Seven people stood atop a rather tall sandy dune which allowed them to overlook a rather large swath of empty desert toward north, south and east. Westward, however, was a completely different sight to behold. Though they were classified as a tribe, Kvalend’s ‘tribal grounds’ were anything but.
The city was fashioned through terracing which allowed them to install a rather impressive irrigation system, making it possible to grow wheat, corn and even some fruits and vegetables despite the rather dry climate. There were in total nine layers, the widest being one at the bottom, slowly closing inwardly the further up one looked.
From the distance it looked like a bizarre sort of a tower with horizontal breaks made of mud and sand and ‘floors’ stacked with wooden and stone-built carcasses liken to strange dwellings. Even from nearly two miles away, Lino was able to spot a considerable amount of people walking in-between the terraces through the set of stairwells which lay adjacent to the artificial river fashioned as such through the irrigation system.
He couldn’t help but feel slightly impressed as it was no easy feat to create such a bustling city in such inhospitable conditions. He glanced at Freya for a moment from the corner of his eyes. She sported a rather complex expression, a mix of longing, joy, anger and insecurity. Jane and two other girls weren’t much different; Lino could only imagine how it felt like to see your own ancestry, which you were denied since the day of birth, for the first time.
He patted Freya gently on the latter’s shoulder and gave her an encouraging smile. She seemed to finally stabilize her emotions, smiling back and nodding lightly.
“Our deal still stands,” Lino said, giving her a gentle push. “Your life will never be endangered. Go convince them if you truly believe in it.”
“... I do.” Freya spoke through her teeth, taking a deep breath.
“You don’t need to convince me,” Lino chuckled, following immediately after her. “I’m already on your side.”
“... thank you, Mr. Lino.” Freya paused for a moment, turning toward him and bowing slightly. “For going out of your way to help me.”
“... you said it yourself,” Lino said, ruffling her hair gently. “We are bound by Fate, no?”
“... you - you believe in Fate?” Jane scoffed from the side as she shoved Lino’s hand off Freya’s head as the latter seemed too flustered to do it.
“What gave you the impression I don’t?” Lino asked as the group resumed walking forward toward the tribe.
“Uh... everything about you?”
“Now that’s just mean.”
“I was going for truthful.”
“No reason it can’t be both.” Lucky added from the side.
“Implying that I believe in Fate,” Lino said, smiling faintly. “Means that Fate is like those fake gods peasants pray to. Fate doesn’t necessitate belief... as far as I’m aware, anyway.”
“... you’ve adjoined with its threads?!” Jane exclaimed in shock, nearly stumbling over nothing.
“... it’s more that I danced with its threads,” he said. “And got burned.” Lucky glanced at him for a moment and quickly lowered her head, turning silent. Felix also didn’t add anything, merely continuing to walk in silence. Though Jane - and even Freya - wanted to ask for more, upon realizing the behavior of those two they chose against it. “What’s the plan anyway?” Lino chopped the awkward silence before it had a chance to develop, asking Freya.
“I should first meet with the Head Shaman,” Freya replied. “So she can confirm my Bloodline. After, if all goes well, she will most-likely call for a congregation of Elders to discuss what to do with me. Then--eh, Mr-Mr. Lino, w-what are you doing?!” Freya exclaimed, startled, as she felt quite a staunch grip at her arm which suddenly pulled her back.
Lino ignored her cries as he squinted his eyes and looked toward the sky, slowly stepping forth in front of the others who all quickly came to a halt. “Lie down...” he faintly mumbled as he extended his arm, quickly summoning a spear into it. Felix and Lucky obeyed immediately, flattening their heads with the sand, while Freya and other girls took a moment but also followed suit.
Not a few second passed before they suddenly heard a whizzing sound of the wind as it seemed to bear down upon them from above. While the rest remained lying, Lino on the other hand squatted for a moment and shoved a mass of Qi into the soles of his feet before propelling himself into the sky, leaving others to curse him under their breaths as their mouths and nostrils suddenly got filled up by sand.
Lino arced through the sky well beyond a capacity of a body of an average cultivator, heaving the spear back as he held it with both his arms, slowly gathering momentum. Opening his eyes wide for a moment, he grunted lowly and swung the spear sideways while also injecting it with Qi. The spear suddenly collided with something upon which a massive explosion ensued, sending Lino flying back toward the earth and shattering his spear.
He glanced at the battered shaft and whined lowly for a moment before sighing and controlling his body to land squarely on his feet. He then threw away the shaft while cursing under his breath and turned westward, toward the tribe. Not even twenty meters away from him, four women stood in line. They all appeared rather young, at most in their thirties, yet the mix of bloody crimson hair and a dash of silver proved otherwise. They all scrutinized him with strange frowns, seeming indecisive over what to do.
“Who are you?” a male voice arose suddenly, surprising Lino somewhat as he arched his brows. The women seemed just as surprised as they parted sideways, opening up a path in-between them. A youth not older than twenty walked through, bearing semblance to any other member of the tribe; crimson hair and eyes and rather handsome features. He was quite tall but also lean and slender, seeming to lack muscle.
“... me?” Lino quickly recovered, smiling and putting his hands back into his pockets. “Merely a bodyguard. Nobody important.”
“Bodyguard?” the man smiled faintly as well, arching his brows. “I wonder just which legend are you escorting then?”
“...” Lino realized that nobody was stepping forward and were actually hiding behind the just created sandy hill. His eyebrows twitched as he kicked his leg back, crushing the hill as though it was made of paper and revealing six other figures squatting there. “As you can see, they’re quite shy,” Lino said, turning toward Freya and glaring at her for a moment. “But, can you blame them? They’re reuniting with their family, after all.”
Four women and the man’s eyes quickly found Freya and the girls. Shock was more than apparent on their faces as they scrutinized the girls deeply, over and over. Yet, no matter how many times they did it, the results were always the same: those four were indeed the members of the Kvalend Tribe.
“... who are you?” the man stepped forward yet again and asked Freya and others, seeming to have accepted Lino’s explanation. Freya choked and froze momentarily as her eyes quickly veered off the man and back onto Lino who gave her yet another encouraging smile. She took a deep breath and braved forth, getting up and bowing slightly toward the man.
“My name is Dame Freya O’ltvald,” Freya spoke out. “Granddaughter of the previous Matriarch of the Tribe, Queen Annabelle O’ltvald.”
“...” silence immediately emerged upon the small part of the desert. While Lino, Lucky and Felix seemed rather relaxed as they didn’t really understand the impact behind that statement, everyone else seemed to have just frozen in time. The man and the four women stared at Freya with mouths agape, their eyes like eggshells, fingers twitching. Though Freya managed to keep her eyes locked with the man’s, Jane and the other two were unable, quickly lowering their heads.
“... alright, seriously, how long will you keep up this rather awful theatrical play?” Lino jumbled them out of the stasis.
“We--we... we need to... a-are you... are you really... Queen Anna’s Granddaughter?!” the man’s reaction startled Freya, as she was expecting hostility. However, the man wasn’t hostile or even angry; he even seemed ecstatic, jubilant, even relieved.
“Y-yes?” Freya replied meekly, feeling somewhat awkward under that gaze.
“Praised be K’va!!” the man and the four women exclaimed, startling even Lino who was even more confused about the whole ordeal. “F-forgive me my Lady, but... w-would it be possible if you allowed us to asses your bloodline?” the man asked.
“Uh... yes, of course.” Freya replied, seeming somewhat numbed. “Uh, but, if you’d allow it... I’d like him to escort me.” she added quickly, pointing at Lino.
“Of course, of course.” the man completely ignored Lino and raced toward Freya, pulling her hand as though he couldn’t wait another second. “Great Elders, go inform Lana to prepare the ritual.”
“Y-yes..!” the four women exclaimed as they suddenly vanished from their spots.
“... uh... they don’t seem like they need your protection?” Lucky walked up to Lino and commented. As there was no reply even after nearly a minute, she glanced at his expression and saw something rather odd. “W-what? What’s wrong with you?!”
“... tsk,” Lino clicked his tongue, looking toward the sky for a moment. “I though I’d seal the deal by acting all badass and stuff when they attacked her. Fucking hell. What is this shit?! Why aren’t they attacking her?! Tell me Lucky!!” he grabbed at Lucky’s shoulders who was currently wondering whether it would have been better to just die rather than to follow him. “Why am I so unlucky when I have you with me?!! You’re a jinx! Your name is a jinx!!”
“Fuck, your whole family’s a jinx, you bastard!!” Lucky exclaimed angrily.
“... ah, you’re right,” Lino quickly switched his mood as he let go of her and turned around on his heel rather flamboyantly. “My life is truly a jinx. I have companions named Lucky and Felix... yet I’ve neither luck nor a phoenix. Dear Fate... ah, how thine arms are cruel...”
“...” Lino quickly found himself flying through the sky and over the stacked walls of the tribe, quickly catching up to Freya and the man who began climbing up the stairs of the terraced city. Maybe they really aren’t faking distaste when I make puns out of their names? Strange... I thought they’d have some sense of humor... oh well...