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Mortica

Yichimet's "The Cage and the Ceremony" (rfps)

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Yichimet’s body is frozen. The twisting, spreading branches of hisarms don’t writhe in the fire-blooming wind. His ghost head does notturn. His wolf eyes see only in one way. Silence is a new language ofcomfort.

* * *

“Earthmother, who dwells in every object, every being and every place: we summon You from the far places to us.

“Motherof the North, Who gives wings to the waters of the air and rolls outthe snowstorm, covering the earth with silver carpet: temper us withtoughness to withstand the biting blizzard.

“Mother of the Eastand of the red sun’s rising, brace us that we neither neglect our giftsnor lose in laziness the hopes of each day.

“Mother of the SouthWhose warm breath of strength dissolves our fears and meets ourhatreds: teach us that they who are truly strong are also fearless.

“Mother of the West and of the sunset, bless us with knowledge of the freedom which follows the wise life.

“Mother of the earth beneath our feet, storer of unreckoned things: we would give thanks unending for Your great bounty.

“Spiritswithin, may we be aware of the goodness of the gift of life and beworthy of it.” Hidua finished the prayer in Orcish, having stumbledover only a few words, and looked down from the sky. The Grim wereassembling, and he was scared for the outcome of the night.

Suddenly,Zangen Stonehoof, the fire-keeper for the Bluff, turned to them andwalked toward the large pile of wood in the center of the circle.

“TheEarth Mother watch over us; under cover of the night as in the day. Letthis fire illuminate both our bodies and spirits and remind us of ourhonored ancestors, who are ever present and guiding our way,” Zangenchanted in Taurahe.

“A good omen,” Snowfeather said.

“Ya mon. Good omen indeed,” the troll Phu muttered.

* * *

Silenceis a new language of comfort, but Yichimet has not learned its words.He is of the Tree, and of the World, and yet separate from everythingbut his thoughts. How the winds blow, and how he stays still.

* * *

“Wecould…enter the Nether?” Hidua asked Pincus. The Grim crowd was nownearly thirty strong, and all were staring at the old bull and theblazing fire.

“Yes,” Pincus answered curtly. The Forsaken hadjust finished telling the group that he had paid an orc warlock tostation herself on the edge of the Great Tree. “We will need to…getsome of our more nefarious members to enter Darnassus first,” Pincuscontinued.

“The Forsaken Licidion scouts ahead,” Hidua nodded.

“Yes. We will need one more.”

“And do we have one more?”

“Yes. Eelai is en route to Auberdine.”

“The shadow. Good.”

“Do we need more?” Mohan asked.

“No, we do not.”

Rumbling from the crowd, creaking of the wooden benches, weapons being drawn: all sounds reaching Hidua’s ears.

* * *

Howthe winds blow, and how he stays still, and how he gains back his mind.Faces: scarred Mohan, pensive Snowfeather, insane Licidion.Broken-moon-horned Hidua. The faces of his father and mother. The faceof his owl.

* * *

Hidua stepped onto the giant branchof the Tree and reached down to steady himself. The groove in the barkwas as wide as his massive hoof. He could lay down three times over onit.

Several Grim were slaughtering satyrs in the rear, and morestill were coming through the mind-blanking twist of the Nether. Hiduatensed as he spotted a single Kaldorei who moved tentatively, thoughobviously, among the Horde who were quickly flowing into Teldrassil’sgreen. He relaxed when he saw her vapid face and her inability tocomprehend the situation. No call had been sent to the sentries. Theywere safe for at least a few more minutes.

Pincus whispereddirections, and Mohan, Snowfeather and Daala set off to find the lastingredient for the ceremony: a live owl, whose blood would bind theVision of those participating to Yichimet’s spirit. Hidua did not knowhow it would work on any of them, especially those who were notShu’halo. He had only seen this sapta made once before, when he was soyoung that his memory cast it as a dream.

As the three crept offin search of the real hunt’s quarry, the others began yelling andrunning for the gates of the City in the Tree.

When he would tryto recall it later, Hidua would get only pieces: his breath coming inshort, painful, fiery bursts as he chased after the younger Horde.Pincus blasting what appeared to be Nether at the elves. A troll with awolf—Phu?—pulling back his bow so far it looked to snap. So manyForsaken with knives and swords flashing that they appeared likegoblin-designed machines. The blast of spells and the feel of heatsinging his mane.

And then they were back in Thunder Bluff assuddenly as they came. Mohan had the owl, its trusting eyes looking upat its new master.

* * *

The face of his owl, thechick at birth, the Brave of feathers—it claws at his thoughts. Hissenses balloon. He is the World. He feels every foot of every beingwalking on him. He feels the roots of trees delving into his skin. Hefeels the trickle of rivers. He feels the Rot of the Great Tree in hisheart.

* * *

The battle left Hidua so bone-dead that for seconds he looked around and saw only faces, and no one he knew.

“Snowfeatheris lost behind, Hidua,” Mohan whispered in his ear. The old sorcerersnapped into himself again, and he felt a sharp pain in his chest.

“Shewill be all right, Mohan,” Hidua said back. Others—Danlily,Harusame—were echoing Mohan’s worry. “She will be all right because sheis strong and crafty, like the first hunters. She will find her wayhome.”

Some who came only for the battle filtered out of thecrowd. Hidua watched them passively—he, who had been on a great manyVision Hunts before, was afraid of this one with his whole bones. Hecould blame no one for leaving.

When all were settled again, he turned to face the crowd. “It is time. Yichimet is nearly returned to us!”

“But what of Snowfeather?” Danlily asked.

“Hidua, we may still mix the sapta? Perhaps save some for Snowfeather to drink?” Mohan asked.

“As Snowfeather said…we do not have time to waste. We must begin the ceremony, Mohan.”

“I will follow your lead, Hidua,” Mohan said. “Tell me what must be done.”

“Aprayer first,” Hidua said as he looked to the sky. The Grim bowed theirheads. “Great Spirit, I send these words to you. Hear my prayer.

“Theseare my words: to bright An’she the Sun, to sad Mu’sha, Moon, to theEarth Mother, to all my relations that have been Created as I. To theFour Winds, that bring us the Seasons of Life and Death.

“To the East where An’she rises, bringing to us a new day, a new meaning of life, a light in which to see the path before us.

“To the South where the warm air comes to us, bringing heat, the seasons of spring and summer, Living and Life.

“To the West where An’she goes to bring us to darkness, so we may see the sky and search for the questions of our life.

“To the North where the cold winds come from, bringing us fall and winter, Dying and Death.

“Oh Great Spirits, hear my words, for to you I offer my heart and wisdom, body and life, You made me what I am.”

* * *

Hefeels the Rot of the Great Tree in his heart and feels the anger of thespirits. He feels his Hunt ending and his Hunt beginning.

* * *

“Owl:be our Spirit Guide by your blood. Give the wisdom of the Night Hunterto all who drink you life.” Hidua pulled out a skinning knife andgrabbed the owl by the head, pulling it from Mohan’s forearm. Itsquawked and dug its claws into Hidua’s forearm before he could plungethe knife into its neck, but its grip quickly loosened as its bloodflowed. He ripped a handful of feathers from its wing, and then heldthe knife above the dragon-scale drinking skin, dripping the blood intothe medicine slowly. The sapta began to mix in the skin.

With afeather, Hidua painted blood on Mohan’s forehead and passed the skin tohim. When he was finished drinking, Hidua retrieved the skin and madehis way around the circle, repeating the process for everyone, paintingtheir forehead and giving them a taste of the sapta.

Hiduanodded. “Tonight, when you sleep, you will go on your first VisionHunt, many of you. You may or may not find Yichimet. You may like whatyou see, or you may not. But thank you all—tomorrow, I expect Yichimetto wake up in this world, free from the Nightmare.”

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