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Atop the cliff the being known as Haruk-Wei moved, not in silence, but in something more than silence. My heartbeat grew fainter in its presence. My breath went quiet. Sound bowed. The trees bent toward it. Its form was four-legged, with a curl-horned head, greater than a stone, greater than a storm. Though it appeared as nought but shadow, but a hole in the world, it was more solid, more true, than any being that I have ever witnessed.
It turned its great head toward me, down, and its eyes burned like two suns.
It was gone. I stood, gasping, shivering in the cold. The moon shadows had moved. How long had I stood? I went back to my lean-to and shivered beneath my elk-skin and thought and lay awake.
Until sundown the next day, no one came. I was alone. I was as still as I had ever been and the weight of what I had seen, the power of the being I had witnessed, impressed itself on me. My task, the one I had set out on years, decades before, and which, as I write this memory, nears its final positionings, had grown in magnitude to an order I had not anticipated.
I am not ashamed to say I lost hope. My aim seemed greater than I could achieve. Just a glimpse of Haruk-Wei had shown me much that I had not known before.
In the evening, the three returned with food and water and wine. Again I greeted them, and again they were taciturn at first. The two turned to go but the woman lingered and stared, and finally she said, in a halting voice, “Who are you?”
She spoke Ularan, a language of a nearby country, and one I knew well. At first I thought I imagined it. I looked up at her inquisitive face and squinted. “Excuse me?”
“Who are you?” She repeated the words, their cadence jumbled, the sounds clearly unfamiliar. But, as they echoed in my mind, I understood. I understood several things.
I arose and bowed, and reached for her hand. She took my wrist, and we stared into each other’s eyes and then I leaned down to touch my forehead to hers. “I,” I said, “am Raze.”
The being on the cliff at night had shaken me. Its power was obvious. Immeasurable. It had shaken me because the guardian of my final goal is a greater spirit than Haruk-Wei, a greater creature than any other. That glimpse of Haruk-Wei was a warning, my first sight of something so awful. How could I challenge something mightier than Haruk-Wei? Something I knew to be more, to be of a might beyond reckoning, beyond approach?
This guardian which I prepared to face has a secret name, but I knew it then and I know it now, and even to write it, I call and challenge. The guardian is called Behhallan. That name, in our shared native tongue, means “The Unbreakable.”
The woman asked my name, and I understood how anyone could challenge such a spirit. “I am Raze.” I breathed deep and my doubt was gone.
My foe, my greatest test, would be Behhallan. Even now, to write the name, I burn with anticipation.It will be my greatest test. The moment I have striven for. It will be a battle, worthy.
But I am Raze.
While all of this went through my mind, she watched in some confusion. “Who are you?” I asked her.
She tapped her middle, just below the ribs. “Puwotok.” She hesitated, squinting at me. “I. Am. Puwotok.”
Again, I touched my forehead to hers. “Pleased to meet you, Puwotok.”
She smiled, pleased, but knew no other words in any tongue I understood. I motioned for her to join me with the food and drink and she sat, silent but grinning, and we ate and drank together. She asked questions which I did not understand, and I spoke of whatever was on my mind and she watched in puzzlement. We made a fire. She showed me her people’s methods and their alchemy, their fire-starting pouches and powders, so different from all the other alchemies I had seen and yet so familiar. I avoided mention of Haruk-Wei, and not once did she glance to the top of the cliff. She kept her voice low.
We drank the bitter wine and Puwotok brought out a small pot of honey she had brought with the supplies. It improved the wine immensely. As the sky darkened, we drank and laughed at our inability to speak. She moved closer to me. She inspected my blue cloth and, I think, spoke highly of it, and she touched my turban and seemed to ask about my hair, which I indicated I had much of. Then, she touched my beard and tried to kiss me, and I gently held her back. I explained, though she couldn’t know my words. I told her about Green Skive and tried to smile, but she was saddened.
She stood and said a few words, and said my name amongst them, and then she left, and again I was alone.
That night, Haruk-Wei did not come, and so I slept well enough.
The next day, around midday, Askuwheteau returned. He said nothing, but appeared through the trees and motioned for me to follow.
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