13. Herders of the People

The Devourer climbed the mountains of the snowy Borderlands holding a staff in his only hand. His body was covered in ashes and soot. The lights of the north reflected off the snow on the ground. Green and blue they danced on the sky. He followed the tracks of hooves for days before he saw the first glimpse of them. They rode through a grove of birch at the bottom of a gorge where the melted snow from the mountaintops trickled through many small brooks. Three stout black horses with three figures in grey robes on their backs. They stood in stark contrast to the birches’ white trunks and leaves turned green by the spring and sun.

They stopped and got off their horses but did not care to bind them to the trees. The Devourer crept closer as he lost sight of the riders behind the trunks. When he saw them again, they stood facing a flat surface on the side of the mountain. The wind muted and twisted their murmuring unintelligible. They approached it and touched the stone, moving their hand over the surface as if searching for something. Then one of them hissed, and the others turned toward it in unison. They fiddled with some device, and a moment later the stone opened like a door into the mountain from where light was emitted. One after another they went through the opening and disappeared before it closed behind them.

The horses stood where they had left them like frozen in motion. They did not care to graze off the sweet spring grass nor did they notice the Devourer approaching or so much as cock their ears when he passed them. He found nothing out of the ordinary when inspecting the stone wall. He put an ear against the it and listened to the silence for a moment. Then a thin rift of light formed a circle around where the opening had been. The Devourer threw himself away from the wall and fell onto the ground where he rolled and got onto his feet in the same motion. By the time the first figure came out the door, the Devourer had put some distance between them and stood behind a tree. He peaked as the wall closed behind them and they got onto their horses and rode away through the valley. He followed.

When night came, they lit their lanterns but never stopped, never rested. Neither did the Devourer as he without peril followed their tracks over the mountains’ valleys and peaks. His body left a corridor of steam behind him in the cold mountain air. The snow melted in his footsteps. He never let them come too close to either him nor the horizon. He watched them from below as they climbed the slopes until they disappeared over the top. He pursued. He watched them from above as they traveled through the slithering paths down between the peaks. He followed.

The Devourer shadowed them for a couple of moons while they went from place to place in their search. One starless night he sat watching them from a giant oak tree as they huddled around the fire after many days without rest.

Why are you following us? A whispering yet audible voice called out to him. The Devourer froze where he sat.

Sit with us by the fire, Another said.

Then they became silent again. Motionless they sat staring into the flames. The Devourer collected his thoughts and climbed down the tree. The figures did not move nor say a word as he approached them. Their cloaks looked ragged, tattered and torn. Through the holes in the cloth, pieces of black armor were visible. The light from the fire reflected in scratches from the teeth or talons of some unknown beast.

Who are you? The Devourer asked.

We are the Seekers, The figure said in a dialect queer to the Devourer. We are the herders of the peoples. The cultivators of the lands. We are the ones that made it living again after the God and its followers crumbled it under their ignorance.

Are you from the Old World?

The old world? Which one of them? This is yet one of many that have been and will be. We watched as you were washed up on that beach millennia ago. We’ve followed your every step.

Tell us if you found the Floating City of Light, Another interjected.

Why do you ask? Didn’t you follow my every step? The Devourer said.

That’s beyond our realm, The first figure said.

This object of yours, Another said. We very much would like to study it.

Object? The Devourer asked.

A sphere. We understand it’s very precious to you.

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

He lies, One of them hissed. This time he lied to us.

No, The Devourer said and started backing away from them as they followed.

We need to study it, One of them said.

It’s crucial, Another filled in.

He turned and walked away from them. But when he looked over his shoulder, he saw them following him on their horses. The hooves clappered against the stone under the thin layer of snow and swallowed the soft creaking of his footsteps. The riders whispered to each other, but no steam came out from under their hoods. Then he realized that it neither did from their horse’s nostrils despite the treacherous terrain and the burdens on their backs.