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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 8

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

I eagerly watch the fey woman for her response to the shifter’s declaration. Is it possible he only wants to talk? Though eager to stand, I don’t want to rush the attempt lest I spook her a second time.

She spins to confront the cloaked man, nearby dropping her basket again. If only they would chase one another off and leave the blossoms to me, I might return to Yorilis before dawn. Simplicity does not grow in these enchanted woods, however.

“What sort of creature looks like a man then takes flight as a bird?” The bite in her question is clearly meant to accuse, and I can see the tenseness in her slight frame, coiled to leap if provoked.

“You’ve seen my ilk, Enchantress, for I’ve watched you beguile men such as this before,” the Grackle extends his arm toward me.

My skepticism lies with her. “You are no kin of mine. Men do not become beast unless they carry the Curse upon them.”

He stares hard at my prone form, but when his eyes meet mine he seems amused – if a mouth can smile sideways. “I am not Stained like the founder of your tribe, Brahkis. And yes, I have watched you, too,” he says in response to my eyes growing wider. “I am merely a Shaper and have long kept watch over the lands shadowed by the Great Mountain. A new danger threatens both your peoples, and they will need you to cooperate in order to save them.”

“If you are human,” the rose-haired woman poses, “then know that your kind has ever-threatened the Eladrin, and we would be safer should your people come to harm. I will not help such destroyers.” She slowly lifts from her crouch, as if not to provoke a hunting cat.

“Eladrin will suffer alongside mankind, I’m afraid.” The Grackle slumps his shoulders and takes a few steps toward me. “You may release Brahkis, my lady, for he is a man of integrity and will give his word to leave you safe.” He nods in my direction.

After a moment I realize it’s meant as a cue, and I clear my throat before turning to the Eladrin. “Yes, lady, on my honor, I swear to do you no harm if I can expect the same.” I look at her expectantly, unable to read those swollen, solid-colored eyes.

She remains so still I cannot tell if she’s divining my intentions or has fallen asleep, but after a brief hesitation, she closes her fist and the vines recede back to the edge of the clearing. “Do not make us both regret this,” she warns.

I cautiously rise, switching my attention from the Eladrin to the Grackle, but they seem to be waiting for me. “For what purpose do you collect the snowbells?” I ask, figuring a change in topic might alleviate tension.

“Is that why you’re here?” she asks sharply, her voice dripping with suspicion. She’s doing her best to keep both myself and the cloaked stranger within her field of vision.

I shrug, seeing no reason to obfuscate the truth. “My kinsman has been poisoned and the blossoms are part of the remedy. I was just as startled to find you here as you were me.” I glance over at the shifter, his features long and severe in the canopy-filtered moonlight. “And I’ve never encountered this man before, nor know ought of him.” No reason to leave her thinking this might have been an orchestrated ambush.

“That is not quite true, Brahkis,” he responds, the fact that he’s using my name grating my bones. “I helped guide you through that spider-infested forest, after all.”

Confusion quickly gives way to memory, and I think back to the ordeal with Hagen. Was that grackle of those dark woods really this shifter all along? “That was you?” I say, unable to trap my inward thoughts from escaping.

“So you see,” the Grackle continues undeterred, “none of us are truly strangers. “I’ve chosen you both for a reason.”

“And what might that be?” I retort like a wolf, snapping at his heels.

He pauses, and I wonder if I’ve caught him. The woman remains silent, perhaps just as eager for an answer. “I would rather show you,” he offers, as if dangling a dripping honeycomb before a pair of children.

“And I would rather you tell us,” the fey enchantress answers, speaking both our minds.

I cross my arms, standing firmly in place. If he thinks I’m following him anywhere, his head must still be stuck in last winter’s snow. “Yes, tell us.”

The Grackle sighs. “Your people,” he says, looking squarely at the pale-haired eladrin, “have been pushed from your native territory by the ever-expanding ice. The further south you travel, the harder you’re finding it to remain hidden from the Illanese.”

“Barbarians,” she clarifies, though I cannot fault her description.

“And your tribe, Brahkis—”

“The Shadowwolf clan,” I add to keep accounts balanced.

“The shadowwolves,” he starts over, “are being pressured from enemies on all sides. You are not as strong as you once were, and the other clans will soon encircle you. Added to that is a danger you’re only now gaining awareness of, though you have no idea how deeply it runs…”

“The migration?” I answer, almost as if he’d just put both the question and answer inside me. The animals have been leaving since last autumn, only they haven’t returned as usual. My chieftain is unconcerned, but I can feel that something is wrong. On that, the Grackle speaks the truth – I have no idea what or where the true danger lies, but I have felt it.

He nods. “The Spirit of the Great Mountain is uneasy and has turned against us, though I don’t know why, either. It is twisting nature, striking out in its anguish, and I fear none of us who live in the valley below shall survive its wrath.”

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