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Chapter 5 - Kyrill

The further Kyrill found himself from the northern gulf, the sparser his surroundings became. He was only a single day’s travel from Shaded Seed so it hadn’t changed too dramatically, but if he continued south for another day or two he’d reach desert. For now, he was still surrounded by forest. Above him, branches of great pines stretched like limbs reaching out for one another, creating a verdant canopy that shaded the forest below from the rising morning sun. At ground level, however, everything else was just so... bland. The floor was nothing but dirt and stone and dead pine needles and the bare bark of tree trunks that stretched as far as the eye could see. It lacked the lush assortment of greens he enjoyed so much, the softness he was accustomed to.

Kyrill meandered through it in an unflinching daze, utterly lost in thought.

After his pep talk, Chione had tasked him with finding Mido, one of the barren’s apprentice hunters. He was a young guy, eager and stupid. Youth tended to have that effect. Mido had gone missing after he went out on a solo hunt, likely hoping to prove himself or impress someone or any of the other naive reasons people forgo their better consciences.

Calling it a ‘solo hunt,’ at least to Kyrill, wasn’t an entirely honest description. You’re never truly alone on a hunt if you have your companion with you, just another reason why Kyrill was so desperate to find his. Loneliness doesn’t help feelings of alienation.

Like so many before him—and much to his delight—Mido was assigned his position as an apprentice hunter after bonding with a puppy he found. She had been alone, hungry and completely covered in feces. Mido took the dog in, comforted her, fed her and washed her as best he could. Unfortunately, he did so in that order, the typical impulsive eagerness one came to expect from the boy. The entire barren congratulated the new duo upon their return home, doing so from a respectable distance.

Mido and his shit-covered dog, Elle.

She was still pretty cute.

Officially, Kyrill’s task was to find Mido and bring him home safe and sound. Both he and Chione knew such an outcome was wishful thinking. He was dead, no doubt. Unofficially, then, Kyrill’s task was to find Mido’s necklace, bring back proof of his death.

Leading the conversation as usual, Chione had waited until Kyrill began to leave to make the point she had been guiding him towards, revealing the true purpose of his task, the reason why he specifically was chosen.

“Seeing as how you’re preparing to head out into the wilderness for a few days, this is the perfect opportunity to ask yourself: do you feel as if you are ready to find your bond?”

Even though his answer would have been the same before they had talked, Kyrill felt a confidence he hadn’t known had been missing.

“I’m ready.”

“But are you ready for your bond to find you?”

Even more triumphantly, he responded, “Yes. Yes I am.”

“Good,” she said as she stood from her chair. She turned her back to him and began walking into the back room once more, the beaded curtain swinging behind her as she delivered the final blow. “Don’t return without it.”

Kyrill stood there, stunned. He didn’t move—couldn’t move—as the weight that had been lifted from his shoulders not moments prior crashed back down upon him tenfold.

Ever since, he’d been replaying the moment in his head, over and over, trying to make sense of it. How could she tell him to be patient and then drop something like that immediately after? He rubbed his neck, sore from the weight he could still feel dragging him down. What if he didn’t find a bond? Was he really never allowed back? What if he did, but it took him a year? Or five? Ten? Twenty? Was he just effectively excommunicated from the barren?

Chione wasn’t usually one to speak in absolutes when it came to her guidance. What if that meant she knew that he would find his bond? Could she know that, be absolutely sure that he would? She didn’t believe in destiny, but she was doing more than just making educated guesses, wasn’t she? She was a Treeseer after all.

Being open and ready for his bond to find him was one thing, but Chione’s ultimatum had dumped an immense amount of anxiety and pressure on the situation.

A distant sound snapped Kyrill out of his daze. He had almost forgotten where he was, like he’d been traveling down a familiar road and only now realized he hadn’t been paying attention to anything for some time, the moments before a total blank. He now found himself intensely aware of his surroundings. Every chirping bird, every rustling branch, every innocuous sound of the forest suddenly beckoned his immediate attention.

Kyrill had been wandering with blinders on since he left the barren. He couldn’t afford that. He needed to pay absolute attention to his surroundings. What if he missed the call of his bond? He had to be vigilant. Extra vigilant, even. He wasn’t out here just for his own personal quest; he had a job to do. Find his bond, find Mido, maybe even save his dog if she was still out here.

Of course.

Realization, his muddled thoughts replaced with an instant clarity.

The dog. Elle.

It’s uncommon for an animal to bond with someone new—most don’t outlive their human counterparts—but it does happen. Just a few years back, a man from the barren fell ill. It was all very sudden and unexpected. His daughter, along with the barking squirrel he bonded with, stayed by his side for weeks until he passed. The two were said to have begun crying together when the man passed in his sleep. Through their shared grief, the two bonded. Kind of poetic, really.

That must have been why Chione was so sure he’d find his bond. They both knew he would find Mido much too late to be helped, but perhaps the dog could still be saved. Again. The same scenario as when Mido had bonded with her: a lost dog alone in the forest. Hopefully this time not covered in its own poop.

Kyrill was still anxious about the prospect of finally bonding, but the stress of the situation had subsided. Not gone, but certainly lessened. Rather than a nebulous idea, he now had a definite objective to pursue. He couldn’t relax, not yet, but the worry that had been weighing him down had shifted into a driving force, pushing him towards his newfound goal.

The sun had just reached its peak as Kyrill approached the area where Mido’s destination was said to have been: the eastern edge of The Shelf. From between the trees, Kyrill could see the strange, clustered pillars of stone jutting out of the ground off in the distance. Just beyond, the sky opened up past the sheer cliff face that overlooked the deserts to the west.

He surveyed the area, searching for tracks, trails, drag marks, anything that could clue him in to the whereabouts of either Mido or Elle. He stayed silent as he moved, as if he were hunting real prey, watching his steps and avoiding anything that could scare off the dog or any other animals that may alert her. Kyrill soon recognized the futility of trying to track the boy. As Mido was still an apprentice, he wasn’t likely hunting on foot. The expected approach would have been setting up a hunting blind of some sort, so the likelihood of stumbling upon tracks of the boy or his dog diminished even further. Barring some stroke of luck, his best bet would be tracking game himself until he came across signs of the sort of prime hunting grounds the young apprentice would have been looking for.

Signs like the scattered flock of startled birds that flew overhead.

Or the hunter sprinting through the trees in the distance.

Or his pet bear.

Even with the hopeful understanding that Kyrill would be bonding any day now, how do you not get jealous at something like that? Sure, dogs are cool, but it’s a fucking bear. A bear! Returning to the barren with his bond after so many years had its own unique pressures, but if he came back with a bear, all would be forgotten. Instead, he’d just have another dog.

Kyrill was once again overcome with worry as he realized how easy it would be for the rest of the barren to continue looking down on him after he returned, finally bonded, but with some dead kid’s lost dog.

There would be no beautiful story of a loved one passing on their bond. Nobody was inheriting anything. He was scavenging. He might as well bond with a godsdamn vulture. While Kyrill had come to live with the fact that his own parents were long past ever being proud of him, he hadn’t yet thought about also disappointing Mido’s parents. They probably still had hope he was alive. Kyrill could only imagine their reaction after he came back with their son’s dog, but not their son.

Although their bond would be forever tied to tragedy, he still had to try. What Chione believed in, Kyrill would have to trust. Maybe this was why she had sent him. If anyone were to face the ire of the community for their bond, it might as well be the man who already was a target for his lack thereof. He just needed to find her.

It was possible this hunter could be of help. He might have seen something, know the area, anything. He was headed in Kyrill’s general direction, darting through trees with a spear in his hand and a bow and quiver on his back. And no shoes. Odd. He was fast, though! He tore through the forest at full speed, running like his life depended on it.

He was getting close enough now that Kyrill could see his face. He was young, early twenties maybe, with a smooth, pale complexion and shaggy brown hair that whipped at the back of his neck as he bounded through the woods. He also looked... panicked, scared. Kyrill made eye contact with him as he approached, the look of worry on his face momentarily replaced with a puzzled expression. He didn’t slow in the slightest, screaming a warning as he passed by.

“Not my bear!”


The kid sprinted past, weaving around trees, doing as well as he could to keep his distance, but the bear wasn’t far behind, running just as fast as the kid. Kyrill turned to run, but caught himself, forgetting all about the plan to find Mido’s dog, a greedy little whisper in the back of his mind convincing him not to flee.

It’s not the kid’s bear.

If he bonded with a bear, the rest of the barren would be in awe and the wait would have been more than worth it. If he bonded with a bear, he wouldn’t be taking the last vestige of Mido away from his grieving parents. If he bonded with a bear, he wouldn’t have to take shit from anyone ever again.

Too bad it wasn’t really a bear.

Kyrill turned to face the stampeding beast, his hands raised and open to appear as non-threatening as possible, but like a bolt of lightning, it sent an errant swipe of its paw at him as it jolted past. Kyrill was sent toppling over, three shallow gashes across his bicep, as the bear skidded to a halt just beyond him. It opened its mouth wide and let loose a roar that was both deep thunderous howl and high-pitched shriek, like two separate animals screaming in unison, revealing an extra row of razor-sharp teeth and a long, snake-like tongue.

Kyrill changed his mind. A dog would be a perfectly acceptable bond.

His pack and belongings scattered around him, Kyrill scrambled for his shield as the beast lunged towards him. He reached for his axe, but the beast was too quick and bashed him to the side. Kyrill fell to one knee, battered but unscathed by the creature’s claws. It reared up on its hind legs, its massive jaws unhinged impossibly wide, and came crashing down. Its teeth wrapped around Kyrill’s shield, sending spit and frothy drool raining down upon him. Kyrill could do nothing but stay close to avoid the beast’s claws as it wrestled with his shield.

The animal—if you could even call it that—let loose a pained growl as it pulled itself back, revealing an arrow sticking out of its side. A second came flying through the air, striking the beast once again. It let out another of its strange multi-tonal howls as it leapt from Kyrill and bounded towards the young hunter again. The kid let another arrow fly, pulled his spear from out of the ground and began running once again.

The beast rushed towards him, the dense trees it was forced to maneuver around the only thing keeping the distance between them, but the young hunter would only be able to keep running for so long. He headed towards the treeline, specifically one of the clusters of rock pillars on the edge of The Shelf. The smaller crevices and angles would make for a particularly defensible position. He squeezed himself between the rocks towards the hollow center of the circle just as the creature bashed into the rocks behind him. Unable to fit between the stone pillars, it angrily thrashed through the spaces between the rocks with its razor-sharp claws. Ducking, dodging and using the rocks as cover, the young hunter thrust his spear at the attacking beast, changing position as the bear circled around, looking for a better position of attack.

Jab, duck, dodge, jab.

Their back and forth granted the hunter a few solid hits, but he wasn’t making much progress in stopping the assault. He continued evading the predator as best he could, but an errant swipe caught his leg. The beast pulled him from the safety of the rocks and threw him to the ground. He scurried backwards, now trapped between the rocks and the edge of the cliff. Just as the bear reared up on its hind legs and unhinged its jaw once again, the young hunter grabbed his spear, jammed the end into the rock behind him and braced himself for when the bear came crashing back down.

But it never did.

It paused as it noticed the large, pointy stick that had been thrust at it several times before. With a casual swipe, it knocked the spear aside and peered down towards the young hunter, almost as if it were taunting him. It let out another terrifying howl and reared back once again.


Kyrill smashed his shield into the side of the beast as he came hurtling out of the treeline. It felt like running into a solid wall—the heft of the beast stopping his momentum dead—but it was enough. The creature thrashed its claws with abandon as Kyrill sent it toppling backward. It reached for the rock, desperately trying to find purchase, but disappeared as it fell beyond the edge of the cliff, its two-tone howl a fading echo.

Kyrill collapsed onto the ground, the beating of his heart pounding in his ears.

“Holy shit.”

“Right?” said the young hunter, Moswen, as he peered over the rocky edge.

Neither moved off the ground, both of them catching their breaths and drenched in sweat. They each regarded the wounds of the other. Kyrill’s arm was now covered in blood. The pumping adrenaline of the encounter had caused his shallow wound to drench his arm in red. Moswen was relatively unscathed. Aside from a few superficial cuts and scrapes, his only real injury had been the gash in his leg where the creature had grabbed him from between the rocks.

“So back there with the bear...” Moswen was inquisitive by nature, a true hunter, always sizing up the situation. “That wasn’t some warrior-wanting-to-die-in-battle death-wish scenario, was it?”

“No, no, no, no, no.”

“Then what the shit, man?” he asked with a giggle. “Why didn’t you run? A very deadly, very pissed off beast comes rampaging towards you and what, were you hoping to reason with it or something?”

Kyrill stammered as he tried to find an explanation, but was cut off.

“Wait. Are you one of those forest-loving tribal folk with the animal companions and all that?”

“That’s kind of insulting, you know... But yes, I am.” Kyrill was a mixture of pride and embarrassment. “And we’re not ‘forest-loving tribal folk.’ We’re hunters. With a deep respect for the animals, an understanding. See, a balanced relationsh—”

“Yeah yeah yeah, sure, whatever.” Moswen cut him off once again. “But you saw that thing. You should know that was no ordinary bear. That thing was a monster.”

“Yeah, I see that now. I thought... Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“It’s cool, it’s cool. We’re good now. We’re safe, thanks to you. You kinda just saved my life.”

“Well, you did save mine first.”

“Anytime, buddy.”

Perhaps it was the lack of a deadly, monstrous creature, but Kyrill felt a soothing calmness settling within him. Sitting here with the young hunter, joking about the life-threatening event they just survived, he felt uniquely at ease with his new friend.

“So you’ve got a ‘deep understanding’ of animals,” Moswen began. “What the hell was that thing?”

“Aside from horrifying? I have no fucking clue.” In all the years Kyrill had spent hunting, learning the behaviors of animals, understanding their habits, he had never come across anything even remotely similar to what he had just witnessed. “You were the one it was chasing after. You probably know more about it than I do. Why was it chasing after you anyways?”

“Well, I’ve been traveling on my own for some time, and I come across other travelers, merchants on the road, hunters...”



“You met a hunter nearby? His name was Mido.”

“Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if the camp I saw was his, Mido’s very likely dead. I only got close enough to notice the camp had been trashed before that thing”—he motioned down over the ledge—“noticed me.”

Kyrill had known Mido was likely dead, but there was still a small part of him that held out hope he was alive. The news felt like a punch to the gut and he didn’t understand why. He hardly knew the boy and came out here assuming the worst, yet the disappointment still hit him much harder than expected.

“You didn’t happen to see a dog near the camp, did you? Brindle, medium size, big ears?”

“No, sorry. Didn’t really get much of a look before ol’ beastie took an interest in yours truly.”

Moswen pushed himself up off the ground, wincing slightly as he stood, careful not to get too close to the cliff’s edge. He dusted himself off and turned to Kyrill.

“Well? We going or not? Let’s go pick up all the shit you dropped and go find that camp again.”


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Posted by Anonymous on 04.23.20
"Kyrill changed his mind. A dog would be a perfectly acceptable bond."

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