It took a few minutes for Kari to calm down. Michael was surprised at her reaction, but figured it had only been a few days since her last alpha was brutally murdered, she must still be pretty raw. Once she had detached herself from him and scrubbed her face, they set off, following the river upstream. They had only traveled a couple miles when the trees began to thin, the trees spreading further and further apart, until they stopped entirely. The forest gave way to a grasslands that stretched for miles in every direction, until the horizon curved up, and became a mountain range that stretched from the northwest to the southeast. The river he had been following joined several other streams that came off the mountains from snow melt, and joined in ever increasing branches until eventually becoming the river itself.
The spot where two of the largest runoff’s met, there was a large, flat, swell in the land; forming a sort of bluff overlooking the valley. It was easy to see why the tribes would choose that location for their annual gatherings. Sadly, the space was empty except for the dirt and torn grass that marked where they had been a couple months ago.
Michael surveyed the plateau looking for any lingering signs of life. Any at all. When he found none, he began to lose heart. He had already been traveling for days and he still hadn’t reached civilization. There wasn’t a village or town to be seen for miles.
He sat on the grass and contemplated his options. Kari came over and sat next to him and laid her head on his shoulder. She nuzzled him gently, as her eyes watched him curiously. The plains were likely to be mostly free of wild game, which meant he would begin to get very hungry. He would also be exposed to the elements until he could reach the mountains and find a cave. The base of the nearest mountain looked to be at least twenty miles away. About an entire day’s traveling.
The forest ran up to the mountain range to his east. Rather than walking the plains, Michael figured it would be a better idea to stick to the forest for now until he got to the mountains and then he could decide what to do. Perhaps he could climb up it a bit and get a good view of the surrounding areas and see smoke.
He turned to Kari. “Hey, what do you think we should do? If we go into the plains we won’t have food or shelter. If we get into the mountains over there, where they meet the forest, we should have food and shelter. If we are extra special lucky, maybe there will even be people.”
Kari cocked her head and considered him. “You are looking for people? Why? People are nasty.”
Michael nodded. “I need to find people so I can get some gear and training. I was hoping there would be a city here, but...nope.”
She shook her head, red hair waving behind her . She turned walked a few paces west, following the forest away from the mountains. She sniffed the air, then turned looking back at him.
“There are no people over in the mountains, but I can smell humans over this way my alpha.” She gestured the opposite direction, west and back in the forest a bit.
Michael gestured back towards the mountains. “Nizhoni told me they would be near the plains beneath the mountains. Where you’re going is nothing but more...plains.”
Kari grinned and bounced on her heels, grinning like an idiot. “Trust me my alpha. I don’t know what this Nizhoni said, but there are people that way. I promise.”
“Alrighty, after you then.”
Kari turned on her heel and headed back into the forest, with Michael following diligently behind. Instead of his normal lumbering, stumbling pace, Kari seemed to always find a game trail or flat path that wound through the trees. No more crawling over boulders to try and make his way, now they could go around the obstacles.
With their pace doubled, it didn’t take long until Michael began to smell smoke.
“Thank god we didn’t go my way. I had no idea they were this close.”
“I did not know where you were going my alpha. I could have taken you there very quickly. I’m good at this. Next time I’ll do better and make sure I ask more questions to understand better.” She nodded emphatically.
In another couple miles, the forest opened up into what was obviously a man made clearing. Dozens of huts clustered in the field as children and horses lounged and played in the tall grass.
A trio of hunters caught sight of him as soon as he cleared the trees and walked out to meet him, spears held loose but ready.
“Greetings!” Michael waved and shouted, doing his level best to not repeat the last tribes introduction. “The goddess Sara sent me. I’d like to talk to your Spirit Guide or Cheif”.
As the men got closer one of them called back. “Our Spirit Guide is away on journey. Chief Mitsu is in his tent. We will show you the way.”
“My thanks.” Michael nodded his head and gestured for them to lead him. He expected someone to ask about Kari, but apparently her state of half dress didn’t seem to bother the hunters. Michael caught them stealing glances at her toned legs a couple of times. He started to get jealous, but then shrugged.
‘If I was in their position I would probably do the same. They can look, just no touching’
Michael walked through the encampment and noticed that, although it was at least twice as large, the village was virtually identical to the last one. The same style of huts, bonfire pits with log seating, people milling around holding spears or woven baskets. There were little differences though. Each hut was unique in its paintings, and the spears were all different sizes and had different ornamentation. Some had feathers, some had bones, but no two were identical.
Kari pointed at various objects and people and asked excited questions. Apparently this was the first time she had been in a human’s village without a specific objective or fear of being shot. When she saw some tent matron painting a bowl, she nearly lost her mind and asked a dozens of questions about paint and how to give color to things.
When Michael finally arrived at the long hut that was clearly the chief’s tent, he saw a giant of a man sitting out front whittling away at what appeared to be a deer skull, making small decorative carvings in it. He looked up at their approach.
“Well now, who is this. A stranger to our village? Most unusual. I am chief Mitsu. Tell me strangers, why are you here?”
“I am Michael, chief Mitsu. I come in peace, and on a mission from the goddess Sara. She has bid me to learn more about the people of this world. I seek a city told to me by Nizhoni, a Spirit guide from the south. She said there was a great tribe of many thousands in the north near the plains, and I should seek them.”
The giant, listened quietly and then put his carving to the side. He rose to his feet, making Michael take a half step back. The man was absolutely huge. Each arm was the size of his leg, and corded with muscle.
He had never felt particularly small or fat, but Iona had a way of making even his digital form look pathetic.
“Nizhoni. That old bat still lives? I swear even death herself is afraid of getting scolded by her. Honestly I’m surprised you’re here in one piece. She usually takes trophies from wandering vagrants like you. An ear here or perhaps a finger.”
He stared at the side of Michael’s head, making sure he had both his ears. “Since you’ve made it in one piece, I imagine you did something that impressed her. Tell me boy, what did you do to stay her wrath?”
Michael shrugged and said, “I killed the spider queen in the forest near her village.”
A gasp went up from the nearby eavesdroppers, and even the hunters around him took a step back. The chief’s eyes went from mildly wary to downright shocked.
“You killed the spider queen? How? She is a mighty beast, and you are small and pale.” he said gesturing to Michael’s chest. Despite having been wandering through the woods for the last few days, he didn’t seem to be tanning very quickly. He idly wondered if that was a game setting somewhere.
Kari bounced up and down on her toes and latched onto his arm. “He killed her because he is the best warrior in the world. He even saved me from hunters…”
“I don’t know about being the best,” Michael quickly cut in. “I actually just got lucky. Right as the spider queen was about to bite my head off, I shoved a spear in her mouth. She impaled herself really.”
The chief’s eyes wandered back and forth between the two, taking in Michael’s lithe form and Kari’s short size. He nodded.
“It takes a strong man to kill the spider queen, and a humble one to admit it was on accident.” The chief’s face split into a mighty grin. “I like you Michael. Come. Eat. I’m sure you’re hungry. Let us talk of the forest, and your journey. Perhaps we can share knowledge.”
Michael let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “I’d like that.”