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Chapter 4 - Kyrill


The pinecone hit a fencepost in a burst of scales and moss, littering the garden with shrapnel. Laughs and jeers followed from behind Kyrill’s back. He didn’t bother turning around. He already knew who he’d see.

“Sorry, didn’t see you there! Was an accident!” Omar yelled from a distance, barely containing his laughter. It was as much an apology as the fencepost had been the intended target. The man was surrounded by his equally immature friends, all sharing in on the apparent hilarity of the situation.

“Sorry about them,” Kyrill apologized through gritted teeth as he leaned down to clean up the mess.

“Don’t,” Camilla said, her voice soft and reassuring. “Don’t get angry, don’t apologize. And don’t clean up after them. They’re just trying to get a reaction out of you. Don’t give it to them.”

Camilla was kneeling down in her garden on the other side of the fence. Her wild, red hair tumbled down amongst the leaves and flowers. Various vegetables dotted the rows of plants: peppers and cucumbers hidden and camouflaged within the greenery, tomatoes and squash brightly standing out.

“Oh, I’ll show them a reaction.”

“And get kicked out of the barren? You know the rules. The next pit tourney is what, a week away? Just wait till then to kick their asses. Again.”

Kyrill was a behemoth of a man—as capable hunting in the forest as he was brawling in the fighting pit—and the runt of the litter, the black sheep of his barren.

In a place where everyone grows up training to hunt and fight, he was among the best, as the multitude of iron and bone beads in his necklace showed. Among them, though, you would find no jade, nor silver, and certainly no clay. Despite his many accolades, Kyrill was seen as incomplete and looked down upon. By himself most of all.

Omar and company had already started walking away, but Camilla was right. They were hoping for a reaction. But why? Omar was younger than Kyrill, but not by much. They were both adults. This was childish bullying.

“You know why they do that, right? Aside from getting a reaction?” Camilla asked, not expecting an answer. “They’re jealous of you.”


“Yeah,” she said, exasperated, incredulous that he still didn’t see it himself. “Kyrill, you’re amazing.”

Her smile cut right through his self-doubt and bored a hole directly into his heart. At least in this moment, he believed her. He’d believe anything if she was the one saying it.

“You’re a better hunter than any of them, and you’ve won more tourneys than all of them combined.” She stood and walked towards him, laid her hand on his. An ever-present yet subtle scent of tomatoes gently followed her. “They’re jealous. Especially Omar. Being the son of the Huntmaster comes with a lot of expectations. And you just keep showing him up.”

The moment was interrupted as Dogan, her husband, came out from their cabin, his owl perched on his shoulder like a godsdamn trophy. He hated Dogan. The man was kind, friendly, and after he bonded he even became a teacher. It made Kyrill hate him even more, knowing just how good of a man he was, which made Kyrill hate himself for thinking it.

“Kyrill, hey! What’s going on, buddy?” Dogan asked enthusiastically.

“Just passing by, on my way to Chione.”

“Ahhh”—he waved his hand nonchalantly, dismissing the idea—“you don’t need her to tell you how you’re gonna do in the tourney. You are fightin’ next week, right?”

“He better be!” Camilla chided. “Omar needs to be put in his place.”

“Between you and me, Kyrill, that man irritates the hell outta me. Do me a favor and whip his ass?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Kyrill said with a laugh. He turned and gave a little wave as he walked away.

Not many still adhered to the ways of the old world. Laziness, doubt, apathy, change: there were a multitude of reasons why so many of the old customs had fallen by the wayside. The real culprit, as always, was time. Over time, as they said, everything is lost to the sand. Nothing lasts forever.

Some traditions still remained here and there, differing from barren to barren, but none were quite like the people of Shaded Under the Canopy of a Sprouting Seed. If their name was any indication, Shaded Seed were downright traditionalists when compared to other barrens—those who seemed to have cherry-picked the handful of customs they chose to still follow.

Although things have changed, the once-nomadic barren of hunters has always highly valued their sovereignty. Throughout their long history, they never once recognized any outside authority, choosing instead to be ruled by an internal diarchy. It was a choice especially dangerous to live by during the Empire, the consequences of which they deftly avoided for centuries.

The first of their rulers was Umar, Omar’s father. The position of the Huntmaster, as per tradition, is accompanied by that of a Magister, the real decision-maker, the woman Kyrill was headed to meet. Where a Huntmaster deals with all matters of war and the hunt, a Magister is concerned with matters of order and wisdom. Action and reflection, a balance.

Chione’s lodge was quite possibly the ugliest building in the entire barren. It was covered with mismatched furs, hundreds of feathers were hung to form a curtain in the entrance doorway, and several clunky windchimes were displayed all around the facade. So pretty much what you’d expect from an old, blind woman. As he approached, Kyrill rubbed his thumb and forefinger together and brought them to his nose. They still smelled like tomatoes.

Upon entering, a large crane-like bird spread its black-rimmed wings, either asserting dominance or welcoming him. He could never tell.

“Hey, Thiss,” he greeted the bird.

It was cool inside. Chione kept it so dark that his eyes took a moment to adjust, making the bird’s bald, pitch-black head practically invisible at first. It’s long, curving beak was a concealed dagger in the darkness. Thiss settled and plopped himself back down into his basket of pillows and reeds.

“Good morning, Kyrill,” a blithe, but rusty voice from a room in the back called out to him. Chione seemed to love welcoming her guests from other rooms as if she could sense who was there through some mystical connection or gift. Truth is, most of her visitors were requested beforehand and she had a huge bird that made a ruckus when anyone walked in. Parlor tricks, he thought. “Would you like some tea?”

“No, thanks.”

“Are you suuure? It’s fig leaf and cinnamon. Just made a whole pot, couldn’t be more fresh. You wouldn’t make an old woman drink alone, would you?”

“Thanks, but I’ll pass.”

“Oh, that’s unfortunate.” Her dry sarcasm might have gone unnoticed by those uninitiated to the woman’s charms. “I already poured your cup.”

Across the room, a curtain of wooden beads parted as a kindly, old woman emerged. She stood upright, her posture perfect. If she did it in an attempt to make up for her short stature, it wasn’t necessary. Her boisterous personality more than sufficed. In her hands were a teapot and a ceramic mug billowing with steam. The overwhelming scent of cinnamon hit Kyrill’s nostrils like a punch to the face. Something must happen to a person’s sense of smell when they got older. They always seemed to wear too much perfume or add too much spice to their food. But wasn’t there a saying about blind people and their other senses being heightened? Didn’t seem to help Chione much.

The woman handed the mug to Kyrill and took a seat next to Thiss. Her chair was almost as old as the woman herself, the shape of its cushions perfectly molded to her body after years of repeated use. From the side table, she picked up another mug and poured herself a cup.

“You know, when you’re blind, there are certain other... benefits one gains.”

Kyrill couldn’t help but smile.

“I’m not talking about your other senses being heightened or anything like that. Gods know mine aren’t what they used to be. But there is one thing, a special ability of sorts. I get away with saying shit most others can’t. Kyrill, it’s time for you to stop being such a little bitch about everything.”

She caught Kyrill by surprise as her usual jovial tone vanished. She wasn’t mad at him, he wasn’t being punished, but he couldn’t help but feel like he was a child being lectured by his parents. Not angry, just disappointed.


“Shut up. I know you’re not usually much for conversation, but for now, you listen.”

So there he sat, holding a cup of tea he wasn’t interested in drinking, listening to words he was sure he didn’t want to hear. Chione spoke with a slow and deliberate tone, allowing time for each and every word to be absorbed and understood.

“Rites of passage can be a double-edged sword. Bonding with an animal is an instant connection to the barren, a welcoming to the community, but because you still haven’t you feel like an outsider.”

Shame slowly crept up Kyrill’s chest and latched onto his shoulders, pulling him down as he stared at the floor. She wasn’t wrong, but he knew where this conversation led and putting a spin on failure was like putting a bow on a box of shit.

“Hey, no slouching. Sit up straight,” she barked. “I’m trying to teach you about pride, dammit. Listen to me when I tell you: you are not an outsider, Kyrill. Just because you haven’t bonded yet doesn’t make you any less a part of the community. You’re one of our strongest warriors and fiercest hunters. I think that’s because you’re not bonded. You’ve felt the need to prove yourself in spite of it.”

She paused, letting it all sink in.

“Am... am I allowed to speak now?” Kyrill asked, hesitating.

“You may.”

“I know what I’ve achieved, what I’m capable of. You’re not wrong, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. I’ve proved myself in spite of everything? Well, in spite of my achievements, everyone still looks down on me.”

She smiled at his response. Why? Was she about to make another blind joke? Seemed like an inappropriate time for that.

“No, they don’t,” she said with a slight, deprecating chuckle. “Not really. Do you know how many men and women have bonded with dogs, became hunters, got lazy, then got their asses handed to them in the pits? The answer is a lot. Just count the iron around your own neck; it’s mostly been you doing the ass kicking. The thing is, they saw their bond as an excuse. An excuse to... give up. Simply because they could, a luxury you never had.”

She leaned forward slightly and looked directly at him, his eyes meeting hers. They were a solid, cloudy grey, like looking at the moon on a foggy night. She stared so intently he could swear the blind, old bird could see him.

“When they look at you they see the gift they’ve taken for granted, their inadequacies, their laziness shoved down their throats. They laud their bonds over you because it’s the only thing with which they can. And let’s be honest: you’re an easy fucking target. But what happens when you finally bond? What will they have then? Nothing.”

When I bond? What if that never happens? At this point, how can I believe it ever will?”

She smiled again, more devious this time, like she was planning something. Like she knew exactly where she wanted the conversation to go and he was walking right into her trap.

“You will,” she assured him with a cool, absolute confidence. It was hard to disagree with someone so completely devoid of doubt. “And when you do, the anticipation will only make it that much sweeter. But you need to stop trying. It’s not something you can chase. Don’t go searching for it; let it come to you.”

“Okay, but isn’t that what you told me last time?” Kyrill asked, trying not to sound too jaded.

“And the time before that and the time before that. You need patience, Kyrill. You’re putting far too much pressure and importance on it. It’ll happen, but you have to let it happen naturally. Noone can race towards their own destiny.”

“I’m not sure I want to believe in destiny.”

“Honestly? I don’t. Fuck destiny. It’s just an easier concept to get across for most. Think of it more as fulfilling your potential, becoming the man you are capable of.” Something about the raw honesty behind her words struck a chord with him. “You have accomplished great things, Kyrill Mohk-Eshek. You’ve excelled. It’s time you start holding yourself to that excellence.”

As if in agreement with the old woman, Camilla’s voice echoed in his mind.

Kyrill, you’re amazing.

Maybe they were right. Maybe he will find his bond. The Huntmaster didn’t bond with his horse until he was in his twenties. And now he’s the godsdamn Huntmaster! Kyrill rose from his seat, stood up straight, not slouching. Maybe it was time to finally start trusting those that believed in him, even if he didn’t yet himself.

“Ah ah ah! Just where do you think you’re going? I’m not finished with you yet. You think I brought you here just for a pep talk? Sit down. I have a job for you.”

He did as he was told, embarrassed but upbeat.

“Besides, you haven’t even touched your tea.”


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the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet