Pathways (Erzulie In’ama WoW)
(OOC Note: Another story written by Mo’sul and I regarding Zultepe Mo’ana and Erzulie In’ama. It is resposted with permission.)
That was the trouble with honour. It got in the way.
It rather seemed to Zultepe that he had the upper hand over his cousin for once.
But this wasn’t just a question of upper hands.
He followed the female troll, keeping his word – remaining some distance behind temptation. She picked her way through the dim-lit trees of Duskwood, alert. Pausing once, she turned to look back. He stepped into a little patch of light where she could see him. There was a brief nod of acknowledgement and they continued.
What was it? A misguided sense of pride? Of ego?
Some small part of him was concerned for her wellbeing just in case Mo’sul was shadowing her trail. He’d had his suspicions about that earlier, but there was no indication of the other’s presence right now.
His cousin may have been blessed with the strength and physical prowess of a born fighter, but Zultepe’s observational skills were second to none. His bow lay across his back, ready strung – just in case.
The parchment was burning a hole in his pouch. Muddied and crumpled – not by his hand – he had found it not far from Erzulie’s hut in the hills. Her name was written haphazardly on the paper, again, and again, as if the writer was unable to think beyond that point. He didn’t know what Mo’sul’s handwriting looked like, but it seemed near carved into the paper – a heavy hand. He would give it to her later. When it was safer in her presence.
The Chief High Gulluluk had been getting more and more agitated of late, frothing in his mudpool about the recent wallowings of the ground as a “sign”. Mrrgullulu grumbled under his breath, prising a splinter of goldthorn from his webbed foot.
Sign that someone had caught too much heat from the sun as a tiddler, he thought, flicking the splinter away.
But the Oracles had increased their concentration on the sacred ripples, errant crackling of electricity making everyone’s spines stand on end almost all hours of the day. There was too much concentration going on. Not enough action. He’d checked the pointiness of his teeth, and picked the sharpest of his spears that morning.
He mentally added “eradication of low and pointy plants” to his personal list of things that were out of place in a murloc paradise. The root of the offending plant was swiftly despatched.
A red plumed vulture hopped from branch to branch above, and the Hunter cursed under his breath. What had possessed him to tame this one..? Xocolotyl’s temperament was as wilful as ever. Small pine-needles rained down over Zultepe’s head.
He distracted himself from thoughts about Erzulie, by concentrating on the notion of finding a cub in a month or so. One that perhaps carried the spirit of Apembe in its eyes. The sound of skittering rock came to him, his bow was in hand in moments. Two worgen, crossing to a base in the hills above. He marked Erzulie’s position – she was well clear and they had not noticed her.
A warm gust of air, laden with moisture, marked the approaching border of Stranglethorn. The old country. How many years ago had it been? He lengthened his stride.
Erzulie walked along the well-trodden path. Her hand traced over the lines of ancient carved stone of the bridgeposts that strung the path together over clefts in the earth. A crocolisk snapped below at something unseen, but she did not jump. This was familiar ground. She had debated cutting through the forest, but this was troll country. And in her state –
Yes. Better to remain where she could see who was coming, rather than risk stumbling upon a male on patrol.
Insects – the tiny and not-so-tiny – chirupped, clicked, whined and whirred in the forest around her. An iridescent beetle of bright green landed on the back of her hand, and she smiled. “Hello, little Sister,” she addressed it softly in Zandali. The beetle shifted, wing cases twitching open. A moment later, it whirred off down the path ahead, a living emerald on the wing.
Zultepe tracked her progress, remaining off the side of the roadway. He paused to allow a stripling young tiger to cross the road, its tread wary, eyes and ears alert. He remembered Apembe. Stranglethorn – a Troll’s land still. Tigers and raptors. It was good to see them thriving. A flash of crimson above – Xocolotyl was well distracted by the plentiful insect life. He marked Erzulie’s sway as she walked. Distraction. Hm.
Erzulie’s thoughts were with the Mo’ana boys. No, not boys – not anymore. She thought of the dream fragment. Wondered if the cave with the carving was real. Nearby? Perhaps Zultepe knew. Where was Mo’sul? Had he received her letter of concern? The kitten had stayed with her until the night after Apembe’s burial, then disappeared without a trace. She’d had a moment’s anxiety about that, but Ratbag was probably fine.
Zultepe Mo’ana though… How unexpected. The memory of his recent encounter with her tuskling, Damballa, made her smile again. Capable hands, level head. He had quiet reserves – but his eyes smouldered at her. Living eyes. A body with breath, a heartbeat. And other signs. Her heart was pained by the comparisons that danced in her mind. She paused in the middle of the suspension bridge, a cool gust of air providing welcome relief to her state. The Bloodscalps were active in the north – her heightened senses picked up traces of their sweat, dust and tiger on the breeze. She would take care in her approach to the water’s edge. A necessity, to reach the temple at Yojimba.
She appreciated why Zultepe kept his distance at this moment. A sense of honour – a determination not to mirror an incident of the past. All the same, when it came to the will of the Loas, she knew only too well how they interpreted the requests of mere trolls. It sseemed lately, that for each moment in her life, the Loas had determined there should be an equal and opposite reflection. A balance of things. She knew there were also Loa who delighted in upsetting such things.
She thought of Shango, but did not speak his name aloud.
Trolls saw the trees. Loas saw the whole forest and beyond.
When she paused, so did Zultepe. He observed how she balanced perfectly with the sway of the bridge. The line of her dress. Her eyes were closed. She absently tucked a strand of purple hair behind her ear. A sudden wave of intense deja-vu set his fur on edge. But this was daylight, it was Erzulie on the bridge. And she was alone. He realised he was gripping the hilt of his hunting knife even so. Some small part of him expected to see the silhouette of a large mohawked troll appear at the other end of the bridge.
Erzulie took a deep breath and walked on, breaking his trance. She disappeared around a bend. Zultepe rose swiftly and followed, shaking his head free of the unwelcome memory.
All day long Mrrgullulu had walked, marking endless tracks around the border of the clan territory. There were no encroachers, no recent invaders, not even the spoor of a tiger. There hadn’t been any intrusions for some time – and if there were no encroachers, why did they not expand their holdings? He’d started a wider circuit, in defiance of the precepts of the leadership.
Gurgling up a spit of disgust at the thought, he was about to let it fly when a flash of violet flicked through the bush beyond. He calculated the path, and crept nearer – mindful of small sticks that might snap. His eardrums picked up the low murmur of gurfullullugum trollspeak as the flicker of violet bobbed nearer.
A cruel grin stretched across his froggy face.
Erzulie smiled at her childish self. She was playing an old tuskling game, to lighten her mood. Stepping only on dappled spots of light in this shadowed part of the path, she chanted the skipping rhyme under her breath, stepping lightly for her fourty years.
Is my doudou near or far?
Bring him safetly back to me!
Shadra Shadra spiderlegs
How many paces will it take –
One, two, three, four…
She smiled as she counted.
The combination of gurgle and scream spurred Zultepe. Erzulie dropped out of sight – literally. A flick of spine, a raised spear bobbing in the undergrowth, sent the hunter sprinting forward, cursing the winding nature of the path. Two steps took him up a rock, the charging murloc in clear view. Bowstring taut to his ear, he sighted the murloc’s trajectory and let fly. He kept running.
Erzulie didn’t even register the zwip and subsequent thud.
A miniscule spider scuttled from the hem of her dress, around the lifeless body of the murloc, into the grass.
The sound of feet skidded to a halt.
He found her curled up in a fetal position, rocking on the ground. Her eyes were clenched tight and she was muttering to herself “Dey alwahs come back!” over and over.
He picked Erzulie up, in her near-catatonic state. This little-marked offshoot of a path – he recalled it – took one down to the water’s edge. The comfortable weight of her body in his arms… His jaw gritted uncharacteristically. He carried her in stoic silence, ignoring all the other thoughts that clamoured for his attention.
Take her to Yojimba.
She blinked, a croak escaping her throat.
Her gaze sought his. He tried not to look. A pumpkin seed was snarled deep in the plait of her hair – it caught his attention instead. He didn’t even know when he stopped walking.
The little bit of orange clashing with the violet. His fingers pushed through the dishevelled hair, loosening the plait. The seed was discarded.
She smelt of seakelp and mageroyal. And that other something. His pack fell with a thud into the long grass. Bow and hunting knives followed unceremoniously.
Her hands reached up to cup his face as he lowered her to the long grass as well…
In the branch of a tree not too distant, the translucent figure of an ancient troll turned his gaze away with a chuckle. A step, and the old man glided down. A pair of amber eyes followed his path. He nodded respectfully to the Primal, in passing. The tiger, after a moment, nodded back.
The Witch Doctor lay in the sands of the Echo Isles. She held her head in her hand, propped up by her elbow. The Durotar sky was just turning to a faint orange signifying that soon, she would need to consider collecting her items and her tusklings to make dinner. Her violet eyes fluttered closed as her body felt the swing in currents, the tide beginning to come in with adventurous waves that rolled in nearer the two adolescent tusklings playing in the sand.
The two boys looked to be three years old, their frames lanky and chubby. They ran after each other, still toddling a bit in the struggle to learn their bodies. Erzulie cackled quietly, remaining thankful that she was well out of the way of the sand that they were kicking up. Their white hair flopping around with their ears; violet eyes stealing backwards glances to reassess the situation and gain an advantage over the other. Their happy banter lulling their mother into a sense of serenity; she rolled onto her back and into the embrace of what naturally felt like her mate. His three fingers trailed idly over the patterns of sub-dermal piercings that covered her stomach and leaned down, nuzzling his tusks against her cheek as he held her close.
Erzulie woke with a start.
Three fingers trailed over the sub-dermal piercings that covered her stomach in an array of tribal patterns. Tusks nuzzled against her cheek. No longer did she feel the heat that had made her cranky and disgruntled. All that remained was serenity.
She turned her head against the tusks and smiled as she looked over Zultepe Mo’ana.
A walk that normally only took her a day had turned into three. Their progress halted by a single act. He had saved her from her fear. In the deepest throes of her heat, he touched her.
“…That other Mo’ana.” Had her father meant Mo’sul… her mind began to wander but she quickly roped it in. They had been like tusklings revelling in the shared experience of a first heat. Neither able to keep their hands from other for long. What had begun as a walk to control her heat became a tour in bonding; every step drawing them closer together. They shared stores over breaks to rest or eat. Stories of the past; their memories of Stranglethorn and Darkspear Isle. He spoke to her of his Uncle and how he would take Zultepe to the arena. Of finding Apembe. She told him of her vision quest, her adventures with Zar’huda to steal pineapples from the Bloodscalps.
The eyes of the Witch Doctor went wide.
He had marked her when they reached the Isles. With all that was happening, with what had happened, it was both natural and right. Twenty years of wandering ended with one touch. A pumpkin seed.
The deal with Shirvallah for Zar’jun’s spirit.
She considered running. Shifting into her wolf form and running. She could be wrong. It was just a dream…
She was a Witch Doctor. Dreams were rarely flights of fancy and she had no reason to run.
She turned towards Zultepe and curled up against him to hold him closely as she found her way to sleep again; lulled by his warmth.