Yield.Ch36 Interlude

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Ka’osla, Hersir of the Red Fear Horde and candidate head for the Ka clan, spots a tunnel and catches a glimpse of fur within. She clenches her six claws around the pine branch she is standing on as she prepares to jump down.

She glances below at the rosy powder called snow with disgust and dedicates more of the blaze to protect her hundred-sixty centimeter tall body from the dreadful cold. She releases the branch and clenches her talons so as to land on the back of the six claws to protect their edge.

Her lithe red silhouette hits the ground in a crouch. She remains in this position as she takes a slithering path towards her destination, her forked tongue regularly peeking out to taste the air. She trusts her acute sense of smell to warn her if the prey becomes aware of her presence.

Ka’osla can barely restrain her excitement as she approaches the cave entrance, eager to experience her prey’s fear. Her two hearts start pumping faster, creating a constant whooshing sound akin to that of a waterfall as her blue blood courses through her veins.

She finds a huge grizzly bear in a fetal position with its eyes closed. Ka’osla slowly lowers her profile because she knows her scales will not shield her from her prey’s sight in this environment.

The dark green, light green, and brown scales form a camouflage pattern that is useful in the north but not during winter. She clenches a few of her visage’s muscles to cover most of the bright red scales, spread out like dots around her eyes and in two lines along her muzzle, under dark green ones.

Ka’osla could have taken an armor, weapons, or even clothes, on this hunt but her honor would only accommodate the singular use of the blaze to fight the cold and not a single tool. She opens her maw, which is wider but shorter and thinner than a male’s, and licks her sharp triangular teeth before taking a deep breath.

Hrrssss!” She lets out a guttural provocation because there isn’t enough room in the cave for her to fight such a large and strong carnivore.

The grizzly instantly perks up with wide open eyes. It spots two cloudy membranes open to reveal orange reptilian eyes staring at it and rises on its hind-legs to roar.

Grrooaaarrrr!” It bellows.

The two-meter long creature then runs through the tunnel it dug to charge the reptile. Ka’osla leaps back to play the role of the prey and bait it out. She lands on the back of her front-claws, her talons’ two back-claws pointing up between them and ready to be used as stabbing weapons.

As the huge grizzly charges her, she delights at its power and the fact that the coming fight between predators will prove she can best this dangerous creature by herself. One day, she will challenge a Tianeel without even consuming blaze to boost her capability.

Ka’osla slides back on the back of her talons’ claws as the grizzly approaches and gently side-steps around its attempt at a tackle, moving like a leaf in the wind. The creature turns and tries to swipe at her with its arms but the Lisilese gently leans back to dodge by a hair.

She makes her silhouette look bigger by opening her arms wide and pushing blood into the two pouches along her spine, causing them to expand beneath her armpits. The bear rises to its full height and roars snout to snout in an attempt to intimidate her back.

Ka’osla calmly raises her right talon at a snail-like non-threatening pace to keep the movement out of the grizzly’s notice. The creature soon hunches back down to land on its paws and attack but, as it does, the Lisilese’s tongue flickers in and out in delight at the opening her prey just gave her.

She clenches her talon’s two front-toes to secure the back-claw held between them and contracts the muscles of her thigh. She turns her leg to the side and strikes out thrice in a split-second by twisting the flexible bones of her knee’s articulation in a particular way, each blow delivered as quickly as the bite of a black mamba from the southern grasslands.

The point of her sharp back-claw pierces through the thick hide of the grizzly’s left leg and leaves three bleeding holes that’ll widen in the fight to come to the point it’ll hinder her prey’s movements.

Ka’osla flicks her forked tongue in and out to taste the blood in the air, to savor her prey’s pain. The bear growls and swipes at her but her right talon is already back on the ground so she easily dodges.

Her expertise is such that she doesn’t even lose balance in the snow despite standing on the back of her claws instead of planting them in the ground like less experienced hunters would for stability.

After all, she left her native forest at the age of eight and she has spent twelve years fighting all across the grassland and the grizzly’s blows are powerful but lack precision.

As the bear brings both paws back in an attempt to tackle or paw her, Ka’osla takes a single, almost lazy, step forward into its range. She swipes at the grizzly’s forehead one open hand after the other, leaving countless gashes in its flesh as the thin fur there is unable to protect its flesh from the tiny sharp scales extending from her palms.

The creature growls in pain and tries to bite down on the Lisilese while closing its arms around it but its teeth merely manage to scrape the scales of her left shoulder, leaving merely two small wounds that bleed blue.

Ka’osla slides under the creature’s grasp and smiles in satisfaction at the honor marks it left her. She takes a few steps back to buy time. It doesn’t take long for blood seeping out of the injuries on the bear’s forehead to drop into its eyes and impair its sight.

She patiently dances around the creature’s effort to catch its enemy. Her vertical irises remain set on the three stab-wounds on her prey’s left thigh to watch them grow larger as the bear’s fury billows.

Her breaths soon grow shorter but she waits one more minute because the grizzly is missing more often and its posture is slanting more and more to the left. Once she is satisfied that her advantage is secure, Ka’osla prepares to pierce her prey’s eyes with her short triangular nails.

She takes advantage of a sloppy paw swipe to slide under the arm, her short stature allowing her to do so without leaning down much, and strikes at its bloody left eye with her extended fingers.

The grizzly fails to react in time to save its left eye but it drops atop the Lisilese with a desperate roar. Ka’osla immediately gives up on taking its other eye out, she slams her left hand on its chest and her right behind its back.

Her palm’s extended scales can’t cut through the thick fur but they can provide her with enough purchase to lift herself off the ground, which allows her to unclench her talons’ claws and plant her four front-claws into the grizzly’s flesh.

She uses those grim grips to slither around the huge beast’s flank just before it can pin her to the ground. The bear shakes left and right to dislodge her, succeeding in throwing her away before she can secure her grip.

Ka’osla rolls in the snow with a joyful hiss coming up from the bottom of her lungs. She arrests her momentum by planting her talons into the dirt underneath the snow and rises on all fours to face her prey.

Grroooaaaaarrrr!” The grizzly howls.

Hrrrssss!” She hisses victoriously.

The bear doesn’t charge, it can barely see anything after all. There is blood in its single eye and all that’s left in the other orbit is goo, but it doesn’t run away either.

Ka’osla blinks with her two sets of eyelids from surprise at what she’s seeing, she had prepared to jump on its back and use her talons to wreck its legs and back while choking it when the bear ran. She raises her right hand and smooths out her extended scales to rub her wide but delicate jawline in contemplation.

Ka’osla flicks her forked tongue out and tastes the creature’s musk, distinguishing its refined fear from its boiling fury grants her pleasure. Ka’osla’s lips rise in a toothy smile and she stands back up on the back of her six claws.

{You are strong.} She utters in the Lisilese speech. {But defeated nonetheless.}

She opens her arms and pushes her blood into the pouches at her back once more, widening her silhouette in a declaration of power. The grizzly rises on its hind-legs with open paws as well but it slouches to its left and growls in pain.

Satisfied by her victory and the bear’s ferocity, she decides to let it live on with its prideful scars. After all, it is but a beast with no honor so its loss of an eye won’t prevent it from reproducing and giving birth to fierce cubs.

Ka’osla turns her back to the grizzly and heads down the mountain towards the plains, her stomach filled with pride and her blood flowing strongly through her arteries.

She takes long breaths with her slanted nostrils to soothe her predatory instincts and calm her metabolism. She soon feels the tiredness from the hunt weigh down on her shoulders.

Ka’osla contracts the long pouches along her spine to bring the warmer and more oxygenated blue blood into her system. Once she has, she expands the pouches by pushing out to refill them with depleted blood so that it basks in the sun shining on her back.

She arrives at the camp located inside a large gorge in-between two mountains south of Haitia an hour later, exhausted and eager to rest near the huge fire but aware that the two other Hersirs and the Rykz Princess have been awaiting the end of her hunt to speak to her.

While she has no intention of giving the Smothering Embrace or the Bloody Claws any help, the mere fact these two Hordes have reached out to her with a Rykz intrigues her as well as sets off instinctual alarms.

Ka’osla ignores the two tall male Hersirs, who boast large statures and a height close to a hundred-ninety centimeters, to walk up to the Rykz awaiting her near the large fire. She notes and dismisses the crown of flowers atop the Princess’ ovaloid bone attached to her torso, considering it to be an omnivore weirdness.

The two Lisilese are older than her by a decade, which is why they’re so much taller. Their strength and long muzzles make them dangerous if challenged in scale to scale combat, as are most males, but she has speed and agility enough to battle with them on equal terms.

Besides, their bodies are so large that they will exhaust their endurance much faster than she would. Ka’osla has reached her position as Hersir at a younger age. She may not have fed the blaze as much blood as they have but she holds honor equivalent to theirs because of that achievement.

She notices that the Smothering Embrace’s Hersir has a liangi in his hands, one that clearly bears her clan’s markings. It was maintained recently because dried blood often dulls and conceals the symbols.

{Has your hunt failed, hatchling?} Sh’srk, leader of the Bloody Claws, asks provocatively.

{The grizzly is a worthy predator, it will breed strong cubs.} Ka’osla responds succinctly with a warning not to underestimate it in her tone, which is implicitely insulting whether the caution she’s advising is for him or his Horde’s young hunters.

The Hersir hisses with amusement to defuse the tension the remark could have brought because they stand within the light of a blaze-fed fire. It is just as forbidden to do battle under these circumstances as it is to attack a nest’s eggs.

Ka’osla has nestled in the sun, mated, and fought with Sh’srk often enough to know him intimately, they stopped seeing each other because it became difficult to tell which activity they performed after she rose as Hersir, placing them in competiton.

She raises her guard because she is aware that he prefers frontal confrontation over empty provocations unless it is part of a trap he is laying for a particularly challenging opponent.

{Why does the Smothering Embrace hold a Ka’s liangi, Ju’sla?} Ka’osla questions.

{The Silver Hive brought it, I merely took it to confirm it belonged to Ka’tchuk before bringing it back to you.} The Hersir responds.

Ju’sla extends the weapon out on his palms but Ka’osla doesn’t reach out to accept it because she does not yet know if the weapon brought honor to her clan yet. She turns to the Rykz and extends the right palm facing up to invite her to speak.

[I am Princess Celyz.] The Princess declares with her pheromones while rising to her full height and extending her tendrils to follow the Lisilese way of formal salutation.

{I would sooner hunt you than allow you passage, Rykz, you must know this even if you have convinced the Bloody Claws to rescind their agreement with Rasaec.} Ka’osla utters without bothering with politeness once she’s deciphered the pheromones entering her nostrils.

{We await your decision to make one of our own.} Sh’srk declares with a low threatening hiss to his voice.

This does not bode well, Ka’osla thinks. She finds it suspicious that the Bloody Claws are even considering to allow the Silver Hive through the territory south of Haitia after accepting Rasaec’s gold.

She knows it would be easy for the Empire to send Templars to help their Horde hold the drones back to allow their elites to hunt the Queen and Princesses, the glory of taking Grikyz down would bring Sh’srk enough honor to directly challenge the Atcheson.

[Your Horde is located too far south-west to hinder my Hive’s passage, Hersir Ka’osla.] Princess Celyz mentions. Ka’osla’s tongue flicks in the air but tastes no fear or even apprehension.

{You’ve returned a year earlier than you should have. I take it your army is mostly intact.} Ka’osla says, exposing the obvious. {Forget not that I am able to call the Ka clan as well as the Red Fear to ride north-east if I smell deception in what you’ve to say about Ka’tchuk who was reported to have honorably fallen during a naval battle.} This time, Ka’osla tastes delectable fright from the Princess. She turns to the other two Hersirs. {I will not accept the liangi yet, Ju’sla, you and Sh’srk may hear of my decision once I’ve spoken to the Rykz.}

She dismisses them curtly to show her displeasure at the subtle attempt to force her claws by returning her the liangi before being given all the facts. The two Hersirs slam their fists to their chests before departing to show that they acknowledge her cunning surpassed theirs in this occasion.

{Unlike them, my sense of smell is developed enough to catch the two Princesses hiding nearby, Princess Celyz.} Ka’osla speaks up as soon as they’re gone.

[Hersir Ka’osla, we are similarly able to detect the subordinates you have concealed in the area.] Celyz replies with her informative voice.

Ksss, kss.” Ka’osla chuckles and inspects the Princess with renewed interest. {What plot have you hatched with these two?} She asks directly.

[The Silver Hive merely seeks passage to the highlands so we have limited ourselves to gathering only information relevant to that objective so as not to involve ourselves in your three Hordes’ rowdy relationships.] Celyz responds easily.

{Wise of you.} Ka’osla says, believing the letter but not the spirit of the answer as one should when dealing with Rykz. {Now, tell me how my nest-uncle died.}

Princess Celyz relates the story Elizabeth Vil told her, sometimes switching to human or Lisilese speech as needed to pronounce names and express concepts difficult to communicate to a Lisilese through pheromones because she doesn’t have the same sensitivity to them as Rykz do.

Ka’osla remains outwardly quiet but her rage soars in her chest when the hand found in a jar is mentioned and she hears of the collar. Yet, the arrow that denied Ka’tchuk’s attack on Suxen doesn’t faze her in the least.

{He died as a true hunter should, after biding his time to find the best opportunity.} Ka’osla comments with a hoarse voice. {It remains to be seen if that woman, Eszlbts Sfil, deserves the mark.}

[She treated him as a warrior.] Celyz argues. [And swore to kill the madwoman.]

{My nest-uncle lost a hand, he could not properly test her so I shall remedy that before deciding whether to let her go shall I run into her.} Ka’osla replies firmly. She tastes the Rykz’ relief in the air and it intrigues her. {Had the one-armed warrior not been able and willing to fight him, to begin with, I would not grant her the opportunity to meet me even with the success of her hunt proving that her honor surpassed her handicap. What does that warrior smell like in battle?}

[Excitement, fear, pain, fury, desire.] Celyz replies without hesitation. Ka’osla’s lips stretch as she tastes the Princess’ longing desire in the air.

{You’ve mated with the human.} She affirms. {Such union between species, it is odd for a Rykz and induces me to believe that you’ve not told me everything there is to know about that warrior in spite of your attempts to ingratiate her towards me.}

[I haven’t.] Celyz hesitates but not for long. [She uses another name to hide how many have fallen to her. I cannot tell you any more than this other than to tell you she is unique among all the beings I’ve encountered or read about.]

{Give me the name, I wouldn’t spoil another’s trap.} Ka’osla demands.
“Jessica.” Celyz replies with her resounding voice.

{I shall remember it and listen to what she has to say if this warrior’s strength reaches my ear-holes.} The Lisilese says to the Rykz’ joy. {Which we both know is likely to happen since this piece of news gives me no choice but to lead the Red Fear into Telnur or suffer denunciation from the Ka clan.}

[I do not know of the Smothering Embrace’s aims, and the Bloody Claws did not even speak to us.] Celyz says.

{Yet, my decision evidently eases your Hive’s journey.} Ka’osla utters flatly. {Tell me, why should I not slay you under the red sun?}

[Because, today, a conflict between us would end with you as our prey.] Celyz replies confidently.

Ka’osla blinks with her cloudy white membranes and tastes the air, finding that the Princess is filled with confidence. She decides to close her right fist and hit her chest between her two hearts to show she acknowledges her preparations to be lacking.

{Grikyz?} She asks.

[No, my sister who we rescued has Queen-level access.] Celyz replies.

{Do the Bloody Claws know?} The Lisilese questions.

[As I’ve said, we did not communicate with their Horde.] The Rykz reiterates.

{Then, that is not why the Bloody Claws will allow you passage.} Ka’osla murmurs, her suspicion that she’s being led into a trap grows more substantial.

[How do you know they will for certain?] Celyz asks.

{Because Sh’srk would have attempted to ensnare you otherwise, or would not be here but preparing an ambush to slow your Hive down before launching a frontal battle in the highlands of the east.} Ka’osla explains. {Rasaec would not spend so much coin for mere respite, there is a scheme but it does not seem to involve the Silver Hive.}

He is wise not to further antagonize us.” Celyz declares with a deeply vibrating voice.

{You truly took kindly to this human if you so express your anger, Rykz.} Ka’osla comments offhandedly, causing the Rykz to exude embarrassment, sadness, and her tendrils to twirl awkwardly. {But no, Rasaec knows he has pushed the Rykz close to the brink of total war and couldn’t have predicted whether his actions would cross the line or not, yet he has refused your treaty which means he is prepared to turn the Silver Hive into the Empire’s Azure Hive.}

[Neither do you or Sh’srk.] Celyz notes with harsh pheromones that make the Lisilese’s nostrils prickle.

{We are Lisilese.} Ka’osla replies simply. {I’ve learned plenty this day, I shall distinguish truth from lies whence I meet this warrior and hear rumors of Meiridin’s institute.}

Celyz’ tendrils twitch as she hesitates about continuing to influence the Hersir in Jessica’s favor but decides against it because the female is perceptive and somewhat ill-tempered. Celyz takes Ka’osla’s last words as dismissal. She heads off to meet with Fenyz and Cetyz to descend the chain of mountains together.

A Lisilese with bright green scales shows up soon after her departure and joins Ka’osla at the camp to kneel before her. The subordinate waits for a while until he can no longer hold his forked tongue.

{In what direction shall we sound the horn? Eastward?} He asks while avoiding to look up at his Hersir’s bare body because it would be embarrassing to show a reaction.

{Right-claw Hu’tsul, remind the Sharp Fin that it has been too many seasons since the Hordes have heard of Telnur’s coast being blessed by the blaze.} She tells him.

{Would it not help the Smothering Embrace if the Sharp Fin is provoked into action?} Hu’tsul asks.

{It would, but also make it easier for us to cross the stream and make our way into Telnur.} Ka’osla replies. {And do not worry about sharing the honor with their two Hordes, I believe plenty of blood will be spilled in Telnur to satisfy the Red Fear.} The question is what color that blood will be, she adds in thought.

{So we ride north-east.} Hu’tsul concludes with a cruel smile that exposes his pointy teeth.

{There is no honor to be found when the hunter and the prey cannot be overturned, as in hunting Tianeel, we shall seize victory from within the jaws of defeat.} Ka’osla declares as she rises.

{To allow ourselves devoured…} Hu’tsul trails off, baffled. {Which predator can claim the Red Fear as prey?} He asks, raising his muzzle up to his Hersir.

{Call the other Hersirs, I will soon molt so we need to return south with haste.} Ka’osla tells her right-claw without answering. {Hopefully, I’ll gain no more than a few centimeters as more would be difficult to get used to it by spring.}

— — —

A hundred thousand Red Fear Lisilese of the twelve clans hiss and make guttural sounds to show their support for the Hersir who is about to launch the spring’s great hunt.

Most are short in height, showing that their age is close to their Hersir’s but their enthusiasm is no lesser than any tall veteran’s as they smack their weapons against their shields.

Each hunter is mounted atop a horse or a two-legged reptile that resemble Duihs but larger. Lisilese wear disparate pieces of armor which have all been through combat. There are very few mines in the Lisilese lands so they do not waste what steel and iron they possess.

Very few ride atop of mounts covered in shining mail that show their status as elite, as Cataphracts. That is if their scale armors, helmets, spears, and Lassus steel sabers do not do the trick.

They are all watching their Hersir, a relatively short female in plate armor who holds a liangi high in her fist. She stands atop a two-meter tall and five-meter long warbeast with black and red stripes on its thick scales. There are two tusks coming out of the creature’s mouth and two more protruding out of its triangular head.

{Red Fear! My Horde! I have dreamed of Ka’tchuk! My nest-uncle blew the hunting horn to the north! We will hunt for blood to feed the blaze in his name so as to cleanse the affront done his honor! Let loose the warbeasts for the great hunt begins anew!} Ka’osla bellows under spring’s bright red sun before blowing into a large horn.

The Horde, which could easily be split in half to form a second one, departs while hissing in rhythm to build their enthusiasm for the long journey towards a Kingdom unaware of the calamity riding towards it.

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