Sima watched warily as the leader of the Hill Folk joined the rest of her delegation at the gates of Tilmo and mounted her horse. Sima gave the other woman a nod of acknowledgement when Indra spared a last look in her direction before spurring the party to movement. Within a moment, they were out of sight, leaving only a cloud of dust lingering behind them.
While the Heda was technically the leader of the Trigeda, the Commander had appointed Sima, who was chief of Tilmo, to oversee the day-to-day of the Woods Clan when she set out to unite the clans 5 years ago. Since then, Sima split her time sitting as chief in Tilmo and representing the Trigeda in the Commander’s capitol of Polis. Indra, like Sima, was a chieftain, but today she had not come in the name of her village. She had come on order of the Commander to deliver both a warning and instructions from the Heda herself.
Spies had been found in villages of the Hill Folk, the Boat People, the Stone Clan, and an assassin was caught within Polis itself. Sima had been at the Spring Gathering in the capitol with the other clan leaders several months ago when the Azgeda, Sikru, and Sankru declined attendance—the first time that any clan had done so since the forming of the Kongeda. The absentees had not given an official reason for their absence, but it was well known that the previous leaders of all three had died in the bombing of Tondc the previous fall during the Wor kom Maun-de—the War of Weather Mountain—and that their people vocally opposed the Commander’s decision to retreat from the Maunon after bargaining for the release of those clanspeople held captive in the Mountain. Some of the other leaders had been surprised that Heda did not march on them then, for the insult alone, but not Sima. She knew the Commander would not go to war without stronger cause than wounded pride. She knew the sacrifices that had been made to form the Alliance of the 12 Clans, and she knew Heda would do anything in her power to keep the Kongeda from failing.
She had hoped against hope that the trouble makers would be satisfied with their little diplomatic rebellion and would fall in line after their tempers had settled. After all, they had had peace—true and honest peace—for a year. Trade had prospered; new roads had been cleared for the first time in almost a decade. Some of the villages had even started to interact favorably with some of the outer Skaikru villages, though their main encampment at the giant metal structure still refused any official attempts at contact, and had since the Destroyer of the Mountain burned the Maunon and then vanished. But no, apparently the rebel clans had not settled; they were preparing to break from the Alliance—if Indra was to be believed. She had said, “Wor komba raun.” And Sima did not doubt that she spoke true. War was coming.
Wor na ste komba raun. Sima thought bitterly. War will always be coming. Heda was calling for a Flosh Klin. A Purge. It was her last attempt to avoid an all-out war. The Commander wanted Sima to send her best Trikova Honakru—Shadow Hunters—north to search out Azgeda spies. The Hill Folk were to send theirs west to search for those from the Sanraungeda, and Luna of the Boat People would be ordered to do the same to the east in search of those sent by the Sikru.
It had been almost four years since Heda had called for a purge—not since before the end of the War of Unification. As bloody as a Flosh Klin could become, it was nowhere near as bloody as a true war. It was the difference between shooting an arrow into the neck of your enemy versus dropping a tree on them. Both kill, but precision targeting kills only the intended, whereas war will kill all around it—enemy and innocent alike. During the Wor kom Teina, the purge had worked on all of the hold-out clans except the Azgeda.
Azgedakwin Narin refused to surrender until Heda brought the full might of the other 11 Clans to the Ice Nation’s capital, destroying all that lay in their path. Sima had witnessed the contempt that burned in Narin’s eyes as she finally bowed her knee to the Commander at the foot of her own throne after they took her stronghold. Sima had not been as surprised as the other generals that Heda accepted the terms of the Azgeda’s surrender—terms that left the Azgedakwin banished, but alive.
Some had said it was weakness to let such an enemy live, for the Azgedakwin had ordered more blood spilt than any other clan, save the Commander herself, and tradition demanded that blood must have blood. Heda explained that the blood debt had already been paid by the thousands of Azgeda who died in the war, that the war was over the moment that Narin surrendered, and that by replacing her with Omar, the most honorable of her generals, the Ice Nation could become a loyal, prosperous clan of the Kongeda. And she had been right…until now. The Azgeda had been loyal to the Alliance from that day up until Omar and several of his warchiefs died in Tondc a year ago.
Sima rubbed her temple, willing away the headache that was beginning to settle there. She motioned for two of her guards, ordering them to summon those she needed. They set out immediately, and as she watched the sun begin to set over the trees from the balcony of her home, she saw the five familiar forms approaching. She let the sun disappear into the forest before she left to meet them down in the receiving room. All five were fully armed and stood with their hands clasped behind their backs as Sima addressed them.
“Joel, Nasir, Cho, Nika, en Ayden, ai asa Honakru, osir Heda don gaf yu in nodotaim. Bilaik foutaim, Trikovas don gon Kongeda-de.” Joel, Nasir, Cho, Nika, and Ayden, my finest Hunters, our Commander has need for you once again. As before, Shadows have been sent against the Alliance.
She shifted her weight, trying to alleviate the tension that had been building in her muscles all day. “Hon em op. Dig au chit git emo klin. Den, frag em op. Taim yu no hod em up, taim wor komba raun osir. Nami yu dula?” Find them. Find out what they know. Then, kill them. If you do not stop them, war will be upon us all. Do you understand your job?
“Sha, Gonawon. Osir hon emo daun. Osir frag emo op.” They answered in unison. Yes, General. We hunt them down. We kill them.
Sima nodded, accustomed to their manner. “Gud. Dula yu dula op en osir nou giv ani mou op kom wor.” Good. Do your job and we may not have to sacrifice anyone else in war.
“Bilaik gaf Heda in, den na dula osir op.” As the Commander wants, so will we do. Ayden stated, before asking, “Weron dula osir hon?” Where do we hunt?
“Gon nord. Heda gaf yu in hon op de Trikovas kom Azgeda.” Sima replied. Go north. The Commander wants you to hunt the Shadows of Ice Nation.
Ayden’s eyes flashed, as she fought to keep herself from smiling. Finally! Finally she is able to return to the north. Azgeda blood would be hers again. She was so consumed with her thoughts that she almost forgot to chime in with the others when they gave their traditional response. “Osir badan Heda op en nou moun.“ We serve the Commander and no other.
Sima acknowledged their ceremonial pledge with another nod, “Gud. Stot au Flosh Klin-de. Bants.” Good. Begin the Purge. Dismissed.
They each turned sharply and marched silently out of her home. They would be near the Ice Nation border by dawn.
Sima turned towards the eating room when she heard her husband shuffling in the kitchen of the house, preparing dinner. She sighed, wishing the Hunters speed. She felt entirely too old to fight another war. Maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t have to.