Genesis Scrolls Round 3: {The hunted did a-hunting go}

Name/Pseudonym: {Ticklish}
Contact Info: {}
Ethereum Wallet Address: {0xB1b3751834646fb999EDd18CA62C69663071cF43}

Author’s note: This story takes place immediately after the events of None So Blind. It also heavily references events and characters from Fallen Cavern. Sayadaw’s long-term plans involve the events of Sow the Wind and begin to form in Fallen Necropolis.

The hunted did a hunting go
The first a thief who walked too slow
She stole a piece of the second one’s beau
Among the leaves so green, oh

Kader’s head was pounding and her eyes were blurry but she was propelled forward by the force of her betrayal.

She had been a loyal warrior for the Order of Power since she was a young girl but then she had been injured in the line of duty and callously discarded. She hiked across the dull grey stone of Nuiknaauiena, under forest and shade wherever she could.

When agents of the Order of Vitriol had asked her to snatch a treasure away from the Order of Power she had accepted without much resistance. Vitriol worshipped weakness, in its own fashion, the way that Power worshipped strength. Kader and her broken head belonged there now. And so she pressed on, dizzy and short of breath, with the stolen Sword on her Belt. She was to meet her new handler from the Scrollhouse of ën Umël in the forest ruins outside the Realm. They would take the Sword from her and so would let her remain as a warrior, and she would keep the Boots she had mastered and the Belt that had been in her family for generations.

Kader leaned underneath the swollen shelter of a fleece tree at the base of the Viper’s Peak. She scanned the sky for dangers - hunters blessed with flight, or a vegetative drone bound to the Judge of the Reliquary, but the day was clear and lovely. She needed to drink, for her injury was drawing a heavy thirst and her supplies were low, so she looked to the insects and the greenery to lead her to water.

She did not have the imagination to picture what her future would hold. She had upheld every instruction that the Order had given her since she had been enrolled at the prestigious Academy of Light in Mapkin. She had polished her armour with pride, vanquished enemies and traitors and recovered land and loot to swell the Order’s might. Before her last mission had gone wrong and she’d been struck by a rival warrior, she was on a resolute path to prefectship and then martial command over a Realm as a Lord. Now she was a lost thing, a vagrant, a courier between squabbling giants. The Order of Vitriol had given no firm assurances to her in exchange for the Sword, and she didn’t have to dig deep within herself to realise she didn’t deserve any.

Presently she came to a river. It was cold as bliss so she wet a rag to tie around her aching head, removed her Boots, which gave her steps the magic to pass through solid things, and washed her swollen feet. As she wriggled the nubs of her toes in the stream she unclipped the silver cups from her Belt and filled them from the river. The cups could make any water they held fresh and drinkable. The Belt was the only memory she had of her House for it was engraved with its old name: Whisper.

With her head soothed, her feet relieved and her thirst quenched, Kader became dangerously close to becoming comfortable. Her eyes fell upon the little figure in the distance, some mountain-man scrabbling in the river for food from the bony oyster reef that pointed at intervals out from the mud. She almost dismissed the shape as being harmless before some part of her, a part that could never be comfortable, sounded the alarm and made her lie back, out of sight. Her hand was on the hilt of the fearsome Sword she had stolen from him.

The hunted did a-hunting go
The next a scrounge with guilt in tow,
He made a mess from his love and woe,
Among the leaves so green, oh

Avanesh had been walking in circles. His equipment, which included his compass, had been drowned in the cave he’d been prospecting. Drowned along with his clothes, his maps, and his husband.

He had escaped that horror with only his Gloves and a stub of his life. He had wormed his way through a narrow tunnel towards daylight while the cavern flooded below him. The love of his fairly short and mostly desperate life, Bahadur, had been unable to follow. Bahadur’s Crown had helped him find the tunnel to the surface but he couldn’t have fit through it himself and, well, he was in a bad state when Avanesh last saw him. So Avanesh had pressed on through the daylight, naked in the brisk autumn air, with grief snapping at his heels.

His Gloves were made from the hide of a demon, one that presumably had the acumen of an engineer imprinted in its flesh, for the Gloves gave Avanesh an uncanny sense of creation. When he held something in his hand, the Gloves gave him a sense of how it could be shaped and incorporated into a craft. The Gloves completed the link in Avanesh’s mind between material and potential.

And so after his escape from the murderous cave, he stitched together leaves with caterpillar silk to make a rainjacket. He filtered water through charcoal and knapped flint to make blades for all occasions. He hiked cross-country to find the path home but the Gloves could not tell him which way to go. One night as he prepared a fire to cook the grubs he had dug from a mound, he searched around in the evening’s light for a dull flint to make a spark and briefly handled a flat grey rock. On contact with that rock the Gloves flared in his mind, telling him how the rock could be shattered into needles, and how those needles would point towards the North when floated on water.

That morning he descended to the river with a flake of magnetite, cupped some water in his hand and let the unseen forces of the world point him towards home. His other hand trailed in the river’s stream, and some tiny part of his mind observed that there was revenge in the water. He glanced upstream just in time to see a seated woman watching him. She ducked down too late to avoid his sight. He picked up a fist of stone from the river and his Gloves told him it was harder than a skull.

The hunted did a hunting go
The last one here, the virtuoso,
Her bloody plans nearing crescendo
Among the leaves so green, oh

Sayadaw saw the devastation from the air. The Crown she wore was quite unnecessary for finding her quarry when the entire fleece forest of Haukpiukpipi pointed it out like a vast hound made of flames. A crater at the edge of the forest told her that the Sword had been unsheathed.

She had spent the last of her goodwill with the Order of Vitriol on the commandeering of a child-taker eagle from the Tiergarten of Kezkiisch. The bird was one half of the only breeding pair of its species that the Order possessed, the largest of its genus and the most effective means to catch Kader that Sayadaw had access to.

Sayadaw dangled in a harness bound to the child-taker’s talons and steered her by the emenations of her Amulet. The eagle had swallowed the distance between the soot-covered rooftops of Spezlaas and the austere mountains of Nuiknaauiena with little trouble. The Crown she had taken such pains to fish from the fallen cavern guided her flight straight towards the Sword that Kader had and everybody wanted. If Kader succeeded in delivering it to her new masters in the Order of Vitriol, Sayadaw’s masters in the Order of Power would upend the world to wrestle it back. The destruction that had already touched Haukpiukpipi would bring adventurers from every Order to the scene and Sayadaw, who had more imagination than most, could not predict an outcome to this that did not lead to a full-blown interordinal war.

The Crown rang in her ears without sound and she rapped on her Amulet to bring the eagle down. In the fading twilight she saw a pit among the smouldering trees. She unfastened the straps that held her in the talons and landed on the soil without much grace. Her mount was unsettled by the smoke and the fire but she kept it planted to the ground by dampening its senses.

The pit had been dug roughly but functioned well as a trap for a person. Sayadaw crouched at its edge and saw the shivering form of Kader sat at its bottom. The Crown had already notified her that the Sword was not in there with her but Sayadaw, raised in the ways of Vitriol, could not avoid her duty to admonish and correct her former lieutenant.
“A good thief has cunning, resolve, and a certain knack for not falling into holes. Oh, and I see you’ve lost your Boots too,” she said.

Kader got to her feet, her head rising to a level just below Sayadaw’s bandaged feet. The history of inversions of their respective positions played over her face. Kader had been brought up in the Realms of Power and had defected to the Order of Vitriol. Sayadaw had been born in the Realms of Vitriol and had been recruited into the Order of Power. Now the two of them had been disgraced in the eyes of both organisations. These twists were too strange for Kader to keep in focus, so she stuck to the facts of the matter.
“The warrior, Avanesh Tipanis Angle, ambushed me while I bathed. He manoeuvred me towards a defensive trench he had dug beforehand,” she said, preferring to pretend for the moment that Sayadaw was still her commanding officer.
“He ambushed you while you were carrying the weapon that can end wars,” observed Sayadaw, letting the statement hang as she feigned a loss of interest. Kader straightened her face. Her nostrils flared and her jaw tightened.
“I wasn’t trained in the operation of the Sword,” she said, and began to weep. Sayadaw hated that. She hadn’t ever got used to the emotional incontinence that the Order of Power encouraged its adherents to practice. She rose to her feet and tried to ignore Kader and instead focus on the Crown she wore. She was no expert in its use but it had led her to Kader. She fumbled through her mind to present the Crown an image of Avanesh it could use. Slowly a sensation of his location formed around her ears. She rotated her body to try and home in on the sensation, peering through the blackened trees and the mounting smoke, and then saw him creeping towards her. She lost one precious instant in resolving the confusion between her own senses and those of the Crown but used the next to leap out of the way as Avanesh hurled one of Kader’s Boots at her.

The Boot was loaded with stones, which spilled out of its throat as it flew. It passed through the child-taker eagle that Sayadaw had used as a mount, trailing stones as it went. The momentum of the stones made a hideous stew of the eagle’s innards. The eagle spent its final, bewildered moments alive lunging and flapping at Avanesh, which saved Sayadaw’s life from being taken in the same manner. He dropped the second Boot, which sank partway into the soil, and brandished a short flint spear he had made. He pierced the eagle’s neck and retracted the spear in a singular smooth motion. As the massive bird crumpled to the ashen floor, Sayadaw’s hand went to her Amulet, her fingers already passingly familiar with the shape of Avanesh’s nerves thanks to the brief altercation that they had shared in the cave. Avanesh threw the spear at Sayadaw and the razor-sharp flint sailed through her linen robe and the meat of her thigh.

From her prison in the dirt, Kader made a yelp of pleading to Avanesh. He gave her a look of disdain and unsheathed Bahadur’s Sword. This time it did not set a forest alight. He aimed the tip at Sayadaw and spoke the first words he had ever directed at her, though she had presented many to him when he was trapped inside the fallen cavern.
“I only want the Crown. Give it to me and I will release you.”

Sayadaw’s finger hovered over the surface of her Amulet. She could interrupt the signals that travelled up and down Avanesh’s body very quickly, but he had tasted this trick before and might be able to resist an assault long enough to strike back. She also did not know how exactly the Sword worked and what it could do to her at this distance. But she did know that Avanesh’s Gloves would give him a good idea of how best to use it.

“It belonged to my husband, as did this Sword,” said Avanesh. His fine Gloves looked bright and incongruous against the layer of mud he wore as camouflage underneath the strange coat of leaves. Sayadaw was surprised by this forthcoming elaboration. She supposed that Avanesh had never negotiated from a winning position before. The flow of blood from her leg was making her robes heavy.
“What will you do with it?” asked Sayadaw. It worked as a distraction because she was genuinely interested and Avanesh had not spoken to anyone for days.
“I will take them to his family in Susuko,” he said grandly. Sayadaw felt a silent tone around her forehead. The Crown dutifully pointed out the direction to Susuko to her - a muffled shrug towards the southwest, far over the Vibrian Waters.
“Why?” asked Sayadaw as she shifted her weight over to her good leg.
“They should pass to his sister, who was the next eldest,” said Avanesh to Sayadaw as if she were simple. She held up her hand to signal acceptance. She unwound the Crown from her head and flung it halfway to Avanesh. It settled near the body of the dead eagle. Sayadaw clasped her wound to staunch the blood.

The fires drew closer as Avanesh trod carefully towards Sayadaw. She watched him with one eye. She had gambled her life’s work to win that Crown. She would be ejected with disgrace from the Order of Power and the Order of Vitriol would not welcome her back with open arms. All of her plans had been broken from the moment that Bahadur had drawn that wretched sword on them down in the dark. She had used up all of her resources to mend them.

There was something half-tempting about this outcome, as bitter as it was, because the Sword, at least, would be out of reach, as would be the means to find it. If Bahadur’s family had kept it hidden for centuries, it was likely they could manage a century or two more. Without their prize to fight over, the Orders of the Realms would fall back into their usual habits of hoarding relics. Avanesh moved around the eagle and, with the Sword still raised at Sayadaw, bent to pick up the Crown. Their eyes locked as Sayadaw held her thigh in both hands.
She saw something in his eyes, then said, “It’s a long way to travel, to reach Susuko,” Avanesh, who had been lost ever since he abandoned Bahadur in the cave, considered this. Slowly, with one hand, he folded the Crown and tied it around his head.
“Bahadur’s memory will guide me,” he said with satisfaction. Sayadaw struck with a cobra’s speed.
“Where did you leave his body to rot?” she asked. Avanesh’s face ran through disbelief to anger but stumbled over the Crown’s insistence on telling him exactly where Bahadur lay - in that miserable sunken cave where Avanesh had bludgeoned him in a desperate bid to save his own hide. Trapped in the cavern of his flooding mind, the Crown showed him Bahadur’s face, just as he’d seen him last. He was, for that wrenching moment, vividly, impossibly alive.

Sayadaw had the open luxury of a moment to bring her hand to her Amulet. Through it, she reached out and tugged on the nerve that connected Avanesh’s spine to his heart. Avanesh lurched, and slurred something that might have been a name as his arms drooped and the Sword fell from his hands. His vision danced with images of Bahadur as he staggered forwards in no particular direction. His brain filled up with bloody foam and he tripped over the remains of the eagle. He did not rise again.

A smouldering fleece tree fell with a crash nearby. Viper’s Peak would not permit its visitors to stay for much longer. Sayadaw bit down on the disgust she felt whenever she killed someone and limped over to her fading opponent. He paid her no attention. He was too busy with dying and his eyes were fixed on something only he could see; his mouth half curving into an incredulous smile. She removed his Gloves and Crown as the light left him and wore them herself, having no where else to put them. She picked up Kader’s Boots and she took the Sword that had caused everyone so much trouble. The Gloves told her some garbled things about metal that she worked hard to ignore. Kader was saying something so she went over to her trench and realised that there was no good reason to leave her there. She offered her hand and Kader took it. When they touched, Sayadaw was overwhelmed by the signal from the Gloves. Among the noise she realised just how badly Kader had been injured, and how much had been taken from her. With a certain indignation on Kader’s behalf she dragged her from the pit. They held each other up and painfully made their escape.

They were both traitors, and so they were both hunted. The sharing of this fostered a comradery that neither of them had known before. With all the world their enemy, Sayadaw let Kader into her private world of ambition. With the Crown they had the means to find the pieces of something incredible. With the Boots they could retrieve those pieces from the deepest hiding place. With the Gloves they could put the pieces back together. Once repaired, they could communicate with the entity with the Amulet. Doing this would completely change the world. And with the Sword, no one could stop them.

Jacky boy
- Master
Sing me well
- Very well

Hey, down, ho, down, very very down
Among the leaves so green, oh