Çerid on the Move

The off-topic. Ali Khan operates a shawarma van that he drives around the city. Stupid tourists buy food here, does usually not end well.

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Çerid on the Move

Postby Shyriath » Tue Nov 06, 2018 1:41 pm

Somewhere in the desert south of Damietta:

Even by starlight, the Çerid could see the beasts clearly. Long legs and neck, short hair, a cleft upper lip, a hump on the back. They were unsaddled and unburdened, huddled together against the chilly desert night, most of them sleeping. They'd never seen beasts so large before spotting some among the camps of the warriors of Raspur, and there most of them had been obliged to watch from a distance.

Okered, the band's speaker, had been mildly insulted by that requirement, and by the insinuation that the band had been stealing supplies. They had been sharing, as was only right and proper among allies in battle. And, after all, the Raspur-humans had wonderful devices that the Çerid did not, and if the two forces were to work together, it was to their mutual benefit and improvement that the Çerid should be able to use them as well. Astonishingly, this argument had not impressed the human speaker, who had only grudgingly traded them some far-seeing devices for goat jerky before telling them to be on their way; the suspicion had been palpable. It made Okered want to spit, it really did.

Though the far-seers, he had to admit, were nice. He peered through a set at the distant horizon.

"D'you think they taste good?"

"What?"

"The humped things. I wonder if they taste good. You could get a lot of meat off one."

Okered glanced at his bandmate, who was observing the camels with undisguised hunger. "Look, don't mind us and our watching for enemies, will you? Go have a bite, if you're that curious. With any luck, you won't get your head flattened by those feet."

"You've a loud mouth."

"Better that than a tiny brain, Perod," Okered replied pleasantly. "Now, are you going to come along and keep your eyes open, or should we see if you can eat those things by yourself?"

Perod bared his teeth. "Fine. I'll knock your teeth out later."

Okered bared his in response, his antennae curled upward in a Çer grin. "Try if you like."

He wasn't worried. He doubted Perod would actually try it unless he were drunk, and by that point they would've been drinking together. That's what friends were for, after all.

---

The band wound northward through tangled hills. The land of the Iteru-humans, they'd been told, was on the other side of them, a wide and fertile river valley, though sometimes they sent patrols into the hills.

Okered wondered how many humans lived in the valley, and whether the Raspur-humans would kill or drive off enough of them to clear the place out a bit. The ladies were often very friendly to a male who could lead them to good unclaimed land. The band discussed this quietly among themselves as they moved across the landscape, the browns and tans of their scales blending in with the background.

"Tazeri over in Edlikai, now," Okered mused, "she's always been a nice friendly girl-"

"Oh yes? Is that what you call it?" Sathed leered. "And when you stay in her house, that's just for the conversation?"

"Partly," Okered replied loftily. "If I can get sharp wit along with everything else, I don't see why I shouldn't."

"Yes, I suspect you bloody well are getting 'everything else'."

Okered glanced back at Sathed with a gloriously self-satisfied smirk. "Listen, it's not my business if you lot haven't been letting Odri into your li-" he began, only to be interrupted by a chorus of hisses and bared teeth, and grinned evilly at them.

He knew for a fact that most of them weren't as lonely as all that, just envious. Tazeri was a find, and they knew it. Okered had managed to extract some comradely conversation from one of the Raspur-humans who was refreshingly at ease over the Çer's interest in his unit's supply stores, and had described Tazeri to him as practice in the language. The word khalevin had presented some difficulty, but after some paw motions to get the visual idea across, the human had sagely offered, "Yes, we have the same sort of word. She is 'shapely'. Possibly 'bootylicious'."

Yes, a good word. Quick-witted, a good sense of humor, but also 'bootylicious'.

Perod eyed Okered knowingly. "You started offering her courting gifts yet?"

"Who says I'm going to?"

"Call my brain tiny if you want, Keri, but it's not that tiny."

Okered met his gaze, then snorted and twisted his head in a shrug. "She knows her worth," he muttered. "I've brought her food, because that's easy, and she accepts it, because she's interested in me, but she's waiting for something a bit more substantial before moving forward. If we get good loot from this, I can keep some of it aside for her."

"It's serious, then."

"Well, she's a fine catch, you know. Idle dallying's all very satisfying, but if I had my pick of someone to fill nests with, it'd be her."

"Some land's always a possibility, too, like we were saying."

"I think she likes where she is," Okered replied. "Not to say I wouldn't offer it if we could get it. I imagine the Raspur-humans and Constancia-humans will get first pick, though, anyway. There's more of them and they can keep us from moving in if they want to."

"True," Sathed mused behind them. "But maybe it's all for the best. Since we're in the vanguard here, we can grab as much as we can carry and haul it away before the humans start wrecking the place."

"I hope we can find a cart," Perod said. "Heaps of spoils are all very well, but we can only carry so much on our backs."

"Aren't you all slaughtering the goat before it's born, here?" Okered asked. "Nothing wrong with dreaming of riches, but until you find out how much you have, there's no point in worrying about logistics."

"And I thought you were the schemer here, Keri."

They were passing up through a narrow gully, an old streambed that nowadays never saw water. Off to the right, one of the band's number paused to look at the rocky wall of the gully. "Strange rock here," he murmured. "Shiny."

"It's why this area's called the Glittering Canyons, Lanahad," another voice replied with exaggerated patience.

"And no one's ever tried to figure out if the stuff is valuable?" Lanahad retorted. "It doesn't look like copper ores, but there could be some metal in it worth smelting - hellhole this place may be, but so's the area around the copper mines back on the Island, they say."

"Well, we can't do any smelting right here to find out," Okered said firmly. "Probably no one else could, either. Nothing to burn nearby. We'll tell someone when we get back home and see what they can make of it."

---

When daylight came, they huddled down in another narrow valley, covered themselves with their cloaks, and aestivated and slept through the harsh gaze of the Burning Eye, rousing themselves shortly before sunset to continue on. In a good climate, the Çerid had no preference for day or night in which to sleep, but in a desert where enemy patrols might be active, staying nocturnal was the course of wisdom, to hide both from the Burning Eye and from unfriendly ones.

That said, they had come across a strange lack of patrols as they moved slowly northward. They had heard that the Iteru-humans and their self-proclaimed god-ruler wallowed in complacency, but with enemy armies approaching their land, a failure to field watchful bands was simply moronic. On top of that, it meant there was no one to steal things from.

It was with considerable relief, therefore, that several hours into the night, they spotted the flickering of a fire on a hilltop, and the movement of figures back and forth in front of it.

"Finally," whispered Lanahad. "I was starting to think the whole nation had gone down a hole."

"Everyone have their weapons ready?" Okered murmured.

There was a careful and quiet inspection, a tightening of straps and hefting of weapons. Some of them had spears and weighted spear-throwers to use with them; most of them had [url=https://micras.org/wiki/index.php?title=Adçin]adçinid[/url]; and between them they all had either daggers, which were light and easy to carry, or clubs or maces, which were cheap to acquire. Only Sathed carried a blowgun, which the terrain seemed unlikely to favor.

They sent one of their number toward a neighboring hilltop; then the rest of them split up and, with agonizing slowness, spread out around the base of the hill.

---

The two Iteru soldiers who were on watch were astonished to see a fire spring up on a neighboring hilltop - a wildfire, by the looks of it, spreading aimlessly through the scrubby vegetation that clung to life in these parts.

It was a sight to make them nervous, though many things fell into that category these days. Declarations came out of Men-nefer every other day urging no fear against barbarian aggression, but these soldiers of Iteru had already formed the opinion that it was a lot easier to feel that way in a palace by the sacred river than to be a tiny patrol in the hills standing between the aforesaid barbarian hordes and the aforesaid river.

Human eyes weren't good in the dark, especially when there was the bright light of fire to deal with. Çer eyes, evolved in a place where an animal could, and often had to be, awake at any time of day or night, were much better. So it was that while more members of the patrol tried to turn their gaze on the other hilltop, and on the figure they could just make out lurking at its edges, several of them were impaled by spears hurled with tremendous force from below on the slope.. Shouts erupted as, beset with confusion, some of the Iteru skidded down the slope after the spearmen, who melted away in their wake; while others ran in the other direction, only to encounter scaled demons holding evil-looking curved blades.

Okered leapt at one who was raising a weapon, hooked one of his adçinid around it, and yanked it out of the soldier's grip; he brought the other one around in an arc and sliced open his neck, spraying blood. Another one slammed bodily into him, sending them both over; out of reflex, Okered brought his jaws down on the enemy's arm; there was a scream and the feeling of a limb-bone snapping somewhere between his teeth, and he kept the other arm at bay with the hook of his blade.

And then, around him, things fell quiet. It was already over.

A friendly pair of paws dragged the human away from Okered, who stood up, blood on his face. He glanced at Sathed, who gripped the human's neck.

"All dead?" Okered asked.

"They're still hunting the ones that went downslope," Sathed replied cheerily, "but from the screams it sounds like those won't get far. Otherwise, it's just this one."

"'This one' looked, insofar as Okered could tell, terrified; he trembled as Sathed held him upright. And young, skinny. Of course, regardless of how old he was, he'd been old enough to face an enemy, but…

Okered looked him in the eye. "What's your name, Iteru-human?" he said, using the common tongue.

"Ineni," he wheezed; Sathed still gripped his throat. Okered motioned him to let go; the human was surrounded by a group of curious and amused Çerid now.

"Tell me, Ineni," Okered asked, "why should I keep you alive?"

"I don't know what you want…" Ineni laughed, but his voice had a manic edge to it. "I don't even know what you are."

"We are Çerid. And what we want? Many things, but riches will do, if we can get them. Can you get us riches, Ineni? Your valley, it is said, is a fertile land."

Ineni hesitated, gulped. "I-if I do… you will spare me? And perhaps some others?"

"Quite likely," Okered agreed.

"You promise?"

Okered padded closer. "Our ancestors frown upon different crimes to different degrees. Lying… well, that depends upon the purpose. Lying to unearth a deeper truth, this they understand. Lying for personal gain? No; this angers them. I would not lie for personal gain."

"Then… then I suppose-"

Okered turned the point of his adçin upward and thrust it sharply beneath Ineni's jawline, punching through the mouth and nasal cavity upward into the brain. The human gasped once or twice, bubbled, and then sagged. Okered gently freed his hook.

"Behold," he said to the expiring young man, "I have uncovered a deeper truth. Setur took up residence in your heart, and led you to betrayal. Your ancestors shall spurn you." He wiped his adçinid off on Ineni's tunic before sheathing them. "Well, that was fun. Do they have anything good, besides the the weapons and helmets?"

"Some food," Perod said. "Dates, by the looks of it. Some kind of dried bird meat. Bread. Some of them have a few little trinkets, including some of those little metal disks they use for trade. They're the Iteru-human equivalent of us, really, except they can't really fight - they aren't hauling treasure around. But we might be able to use the weapons, and melt down the other metal things."

"Mmm," Okered acknowledged. "Fair enough. Sathed, d'you think we can get these creatures buried so as not to bother the local zeren?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Keri. There's nothing up here but rock. We could drag them to the gravel down at the foot of the hill, but we'd be at it till sunrise."

"I was afraid so. Let's leave some of the food as an offering for the zeren, then, and leave before anyone else spots the bodies." He paused, then added, "Or possibly until someone else spots the bodies."
Shyriath Bukolos, AKA Shyriath Farstrider, Count Bukolos of the Condo, Harbinger of Cheese
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