The call came and the raiding party began their careful journey through the deep woods. Ireblade land to the south came upon them quicker than Eris expected, and then they had to become even more stealthy; all of them just shapes flitting between the green places, looking out for scouts in the night. The first of them that they came across was a distant lone figure, hunched down behind a fallen oak tree, listening to the sounds of the woods. Either the Ireblade were dangerously confident that they faced no threat from the weakened and dying Attavine, or they were simply foolish. Sending out a scout on his own could have meant either, Eris thought to herself.
Finishing him silently with an Atta stained arrow Redril then led them onwards, ignoring the death throes of the man as dull green bruises flared and spread across his face, his lips greening even more until nearly a black colour. The rest of the Attavine watched the effect of the Atta in the Ireblade scout and nodded. Although they were more used to the hoarse and struggling breath of the victims of their normal greening, the new one left also a very clear sign that someone had caused the sudden death. Soon others would know the Atta sign.
They followed the path that Redril forged through the dense woodlands, sometimes passing behind him in a column, sometimes spreading out silently to investigate curious sounds in the night dark woods. Eris was pleased that she could keep pace with the others, even with her wyrd foot, and even more pleased that the feet of her friends kept silent pace with the Attavine as well. Even Nem, larger, more solid on his feet, moved quickly with his sword and shield carried on his back for now as he concentrated on their speedy path. Perhaps their silence explained why they were almost upon the Attavine base camp before they spied scouts again. Or was it that dangerous confidence again that had led them to post so few eyes about their people?
Four were taken down just within shouting distance of the camp. Each of them was far spread out from the others, and each of them was dispatched before their tongues could yell out the danger. Again, the Atta bloomed green and deadly beneath their skin on their shocked faces, casting them into death quickly. Eris watched Jayk drop his bow, saw the victory on his face as his target’s body surrendered to the embrace of the woods, falling to the ground. Orrin clapped gently him on the shoulder, sharing a silent smile with the lad, before the two rejoined the rest of the party as they drew together to look further onwards, into the camp.
A few Ireblade were about, walking or crouching as they discussed this or that with some enthusiasm. Eris saw men and women with bows and quivers on their backs; their leathers well-kept and scored with Ireblade marks. They seemed prepared, but not ready. Too few of their eyes looked to the treeline about the clearing. None seemed dedicated to the task; they must have assumed the Attavine had fallen entirely.
Redril drew the raiders in closer. With Eris, her eight companions, and the Attavine, there were nearly twenty of them in total. A full camp of Ireblade could bring up to fifty or more adults as well as children who trained with their bows from as soon as they could draw a miniature one. They were outnumbered, but they certainly had the drop on the Ireblade if they took it.
“Our way, the woods-voln way, is not like the button man way.” Redril began to whisper, looking at Eris’ friends in particular. “And I don’t know of the mountain-voln way of war. But here we kill until surrender. No greening ever wipes out another. If they ask for peace, it will be given. But they will know who has attacked them, who has sort revenge and then taken it. They will see our greening and they will know.” He paused and corrected himself. “They will see the Atta and we shall tell those who remain, that the Atta means our revenge has been taken. That the green-bruise is our sign now too.”
The Attavine nodded and Eris saw her friends taken up in the moment. There was anger in their eyes; memories of the bodies they’d help commit to the woods after the Ireblade had brought the pox to the Attavine. Small bodies some of them. She looked to Jayk’s eyes and saw a rage burning in him. He’d lost his mother and his sister to the retch-fever by terrible, horrible, chance. And the Ireblade had made a horrible disease like that happen for these people. She drew his attention, and whispered to him. “Remember the woods-voln way. We accept surrender.”
He nodded dismissively, but before she could emphasis it again, the raid was on the move, spreading out around the northern quarter of the camp and picking out targets. The first flurry that they let loose took down a number of Ireblade. But this time one or two were only caught by the stinging arrows in a leg or an arm, and so they had moments before the poison took them. Just long enough for screams.
Other Ireblade came from within the tents and within heartbeats a rain of arrows flew back in the other direction. Nem’s hide shield caught a few as they whistled through the trees towards them, and she was, begrudgingly, glad he’d flung it up and over her and those nearest. More clattered and shattered against the trees and fell broken to lie with fallen leaves. But some in the raid were not as lucky. An Attavine woman took an arrow in the thigh and screamed as the Ireblade poison made her skin so papery thin that tears ripped open on her exposed flesh every time she moved, even a little. Inside her the greening did the same to her delicate organs and she died coughing on blood, still breaking open the skin on her face as the coughs wracked her body. Another went down in the time Eris took in staring at her death, and she crawled to where that Attavine man was thrashing, great streams of blood coming from cuts opening on his face.
He was dead before she could even get her hands on him.
Pierson grabbed her roughly and pulled her with him to the shelter some were taking behind an old and wide tree. “Healing will only keep you out in the open! And they die too quickly” He shouted over the screams of the poisoned. “Fire back and take them out!”
She nodded and drew her bow, darting from the cover to pick a target and deliver her arrow into his chest, along with three others that thudded loudly into him at the same time. She realised, quickly returning to safety behind the tree, that there were actually very few targets. Were there still Ireblade inside their tents?
She flung her bow over her shoulder and dropped to her hands and knees to crawl forwards to where Redril lay on his below close to the edge of the camp. “Where are they?” she asked him.
The Attavine leader looked equally confused. Arrows were still flying out of the Attavine camp, but far fewer than they’d prepared for. Around them their party was sneaking closer, taking shots when they could, but taking up positions all about the camp with little resistance.
“They’re fighting back, but I’d expected far worse than this!” He agreed with her. Together they crawled to a nearby Elim tree and prepared new arrows with their backs to it before turning to scan for targets. Eris’ arrow took down an Ireblade crouched by rotund wooden water barrel. But Redril’s next shot missed his target. The Ireblade he’d tried for caught sight of him and darted to a place behind a tent, taking a knee and rapidly sent an arrow back his way.
The sharp of it skimmed the Attavine leader’s cheek and splashed a bright line of blood across his leathers at his shoulder. Eris grabbed at him as the poison immediately began its evil work, struggling to keep him upright as he sagged to his knees, then finally letting him fall so she could bring both her hands to his already tearing face to try to heal him.
“Sutith!” She cried, pushing the life back into him.
But for every tear that she could bring back together another two or three would open. Blood bubbled from between his lips and he looked at her with terrified eyes as his life left him. Then he was gone, fear still on his torn face. “No!” she gasped, falling backwards, sobbing as she covered her eyes with her blood covered hands. “No!”
Nem was suddenly there, gathering her up under his shield as he quickly looked her over, checking for signs of poisoning.
“It’s not me. It’s not me!” she cried, her useless tears running through Redril’s blood that still marked her cheeks. He nodded and looked towards the Ireblade camp. The sounds of arrows being released still came, but the responses had quietened, slowed. The occasional target was still being found by the Attavine and her friends but the Ireblade were not fighting back as they had.
“Nem. Now I need you. I need your voice. Tell them all it’s over.” She said wearily and Nemnir nodded. He stood, drawing his hide shield up in front of him and walked towards the camp.
“Lay down your bows!” The mountain-voln bellowed, the sound reverberating around the clearing and sending birds to flight from the tree tops that had not been bothered by the sounds of war and death before. Silence reigned after the last echo flew away as well.
The rest of their party emerged from their vantage points, walking in towards the camp from all sides, bows taut with arrows ready. Nem carried on forward with his sword ready.
Someone began to cry. A child.
“Search the tents. Bring the living out… and be gentle.” Eris called out to all of them. Pierson was one of the first to carefully lift the flap of a tent, his bow put away as he readied a dagger in the other hand to the one holding the leather up. He backed away quickly.
She ran over, Nem coming with her as guardian. Peering in she could see he was right. The Ireblade inside were either young or old, the weakest who’d succumbed first. They still lived, but the pox was a dark horror on all their faces as they looked weakly up at her in the moonlight. As she stood there a few bedraggled and weak Ireblade emerged from a larger tent and walked slowly towards them, pain written on their faces along with the pox. Eris moved to meet with them, Pierson and Nem both forming a serious and formidable guard behind her.
“Who are you?” An old woman spoke, her face hard to look at, the pox claiming every part. She was leaning heavily on a walking stick, her clothes hanging loosely from her emaciated body.
Orrin stepped forward before Eris could reply.
“She is Eris Atta-Sutith, the new god. Healer, Bearer of the Atta, and-”
Eris glared at him, silencing him for a moment, but still the words seemed to have an effect on the woman. “A Sutith?!” she gasped. “Save us. Please! Save us!”
“You’ve met a Sutith before?” Eris asked.
“Yes. Years back. A birthing woman and her daughter.”
“My mother and my mother’s mother?”
The woman nodded and seemed to slump even more against her crutch. “Please Sutith. Help us.”
“Tell me what happened here first. After you spread the pox to the Attavine, that is.”
The woman paled underneath the black marks on her face. “You know. Of course you know. It was my son’s idea. He was our leader after I passed on the mantle to him when my age came too hard a burden. I should never have… but he was my blood. Sometimes we do not see the flaws in those we love. He was proud, arrogant. Envious. He wanted more and more all the time. Our lands are good. We have the king’s road to the south. We have good hunting. We had not fought with the nearby greenings for many years. We had peace. But it was never enough. And then the button men came with hollow, wretched, promises.” She paused, breathing hard, tears in her eyes. “They promised us a land of our own, forever.”
Eris was confused. “But all the greenings have lands.”
“But the boundaries shift. Some seasons one family grows. Other seasons another. He was promised a land forever, with walls of stone to keep out all the others. An immense territory, from Bara to Tralis, and northwards to almost touch the mountain-voln lands.”
“Stone walls?! He was promised a gods damned prison!” Snapped one of the Attavine who was listening.
“Woods-voln don’t want walls!” another shouted in agreement.
“He was sick. Inside. In his head. Like he wasn’t woods-voln anymore.” She paused, coughing. “He wanted too much. And I loved him too much to see it until it doomed us all.”
“Where is he now?” Asked Eris.
“Gone. The sewer-pox came for us too. Him and the few who carried the body through the woods got it first. The bastard gods got their revenge. Or maybe they have only now, since the last of us with any strength in their arms just fell to your bows.” She struggled with her crutch, but somehow managed to spread her arms out in a gesture of surrender.
Eris looked sternly at the woman, taking in the few who still stood with her. Old, young, frail, defeated. She felt the weight of her companions’ expectations upon her; they were all waiting upon her to make a decision. So she made it.
“I will heal you, but the Ireblade greening is dead.”
The old woman and her companions looked confused.
“Woods-voln do not kill their enemies to the last one. They do not wipe out other greenings. But this time I will.” Fearful gasps from the Ireblade and the Attavine, but she continued. “Your name is ended. There will never be another Ireblade. ‘Ireblade’ will be a word meaning those who make deals with Lios against their own people. It will now be a cursed name, and a shame upon anyone called it.”
She thought she heard Orrin say the word ‘doctrine’ to whoever was nearby but ignored her first priest.
“We will no longer have a name at all?” The woman asked, confused and weak.
“The few of you who are left will join the Attavine. You will now strengthen them after trying to kill them. But no one shall call you Ireblade again, and your greening will no longer be made.”
Some amongst the diseased went to speak, but they silenced themselves, nodding heads that were still hung low with sickness. Eris took a deep breath and hoped she’d done the right thing. But before she had a chance to even think further, the Attavine who’d spoken up before about the Ireblade seeking to make a prison for themselves stepped forward. “Redril is dead, Eris Atta-Sutith. And his daughters are too young to lead, they are not yet six and seven.”
Eris nodded. They wanted another decision. So she made it.
“Redril, and the rest of the Attavine here took the Atta that I made him. Therefore, like my companions, they are under my protection now. Until Redril’s daughters are of age to lead. Until then you are all a part of my greening. And I will heal you all.”
She looked about and spied a water barrel. A few arrows had caught into its wood, but even if the greening had leeched into it she knew that what she was going to do would purify that too. She went to the old woman and took a hold of her painfully poxed, almost skeletal, hand to lead her carefully to the barrel. Then she took the lid off of it, and, still holding hands with the old woman, plunged them to the elbow into the water.
“Sutith” Eris said concentrating her healing power into the water as the old woman gasped in pain at the cold on her diseased skin. And then she started to cry, her old body wracked by sobs as their arms re-emerged from the water; hers now as clear of marks as Eris’s already was.
“Thank you! Thank you!” The pox was fading on the rest of her skin as the Sutith in the water flowed through her. “Thank you, Eris Atta-Sutith!” She cried out.
Eris smiled, breathing deeply as a deep fatigue caught up her. Wearily, she looked about to see the remaining Ireblade, the Attavine, and her friends watching her; all standing about the two women at the barrel, standing in a loose circle. Pierson and Nem who had stood behind her as guardians were watching her with the woman, something like pride in their eyes. Orrin, Jayk, Rog, Scal, Sarai, Callia… they were all watching her with the same pride and love.
“What is your name?” Eris asked the woman as she released her hand. Other of the former Ireblade were cautiously coming closer, hoping to be healed as well, and Eris was distracted by their needs. So she didn’t hear the woman’s response straight away. And the woman said it again, much louder, and all in the circle about them could hear her.
“I am Gravain Atta. Now I am Gravain Atta!”
Around her the other sick Ireblade took up her example, shouting out their new names; claiming the Atta greening for their own. Choosing to follow Eris.
Panic hit her heart for a moment, and then she thought on why she had ended up here at all. Because of a boy calling himself Gyreblack who’d followed orders from a Lios-loving button man. Because she’d lost everything at that god-king’s command. Because she’d found others who’d suffered at his hands. And finally, she was here now, because, somewhere far to the south in the centre of the world, Liosinium, that same evil god had one day decided to try to kill even more woods-voln, this time with a horrific pox. Perhaps, she thought darkly, it was well past time for the woods-voln to decide to try to kill a god instead.
She smiled at her newly named Atta, knowing exactly where she wanted to lead them, if they wanted to follow her.