Reclined against the great furry back of her cat, Akindi held her tankard in one hand and passed the peace pipe on with the other. The air near the fire was hot, and she was not the only one who had taken off her heavy tabard. She watched Zimjak's animated face in the firelight as he sat in only his leather breeches, half telling and half acting out a raucous story to his captivated audience.
"An' she kept following me, sniffin like! So finally, ah had no choice left: eet had ta be da goblins."
Bishmi roared his laughter, slapping his knee, while Sneaky winced in sympathy. Akindi chuckled, but through the fog of the bloomsmoke she kept losing track of the stories.
"That's nothing," Thrusk rumbled from his seat on a log. "About a year ago, I was hunting down in Durotar…"
Her eyes were drawn from his face to his bare arms as he gestured, the movement of muscles under skin hypnotic.
She caught herself and buried her face in her mug. She would have to leave again. Tomorrow at the latest.
"Kindi? Kindi where do you be hidin'?"
"Ahm up here, Grandfaddah!"
"Hrmph. Get down from dere. Ah got news."
"H'okay. What news? Tell me!"
"It be grand news, lil Kindi. Cho'll be happeh ta hear it. Ah've been talkin wit a few of de oddah eldahs, an ah've decided dat on yer namin day, eet'll be time fer ya ta get married."
"Ahm too old ta take care of yeh properlike, ah got ta be findin choo a man afore I be gone."
"Ol'juk Boojum. Choo two be a perfect match."
Akindi breathed deeply of the cool night air coming in from the Golden Plains. The stories had ended and the younger members of her little tribe were stoking up the fire now, singing lascivious songs about elves and gnomes. She smiled as she looked out over the great plains of Mulgore, bathed in the light of the full moon.
The hairs on the back of her neck tingled as Bishmi came up behind her. Her heart beat faster as he laid a warm had on her shoulder. "Choo leavin?"
A nod. "Eet be time for me to go."
Bishmi pulled her around, gently. The bonfire lit up her face, but cast shadows over his. They stood there, two old trolls who had fought beside each other many times through the years.
He spoke first.
"Why not stay here diss time?"
She shook her head mutely, lips pressed together. Her palms were sweating.
"Eets not right, Akindi."
She shook his hand off, feeling the familiar surge of anger well up. "Eet not be of aneh concern ta you, what ah do."
"Ah don' like seein mah friends hurt demselves."
"Den don' watch!"
She whistled sharply for Claw. Bishmi was standing too close. Her face was hot. The fog of smoke had left her and she clung to her anger.
"Ahm goin huntin… tell de othas 'bye foh me."
Bishmi frowned at her retreating back, gnawing on the air in frustration.
"Mnn.. Enh? Wha?"
"Grandfather? I had a dream."
"Kindi? A dream? Couldn't you tell me about it tomorrow?"
"No. It's about tomorrow."
"Ah. I see. Hang on then."
"Allright. It's normal to have dreams the night before your naming day, you know."
"Mother and Father were talking to me."
"I could see them… we were walking through the village, Mother was on my left and Father on my right. We stopped near the pond, Tum'juk and Ol'juk were there. They were fighting."
"Were they now? About what?"
"I… didn't know. I started to go to them, but mother made me stay. Then…. Tum'juk s-started shouting, and the sky got dark, an, an Ol'juk suddenly had a knife, an I h-had to do something but I di-hidn't know what it was, an they were fighting, an th-then Mother grabbed me and, and T-Tum'juk sh-shot me with a-an arrow!"
"Shhhh… c'mere. Kindi, it was just a dream… he would never hurt you, you're just nervous and making up dangers."
"No, h-he wasn't shooting at me. He was shooting at my baby! A-hand Mother was helping!"
"Your.. Hey. Shhhh. It's ok, Kindi."
"But… then I wa-has out in a jungle, and M-mother was gone, and it was j-just me and Father. And he h-handed me his bow, and I wasn't shot or hurt, and he s-said 'This is your place' a-hand dissappeared. A-hand I was so a-ha-loooone..."
"Shush... shush… Hrmmm."
"Hmmnnn. Let's go see Karlak'ji."
Two great cats ran across the plains, muscles smoothly pumping through well practiced motions. His mind was clear. His was the thrill of the run, and the anticipation of the great hunt ahead of them. Hers was troubled. Despite the release of running and the promise of blood, a small part of herself that she could never escape burned and remembered.
"Who are you who come before the Council of Elders?"
"I name myself to be Kajee'ki Barr'att."
"We greet you, Kajee'ki Barr'att, noble hunter of the tribe. Who do you bring before us?"
"She is my ward. She has no name."
"If she is fit, she shall have one."
"I proclaim her fit, and offer violence and death to any who disagree."
"We see no objections to your claim. She is known to us and fit to be a member of this tribe. Step forward, child."
"I am here."
"What would you have of the council?"
"I am an adult now. I wish an adult's name and place in the tribe."
"Then claim it."
"I am no longer a child. I am Akindi Bar'att, a hunter of the tribe."
"We welcome another strong member of the tribe! Sound the drums! Light the fires! Another warrior is born this day. Let us feast!"
They stalked through the jungle, the hot, humid air offering no relief to her. She grimaced, her tusks bared to the world. Her hands gripped the hilts of her weapons rhythmically, clenching and releasing as she sought her prey. Something large. Something fierce. Something that had a real chance of killing her. He growled, low. There was a scent in the air.
"Hoy! Hoy! Speech!"
"Jah, mon, speech from da parteh girl! Ah mean woman!"
"Talk about adult tings!"
"Shatap, joo monkey. H'okay. Friends an famileh, ah be havin sometin' to say."
"Woo! Say yer'll marreh me!"
"Cho're alreadeh married!"
"Ah could have two…"
"Joo couldn't handle her."
"Oy you two! Shut yer mouths fer a minute an stop pourin da drink down em. Akindi has sumtin ta say to all of yeh."
"Tank you, Grandfaddah. Ah… Tomorrow ahm leavin da village."
"Ah had a dream, an da spirits talked to meh. Dey said dat ah can't be stayin here. Ah've got tings to do before.. Er, before ah start a famileh."
"Heh. She's blushin."
"Ah be havin sometin to do, an Ah don' know what eet be. But ah'm swearin to da spirits now, ah won't settle down til ah finish eet."
"But she was supposed to-"
"Akindi's got a spirit quest! Alreadeh?"
"Choo missed yer callin as a shaman, girl!"
"She'd make a terrible shaman - what'ryoo yappin about?"
"Ah don' know when ah'll be done it. Ah tink ah have a lot to do, tings dat ah can't do while ahm stayin here and… takin care of a tent. So. I sweah not to have a mate or a home of my own until ah've done… whatever eet is dey want me to do."
"But… but she…"
"Whew. No mate at all?"
"Hope eet doesn' take too long, eh?"
"Ah'm sorreh. Ah don' want to leave. But ah have to."
"Well, den dere it eez. Choo heard her. Now as I always say: If dere be shit to do tomorrow, at least get shitfaced today!"
"PASS DA PIPE!"
The two great cats tore into the giant reptile, claws rending flesh, axes spinning, soaked in blood. It bathed her arms, her legs, as she and the tiger roared as one at the jungle tyrant. The energy built up within her swelled as she fought, throbbing painfully through her arms and shoulders, her heartbeat pounding in her head. The devilsaur fought with desperation now, swiping viciously, lashing out at the other cat with its massive tail. She screamed in rage as a great talon raked across her face, tearing through her scalp and ripping through her eye. Blood ran down her face as she staggered backwards, dropping an axe to clutch at the wound. The tyrant lunged forward but she ducked low and spun, a rictus of hate on her face, severing the tendon in his lower leg. With a great bellow the beast fell, and the two cats lunged in for the kill.
With a triumphant roar she cleaved through his throat with her axe, the ecstasy of the kill flowing through her. The giant lizard jerked violently in the throes of death, blood pumping out of its severed artery. Akindi welcome it, glorying in the hot blood running down her skin. She roared again, the built up adrenaline and rage finally finding a release among the dense jungle trees.
She waited, panting, as the noble beast finally stilled.
The blood on her skin was drying, already caked on to her thighs. Her muscles shivered with exhaustion. She let her axe drop from her hands and fell to her knees as her companion came over to lick at her ear.
It would have to do.