Ijah had kept an even, easy pace through the night. When Masri had set, the land was a greenish wash from Kallen, Aratheen to the Kereshi. She had travelled a while longer. As the smaller moon was only about two-thirds full, the terrain was much harder to see. She stopped to rest, sitting atop her bedroll and quickly slipped into a meditative trance to await the coming sunrise.
When Masri was next full, just a few days from now, the first month of summer would be past. That left them four months to find the sorceress, travel to East Port and then make the trip back to Swampdon. Too much of a delay anywhere along the way would likely have them wintering elsewhere, which came early and lasted upwards of five to six months in the Swampdon area. She hoped that they could complete the trip in good time and that she would be with her family over the cold months. She prayed to the Mother of Mothers that she would not be stuck in some rural town or village.
She also prayed for the success of her people and the Great Plan. Such a lofty goal the Emrah had placed on their shoulders, to educate and influence the peoples of all nations. To steer them all towards a better and more aware understanding of themselves and their world. To enlighten everyone, to free the potential of the feminine divine and to save them all from themselves. Some of her fellow Kereshi were diplomats, educators, healers or powerful mages. Most were mothers, all were dancers. She was a warrior, as were perhaps one in six of the women who had sailed from their homeland islands. The warriors had been sent to protect the families and when required, to kill any who stood in the way of the Great Plan.
Ijah remembered well the day she and her people sailed forth from the capital, out of Three Island Bay and into the wider Shallow Sea. Over a thousand brightly painted three hulled boats had launched, to carry the Kereshi to the diverse corners of the world. It had been a beautiful day, pennants and long ribbons had blown and snapped in the modest wind. Sails raised and filled; nearly fifteen thousand women had raised their voices in a song of blessing as they had launched into the second phase of the Great Plan.
The fleet of small ships and boats had sailed east, then along the northern coast of the Southern Continent, when her people came to the Hapanni cities, a few of the families stayed. Then they sailed northeast into the island chains of the Principalities, more families went to the major island nations. Two thirds of the fleet remained as they tracked northwards towards Maldorn. By the time the armada had left the Principalities behind there were less than five hundred boats remaining. Only a few ships had been lost along the way, protected from the elements and misdirection by the powerful mages of the Kereshi. When they had reached the vast northern continent, the remaining ships had split into smaller fleets, a third of their number sailed east, a third west while the remaining boats had entered one of three mighty river systems that spanned much of the central area of the continent. Many of the families, like Ijah’s own, had at some point been forced to leave their boats behind and proceed to their destinations across land.
When the armada had left Three Island Bay, Ijah had been starting her twenty-first year, when she and the rest of her family had arrived in Swampdon, Ijah had been halfway through her twenty-second year. They had set about their task and been working hard ever since. When the coming autumn was nearly finished she would be thirty years old.
Ijah was drawn from her reverie by the dawn’s early light. She relieved herself, gathered her belongings then set off towards the not so distant mound. She was nearly sure at this point that it was an earth-machine. Even at this distance its features appeared too regular to be a naturally occurring hill.
As she came closer, Ijah could see that the structure had three lower, large mounds or possibly stone platforms that were rectangular in shape. On the top was a taller level, possibly square shaped. She found a broken obelisk near the western base, mostly covered in earth, grass and a few bushes. She scrambled up the covering sediment and took a good look around. It was difficult to estimate the dimensions, but each successive tier seemed to be about a third smaller in length and width. It was impossible to determine the height of the first tier due to the amount of earth that had settled over the structure, but she estimated that it was more than double her height and each successive tier seemed to add half that height. She climbed upwards, moved across the artificial hill until she came to the eastern facing. She noticed the inclination of the structure’s east side was much steeper; there was a bit of stone showing, appearing to be marble or something similar. The top was indeed square, not rectangular like the lower sections and it was a bit of a challenge to reach the top. She committed her estimated dimensions and observable features to memory. She was neither architect nor mathematician, someone else could worry about doing a thorough investigation of the structure. The view was nice though.
From atop the earth-machine she could see far into the sandy dunes and craggy rock formations of the Sudakkar Wasteland, to the north the Kaffern Hills, while to the west and south it was open plains. The morning sky was beautiful and clear, to the southeast she could see what appeared to be three large condors circling. After a while she also noted a small band of people moving across the sands of the Sudakkar, maybe thirty or so in number. They travelled in a long line heading roughly northwest, based on the available lore they were most likely orc, though they were too distant to clearly see their features.
She watched the land for a long while. The day warmed and she desired to shed herself of her clothing and feel the sun on her bare flesh. She climbed back down to the third tier of the mound after divesting herself of the freeholder’s garb she had become accustomed to wearing, she stretched and began working through some of her martial routines. She missed the clothing of her people and the tropical climate she was from, but this here, being naked atop the ancient mound of the wild-folk was good enough. Exercise and sunlight warmed her and after she had transitioned through to the advanced unarmed routines she felt refreshed, nearly vibrating with energy. She was torn between picking up her sword and practising those forms or allowing the lighthearted mood she now felt to lend itself to some dancing.
Dance was an essential part of the Kereshi culture and all Kereshi danced. Primarily to honour the Mother of Mothers, but also as a focus for casting magic and doing rituals together or just for the sheer joy of it. She compromised on her choice and retrieved her sword, beginning the dance of the long sword. Not really a martial form, it was more demonstration of prowess, an art. Not many outside of Kereshi warrior culture did sword dances, while not officially prohibited it was more a matter of respect that non warriors left the sword dances to those who had trained for their practical uses.
Lost in the movement of the dance Ijah was startled when a male voice greeted her, “Hello.”
She froze briefly and was surprised to see a tall, somewhat lanky man not ten paces from where she had stopped. He had a crooked smile on his face, not quite a leer. He was equipped with pack, bedroll, as well a broadsword and knife hung from his belt. She adjusted her posture and adopted the middle guard position. “Where did you come from?”
He gave a friendly, somewhat mischievous laugh and said, “Well, my mother originally. But, to your question, I’m from Darner’s Hold.” He waved vaguely to the north by northeast.
Although his statement had been at least partially flippant she was keenly aware that he had acknowledge his mother first. Though his answer had not satisfied her, “I’ve been here since shortly after dawn, there was no one coming this way from the northeast. No one in the northeast to be clear. So I ask you again, where did you come from?”
His smile shifted and the light in his eyes took on a more mischievous nature, “Be assured, there was no deceit in my words, I’ve come from Darner’s Holding by Ways unknown to you. This place is a strong point of power.”
She had not missed how he had stressed the word, ways, and then she understood, “Ah, you are of the half-men then, and you have travelled here using the world-grid.”
It was his turn to be caught off guard, but his response remained whimsical, “So you know of my kin, my linage and the Ways. Given the fact I’ve not seen a Tannican such as yourself before, and judging by the shape of your blade, you must be of the Kereshi.”
“So I know something of your people and you know something of mine. What is your intent?”
“While it is tempting to protract this conversation as long as possible I should be about my task. My cousin will be close to the Madden Hills shortly and I need to deliver a message to him.”
“Well, I will not stop you.” She lowered the point of her sword and stepped to one side.
“Of that I am much relieved, it would have been a shame if the two of us were to fight on such a fine morning.”
“I have a question for you, wayfarer, if you will indulge me.”
“I’d not begrudge you anything within my abilities or knowledge. Ask away.”
“Is this structure one of the earth-machines of the wild-folk?”
“Aye, it is that.”
“What do you know of it or other such structures that once kept the wasteland at bay?”
“Well, if you are inferring that the recent advance of the sands is due to the dysfunction of this, or other earth-machines, you are mistaken. To my people’s knowledge the machines that once kept the wasteland vibrant fell into disuse after the last Elemental War. While the advance of the sands has only been happening within our people’s living memory, less than three-hundred years.”
Ijah wished her sister-wife was here, she had a much better understanding of these things, “Is it true that there were three such machines that were built to keep the wasteland vibrant?”
“No, there are three within the old boundaries of the wasteland but both this one and another on the Elquin shores were built along a stronger way-line to help power the structures. We believe the elves that built them and their kin were mostly, or entirely, killed off during the last great war. Many of our people believe the recent incursion of the sands has to do with the industrialization of Maldorn.”
“Oh, I see.” She was unsure how to further inquire on the subject.
“Was there anything else?”
She rolled her shoulders and walked over to where she had left her clothing and scabbard. “I cannot think of any at this point, but might wish to have another conversation with you in the future. May I have your name?”
His expression darkened, “I can tell you that if you found yourself in Darner’s Hold and you asked for the red-headed messenger, you would likely be directed to me, assuming I was there. As to my name, well, we’ve only just met and I’d be more comfortable with such familiarity after getting to know you better. That being said, I really must be going.”
She frowned as she watched him go, he climbed down the southern slope of the structure and jogged off towards the southwest. She took some time to review what he had said, then wiped herself down with some fresh sage. She dressed, gathered her gear and headed off in nearly the same direction.