Spirits of Alaruk

Chapter 8: The Nomads

It was a short walk to Kvati's home, just west of the temple hill. Kvati's home was quaint and cozy, nestled among several other sandstone homes--adorned with woolen rugs, leather and silk embroidered cushions, decorative painted pottery, and woven reed baskets stuffed with dried flowers and fragrant herbs. As Kvati was decidedly doing the cooking, Siku and Lasranu made themselves comfortable among a pile of cushions in the corner of the living room.

"So, mind telling me who you really are?" said Kvati as she began to prepare the fish at the table. Dressed in teal silk garments and silvery rings on her horns, the plump fuglan's sense of fashion seemed to match her home. "I've never witnessed anything as strange as what happened there at the temple."

Treke took a deep breath to calm her nerves. "Ah, well..." She bowed instinctively, as if to apologize for her rudeness. "My name is Treke, of the Nuek clan. Just a couple of days ago I became a ruksala, rather abruptly. I'm looking for a zreusudrat, a malicious spirit, named Ludaru. A trail of rranha led me here to Hulerin, all the way from my home of Sridez Island."

"My, that explains a few things. You've only been a ruksala for a couple of days and you've traveled all the way out here? You're quite bold for such an inexperienced one to intentionally seek out dangerous spirits."

"I only want to help, that's all... I don't believe I'm that brave though. I had help from my friend Siku getting me here."

"You rushed to help Taksue and even stayed behind in the temple when it wasn't considered safe. I consider that quite brave indeed. Either that or foolish. I think Taksue qualifies for that, haha!"

"It is a ruksala's duty to heal the living and resolve problems with the spirit world. I fear Hulerin may only experience more of the same if nothing is done. What else could I have done?"

Taksue, who was descaling and gutting fish for Kvati, seemed highly interested in Treke's position. "I knew something unusual was going on, that's why I didn't want to leave the temple. If only I could speak directly with the spirits, we could have gotten answers earlier... I want to be more than just a custodian for Nakuka's temple."

"Does Hulerin not have a ruksala to communicate with Nakuka?"

"Well... no, not exactly. We used to have several elders that would speak with the spirits, but that was generations ago."

"What happened?"

"Many, many years ago, there was a very nasty drought that wiped out many clan members. We lost many valuable elders to that dry season, and since then communing with spirits has been difficult."

The fact that there were no elders left to pass down their spiritual knowledge made Treke appreciate Elder Vrenik's wisdom even more. "I see... You lost not only your elders, but their knowledge as well."

"Yeah... Most clan members still visit the temple though. I'm one of the few custodians that stays at the temple full time, but I hate how I can't even speak to Nakuka!"

"It is not an easy path to become a ruksala, but perhaps I could teach you how to speak with spirits. I am only a novice, but perhaps with time and more experience I can show you so that you can also pass on that knowledge to your clan."

Taksue's eyes lit up with excitement. "Oh, could you? I would love that. I've been in the temple for years but I wish I could do more than just cleaning the temple grounds and performing funeral rites, daru?"

"I understand. I started out by only maintaining my ancestor's shrines, as well."

Kvati shook her head knowingly as she rubbed spices into a fish filet. "Your enthusiasm for the temple is admirable, Taksue, but I swear, you'd waste away and completely forget to eat if I wasn't there to remind you. You need to put on more weight before the next dry season comes around."

"I know, know! I can't help it when I keep forgetting..."

"Thank you for letting us share a meal with you, Kvati," said Treke, bowing respectfully. "Taksue seems very dedicated to Nakuka and you seem to care a lot for others."

"Of course, dear!" Kvati gave Treke a warm smile as she began to season the next filet. "Cooking is my passion, and I love being able to share it with others. Lasranu brings such good fish to the temple for me to prepare. I also tend the temple's garden and grow various herbs and spices just for cooking."

"That's wonderful. I would love to visit the temple and see it more in depth, but I'm afraid I need to focus on locating Ludaru."

"Dear, I also like your enthusiasm, but you need to relax a little," Kvati insisted. "The fact that you passed out back there tells me you've been under a lot of stress. You should rest for a while first."


"Even healers need healing sometimes, my dear. Don't worry, you're welcome to stay here to rest and have a meal or two. Stay as long as you'd like."

"I don't want to trouble you too much..."

"Don't try to argue with her," said Taksue. "She'll stuff you with even more food!"

Kvati belted out a laugh before she placed several fish filets on a large flat stone she had been heating up with hot coals. The fish sizzled and popped as they settled on the scalding surface.

"I suppose I could stay for a little while then..." The trail of rranha had gone cold for now, but with the mention of Ludaru from the tukran in the temple, Treke knew she had to keep the search going. "Have you seen any other forest fuglans pass through Hulerin?"

"Hmm, we see them from time to time, although not commonly. Why do you ask?"

"I'm looking for someone named Karrak. I think he may have something to do with the tukran at the temple."

"The name doesn't sound familiar. Taksue, maybe you've seen them?"

Sitting down on a cushion, Taksue thought deeply for a moment before responding to the question. "I'm bad at names... What does he look like?"

"He's probably not hard to miss. He has dark blue skin, piercing green eyes, and crooked ears."

"Hmm... You know, I think I do remember someone who looked like that visiting the temple, although it's been awhile. I couldn't say why, but something seemed off-putting about him."

"I see... So he likely was here. I need to find out where he went."

"The only way out of Hulerin besides the port is north, through the desert," said Kvati, "but it's very dangerous to traverse alone if you don't know what you're doing."

"I have no experience with the desert, but I don't think Karrak would either. If he did leave through the desert, he must have gotten help. Who could we ask that would know about that?"

"We could ask the Naku clan nomads. They have a camp northwest of Hulerin. They travel through the desert every dry season. If there's anyone he would have gotten help from it would be them."

Treke nodded. "Then that is where I must go next."

"Before we go," said Taksue, "we should bring the extra fish along for the nomads. Otherwise they can get a little... cranky."

"What do you mean?"

"They're just a bit rough around the edges, don't worry about it."

Treke watched as Kvati flipped the fish filets with a wooden spatula, the scent of spices wafting through the air. "What else can you tell me about the nomads?"

"Well, they usually stay camped outside of Hulerin until the dry reason, then they travel north to feed their kariag herd."

"What is a kariag?"

Kvati's girthy belly jiggled as she let out a laugh. "You're so eager to go into the desert yet you've never seen a kariag!"

"Well, no... I've lived on a small island for my whole life. Everything here is new to me."

"I see. You'll see them soon enough then. They're mostly used for meat, leather, and wool."

"Meat? They eat them?"

"Yes, sometimes. Food can be difficult to find in the desert, especially during the dry season."

"I admit even fish is new to my diet. I don't normally eat meat."

"Don't worry, kariag isn't frequently eaten here. The nomads prefer using them as mounts anyway."

"They ride them too? Will I have to as well?"

"Are you sure you're up for traveling the desert, dear?" Kvati chuckled. "Riding a kariag is one of the most efficient ways to cross the desert."

"If I must..."

Siku, who had been listening to the conversation from across the room with her sensitive ears, wandered into the kitchen, enticed by the scent of fish. "Treke, did I hear you're going into the desert?"

"If that is where Karrak has gone. I have to find him."

Siku clacked her beak and sat down. "I think Kvati is right. You should rest. You've been through a lot in just one day! You nearly drowned earlier!"

"I understand, but I can't let setbacks prevent me from carrying out my duty," Treke sighed.

"But if you keep going like this, you won't be able to do anything at all!"

"I appreciate your concern, and I'm happy for everything you've done for me, but I must do this."

"Treke, at least relax for a day or two," said Kvati, placing some clay platters out on the table. "Get to know your surroundings a little better before heading blindly into the desert... Ah, the fish are done!" She began scooping the fish with her spatula, plopping them down onto the platters

"You still want to visit the temple, right Treke?" Siku helped herself to one of the platters, sticking a claw into one of the filets and licking off the spices. "We could do that later today."

"I would like to talk with the nomads first, but yes, I'll join you later in the temple. You should get your rest as well."

"All right, it's settled. Just don't push yourself too hard for the rest of the day, okay?"

Treke nodded. "I won't."

While Siku and Lasranu went back to Lasranu's tent to rest, Treke decided to give the nomads of the Naku clan a visit. Kvati and Taksue led the way, following a dusty trail northwest of Hulerin. The path reached a cliffside, where a natural set of stone steps allowed them to reach the cliff above.

"Watch your step," said Kvati, climbing up the steps on all fours. "There are some loose rocks, which can make the climb a bit slippery."

Treke carefully ascended the stairs, following behind Kvati and Taksue. Looking over her shoulder, she could see the city of Hulerin in the near distance below. Dozens of little buildings surrounded the main temple, with an inner layer of trees and other vegetation wrapped around the temple hill. With how tightly knit Hulerin was, Treke wondered why the nomads choose to live far up on the plateau instead of down in the city.

Atop of the plateau, several tents were pitched around an open campground. A waterfall to the west side of the camp hissed as it tumbled into a pond, which further drained down the cliffside, where it would flow through the middle of Hulerin and eventually reach the oasis. Vegetation was scattered about the plateau, giving a sense of privacy.

It was serenely relaxing up here, Treke realized, until she heard the bleating of some large creatures to the east side of the camp. The creatures, perhaps twenty or so of them, were huddled together and basking in the sun. Even lying down, their long necks reached as tall as a fuglan.

"Are those the kariags you mentioned, Kvati?"

"Yes, those would be them. Perhaps the nomads will even let you ride one," Kvati laughed.

Taking a closer look at the kariags, she could see their powerful hind legs would make them run very fast indeed. Nervously approaching the camp, Treke was unsure how to initiate a greeting. "Do you think you could introduce me to the nomads?" she whispered to Kvati. She had remembered Taksue warned her about their temperment.

Kvati gave Treke a wink. "Of course, dear. The fish we brought along is a good way to get them out of their tents." She cleared her throat before letting out a shout: "Hey, come get your spiced fish!!"

Within seconds, a few heads poked out from the tents as Taksue set down a basket full of spiced fish in the campground. "Works every time," Taksue chuckled.

"Who's brought fish?" An orange fuglan pulled aside the flap of his tent to check on the commotion. "Oh, it's Kvati," he grumbled, giving her the stink eye, albeit in a playful manner. "What brings you up here?"

"Hello, Variz. I've brought someone here that wants to ask you some questions."

"Oh yeah? Fine, I suppose." Stepping outside of his tent, the desert fuglan wore loose tan pants and a red silk sash. He was thin in the waste but had powerful looking arms for a fuglan. A wooden prosthetic leg replaced where his left leg would have been. "The forest fuglan?"

"Yes, this is Treke. She's new to Hulerin, so go easy on her."

"All right then. What do you want to know?"

Sheepishly stepping forward, Treke tried to recall some of the questions she had already on her mind. "I need to know if you helped another forst fuglan cross the desert recently."

"How recently are we talking?"

"Perhaps a few seasons ago?"

The nomad scratched at this chin spines in thought before letting out an agreeable grunt. "Yeah, I remember now. Quiet fellow, dressed in black robes. He was insistent on reaching a cave fuglan settlement to the north. No idea why."

"That might have been him. The one I'm looking for is named Karrak."

"Sounds familiar... Pretty sure that was his name. Anything else?"

"If it's not much trouble... do you think you could take me there as well?"

Before Variz could give a response, another head, belonging to a yellow desert fuglan, popped his head out of the same tent. "Who's there, Variz?"

"Just some Naku settlers and a forest fuglan." Variz turned to Treke, giving her a skeptical look. "We don't normally travel during the wet season, you know. Not great for the kariags."

"I don't want to be a bother, but it's very important. Karrak, the one you transported is working with a dangerous and powerful spirit. It seems they want to do harm to Hulerin and Nakuka directly."

"Hmm, I don't know..." Variz clasped the sun pendant round his neck. It looked almost identical to Taksue's. "How soon were you thinking of leaving?"

"Tomorrow, if that's possible."

"Just you then?"

"Ah... I'm not sure yet. There may be others that wish to come along."

Variz let out an amused grunt. "You sure are asking for a lot here." He turned to the yellow fuglan in the tent. "Greru, how do you feel about escorting some fuglans through the desert tomorrow?"

"Whatever is fine with me, as long as you're fine with it," said the yellow fuglan with a smirk. "I'll follow you to the ends of Alaruk, if that's what you wish."

"Mm, of course..." Variz turned back to Treke. "Well, let me know when you've figured out everything, but just know that we can only spare a few kariags to carry supplies and passengers."

"I understand."

"Ah, kalagala, we're going to have to teach you how to ride a kariag too, huh... Those fish you brought better be good..."

"I assure you they are," said Kvati with a huff. "I cooked them myself, after all."

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