The sun shone brightly as a weary traveler trudged through the thick jungle growth. Sweat soaked his fur, and he was panting for breath. “Why must the weather be so accursedly hot here,” he said as he trudged along, using a thick branch he had picked up, broken off of some tree and now quite dead and dry, as a walking stick to prop himself up. “Honestly, it is not so much the heat as this jungle humidity.” The traveler was a young fox, hardly looking to be of an adult age. His fur was a mixture of various light browns with a red tint, apart from a section that ran from his muzzle to a tuft of hair on his chest which was white. His hands and feet were significantly darker, practically black, and the tip of his long bushy tail was also tipped with black. He wore a light robe, dark brown in color, which fell to just above his ankles, and had rather open sleeves. It was held together with a thick black belt, upon which a sword was held. Over this was a jacket of similar fabric and design, colored black, but this only reached to his waist. On his feet he wore rectangular sandals which were made of wood and elevated slightly from the ground. Resting at his side, hanging from strap that hung from his shoulder and ran across his body, he had a brown sack for carrying supplies.
All together, neither his abundance of dark-colored fur nor the general heavy tones of his clothing were helping him stay cool. Even the light fabric was pointless as it simply stuck to his body in the humidity. Nevertheless, he knew his mission was worth enduring far more than some minor discomfort. His people were depending on him, and he could not let them down. Still, the weather was slowing him down considerably, and he had already been travelling for nearly three days. Even though he knew where his destination lay, and he had seen it from a distance already, the closer he got the farther away it seemed. Just as he was about to collapse from exhaustion, he heard something which renewed his vigor. Conversation. A sure sign that, even if he had not reached his final destination, he was at least near civilization. He broke into a swift jog – even this good news could not fully defeat the power of the jungle weather – and soon the undergrowth began to fade away and the trees became more spacious, showing signs of lumber harvest. Finally he found himself at the top of a small hill at the edge of a vast plain divided into farmers’ plots and dotted with small homes, and just beyond that, where the land rose again into hills and then mountains, was the great walled city he had been seeking.
Coatltepetl, the city of the Ponapori echidnas. While generally a very peaceful people, they nevertheless possessed a long tradition of martial arts and a powerful army which they were not afraid to use if their humble tract of land were to be threatened. Coatltepetl was their capital, the home of their chieftess and center of power. But more importantly for the vulpine traveler, it was also home to a legend which had reached his nation to the north. A legend describing objects of great power. The kind of power he needed to save his land. Taking a moment to regain his composure the fox then walked down a stone staircase dug into the hill which led unto a road which ran through the plain, past the fields to the city. Workers in the fields would occasionally look up and watch for a brief moment as the stranger passed by, but mostly paid him little attention and simply returned to their labors. The traveler maintained a brisk pace, overjoyed that his goal was now in sight. Minutes later he was within a few yards of the large city gate when one of the two guards standing at the entrance called to him.
“Kāti!” he said, then beckoned the fox to come closer. He, as well as the other guard, wore little clothing besides straw sandals and white gloves which lacked distinct fingers. However, he was adorned with a broad gold necklace with a rounded, blue gem set in the center which fell in the middle of his chest, as well as blue ankle bracelets. White paint covered his red fur in an intricate design, and the other had a similar pattern. They both wielded metal-tipped wooden spears decorated with feathers and intricately carved with images of snakes, the sun, and the moon. As the fox walked closer, the guard changed his speech to a language commonly employed in trade and politics. “Announce yourself and state your business.”
“I am Renki of the Kitsune Clans to the north,” the fox stated, speaking in the same language the guard had just used. “I come seeking an audience with your chieftess in the hope that she might be able to help my people rid our land of a great evil.”
“A great evil you say… what sort is it, that you think our chieftess could help you?”
“With all respect to one of your position, I would prefer to speak about this to your chieftess,” the fox responded.
“Very well. Our chieftess is a kind and wise woman, I am sure she will be able to help you.” The guard turned to his companion and quickly muttered something in their own language. “Follow me,” he said, walking into the city. Renki followed quickly behind, dropping the branch he was carrying outside the gate. One of the first things he encountered as he entered the city was a bustling marketplace, as merchants from both within the Ponapori lands and foreign called out for customers and loudly bartered with those they already had. Even though Coatltepetl was largely surrounded by jungle, it was still centrally located in the area and was therefore an important area for trade. In fact it was not far from a common trade route that ran from the south of the continent to the northwest (Which Renki unfortunately was not familiar with as it would have saved him some of the trouble of hiking through rough jungle paths). A marketplace like this was common in large cities, but Renki had come from a small farm village and felt swept away by the swirling mass of commerce. He nearly lost track of his guide, but fortunately the marketplace soon gave way to houses and the stores of more specialized trades, such as weaponsmiths and artisans. The city itself was built on terraces dug into the surrounding hills, and in the center stood a massive pyramid which towered above them all. It, like most of the buildings, was made from bricks colored red and white, and was decorated with large statues of echidna warriors and images of snakes. Flaming pots lined the square at its base, where citizens going about their daily business would stop to chat.
The echidna guard, however, was not walking towards the center of town. Rather, he had turned right shortly after leaving the marketplace and was now leading Renki up to the higher levels of the terraces. The buildings grew more extravagant the higher they walked until they had reached a balcony situated on the wall where they had first entered the city. It had a single wide staircase which led to a large house that faced the pyramid at the center of town as well as the mountains in the distance. The guard paused at the bottom of the stairs as Renki plodded up behind him, panting for breath. “This is the home of our chieftess. If you would like a moment to catch your breath…”
“Arigatou gozai- Thank you,” Renki said, bending over with his hands on his knees. After catching his breath he stood up and adjusted his robe. He nodded to the guard, and the two ascended the staircase. Renki was amazed that such a mansion was located on top of the city’s wall. The guard explained that apart from housing the chief family it was also designed to be used as a fortress for defense. The front, from the staircase’s perspective, of the house had one entrance, in front of which stood another guard. He appeared the be younger than the guard who was leading Renki, but his clothing, body paint, and the way he carried himself implied that he was of a much higher rank.
“Kāti!” the second guard called out, stopping Renki and his guide. He then spoke to the first guard in their language, asking what the purpose of bring this outsider was. The guard stated what Renki had told him. The two continued conversing in their language, which at times almost sounded like two completely different tongues, while Renki simply stood there, attempting not to look either horribly confused or terribly worried. Finally, the higher guard addressed Renki directly. “So, you wish to speak with our chieftess? I see no good reason why I should allow you to enter this house.”
“Please sir,” Renki said, bowing, “my land has been ravaged by a great evil and we have no way of stopping it. But word has reached even us in the north that your people possess a great power which could-”
“What makes you think we should just hand over this “great power” to you? For all we know, you may simply be a spy who wishes to weaken us, and for all you know we do not even possess this power!”
“Please, that is why I must speak with your chieftess!” Renki said, his voice showing a hint of anger, but he maintained his bowed position.
“No, it is my duty to protect the chieftess, and I will not simply let-”
“Pachacamac, what seems to be the trouble?” a calm, feminine voice called from inside the house, cutting off the guard.
“Simply an outsider. Do not worry, I was just about to send him away,” the guard replied, a slight hint of annoyance detectable in his tone.
“Why should you do that?” the voice said, and it was soon joined by its source. Out of the house stepped an echidna woman of middle age. She wore a sleeveless dress with a red, green, and white diamond design and white gloves and sandals. She also had many gold bands on her wrists and in her dreadlocked spines, and atop her head she wore a feathery headdress with an engraved golden band and colored gems. It became instantly clear to Renki that this was the chieftess. He bowed even deeper.
“Great Chieftess, I come from the Kitsune Clans seeking your aid in-”
“Do not worry, I already know why you are here. You boys are quite loud. Guard, you may return to your post, and Pachacamac, show our guest inside.” With her orders given the chieftess disappeared back into the house. The gate guard saluted Pachacamac holding his spear arm across his chest and then departed down the stairs. Pachacamac turned towards the house.
“Come with me,” he said, and walked inside. Renki followed him. The inside of the house was even more impressive than the inside. Echidna artwork hung on the walls, and finely crafted statues lined the halls. Much of it was coated, or perhaps completely made, with gold. Pachacamac led Renki to a throne room located at the center of the house. Apart from the floor the entire room seemed to be covered in gold which reflected the torch light causing the air itself to have a warm glow. At the end of the room sat the chieftess on a throne, the back of which was designed like two echidna warriors and the arms like two feathered snakes. Renki simply stood in awe near the entrance as Pachacamac walked up to the throne and stood on the right hand side.
“Come forward, Renki of the Kitsune,” the chieftess said. Renki quickly did as instructed, lowering himself to the ground in a bow of deepest respect as he neared the throne. “I do apologize about my son. He can be a bit harsh with outsiders, but he has good intentions. I am Cihuacoatl, Chieftess of the Ponapori. Now what exactly is it that would cause one from such a distant land to seek an audience with me?”
Renki looked up, but remained kneeling. “Great Chieftess Cihuacoatl, I come on behalf of my people seeking aid in the expulsion of great evil from our lands. For nearly a year we have been repeatedly ravaged by some demonic force. It tears through our countryside, destroying crops, demolishing houses, and murdering our people. Many of our greatest warriors have attempted to fight it, but none have succeeded. I myself am only a simple farmer, but our plight is so great that none of our warriors could be spared to make this appeal. So I ask that you would consider the plea of a humble farmer.”
“Farmers such as yourself are the true power of any nations army. Without food, they cannot fight. I fully understand the importance of all members of my lands, and I believe that your leaders do as well, or they would not have trusted you with this quest,” Cihuacoatl said, her voice gentle and calming. She leaned forward in her seat as she delivered her next questions. “This “demon” of which you speak, what form does it take? Does it have a name?”
“We do not know. It rushes through our land like the fiercest storm, and appears like a massive feline beast… or, so say those who have seen it. We refer to it by the name of Hyonisuno.”
“It appears as a cat… are you sure it is not simply some large warrior of the Felidae?”
“No, it is far too destructive to be of any mortal race, and it can attack from seemingly anywhere.”
“I see. Thank you for this information, but my next question is simple; how can we help?”
“Rumors have reached my land that your people possess an ancient, mystical power. If I may be so bold, our people believe that this power could help us to finally rid our land of this demon.”
Cihuacoatl leaned back in her seat, hands folded in front of her face, deep in thought. Staying like this, she spoke again, her voice now somewhat colder. “The rumors you have heard are partially true. There is a great power not far from this city, the true extent of which is known only to a few. However, the power does not belong to us… The servers are the seven chaos…” her voice wandered off, but she quickly refocused her attention. “There is a legend passed down among our people, and I should expect that it would have spread in some form to the rest of the world. The power you seek could indeed help you, but it is not mine to give you. The place where it rests is sacred ground to a strange race guarded by a powerful being. He may help you, but I do not think we can convince him without more information, and even so I have never seen him leave that place.”
Renki’s face lowered as this news came to him. Cihuacoatl smiled and leaned forward. “However, I am not without a plan. To the south there is another clan of echidnas. We refer to them as the Yoallipori, but our two clans splintered apart long ago, and they have since developed in a rather different path and speak of themselves in another tongue. They have developed greater technology than us, and while their mystical strengths have fallen by the wayside, they maintain a vast library in their capital. Go to them with your plea, and I believe they shall find a means to help you.”
“Thank you Chieftess Cihuacoatl. You have shown me a great kindness.”
“If you wait a moment I shall prepare a letter to send with you. In addition,” she said, turning to her right, “I shall send my son Pachacamac as well, to assist you.”
Pachacamac shook at the mention of his name, stuttering out, “W-what?”
“You are young and restless, and I think it will do you some good to learn about the lands around us if you are to rule one day. One who rules in ignorance will simply bring destruction on his people.”
“Ve-very well. If you command, I shall go with this fox,” Pachacamac said. His voice was bitter, but he knew there was no point resisting a command from the chieftess, or for that matter, his mother.
“Good. Now, Pachacamac, escort our guest outside and then prepare for your journey. Renki, I shall give the letter to Pachacamac when he is ready. I shall converse with the Guardian and await your return. I hope that you will bear good news.”
“Thank you, Great Chieftess Cihuacoatl,” Renki said, bowing with his face to the floor once again. He then stood up as Pachacamac escorted him from the building.
After waiting outside for a few minutes Renki was joined by Pachacamac who now had a pack slung over his shoulder. “Well, no point standing around here. Let’s get this quest of yours over with,” he grumbled and began walking down the stairs. Renki quickly followed. Despite the irritated disinterest of his new travelling companion, he was in high spirits. Whatever this great power was, the chieftess said it did exist, even if it did not belong to them. He was one step closer to saving his people. If only he knew that there were still many more steps to be travelled.