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Tribes of Durkan Hollow


Tribes of Durkan Hollow Copyright Douglas Ironside 2023


Through the grey ripped wound of the heavens poured cold water so heavy they had to seek refuge. They escaped the rain in a sacred cave circled by the crumbling stone formations of eerie Durkan Hollow, fearing monsters roaming the ragged rocks, or in the dark heart of forests below. Between so many twisted formations cut by the passing of water and sliding ice, they hid. There, they prayed to elder gods for salvation, and relief from freezing, side-bending rains.  

The world crashed, winds swept higher, tearing through the cluster of black and naked trees just beyond. A strange anxiety swelled within Tessa and Grom, holding them in a clawing grasp. They were together, not so much by will as for the need to escape, driving them to the same small and forbidden place, up among the upturned boulders of the broad-ranging Harrowed Hills, high above the shattered remains of ruined lands.


This was where only the staunch or tenacious hunted the mountain goat or the mull deer. Tessa had been so close to a kill, half starving, her tightly muscled arms and wiry legs driven by hunger. Grom was not so driven to slay. He often fed on the slaughter of wolves, a scavenger. He desired less to risk his life, wanted less to feel his heart pound, even though his massiveness might save him where his courage might fail.

These two had seen each other before from a distance, and in those wary encounters mostly ignored the other. Their peoples had been divided into two tribes long ago.


The schism was the driving river, a liquid wedge. Yet they both knew elders who droned of past unity. There had once been a red bridge made of metal and stone. Before it had failed and rusted away, the clans were one. But now, so many generations later, it was no longer. Still their peoples warily crossed to the other side for food and trade, but now by raft, or canoe.


Tessa had come to the north side on her own, perhaps a foolish thing. She had brought a mighty spear and a broad net, with which she had much skill, Grom had brought his bare hands, for they were all he needed, along with a sack made of hide, to carry any meat he might find, to steal from the cougar, or the wild dogs. But he was caught, just as Tessa was, by the maddened skies, the bellowing gale, and any beasts that now prowled the darkened landscape.


Grom stared at her across the cave, keeping his gaze low. She was so small, her legs short. Her hair was pulled close to her head, black. She poked the fire with a stick. Her eyes did not betray any fear beyond that which they both dreaded outside the mouth of stone. He could smell her, heavy, unwashed, old sweat and the pungent odour of hunter. She was a wild thing.


Tessa grunted, her rough teeth held behind her lips, observing his hugeness. He reeked of berries and lye, unthinkably clean, his skin without much hair at all, his head shaved down to the skull and rough tattoos in dark blue ink dappled across rippled muscle. 

They had looked over each other for a beat as they had found the holy space at the same moment. It was a shelter of which they both knew, but never dared use until this desperate night. They had exchanged no words, only barren looks, and then a rushed entrance to evade the frigid wind and wet. Their tribes were not presently at war, an uneasy peace held for a few seasons. The old ones spoke of many conflicts past, raids and stabbings in the night. Now there was just enough food, fish in the running waters, goats for milk. As such Tessa and Grom had silently agreed to share the Durkan cave, when they had each raced to the Hollow.

The Singing Clan had their song, and Grom hummed it, deep and low. It reminded him of home. The Oak People had no such chants or music. They instead venerated strength. Tessa sharpened her spear with a rock, the sound of it grating over the vibrations from the man’s throat. They waited. Outside, a wickedness poured down. An endless drone concealed any forewarning, should some evil creature creep forth.


Grom ignored this possibility and tried to sleep, but his mind could not discard worry, to rest in the tiny shadow of this strange Oak woman. Once before he had spied her hunt, a masterful display he had seen from a vantage point well above. She moved as fast as a deer, stalking so deftly and clever, a dangerous thing on her own. Yet he did not trust that she would protect him in the passing hours. 


Tessa had never seen a man so tall, with feet and hands so gargantuan. He was shaped like a brute that could tear a buffalo in half, but he bore no weapons at all. He seemed too quiet, maybe useless. For what he could do with his fingers alone, she wondered. The fire flickered, smoke curling among the basalt and the limestone, twisting and billowing, making eyes water and itch. The store of wood here was small, but there were old hides and furs strewn about. They huddled among them.


Soon it became clear that night would come before the storm would break. A trek back to the village for Grom would not be possible. For Tessa, the river would be violent, crossing back near impossible. They would have to wait until morning, and a clearing of the chaos of night. 

“You are small,” Grom said, his tongue thick.

She said nothing, only glancing at him. 

“This cave belongs to the Singing People,” Grom said, unfazed by her quiet. He pointed to one side of the ceiling, whereupon were the scrawls and pictographs of his ancestors, drawings of animals and the lost cityscape under a sweep of stars. This was a mystical place, he knew.

Again, the little woman, fierce and unbroken as she was, said nothing, even though she remembered this place was no less revered by the Oak Peoples, the handwork of her clan displayed elsewhere on the walls. Instead she adjusted the fire to minimize the smoke. It burned cleaner and brighter, blazing up as cold air leaked in from the cave mouth. She pulled the skin of a bear around her and lied down close to the base of the flames. 

Grom grunted. 

Tessa peaked out from the furry hide to observe him and saw the shine of light across his back. A thousand dots were across his shoulders, a mosaic formed to make some odd sigil she did not recognize. Strange that he bared his skin, seemingly untouched by the cold. As the night fell, the temperature was dropping deep. Frost would be upon the smooth cavern walls by morning. She saw him rise, unable to stand to his full height. He was uncomfortable. He tried to stretch and groaned for the restraint. She looked upon his form, uncovered save for a tiny cloth and a string down the crack of his ass. Everywhere was taught sinew bulging, and the lines of his shape the form of a near giant. The light cascaded off his body, revealing his magnificent ugliness. 

Then, a sound.


A sound from deeper within the cave, where it narrowed and disappeared beyond the light. Grom flinched, as the groan or wail echoed dreadfully upon the walls, then ceased. Tessa was instantly on her feet, spear in hand. Grom moved behind her as she peered into the darkness.

“A cave bear?” he asked.

“No,” she whispered. She stepped forward, three steps, waiting for the sound to recur.  Grom noticed her footfalls, treading so lightly. Though he was afraid of the unknown danger, he still could not help but notice the woman as feline, graceful, deadly. He tried to speak again, but she silenced him with the snapped flick of her hand. Carefully she reached down for a burning stick, a poor substitute torch, and held it up to impenetrable shadow, looking down to the limits of her vision. The rocks narrowed considerably, so whatever it was, it could not be very big, should it emerge from the aperture beyond which there was naught but impossible darkness. 

And the noise rippled again, this time more directed, increased in its howling malevolence. Tessa did not budge, holding ground, waiting to pounce or stab. Grom cowered, taking two steps back. He knew angry gods or restless Earth Fey inhabited this place, just as legends spoke. Tessa stared at the hole, inky jet, and suddenly from it poured some infernal wraith, penetrating the air. The raging ghost cackled, and flew into the smoke, becoming one with it, merging with all the space instantaneously. Boldly Tessa swiped with her spear, but the fearsome essence that had emerged from the deep of the cave was now melded with this place. The spear caught no thread of life or blood in its arc. 

Grom breathed, coughing. Tessa inhaled the incorporeal ether of the thing, now bound by the space alone. For a moment they both hacked and sputtered. Then, it surrounded them, a thickly present spirit, an apparition driven by unknown desires. The world changed.

Tessa turned to her companion in the cave and dropped her weapon and the makeshift brand. Then she undid the twists and ties of her leather clothes and they fell, her curved body glowing in the firelight, the hair upon her everywhere free and untamed. Grom saw the glory of her form but was suspicious of what now possessed her. Despite that, he felt himself ready. His brain and his body were somehow disassociated, and whatever strangeness that had just happened was forgotten, fading into the primal.


Tessa approached.


Her body radiated power and sensuousness, absolutely stinking of female. Grom felt that scent surround him, spiraling into his nose, overcoming him, until all there existed was the Oak woman, unbridled in her fetid grandeur, reeking of uncaged desire. Grom tried to swallow. Tessa came closer. 


For a moment he tried to abate her hands, but they were unnaturally strong, dextrous. They handled his massive form as if it were nothing, and she threw him like a child’s doll to the ground, into the bed of furs. She moved to him and tore his loincloth from his body, ripping apart the leather. Grom tried to crawl away, but was trapped by her, her legs wrapped around his calve like the pressing weight of a ton. He could not escape. Tessa’s agile and hirsute body was upon him, rending at his muscles with fingernails, grasping his arms in a terrible grip.


Her thighs wrapped around one of his trunk-like legs like a python and squeezed until he yelped for mercy. He perceived this woman, whose teeth seemed pointed, whose eyes seemed glossed with purple, whose flesh was awash with an uncanny fever. She was suddenly a demon, but for reasons he could not fathom, he did not care. He was tight and rigid like a piece of lathed ash.


Tessa’s mind was overthrown. In a clutch of supernatural blackness, she understood only power, and the need to use force to bring this man to her will, to dominate him. She felt his mind and his hands resist but pushed them all aside as if they were only the protestations of a squealing child. He would suffice for her needs, and the irresistible urge to be filled. Such did the wreath of smoke command.

For an immeasurable length of time, the cave belonged to them, bound in the grasp of an act of nature, driven by unnatural force. They meshed recklessly. Grom was under her control as Tessa took everything he could offer, her breasts heaving in the firelight, her inspiration uncontrolled.


His big muscles burned for relief, but she was relentless. He gave forth a spasm. She was not done. A sweat came upon him, firing him again in mere moments, and she continued, shuddering, pounding, and destroying him with abandon. He knew there was nothing for him but to continue until the specter was somehow sated. 

When he had spent himself to exhaustion, she at last released him, physically, spiritually. Grom lost consciousness and disappeared into a place from where he might never emerge, a darkened depth. In time, Tessa stood and grabbed her spear and net. Over her shoulder there was the crack of daylight, and the ruins of the southern city seemed to call. She hummed his song and made for the outside.


Tessa, coming back to herself, knew that inside her belly was the future of the Oak and Singing Peoples, perhaps once again united, perhaps a portent of doom. If the bridge could be rebuilt, or would never, at long last there would come a reckoning.





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