Oltim Forest, Asamai
The call of the Cursed Ones rang out of the Gumoto’s dark and forbidding depths, and echoed throughout the vast clearing.
Near the rim of the crater, a hundred Ursidaeans warriors stood at attention. The bears looked defiantly down their muzzles into the abyss, knowing the honour they were bringing their families. Each wore a loincloth held in place by a length of vine, with a loop at each hip holding their cudgels. Their chest fur rippled as the winds ran around the clearing, seeking an escape through the tall trees.
“You know what awaits.”
The warriors’ eyes returned to the one standing in front of them. The bear stood a foot taller than any of them, yet walked with his back straight and his shoulders pulled back. His robe fit snugly to his well-muscled torso, loosening as it fell towards his feet. The cuffs and the front of the garment held five circles, each representing time served inside Gumoto itself. No other, past or present, had reached such a level of honour.
He spoke again, his voice a deep growl that one felt in the core of their being.
“For generation upon generation, our race has protected these forests from the corruption that dwells inside Gumoto. The fight we wage against it is as timeless as the war of the desert cats. The clearing we stand in now is where the darkness once escaped its confines. The most sacred of our trees were destroyed as it crept outward, and the forest peoples corrupted. Our ancestors fought valiantly to return the curse to its prison.”
His eyes glowed with passion as he recited the legends that had been passed down to him by his father. The curl of his upper lip reflected his hatred for those below, his teeth and fangs showing prominently.
“Many of you will not return from this fight, and will forget all you have ever known of life above ground. Know at all times that the Ursidaean race, and all other forest dwellers, thank you for the sacrifice you make on our behalf.”
The warriors roared out as one. “Thank you, Lord Mursidev!”
The Cursed Ones returned the call from below.
Mursidev led the line of warriors in a procession toward the steps descending into the hell below, a narrow staircase only one person wide. He stood at the top, and shook the paw of each fighter as they began their path downwards. At the last bear descended, he breathed deeply and clutched at the ring supported by the vine cord around his neck.
A bear came running into the clearing, its lumbering gait making a straight line to Mursidev.
“My Lord! We have news of the desert cats. The battle for the Enkan is about to begin anew.”
He sighed as he turned his attention to yet another battle. War within his forest, and war just outside his borders.
What I would not give for peace in our time, he thought forlornly.
“Lead the way.”
– U –