The sound of waves gently lapping against the shore filled the air. The tide slowly receded, and would reach its low point as the sun finished setting. The foamy water left detritus on the white sand; wood, metal and cloth, pounded into small pieces by the tides.
Kharrakh trundled ashore, salty water dripping from the bones, leather, and reeds he wore as armor. From the branches of a nearby tree, a beautiful Vapaa perched, observing his return from the sea. The only male Orgoth on the island permitted to wear armor as fearsome as his, Kharrakh had caught the eyes of many such Vapaa looking to claim a strong grahf, but his celibacy was protected by Iures, and she had already demonstrated a willingness to enforce this order with violence. The Vapaa in the tree allowed her eyes and mind to wander, but kept her talons and teeth in their place.
Curling his lips in disdain at the verdant undergrowth, Kharrakh stepped into the jungle as he left the shore behind. He did not care for how green and bright this world was, and though he’d long since grown accustomed to it, walking through plants as vibrant as these was still an unpleasant experience for him. He wove his way through the jungle for a while, occasionally encountering other Orgoth along the way, who would immediately clear out of his path.
Eventually, Kharrakh came upon a clearing. A few small tents, old and dilapidated, lined the edges of the clearing, and a large stone-lined pit sat in the center. Around the clearing, several Vapaa turned at his arrival, their feathers bristling in excitement as they recognized him. “Kharrakh is here,” was whispered in furtive bursts as they positioned to get a good look at him; Iures’ most elite warriors reduced to fools in heat at the sight of his return. Kharrakh, doing his best to ignore them, strode into the clearing and stopped at the pit before kneeling and bowing his head.
The nearby bustle grew silent as Kharrakh heard a pair of heavy feet approach. “Kharrakh Ker-Gamayun,” a voice called out from across the pit. “What news do you bring Iures?” The speaker, Regurroth, was an old and very dangerous Vapaa, and spoke for Iures in all things. Even for Kharrakh, Orgoth speaking directly with Iures was heresy of the highest order.
“As it was said, Oberon’s arrival has come to pass,” Kharrakh spoke, straining to keep his voice strong and without tremble. Even a conversation with Iures’ speaker was no small honor, or feat. “The Beast Below is free of his prison as well, and both now move in this world.”
“You have seen this?” Regurroth spoke again.
“With my own eyes, I have seen it.” Kharrakh replied.
“And you return.”
The implication was clear. Our greatest foe has arrived, and you did not fall in battle against it. Instead, you fled.
“I return,” Kharrakh spoke, straining to keep the fear he felt out of his voice. “I return in honor, having sacrificed to rescue those in Oberon’s path.” The Vapaa in the clearing began to chitter at the admission.
“Innocent life is not a fitting substitute for glorious battle. Your time in this world has weakened your judgement.” The disdain in Regurroth’s voice was strong.
Kharrakh drew in a breath, calling upon the courage he’d been saving for this moment. “Gamayun was among those I rescued.” The clearing immediately fell silent. Kharrakh could feel his heart in his throat, and was surprised he’d even been able to force the words out. After what felt like a lifetime, a new voice rose from the silence.
“Of course you served your Okraik, warrior.” The voice was soft and gentle, utterly devoid of the hard derision that punctuated Regurroth’s. He’d heard it once before, on the worst day of his life. “For you are faithful and fearless, and place your Okraik above even your own ker-thin. If all Orgoth were as mighty as you, we would never need fear again.”
The voice washed over him like a warm tide, both refreshing and oppressive in its power. It took great restraint to keep his head lowered and not look upon the face of Iures, for he knew that even an Orgoth as revered as him still had limits to his freedom.
A delicate hand, soft and smooth, touched his cheek. Kharrakh felt every muscle in his body tighten as he tried to remain still. The hand caressed down his face to his chin, and slowly lifted his head until his gaze met hers.
Iures, the Great Mother, looked down at Kharrakh with a smile warmer than any he’d seen in six months. His eyes burned as he saw her, and he could feel tears rolling down his face despite the love in her eyes.
“Now, great Kharrakh, who liberated himself and fights for the greatest honors in this world. Tell me, where is my daughter now?”