• Nitojec

Midnight Steppe

The bonfire spewed sparks into the night sky. They swirled, dancing amongst ancestor stars like the great cloven hoofed Preal on the midnight steppe. Drumbeat pounded deep into the soil and footstep ground grass to mush, mush to mud, and mud to bog.

Hail sizzled on the coals just as the meat sizzled over the flame. A great carcass, with the firemaster’s serrated knife protruding from its flank. Long shadows danced around the fire to be seen for miles over the swaying grass and gloomy weather; the figures strong, the very greatest of the clan. Adjourned in carved bone and long feathers, they danced around the fire with their voices raised against the weather.

Notes harmonized, and far away fearful animals cowered in their burrows. The greatest clan of all was on the march, and nothing could stop them. No warrior. No ancestor. Not the mother mountains.

The greatest ancestor of all smiled on them. His face was battle scarred, pitted and slashed from the mightiest battle ever fought. His blood lit the hail and cloudless skies a pale silver, just enough to see the distant mountains. Snow capped their peaks, gleaming in the silver bloodlight.

The firemaster howled into the night and his clan responded. From across the midnight steppe howls from other bonfires echoed. Warriors surrounded each distant fire. All of them the greatest clan, all of them united for one reason; all of them singing for the fire and smoke and bloodshed of yesterday and tomorrow.

The clan rode the warpath. They lived for it, fought for it, and died in glory. Conflict created their ancestors and conflict was their purpose. Without it, the greatest clan had no reason to ride the midnight steppe--no reason to mount their beasts and sharpen their blades. Without the warpath the clan was nothing but a disgrace to the name Ba’ala’ie.

Scars crisscrossed the firemaster’s flesh. Some fresh, others years old. Muscle rippled along the scalled limbs, powerful enough to wrestle a Preal to exhaustion. His furred long cap protected him from the hail; a lesser clan would have cowered from nature’s wrath, but the greatest clan celebrated the wrath, surviving their enemy’s ancestors gladly. Clan Ba’ala’ie rode their victory across mother mountaintop and the midnight steppe.


At dawnbreak they’d mount their beasts and ride again, brandish their gleaming blades high, and prove their superiority to all. The firemaster raised his voice one last time to the bloodlight in challenge.


None came.


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Science Fiction and the pursuit of escapism, 2020.