This week’s episode is written by Steve Diamond. During Writer Nerd Game Night we meet a lot of different characters. Steve really likes writing up the antagonist’s point of view. You can’t just have bad guys, you have to have bad guys with motivation. These are the giant bird riding barbarians that went on to kidnap Tsuruchi Machio.
Aerie of the Sky Riders
Wind howled in Naran’s ears as he directed Odval into a dive. On the mountain side below the goat never stood a chance. It was dead the instant Odval’s talons—each the length of long knives—torn into the goat’s body. There was no fear. No chase. It made for more tender meat this way. Fleeing animals gained a certain measure of toughness.
Laughing, Naran patted the giant eagle’s neck and steered it back in the direction of the Aerie. His other Sky Riders plummeted and rose along the face of the mountain each claiming a prize.
Tonight they would feast in celebration of his son, Guran’s, wedding.
He tightened his knees, then ankles against the eagle’s body, signaling it higher. They rose and rose until they were the air was hard to breathe. From here he could see forever.
Today he saw fire.
The Rokugani temple was aflame. Even from this distance Naran could tell not all the flame was natural. Magic was burning. It consumed the temple within moments. The fire and smoke should not have bothered him—the rokugani were careless fools with their magics and often did more harm to themselves than anyone else—but something in that unnatural colored flame filled his soul with unease.
Perhaps coupled with his son’s wedding night it was an evil omen. He would converse with Badzar when he landed.
Naran turned his eyes north and saw more fire, but this he was expecting. The Dark Oracle was burning the land. Lesser yobanjin tribes were foolish enough to see the Dark Oracle as a god and savior of the land.
Let them waste their time on the land, Naran thought. We have the skies, and no one can take them from us.
Ten goats roasted over fires with ten more goats being prepared. It was a feast to please even the Gods. Men beat drums in traditional rhythms for dancing. Laughter and joy filled the Aerie.
“You wanted to speak with me, Chief?”
Naran cut off a thin slice of goat to sample before turning around. He recognized the sound of his shaman’s voice. “Yes, Badzar, I did.” He handed the wizened shaman a piece of the meat. “Tell me, does this meat honor the occasion?”
Badzar bit a chunk off and chewed slowly, savoring the juices. His face split into a smile, “Perhaps not, Chief. I think I should take it all for myself so no one else has to eat this poor offering.”
“Ah, but then you would get fat,” Naran said laughing, “and then your poor eagle Jarval would break her back trying to carry you.”
“I would fall to my death,” Badzar agreed.
“You? We can afford to lose a shaman. It’s the eagle I’m worried about, as well as the unfortunate piece of ground you fall on.”
Badzar threw his head back and roared his laughter. The tribesmen and women closest to them joined in. The mood was festive. It was a perfect night for celebration.
“Have you thought on the omen, shaman?” Naran asked after they had wiped the tears of laughter from their eyes. Badzar’s face grew subdued. Naran knew that look. Bad news was coming.
“It is confirmation of what I have been seeing for weeks, Chief,” he said, then lowered his voice. “Something is coming. If we didn’t already have this feast planned I would have moved it until the next moon cycle.”
“I don’t know. That’s what worries me.”
A shout drew Naran’s attention. “Father! It is time!”
Naran turned and saw his son approaching the central fire. Guran wore a covering of stitched-together eagle feathers. They were only taken when the great bird shed them naturally. The ceremonial garb had taken months to make.
Guran’s bride, Falel, approached from the opposite end of the village. She was similarly dressed, but the feathers of her dress were white as pearl, and the seemed to absorb the light from the fires. Her feathers came only from the female eagles.
Where Guran’s garb had taken months, Falel’s had taken years.
And then another sound drew Naran’s attention. The death cry of an eagle.
The Aerie erupted into chaos. Men, women and children ran for their huts to retrieve weapons, but by then it was too late. Surrounding the village were thousands of yobanjin. Their scarring—a practice Naran had long ago forbidden among the Sky Riders—marked them as the Walkers of the Volcano, one of the larger yobanjin tribes. They had long since sworn allegiance to the Dark Oracle.
And now they were here, in the Aerie.
A hulking man pushed his way through the ranks of yobanjin. He carried the severed head of an eagle in his arms. Naran’s vision clouded with anger, but he knew no good would come of attacking the man. He would doubtlessly kill the land-bound dog, but the numbers the Walkers had would easily crush the rest of the tribe.
“I am Hajak, Chief of the Walkers of the Volcano,” the man shouted. “I bring you the greetings of the Dark Oracle. He wishes to know why you haven’t yet joined him.”
“The sky has no master,” Naran said. He didn’t need to shout for all to hear him. If a Chief had to shout to be heard, he didn’t have control of his people.
“I feared such a response,” Hajak shouted back. He laughed loud, as if enjoying a joke only he had heard. “The Dark Oracle will have your servitude, whether of your own free will, or forcibly. Will you serve willingly?”
“The sky has no master,” Naran repeated.
Hajak nodded. “Very well.” He addressed his own people. “Take the women and children!”
Many of the Sky Riders moved to stop them, but they were quickly subdued. Naran’s Sky Riders held an easy advantage when mounted on their eagles, but on the ground they were only out-numbered yobanjin. Naran found himself face-down in the dirt, a Walker’s knee in his back.
Naran flinched as the severed eagle head dropped into the ground next to his face. Tears escaped involuntarily from his eyes at seeing the death of such a magnificent creature.
“You shed tears for animals but not for your people?” Hajak taunted as he knelt down on one knee. “No wonder you were so easy to subdue. We could easily erase your tribe from existence, but the Dark Oracle is benevolent. At any time you can submit to his will, and we will give you your people back. The Dark Orcale is also looking for magical items from the Rokugani ruins. Bring him magical items and he will return your people. Or you can make things simple and try to fight us. We will happily slaughter all of you.”
Out of the corner of his eye Naran watched as a Walker ripped the ceremonial wedding dress from Guran’s bride’s body and threw it into one of the fires. Within an hour all the women and children were gone, herded away as captives.
Naran stood and brushed dirt from his body. “Riders,” he said, and then waited for his men to surround him. “We will not submit, but neither will we fight…for that is a battle we cannot win. When the fires die at the Rokugani temple, we will look for the items the Dark Oracle wants and get our families back.”
“They will just come and take them again!” someone shouted.
Naran nodded. “They will try. We will find a new home, higher in the mountains where not even they can reach us—where even the Dark Oracle would die from lack of air. There will be no discussion. The sky is eternal, and so will we be.”
His people didn’t roar their approval, they silently turned around and went about leaving their homes behind.
To be continued next Friday, when Makoto tells off a celestial dragon. http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/the-burning-throne-episode-21-arguing-with-dragons/