By Damian Breslin A tale of Shadowfist

The wind howled a mournful cry as it whistled through the pass between the mesas. Sand clouded the sky, turning what little light the sun gave dark and ominous. Just beyond the pass, an Indian village braved the storm. At the center of the village sat a large communal wigwam. Inside, hides lined the floor in a circle around a small fire, each one with several people perched upon it. Their shadows danced along the walls with the flickering fire.

Toward the entrance of the wigwam, a small group of young men were arguing. Among them was a brave named Swift Eagle. He sat on one side of a large hide urging his compatriots to heed what he was saying. Their status was the same, and yet the others on the opposite side of the hide viewed him with contempt. His aim shot true, his spirit old and wise, and he had many prospects for the more sought after unmarried women. He could have easily gained a higher ranking within his tribe, were he not a pariah.

“What we are doing here is not right for the village or its people,” Swift Eagle pleaded. “We are asking for strength from an unknown stranger. I fear for what may become of us if we bargain with an evil spirit.”

The others sitting across from him laughed. “And what makes you think this? Did the white man tell you this? Are you trying to scare us into giving away what little we have left?” They stood up and glared at Swift Eagle, who now seemed preoccupied with the ground. “Wherever you got this story from, it doesn’t matter. We won’t listen to a coyote sent by the white man. They keep dogs as pets. Did they bribe you with a reward of meat? You should go tell your masters that we will not be fooled again! Now run to them with your tail between your legs.” They walked away laughing, leaving Swift Eagle alone with his thoughts.

He looked around the large room. Many small groups were sitting about chatting, or busying themselves with making new equipment, weapons, and rope. Children were dancing around the fire, trying to turn their shadows into monsters and chortling all the while. He recalled the dream he had shortly after they met the foreigner king.

He was out hunting and spotted a rabbit just outside of its burrow, sniffing the air. He took aim with his bow and let loose an arrow. The rabbit fell to the dirt before it even noticed the danger it was in. He walked over to remove the arrow and pick the rabbit up, when it jumped back up and turned toward him. It had turned into a strange and twisted creature. It snarled and hissed at him as he backed away.

He was stopped suddenly by an obstacle that wasn’t there before. He quickly spun around and saw a man clad in iron and stone towering before him. The creature that was once a rabbit was still hissing at him as it edged closer. He ran away from the strange beings and was suddenly outside of his village; only something about it was terribly wrong.

A large bonfire roared in the center while dark clouds rolled in. Around it danced his tribe mates. They were painted in unnatural colors and their movements seemed stiff and awkward. A thunderclap echoed through the mesa valley as the clouds pressed down upon them. At once he realized why they looked so strange. They were all dead.

Out from one of the larger wigwams limped the chief, Naikute. In one hand he held a blood-soaked hatchet, in the other he held what looked like a heart. Naikute looked proudly at the still beating heart before he limped to the bonfire and held it high above his head. He turned his back to the fire and cackled as blood ran in streams down his arm.

Swift Eagle turned to see what his chief was staring at. High atop the mesa perched a giant, wretched looking bird. It took to the air as the thunder rolled through the valley. It swooped down and landed in front of Naikute who continued his insane laughter. In one swift movement, the bird grabbed the chief with its beak, tossed him into the air, and swallowed him whole.

“Swift Eagle, you are called for.”

Swift Eagle snapped to reality and looked up. A young boy of about 15 years of age stood above him with his arms folded. “Chief Naikute wishes to speak with you,” The young brave said in a stern voice. “You should come at once.”

Swift Eagle rose to his feet as all the eyes in the wigwam fell upon him. The boy handed him a cloak as he put one on himself. Whispers and muffled gasps filled the air as he pulled the leather hood of the cloak over his head. The boy spun around and began marching to the entrance, stepping over people when need be. Swift Eagle followed him to the flap covering the opening and pushed open. Sand rained in as he and the boy departed.

Outside, the storm tore at their clothes as it whipped to and fro. As the wind rose to beat more sand and debris upon them, it sounded as if it were saying something. The sky was choked with dust as the storm pushed through the mesa pass. Swift Eagle listened closely as they walked the short distance to the chief’s wigwam. If only for a moment, he thought he heard it sighing.

The boy stopped short of the wigwam and stepped to the side, motioning Swift Eagle to go in. Swift Eagle pulled back the leather and walked in, the boy not far behind. Inside, it smelled of smoke and death. There were two guards, one on either side of the entrance. They wore trinkets made of metal and clothes made of chain. They stared emotionlessly at Swift Eagle as he passed.

“I have done as you asked, Chief,” the boy said as he stood before the chief, his eyes averted out of respect. Naikute stared past the boy as he finished, his eyes fixed on Swift Eagle. “May the sky give you strength to walk the path you desire.” The boy then turned and left the wigwam to brave the storm yet again.

“That young brave will make an excellent warrior someday.” Naikute looked at a small deer hide in front of him and motioned at Swift Eagle. “Sit, so we may speak.” Swift Eagle did as his chief asked and sat in front of him. He looked around the room as Naikute lit some incense on a small stand nearby. He noticed the stand was made of wood not native to the area. Much of the things around him were foreign, including a gold statue of the foreigner king himself. His stomach turned as he looked up at his chief, whom he barely recognized as the great man he once knew.

Naikute looked sternly at Swift Eagle. “I hear you’ve had some worries, and bad dreams. You’ve been telling the village that the torture given to us by the white man will come again. I asked you here to show you that there is nothing to worry about.” The chief pulled a small box out from underneath a silky, purple cloth. He set it in front of Swift Eagle as he looked up and grinned. “In this box lies the safety of our people, our land, and our pride.”

The scent of an unknown wood filled the air as Swift Eagle opened the box. Inside lay a sword gilded in gold and silver. With both hands, Swift Eagle delicately took the sword from where it lay, and held it in front of him. As he pulled it closer to his face, he saw something he recognized within the reflection of the golden hilt. The iron man he had seen in his dream stared back, his eyes glinting from within his stone mask.

He stared at Naikute, almost in shock. “How will this bring us peace?”

The chief took back the sword and returned it to the box. “With greater strength, we will be able to protect ourselves from our enemies,” he said as he covered the box with the silk cloth and pulled out something else Swift Eagle recognized. In front of him, Naikute held a black handgun. “These are what the white man used to drive us from our land, cause us such pain, and tear our tribe apart. Now that we have them, we are stronger.”

Swift Eagle was horrified. “How can you believe that? These weapons of yours, though they shine like the sun, are drenched in blood. We can’t protect ourselves from the white man by selling our souls to some stranger that claims to wield the power of a god! He will take what little we have left and strip it from us. At least we still had our pride after the white man came. Can you hope to say the same after this?”

Naikute stared coldly at Swift Eagle. “I had hoped you would see that this it for the best. I can’t let you spread lies throughout the village because of a bad dream. You are a good hunter and would make a fine soldier. You will either stand by my side or walk the path of a lone wolf, left alone to feed on scraps.”

Swift Eagle sprung to his feet as the wind outside howled one last time before petering out. “If that is the way it must be.” He turned to leave but was stopped by the guards. Naikute glared at Swift Eagle’s back as the guards blocked the entrance of the wigwam. “Very well, but know this. You are no longer of this tribe and should you ever come back, you will be greeted as an enemy.” Swift Eagle’s heart sunk at the thought of losing everything he had ever known. He stared at the ground as the guards took him by the arm and led him out of the wigwam.

Outside, the sandstorm had all but died. His things were set just outside the door tied in leather. Naikute had already known he couldn’t accept what was happening and would turn down his offer. He looked up to see the village staring at him from their doorways. No one made a sound. He picked up his things and turned toward the mesa pass. As he walked away from his home, the wind picked up, pushing at his back as if it were telling him to leave.

As he allowed it to guide him, sorrow settled into his heart. He walked toward the pass, resisting the urge to look back for just once more glimpse of the place he thought he’d never see again.

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