No one wanted more speeches, for there were enough physical dangers as we made headway into the high lands. Kindee had been busy since her demotion out of the Guard, seven groups she had put together to scout ahead and meet with the main group at the fork of two passes in five days. No guards volunteered for the mission, I later learned that they were forbidden from doing so. It was good we were now above the worst of the dust storms, and here a little more vegetation held the lands together and kept the dust in check, though on the second day of the journey leg we suffered from bad winds, they were at our back and not so thick with sand as to be crippling, indeed the Bledstone who remained with the group behaved as though it were pleasant weather.
It took us not five but seven days to reach the rendezvous, for as we marched we came across welcomes along the
trail, families from the Begorn herders. Our advance was now heralded by scouting and
nomads who had been in hiding before now came down to meet us,
bringing fine gifts to offer to our march. By the second
day we had to turn down some donations of food and water for our carts were becoming too heavy to manage in the steepening
lands, and our pace began to suffer. And
recruits we had as well, several families sent their youths to march with us. So twenty seven strong Begone joined our
quest, and I suspect that more than a few foreign born children of Gramaza were conceived among the herds people in those days, or more
accurately nights. Each time we camped several family groups of
Begorn gathered around us like an entourage, and wanted to feast us and
celebrate, though there was little dancing in the dark, because no fires
were allowed by the Towalk, at least there was much music, which
did not frighten the Towalk at all. We marched on those days as though already triumphant.
Over dinner the Begorns would tell us of the excitement they had for
such a strange passing through, and how safe they felt that the Birds of
Slay would be banished by our quest. It was hard to understand them, as
there voice is more different from us than even the Towalks, so I could
not keep any meaningful quotes from them, indeed their meaning was
something of a guessing game. They related to us the scouting parties
heralding our pass, and how the leader of the expedition, they
pronounced her name 'Kanda' would open the way through the Nemi.
Dald especially was happy to be received thus, and he blushed even through tanned cheeks with pride as he basked in this glory, I sat with him when I could, happy to see him being honored. Rul was not seen much at these celebrations, except perhaps by some herdess apart from the camps. Elida was not to be seen at the celebrations, he would retreat to his own thoughts and he worried terribly about the delay of these celebrations, coming out only to chide Dald about the pace of our advance.
The accounts of the
Begorns suggested the scouts were hurrying ahead of us at a fantastic
rate. Elida as he came to understand this felt completely usurped and grew increasingly withdrawn and sulky. Later I learned that petty and vengeful feeling were already wrecking his mind, that at this time he was quietly spreading orders to squad leaders among the Guard, preparing them for battle with the Nemi. Yet even while he was doing this the Begorn were singing of how 'Kanda' would find welcome through the Nemi for this glorious quest. The Begorn are suspicious of the Nemi as a rule, but felt that 'Kanda' could surly turn their favor.
When we reached the Fork and meeting point, after seven days
march, we found only five of the scouting parties, waiting
contentedly for us. I was walking behind Dald and Elida as they hailed
these scouts. Elida was agitated, harassing the scouts for explanation, why the group Kindee went with and the group
Grand went with were missing. An unnerved scout, named Drada, gave this report.
made it here three day's ago, and headed on down both forks, to observe
the conditions and see what state the Nemi were in. We got here a day
later. Kindee had ordered these five group to herald your advent to the Begorn
herders, so we could find more support and friends for the journey. Our
five groups braided the lands, announcing the mission to Star's Reach as
we could. Most we spoke were were supportive, and promised goods to our
provisions, some even offered recruits to be ready to join your
assemblies. We learned from the Begone that the northern route to the
Nemi spine is a further journey from here than the Southern. "
Elida asked "No! can you tell me, does Kindee intend to herald us all the way to the Nemi? To betray us to them?"
The scout was struggling for words when Dald put his hand on Elida's shoulder pointing down the Southern route, the one to Loven pass, where twenty bodies could be seen against the side of a mountain, approaching at a jog.
Raked my late afternoon sunlight they jogged down switch backs along the mountain slope under the peak horizon. They were still far off when it became clear
that it was a scouting party followed by twelve Nemi Rangers. When it became clear that
we were about to meet the Nemi Elida retreated to his tent, which had
been set up by a few guards while he went to hear the reports of the
scouts and the meeting place. One of those Guards, a noble himself, camp out spreading his
orders that none approach the incoming group, that together we would
all await them at the meeting point.
When they arrived, our whole crew was assembled and at attention, and at the front stood
Elida, Dald, and Rul. It was Grand's group which had gone to witness
the Southern pass.
Grand stopped before the three, his scouts behind him and the Nemi
Ranger standing silently and proudly behind them. "I witnessed their
battlements along the pass, and saw clearly that the only way through it
was with the permission of the Nemi. Our group requested passage,
hoping to scout the far side for you, but we were delayed slightly when
they questioned our purposes. They would not grant passage to our
group, but offered to come speak to the whole alliance, offering escort to Moft, where we might make our case before the Ranger Chiefs."
Grand bowed out and a man, whose name I never had chance to learn, steped forward to speak tall and strong and wearing a kind of plate armor uniform of a material
unlike any I have ever assayed. This is what he said:
"You seek to cross our territory on a mission of war against a neighbor
of the Nemi. We would be with in our rights to let you waste yourselves
against our citadels, but your peoples and ours don't need war, and your
scouts have petitioned well in your favor, and speak of the danger of the
darkest enemies of our shared ancestry. I am willing to escort you to
Moft where we can receive your army as guests, and discuss certain
misunderstandings that are at the base of your mission."
"Misunderstandings?" started Dald "Star's Reach has been found, as long
as it exists it is a danger to all the worlds lands! What if the old war
is brought back? We must go there, and ensure that the danger is
"I have heard about your mission" said the Ranger "even before your scouts reached us, and your courage and character have
been recounted to me as well. Still, you come from a place distant and
there is much news you should learn at Moft before launching war, I am
willing to advocate that the group from Towalk may be granted a visit to
Star's Reach, that you can return to your families will reassurances
based on your own experience and not hearsay. Those who now control
Star's Reach have since finding in sent emissaries of peace, and have
been active in reassuring those very same fears in my peoples hearts. I
am surprised that these emissaries haven't connected with Sky Prairie."
Elida hissed "Haven't you considered that you could have been corrupted? You arrange visit, are you now allies or doormen of the Greys? Do they offer you to be the new Federalists of the mountains? We shall not be stopped in your capital, for an offer that is almost the same as being taken to the Greys in chains."
Grand guessed the violent intent that Elida was about to
loose, and screamed warning. I ducked down as warriors all around me
flashed to fire guns. Elida's words "Don't spare the traitors" were the last words my mind made sense of before all blurred into a chaos of guns and screams.
Many many Gramaza shots did I hear 'toooof, toooof, toooof' of the
air rifles and much more horrific thunder strikes from powder guns and the Nemi
blunder busses went off. I laid on the ground, shaking through hearing the last
shot, a execution shot from some Bledstone powder rifle, had long since stopped echoing. A
bleeding young Begorn turned me over to check me for life, pulling me from my cowering.
Even as I was sitting up I could hear Elida barking orders, trying to
get our mission together to rush the Southern Gates. Countless voices
were yelling of many things at no one in particular. Smoke of powder guns slowly drifting up the
mountain side. Towalk were gathering the wounded. Grand and the seven with him were dead among the twelve
Nemi they stood with. Dald was being helped up, his right arm mangled by
a shot gun blast. Tral was on the ground, bled out on the rocky ground.
Nemi shotguns only got off nine shots, compared to a hundred rounds they
received. Though their armor, amazingly, deflected some air bullets, the limited
coverage was no help against a concentrated barrage. The last of them,
who had tried to crawl away, had been shot close.
It was almost dark as we had recovered the first suggestion of order. Elida was in a
frantic and pointless rush, commanding us to make all haste to the
Southern Gate at the first hint of light in the morning. Meanwhile Dald, his arm having been amputated, was unconscious. With Trul dead
the Canyoners were leaderless, five bands had each lost life. In a daze we made a mess of a camp for the night, resigned to a
forced march at first light for what we imagined to be an almost certain
Before dawn we were dropping gear, getting ready for what everyone assumed would
be a days forced march before certain death at a Nemi citadel. Elida was
insistent that with our numbers we could swarm over the divide at more
points than the Nemi could guard and collect together on the other side,
but serious questions about carrying provisions, knowing the landscape,
and how we could meetup he never had time for. Some of the Begorn had
volunteered to stay and get the injured treatment with their peoples,
though convincing Dald to stay behind, amputation or not, was proving
Elida put on a cloak of composure and
started to form lines to march to against Loven Pass. But we never got further, because down the Northern path Kindee returned, and her
scouting group had nearly thirty Nemi Rangers with them.
Coming around the corner they were only three hundreds yards from our camp when they were seen. Elida, rushed over seeing them approach, barking orders to the Guards to assemble, as though we were under attack. Dutifully the Guards took their positions waiting to fire on the last scouting group to return, but even as the guards did so turmoil broke out as some Volunteers, wearing mourning bandannas for Grand, began to scream over the orders many foul words.
Kindee saw the scene, our wretched camp, and the bodies arrayed in honor to the vultures, with great horror. She ordered the Nemi and her scouting group to take cover. Some Nemi ran up the hillside that the trail hugged, more quickly than I could have guessed was possible, taking cover behind rocks. Alone Kindee walked toward the guns pointed at her, gesturing widely she tossed her rifle up the hill side, approaching unarmed. She roared "Why to you cower before your own scout as though you were under attack?"
Elida yelled back "You command our enemy, as a traitorous usurper! You bring the Nemi to capture us as Grand did before you."
Kindee seemed genuinely stunned by Elida's response. "I bring a welcome party and good tidings to the Towalk, that the Nemi will petition for them to visit Star's Reach. Also I bring a question from the Nemi for the Guard of the Host who escorted this mission. 'Why did you not find fault in the assurances sent West by the Meriga emissaries?'"
Elida hissed "Lying traitor! We will kill your whol..."
"No!" howled Wana "We will meet and talk more." she turned to Elida "You were to be our guide, not our doom! Look! Look! If your Guards fired on the one in their ranks there were Bledstoners ready to kill them. You would slaughter us all if we fell on ourselves."
Elida stood there shaking, as all heads turned to Wana and him. I think he guessed well what the Nemi would do to him, concerning the death of twelve dead Rangers. No one would obey him any longer, Elida took his rifle and tried to point it at Kindee, and committed a kind of suicide mowed down by many shooters, I don't feel it prudent to say who precisely they were. There were something pathetically heroic in his death I will grant, he died a scapegoat for twelve dead Rangers, and that did much to protect us all from Nemi retribution.
We never had a chance to rush the Nemi they heard of us before the scouts ran ahead. After Kindee introduced us to the Nemi leader, Sir Hoza, the alliance disbanded. Begorn returned to their families and herds. The Bledstone seeing no hope for plunder returned to the low lands, excepting three who were arrested for outstanding offences with the Nemi. The Volunteers were sent back to Gramaza, returning with praise of Kindee, which was then distorted to invent stories of treachery, like the envious stories that doomed Elida.
The Towalk went with us to Moft, and we parted ways with them on arrival, as they went further North, to a Meriga embassy, hoping to still see proof of the safety of Star's Reaches occupation. The Guard was brought back to Moft for a hearing concerning the death of the twelve Rangers. There Elida was found responsible, and the Guard was permitted to return, my testimony, I am proud to say, was key to that verdict.
Sadly, with Elida dead, we could not answer the question that the Nemi sent to us with Kindee. And more disturbingly since returning to Gramaza I am left with two questions: why has no one here heard of the ambassador who came to Gramaza offering assurances of Star Reach's safety? And how did the Nemi Ambassador get Korada's sigel print on those assurances?