The Voice without Words
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Kalefheit, the City of Hunters

Kalefheit had many names given to it by its various settlers, but only one epitaph is used by its residents. Geyre's Hunters drove out those who would venture into the city's borders, for they thought outsiders unworthy of the shelter the holy Towers provided. The city belonged to its denizens and to leave is to brandish the mark of an outsider. Such is Geyre's Way.

And yet Yaki, eager to pursue her own destiny, left the stone-cold ruins with the mark of an outsider proudly emblazoned on her back. She looked behind her. Her daughter, Caeda, popped into her mind for a moment, but she would understand even if not immediately.

This is what had to be done.

A pair of tired eyes met Caeda's gaze. Together she and Peritas looked at the world beyond the border before returning to one another. Peritas sighed, his shoulders slumping and his spear becoming a pole for him to lean on. He whispered, "I have to honor the Code."

Peritas was only older than Caeda by a few summers but looked far older than that. His hair, which bobbed as he walked, was greying in more places every day while the lines and creases in his forehead grew deeper. He bore scars across his face from battles long since past, and one of his ears was torn in half.

Still, despite Caeda's admiration for the man, she had another obligation first.

"Geyre rewards the loyal," She said, placing a hand on his shoulder, "Will you stay loyal to me, friend?"

Peritas's eye twitched and his mouth formed into a frown. He looked out beyond the border again for a long while. Kalefheit was safe, far safer than the world where the New Men roamed and wasted away in hordes around the old Ceitus. And in the West were the ignorant, trying to uphold the ideology the Old Ones believed in. They were blinded by their thirst for knowledge and feared, for they had power and resources in spades that most would be lucky to see in their lifetime.

Elsewhere were a nomadic tribe, the Riders. Worshippers of Abirt and the trickster god York. Caeda had only heard of them in fables, but there was something in the way Peritas surveyed the land beyond the border that made her think they were more than that.

It mattered not.

"Peritas," Her voice was barely above a whisper.

With a long sigh, Peritas turned his back to her, "I will honor the Code. For your sake, and the sake of all Hunters, I hope you do as well."

"Tell me you would not do the same."

Peritas glanced over his shoulder and shook his head. Caeda swore and threw a stone at him, but he continued to walk.

"By Gerye's Forge, Peritas!"

Peritas halted, "I've known you since we were whelps, and you know what it means to abandon the Code."

"This is different. She wouldn't abandon the Code on purpose. She can't come back! The Keepers-"

"The Keepers and their war have nothing to do with the choices Yaki made."

"By the Forge, Peritas."

"I've made up my mind, Caeda. What about you?"

A crash into the tower of God drew their attention. Peritas shot Caeda a look then lowered his spear. Her heart sunk into her stomach, but she did not stop him as he ran to investigate.

Caeda fought the urge to chase after him. She fought the force that was pulling her back toward God's Tower. She wrestled with the guilt of leaving Peritas behind and prayed for his safety. With trepidation, Caeda inched forward, taking her first step beyond the border. The soft sand shifted beneath Caeda's feet, disrupting her balance. She stared at Kalefheit, clutched the knife at her side, and headed East.

Caeda breathed in the air and wrinkled her nose. It was too clean, bereft of dried blood, dust, and decay. There were no walls surrounding her and very little debris around her feet. The world was open, and yet somehow Caeda felt closed in.

A rumbling in the earth made Caeda crouch and stare skyward. For the first time, she was thankful Peritas was not in her presence for she feared what he might think if he saw her at that moment. Caeda tried to find the source of the rumbling, but nothing seemed to be the obvious culprit.

Then she spotted it on the horizon.

A cloud of dust was making its way across the Waste behind her. Something about it was wrong though. It was breathing as if a swathe of creatures were gathered together and stampeding in her direction. Not even Trebles, in all their might and ferocity, could have kicked up that much dust. Caeda clutched her knife tighter, opening up her stride a bit more, and continued.

For the hundredth time, Caeda silently wished Peritas was with her.

Night fell sooner than Caeda expected. Her body was piloting itself for some time, driven solely on avoiding being caught by the creatures in the dust. But she was tired now. A hundred leagues were walked in isolation, and the Keepers remained beyond her reach. Her legs were ablaze, her lungs filled with sand, and her eyelids heavy. The cloud was nothing more than a speck in the distance.

Out here, the wreckage of the Old World surrounded her more than the sand dunes of the Waste.

The metal sheets and cloth from the Old World made for good enough building blocks. It only took a few minutes to gather everything she needed, and a couple of minutes more to construct a crude hut and bedspread. After hacking a tree to bits with her knife, Caeda built a small fire and curled up beside it. It wasn't as safe as the city, but she felt some comfort in the metal walls that surrounded her. Even the creatures of the Waste left her alone.

Thoughts began to drift through her mind like water through the earth, but they all referenced the Way of the Flesh. Caeda hadn't figured out how to manipulate flesh and sinew like the masters of the Old World for Yaki had left before she got to that point.

The Way was a secret well kept between Caeda and her mother, for knowledge of the Flesh was a sacred gift that seldom were worthy of possessing. Caeda pondered on how she might teach her offspring the Way, but she pushed that thought into the back of her mind and focused on her goal. Just before she was about to drift off, the rumbling had returned again and shook flecks of dirt onto the fire.

The dust cloud was closer now.

Caeda leapt to her feet and stomped out the fire. Her body screamed at her to slow down but she ignored every pained footstep and labored breath. She rubbed her eyes and looked over her shoulder. Whatever was kicking up that much sand was faster than she anticipated. Another jolt of energy shot through her, and Caeda broke into a sprint.

As the sun rose the next day, Caeda's legs burned even hotter. Sweat collected on her forehead and her arms, staining her clothes. Her lungs were on the verge of collapse.

The dust cloud was smaller now, barely larger than a couple of grains of sand on the horizon.

One of the old towers offered Caeda shade as she rested. Her mind remained on the East, but her eyes were watching the horizon. When she caught her breath, Caeda stepped back and examined the structure.

It was from the Old World; the masonry was well beyond anything Caeda thought possible, even for the likes of the Arkites that erected Towers at their leisure. Caeda walked for a few long moments to reach the edge of the Tower. There were words written on the side where the door was in a language she could not read.

A whistle floated on the wind behind Caeda, followed by footsteps.

"Who are you?" A voice asked.

Caeda began to turn around before she was struck from behind and forced to her knees.

"I will ask this again: Who are you?" Said the voice. It was female, young. Caeda guessed the owner hadn't seen past her fourteenth or fifteenth summer. Caeda winced as blood trickled down behind her ears.

"Ar-Caeda of Kalefheit," She whispered.

"What business do you have here, Ar-Caeda of Kalefheit?"

Caeda felt the rumbling in the earth again. The cloud was closer; the snort of a hundred horses traveled on the wind along with whooping and cheers. Caeda looked back at the owner of the voice briefly, then back toward the horizon.

"Have you seen a woman that looks like me come through here a few days ago?"

"Can't say I have. But they might have."

The owner of the voice pointed at the dust cloud approaching. Caeda could see figures in the cloud, tall, inhuman things on the back of horses with spears in hand. The steads they rode were gnashing their teeth, spitting at the ground in front of them. As they drew closer, Caeda could see one of the Riders smile, a wicked, twisted thing with yellow teeth filed into points.

The stories were true.

She rose and grabbed the owner of the voice by her shoulders, "We have to leave, now!"

Caeda looked at the girl again and the hairs on the back of her neck stood erect. Her arm skin began to ripple, then she felt her knees weaken. Once again, Caeda was on the ground.

"That is not going to happen, Ar-Caeda of Kalefheit," The girl explained, dragging Caeda's body and propping it against the tower, "I have to honor the Code."

Caeda tried to rise to her feet, but the muscles in her legs were failing her. She tried to speak, but her voice would not rise. The rumbling had escalated to an earthquake as the cacophony of a thousand horses and men yelling drew nearer. Caeda fought with her mind to stay awake, but winning that battle was becoming more difficult with every passing second. She fought unconsciousness long enough to feel herself hoisted and thrown on the back of a horse.

One of the Riders barked a command, and then they were off.

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