tagSci-Fi & FantasyGoing Feet First Ch. 02

Going Feet First Ch. 02

byDarkPulse©

Author's note: this story is a direct sequel to my tale, 'Going feet First', and continues to follow Galen, a soldier once in Vietnam, now on an interesting journey into a medieval fantasy world filled with Elves, Magic, and all kinds of interesting creatures.

Welcome to Raska.

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Chapter 2: Boots on the Ground

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Flames crackled and danced in a small, stone fireplace at the end of a vast log cabin. Sitting on the floor and watching that fire lick at the pot above it was an aged, feline creature wrapped up in a wool quilt. Waiting patiently for him to pull back from his thoughtful trance were two dozen Nekonian males and females, both young and old, who sat at the long table behind him. Breaking the silence that loomed between them was a door opening mid-hall followed by soft thud sounds as two more persons entered the room.

Yawning, the Elder listened as the steps drew closer to him until they stopped and shuffled into a spot at the end of the table closest to him. With a bit of a tired groan and show of fatigue from his extensive life, he stood up and walked over to the chair placed at the table head. The finely carved armchair creaked like his bones as he took his seat and drew his feet up into his blanket.

Once he was comfortable his attention came to the Human sitting beside him. A young man whose skin was tanned by weeks in the sun and had a solitary hedge of black hair running down the middle of his head. Upon the green jacket he wore were three chevrons on the sleeve pointing up to the eagle he bared on his shoulder.

Beside the Human sat one of the more proficient trackers of his tribe, Mila. The Elder gave her a gentle smile before he went back to studying the Human beside her with his tired, yellow eyes. When the Human lifted his chin up, hand tensing up on the crutch he had beside him, a warm sensation flowed through the aged Neko's pale grey fur. From peering into his powerful, yet dull, green eyes, he could sense the honor of the man as clearly as the bond he held with the woman beside him.

Taking in a deep breath and rubbing the severed stub of his left ear, the Elder turned to the warrior sitting opposite of him. The grumbling fighter took notice of the attention that came to him, and then acceptingly bowed his head upon receiving the nod to begin. Most of the room's attention then shifted to the well-muscled Neko with white fur as he stood from his seat.

Clearing his throat to bring the remainder of the eyes in the room to him, he started, "The counsel begins. Human tongue now, because Human not know our tongue good. All have explainers to explain when something not... easy understanding?"

"Yes," the entire room announced.

"Good. Today, we talk about Human who wants live with us. I: Warrior Leader Sayn, Elder Misn, Lady Akal of the Trackers, Huntmaster Hail, and Lady Teak of Trade will judge argument on Human living with us. There will be one argument each, for and against, and then the Human speaks. Begin warrior Bein, standing for me for those against the Human."

The Neko took his seat as one of his fighters stood up. "Thank you, Warrior Leader. We warriors stand against having a Human among us. Humans are slow, weak, and live by greed. He will burden us, and we know from the past he will try to change how we live. Before we even knew him, he had pulled our warriors out into the forest without consent of Warrior Leader Sayn or Elder Misn."

Several at the table nodded in acknowledgement, while the man in question merely crossed his arms with an aggravated scowl.

"And now, he hides what he had brought with him and will not allow the keepers to see it. If he cannot trust us, we cannot trust him. If he thinks he is better than us, then he deserves not to be here longer than it takes for us to heal his wounds. He should be taken back to the Human tribe."

The warrior took his seat, glaring back at Michael before looking over to Sayn. The Warrior Leader nodded and then stood up. "First argument made. Bein sits. Rise Mila, wanting Human."

He motioned for Mila to rise and took his seat.

"Thank you, Warrior Leader. I cannot speak for Michael's speed, but I do know that he is strong. By himself, he had slain a veteran Ra'zorlich warrior while he was badly wounded in the leg. Despite the immense pain of his injury, he had gone zetrans without healing and still shows no sign of illness."

"Damn right," Michael muttered lowly as she continued.

"He is a great warrior where he comes from, and he is not a man of greed. We needed our warriors to claim destructive weapons brought with him from his lands. Weapons that are deadlier than anything we can even dream of. I am sure when Michael recovers, he will show us what he has brought. If he stays, we may be able to make better arrangements with Atzla Humans. In time, Michael will prove to us that he will not be a burden, but a powerful friend."

With several thoughtful nods from around the table, she returned to her seat. The Willher tracker even caught an approving look from Sayn as he gave her a respectful nod. But then he looked past her to Michael, ordering in his rough words, "Human, stand."

Bracing against his crutch, Michael came to his feet and shifted his weight around, feeling mighty uneasy with the amount of eyes focused up him. He cycled his lungs, wet his lips, and cleared his throat. At first he looked to the Elder on his right, but being unsure if the old cat was studying him or ready to pass out, he instead looked directly at Bein. Putting on his best Sergeant's scowl he locked eyes with the warrior and started saying his piece.

"I'm not Nekonian, I'm not from Atzla. Hell, I'm not even from Raska. But what I am is a soldier, well-trained and well-practiced in the art of war. Where I come from, my warrior's rank is 'Sergeant', something like a pack leader. I'm the one who takes the orders from the leaders, takes charge of a group, and gets the job done. When the bullets, erhm..." He had to quickly remind himself of the primitive state of the tribe as he already noticed a few confused looks.

"I mean when the arrows start flying or swords start swinging, I make sure that the only people getting killed are my enemy. I make sure that nothing stands to threaten what I love. And what I love is the beauty of this place. Atzla. The good people of this tribe. My potential mate. I would die for anything, and anyone, in this village if it meant keeping this place safe."

Stiffening up on his crutch he turned on his heel to face the other judges, "I would give my life for this place because never before have I been given the chance to live the life I want. To live outside civilization and away from the greedy bastards of society. To spend my days hunting, fishing, laying in the meadow and watching the clouds blow by. And..."

Glancing to the Neko woman on his right, he returned the encouraged smile she gave him and looked back at the counsel before him, "To have someone to share it with. I wouldn't dare try to change anything about this place because everything is perfect as it is. If anything needed to be changed, it would be me. To fit in with my new tribe, to do my part and help in every way I can. Until the last ounce of life fades from my body, don't doubt for a minute that I would give anything less than my best."

A sigh of relief escaped Michael as he dropped down into his chair and felt the air lighten up a bit around him. Not to mention the pain in his leg. Even the warriors seemed to be in his favour for the moment as Sayn rose up to speak once again. "Judges, with your groups."

The Warrior Leader circled around the table and sat with the male Nekos in the heavy leather near his end of the table who were armed with swords and stone axes. These men and the other groups at the table spoke quietly amongst themselves of the decision to be made. Nobody in the room was speaking English anymore, and that made the listening Michael even more anxious.

With a sigh he held firmly onto Mila's hand and whispered his prayers to any deity that would listen. Not wanting to let her go even for a second as his future at her side was being decided for them. Several minutes passed and one after another did the various groups go silent with their decision. Finished speaking with his warriors, Sayn returned to his place and leaned over onto the end of the table.

"Have all a decision?" he asked.

The three other judges rose from their seats, two female and one male, and all of them significantly older than those around them. Already Michael was getting a bad feeling from the people of the various groups as they gazed upon him either questioningly or with contempt. A premonition that was confirmed the moment the older woman dressed in heavy wool wraps cleared her throat.

"The Trackers stand against keeping the Human. We do not want to lose one of our own for years while she mothers a litter of half-breeds," she hissed, Mila's hands clenching up around her belly as she looked to the narrow look on Michael's face.

"Lady Akal has spoken," Sayn declared, motioning for her to sit before turning to the other male who stood. "Huntmaster Hail, your words?"

A slim, nimble-looking Neko cast a side-ways glance at his tribe's hopeful prospect before fixing his leather jerkin and stating, "The Hunters stand against. We wish not a foreign mouth to tell us how to hunt or what to hunt while ordering us to feed it only what food it desires."

"Huntmaster Hail has spoken." The Warrior Leader motioned him to return to his seat then signalled the next Elder to rise. "Lady Teak, your words?"

The youngest of the judges sitting at the table and perhaps the only Neko in the village wearing any form of jewelry, "Lady Teak" slid her chair back and came to her feet. After fixing the golden necklace hanging over her blue, linen dress she linked her hands at her waist and bowed graciously. Her bright orange eyes glanced toward Michael as did so to give him a sly grin.

Something about her didn't sit right in the Sergeant's stomach, but at that moment he couldn't express it. For his fate was in her hands. Whatever words she decided to speak next were going to be final in deciding whether he was screwed or not. And he didn't even have Galen here to back him up.

"The merchants have decided that we are unanimously... for the Human." His chest swelled with relief, and he nervously breathed out as she continued to give her reason. "He may help with matters of trade and dealing with Human greed, and be of use in future deals."

"Lady Teak has spoken," Sayn declared, leaning in over the table. "I shall allow Bein to speak for warriors."

Bein and his crowd who had presented the argument against Michael eyed their leader for a moment before looking over to him. The Sergeant made direct eye contact with the warriors, keeping his chin up as they stared intently at him. At this decisive time, he couldn't appear weak, intimidated, or show willingness to back down. The cards were on the table, his argument had been made. He had to show his resolve to back it up and try to make these warriors see through the forest and spot the trees.

Slowly rising from his seat, Bein took an extra moment to trade glares with Michael in an almost challenging manner. For better or for worse, the Sergeant gave the Neko a single nod.

"We, as the Warriors, revoke our decision. Our stance is now in favor of the Human. He has powers of war, he can kill a Ra'zorlich while wounded, and he says that he will defend our village with the weapons of his world. It may give us the edge we need against the threats from the Ra'zorlichs and bandits."

There were a lot of surprised looks from the hunters and trackers as neither expected that from the man who argued against the Human. But none dared voice their opinion or openly object as the Warrior Leader cast a fierce gaze upon any who seemed ready to do so. When he made a decision it was final and to challenge to Bein would treated as though it were a challenge to him.

This left the final decision up to the tribe's eldest. Specifically the old Neko sitting half-asleep in his chair. Right ear twitching, his head slowly rose and looked around at the patient eyes set on him in earnest. Sighing, the Elder turned to Mila. His voice was weak and wheezy, but yet his lungs managed to push enough air through his voice box so he could ask, "Child, do you wish for this man as a mate?"

She nodded. "Yes, Elder Misn."

A questioning frown arched over his yellow while his chest swelled with a new breath to let him speak again. "Is it love?"

The smile lighting up her face quickly proved more than enough to give him his answer. It did not escape his notice how her hand tightened up on Michael's as she said, "Yes, Elder."

Hearing the verbal confirmation, he then turned to Michael. "Is it true love you have?"

Though initially shocked at the Elder's sudden vocalization in his language, the Sergeant quickly nodded and answered, "As strong as I've ever felt it."

The Elder shut his eyes, taking deep breaths before they opened again to look to his counsel. "Then the Human... stays... If he can prove himself tonight..."

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The shadow of night overcame the last streams of the sunlight as the red orb was swallowed by the tree tops in the west. Stars lit up in darkening sky like sparkling dust bringing life to the blackness above. Among these effervescent dots sat a light blue moon that cast its reflected light down upon the breadth of Atzla forest with a cyan grace.

Down in that near-endless sea of trees, two bodies moved swiftly between the rows of underbrush. Through the thicket ahead of them lay the orange glow of torches mounted atop of a primitive log wall. Panting, sweating, smiling, Private Galen Martin clutched the hand of his Elven companion, Celia, as she guided him forward toward the firelight.

After a day's travel through heavy forest and a tango with Atzla's unique wildlife, they had finally arrived at their destination. Upon their approach, the golden aura from Celia's body died down so she and her soldier could hide in the brush line edging a heavily deforested area.

In the middle of the clearing some forty yards across a broad field of tree stumps stood a wall of wooden poles several feet high. Behind this fortification was an entire village of tents and wooden shacks with steady trails of smoke rose from the village center. A full entrance into the settlement was marked by an open wood gate lit on either side by a pair of iron braziers.

Two large, Nekonian warriors stood on guard there. Their thinly furred bodies covered by hard leather jerkins and knee-length, buckskin shorts. Squinting, Galen spotted the stone axes hanging at their sides and bows sitting idle in their hands. Other than the stands for the burning logs meant to give them warmth and light, they had no signs of anything metal around them. Not in their weapons, armors, or trinkets —something the Private noted for later.

The two Nekonians themselves also appeared like they weren't guarding something as they would in a time of war. They were too relaxed and talkative, keeping up a lively conversation in their own tongue with little concern about any sort of threat. One even going so far as to turn his back on the forest ahead to warm his hands over the brazier.

"So this is the Willher village?" Galen asked in Elvish so his companion could understand.

With a nod, Celia answered, "It is. It's grown a bit since the troll attacked it a few winters back, but this is them."

"Do you know much about them?"

"Very much," she said proudly. "I studied them a lot through the cauldron after they had been attacked. I was actually looking for one of them when I found you. What do you wish to know?"

Galen rolled his eyes for a moment, blushing a bit even though it was her that admitted she sought them out for what he knew now to be purely sexual reasons. "Give me a summary."

Rubbing her chin, the Elf looked to the village and thought for a moment, trying to pick out the most significant details of the people before them. "The Willhers are... a very peaceful tribe, with good trade with all others but the Ra'zorlichs. They... have many proud warriors who live for battle, but what they really specialize in medicines and healing. They have many healers that go out around the forest to give aid to any who need it."

So that would explain Mila's skill, Galen thought, recalling how well the Neko had been able to bind Michael's wounds.

"They also patrol the Ra'zorlich borders for any sign that they might expand their territory or start raiding outside their lands. And they have sheep."

"Sheep?" Galen repeated, cocking an eyebrow at the surprising tidbit of information.

"Yes. There's a large clearing to the north-west that's fenced off and heavily guarded by the Willhers," she explained, pointing towards a very obvious path on the north-western end of the clearing. "They have many sheep and deer they keep for milk, meat, and wool to trade with other tribes."

"Huh, that's cool," He said, not noticing his own English word mixed with the Elvish one.

"When will you tell me who this friend of yours and the Neko woman is?" Celia wondered, making Galen turn to her with pursed lips.

"Soon, I promise. I would rather you meet them first before I go talking behind their backs."

With this, Celia's pointed ears drooped slightly as she nodded respectfully and looked back toward the village. Her clouded white eyes scanned over the pair of feline men as she unconsciously tried to connect with her gut feelings. To allow her premonitions to give her hints on whether they were dangerous or not. But before her thoughts could drift, a shifting movement beside her snapped her from that particular train of thought.

Slightly frustrated with herself, Celia began the mental task of crushing down those urges to analyze and judge the men in her sight. She had to get rid of them. Done were the days of her going out searching for the next lover of the Tree Elves. Of sitting invisibly among their kind when they roamed from their walls to learn of their culture.

This was a new time in her life, one for her to go out into the world to be seen for once, to sate her growing curiosities and discover her own joys with Galen at her side. And when the circumstance seemed appropriate, she could ask him to help her seek what her clan lost not-so long ago. But such an endeavor would be for a later day when she and her new love grew more accustomed to this world.

With a relaxed grin, she rested her cheek against the eagle patch on his shoulder and kept it there as he pulled a small, hand-sized object from his pack. It was an object she recognized from visions provided to her by Tanza's cauldron. A pair of metal tubes bonded side-by-side with glass on either end. Humans used them to view distances farther than what their eyes could see on their own.

A slight groan suddenly erupted from Galen's weapon, the living moss covering the body yearning for his attention as he left it slung over his shoulder.

"Oh, shush you," Celia whispered as her soldier continued to watch the village through his palm-sized spyglasses.

Looking up at his face, she started to pick up on his muted anxiety directed at the settlement ahead. She understood this well because she could not push similar feelings from her mind. Never has she entered any form of civilization other than her own village. A few times she wandered amongst their caravans or their patrols but never without several of her sisters there to protect her. The idea of entering a fortified village was terrifying. Were it not for the man at her side, she would've never come within a walking zetra of any tribe's home...

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