Darkling Delarosa’s The Republic of Weird Dogs

Note: This story is split into 6 pages. Page navigation is located below the author box.

The Purple Muds swayed like an ocean of obsidian honey. A phantom reflection mirrored my footsteps, pushing up as I pushed down. The subterranean passenger moved at it’s own pace, allowing no rest, taking steps at weird angles. Haste, hesitation, or daydreaming could lead to an easy end, and the fallen slept beneath the surface, frozen in place as they had drowned. Mud-swimming fiends would feed on the bodies of the careless or unlucky, and starving creatures would reach up to snatch the unaware.

I was interrupted from my walking slumber by my companion, the elder of the Lorei-Kab nomads. He sat cross-legged atop a saddled throne carried aloft by a mud-buffalo, surrounded by servants. Some sat while others clung to ropes hanging from the throne. His followers trailed behind leading their own pack-beasts stacked high with bags and ornate boxes, carefully balanced and held in place by thick, colored ropes. Bells adorned everything and shook with each step.

The nomads wore colorful, layered garments with strips of fabric hanging off each limb, easily grabbed were anybody to slip. They obsessed over their shoes, decorating them with patterns and small bells. Many carried several pairs on their person, hanging from belts, sharing them as shows of gratitude; cobblers were afforded thrones of their own, though none as lavish as the elders. Few carried weapons. Less than a dozen wielded overly long spears, no doubt used to jab at creatures underfoot or fish for drowning stragglers.

They sang in an unfamiliar language, and even those that slept were humming.

“You would not accept shoes, you would not accept a seat by my side,” the elder spoke. “Surely you must eat?” He had a kind face. Bells hung from his ears and through the gaps in his clothing, I could see scars, maybe decades old.

One of the servants suspended himself by rope, walking sidewards along the buffalo. He reached out with a folded cloth concealing breads and dried meat.

“You were curious about the singing, yes?” asked the elder. “For generations, we have sung to find our way.”

The choir swelled behind me and he lifted both hands into the air. Above us, a wispy line traced over the sky, extending to the horizon like slow, perpetual lightning. It throbbed with each beat, every ring of the bell casting sparks that escaped into the clouds.

“Our singing reveals the song-line. It guides us from one destination to the next and has never lead us astray. No, I do not know the origin of this tradition, nor do I fathom what forces we meddle with. Yet, with tradition comes trust. We trust in the song-line, and it trusts that we preserve it. Do not assume I have not noticed your expressions of skepticism. Yes, I do believe it is living. It pulses and moves in the fashion of a breathing creature. Any leader would be a fool to abandon such a resource. Don’t you agree, young one?”

I smiled and kept my objections to myself.

“Ah, sorry,” he laughed. “I forget your situation. I cannot call you young one, nor could you be considered old. I suppose I could simply call you by your name, Ehto. An unusual name, it is. Tell me more of your peoples. Humor an old man.”

I shared with him stories of the Drowning Marches and Red Muds. How I, along with my Samehki brothers and sisters, lead wars against the Vora monarchs armed with weapons forged from fallen stars. When I did not fledge, I was cast out to find my own way, bearing no ill will towards my family. I was to find the source of my misfortune and correct it, only then could I return.

The Vora had once ruled over mankind, but because of those like me were now a dwindling, miserable race. The Samehki monks, among others, trained from birth to combat them. In my travels, I discovered that people far from the marches lacked fear in them.

“A man in a boy’s body,” he said. “I would see your story preserved in poetry.”