Chapter 2 Meeting the folks of the North and a familiar face.
Location; unknown, Naja pov...
'Uugh... Whuh?... '
Naja's thoughts being now mostly free of its hazy state after such a lengthy, forced slumber, she managed to slowly open her eyes. While her vision was getting clearer, her other senses also started to wake up. All of her hands starting to feel tingly all over, neck feeling a little stiff and her tail muscles actually vibrating a teeny bit from waking up.
Marilith's back also felt a familiar feeling of the fur pelt beneath her. And a source of warmth somewhere in the middle of her coils. This drew her attention, and after her vision cleared enough, she saw a fire-pit with several still glowing burned logs. The warmth radiating from them was most welcome to a being of reptilian nature like her.
After doing a simple check-up on all of her fingers mobility, alongside of some light arm raising, Naja finally dared to rise up in to a more sitting-up-position. Her movement was slow due to some remaining lethargy. Now having a better view of her surroundings, Naja took a good look around her.
She seemed to be in an lengthy, large one room building, with a couple of more fire pits in the middle. Walls seemed to be made of combination of wood and stone, and decorated with rune-like carvings and different kinds of fur pelts. Some of them had been stripped of fur and had simple painted images on them. Many of them being of either reindeer, caribou or some other animal or being with antlers.
A light rattling sound drew her attention to closest wall and the huge double-doorway on it, with a smaller one on it. She could almost see a couple of snowflakes floating in from between tiny cracks.
'So, it is either winter, or I am now somewhere in the colder climates. That means some swell time for me then...'
Her thoughts where interrupted when the smaller door opened up, letting some cold air in, as a creature, who seemed to be in the deer-family, entered the hall. Needless to say, it got a little bit spooked when noticing the marilith being awake.
"Oh my. We did not expect you to wake up this fast, stor slange. H-how are you feeling?"
"Just woke up, and I feel that hunger might catch up soon." Naja answered to the creature.
"Well, just wait a moment. I'm sure høvding can arrange something and would certainly like to talk with you."
After that, the deer-creature left, luckily remembering to close the door, so that no cold air could get in.
'I wonder how my magic is doing?' Naja thought to herself, which she followed by absent-mindedly snapping her fingers on her middle lefty, causing a small, flickering fireball to appear on top of them.
"Well, at least it works. Most likely will be needing proper rest to get full power again." marilith mused, while flicking the small fireball at the fire-pit, making its remaining wood light up with more of the pleasant warmth.
Naja's thinking was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. New warmth in the fire-pit managed to keep the worst of the cold breeze from affecting her. And entering where couple more of the deer-creatures, carrying large covered bowl and kettle, followed by different looking one.
This one was almost twice as big as the rest, possessing a snow-white fur color, a very ample fluff on it's chest and overall neck area, ice blue eyes and an impressive set of antlers, which seemed to have small rune carved ornaments hanging from them, giving off a slight rattling sound when moving.
"Greetings Lady Naja. I am høvding Ishorn of the Northern deer-folk, and I hope you find given lodgings adequate." the reindeer lady said in a pleasant tone, even giving a small polite bow.
"Hello, and by what means do you know my name?"
"Well, to put it simply, an associate of yours told us about you. We where lucky to actually even locate your icy prison, but luckily he had means of locating you. The metal-band on your wrist to be exact."
This information made Naja to spare a glance at her wrist, where alongside her usual garment, where indeed a metallic wristband, given to her by a certain centaur, who had admitted on having an interest on her.
"Is he perhaps outside right now?"
"Unfortunately no. He went to help in reinforcing our village walls, but I'm sure he will be glad to hear that you have woken up."
"Very well then. So what's in those bowls?" Naja asked.
"Oh just some lichen soup with freshly acquired yeti meat and finely aged mead. We thought you might like a varied meal when you woke up." Ishorn answered as the the content of the bowls was revealed. Soup itself looked exactly like it had mentioned ingredients in it, but Naja did not really care. She was feeling seriously hungry.
"Please, enjoy you'r meal."
"Oh by Fenrir's maw I sure will"
Naja then proceeded to make short work of the offered soup, and was even given two refills of it. Taste was certainly on the exotic side, but food was food.
"Well that certainly was rather filling stuff." Naja commented after finishing her third bowl.
"Yes, the yeti meat is very filling stuff. It helps greatly during the times of famine."
"Wait... Are you saying your folk are-?"
"Occasional omnivores? Yes. When the food grows scarce around here, one can't be too picky when it comes to food."
"...Understandable. Now may I ask where on earth am I?"
"This is one of the bigger Helligdom, or sanctuary valleys, my kind uses during the harsher winter times. But these days, we have been calling it Fengsel... Or a prison in the common tongue." reindeer lady explained, starting to sound a little bitter when telling the valley's name.
"Is there any specific reason for that kind of name change?" Naja could not help but to inquire.
"There indeed is. My kind, meaning the deer, elk, caribou and reindeer, have for a long time been nomadic wardens of the forests and especially the northern wilds of the world, keeping the worst of the worst weather and creatures that are either causing them or are attracted to them, in check for generations. We usually wander from place to place, or in rare cases pick a place to keep watch over.
Eventually the deer chose to stay in one the temperate forests, the elk went to the evergreen wilderness in the west, and the caribou and reindeer remained in the northern lands as nomads with a few shared resting places to perform our bigger rituals and other rites. Thing's were overall peaceful."
"Let me guess. Then some ponies came around these parts, and messed up something for your kin?"
"... Yes, to put it bluntly."
"How exactly?" Naja asked politely, which made Ishorn sigh deeply and lay down on her belly.
"Well, we met them building a camp rather near one of our sacred Rune-Stone sites on the tundra, this one being a rather big one: it includes four partially buried stones in a circle and a fifth one floating in middle of them. All of them have ancient runic carvings on them, enhancing our magic we use to soothe the storms of the north, while also making them either stay in the north or make them tolerable if they reach further southern lands, instead of them becoming a building burying blizzard.
After we told them the importance of the stones to our kin's work, they promised they would not do anything to them, and that they where just passing by, looking for a good place to settle. So we told them about a few good spots to build their settlement. And thus the deal was made between their leader and our current høvding and we carried on our way... Only to find them building some crystal structures on and around them when we returned!
Our høvding was furious, and made it known to the pony leader, who had the gall to say he forgot the deal and that they needed an existing support structure for their planned palace. Needless to say, it made all of us even more furious for such disrespect for our sacred site and demanded that they leave. Of course they did not agree, and it ended up in a conflict. It lasted for almost a full month, until we almost succeeded in driving them away from the north... Only for them to activate some manner of a hearth shaped magical artifact of theirs, quite literally pushing us back, all the way to this valley. And to add salt to the wound, they went as far as to erect a gargantuan crystal wall at the entrance of the valley, trapping us here, while continuing to build their Crystal empire upon our sacred site. We have been stuck here ever since. Luckily for us, our numbers where high enough to keep our family lines healthy, but still low enough to make food here last for a very long time."
"Interesting story... Has there been any other problems lately? I thought I heard someone say something about exiles and wanting to give someone a 'Blood Eagle' treatment." Naja inquired.
"Oh, you heard that? Well might as well tell about that incident... Some time ago we felt a disturbance on the pony artifacts power, like it was momentarily broken by something, only to be brought back in power. Around the same time, one of the caribou-kin tried to arrange a coup against me. An overly ambitious bull, named Dainn from the Stonehoof clan. He somehow got in to his head, that he should lead all the males to rule over all the females of the world, thinking that all they are good for is serving the males. The coward tried to ambush me in my sleep with his supporters. Luckily for me, I am a light sleeper.
By the time they entered my dwelling, I was ready and showed them why I earned my status as høvding. His followers where easy to scare away from me with some show of force of my ice magic, but Dainn was more confident and actually challenged me to trial by combat after that. Needles to say, I was victorious, despite his attempts to cheat with some severed horn he had found, and even trying to force himself on me during the battle as a some kind twisted show of dominance. In return I showed him how hard I could kick and may have tossed him over my head a couple of times, with some antler work. In the end he submitted and was exiled along with his followers by boats we have in a small bay. I hoped the frozen sea would have taken them, but they actually made it to the shore and made their way towards the Crystal Empire, and tried to enact Dainn's crazy plan."
"I'm guessing it did not work?"
"No, it did not. And it ended up ruining our kinds reputation to the crystal and Equestrian ponies. Before they could be imprisoned by ponies, they had the gall to come crawling back and ask for safety, which was another attempt to take over here. Only after stomping said attempt down this time, I exiled Dainn's followers to the yeti territory after crippling them: they did not even survive a day. And as for the Dainn... After de-horning him, I slowly carved some select runes on his body, which would stop him from drowning or burning. Then we tied him to a boulder with some special rope, set them to a boat, set the boat on fire and sent it floating to sea. And then we watched the boat breaking down and the boulder dragging him to the depths of the sea, where the bottom feeders of the depths will feast on his flesh and guts, until he's nothing but bones. And thanks to the runes, he will suffer greatly in there, feeling all the pain of drowning in the depths, but unable to die from it..."
"...Well he sounds like an complete arsehole. He won't be missed."
"Very much agreed on that. We have also managed to get some information from south with the help of messenger owls. Sounds like things are a bit tense there at the moment."
"How exactly?" Naja asked with a grim tone.
"From what the letters have told, there is a small scale border dispute going at the southern border of Equestria, between Southern Twin towns of Tanaha Kahijian and Southpost, Equestrian royal military and a group calling themselves 'The chosen of the serpent maiden'. In addition to that, the Night Princess Luna has recently left Equestria with her personal guard to the Nahkhiir, the hidden free city of thestral's. Reasons for that are still in the dark for us, including is it just a long visit or did she leave for good, but the mentioned border dispute apparently started soon after your imprisonment. Tanah Kahijian and Southpost having closed their borders from Equestria, which also closed off an easy land trade-route from them, which in turn forced ponies to either to use longer land routes or sea routes. But with majority of other nations being angry at Equestria, have either raised their prices or downright closed their ports from Equestrians, which led to them creating a trade-alliance with each other to keep their own economies afloat without any of the Equestrian goods."
"So basically Equestrian economy is now in a bad state?"
"Apparently so. And Princess Celestia is still being pressured to just annex the town's by the Council of Nobles, but best they got was only to send some troops there trying to occupy Southposts surroundings peacefully. Then some mercenaries and 'The chosen' attacked the town and the troops. The mercs apparently where hired by some noble, and 'the chosen' are group of ponies and other creatures both from and out of twin towns who started to think you are a divine entity of some sort."
"Oh, by Ixion's horn... You mean to tell me that there is now freaking cult that worships me??? And that the situation there is now a huge powder keg, ready blow up?" Naja asked, one hand pressed against her forehead, sounding stressed. Ishorn could only nod.
"Yes, and yes. Other nations, the Trade-alliance and the Union of free towns are currently keeping watch of the situation. But if I had to take a guess, I'd say they most likely choose to stand with your home towns, should an actual military conflict arise there. Equestria might hold the power over the sun, but they seem to have lost the respect and fear the other nations held about the said fact. Also the word has spread that your towns... 'Maht Erria(?)' wielders magic seems to be on average more potent than pony magic's version of a similar spell, which has given them an edge in defence for now."
"Well good to hear that the Materia crystals are helping there. I just hope there has not been any need to use the big guns... Has there been any sightings of enormous pillars of flame, or an enormous metallic being that exude gargantuan amounts of magic?"
"No, there has not been any sightings of such being. Even I would have sensed it, if it's anything like I sensed a thousand years ago while stuck in Tartarus, Lady Naja." said a third voice, which sounded familiar and made marilith to turn her head at its direction.
There stood a familiar centaur, Tirek. Only he... Looked a little different from last time. Noticeably him having shorter horns and stature.
"Well hello there Tirek. Did you lose weight, mass and got you horns shaved down a bit while I was gone?" Naja asked with a pleasant tone, while leaning a little for a closer look. "Oh, and how did you got out of the pony-hell slammer this time?"
"To answer to your questions, my size is dependent on the amount of magic I have absorbed and stored into my body at the time. It took me most of my original imprisonment to gather enough of my power to barely escape, and even longer to get enough to use my powers. And as for my escape this time... I received help from some tall cloaked figure, who smelled of seawater and overwhelmingly oozed of some manner of... Eldritch powers that I did not even dare to try sampling... He said he was only helping me escape because he, or it, lost a bet with 'that black goat with a ton of kids', who wanted her ship to sail forward. No idea what that meant, but I accepted the help. Next thing I know, I'm at the edge of this valley, being chased by some yetis and found by Ishorns folk." centaur explained.
"Did you see if that cloaked fellow had tentacles peeking out from the hood?"
"Uuuh... I think so?"
Instead of answering right away, Naja merely looked up at the ceiling, like she was trying to find something specific in there. Both Tirek and Ishorn could not help but feel a bit confused by this.
"Lost a bet, eh Ol'Squidface? Well tell my regards to the dark goatmom and her kids."
"...Maybe she had a mild frostbite or hit her head while we hauled her here..." Ishorn commented to Tirek worriedly.
"Oh, I'm quite sane. In the meantime, do you maybe have something I could wear? I don't do well in the freezing climate, due to obvious reasons." Naja said, even giving her tail a small wiggle for emphasis.
"Actually we just might. Some of our seamstresses are making something out of some yeti furs. They have good insulation properties. And yes, they have enough of them for your clothing size, tail included... We killed a lot of yetis over the years."
"Good to know. In the meantime, is there anything else you'd like to know?"
"Well, I would like to know a bit more about your past. Word is you offed the Mad King Solaris long ago. Can you tell more about that?"
"Hoo boy, now that is memory from a loong time ago... Might take a while to tell accurately."
Contested southern border area near Southpost, Equestrias side...
"Anything to report?"
"Nope. Nothing in sight for now. Only seen movement is closer to the edge of Southpost, and we can't really get closer without causing an international incident."
"Well keep watch of the overall area. Can't let those crazy cultist fellows to get a drop on us. And they seem to be a problem for the both sides."
"Yes sir... Wait... Do you hear that?"
"...Oh crap. It's that weird airship of theirs doing a patrol flight!"
Airship 'Levea Kuljetus'(Wide Load), contested border areas neutral airspace.
"Hera, I got two peepers at the neutral area. They are leaving at the moment, over."
"Well they obviously learned to avoid your ship. You do vent it while on patrol, right?... Over."
"It ain't my fault their got sissy lungs. Also saw four cult idiots sneaking near Naja's rock-house. All of them ran off before I could even give a warning shot. I suspect sissy-lung there too, over."
"Whatever Cid, try returning soon. With luck, we might be receiving a message from the north any day now... Over."
"Sure thing. Guess when I get back I could give mah darlings rear a good maintenance. And I guess mah ship could use some fixing too, over."
"I did not need to know that, but I guess Shira will appreciate that... Over."