From Chapter 3
The Big Blurb
There was a light fog on the north ridge that seemed to get thicker as I walked further from the village. The new Kit'na would be at the campfire tonight. I just hoped they would keep mother busy enough not to notice my absence. Uncle Pey't was going to read the scroll of the Utlaak to the village, reminding themselves of the great danger of long ago. He would scowl at the ring of young faces around the campfire. They would stare back at him, half scared, half fascinated, as he told the tales of the enemy from Below.
It was here, he would remind them, that the last great battle in the war against the Under- dwellers, had ended. It was here when Esquialt was falling, its last warrior dead, that Surta, the Lord of the Waki'tani, the Sky People who flew between the earth and the Sky Lord’s Road, had appeared to drive the Utlaak back into their barrows. The Waki'tani knew this Village’s Road, Uncle Pey’t would growl. There were even rumours that at times they walked here cloaked as warriors.
I was so tired of that story. I had heard it every spring camp since I was old enough to sit at the campfire. They came. We beat them. They came again. We beat them again. Why did it have to be anything more?
The legends weren’t necessary, I thought. Why is it important to keep retelling the same dusty stories just to feed the imaginations of the hatchlings and comfort the egos of rambling old men?
The fog twined around the boles of the trees as I crawled in and out picking berries. It crept downhill and stretched its ephemeral talons towards the village. The afternoon had faded and the quick dusk of a spring night was falling. As the warmth of the day subsided, I pulled my shawl tighter around my shoulders. In the bush, I could hear crickets rubbing their legs together, their chirps slowing with the fog and wind. The ridge was steeper now, the black boles of the Aspens twisted and gnarled in the deepening twilight. I rubbed my arms as a chill breeze blew through the trees, and looked back down the valley to the camp below. I don’t remember coming so high or walking so far.
The fog carried the mouldy smell of the forest floor mixed with the nose-pinching bite of sweetgrass in bloom. Grabbing onto a thick aspen trunk, I pulled myself across the loose gravel scree on the hillside, following the strange fog up the ridge. Pebbles skittered down as I scrambled higher up on the sandstone ridge. They sounded much louder in the falling dark. I froze, hugging the damp, mottled bark of a twisted aspen until the sound faded and the faint noises of the forest restarted.
Hesitantly, I looked up the ridge. Though I squinted at it until my eyes ached, something in the shadows at the top of the ridge didn’t quite seem to fit with the oncoming night. Yes—right there, between that boulder and the ridge line. There was something that didn’t move, or should move, or something. It was just the wrong shape for a shadow.
The fog should have been thinner up here. It wasn’t. My throat felt tight as I swallowed nervously. My feet were heavy and less willing to move the higher I climbed. The fog climbed with me. I don’t believe in legends, I reminded myself. That's why I’m here. I don’t believe the Utlaak wait in the dark or the Sky People steal you if you leave camp at night.
I finally reached the crest of the ridge and lay down shivering in the early spring moss. The damp vegetation soaked through my thick hide robe and chilled whatever courage I had left. What was I doing up here?
The fog flowed steadily toward the boulder where the black something hovered unmoving against the horizon. It wrapped around the twisted tree trunks and over my shoulders like a clammy stream; not still and airy the way fog should be, but always moving towards its ocean.
A scratching noise disturbed the forest silence. The shadow seemed to detach itself from the rock and extend itself to twice the height of one of the People. Great yellow eyes opened half-way up its body, swiveling backwards and forwards across the ridge. Sweat dripped down my face making my eyes sting as the creature carefully scanned my side of the ridge.
Breathing slowly just to keep myself from moving, I tried to see a form in the darkness. The rocks and soil under my fingernails felt hard and wet as my hands dug, attempting to find an anchor into the mulch; desperate for the reality of the cold frozen earth. Apparently unable to see anyone, the fierce eyes turned upwards for a moment, giving me time for a full, careful breath. A breath I abruptly lost as the amorphous shape seemed to split itself in two. Where the eyes had been was now the shape of a head with massive wings stretched out to each side.
The Waki’tani aren’t real, I boggled, this isn’t real! I’ve hit my head on a rock or a tree stump, and I’m unconscious; just lying here in the dirt.
Carefully pulling one hand to my side, I ran it over my wet braids checking for blood or bumps on my head, then I touched it to my chest feeling the reality of my own racing heart. I looked at the bird-shaped thing again.
The raven creature stood looking down at the village. Its wings spread wide in the darkness, blocking out the stars who were twinkling everywhere else in the frosty sky. Overhead, the Sky Road appeared, a million points of light showing the way to the Elder Stars.
The Waki'tani turned its head. I swallowed in fear as the great beak snapped at a passing thought. With a last look at the village and a noise somewhere between a human sigh and a raven’s caw, it soared into the sky. For a few seconds, I could only watch as the creature disappeared into the distance, then, noticing the fog seemed to be evaporating as the creature departed, I scrambled from the ridge line into the cover of the lower bushes.
Clinging to the bole of a knotty pine tree, I tried to rebuild my world. It was a much larger, much scarier place than it seemed when I left camp a few hours ago. It was real, how can I tell them, it’s all real!
(Siann; Y’keta – The Sky Road Trilogy, Book 1)