Four years ago — June 2012
After spending the night in the human’s facility, we were brought to the south of the land and into the mountainous range. There stood a camp, a few dozen modular structures of Tzari design.
“I recognize this place.” I said. “Master Iren and I landed around here. We spent some time in this camp.”
“The humans have agreed to let us stay here and use the surrounding lands. Although they’ve seized most of the weapons that were left behind. We’ll relocate all of our people here and build a home.”
I considered her words for a moment.
“What is it Shekaree?”
“Are we prisoners here?”
“It’s difficult to say.” She sighed. “Things are very unstable right now, the humans are scared of us and they have every reason to be. But for now, we have more urgent business to take care of. Are you ready to work?”
“Yes master.” I said, bringing my fist to my chest.
The next few days became hectic and crazy as hundreds of other Tzari poured into our camp from all over the world as my new Master tried to organize the chaos and reform the corps into their new order. But thankfully it left me with very little time to think about our situation as I raced around, bringing my master’s orders to new members of the camp.
My new master and I claimed one of the larger building as our command center and living quarters. However despite apprenticeship tradition, Master Kiorga assigned me my own room. But that didn’t mean I remained alone as we were soon joined by two more apprentices who had lost their masters in the war. Karune son of Urak who had served under Lord Krenru and then there was Sikara daughter of Velka, who had been lord Ruathan’s apprentice and who also came to share the same room as I did.
A few weeks later, I woke up before everyone else as I always did. Ever since the end of the war, my dreams wouldn’t let me sleep in peace anymore, instead I’d wake in the middle of the night, sweaty and on alert with the smell of burnt flesh and the sound of thunder still fresh in my memories…
The sun was still quite a way before it would rise. I didn’t try to sleep again, instead getting up and putting on my apprentice’s uniform. As I took it out of the rack, my finger traced the emblem that adorned the collar; two concentric circles, the twin moons of Resh. Master Kiorga’s heraldry, gone was the blooming desnal flower of Master Iren… Gone like he was…
I couldn’t think about it. I bit my lip, until I tasted blood, and focused on the pain. Anything not to think of what had happened. I had to be strong, I couldn’t break. I had to carry on, for master Iren…
I wiped my lip, leaving a green trail of blood on my claws. On the bed above mine Sikara still slept, letting out a heavy snore, so I decided to wake her up.
“Kara, it’s time to wake up.” I said shaking her up which caused her to growl at me.
“What time is it?”
“About a krut before sunrise.”
She rose from her bunk and glared at me, her face half covered by her hair. “And you’re waking me now? We don’t have to report to Master Kiorga for another two krut...”
“We have a lot of things to do. I thought we could take a head start.”
In answer she threw a cushion at me.
“Go back to sleep Karee.” She snarled before covering her head with her blanket.
I rolled my eyes but didn’t press the issue any further. Admittedly, we didn’t have to work for a while, but it was best not to be alone… I went back to preparing for the day ahead; cleaning my hair and drying it before braiding it.
“Why do you always do your hair like this?” Sikara asked, coming up behind me. “Don’t you know any other way?” She then added with a chuckle.
“You’re up now?”
“It’s not like I can sleep with you around. So, what’s with the hair?”
“It was how Master Iren would always braid it…” I admitted, feeling a tightness in my chest at the memory of him.
“You liked him didn’t you?”
“Of course, he was strong and brave and—”
“What I meant was; you wanted to mate with him, didn’t you?” She clarified, a mischievous grin on her lips.
“How can you suggest something so–” I asked, flustered at the question.
“Oh please, show me an apprentice who didn’t want to mate with their master and I’ll show you a liar. I know I did…”
“But wasn’t master Ruathan…”
“Female? Yes, she was.”
“Oh…” I felt the warm rush of blood to my face at the thought. Although I knew people who mated with others of their genders, the thought had never crossed my own mind before.
“So, have you ever mated with someone before?”
“How can you ask me that?” I said, spinning around to face her.
“I’m bored and you owe me for waking me up.”
“Only once…” I muttered, fiddling with my half finished braid.
“Who was it with?”
“A boy who lived in my district before I was recruited. We were curious… What about you?”
“I had a few experience before being recruited as Master Ruathan’s apprentice. And then there were a few other apprentices I met along the way.”
I nodded and there was a moment of silence that settled between us.
“Alright, let me do your hair.” She said.
“You woke me up, let me at least have my fun.”
I sighed. “Alright.”
I turned my back to her and she took my hair in her hands, undoing my half finished braid. Rather than do the one like usually would, she made multiple ones.
“Why do you always make your hair so complex?”
“It’s something my mom taught me as a girl. My ancestors, the Qurhal, had an art, a language even. Not with words but with hair; every braid, every twist, every matte, every piece of jewelry had a meaning.” She explained as she braided and twisted strands of hair into shape, sometimes adding in a bead or ring from her own belongings. “With it the tribe proudly spoke of who they were so that all could know.”
“What do you think?” She asked once she was done, her operation having taken about half a krut.
“It’s different. But what does it mean?”
“That you are Karee, warrior without rest.”
“But appropriate.” She answered with a grin.
She quickly prepared herself and we left the command center. We didn’t bother waking Karune. Outside, a cool night breeze blew over the hills. In the weeks since we’d settled there, the camp had grown exponentially. A mix of tents, cargo containers and prefabricated modular structures salvaged from other camps had sprouted everywhere to shelter the influx of stranded Tzaries who had joined us.
Sikara didn’t question me when I headed for the perimeter wall of the camp and climbed atop the rampart, beginning to patrol, looking for signs of trouble in the darkness.
“Can you even believe it’s the warm season?” Sikara asked. “I shudder to think what the cold season will be like.”
“Master Iren said that at this latitude it shouldn’t get too cold but apparently it snows in the northern regions during the cold season.”
“Did he know a lot about this world?”
I nodded. “He used to read me intelligence reports every night. Said it was important to know the land and the people…” I felt a tightness in my throat. Rather than think about it, I recited what Master Iren had taught me “The locals call this region ‘Andalusia.’ Do you see the mountains behind us? They’re called the Sierra Morena.” I said pointing toward them.
“You miss him, don’t you?” She asked, putting a hand on my arm.
She let go of my arm only to take my finger in hers.
“Karee, have you visited the shrine to pay your respect?”
“I’ve had other things to do…”
“Like patrolling the walls in the dead of the night? Or cleaning Master Kiorga’s armor over and over?”
“Been trying to avoid it, have you?”
“Maybe…” I answered, my ears folding down and back in shame.
“We still have some time before we need to report to our master. Why don’t we go pay our respect?”
I didn’t protest and still holding my hand she lead us toward the shrine to the ancestor that had been established in one of the largest and nicest structure. The inside still smelled like incense and smoke, the fire pit at the center of the room still held glowing embers.
She walked to the altar and took the pitcher, pouring three tiny cups of alcohol, giving one to me and took the other two before sitting down before the fire with me.
“Hear us Ancestors.” Sikara began. “We remember; Iren, Son of–” She stopped, looking at me.
“Son of Rakisa, of clan Viok.” I continued. “Honorable lord and dutiful master. We—” The words didn’t leave my throat so Sikara picked up once more.
“We commend his spirit to the Creator, so that he may join the honored ancestors in guiding us. We pray for his spirit, so that it may find deserved rest in the plains of light.”
She raised her cup and so did I. Together we drank, the alcohol bringing a burning sensation to my throat as it went down. She then took the last cup and raised it to me. I took it and slowly poured its content over the still burning embers, which went up in a puff of blue flames.
“Blessed is the Creator who gave us life.” Sikara began and I followed just a second after her. “Blessed are the ancestors who watch over us. May their light and memory never fade.”
“It’s done.” Sikara said, getting up. “How do you feel?”
“I thought it would be harder… Thank you for doing this with me, I don’t think I could have done it alone.”
“It was no problem, Karee.”
“There’s still time before we have to report.”
“Maybe you should try to commune with him?” She walked to the altar and picked up the jar of kirun resin, the smoke of which brought for visions of the ancestors, and opened it, taking one of the pungent cube and bringing it to my hand.
“I’m sure it would help you, I’ll be by your side if you’d like. I’m sure Master Kiorga would understand if we’re late for this.”
“Karee…” She put an arm on my shoulder.
“I don’t think I can handle seeing him. Not yet.”
She didn’t say a word. Instead she wrapped her arms around me, holding me tight. I couldn’t hold it in anymore, I cried in her arms. Letting out weeks worth of feelings I’d bottled down and did my best to ignore.