The Kami of the Lost Souls - Part One¶
The rain suddenly came down even harder, and lighting flashed across the evening sky. Lipsen ran towards the nearest tent to find shelter. She lifted the heavy leather curtain that protected the entrance. As she had expected, the tent was empty, except for a tiny fire grate; the occupants, whoever they were, had long since deserted the place. The abandoned camp was like a ghost town.The young Tryker shivered.
She set down her boomer rifle and her hunting bag against one of the wooden arches, then quickly cleaned the grate so she could light a flickering fire. A peaceful warmth began to fill the yurt. Lipsen slipped off her tashok armor and relaxed, silently thanking the Goddess for giving her this refuge. Outside, the grumble of the storm rolled like a war drum. The shadows cast by the slight flames in the fireplace seemed to dance to the rhythm of the rain that hammered down on the tent, furious that it wasn't invited inside. Lipsen retrieved a piece of dried fish from her bag and chewed on it distractedly. Her golden eyes stared off into the void, while she pondered her reason for being in the forest of Nexus.
Lipsen Be'Laury had braved many dangers in order to meet the Kuilde chief. The tribal guards had been surprised to see a young Tryker hunter approach the entrance of their camp, carrying a torbak carcass. It was a gift for Mithus Xalon, she had said proudly. She wanted to join the ranks of the Kuilde, in order to serve the Goddess Jena and her disciples of the Karavan. The guards had laughed at the boldness of this little homin. Who did she think she was? To become a member of the tribe was an honor and a privilege that was granted to very few. But Hiang Sai-Ju, the host, had stepped forward and welcomed Lipsen. All homins who sought to serve the Goddess should be warmly welcomed. He suggested leaving the torbak with the tribal meatcutter, then offered to accompany the young woman to the chief's tent.
Lipsen followed Hiang Sai-Ju, walking under the shadow of the metal vessel that hovered over the camp. The green rays of a Karavan signal swept the surrounding area. A feverish atmosphere seemed to reign over the village. Hiang Sai-Ju explained that the Kuilde were at war against the Recoverers tribe, who were Kami worshipers. The Recoverers had attacked the camp the night before, stealing their precious sacred objects. They would surely destroy them, as a sacrifice to their demonic masters. They had to be recovered at all cost.
Lipsen finally found herself facing Mithus Xalon. The Kuilde chief was a tall Fyros with an impassive face. He examined the young Tryker from head to toe, and Lipsen felt herself redden all the way to the roots of her blond hair under this intense scrutiny.
"So you want to join the Kuilde? Why?"
"The most powerful agents of all the Karavan belong to your tribe. Your faith in Jena is unshakeable. My grandfather was one of your members, when your influence extended throughout the ancient territories. He died like many others under the kitins' stingers, during the Great Swarming. I want to reclaim my heritage and honor my ancestor. I want to serve the Goddess."
"What can you contribute to our tribe? You seem very young to me."
"I am an experienced hunter, despite my young age. I track all kinds of game, from peaceful armas to fierce bodocs. I track predators. I can imitate the cry of many different animals and I know the art of camouflage. I will hunt for the tribe. I will fight your enemies."
"You seem to be very brave and determined. But these are only words. You must prove yourself, Lipsen Be'Laury."
"I am ready. What must I do?"
"For one season, you shall live in the forest of Nexus. If you are a huntress, nature will provide all that you need. You shall not sleep among us but you shall be serving the Kuilde. Hiang Sai-Ju will tell you the tasks you are to carry out. Follow the way of light in order to be worthy of the Goddess.
Lipsen made a disappointed pout, which she quickly hid, bowing to Mithus Xalon. A whole season of waiting!
"I shall do as you wish. I will prove that I am one of yours."
Several weeks had passed since this exchange with the Kuilde chief. Lipsen had accomplished several missions for Hiang Sai-Ju. She had explored the entire northern part of the region. She had hunted arma, yelk and even bolobi for their meat. She had defended herself against cuttlers, those carnivores whose striped hides are nearly invisible among the ferns. She had carefully avoided the bandits and gibbaïs that haunt the forest. Nexus was a dangerous land for imprudent travelers.
She had slept out under the stars, enjoying the mild early autumn weather. Lipsen was not afraid of solitude, but she still appreciated her brief stays at the Kuilde camp, when she came to bring the spoils of her hunting. The tribe still had not managed to recover the relics stolen by the Recoverers, despite several attempts. The Recoverers' goal was to "cleanse" Nexus of the Kuilde influence, in the name of the Kamis and their master, Ma-Duk. These fanatics had announced a great ceremony for the end of autumn, practically challenging their enemies to stop them from sacrificing these precious objects. Lipsen was horrified by the situation. It was difficult for her to understand these homins who had sworn to be faithful to the Kamis. The nature demons were twisted beings, with a disturbing appearance and who did not hesitate to kill without remorse any miners who were too industrious. She had met one of these spirits near Fairhaven. The horned creature had tried to lure her with words, but the young Tryker did not fall into the trap. Lipsen had mocked the Kami, making fun of its hesitant voice and ridiculous posture. The demon had not reacted, returning to its silent contemplation of a flower that waved in the breeze. Such inconsistent creatures cannot be trusted to direct the destiny of homins.
Lipsen began to explore the southern part of Nexus when the weather began to turn bad. The first downpours were soon replaced by violent storms, and the young Tryker longed intensely to be finished with her initiation period so she could be safe and dry inside a Kuilde tent. That is when she found the abandoned camp. It almost seemed as if Jena had taken pity on her and had sprouted this providential shelter directly out of the Bark.
The young Tryker sneezed loudly, sending the flames dancing in their grate. Oh, great, she thought - all I need is to get sick! She must not give in. The rain was still beating on the leather walls of the yurt. Lipsen wondered who might have built this camp here. Explorers, bandits, smugglers? And why had they fled? Maybe the kitins, who had been active in the region for a long time… These questions were running through Lipsen's mind. Then all of the fatigue that had accumulated throughout the day suddenly overwhelmed her, and she stifled a yawn. She had certainly earned a bit of rest. A few minutes later she was sleeping a light but restful sleep.
Lipsen awoke abruptly. The fire had gone out. The rain had stopped, and snatches of voices reached her ears. She recognized the staccato cadence of the Zoraïs' speech. Squelching a sneeze, she slipped quietly to the entrance of the tent and gently lifted the leather curtain. There was a group of Zoraïs gathered around a campfire. With their faces lighted up by the flames, they looked like ghosts, with pale masks and large white armor made of willow. They were wearing crimson boots. Lipsen held her breath. She had recognized the colors of the Recoverers!