WITHOUT A NAME, CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 3

Strangers become friends

Watching dancing fireflies

Outcasts’ gathering

“And so it was. We heeded the words, and change and new life flourished throughout the world. From our savagery, we were uplifted into civilizations, each one based upon worship of the Gods that so awed and terrified us. We called the brutal battles of our past the Last War, in hopes that it would ever be thus. We reclaimed the land, healed it as best we could, and made it our own. We tamed the animals, the goats, sheep, hogboars, and fowl, nurturing them as if they were our own children. Where there was once only ruin, we built homes, towns, villages… and Unify, our capital city.

“Built in a circle around the Shinju, the great tree that the Goddess of Life raised in the world’s center, named to remind us of the message that the Gods gave unto us, Unify spread as our numbers grew. Among the Shinju’s roots we mingled, sharing our stories and our knowledge, and under her boughs we slept in peace. When it came time to lead ourselves, those chosen by each species took to meeting high up in her crown, where the Representatives could see all of Unify spread out before them.

“For a while, it was paradise… but then, to our sorrow, our belief in the Gods led to more conflict than ever…”

[An excerpt from Godlore: Our Sacred Legacy and Foundations of Society, by Ash Caeruleus]

“Well, kitto, there it is!”

A gasp left Hanami’s lips as Faun pulled aside the underbrush blocking their view of a grassy clearing.

At the clearing’s center, under a canopy of stars, there stood a huge slab of granite. Ten meters across, it was low enough to the ground that one could step up onto it without having to climb. Its surface was almost perfectly flat, smoothed and leveled by who knew how many centuries of rain, and so polished that it reflected some of the light of the late summer moon above. In the center of the rock there were a half-dozen logs, each large enough to sit on and covered by a hand-woven blanket. The logs surrounded a shallow dip in the rock’s surface, in which lay a pile of blackened timber and ash, the remnants of a fire. All around, the air glimmered with tiny, lazily drifting yellow lights blinking off and on… there was a company of fireflies out tonight, engaged in a courtship dance.

“It’s beautiful,” said Hanami in a hushed tone as she climbed over the edge. The place was like an illustration out of the old storybooks she loved as a child.

Faun shrugged and grabbed a blanket, wadding it into a rough ball shape before she sat down on it. “It’s not much, but we like it.”

“I can see why.” Smiling, Hanami took her own seat, folding her hands in her lap… which was when she heard and felt something tear. Her ears turned back; doubtless, one of the numerous gashes the branches had made in her tunic had just split open even further. Her lip trembled as she tugged at the fabric, trying to conceal the damage.

“Oi,” chided Faun. “Leave it alone, it’ll tear even worse if you do that.  Dijo, I told you you can have some of my clothes when we get back to my den.”

“Erm,” said Hanami. While she was beyond grateful for the offer, that wasn’t exactly a comforting statement. More

WITHOUT A NAME, CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 2

A new arrival

Dusk upon a frigid lake

A flash of sunset

“Everyone is taught the story at an early age. Ask any cub, pup, or kit old enough to speak, and they will tell you. It is the story of the world, how it rose from a state of blood and chaos to become the society we know today.  They may tell you different names, or different motives, but at its heart, the story is always the same, and it always begins like this:

“Long ago, the world’s eight sentient species were locked in endless violence and conflict against each other. So brutal, savage, and lengthy were these wars that all recorded history prior to them was irrevocably lost. All reasons for the fighting, any knowledge to who or what had started it or why, we now have no way of knowing. Countless numbers wept. The atrocities committed by every side still haunt us all, even centuries removed from those dark days.

“The lore tells that the final battle of what would be called the Last War was held on a spring morning. What was the spark that ignited into the inferno that followed? No one knows for certain. Theories abound, but whatever vile action triggered it, it was enough to awaken something from deep within the earth: a monstrous being, an entity far beyond our understanding.  Was it always there, waiting for the day it could reveal itself? Or was it called into existence by our long history of bloodshed? Again, no one knows…

“On that morning, it erupted from beneath us, vast enough to block out the sky, black as night and boiling with hatred. With pitiless eyes of white-hot flame, it looked down upon our multitudes and spoke in a voice that split the skies and cracked the earth: “You fools” it said, and every sentient heard its words and trembled, “This world with all its beauty and promise was given to you, and you have squandered it. You have stained the earth with blood and darkness for far too long. Now your retribution is at hand. Mark my words, for I am DEATH, and all shall wither before me.”

The God of Death breathed, and all that its breath touched began to burn…”

[An excerpt from Godlore: Our Sacred Legacy and Foundations of Society, by Ash Caeruleus]

For the past half hour, there had been no words between them. Nothing save for the dead leaves crinkling and twigs snapping underfoot, the sighing of the breeze, and a few birds up in the branches, singing to warn of the encroaching twilight.

Numb… Hanami felt numb, disconnected from herself. Cold, despite the lingering heat of the late summer evening. It was shock settling upon her, she supposed. Shock at not only her new status as an exile—no, an Outcast—but that for her entire life, all she was taught and all she believed about this forest had been little but lies.  Deliberate lies, according to the buck called Zero. The foundations of her world were shaken apart. How and why anyone would go so far to distort the truth, she did not know.

She found herself wondering what else she had been lied to about.

“I’m sorry,” said Zero abruptly.

Hanami let out a short, sharp squeak. “I-I beg your pardon?” Hanami stammered as she ran her hands through her tail fur, trying to smooth it back down.

“Beg your pardon,” He looked back over his shoulder at her, smiling his sad little smile. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. Just now, or back there.”

“Ah.”

“As I said, most of the people who come here aren’t criminals. If they are, they never last long… but I needed to be sure you weren’t one of the bad ones.”

Hanami froze. Her ears pressed down flat.

“It’s all right now,” he said, trying to be gentle. “There’s no need to worry anymore.”

Shaking like a leaf in a gale, Hanami’s hands closed tight around her tail. A few dry sounds eked from her mouth, but no words would come.

“Did I say something wrong?” Zero held up his hands and cautiously backed away, giving her space. “Do you need help, or—”

“Best back up a few more paces, Takky,” said a new voice from a branch above them, languid and relaxed. “Look at her! She’s a cold-blooded killer, that one.”

Both squirrels’ heads snapped up to follow the voice, one considerably more alarmed than the other.

“Faun,” Zero sighed. “This might not be the best time.”

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WITHOUT A NAME, CHAPTER 1

BOOK I: WITHOUT A NAME

CHAPTER 1

Into the forest

To the place where no one goes

Runaway maiden

“We will never know her name. We will never know where she came from. Even now, after generations of sentients of all species devoting themselves to studying the myths surrounding the Outcasts, the sad truth is that whoever she was before that day will forever be a mystery.

What might have possessed her to abandon everything she had, including her very name? There are countless theories: that she fled an unfaithful mate, that she was a noble tired of the responsibilities of her station, that her life was in danger, that it was only a fit of madness… or perhaps that she was loved and respected, and the Gods themselves interfered in her fate.  

Some scholars would argue that who she was is not important to the narrative; for all intents and purposes, her story, her life, begins on that fabled afternoon, the day she ran away to Tasakeru, the forest of Outcasts…”

[An excerpt from The Outcasts in Fact and Folklore, by Hill Jakes]

Had they been able, the ancient oaks would have blinked in shocked surprise. An intruder in their forest, they might have thought, and one paying no attention to any of the natural wonders around her. Her panicked flight was unbecoming of the serene, tranquil atmosphere of the late summer afternoon. She ran pell-mell down the narrow, winding path between the mighty trunks, flitting in and out of the splintered sunlight shining down through the vast network of branches, from light to shadow to light again. Stumbling over morasses of gnarled and entangled roots, she struggled to climb the hills that dotted the uneven forest floor. Her clumsiness displaced mossy rocks that had laid undisturbed for centuries, exposing the crawling insects underneath to unwanted sunlight. Loam was trampled beneath her soft sandals, twigs snapped and leaves shuddered in her wake. Bizarre and unwelcome, to say the least.

If the oaks were aware, however, they paid her no notice. The untamed forest was as breathtaking in its beauty as it was absolute in its indifference. High above, a sparrow alighted on a high branch. It watched her for a few seconds, then flew away, its attention on other things.

Time passed. The girl ran on, until she could run no more.

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