As promised last week, I’ve got for you a preview of the opening narrative for the introduction chapter of the upcoming Saurids Sourcebook. This one will be a two-parter, as there’s a natural cliff hanger mid way through, which conveniently should also help keep the posts from getting too long (and no, I didn’t plan that ahead of time, it just worked out that way).

I would really value feedback on this one, so if you have comments, please voice them below or on Discord. While you’re there, don’t forget to sign up for events for FreedoniaCon next weekend. Enjoy!

Ser’et’s tail practically dragged behind her as she walked, and if her crest could press any flatter against her head, it would be inside her skull. She managed to keep pace with the procession despite her despondent manner, though only just. Only a few warriors trailed behind her, making up the rear guard and covering their trail.

Even from their position at the front as the lead shaman, Lassim took notice of the lag at the end of their procession. Their crest flicked briefly in concern. Though they were the lead shaman and should be taking charge of the ritual march, it was also their responsibility to see to the well-being of those taking part in it. This did not seem like a situation to call attention, but one that required a gentle hand. After motioning to their second to continue leading the pilgrimage, Lassim took a moment to speak with each of the participants, seeing how they were doing as they fell toward the back of the line. Once there, they swept up Se’ret into walking pace with a feathered arm wrapped around her, far enough away from the others that the two could speak freely

“You are saddened, little one.” Lassim spoke with a tone of compassion, but with just the slightest edge to it. The tone of a parent come to see to their child, but to also let the child know they saw past the attempts to feign normalcy, and that only the truth would be accepted in reply. “Come, speak your heart. The ritual will not function if you have any doubts…”

“No, I have no doubts,” she replied quickly, looking Lassim firmly in the eye. That surety only lasted a moment though, the look in their eyes saying without words that she needed to be honest, both with Lassim and with herself. “At least, not in my desire to proceed with it.” She let out a long sigh and her head drooped back downward, quiet as she tried to find the right words. Lassim simply waited patiently for her to continue. “It’s just… it was all lies, wasn’t it? From my mother, I mean.” She closed her eyes, allowing Lassim’s arm to guide her along as she walked, mentally traveling back to the mountains where she had grown up. “She always said she held conviction and strength as the highest values, that she could still respect someone who disagreed with her if they held firm to how they felt. And yet…” Ser’et tried to continue, but the words began to catch in her throat, and she breathed to try and keep her resolve.

“And yet she could not accept your strength and conviction to remain authentic to who you are in your soul,” Lassim finished for her, their steady voice making it all too clear they spoke with experience. That voice gave Ser’et comfort, knowledge that she was not alone. “I know it all too well, little one. To feel the gaze of those who look upon you, but cannot see past their own ignorance and hatred.” Their plume of feathers ruffled across their back like wave, though whether it was a shudder of discomfort or a wave of anger was unclear. Perhaps it was both. “As you speak honestly to me, I will not lie to you; it does not get any easier. There will always be that hardship to bear. These,” they paused to hold up an arm, indicating the feathers hanging down to the elbow, “will mark you for what you are. Among our people, you will feel no difference. You will be loved for who you are. Outside, however, you will have to endure their judgments, misguided though they may be.” Lassim paused, moving their hand down to tilt her chin up. “I will remind you though, you have already borne much. You survived your trek down from the mountains, alone and hunted. You found our village, which not many are able to do without one of us to guide them. You have lived with us this past year, coped with the change to a new culture, a new life, and a new name. You have endured, and in so enduring, you have grown strong. Though our lives are filled with uncertainties, know that one thing you can be certain of is that I am proud of you.”

Unfortunately the moment of encouragement was cut short as the procession suddenly came to a stop. Almost as one, the procession dropped to their knees, seeking cover behind the trees to make themselves less visible as they awaited information on what the trouble was. Word quickly made its way down the chain: Burning Maws, spotted in the clearing ahead. Ser’et gave a silent nod to confirm she had been suitably comforted, her crest rising noticeably. With one last pat and nod, Lassim quickly made their way back to the front. As’os, the group’s lead warrior, awaited them at the front, spear drawn and shield ready at hand.

“They’re holding position on the trail towards the ritual space,” he advised, indicating with his spear the general positions where his scouts had reported sighting them. “It’s much too soon for them to be here. If they were following their normal hunting patterns, they wouldn’t come this far into the forest for another two moon cycles, at least. It can’t be a coincidence; they had to have know that we were coming and why. Which means they’ve most likely already flanked us if we try to head back into the forest.”

Lassim considered a moment. “The river traders mentioned they recently had a new war party leader rise to power. I would not be surprised if it was him leading this group, issuing a challenge to put on a show of strength and secure his accession.” Such posturing was common among the Plains tribes, particularly with the Maws. When a new leader rose to power, he needed to prove himself to his fellows that he’d bring them victory and glory, such as they saw it. Never mind that that glory would only be over a lightly guarded pilgrimage that was no threat to them.

“Agreed,” As’os replied with a firm nod. “Which means he’s looking for a fight, and will have brought the numbers needed to make sure he wins it.” He paused to look back over their procession of participants and supporters in the ritual, barely a threat to even a standard hunting group from a Plains tribe, much less a war party. He began to sketch an overview of the area in the dirt with the butt end of his spear as he thought through their available tactics. The ritual space was to the north, at least another two hours walk from here. The way back east to the village was surely cut off, and the Maws likely had parties beginning to sweep from the south to box them in. That only left one option.

“We need to go west,” As’os announced, motioning his warriors around to give them orders. “If we move there quickly and directly, we should be able to avoid their patrols, and the bulk of their forces will have to chase after us. Pack everyone in close together so they can’t pick anyone off individually. Go.” One by one, his warriors nodded and started walking along the procession to direct the members and signaling to their wider scouts to move inwards.

“West?” Lassim asked, confused. “To the coast? What good will that do us?” They would only have the cover of the forests for a short while. The coast would be entirely outside of their territory and without any cover to protect them, where a group this large would be easy to spot. Even with cover, they didn’t have the numbers to be able to put up a decent defense. With them totally exposed, they’d be sitting moschops.

“The Maws want a fight.” As’os replied, his voice finding further resolve as he began to formulate a plan, his crest flicking sharply upward for just an instant. “And we’ll make sure they get one.”

He just had to hope he could keep them from being part of it.

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