Two-fifths of an inch – A short story about rites & beasts

Two-fifths of an inch – A short story about rites & beasts - ElvenFirefly

A young huntress undergoes her Rite of Passage and encounters harrasaems—the wild beasts of the northern tundras, famous for their strength and stormhorns.

Credits and Sources

The following drawing and text are obtained from the diary of Enwyn Fenthas, the headhuntress of Ylle’lune and the founder of the Sisters of the Wild.
Translated from Elven to Common by Viessa Petkas, the author of “Elven Language through Millennia,”
Brought to our company by our faithful helpers, the team of Dimble’s Stellar Scribblery.

Paeth, the Scarred Lightning
The world’s most famous Harrasaem
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Two-fifths of an inch

I remember the first time my father took me to see them.
It was the morning after Winter’s Welcome, and the city was still sleeping beneath the snow-covered pine trees. The festival numbed us all with joviality—almost all, but not my father, who kissed me awake. He carried the air of preparedness—a person who never sleeps but is always rested. I yawned and stretched, getting ready for another day’s training, but he stood, unmoving. Usually, he starts by reciting the schedule, but he was looking out the window. His travel cloak was clean, his long hair braided, and his boots double-furred. With hands behind his back, he said, “Stormclouds dim the sun”.
And my heart pounded as I caught his smile.

In Ylle’lune, you become a hunter once you receive your harrahoon, your stormhorn. You take it from an ill Harrasaem that you slay and earn your place in the order. From a young age, we prepare and dedicate our lives to the bow, the smell of wood, the vibration of the string, and the currents of the wind. I grew up with the sound of my dripping sweat and the joy of hitting the bullseye. I’d shoot until my fingers bled, and my father, my mentor and our leader, was a ruthless critic.
“Two-fifths of an inch off”, he would say, holding his measuring rope.
“You aren’t ready.”

I spent my life closing the gap that is two-fifths of an inch wide. My successes were rarely celebrated and were never enough. Father pushed me to my limits, stretching me to disembodiment. He molded into me what his father molded into him, and his father before that. I never reproached him, for he needed a successor, and my purpose has been clear since the day I could think and talk. There was no other. My younger sister Elia had an artistic nature, making taverns light with joy as her voice spilled over the tables. She chose to strike at men’s hearts with songs instead of arrows.
I trained, my father’s ivory bow overseeing my misses, dreaming and dreading the day I inherit it. I’ve seen the toll the weapon takes on him, only catching it in the evenings by the fire when he allows himself a sigh.
“Life gives you a shot”, he’d say in a soft voice, “and if you miss, you’re gone.”

So he molded the clay: right hand here, breathe in, breathe out, spread your stance, hold your gaze.
And again.

Now, years later, in hindsight, I know that this truth has a little alteration: there are some things no one can prepare you for.
Mine transpired in the days following that famous morning.

In less than an hour, we packed our gear and bows, had a light breakfast, and left for Statfield Tundra. We trudged through knee-deep snow, my smile wide.
I was 16, untested by life, and thus falsely confident. I remember the vibrance of the landscape, the snow bending beneath my weight, the fresh air. The closeness of the rite elated me, and I was ready to seize this walk, meet the beasts, and win adulthood.
By the time we mounted the Slethen Hills, several days had passed. Up there, we had a vantage point, and the vastness of the tundra met our gaze. It stretched for miles to the end, the horizon meeting the dark storm clouds. They twirled and flashed, mimicking the running herd of harrasaems beneath them. Proud beasts they are, stomping and roaring as the sound raced across the flatland unobstructed. They were one huge, synchronized organism of meat, fur, and lightning, making the ground tremor.
My father lowered his sack, grabbed me by the shoulders, and retold me the steps.

Every harrasaem possesses a horn made of the heart of the Stormfather. It holds the strength of lightning and thunder, keeping our God omnipresent in mortal land. So powerful it is that when they herd, nature itself binds to their will. A raging storm forms, making way for these peaceful plant-eaters. They move, and the Mother responds and keeps them safe. They move and stomp, and those are the steps of the Stormfather.

I took a deep breath, reminding myself that Rite goes beyond me. It is a service to the precious herds and cycle of life.
“Six seconds”, I repeat after my father. “That is the allotted time to meld the harrahoon with true ice before it bursts.”
I tightened my leather armor.
“Six seconds, and on the count of six, I shall forfeit my try.”
I counted arrows with my fingers.
Father kissed my forehead, stuck a white feather into my hair, and began a prayer.
I started approaching, my white cloak camouflaging me, my father’s words sending me away. He is not to interfere, even if my life depends on it.

It took me half an hour to catch up to them. The lightning in the air made my hair puff up and float. The thunder would split the sky, and I stepped, bow at the ready. The smell of wet fur invaded my nostrils, and the wind fluttered my cloak. I dodged lightning strikes as the herd ran in circles, softening the frozen ground for the rest. The snow and broken plants followed them in a swirl as a testimony of their strength.
On its outskirts, I saw a harrasaem limping, the lightning sparking from its horn. Infirmed harrasaems gradually lose control over their mighty weapon, their deaths ending in detrimental explosions.

I waited, hidden behind a snowbank, for the herd to make a full circle. The unfortunate beast was trying to get back into the center, but others didn’t allow it. I nocked an illusionary arrow.
Breathe in, breathe out.
My hands shook as the moment I dreamt slowly manifested into reality.
Thump-thump, thump-thump, their hooves roared in rhythm, and the wind flowed to the right. The ill beast emerged from the herd’s curve, approaching my position.
I shot.

The arrow zipped through the air, thrusting itself into the ground near the beast. In an instant, a wave of arcana spread and formed a large purplish sphere—an illusion to isolate. Harrasaems find it impassable and either avoid it or stay trapped inside. But first, the herd panicked.
A few beasts split and charged me from around the bubble, their heads low and their horns ominously glowing.
In the moment of fear, I surrendered my body to my ‘inner mind’ and experienced the events as if watching someone else. My legs sprang and carried me towards them. I leaped, but a moment before my final push, the ground had shaken and made my last step wobbly. The flight was too low, and in the burst of blue and a flash of red, I stumbled to the other side and entered the arcane bubble. The herd continued, and before meeting the gaze of my target, I checked myself.
My left thigh was carved, the wound scorched from the lightning, the blood painting the snow. I had two minutes at best.

This was a young male, his back leg infected; the disease was already in his blood, I could tell. He lowered his head, his top horns towering like curved spears. His dominion over harahoon was weak, and with every wild surge, his body twitched in pain. Saliva oozed from his mouth as he was trying to catch a breath. Still, he was better than me, having a few days instead of three dozen breaths.
He hooved the ground, steam rising from his nostrils, ready to charge me. I put my weight on my good leg and nocked an arrow, gauging.
Two black abyssal pearls returned the gaze.
I pulled—he roared and charged—and the world went silent for a moment.

I could see his fur bouncing, the harrahoon glowing brighter and brighter, the force merging into a singular gore that would pierce me. I aimed at the right eye, my arrow silver and strong. My ‘inner mind’ counted his steps and studied their pattern. I felt the wind and adjusted.
Breathe in, breathe out.
And release.

The arrow zipped once more, but it grazed his cheek. A clap of thunder pushed the air from the heavens, and it was the gavel of the Stormfather. I tried to shift my weight and dodge, but my wound had betrayed me. I was stuck for a moment too long.
A bolt of lightning emerged from the harrahoon, racing off in a random direction. He tightened his breast muscles, accumulating strength.
Three steps.
There was no time.
I dropped my bow, closed my eyes, and screamed from the bottom of my lungs. It made me deaf, and I thought of my father and how I failed him. I thought of my friends and Elia. I tasted freshly baked bread and heard the flickering of the hearth. I saw Ylle’lune covered in white, silent and serene, the smell of pine trees floating to me.

Then, when I had lost all the air, I opened my eyes, expecting darkness.

The harrasaem stood a foot away, puffing and steaming, unmoving.
My body crumbled, and I collapsed forward, my arms falling around the beast’s neck. I shivered and sobbed and drooled, and he stood there, receiving my pain, for he was hurting too. Frosted fur scratched my cheek, but I didn’t mind. My body rose with his heavy breaths, and we shared the silence, happy that we were both alive. And beneath a stormy sky, a mutual understanding was born. We were both trying to earn our place in the order of things, but neither was enough. Bleeding made me dizzy, and the world grew darker and quieter. I collected myself and tied my leg above the wound. Then and there I made a vow: I will never try to take a harrasaem’s life again.
In fact, as I watch him presently snoozing by the fire while writing these words, I know I’d give mine to save his.

What transpired after that fateful moment were months of bonding, caring, and nurturing. My father told me that the beast had brought me across the tundra on his back, my body limp. Father found a small alcove and made camp there. He healed us both, Paeth and me, using his own life strength to do so. He ignored my protests and kept silent, letting us rest. And I slept, in and out of the dreamworld, tucked under the heavy furs, with Paeth’s humming like a lullaby.
After a month, we could slowly walk.
After two, he would eat from my hand.
After four, I could ride him.
And after six, spring came, and we started home.

Ylle’lune welcomed us with a myriad of people adorning tree-top houses, thronging on the balconies, the murmur seeping. I rode on Paeth’s back, with my father walking next to us. First, they whispered and waved, then shouted and clapped, full of questions and theories. Then they exclaimed and sobbed, for they thought winter had taken us.
Music burst, and the city woke up. Joy filled the streets. The guards encompassed us, rushing to our aid, but they were dismissed with a gesture.
We walked with the air of royalty, one that my father never let cease. Even Paeth stepped gracefully, a humongous beast, sparking his harahoon as if teasing the audience.
Somewhere amidst the crowd, a girl cried out, “Harra’Ravenna! Harra’Ravenna!”
“Harra’Ravenna tal usa mera!”
And the people picked up, and the woods of Ylle’lune boomed with thousands of voices.
“The Storm Rider”, they chanted, “The Storm Rider!”
“The Storm Rider came among us.”
I smiled and kissed Paeth on the scar by the right eye.
Two-fifths of an inch off.

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