I: The Ghatta

I.


For centuries the people of Ghatta had lived in these lands, centuries living at the forest’s edge. A day’s travel to the Realmgate in the hills to the North, nothing but traders or explorers to come through and bring tales of other lands. Centuries of huddled towns, the winding River Ghatt and the forest to their backs.

Then, one day it all ended.

People fleeing from the North, stricken with terror, screaming of monstrosities pouring through the Realmgate and of the abominable acts they had witnessed.

And so, the people of Ghatta fled. Not down the roads with the other refugees, but into the woods. For days they marched; a long train of misery and fear, but onwards they went. In that forest, they were saved; they found lakes and rivers, fruit trees and bushes of nuts. The forest sustained them and guarded them, and the beasts from beyond the Realmgate were not to be seen.

Weeks went by, months even, and the nomadic Ghatta began to run out of supplies. The forest could only sustain so many of them. They grew thin, the sick and old grew weaker, and weak began to die. Arguments about what to do, where to go or how to survive broke out, and some groups left the convoys. A full half of the Ghatta left and struck out on their own; deeper into the forest, back the way they had come or simply disappearing in search of their own patch of land to sustain them. For those who remained, the itch of fear nagged ever deeper.

Until one morning, gifts began to appear. A pile of fruit. A cluster of tubers, a basket of fat catfish. Every few mornings, food was left at the edge of their encampment. On one occasion, a trail of smooth pebbles led off into the forest. After much arguing to and fro about whether it was foolish to follow, some men did so and found it led them to a small lake brimming with the catfish.


For weeks this went on, food at the camp's edge, but not a sign was seen of their new benefactor. One morning, as the mists were rising from the mossy bank around the trees, the Ghatta went out and found the largest haul of foods yet, but this time it was not as before. This time, their benefactor was waiting for them.


Some screamed and ran in terror. Others were transfixed at the sight of the creature before them. But a few, just a handful, could hear Her whispers, and those few heard what she had to say and what it was she wanted from the Ghatta.


Of the Ghatta, many fled. They refused the bargain and melted away into the forests to fend for themselves. Those who remained, those who saw the chance of a life in this forest place gathered their things and set off into the forest following a trail of smooth pebbles; onwards and deeper to the place the creature had created for them


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