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The Last Rememberer
By Rich Wulf

The thickly forested mountains of the Phoenix Clan were lovely at this time of year, but it was an unforgiving beauty. The evergreen forest loomed over a jagged landscape, emerald branches dusted with pure white snow. Snowflakes drifted upon the air, the precursor to an approaching blizzard as well as a faint memory of the last one. The air was bitterly cold, and all but the hardiest of the forest's inhabitants had taken shelter.

A solitary human figure stood at the edge of a mountain ridge, gazing out at the terraced forests. His dark eyes were wide and curious, drinking in even the smallest detail. His fiery orange robes offered a marked contrast to the white and green hills, a single candle burning in a snowstorm. The majestic firebird symbol of the Phoenix shone brilliantly on the back of his wide-shouldered haori.

The forest appeared to move behind him, a patch of white and green separating from the rest. The man gave no indication that he had noticed at first, then turned and bowed to the approaching shadow. The Ratling hunter stopped short, stone axe clutched in one hand as he stared at the stranger in surprise.

"Greetings, friend," the man said in the stuttering, clicking language of the Nezumi race. "I am sorry for intruding in your home. My business is with your chieftain."

The Ratling separated himself from the undergrowth, pure white fur and brown armor woven with evergreen branches made him nearly indistinguishable from his surroundings. He glared at the human suspiciously. "You are the one the chieftain meets with," he said. "Kan'ok'ticheck says you are a human Nametaker."

"Your chieftain flatters me," the Phoenix said with a chuckle. "I am no shaman, I am a shugenja. I am Shiba Ningen." The shugenja's eyes glazed momentarily. "And your name is Chee'trr."

"And you say you are no Nametaker," the Ratling said, whiskers twitching as he fearfully took a step away from the human. "How did you know me?"

Ningen smiled. "Nezumi wear their names proudly. Such things are easy for me to see."

The Nezumi narrowed his eyes. "Have you come to see the chief again?" he asked.

"Not this time," Ningen replied. "I seek the one known as Ik'krt."

"I know no Nezumi of that name," Chee'trr said, hand tightening on the haft of his axe. "You should seek elsewhere."

"Please, Chee'trr," Ningen said. "I respect that you wish to protect your comrade, but I mean no harm&" The Phoenix smiled faintly. "And you know better than to lie to me."

The Nezumi bowed his head quickly, tail flicking back and forth. He hunched low, body tense, and closed his eyes. "You do not know what you ask," the Nezumi said. "Ik'krt come a long way to hide. He give up much for us. All he ask is a place to hide. I will not break that promise, no matter what you do." The Nezumi looked up at the human. The little scout shivered in barely disguised terror, but he did not waver, meeting Ningen's gaze squarely.

The Master of the Void looked down at Chee'trr patiently then nodded. "I understand, Chee'trr," he said. "Keep your secret. I applaud your faithfulness. I will go now."

The Nezumi blinked in disbelief. A swirl of dancing snowflakes passed over the mountain, and the human vanished. Chee'trr collapsed against a tree, gasping for breath as his racing heart returned to its normal rhythm. Had he truly dared to defy a mighty human shugenja and lived? What a tale that would make for the Rememberers!

The Nezumi scratched his cheek with a sour frown as he realized nobody would believe him.

----------------

Wrapped in the Void, Shiba Ningen watched Chee'trr return to his patrol. The Master of the Void's gaze was calm, disinterested, focused on something beyond that which was visible to normal eyes. Secrets were such curious things. A secret could hide in the depths of one's soul, unseen and undetected by even the most powerful magic. Yet if that secret was questioned, it could be flushed out, driving itself to the foremost regions of conscious thought like a frightened rabbit fleeing the brush. The more one tried to avoid thinking of the truth, the more that truth pressed forward and demanded attention.

And so it was with Chee'trr. It was a simple enough task to pluck the answer from the scout's mind once he was driven to dwell upon it. It was so much easier, in the end, than for Ningen to convince the Nezumi that his intentions toward Ik'krt were honorable. In the end, Ningen felt no harm was done, for he truly only wished to speak to Ik'krt. When his business was done, Chee'trr would never know that he had surrendered his friend's secret.

The wind kami swirled around Ningen, carrying him gently into the air. He soared high over the mountains, his dark eyes scouring the landscape. The Green-Green White Tribe had chosen their home well. This was beautiful land, far from the established cities of any humans. The local peasants had long believed the forest was home to ancient, vengeful ghosts who did not take kindly to the intrusion of mortals.

In a way, they were right. The Nezumi were those ghosts.

For months, Ningen had been studying with the Ratling tribes, learning their lore and history. Initially he began his quest out of idle curiosity, a desire to learn more about the strange creatures that dwelled in his clan's territory. He was astonished by what he had discovered. The Nezumi were apparently the survivors of an ancient civilization that pre-dated Rokugan and followed the rule of the Naga. Their people were governed by the mightiest of shamans. These Nametakers used their magic to undo their enemies, wielding curses so powerful that they could wipe away any memory that a foe had even existed. They were proud and powerful, dominating all who dared opposed them with invincible magic.

So it was that when Fu Leng fell from the Heavens and sought to destroy the Nezumi cities, none of the other ancient races would stand beside the Ratlings. Not recognizing the greater danger the Dark Kami posed, the other races were all too eager to see the Nezumi fall. The bakemono and trolls even offered their strength to the Dark Lord willingly in return for his aid against the Nametakers. How different would the world be, Ningen wondered, had the ancient Nezumi not been so consumed by arrogance?

As Ningen hovered on the still winds he looked to the north, toward Kyuden Isawa. His brethren on the Elemental Council had long considered the Nezumi little more than intelligent beasts, worthy of only the briefest intellectual consideration. Yet if the others knew what he knew, would they see them as he now did?

The Nezumi were not beasts they were a warning.

The Nezumi were a people driven to invoke their will upon all others, assured in their wisdom and righteousness. The Phoenix Clan could not afford to ignore such an example. Ningen's people had suffered so much for their own arrogance the Black Scrolls, the Dark Oracle of Fire, and now their war with the Mantis Clan had all taken their toll, but even these tragedies were nothing compared to that which had befallen the Nezumi.

It was his duty as a Phoenix to learn from the Nezumi's mistakes.

Not only that - it was his duty as a Phoenix to repair the Nezumi's mistakes. If their fallen civilization was such a grand and peerless place of magic, then he must do whatever was within his power to help them reclaim that lost knowledge.

That quest brought Ningen here, seeking an exiled Ratling hero. The wind relaxed its embrace, releasing him at the foot of a hill several miles away from where he had met Chee'trr. A wide tunnel yawned in the hillside, filled with inky darkness. Ningen stepped through the threshold and into the shadows.

His eyes flicked to the left and he grinned. "Lower your spear, Ik'krt," he said into the void. "I am not here to harm you," he said in the Nezumi tongue.

There was a subtle sound, the swift intake of breath followed by the creak of leather armor. "Who are you?" a voice asked.

"I am Shiba Ningen, Master of the Void," Ningen replied. He extended one hand, fingers instantly suffusing in a soft light. A white Ratling crouched deep in the cave. His armor was of higher quality than Chee'trr's, the lost armor of some Crab scout. His spear was the finely crafted weapon of an ashigaru soldier. It was said that the Ratlings who dwelled in the southern provinces scrounged their weapons and armor from those who died in the Shadowlands. Ik'krt was living proof.

"You speak our language?" the Nezumi asked.

"I understand it," Ningen corrected, "and through the intervention of the void kami, you understand mine as well. I find it rather extraordinary how clearly and intelligent you Nezumi speak when understood in your own tongue. I wonder if we sound as awkward and barbaric when we attempt to speak your language."

"Most humans do not bother to speak our language," Ik'krt retorted. "What do you want?"

"I come here seeking a story," Ningen said.

"Find a Rememberer, human," Ik'krt replied. "They are the ones who record our history. I am no storyteller.

"The Chief of Chief's Remembers have told me what they know," Ningen said. "I know that Kan'ok'ticheck united the scattered Ratling tribes to fight the Tsuno and the Stained Paw. I know that there was a fierce battle in the Shadowlands, a battle so intense and personal that not even your allies in the Crab Clan were aware that it happened. I know that when the battle was done, the Tsuno were chased from this realm and Kan'ok'ticheck was proclaimed the true Chief of Chiefs of the One Tribe, an alliance of the most prominent Nezumi tribes."

"You know everything that is important," Ik'krt replied.

"No," Ningen said. "I do not know what became of the shaman, Te'tik'kir. I do not know the final fate of Ikm'atch-tek, the one your people called the Tomorrow Chieftain." The Master of the Void's expression hardened. "And I do not know what you have to do with all of this, Ik'krt."

"Why do you care, human?" Ik'krt asked. "Why are the affairs of my people any concern to you? Tomorrow chases the Nezumi, Ningen. It hungers for us. One day, it will catch us as it caught the Stained Paw. Then we few who remain will be nothing not even a memory. Then none of this will matter."

"I find it strange," Ningen said. "My people look to the future with hope. To the Nezumi, tomorrow' and death' are the same thing. I find it very strange that a society that once ruled supreme could abandon hope in such a manner."

"Everything dies, human," Ik'krt said. "That is unavoidable. My people are not without hope. We just realize that there is only one hope today. Today, we stand together. Tomorrow, we die."

"An interesting philosophy," Ningen said. "I suppose I share that point of view, after a fashion. The samurai of the Phoenix Clan do not fear death, because we embrace life. A life lived for duty, honor, and family is never a life wasted. So long as we have died well, the Phoenix will rise again. My life, my soul, for the Phoenix, or so it is said."

The Nezumi looked at Ningen for a long time in silence. "You do not understand," Ik'krt said, "though you seem to understand a little better than most humans." The Nezumi gave a small, chittering laugh. "You remind me of a friend, actually."

"Then help me understand," Ningen said. "Tell me what truly happened in the Battle of the One Tribe."  

Ik'krt's long whiskers twitched. He crouched down in the shadows, hunching low over the earth. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "The memories are difficult, Ningen," Ik'krt said. "It is not an easy tale to tell."

"Then do not tell me," Ningen said. He lifted his arms toward the Ratling and sparkling motes of energy danced around his fingertips, radiating darkness and light, shimmering with the unknowable majesty of the void. "Simply think upon it, and let us see it together."

----------------

Seven years ago&

Ik'krt dug through the rubble with frenzied paws. His dark eyes gleamed as he drew an ancient tanto from the debris. The knife had lost its edge, but it was still in good shape. It had been a fine weapon once. The Ratling tucked the knife into the heavy sack that hung over his shoulder, already laden with other treasures. He scurried over a heap of broken stone and moved deeper into the broken building.

Long ago, this place had been a Crab settlement. A demon lord named the Maw had led its armies against the Crab, consuming these lands. Though the Crab had retaken much of what was lost, there were still places like this one - lost castles that held only ghosts and memories& and the occasional bits of treasure.

Ik'krt became very still as he reached the top of a broken wall. A familiar aroma reached his nostrils, the delicious odor of cooking meat. For days, the little Ratling had been surviving off of scrounged tubers and the few weeds that weren't poisonous in this region. It had been too long since he had eaten a decent meal, and his hunger inspired curiosity.

Beneath him, in the center of the broken ruin, a small campfire burned. A cloaked figure sat at the edge of the light. The Ratling clung to the debris and stared at the stranger, but even his sharp night eyes told him very little. His instincts screamed at him to ignore his stomach and run. Fire did not burn easily in the Shadowlands; there was great skill or powerful magic at work there. A Crab scout might not take kindly to a Nezumi scrounging in the ruins of the dead. A wandering servant of the Dark Lord would be even less forgiving. All of this assumed that what Ik'krt saw below was even human, which was no guarantee in a place such as this.

"Have no fear," the cloaked figure said. "Come sit with me. There is meat enough for two." He looked back and pushed his hood aside. The stranger was a Nezumi, albeit a very old one, with brown fur shot through with gray. Many amulets and fetishes hung from his mane, and a long gnarled staff lay at his side.

"A shaman, here alone?" Ik'krt said, hopping down from the wall and taking a closer look. "Why are you not with your tribe, old one?"

"My tribe is always with me," the shaman said. He turned to the fire, where two spitted pieces of meat popped and crackled. He took one and offered it to Ik'krt. "My name is Te'tik'kir, Nameseeker of the Crippled Bone Tribe."

Ik'krt's paw halted only inches from the offered morsel. He looked at the old Nezumi in awe. "I have heard of you, old one," he whispered. "Your tales are legend."

"Legend?" the old Nezumi cackled and tossed the food into the air. Ik'krt overcame his shock and caught the meal neatly. "Then perhaps I might have the honor of hearing you tell my tale one day, Ik'krt."

Ik'krt chewed silently for several seconds. He was not at all surprised that the shaman knew his name. "What interest would a scrounger like me have in telling stories?" he asked.

"Oh, I must be mistaken," Te'tik'kir said mildly. "I sensed the strength of your name and I mistook you for a Rememberer."

Ik'krt said nothing.

"Was I mistaken?" Te'tik'kir pressed.

"No," Ik'krt said. "You are not mistaken, old one. I was a Rememberer, once."

"Of which tribe?" Te'tik'kir asked.

"I was of the Shadow Runners," Ik'krt answered in a thick voice.

"Ah," Te'tik'kir said, looking at Ik'krt sadly. "They were a proud tribe."

"Too proud," Ik'krt answered. "Too eager to help our friends in the Crab Clan. We offered to help O-Ushi spy upon the Stone Crab's soldiers&" Ik'krt set his food aside, his hunger vanishing with the memory. "We were fools. Nezumi should know better than to become involved in human affairs."

"You were not fools," Te'tik'kir said. "We are a part of this world, as are the humans. We cannot remain apart, though the cost may be high."

"Too high," Ik'krt said.

"Perhaps," Te'tik'kir agreed. "Are you the only Shadow Runner remaining?"

"No," Ik'krt said. "There are no Shadow Runners remaining. I am of the Grasping Paw Tribe now."

"The Grasping Paw thieves," Te'tik'kir said, his tone amused. "Why am I not surprised? They are quite adept at finding lost items of worth. You are clearly no exception."

"Does my fate amuse you, old one?" Ik'krt asked.

"I am not amused, I am actually quite pleased pleased," Te'tik'kir said. "Tomorrow often takes things from us. It is rare that it gives gifts in return. You have a new tribe, Ik'krt. A good one. You should be happy."

Ik'krt said nothing.

"Do the Grasping Paw know that you were a Rememberer?" Te'tik'kir asked.

"No," Ik'krt said. "I have told only you."

"You trust me so readily?"

"What point is there in lying to a shaman?" Ik'krt asked. "You can see the truth anyway."

"If none know what you were, then what will become of your memories?" Te'tik'kir asked. "Who will remember the Shadow Runners?"

"They die with me," Ik'krt said. "Their stories, their mistakes, and their arrogance all die with me. I am just another scrounger now."

The old shaman nodded and continued eating his meal in silence for a long time. He finished his food and kicked dirt over the flames as he rose, patting the dust and crumbs from his tattered robes. "I like these ruins," Te'tik'kir said briskly. "They are very peaceful. I never know what I will find in them. Old things, forgotten things, but always things of use. We have both done well today, Ik'krt. You found that knife." The shaman's eyes grew suddenly hard. "And I found you. I will call upon you one day, Ik'krt, and you will serve me."

"I serve the Grasping Paw, not the Crippled Bone, old one," Ik'krt replied.

"Until I require you," the shaman said.

"Or what?" Ik'krt replied. "Will you tell my chieftain that I am a Rememberer?"

"Nothing as crude as blackmail, Ik'krt," the shaman answered. "I know what a difficult companion memory can be. Your friends, your family their voices are not silent, are they, Ik'krt? The memories question you. They challenge you. They will never, ever leave you in peace. Why are you alive when they are dead? How can you live in failure? When will their deaths be avenged?" The shaman leaned low, the tip of his nose only inches from the other Ratling. "If you do not help me, Ik'krt, I will make sure you will live a long, long time with these memories. Their voices will& never& be& silent."

The shaman rose to his full height, looming over the tiny Rememberer. There was no anger in Te'tik'kir's eyes, only a silent, remorseless inevitability. Ik'krt looked away in shame, huddling in the darkness. Te'tik'kir said nothing further, only made his way out into the Shadowlands.

----------------

Much Later&

Ik'krt stared into the valley below, unable to comprehend what he was seeing. He had been sent by his chieftain to meet with the scroungers of the Crippled Bone Tribe. The Grasping Paw scroungers had discovered a cache of jade weapons in a fallen Crab outpost, and hoped to trade for the more conventional steel and bone weapons the Crippled Bone regularly crafted or discovered in the Shadowlands. The Crippled Bone would use the jade to kill the demons that regularly plagued their territory or trade it with the Crab Clan, who were always in need of the stone's pure magic. It was a good trade, and a fairly routine mission.

What Ik'krt saw happening in the valley below was anything but routine.

The air tore asunder with a maddening shriek, vomiting legions of Stained Paw Ratlings in sleek ebony armor into the Crippled Bone Village. The horned demons that he knew as Tsuno marched beside them, smiting down the Crippled Bone warriors with unspeakable magic. The sky rumbled and a rain of hot blood fell upon the Shadowlands.

Ik'krt huddled in the lee of a huge boulder, staring down at the battle with the small band of Grasping Paw warriors who had accompanied him. Of all the major tribes, the Grasping Paw was one of the few who had not yet joined Te'tik'kir's alliance, acknowledging the Green-Green-White chieftain, Kan'ok'ticheck as their Chief of Chiefs. The Grasping Paw preferred to avoid conflict, leaving such matters to tribes more interested in battle. Ik'krt, like many others, had assumed that the Crippled Bone would surely defeat the Stained Paw in time.

After all, were they not the mightiest of all Nezumi tribes?

Yet as he looked down at the valley, Ik'krt knew he was witnessing the death of the Crippled Bone. The Stained Paw had attacked too swiftly. The Crippled Bone were too few, too poorly armed. He did not see Te'tik'kir or the Chief of Chiefs among them.

"This battle is lost, Ik'krt," whispered Chi'kel, the strongest of the warriors who followed him. "We must run back to the Great Shining Hoard and tell the rest of our tribe what we have seen."

Ik'krt did not move. Memories flooded through him, images of the Stone Crab's soldiers exterminating the Shadow Runners. None came to help them that day, not even their human friends in the Crab Clan, the ones for whom they had risked so much. Now only he was left.

The shaman was right. The voices would never leave him in peace.

"No," Ik'krt said. "No more running."

"Are you mad?" Chi'kel shot back. "Do you see the battle down there? The Crippled Bone are dying! There is no way to stand against such an enemy! Te'tik'kir was a fool to oppose the Tomorrow Chieftain!"

"We were mad not to stand with him," Ik'krt answered. He stood tall, hefting his spear in one hand. "If we do not stand with the Crippled Bone today, then who will stand with the Grasping Paw when the Tsuno find our Great Shining Hoard?"

Chi'kel opened his mouth to spout a frightened reply, but said nothing. The other Ratlings only stared silently, absorbing Ik'krt's words. They were all still afraid, but now they were listening.

"Tomorrow will find us, Chi'kel," Ik'krt said, "but if all Nezumi stand together, maybe it will not find us yet."

"What do we do?" Chi'kel said. "There are few of us and many of them. How can we help?"

Ik'krt looked at the valley, studying the battle intently. "The Tsuno are the key," he said. "They are the ones who open the portals, that move the Stained Paw soldiers to separate the Crippled Bone. We must move swiftly and unseen and kill the Tsuno spellcasters. Then, at least, the Crippled Bone will stand some chance."

"I have heard that the Tsuno cannot die," Chi'kel said. "So long as one lives, he will carry his comrades away and revive them."

"Then we kill them all at once," Ik'krt said. "I count four of Tsuno shamans below. Two of us will strike at each of them, before they know that we are there."

"And then what?" one of the other warriors asked. "How will we escape?"

"We will not need to escape," Ik'krt said. "If we stand with the Crippled Bone, they will stand with us, as one tribe."

Chi'kel looked at the other Nezumi, then back at Ik'krt. There was certainly still fear in the warrior's eyes, but it was not his master. "We are with you, Ik'krt," he said.

Ik'krt nodded as he began to form a plan. The memories, for now at least, were silent.

----------------

The Crippled Bone warrior shrieked in defiance as a Stained Paw soldier's spear thrust through his chest. The Ratling fell heavily on the earth, blood streaming from his muzzle. His four comrades backed away from the Stained Paw phalanx, looking bleakly at the approaching enemy. In the rear of the group, an enormous Tsuno looked down at the opposing Nezumi with hateful disdain.

"Finish these animals," the Tsuno barked to his followers. "I wish to return to my studies." A metallic clang made the Tsuno blink. The monster peered down at its feet, looking at the arrow that lay on the dead grass. Its Stained Paw guardsmen looked around in confusion. Another missile followed the first, harmlessly striking the shield of magic that surrounded the Soultwister and revealing the archer's position. It was a brown Ratling, smaller than the Crippled Bone Nezumi, crouched in the branches of a withered tree.

Instantly, the Tsuno was in the tree beside Chi'kel without having crossed the intervening distance. He seized the Nezumi by the throat and leapt out of the tree, slamming his attacker heavily into the earth.

"Idiot creature," the Tsuno hissed. "How dare you challenge your master? Your stolen toys cannot pierce my magic."

"Ik'krt's can," Chi'kel said with a hoarse laugh.

A second Ratling landed heavily on the Tsuno's back, tackling the beast off of Chi'kel. The Tsuno's arrogant sneer turned to a look of terror when he saw Ik'krt's jade dagger, then changed to a look of pain as the blade sank into his chest.

Ik'krt rose, shrugging off the heavy corpse of the Tsuno. He helped Chi'kel to his feet as the Stained Paw Nezumi surrounded him. Their armor and weapons were sleek and elegant, but their eyes were devoid of any emotion whatsoever no fear, no passion, no spirit.

"The Tsuno has fallen, warriors of the Crippled Bone!" Ik'krt shouted boldly. "Race against Tomorrow as One Tribe!"

An unexpected roar of defiance rose from the village as the surviving Crippled Bone bushi rallied to his cry. The rippling portals ceased to transport the Stained Paw warriors around the battlefield, suggesting that Ik'krt's comrades had been successful in killing the other spellcasters. The defenders fought savagely, defending their homes with unbridled ferocity. Ik'krt saw a warrior with one arm, hewing about with his blade to defend a den of terrified pups. Ik'krt saw a Nezumi so old that his fur was entirely grey leap onto a Stained Paw Nezumi and tear out his throat with his bare hands.

Though their numbers were greater, the Stained Paw fought only out of hate the Crippled Bone fought for blood and home and tribe. Without the Tsuno, the Stained Paw had no leadership. They fell back with muttered curses, withdrawing from the valley. Many of their warriors fell to all fours and dashed off across the fields, abandoning their weapons in the field. The Crippled Bone did not give chase, content to lick their wounds, count the dead, and embrace the survivors.

Ik'krt searched for his friends, but found only five of the dozen Grasping Paw Nezumi had survived the desperate attack. Ik'krt absorbed the news quietly. He sat heavily on a gnarled stump as their voices joined the chorus of accusing memories in his head.  Chi'kel watched him with silent sympathy then moved off to help the wounded.

"You did not fail this time, Ik'krt," said a familiar voice. "I suspect you did not fail the Shadow Runners, either. You fought with all your might, as you always do. Last time, you were defeated. This time, you were not. Tomorrow, I suppose, will come another day."

Te'tik'kir seated himself on the earth beside the Rememberer. Ik'krt opened his mouth to shout an angry accusation, but the words died on his lips when he saw how gingerly the old Ratling moved. Te'tik'kir's fur and cloak were stained with blood. He had not been avoiding the battle that nearly destroyed his tribe. He had been fighting another one.

"I made a difficult choice today, Ik'krt," Te'tik'kir said. "Ikm'atch-tek, the Tomorrow Chieftain, made me choose between saving my tribe or saving the Chief of Chiefs. I chose to save Kan'ok'ticheck. Do you know why?"

"No," Ik'krt said quietly.

"Because the Tomorrow Chieftain is a faded memory," the shaman said. "A relic from a time when we Nezumi were powerful, unchallenged, and arrogant. A time when we stood alone." The old Nezumi looked at Ik'krt, and a quiet pride shone in his milky eyes. "But today we do not stand alone. I have faith in the Nezumi, Ik'krt. We are not the monsters that Ikm'atch-tek would make us the soulless, cowardly things that the Stained Paw have become. You have proven that faith to be well founded, Ik'krt, and I thank you for saving my tribe."

"Had you been there when the Stone Crab slew the Shadow Runners, you would have done the same," Ik'krt said.

"I hope that you are right," Te'tik'kir said. "Sadly my gratitude to you makes what I am about to say even more difficult."

"What?" Ik'krt said, suddenly confused.

"The time has come, Rememberer, for me to call in my debt," the shaman replied. "I require your aid."

"Of course," Ik'krt said soberly. "What must I do?"

"The Stained Paw are the key," Te'tik'kir said. "They have lost sight of what they once were. We must find a way to remind them. We must stand as One Tribe all of us."

"How?" Ik'krt asked.

"I know the Tomorrow Chieftain is more than he appears to be," Te'tik'kir said, "but I do cannot use my magic to seek the truth he knows my power and has prepared for it. So I must seek a more mundane solution."

"Me," Ik'krt said.

"You," Te'tik'kir replied. "You must enter the Stained Paw warrens. You must discover how the Tomorrow Chieftain has chained the lost tribe to his will, and why the Tsuno aid him. You must enter the city that the chieftain has dragged back from the mists of dream. You must elude his packs of Stained Paw warriors armed with the weapons of Yesterday. You must evade whatever foul magic the Tsuno have wrought to protect him. With the cunning of a Grasping Paw Scrounger, you must pierce his inner stronghold, and with the keen eye of a Rememberer you must steal whatever secret he hides."

Ik'krt looked at the surrounding village. Kan'ok'ticheck and his warriors were rallying the survivors, treating the wounded, but it would be some time before the Crippled Bone were ready for battle again. The true import of Te'tik'kir's words dawned on him.

He was being asked to invade the stronghold of an invincible enemy, with no guarantee of success and he was being asked to go alone.

"I am ready," Ik'krt said.


Kaze no Shiro Return

 

Togashi will return!