?”
Wise Mother laughed. “Sit down, sister. This is by order of the Matriarchs. It is because Nezuul has so little wit that it has been decided that Ree’ku will accompany him. It would do well for Nezuul to learn patience. It has been said that, were he not male, Ree’ku would already be in training as a Matriarchal Mage. Calm down, nephew. You could be a remarkable Hunter, but you ask questions that mark you as Mage material. We do not know what to do with you, truth be told.”
“Ree’ku has not yet been blooded,” said Ma’Tree, “yet you would place him in a raiding party? Explain your reasoning!”
“Nezuul has succeeded in capturing two hostages. And has heard them say the name…of Riku’Lanora. I thought, since your son has shown a knack for languages, that he would be ideally suited for finding out more information. And to avenge his father’s death. You will leave just before sunrise.”
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Ree’ku could hear the Gridanians; they were far from where he was, out of sight, but their ugly squawks pierced the forest daysongs. The spear on his back was heavier than those he was used to; he had begged his mother for a bow, but she said the Hunter’s Council saw it as a female’s weapon. As Ree’ku had not made his first kill, it would be best to take his father’s spear.
The spear was old. There was a story behind it, but it had died with his father. Ree’ku ran his clawed fingers over the haft. All along its side were small blue gems. It was decorated with carvings, depicting the Ixali in flight. The point was made of an unknown stone, but it was honed so sharp that it could pierce any flesh with ease. Ree’ku was imagining how he would kill his namesake, when he collided with a tree.
Laughter erupted from the band of Hunters just ahead. One of them, the red on his feathers so dark it was almost black, approached Ree’ku and spat a gobbet of meat at his feet. “If you endanger this mission,” warned Nezuul, “I’ll disembowel you and feed your guts to the miters.”
“Perhaps I’ll try this spear out on you first!” screeched Ree’ku, who swept the Hunter Leader off his feet with the butt of his spear and had the point at Nezuul’s throat in half a heartbeat; and just as quickly, the spear righted itself. “Hmm, moves nicely. So, Hunter Nezuul, where are the hostages? I would disrupt your counsels no more than necessary.”
“You are not in charge here!” shouted Nezuul. “Bez’o’Tuu, show this fledgling recruit to our guests!” The old hunter led him through the forest to a small clearing lit by a single torch. Inside a wooden cage were two dirty shapes. “Leave me!” snarled Ree’ku. When the old Ixal left, Ree’ku lifted his head and screeched. Suddenly his father’s spear flashed a blinding blue light.
A small, pom-pommed head rose out of the shadows. It was – a moogle? And Ree’ku heard it say, in perfect Ixali, “Do not say it. Not a word. NOW we’re in trouble!”
- to be continued -