Zalek always slept on his back, and he was a light sleeper. So he awoke quickly as he found himself being suddenly yanked to his left and rolled over onto his stomach. He reflexively tried to keep rolling away and to his feet but found himself held down by a pair of strong arms wrapped around his shoulders and powerful legs similarly entwined about his waist from below. Awareness replacing his initial surprise at being jolted from slumber, he felt the soft skin pressing up against his own flesh and stared down into a familiar pair of eyes. White irises made them look like completely colorless orbs aside from the black dots of pupils at their centers, and they were framed by golden skin and white hair.
"Love me," she whispered, her breath warm against his lips.
He planted his hands on the thatch carpet and pressed up, which only succeeded in lifting both of their torsos from the floor. "Kaviri," he growled, "I've told you a-"
"I meant physically," she interrupted him. "You're already good to go for that." She giggled and pulled herself up against him tighter than she already had been, the contact making him extremely aware that she was as naked as he was and that he was fully aroused.
"That's cheating, Viri," he half groaned, half moaned as she leaned her head up to press her cheek to his and nip at his left ear.
"You were like that when I got here," she breathed as if sharing a secret. "That's not out of the ordinary for men in the morning, is it?"
"You know, it's also not out of the ordinary for anybody to consider being woke up like this to be a particularly egregious form of assault, right?" She giggled again, licked his ear, and dropped her head back to look him in the eye again and smile up at him.
"Only if it's unwelcome, and as much as you complain you've never once even tried to resist."
"With your hands already on me there wouldn't even be a point."
"It's the principle that's important," she laughed, "and you know you enjoy it."
Damn. She was right. He could be annoyed by her affections later, but he couldn't think of anything that could possibly feel better than the way she clung to him right then except to return the affection. With great enthusiasm. At least she wouldn't bring it up until the next time...ah burn it. He slid his hands in around her back and pressed his lips to hers, letting his weight press down against her and shifting his hips to join with hers.
A bit later, he rolled off of her and back onto the soft mattress that she had pulled him off of, his left arm curling up around her back as she snuggled against him. His sweaty flesh tingled as she sighed contentedly against his chest and he blinked at the morning light seeping through the ventilation slit in the roof of his simple hut.
"What are you doing here, anyways," he asked. "I was going to come get you and Karlan this morning."
"Yeah," she intimated, "I know. But we haven't been together for days and it was either this or wait until you get drunk at the festival tonight and I don't like waiting. Besides, the beds at city inns just aren't as soft as your carpet."
"So," he snorted, "you left in the middle of the night to walk through the jungle in the dark?"
"No," she brought her left arm and leg around to squeeze him tightly, "I left at sunset but a scythetooth decided that I'd make a good meal halfway here. It took me a good hour to chase it down and finish it off but now we have some extra things to sell when we get to Noldu's Rest. City folk pay good money for that kind of stuff, especially during a festival. Take a look over next to your clothes."
Zalek reached over with his free hand and grabbed the object that he suddenly noticed was sitting atop the thatch carpet next to his things that normally sat next to his bed while he slept. He lifted it up in front of his face and examined it. The ivory figurine was nearly as large as one of his fists and shaped into a miniature facsimile of the large feline that was one of the apex predators of the region. He knew without asking that the statuette looked exactly like the particular scythetooth from which Kaviri had taken the teeth to make it and that there wasn't a single scratch, scrape, or other sign of a blade on it. She didn't need one to shape such a piece, just as he didn't need one to manipulate wood.
"So I'm going to have to go get Kar anyway?" Unlike Zalek and Kaviri, her brother, the third member of their domrak, lacked any special talents or skills suited to moving through the jungle at night. At least not without drawing all sorts of attention to himself and quite possibly starting a wildfire if he got surprised by anything dangerous. Were that to happen he would be quite capable of both handling the danger and containing the fire but that didn't change the fact that Kar had no business being out on his own at night and Zalek couldn't see him accompanying Kaviri early solely for the reason she had came. Kar was probably the smartest one of all three of them in that he didn't lose a night's sleep by trekking across the jungle when he didn't need to nor did he indulge the crazy woman who had done just that.
"Yep. I'll wait here. Bring me something to eat when you come back." Zalek frowned down at the top of Kaviri's snowy head, but she either didn't notice or care. After a moment he sat up, letting her slide off of his chest to curl up behind his waist and fully onto the mattress. He reached up and ran his fingers through his long, straight hair a few times to work out the tangles that sleeping with it loose always resulted in.
"Braid my hair for me," he asked, "will you?"
"Hmph. You wake up all grumpy, have your way with me, then expect me to groom you?" Despite the put off tone of her voice, he felt his hair being pulled back and down tightly, along with a few tiny jerks as the remaining tangles that he hadn't gotten to were worked out. He couldn't sense her magic because it was different than his but he knew that braiding hair with it was a simple enough task for her that she could do it with her eyes closed. In fact, he was certain that her eyes were closed, even when she reached up with one hand a few seconds later to grab the end of his now braided hair as the tug of her magic vanished. "Tie," she yawned.
Zalek glanced down and located the short length of finely woven cord, little more than strong thread, really, sitting next to his belt and Kaviri's scythetooth figurine. Just out of his reach with her holding him back by the hair. He lifted his hand toward it and silently called to it with his magic and it obligingly flitted up into his grasp. He reached behind his head and another simple bit of magic wrapped and knotted it just above Kaviri's fingers. "Done," he said. Her hand fell away to reach over to grab his pillow and yank it under her head with a slight grunt. She immediately began to snore.
He stood up, disengaging his legs from hers as he did so, and called to his loincloth on the floor. The tough yet deceptively soft and comfortable green colored garment responded to his magic and floated up to tie itself snugly around his waist as he rolled his head around his shoulders with a few satisfying cracks of his neck joints. Next came the woven belt with his curved daggers in their wooden sheaths and coiled whip made from yarnik vine, then the cord with his quiver containing eight short spears, each half as long as his arm, and the semicylindrical wooden thrower, which he hung over his right shoulder and under his left arm so the weapons rested against his back. He then stepped into his soft leather moccasins and used his magic again to cinch the cloth laces and tie them tight as he also called his spear up to his hand. The primary weapon of any Roktun hunter and warrior, it was as long as he was tall with the wide, flat, vaguely leaf shaped blade on one end balanced out by a spherical knob about half again larger than his fist at the other. Like that of any plantcaller, like all of his weapons, it was made entirely of seamless wood that was every bit as strong as city steel but weighed much less.
He pushed the door open and stepped over Kaviri's clothing and weapons, which she'd casually dropped just inside the threshold, and exited the dome shaped dwelling of wood and thatch. Even in the shade at the edge of the village the morning light was enough to make him squint for a moment upon stepping outside. The soft rumble of the cascading water that gave Daluin Falls its name mixed with the chirping of birds and rustling of branches and leaves from the jungle before him.
Glancing down, he saw the black furred hide of a scythetooth fashioned into a cloak large enough for his older brother to use as a blanket, and Zinsul was one of the largest men Zalek had met. The huge cat's skull minus the lower jaw formed a helmet-like cowl that was propped up by the beast's eponymous fangs, each of which were roughly the size of Zalek's forearms. Atop the hide, no doubt made from the animal's spine, was a spear in the style favored by city dwellers who fancied themselves hunters: a long shaft ending with a long, straight blade backed by a wide, stout cross guard. The weapon was ill suited to much more than bracing against the ground in front of a charging attacker, but then again city folk weren't very skilled at anything that involved the jungle. Next to the spear was a set of wide, sturdy bracers and greaves as well as several knives, a flute, and a few small yet detailed statuettes made from the remaining bones, as well as two bracelet length leather cords each adorned with five black claws half as long as Zalek's fingers and a longer cord with the other ten attached to it. The smell of fresh cooking meat coming from a ways into the village told him where the bulk of the scythetooth's flesh had gone.
His stomach growled but he ignored it for now. Karlan was likely eating breakfast right that moment and he could eat with him. He'd get some of the fresh meat for Kaviri when he got back; she'd earned that much with the effort she had to have gone through. Even for someone of her magically enhanced strength, carrying something that big all the way here had to be tiring, not to mention the effort of working its body into the artifacts laid out on his doorstep.
Putting Kaviri and her kill out of his thoughts, Zalek closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and fully opened his mind to his magic. Sounds and scents faded into the background, pushed away by tactile sensation. He felt the grass beneath his feet. He felt the great, broad leaves of the giant canpo trees of the jungle waving gently in the breeze. He felt ferns and other underbrush rustle aside as small animals scampered through the cover it provided them. He felt the light tread of birds hopping along branches. Anything around him that was part of any kind of plant, even if it was no longer alive like the thatch of his hut behind him, the spear in his hand, or the fabric of his own loincloth, magically woven from soft fel grass. He felt a weight on the lowest branch of one of the canpo trees directly in front of him.
Opening his eyes, he looked up to see Falinev sitting there, roughly six spans above the ground, looking down at him with vivid green eyes. The other plantcaller's dark green hair was braided just like his own, and she had on her the same weapons and clothing with the addition of a tight fitting cloth halter over her breasts. For a moment he thought she might say something to him, likely scolding him for his behavior with Kaviri, but she just turned her head and gazed into the depths of the jungle. He could hear a snort through his magic connection to the tree she sat in.
The behavior of women was a mystery to Zalek, as well as to any other man he'd ever spoken on the subject with, so he just shrugged and walked over to the base of the tree Falinev sat in. He pulled his magic into himself and focused, losing that supernatural awareness as he stepped into the span-wide trunk. Standing there, physically one with the wood, he mentally reached outward again, this time sensing just other canpo trees but all such trees over a much larger area than his more general awareness had been a moment ago. He moved his awareness through the jungle to the east and a bit to the south for a few heartbeats until he found the particular tree he was looking for, then stepped out onto the grass at the edge of the village of Seyaj Grove. What was normally a half day's walk he had just traveled in less than a minute.
His mind buzzed with the power he had used, a sensation that could easily become disorienting if he overexerted himself, but for now it was a pleasant and invigorating feeling.
Widening his magical senses to a broader spectrum again, he confirmed that his new surroundings were peaceful and nothing was abnormal, then he walked into Seyaj. Karlan and Kaviri's home village was average sized for the region which meant that it was home to just over two hundred people, making it smaller than Daluin by almost a third. Zalek called upon the one bit of magic at his disposal that wasn't entirely his own, the domrak bond, which confirmed for him that Karlan was exactly where he expected him to be. He also sensed Kaviri, more or less directly behind him across miles of jungle. Kaviri was able to sense Zalek's and Kar's physical state over the bond and even do things like see through their eyes if she concentrated and used enough power, but Zalek could only get distance and direction from it.
She is happy. Content. At peace.
She should be at peace, Zalek thought. He knew he sure would be if he were able to spell himself into a trance four times more restful than normal sleep. He often envied the abilities of other shamans, but knew that the same went for them of himself in other situations. Kaviri couldn't call fire and lightning like Karlan and neither of them could treewalk as he just had. Shamans were organized into domrak, groupings of three, specifically so they could compliment each other's abilities. Still, he knew the thought that had just intruded into his mind wasn't referring to Kaviri being asleep.
He pushed the matter aside as he walked past a handful of dwellings just like his own. They belonged to hunters and scouts who were responsible for patrolling and looking after the jungle on this side of the village. The grass beneath his feet became shorter, tougher, and more worn down as he got into the village proper where foot traffic was more common, and in another minute he was to the dining pavilion for this part of Seyaj. A stone walled cooking pit which consisted of a large oven over a fire pit and a wide stone grated grill sat beneath the center of the two span tall thatch roof that spread out atop wooden posts to also shelter three stone tables each surrounded by a dozen wooden stools. A smaller oven and grill sat next to the larger ones for use in cooking smaller amounts of food for one or a small handful of the village residents, but with most of the Seyaji just starting their days the aroma of simmering eggs, ever so slightly scorched pata cakes, and fresh coffee filled the air, as did the muted conversations of twenty-some people of varying ages in equally varying states of wakefulness.
Zalek hefted his spear, pointing its tip up and letting his grip slide to just in front of the knob at its butt and whipped the weapon forward and down so that the blade impaled itself a few finger breadths into the hard packed dirt behind the empty stool next to a young man who's bright red hair, which fell loose halfway down his neck, made him stand out among his companions and their black manes of varying lengths. Zalek noticed a seemingly empty groove in the ground behind his domraku's stool and, not for the first time, chuckled to himself about how he Kar appeared to be the only one of the five denizens of that table, hunters all, who was unarmed and without a spear jabbed into the ground behind him. Then again his hair clearly marked him as an windcaller and anyone who thought him unarmed had to be either incredibly ignorant or just plain stupid.
"Zal!" Kar said smiling around a mouthful of half chewed pata as he turned to regard his friend, "Hey, brother, you look flushed. What'd you do, run all the way here?" The other hunters at the table chuckled, though the other adults and older teenagers nearby either rolled their eyes or shook their heads and the younger children frowned in confusion.
"You know damn well why I'm flushed," Zal grumbled as he sat down on the stool and reached for the steaming coffee pot and an empty cup, both made from finely formed stone and sitting in the middle of the table and poured himself a drink. His face was always some shade of pink for about a half hour after being with Kaviri. She even admitted, privately to him at least, that she deliberately worked her magic on him specifically as a way of calling attention to what they'd been doing. She also seemed to take great pleasure in the jokes and ribbing he received as a result of it, claiming that the others were simply attempting to cover up jealousy by giving him a hard time.
Zalek glanced at the bowl of knucklebone sized silvery blue mistberries piled in a bowl next to the coffee pot and magically pulled four from the top of it to arc into his cup, transforming them into a gooey paste even as they traveled and he called a pair of chopsticks from the small stack also located on the center of the table and stirred the drink with both.
"Quit laughing, you pig's asses," grumbled Ralira, a middle aged woman with her black hair trimmed close to her head as she approached. "There's nothing funny." She set a plate down in front of him, runny eggs and ripped up pata cake, just how he liked it. "Now if he'd act proper and cut his hair up above his shoulders like his little girlfriend..." Zalek just rolled his own eyes and moved his chopsticks straight from his coffee to snatch up a piece of pata and rub it in some egg yolk before stuffing it into his mouth. Delicious.
"Oh, leave him alone, woman," Kar interjected in his defense. "You don't want Viri to hear you're giving Zal a hard time now, do you?" This brought more laughs from the others at the table and a sharp bark of laughter from Ralira. Kaviri's possessiveness towards Zalek had been known to result in some less than pleasant situations, but the older woman wasn't the type to be intimidated by a sixteen year old girl regardless of said girl's proficiency as a shaman. The mental image of Ralira paddling Kaviri with a spatula for grabbing a piece of spiced pork from the grill before Ralira had deemed it ready only a few years ago sprung into his mind and he nearly choked on his food. He grabbed his cup and washed it down with the bittersweet coffee.
"Besides," Zalek added, "she's not my girlfri-" He was cut off mid-syllable by Ralira's spatula smacking against his left ear. He leaned back and looked up at her and briefly considered snatching the utensil away from her before she could hit him with it again. It was made from wood, after all. No, that was a bad idea. She'd just go and grab one made from stone, and then she would be angry.
"And just what is she then?" Ralira demanded, crossing her arms beneath her breasts and glaring down her nose at him.
"Delightful, dangerous, and incredibly annoying all at the same time," he answered quickly. "Kind of like her older brother but a whole lot better looking. Aside from that I still haven't figured her out." Ralira glared at him for a few heartbeats and he was fairly certain she was about to whack him with the spatula again but instead she laughed again.
"Cadon calls me all those things, you know, but he usually just sums it up quicker by saying I'm his wife!" This got a loud round of laughter from everyone present at Zalek's expense as Ralira turned away. "Still," she called back over her shoulder, "you did get the part about her looks right. That girl clearly got all the beauty in her family." This time Zalek laughed the loudest and gave Kar a good elbow to the ribs for emphasis.
"Zal," Karlan chuckled, "just be happy that I need you in good shape tonight. Though I suppose Viri could fix you up quick enough..." Zalek just grunted and shoved some more food into his mouth as Haljin picked up on the mention of the evening's festivities.
"Do you boys really think you're up for that?" Haljin was the oldest of the hunters present, his oldest son actually being a year older than Karlan who was a year older than Zalek. His hair was longer than Ralira's but, like most Roktun adults, it was trimmed well short of falling below his chin. "You three are very talented for your age, but so are the others and they have more experience."
"They spend most of their time watching over city folk passing through their village," Karlan said while Zalek chewed. "That kind of thing doesn't exactly keep you sharp like the jungle does."
"Just because most of them are soft doesn't mean city folk can't be dangerous," Haljin cautioned. "Don't forget why we take part in their festival every year." He was right. The main reason that the nearby Roktun villages sent representatives to Noldu's Rest, particularly those with the responsibilities and honor that Zalek, Karlan, and Kaviri were charged with, was to remind the "civilized" people that they were still around. And that they shouldn't be trifled with.
"Zinsul is probably the best single warrior in Daluin Falls," Zalek said after swallowing, "but nobody in his domrak has slain a scythetooth lately,"
"Oh, come on, Zalek," Transow, a hunter a few years older than Zalek and Karlan with hair the same length as the windcaller, "it's been over two years since you did that. A fifteen year old kid taking down one of those is impressive, but that was out where your magic is most effective. You aren't going to have half the jungle to call to in a dueling ring against your brother."
"I wasn't talking about that," Zalek said as he took a gulp of coffee. "One tried to make a meal of Viri on her way to Daluin last night. She made a cloak of its hide and trinkets of its bones."
"Zinsul may not be quite as big as a scythetooth," Haljin said, "but the cat wasn't wielding a spear. And don't forget his domraku."
"I can deal with Falinev as long as Kar doesn't get overwhelmed by Winsen."
"Give me some credit, buddy," Karlan said, sounding offended. "Just not too much. I can keep Winsen busy for a while but I don't think I can actually beat her on my own. You'd better be able to beat Falinev quickly because I doubt Viri can best your brother on her own, either. Just don't tell her I said that."
"Heh," Zalek said around another mouthful of food. "Hurry up and finish your meal. I'm going to need some rest after treewalking us all to Noldu's rest. I told the innkeeper last week that we'd be wanting a couple rooms but I don't want to risk him thinking we're not coming and give them away to somebody else. Plus we have to sell Viri's trinkets and she'll want more rest after being up all night."
"Well," Transow grinned, "don't you have yourself and your pretty pink cheeks to blame for that last part?" Zalek glared at him.
"She was up all night carrying the scythetooth back and working its bones and hide. She didn't even wake me up until just before I came here. Well, a little before that." Another round of chuckles sounded, but at least Zalek was able to eat the rest of his meal in peace as conversation drifted to other aspects of the festival and which villagers had already left to attend it. A few plantcallers had accompanied them, but it was impossible to treewalk fifty people over that distance so they'd left the previous morning. They would be meeting the group from Daluin falls and setting up a camp on the edge of the city. Zalek, Kaviri, and Karlan weren't required to be there until around sunset, when the torches would be lit and music played to attract onlookers from the city. Food would be served freely, certain delicacies such as mistberry brandy and bankib leaves would be sold at exorbitant prices that the city dwellers would happily pay, thinking they'd gotten a great deal, and then it would be time to put on their show.