"Let me get this straight: The ceremonial headdress you need for the ritual broke?" Dian glanced at the irate older woman that was giving him an incredulous look from where she was standing by the main altar. In her hands were the shattered and banged up remnants of the headdress that Dian absolutely hated- a fact she knew very well. He nodded slowly. "Yes. Fell off when I was practicing rites and was destroyed." Annoyance and weariness flickered in her features. "We can't very well have you perform rituals without it."
"No, no- I'm sure the rituals will produce just as good of results without it."
"Nonsense! It's tradition Dian. It comforts the people to see you upholding the traditions of the tribe; in full regalia. I'll send someone to the Jara to negotiate the order and price. When we receive word that they are ready, you will retrieve them. In the meantime you'll prepare the payment."
"What? Me?I'll make the payment, but- I've never had to deliver it before. I'm not an errand boy."
"Probably should have thought about it before dropping your headdress into the path of a rampaging machine."
Dian's face burned as a high pitched giggle picked up behind him. The shaman turned to look at the source; the spirit that had been his companion for years, Neda. "Hush you." he hissed under his breath. The older woman, Vesna, chuckled as well. "The walls have ears Dian. If you speak aloud to your companion someone is bound to hear it- that and you've never liked head coverings. Even when you were young every headdress you were given ended up lost or broken." She smiled fondly before becoming serious again. "Those days are over Dian, the tribe looks to you as a figure head. You have to play your role."
"And if I don't want it?"
"You know what it means. Not many tribes would be happy to take in the cannibal shaman." With that the conversation was over.
Over the course of the next two weeks Dian was forced to go out and forage for the very specific herbs he'd need for the medicines he was making as payment for the machine parts. All for a headdress that he didn't want at all. Despite the lingering resentment he still did his best on the medicines. Far be it for him to sabotage his and his tribe's reputation over a petty thing. He had just finished the last of them when they received word that the parts were ready for pick up and that he needed to head to the rendezvous point. The medicines were packed away carefully with plenty of padding so they didn't break, his bow was double checked to make sure it was in good order, and farewells were made; he was off into the wilds.
His tribe wasn't afraid of the wilds per se, but they had a healthy respect for it. If you were mindful of the dangers that existed, you were likely to escape with your life. And... A little human sacrifice didn't hurt. On occasion they would find members from other tribes venturing into their territory and often they were taken alive if they got too close. After capture they were prepared for a meeting with the shaman; in this age it was Dian. He would take the prisoner and judge their worth by how well they held their fear in. If they cracked immediately they were killed without an elaborate ceremony and the body simply disposed of in the woods to frighten off would be intruders. If they were deemed to have a strong heart Dian would kill them in a special ritual where he would pull their beating heart from their chest and gift it to the warrior that captured the prisoner. The rest of the prisoner's meat was shared out in a special feast. Afterwards the body was left out as well, but in a prominent location.
Needless to say they weren't the most popular tribe. If not for Dian's gift with medicines, the other tribes wouldn't trade with them at all.
It would take him most of the day to reach the rendezvous point on foot. That didn't bother him much. Dian liked to go out into the wilds and stretch his legs and talk to Neda without others listening in. It wasn't often that he had an opportunity to do it as he was usually only allowed to go out further if he needed a specific herb. Archery practice was allowed on the outskirts of the town; he was to be kept safe within the village, but also not so frail that he could not defend himself. So while he resented being sent out on an errand which would result in a stupid costume piece for him, he was also happy to get out of the village.
Dian's trip to the rendezvous was uneventful. Mostly he chatted with Neda. She was his closest friend, as odd as it was. After all she was just a spirit from the past. They were all over the place, but it was very rare that anyone was able to see them. He could, which was why he was chosen to become the new shaman for the tribe. It was intense training for a six year old. Dian took to it fortunately thanks in part to Neda. As it turned out she had been a medic before the collapse of humanity. She didn't know too much about herbal medicine, but she suggested new combinations that ended up becoming some of his most sought after medicine. What she really taught him were treatment techniques that even the former shaman had never heard of. Her techniques saved lives and solidified his place as shaman. In the eyes of the people, he truly was holy if he was being taught divine techniques by a spirit.
The chatter between the two died down as he neared the meeting spot. Other tribes were already afraid of him, no need to cause anymore by talking to something others couldn't see. So he stood in silence, waiting for whomever was supposed to meet him. Now he could be patient, but after the first hour he was getting antsy. Was it supposed to take this long?
"I don't like this." He muttered. "Maybe you should go further in and see if they're close?" Neda peered at the trees. "Or I suppose you can stay here and twirl your thumbs uselessly." Dian sighed and readjusted the strap of the bag he was carrying. "Fine."
He crossed the empty clearing towards where the Jara messenger would likely come from. The woods this way were silent. "...This feels off." he whispered. "...I'll scout ahead." Neda drifted away and looked around silently. As she did, Dian brought out his bow and prepared to draw it. For a tense minute nothing happened. And then Neda was gesturing for him to follow. They continued this until they reached another area where trees were sparse. Here it seemed something was happening. The first thing he noticed were the prowlers. More than one together? That was weird wasn't it? The next thing he noticed was a man running around, seemingly playing with the prowlers. The stranger was winking in and out of existence. Odd. It did look fun, whatever he was doing. Dian rocked back on his heels and watched as the stranger managed to dispatch the two prowlers then took off running. "Looks like he's having fun."
Neda simply stared at him for a good moment with an expression that suggested that she was in disbelief. "Dian, he's running for his life, look!" She pointed as two more prowlers jumped out of the brush and followed the path that the man had taken. "Oh. Oh shit. C'mon!" as he spoke he took off running after the procession, nocking an arrow as he went. What had they told him about hunting the prowlers? Dammit why was his brain going blank now? The herd machines were the only thing he'd ever brought down before and never in a situation like this. "What do I shoot?? Neda help me out here!"
"Shoot the chest. There's a canister there that'll blow up."
That sounded familiar. The only issue would be that he'd need them to turn around. "Fuck." He didn't have to do this, he could just let the man die- but oh there he went shooting the one in the rear. God machines were big. "Dian shoot!!" His hands didn't feel like his own as he nocked another arrow and pulled back. All the while the machine grew closer. The arrow was loosed and pierced the first canister. The ensuing explosion was enough to send him stumbling back. It also caught the attention of the other prowler.
Dian cussed under his breath as he struggled to get another arrow nocked. "Dian!" It was right on top of him. At the last second he loosed the arrow and dove out of the way. There was an ominous sound of pottery knocking together, but at this point that wasn't the important thing anymore. "Miss- Get going!" Neda was getting his attention again. Right, he had to put some distance between them. He was lucky that the prowler had thrown itself into its lunge since it took some time to correct itself. Still, he didn't get very far. There wasn't much time for him to aim, so all he could hope was that his hastily fired arrows hit their mark. By some kind of grace his third arrow caught the canister just in time. The machine jerked and groaned as its chest expanded before exploding. Dian dove out of the way and covered his head as stray shrapnel sprayed the area.
He stayed put until Neda called to him. Slowly he pulled himself up into a kneeling position and looked around. Well... that just happened. He got up with a groan and shouldered his bow again. Time to see how the other party in this debacle was faring. "...I'm going to guess you're the one I was supposed to meet."
“Nazid, we’re sending you out on a supply trade today.” Their camp was nothing special, just a camp built up from an old bandit camp that had been abandoned, up on a natural ridge of a canyon. They called it Bow Ditch. Too many machines in the area spelled bad news and when the place had been found, so had many bodies. Ripped apart. His tribe handled it well, the machines, the location, the move.
“Take a goliath shit, that’s not my job. Where’s Alina? Why can’t she do it like she always does?” They traded in machine parts that were so carefully preserved a lot of tribes sought them out. Nazid trapped the machines, alive, and brought them back to camp where they could perform a ritual. They believed that by performing this ritual, they would recieve prosperity for each sacrifice. They must have plenty of prosperity stored up, but it didn’t seem like it. Nazid felt that the rituals were what kept him alive every time he went out to trap.
“I don’t want to hear that type of language coming from you of all people. Alina has other jobs she has to tend to, like you should be doing, too.” It was the camp’s leader, Akide, older than all of them by at least 20 years but nobody really knew. The old man kept order through fear or by bringing up old wounds. It had never worked on Nazid, an outcasted child who had been given a second chance through this tribe. The rules of the tribe didn’t quite adhere to him, but he followed most of them. This was one he didn’t usually follow, but he liked Alina.
As a friend, only a friend. She had gotten him out of more responsibilites than he could count on two hands.
“Alright, you’re right. Who am I meeting and where? Do they want parts or the whole thing?” Nazid asked, stretching into a sitting position. Tribes usually didn’t want the whole machine alive, there was always something specific they needed. But it was something to be asked. “Parts, I’ve already got them packed for you, you just have to do the hard work. You’re meeting a man from the Aseri down in the forest. Neutral territory.” Nazid hummed his acknowledgement. Neutral territory for humans, sure, but the machines there were brutal. And it always felt like it was raining. He had never met someone from the Aseri, so had no judge of character either.
Still, he didn’t complain as he hefted the sack over his shoulders and placed his armor over that. It was a precaution so that the cargo wasn’t so easily stolen from the straps. He started towards the entrance of the camp before Akide put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t overdo it, Nazid.”
As if he cared.
He arrived down in the forest at dusk, taking longer than he would have liked but there was no easy way down from the cliffs unless you counted falling to your death as one. With his power he could have appeared right at the meeting spot in seconds, but he didn’t want to bear those consequences when he was meeting with a tribe he didn’t know. He hefted the bag a bit higher before continuing into the forest, slowly.
He could hear the machines stalking around. There were only a few that employed stealth, so everything he heard were probably grazing or patrolling. He had to be careful so he didn’t run into any. The meeting point wasn’t far, and Nazid started wondering what kind of person he was to be meeting with. Several thoughts cut short as the hairs on his skin stood on end and his body fell into the branches of a tree. A hair more and he would have been crushed by a Prowler. They didn’t have a set territory, and wandered in search of food. He must have looked an easy target. The machine spun around in place, clearly peeved that it had missed its target.
Nazid could stay in the tree, knowing he’d have to be a little further away to be in its range of sight…..OR, better idea, he could move back to the ground when another Prowler crashed full force into the tree. He landed off balance, since he had forced his power to send him while he was off balance. Now he was in both of their sights. It was so rare to see two Prowlers…on the prowl together that Nazid was a little taken aback, but it didn’t change that he was now rapid firing arrows, switching places so to not be crushed under immense weight or slashed by sharp metal. But at this rate he ran the risk of, as Akide had said, overdoing it.
Unfortunately, it seemed it was a risk he’d have to take. He spent the next several minutes timing shots - some of them didn’t seem like his own - and dodging for his life. Eventually the machines were all down, but he heard more still nearby. He decided now was the time to leave, if the nosebleed was any indicator. He ran to the meetup point, spots in his vision, hands on his knees, sack feeling heavier than it had before. But still he kept himself awake. He needed to keep his cool, so he wiped the blood away and worked on catching his breath.