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The First Two [[Story; OOC Comments Welcome]]

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The First Two

I. The Arrow in the Buck


     The beast lay on the forest floor, writhing helplessly as blood poured from an arrow wound, breath labored. It was a young buck, its fledgling antlers barely twigs upon its brow. Its dark eyes were wide, unfocused, fearful, and tired, both fighting and accepting death in its own primitive way.


     The Miqo'te huntress approached it, long braid touching the ground when she knelt beside the poor beast. She placed her hand upon its snout, bowing her head in respect. The creature huffed, eyes closing half-way, relaxing under the calming touch of the huntress that seemed to radiate with finality. When she was certain it was in a more peaceful state, her blade flashed across its throat. It was quick, clean, and precise. The young beast would no longer suffer.


     She slowly rose, not turning towards the two grey-skinned Keeper boys standing at some length behind her.


     "My conjury could do nothing fer the beast. Its death--yer carelessness--upset the natural balance," she said evenly, turning her head to the side as she spoke with no hint of emotion in her flat, listless voice. In the pale moonlight, it would have been apparent even to other races beyond just the Keepers of the Moon that her expression was as stoney as her tone of voice.


     After a lingering silence, she turned fully to the boys, approaching them in a graceful stride. Before the elder of the two, she halted. He couldn't have been more than fifteen. The boy beside him was two thirds his age and trembling, eyes stuck to the ground rather than chancing to look his mother in the eye, where his brother bravely maintained his. The older boy held a bow in his hand, and his quiver lay on the ground with only one arrow left. The younger was unarmed.


     There was another tense silence as the huntress, Rakka, stared coolly down at the brave bowman. Without a word, she struck him hard across the cheek, causing him to stumble back. The boy held his burning cheek, while his little brother choked back a startled sob.


     "I am ashamed that ye bear my name, this day," the woman said, icily. "I taught ye better 'n this."


     He lowered his hand and bowed his head. "I will repent, mother," he said solemnly.


     Rakka looked him over again, still cool. "Ye can try," she replied after another lasting pause, before turning to the younger boy. "Rakka'to. To me."


     Without a second thought, the ten year old boy, Rakka'to, moved to his mother's side, still unable to look at her, much less his older brother. He was still trembling, terrified.


     She touched Rakka'to's shoulder, turning him in the direction of the tribesground. She turned her back on the older boy, speaking lowly. "Come. It's time te answer fer what ye've done, Rakka'a."


     Rakka'a bowed his head, following his mother and brother at a respectable distance. Rakka'to cast a worried glance over his shoulder to his sibling, heart hammering at his chest, for he was distraught. It was his guilt that was eating away at him, and making his chest ache. He knew what punishment his brother would endure, and he knew that Rakka'a was innocent. The trouble was, Rakka'to himself was not, and he was a coward where his brother was brave enough to claim fault to spare him the whip.



     In its own way, their arrival back on the tribesground was symbolic. Seeing Rakka'to at Rakka's side, and Rakka'a following obediently, the tribe could discern immediately that the older boy was in trouble, and the younger was under the protection of his mother. Her presence alone often drew the attention of the other tribeswomen. While she wasn't the chieftainess, she was arguably one of the best hunters in the wood, and she had gained her prestige at a relatively young age. She was still relatively young, having bore her first son when she was scarcely seventeen--and he had not been her first child.


     The first person to approach was a teenaged girl--Rakka's firstborn daughter. She looked to Rakka'a, who still maintained a proud dignity, then to Rakka'to who was yet meek as a mouse, and finally to her mother. "What happened?"


     Rakka didn't answer, instead turning her head towards Rakka'a, not deigning to actually look at him. Though she seemed calm and stoic as ever, her eldest daughter knew better than to assume she was feeling at all even remotely calm. There were little signs in her mother's body language that told the girl that she was quite livid. The young girl's gaze slid to meet her brother's brave stare.


     "I poached," he said in a tone not unlike his mother's that conveyed no emotion.


     The girl blanched. "On purpose?"


     "No," he answered simply.


     She looked relieved for a moment, but her mother's lips thinned ever so slightly.


     "Carelessness," Rakka began, "is no excuse." She touched Rakka'to's shoulder again, urging him toward his older sister. "Where're the boys, Akkhi?"


     "Sleepin', I think," Akkhi replied, taking Rakka'to's hand when he joined her.


     "In the middle of the night?" Rakka questioned. "Wake 'em, or they'll be wide awake well past the risin' of the sun. When they awake, I want 'em te see our clan's justice done."


     Akkhi blanched again, but didn't argue. She gave Rakka'a a pitiable look, before tugging on Rakka'to's hand and dragging him off. Rakka advanced further in to the settlement, speaking in a low, formal tone with other huntresses, and eventually the chieftainess.



     Within moments, the tribe was abuzz with the news of the boy's fault, and they began to prepare for ritual punishment. Preparations took nearly an hour. The participants adorned their paint and jewelry, and stripped Rakka'a of his shirt, binding his hands and forcing him to kneel after he too had been painted. All the while, he maintained his courageous demeanor. He did not challenge the tribe or its justice, neither did he simper and plead. He simply kept his dignity, even as he was forced to kneel at the center of a gathered ring of his tribespeople.


     Akkhi was within his line of sight, along with the still terribly guilty-looking Rakka'to, and joined by two sleepy, identical, four-year-old boys who shared the Kuhn clan's coloration. The two younglings were the last of Rakka's children born. Everyone had fallen silent, knowing what was to follow, but the two little boys seemed confused.


     "What's wong wif Ah-Ah?" "Why's Ah-Ah dewe?" they both whined, only to be sharply hushed by Akkhi and Rakka'to.


     They were surrounded by their own Kuhn kinsmen, most of Rakka's daughters sitting in front of their mother as she looked on upon her soon-to-be-punished son with a stony gaze.


     Behind the kneeling and top-bare Rakka'a, stood the chieftainess wearing a fearsome wooden mask adorned with feathers and paint. It was carved in the likeness of a predator cat, jaw open and snarling, with terrible fangs. In her right hand rested a short brown whip of leather. Her voice was muffled by the mask, but resonated with her power and influence.


     "Rakka'a Kuhn," she pronounced carefully. "Ye're accused of poaching a young buck. What plead ye?"


     "Guilty," he replied simply, voice strong enough to be heard by all of those gathered. There were hushed murmurs and gasps, largely of disapproval.


     "So be it," said the chieftainess. "First, I sentence ye te five lashes." Her hand raised, displaying the whip for all to see. It wasn't long, so it wouldn't do any real lasting damage, but it was a firm whip, and was sure to sting and leave the skin red.


     She didn't prolong the punishment unnecessarily. All five lashes happened in quick succession. A's fearless demeanor broke with the first lashing, and he cried out for the first three, voice breaking, clenching his teeth hard for the last two. The whipping couldn't have lasted more than ten seconds, but in that time, Rakka'a heard the wailing of his two youngest brothers, joined by his younger sister, who was barely a year older than the twins.


     He trembled with pain by the time the whipping was finished, back red and lightly bleeding. With effort, he straightened his back and looked upon his family, trying to regain his dignity, piece by piece.


     "Second, I revoke yer hunting rights until yer sixteenth cycle," boomed the chieftainess.


     Rakka'a was an astounding hunter. He'd been mentored by the best--his mother. Hunting was his life. Though he would turn sixteen in just under half of a year, he was clearly devastated by that ruling. He half expected it, but had been holding out hope that he would be forgiven for what he claimed was his first accidental transgression. Of course, he wouldn't tell the truth--that it had been Rakka'to who knowingly shot the buck, rather than Rakka'a having accidentally shot it. He was entirely too skilled to make such a mistake, but he was young. It was a believable lie.


     "Third, I revoke yer role as a mentor, permanently," said the chieftainess.


     That, he clearly had not expected, eyes going wide. He looked to Rakka'to in disbelief, and Rakka'to began to weep. Rakka'a had been mentoring his younger brother when the buck died. It was foolish to give the younger boy his bow and quiver, but Rakka'a himself had been even younger than his ten year old brother when he'd shot his first arrow at a live animal. He didn't expect him not to listen when he warned him not to shoot the buck. Now he'd lost the chance to instruct him in the future, and get him back on the right track. Forever.


     Though he felt some resentment at his circumstances, he loved Rakka'to dearly. He lost his rights to train him, but at least Rakka'to hadn't suffered the consequences. He would have suffered just as many lashes and likely been barred from hunting until he was at least thirteen. Rakka'a hung his head, tired and downtrodden. At the very least, his sacrifice was worthwhile. He could be proud of that when he rose the next evening and watched his hunting party depart without him.


     The chieftainess pulled him to his feet, startling him out of his maudlin stupor. Her grip was both firm and gentle. He knew that she didn't mean him any harm, but the tribe's justice had to be done. He turned and bowed formally to her.


     "It is done," she said to him. "Go pray and bathe, brother."


     He bowed again, then made his way to the Kuhns. His mother turned away, still livid, and left.


     "The buck's death won't be in vain. They're skinning it now." Akkhi smiled up at him kindly, sympathetic. One of the young twins was in her arms, still recovering from his wailing, and the other was just fine, playing skip-o'er-the-tail behind her. Their five year old sister was sitting obediently by Akkhi's side. "She'll recover. She just needs time."


     "I know it," Rakka'a said. He was never much to speak overmuch, but Akkhi seemed to understand more than he let on.


     "After ye bathe, come te me and let me look at yer back. Can't have cuts and bruises slowin' ye down with yer activities with Kyara Ora."


     He flushed, only knocked out of his embarrassment when the twin that had been in Akkhi's lap came to cling on to Rakka'a's leg. He smiled and reached down to muss the kitten's hair. "Didn't think ye knew about that," he said to Akkhi.


     Akkhi laughed. "She's a talkative one, that."


     "Right talkative in bed, te," he commended, grinning slightly.


     "Now look who's - YEOW!" She coiled, whirling to face the little boy who had just lost his game of skip-o'er-the-tail, having landed right on it. She picked him up, much to his dislike. The little girl, still ever present by her eldest sister's side, set to petting the tail her little brother had so rudely jumped on, and Akkhi sighed.


     "Ye'll make a fine mother someday," Rakka'a said.


     Akkhi shrugged a shoulder. "And ye'll make a fine uncle, soon enough. I just hope I'm not as 'blessed' as mother was with your like. Little monsters, you boys are," she said, half to Rakka'a, and half to the boy she was now dangling by his shoulders in front of her. "Which one are ye?"


     "Sae," said the guilty little boy.


     "Nooo," the other one cried in reply, looking back to the troublesome twin, then up at Rakka'a, sparing the effort to let out a forced, soft sob. His distressed expression was urging him to intervene, but the teenaged Keeper boy only showed him a helpless shrug.


     Akkhi looked from the one in her arms, to the one wrapped around Rakka'a's leg. She smirked, turning her attention back to the boy she was holding, giving him a shake. "Don't you lie, little Li."


     Rakka'li bubbled with laughter, his trick exposed. He kicked his feet until Akkhi put him down.


     Rakka'a gently pulled the other boy off of him, lifting him and setting him down next to their toddler sister, Hanah Kuhn. Face not betraying how badly the motion he'd just gone through stung his back, he stood tall. "I should get," he said blandly.


     "Don't forget to pray," Akkhi said.


     Rakka'a nodded, reaching down to tweak Rakka'li's ear to distract him from whatever mischief he was planning for Rakka'sae and Hanah. The distraction seemed to work as 'Li ducked and swatted at his hand. The teenager laughed and captured the little boy's wrist, lifting him off the ground and dumping him in Akkhi's lap, who promptly wrapped her arms around him to keep him still.


     "Keep ye," he said in a casual departing greeting, starting off for the springs--a good bath and a good pray.

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The First Two

II. The Quarrel in the Wood


Thin, sparse whiskers of blue upon Rakka’to’s chin was evidence of the steady maturing of the once fearful little boy who hid behind his older brother's shoulder in the Wood so many years ago. Rakka'to Kuhn sat, back straight, shoulders squared and kneeling, exuding the once proud yet disciplined aura his sibling often had emanated before him. Directly across from him sat his mother, mirroring his stance. They were alone together in a clearing, rare in the ordinarily thick Wood. Bathing in the pale glow of the moon and stars overhead Rakka's shoulders relaxed and an easy expression crossed her otherwise normally placid features, they had just concluded a purposeful conversation.


"I am relieved ye came te be the hunter ye are," she said in a tone just above a whisper, her normally strong voice carrying a hint of tenderness. The teenaged Rakka'to betrayed a wisp of a smile, and his mother continued, "After yer brother committed a foul, I thought again on teachin' my sons the art. I thought I might be conditionin' a natural strand o' poachers rather than independent men who can fend fer themselves. That all four of my boys would forever remain in the men's huts at the tribesground, and never set out on their own. But it seems that fate is only for Rakka'a. Time will tell with the twins."


Rakka'to maintained his attentive posture, but could not wholly conceal the small smirk tugging at his lips. He was proud, and as far as his mother was concerned, he had every right to be. With a formal dip of his head, he spoke in a solemn tone, mimicking the tone his elder brother often assumed when he was still recognized as a hunter, "Ye speak me undue praise, mother."


His mother smiled a rare, warm smile, then climbed to her feet. She held her hand out to him and spoke. "Yer small brothers owe ye a kindness. It's for you that I teach them at all. Perhaps once ye've completed yer trial, you might consider helpin' Rakka'li some te hold his bow right."


'To chuckled as he took her hand, allowing the huntress to pull him to his feet. "I'd entrust that te Akkhi. I haven't proven my worth yet, and there's no tellin' if'n I'll come back successful from the provin' grounds."


Soon it would be time for Rakka'to to prove his worth and gain formal recognition from the tribe as a huntsman, earning the right to hunt alone if he so chose. This was an almost necessary tradition for the few males of their tribe, as most of them would leave before they were twenty to live in seclusion. Those who couldn't fend for themselves or who were deemed unfit to embark from the tribe would remain until old age took them, and they would often never have any part in mating.


Rakka'to was, in actuality, an alarmingly good hunter. His brother had talent when he was a hunter, but Rakka'to was now almost as old as his elder brother had been on that fateful day when Rakka'a lost his hunting privileges, and he was twice the huntsman - only no one knew it. He spent much of his solitary time in the wood, getting real hands-on experience with beasts far mightier than the simple antelope doe. The trial would be all too easy, but admitting that would bring his mother's eye down upon him, as well as the rest of the tribe's. There were things he wasn't quite prepared to reveal about his hunting habits, not yet.


"Well, ye'll need plenty o' rest," Rakka said, directing her gaze upward. The sky was beginning to purple with the first hints of the morning sun. "Ye start first thing in the evening," she reminded him. The Keepers were nocturnal, so it stood to reason that sleep came during the brightest parts of the day.


Rakka'to bowed to his mother and stood. "I won't disappoint you," he said, evoking a good humored scoff from Rakka. With that, he turned towards the distant tribesground and departed from the clearing, in to the woods.




The tribesground was built in a densely wooded area. The center of the village was made up of clusters of huts, twisting around the chaotic scattering of thick-trunked trees that stretched forever in to the sky. The huts were typically constructed with wood, clay, and hay, and decorated with luminescent paint that seemed to catch the moonlight even far below the canopy. The dwellings that belonged to the more influential members of the tribe were closest to the communal area where the chieftainness would convene with the tribe when necessary. The clearing was patchy as far as grass growth was concerned, trampled so thoroughly by foot traffic that bald earth dominated the area. The clearing was also the place where, four years ago, Rakka'a had been stripped of his title as a hunter and forbidden from teaching his younger brother the art. It felt to Rakka'to as though it was an eternity ago. To Rakka'a, it felt like it had happened only yesterday.


Further on the outskirts of the tribesground was a pond lined with tall weeds and tangled shrubbery. The greenery not only obscured the pond from view of the central tribesground, but the few huts that belonged to the men of the tribe. Grown men did not reside with women, and in this particular Keeper tribe, a male came of age on his fourteenth nameday. By twenty, most men would set out to live alone in the woods, but some would remain. Rakka'to was only recently dubbed a man himself, and he had just begun to live with his now nineteen year old brother. The space they shared was small, but in truth, no man in the tribe had any trouble sharing space with kin and close friends. Rakka'a and Rakka'to, in fact, like many other males in the tribe, slept side by side on the same straw mat. There were nine adult males in their tribe - the most the tribe had ever seen. That was nearly one adult male to every four adult females.


Despite harboring the secret that Rakka’a had taken responsibility for Rakka’to’s wrong doing, the brothers were close. Rakka’a had selflessly accepted the revocation of his role as hunter and teacher and had taken to fishing, gathering, and whatever crafts or hobbies interested him, while Rakka’to became a fine hunter.


Entering their shared living space, Rakka'to noted Rakka'a's presence, the older male sat cross-legged on the ground of their hut, busying himself by creating jewelry from hempen string, agates, fangs, and bone chips. He paused briefly and looked up from his work to smile at his brother. Rakka'to reflected the smile.


"Tomorrah's the big night," Rakka'a commented. "Hope yer more successful than ye been on some o' yer practice runs."


When he was included in tribal hunting excursions, Rakka'to often feigned an unsteady elbow or a nervous blink at the wrong time, so that he would return home without a kill. He'd put an arrow in a tree when he could have put it in the eye of a skittering critter. He'd fire at a rock instead of directly in to the throat of a fearsome predator, allowing his "experienced" hunting band to take care of the threat. The boy had more talent than he felt safe to share - or rather, more practice. At his age, he had hunted alone in secret far more times than Rakka'a had hunted alone. Solitary hunting, before formal recognition as a hunter, was against the tribe's rules.


It began a year ago, when he first stole away unbeknownst to the tribe in the middle of daylight intending to privately refine his skill on live game. He had ventured far, and had encountered a band of Keeper huntswomen. They were hostile to him at first, but they relented when he showed potential. They were not a tribe, they were in fact poachers by profession, and they took the spoils of their hunt to fences in the Twelveswood, selling them for Gil. While Rakka'to's tribe had never had much use for Gil, the poachers showed him what good money could provide and how quickly he could make it by taking down forbidden game. He was shown things that had him considering how he could vastly improve the way his tribe lived: better materials for their shelters, better utensils for cooking, better weapons for hunting and self-defense, medicines for all manner of illnesses. So many treasures and luxuries, it made his head spin.


Following that, every week he would sneak out once or twice to hunt with or for the poachers. Hidden in the woods, he stashed his rapidly accumulating stockpile of Gil. He became a sharp shot, and a superb tracker, all from poaching. His mother would have beaten and disowned him in a heartbeat if she knew. He pledged he would one day reveal what he had been doing, but not until he had the gifts he'd intended for the tribe to demonstrate its necessity.


Rakka'to showed his brother a stiff smile before retorting, "I'm not that bad a shot."


"Yeah, ye just think rocks look 'n awful lot like critters," the older Keeper said with a teasing scoff.


Rakka'to didn't seem to find this funny. "Maybe I shot th' rock b'cause I didn't want te show off."


"Right, sure, and I'm the chieftainness of th' North tribe" Rakka'a replied, disbelieving as he focused on threading a leather cord through the steel cap that had been grafted around the base of an animal's fang.


Normally, teasing didn't get a rise out of Rakka'to. Maybe it was his nerves. Even if he was confident in his abilities, tomorrow would be a very big day for him, and he really was desperate to prove himself to his mother, as well as the rest of the tribe. He'd intentionally sold himself short... but maybe too short, and in so doing his tribe's confidence in him wasn't as high as he'd have liked. His brother's confidence in him was insultingly low. In the dizzying height of his sudden anger, he blurted. "I've killed far more prey than ye ever 'ave."


Rakka'a looked up from his work, looking momentarily wounded. Rakka'a hadn't hunted in half a decade, and he long ago lost hope he’d ever be permitted to hunt again, unless he went into exile. He was quick to collect himself though, giving his younger brother a flat look, "Yer fourteen. What are ye at now, six kills in a group hunt that're yers undisputed? ‘Round my fifteenth nameday I was up te twenty-five, not countin' the group hunts."


"Oh I've far more kills 'n ye know," Rakka'to replied hotly.


"That so?" Rakka'a replied, folding his arms. "And when did ye get them, then?"


Rakka'to grimaced and looked away with a mixture of guilt and displeasure on his face. "I don't need to explain myself te ye. Ye'r no hunter."


The elder sibling was a little surprised. He had assumed they were just joking around, taking jabs at one another, but the serious, guilty look on Rakka'to's face had him rethinking that assessment. Rakka'to wasn't allowed to hunt alone yet, so there was no way he could have gotten more kills than the bands he'd hunted with attributed to him. Instead of saying anything about it, Rakka'a shrugged a shoulder and looked away, busying himself with his necklace.


Rakka'to glowered. "Nothin' te say te me?"


"No," Rakka'a replied simply. His tone had gone serious as well, but he forced a smile, wanting to believe they were still just joking around.


"You know I'm twice the hunter you were," Rakka'to spat, still angry.


"I know," his brother replied, still not rising to the challenge.


Silenced, 'To moved across their hut and snatched his satchel, then marched toward the exit.


The older sibling spoke up. "Where are ye goin' this time o' the mornin'?"


"Shooting practice," Rakka'to said with sharp sarcasm. As he turned quickly, poking his arm out to part the curtain that sheltered the hut's entrance from the weather, he fumbled with his satchel and dropped it. It hit the ground heavily, spilling a myriad of items. Dried provisions for a hunt were among them, as well as arrowheads that had been protectively wrapped in cloth in the event a quiver broke.


It was nothing out of the ordinary, but Rakka'to was quick to get to his knees and start hastily gathering up what had spilled. That was when Rakka'a noticed the bone whistle. 'To shot him a defensive glance, and his brother feigned interest in the necklace in his lap, as though he'd never set eyes on the whistle. He'd heard bone whistles when he was younger, and his mother had told him that was how poachers communicated. The Gridanian forces weren't privy to the practice, but Keeper tribes most certainly were.


Rakka'to left then, looking sullen. Some of the men who were still awake gave him strange or worried looks, but he ignored them as he headed to the range where the huntresses often practiced their aim.


The next evening the tribesground was bustling, all of the tribe going about their business as usual. Akkhi, the eldest of the huntress and warrior Rakka's children, walked past a breakfast fire with a squirming infant in her arms. There she found her mother, sitting to enjoy her meal. Beside her were two identical little boys, no more than eight years old, making faces at each other when they thought mother wasn’t looking. Both became quietly obedient when their big sister shot them a look.


Rakka looked up to her daughter, then rose to her feet, crossing to take the infant from her gently. Akkhi smiled. "She misses 'er grandma."


"Stop that. Ye'll make me feel old," Rakka replied, humorlessly. "The boys were goin' te play with their friends at the Eastern edge."


"Trade ye," Akkhi said, grinning. When Rakka nodded, her daughter beckoned the boys to her, and they both climbed to their feet, racing to Akkhi. She placed her hands atop their heads, peering down at them. They were tall for their age, but Akkhi was twelve years their senior, and they were far from adulthood. "What're ye goin' te play?"


One of the boys shrugged. "Figurin' we'll decide that when we get there." The other twin nodded in agreement, as the first continued. "Mayhap we'll play keep-up or hide-and-hunt. But some of the girls're little 'n can't run as fast as us."


"Oh? Aren't ye confident? They might also be lighter on their feet th'n ye. Did ye consider that?" Akkhi replied.


The boy looked away, thoughtful, while his brother stared up at Akkhi, tail flicking anxiously. "Li's gonna show us a big tree," Sae chirped.


"That so?" Akkhi replied, grinning down at him.


He nodded, looking between Li and his sister. "He says it's bigger 'n the one 'To saw on his autumn hunting trip, 'n that if'n ye try te shoot a arrow at it, ye couldn't hit the tip top. Even ma probably couldn't, he says."


Akkhi nodded, turning the boys towards the tribesground's limits, where a few other children had already gathered. ""It ain't too far away, right?"


Li shook his head up at her. "It's ‘afore the river, right at the edge. I'm gonna climb it."


"No yer not," Akkhi said firmly.


"I'm gonna climb it," Sae echoed.


The older sister sighed. "No, yer not either."


"Fine..." the twins conceded, pouting simultaneously. They gave each other looks that clearly said they were far from actually yielding to her command. Akkhi paid it no mind.


"Be careful ye don't startle any hunters either," she warned.


"Is Rakka'to hunting in the East wood?" Li asked.


Akkhi shook her head. "No, he's down south far's I been told. Still, he ain't the only hunter in the wood, I'm sure."


"When he comes back," Sae started. "D'ye think him 'n Rakka'a 'll make up?"


"Pakoh'a said he heard 'em fightin' last eve," Li explained.


"Everyone's heard that by now. I'm sure they will," Akkhi reassured them. She gently nudged them forward when they came to stand at the edge of the tribesground, four young girls awaiting them. "Now go play, and don't get ye in te any trouble, hear?"


The twins nodded and darted off, meeting their friends and beginning their departure in to the woods. Akkhi let out an exasperated sigh and turned back to her mother, whose attention seemed to be wholly on the infant girl in her arms. She watched them silently until her mother spoke.


"Rakka'a is jealous this day," she said simply. "So he took it out on 'is brother. Selfish."


Akkhi nodded slowly, looking aimlessly off towards the male’s huts. "Why don't ye talk t'im, mother?"


"I've nothin' te say te 'im," Rakka said coolly.


Her eldest daughter pressed her lips together. No one liked to challenge Rakka, but Akkhi was quite close to Rakka’a, and she found it rather out of character for him to be angry with Rakka'to for pursuing recognition as a hunter. If anything, Rakka'a was happy for his brother, and worried - but not jealous. "Rakka'a's not the type te, well..."


"Mother er not, ye're young yet," Rakka said. "Ye don't quite understand the way males are te each other. Competitive as a rule. Even between brothers." She paused. "Especially between brothers. Ye see it some with the twins, young's they are, and the other two're no exception. They're just older, 'n better at hidin' it."


"If that be the case," Akkhi started, hesitant. "Then why's all the fault fer Rakka'a? What about Rakka'to?"


Rakka was silent. She was so set in her ways that she didn't want to stop to consider her daughter's words. While she didn't hate any of her children, it was true that Rakka'a had the least of her favor because of that incident half a decade ago. Some rightly accused her of being too harsh - others of being too lenient. Rakka'a had paid the price he owed already, his punishment fulfilled, but Rakka's disapproval of him wasn't intended to punish. It was simply her natural inclination.


Rakka came from a long line of huntresses, and she was revered both for her own ability, and her bloodline, which was so blessed that it endowed her with the fortune of mothering many sons when sons normally accounted for one in every ten births or less. That one of her sons would so carelessly disregard the tribe's hunting laws made her look terrible. For a time there was talk, but that talk had quieted over the years. Nonetheless, it caused irreparable damage to the Kuhn reputation. Her hard-won prestige had suffered.


However, it was difficult to continue ignoring Rakka’a’s diligence. He had not, embittered by her forbidding him to hunt, run away into exile, and despite her harsh words about him, Rakka’a had taken to other tasks and trades with the same vigor that he’d taken to hunting. The huntress within her was angry still, but perhaps it was time to forgive.


Exasperated by the dragging silence, Akkhi sighed. She moved to her mother's side and opened her arms for the gurgling infant. When the squirming kitten was in Akkhi's arms, Rakka spoke.


"If it please ye, I'll talk te Rakka'a," she conceded. "But not until Rakka'to's returned."


Caught unawares, Akkhi smiled widely, exuberantly pleased. Her tail swished in rhythm with her rising spirits. At long last, her mother would finally give Rakka'a the time of day, and perhaps soon she'd find reason to forgive him. Akkhi was hopeful.




It was only the second night. Rakka'to decided that he would seize upon the opportunity to bring back his kill on the third night, and it would be a magnificent kill. In the meantime however, he had taken the opportunity to hunt and kill other game - game he was used to, game that sold nicely. With his bone whistle on hand he could call for the other poachers to take the kill. He'd have to give them a cut of the profits for taking care of the delivery end of the trade, but it didn't matter. It was still decent coin.


One of the things he certainly wanted for his tribe was an arsenal of crossbows. They were rare and forbidden in some parts of Eorzea, or so he'd been told, but they were wonderful. They took a bit too long to load, but the bolts sailed true and fast as lightning. He had one of his own which he kept hidden out in the woods. For his final kill he'd certainly use his traditional longbow, but for poaching he loved his crossbow. Hiding low in the brush, he'd followed a lone, somber looking sylph to a watering hole where it stopped to reflect upon something. The foolish little creature.


Sylphs were one of the more sought after kills, though they were difficult to find alone--and if they weren't alone all of their kind were like to retaliate. Some poachers thought killing Sylphs to be taboo or too risky, but the little leafy creatures made for wonderful ingredients in a wide array of medicines and culinary brews, and certain buyers would pay handsomely for them. They were a risky catch for certain, but in Rakka'to's mind, they were worth the risk.


He fired at the lone creature, crossbow making a short, sharp snapping sound, bolt singing through the air. It was too fast for the Sylph to turn completely to face the origin of the sound, so it landed squarely in its back, carrying the tiny thing forward and face-down in to the pond, lifeless. He reloaded his contraption, watching the Sylph for any movement as he did so. When it was loaded and ready, he smirked and stood, eyeing his prey. He pointed the crossbow at the creature as he slowly walked towards it, just in case it suddenly sprung in to action. When it didn't stir, he lowered his crossbow to his side and brought the bone whistle to his lips.


Before he could blow something caught his ear. He dropped the whistle and held his crossbow at the ready, baring his fangs. Whatever it was, it wasn't a dumb beast. Something – someone - was hiding. Another Sylph could flee to its village and rally its friends, or another person could alert his tribe and rat him out for what he'd done. He squinted at the area the rustle had come from, but it must have moved while his mind was racing near to a panic.


"Rakka'to," a familiar voice sounded.


Rakka'to whirled around to face the speaker, who now stood in the clearing. Scared half-to-death, he pointed the crossbow at his brother. "A-are ye insane? I nearly shot ye," Rakka'to complained at Rakka'a.


Rakka'a looked mournfully to the dead Sylph, then to his younger brother, face hardening to an unreadable mask. "What've ye done..."


Rakka'to remembered himself, pressing his lips together and looking to the Sylph. After a moment's hesitation, he spoke, "I know what ye're thinkin', but let me explain."


He paused, but Rakka'a didn't interject, so the younger brother continued.


"This little thing'll get us Gil. Lots of Gil. In fact, I've got impressive wealth stored away. We could make life so much better fer the tribe. Fer everyone. Ma 'n Akkhi 'n her kin. All the girls, 'n the twins too. Cabins instead'a huts. Weapons te protect ourselves..."


"Weapons like the thing in yer hand?" Rakka'a said blankly, expression impassive.


"Exactly!" Rakka'to said, brightening. He imagined Rakka'a was already starting to see things his way, and if that was the case, soon the whole tribe would understand.


"At what cost?" Rakka'a asked, frowning.


Rakka'to hedged, then looked slightly uncomfortable. "What d'ye mean?"


"Ye know why we don't poach. Ye understand the Wood 'as a delicate balance we 'ave to maintain," Rakka'a said sourly. "If ye disturb the balance, no weapons er cabins er anything's like to be enough te comfort us."


Rakka'to was silent. He certainly disagreed, but he didn't know how to articulate his argument, so he didn't even try.


"Rakka'to, I forfeit somethin' of my own five years back because I thought ye made a mistake. A mistake that weren't no thought o' yers te make. But now ye've wasted my sacrifice 'n become exactly what I ne'er believed ye'd become. A poacher. A thief. A criminal. A disgrace."


Rakka'to's brow twitched, and his eyes found his feet, smoldering with hurt and anger. He didn't understand at all. Rakka'to hated having his hopes lifted, then shot down and trampled again.


"Ye have te confess, Rakka'to. 'n I'd be grateful if ye came forward about what happened all that time ago," Rakka'a said, gentling his stern tone some. "They'll punish you, and that'll be that. I can teach ye te fish instead, and we'll set ye on the right path yet."


Rakka'to was still silent. After a long pause, he nodded, shuffling forward slowly. Rakka'a looked momentarily relieved. He raised his arm to touch Rakka'to's shoulder when he drew near, smiling sympathetically to his brother. His brother smiled back, weakly at first, but then something about his smile changed, it darkened. Then there was a sound, like a giant mousetrap, then a stake being driven in to the ground.


The brothers separated, and Rakka'a found himself unable to walk, unable to breathe, unable to speak. Pain roared through his chest, and his heart thumped rapidly in his ears. To a war-drum tune, he looked at his brother, half-lidded, wondering why. His brother stared back at him, grinning with terrified hysteria, eyeing the bolt that was half-buried in Rakka'a's chest. Finally, the reality of what had just happened sank in, just as the last of Rakka'a's strength, his life blood, spilled out. He fell to his knees. The shock, pain, and betrayal all left his eyes as he ragdolled at an awkward angle and hit the ground. He was dead before the soil touched his cheek.


Rakka'to's voice was high with the hysteria that was written all over his face. "You can't tell them. You can't tell anyone. I didn't do anything wrong!"


He waited for Rakka'a to respond, panting - hyperventilating in fact.


"It's not my fault!" he screamed, voice hoarse and ragged. It startled birds from their nests high in the treetops.


He lifted the bone whistle to his quivering lips, and blew.




It was on the third night that a ragged Rakka'to returned to the tribesground. He didn't have to feign his exhaustion, but as far as anyone in the tribe could tell he was beaten from the hunt, not from the reality of killing his brother. After he'd ended Rakka'a's life, he had called upon his poacher friends and stolen back to the tribesground hidden under a heavy brown cloak. People certainly saw him, but they didn't speak to him. Rakka'to wouldn't have been back in the village, so clearly it had been Rakka'a who ducked in to their shared hut, gathered all of Rakka'a's treasured belongings, and departed. The few who caught sight of him would have seen Rakka'a leave the tribesground, and nothing more.


So when he returned and everyone had gathered but Rakka'a, he made something of a show of searching for him. Akkhi greeted Rakka'to with a wavering smile, looking from the spoils of the hunt, to him. He knew what she was going to say.


“Akkhi, ye seen Rakka’a? I mean te talk.”

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