Rite of Khom Zo Naad
by Vicky Morgan-Keith
The motokk was close now. It crept through a stand of dense redpine, its massive paws making not a sound on the carpet of needles strewn across the forest floor. Sosora caught a glimpse of the plated scales along its back as the beast circled, making its way ever nearer to her hiding place. The motokk swung its heavy maned head about, slitted nostrils testing the wind, alert ears tensed to catch the slightest sound. It pulled its lips back from long savage fangs with an angry snarl as it tore the leaf-littered ground with razor claws. A sharp, musky odor hung heavily in the early morning air causing all three of Sosora’s hearts to skip a collective beat. Challenge scent! The beast knew an intruder was nearby, and it was ready to fight! Instinctively her hand sought the hilt of her sole weapon, a ceremonial dagger hung on a loop of her simple leather belt. Called a jek, it was only bestowed to Neiran huntresses attempting the Kohm Zo Naad ritual. Her two fingers curled about it tightly, finding the touch of the cool, metallic hilt comforting After a moment, Sosora willed herself to release her grip. She was Sosora of the House Sokaf-Do! A lesser House perhaps, but nevertheless worthy of respect. It had taken her a long time to get here, and she had not traveled all this way only to kill the motokk and fail in her goal.
Sosora was one of the few huntresses their Jamad had deemed ready to forge a link with a bondbeast. In fact, she was the youngest in many years of those granted the right to make the attempt. Her peers envied her good fortune, resenting her for not being chosen themselves. Many of her elders sneered at her youth, saying she lacked the experience and wisdom necessary to succeed. But Sosora knew if she accomplished her task, then those of not only her house, but all houses, yes, even the Royal House of the Empress herself, would owe her respect.
The young huntress had begun her ceremonial journey much as others did, by visiting the grandest temple in her home city of Zu Varoh for guidance. There she had prayed at an ornate marble alter to the Firstmother Aoth, leaving a jeweled medallion on its cool stone surface as an offering. The medal had been left to her by her mother. She had fallen in battle defending a small outpost world from invading forces of the upstart Galactic Council of Worlds. It had originally been awarded to Sosora’s great grandmother for bravery and exemplary service in battle, adorning her trophy sash for many years before being passed down to Sosora’s grandmother when she successfully completed the Khom Zo Naad. It was the most precious thing Sosora owned.
The young huntress had almost wept when she lifted her bowed head from the altar to see a small leather pouch lying in place of her offering. Aoth had deemed her worthy! The Oracle had bestowed upon her the sacred gift of Fahz Jiin!
Praising Aoth for her blessing, Sosora set out for the Ataak Nuwaur, a remote wilderness region of Neira. The journey by foot from Zu Varoh to her chosen testing ground took several weeks. She encountered many travelers as she made her pilgrimage, although their numbers dwindled the farther away from urban areas she went. No one impeded her progress. No guards stopped her to question her about her business. Embossed with the cartouche of the Khom Zo Naad, the metal tag clipped to her battle sash ensured all stepped respectfully aside to let her pass, but not one offered assistance. That was as it should be, and Sosora’s stride gained confidence. To be offered aid would have been a great insult, implying she was incapable of completing her task on her own.
Sosora was weary and footsore when she passed beyond the dusty rural roads and overgrown foot trails to finally reach the perimeter of the Ataak Nuwaur. Here she paused only briefly to rest before continuing onward to the heart of the region where she was sure her goal awaited.
Her journey into the interior took almost as much time as she had already spent traveling. She navigated through tangled scratchbramble and dense redpine, scrambling over trecherous mountain rocks, ever vigilant for dangerous predators such as the motokk she sought. Some days inclement weather would force her to seek shelter before she could continue her search for a suitable bondbeast–a lone adult and, if female, without cubs.
At last her efforts were rewarded. She came upon the territory of a young male and put all her training and skill to observing him without detection. The area he had claimed as his own was not particularly large, and Sosora noticed several slashes on his shoulders, most likely from neighboring motokks discouraging him from interloping on their territories. The huntress smiled to herself. This motokk was not afraid to test his rivals. The thick mantle of coarse fur on its shoulders marked it obviously male. And a considerably large one at that, although he would only be of moderate size if female. He seemed healthy, neither scrawny nor sickly, apparently managing to sustain himself on the available game of his small domain quite well. He was most likely a cunning and efficient hunter. Her respect for him grew, and she decided. This was her motokk. Trying to control her mounting excitement, she had crept cautiously forward.
A hissing snort followed by a low, rumbling growl brought Sosora back to the present and allowed her to pinpoint the beast’s location. He was almost upon her! It was time.
Cautiously she reached into the simple leather pouch tied to her belt, withdrawing a fingertip of fine azure powder. Mouthing a soundless prayer to the Firstmother Aoth, she smeared the dust over the nostril slits at the back of her jaw, not quite sure what to expect. The effects were surprisingly immediate.
Strength surged through her while any fear or doubt departed. Her senses gained a heightened clarity she had never before experienced. Time seemed to slow for everything about her while she passed through unhindered. A furious roar came to her ear canals, rolling long and deafening, like thunder. Sosora whirled to see the motokk charging toward her. Her eyes noted the powerful bunch and play of muscles in its haunches as it bounded forward, its wickedly hooked claws throwing up dead vegetation and clods of dirt from the forest floor. She heard the heavy thud of every footfall, the snap and rustle of branches as it came rushing toward her, every huff of its breath beneath the rasp of its savage snarls.
All this she noticed in but a moment before charging from her hiding place toward the beast herself. Muscles that only moments before had complained of fatigue from her arduous journey were now silent. She hurtled toward the motokk screaming the name of Aoth and her House again and again. The distance between the two closed rapidly. The motokk made a final leap, its dark furred face twisted in a feral grin, eyes gleaming scarlet fire, taloned paws reaching for her, its triumphant roar filling Sosora’s ears.
Suddenly the huntress dropped to the ground, sliding along the leaf-strewn earth, throwing out a leg to neatly trip the beast as it hurtled past overhead. The motokk tumbled to the ground with a scream of outrage as Sosora sprang to her feet and leapt upon the creature’s head, her strong, wiry arms encircling its heavy neck. Two minds as one, she thought, pressing her face to the motokk’s own and gazing unafraid into its fiercely glowing eyes.
The motokk scrambled to its feet as the Neiran huntress clung to its head, reaching up a foreleg to rend the offending nuisance to bits. A furious roar began in its chest, then abruptly stopped. Its sharp claws raked almost absently along Sosora’s back opening shallow wounds. She winced in anticipation of the pain, but oddly, she didn’t feel it. She opened alien eyes to see her own confused face staring back at her and watched as a great paw slowly lowered to the ground. She could see blood seeping from the wounds on her back, smell its metallic tang in wide nostrils, feel the flex and ripple of powerful muscles, the splay of claws from mighty paws, the deep rumble of breath in strong lungs.
Sosora felt a rush of joyful elation mixed with irritated puzzlement. For long moments the two remained thusly, still as stone, oblivious to the world around them. There was only her mind, the motokk’s, and the bond she was hoping to form.
The motokk was less than pleased and resisted. Its will hammered at hers, raw and feral, in an attempt to free itself. Sosora felt her vision blur as her senses shifted. Although she once again looked upon the world through her own eyes, Sosora thrilled to match her will with the motokk’s, pleased it had not meekly submitted. She was worthy of this spirited beast and he her! And while the powerful creature could certainly have slain her, in a battle of wills the Neiran huntress had the advantage. Determined, she held on as long as she could, feeling the tenuous bond grow.
Finally the beast hissed, tossing its head irritably as if to shake off the psychic link, but refrained from outright attack. Sosora released her hold on the motokk, dropping lightly to the ground, and gazed at it appreciatively. Its muscles were strong and solid, and its teeth, which it seemed to have no problem displaying to her with frequent hisses, seemed in excellent condition.
Pleased, Sosora walked about it, running a hand along its hide despite its low snarls until she stood by its great head, then scratched it behind an ear. The motokk rumbled, then lay down at her feet. I, Zor, the huntress heard in her mind. No, she replied firmly, with a grim smile. We are Sosora Zor.