For What is to Come

Author’s Note: I gave Tamah a bit of a makeover to fit better her character concept. Her hair has changed, and she is a bit shorter.

After speaking briefly with Mehetabel, Rihas learns the missing woman’s name is Cedar. According to the abrasive leader of the Village of Sensitives, the young woman had discovered an old-world vehicle that was still operational. In defiance against village elders, she used it to traverse the Hinterlands. Rihas simply listens, gathering small scraps of carefully metered information she provides about Cedar’s disappearance.

Much of what Mehetabel says is truthful. Her explanation regarding Cedar having been forbidden from leaving the village contained no deception. Information regarding the vehicle is where the half-truths and embellishments begin to accumulate. This is also where Rihas senses the hem of a carefully disguised deception.

Numerous scouts, including Rihas himself, had witnessed the vehicle firsthand. Rihas had concluded that the machine was neither old-world nor second-world in origin. Cedar did find a machine. This part is truthful. But Mehetable is lying about the vehicle’s inception. She knows it is not from the old world but seems intent upon convincing Rihas otherwise. Emotional inconsistencies continue to compound as she impatiently answers his long list of questions.

Mehetabel is keen and observant. Rihas feels her growing frustration surrounding his seemingly featureless emotional presence. She will eventually realize that he, too, possesses an empathic trait and is actively masking himself from her observations. Satisfied, for now, that he has gathered all the information Mehetabel is willing to part with, Rihas abandons further questioning.

A scout arrives, informing the group that a wikiup has been prepared for the guests. Rihas politely ends the conversation, completes the pleasantries required of him as the proxy for his tribe, and then takes his leave from the women. The effort he had expended concealing a growing sense of dread has left him mentally exhausted. It is the same dread he had felt in the days preceding the Demon Tribe‘s attack.

His failure to act upon the portent twelve cycles ago resulted in ruin. Fingering the pouch containing locks of his fallen mates’ hair, Rihas vows to confront, head-on, any clan, village, or horde threatening to harm his tribal family.

Tamah’s scent being carried on the wind is warning enough for Rihas to renew his vigil. The young woman projects an earnest simplicity more common in nomad women than those from the Village of Sensitives. Tamah must have purposefully continued past the wikiup prepared for the guests and then circled around the far side of a row of dwellings to meet him. Although, now, she seems to have reconsidered and remains out of his sight behind a section of old ruins. Though he has not seen her, Rihas knows she is there.

He senses her hesitation and the internal conflict sparked by seeking him out alone. Interested in hearing from someone other than Mehetabel, Rihas calls out to her, “Hello, Tamah. Are you lost as well?”

She emerges after emitting a quiet, startled squeal, “H-how…?”

“I am a scout. It is my job to know.” Rihas says flatly. Upon sensing her guilt and fear, he reassures her, “Do not fear. You have done nothing wrong.”

She exhales nervously, then nods silently. She approaches him after a moment, drifting close enough so only he can hear her hushed words, “I’m sorry about how Mehetabel treated you earlier. And thank you for remaining calm. You are a remarkable leader.”

Rihas senses confusion and curiosity as she searches him for some glimpse of an emotional edifice. Likely unaware she is doing so, Tamah touches him gingerly and strains her eyes as if to peer into his psyche. She will find nothing, of course. Somewhat amused, he allows her to continue for a short time before clearing his throat,

“Uh, Tamah?” Rihas chuckles uncomfortably.

“What? Oh …OH! Oh no, no, no…” Tamah flinches away from him. “Please forgive my indiscretion!”

He hides her face in her hands, shuffling away from him in embarrassment. She stops abruptly when her back connects with material from the ruined building, “I …you …can’t,” she inhales deliberately slow and deep, then continues, “I can’t see you.”

“Hmm?” Rihas proceeds carefully, “I am right here.” He says plainly, striking his chest softly with his fist.

Tamah shakes her head as though the activity imparts the ability to declutter her thoughts, “No. That’s not what I mean. I mean…” She shakes her head again, this time to ward away confusion. “Mahetable may have been obnoxious, but she not exaggerating.” Tamah appeals to Rihas while nearly trembling with fear. “We must find Cedar. I need to know you understand…”

Tamah squares her shoulders and puffs her chest. Only a single tear trailing downward along her cheek betrays the terror she projects, “If we don’t…” She exhales nervously, “…the nomad language contains no words for what is to come.”

The early afternoon sun fades behind a bank of murky, drab clouds as scouts from Rihas’ tribe gather to prepare the camp for travel. Having presented his case to tribal elders and impressing upon them the weight of Tamah’s warning, all agreed it was time for the tribe to quit the Hinterlands.

Many cycles ago, when Rihas was still a youth living among his birth tribe, an exodus arrived in the Hinterlands, having traveled from across the Southern Sands. They sought to escape from a severe drought and famine plaguing their homeland. Perhaps a third of those who had set out survived the journey. Foreign sojourners, numbering nearly a hundred, merged with local tribes and introduced new ideas, skills, and capabilities. Stories of their journey still circulate among the many nomadic tribes.

Rihas listens with keen interest to a retelling of one specific story that had always captured his imagination. The sojourners had come partway through the Southern Sands but had depleted their remaining food and water. Half of the exodus had already been lost to starvation and dehydration. It seemed the other half would soon follow. Some believe fate intervened on their behalf as the group came upon a large settlement of people. Details surrounding the settlement vary wildly from one telling to another. Some describe it as a surviving old-world community with functioning artifacts, both strange and wondrous. Others believed they were nomads who had found and restored a vast cache of salvage and habitable structures.

The odd community welcomed their weary guests and provided food and water. Many decided to remain. A handful of others continued toward their goal, a paradise rumored to have water flowing freely and lush plant life growing wild in vast, open ranges. The sojourners did eventually find their paradise. But they were unprepared for the harshness of the land and the beasts contained within.

Rihas pauses stoically after the elder completes the account of her journey across the Southern Sands, then speaks with a subdued candor, “Women from the Village of Sensitives have come asking our help finding one of their own.”

Rihas walks casually among the scouts until pausing beside Nadab, “Their request comes with a warning about another Demon Tribe which threatens all of the Hinterlands. Two nights past, our scouts witnessed a lone, solitary outsider slay a nest of giant predators while wielding tools never before seen by nomads.”

He makes eye contact with each scout before speaking again, “I have been told he is but one member of an entire village who may soon descend upon the Hinterlands.”

“Rihas…?” Nadab looks to the elder scout for reassurance as quiet and nervous chatter fills the room.

Rihas speaks above the confusion, “Our elders have decided that moving the camp is our best option. It has also been decided that I will lead an excursion into the Graves to search for the lost woman. Our guests believe she is instrumental in preventing the Demon Tribe’s arrival.”

Rihas frowns as he silently subdues a restless fear hatching in the pit of his belly. He also does not speak the words that dare not be said, But I fear it is already too late.

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