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TitleThaldorn And Lanivara: The Beginning
UserAlarin
RankingMerit
Post Date (Visible)May 2021
Content

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********FOREWORD********
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Most who have interacted with me over the last sixty or so years will undoubtedly have met Thaldorn, my constant companion and confidant. To some, he is a brash and rather mean-spirited gorilla at times. To others, he can be surprisingly affectionate, especially towards members of my family.

But how much does one really know about the gorilla known as Syr Thaldorn Thornfist, the White? I've known him for this long and even I cannot claim to know everything without outright lying. For example, it came as quite a shock to everyone, myself included, when it was revealed that he in fact has a wife named Lanivara who has somehow made her way to the Basin of Life and managed to find Thaldorn and I. It was... quite an interesting reunion, to say the least!

Another rather shocking revelation that I learned about him some thirty or so years after we initially met was when I learned the truth of how he really received the thorns that are now grafted into his knuckles.

It was actually they whom approached me and requested that I be the one to share their story with the rest of the Basin of Life. I hesitated at first, the reason being that I never believed that my writing skill would do their story justice. Having spent majority of my life with Thaldorn at my side and then, when Lanivara found us that day, I finally learned their full story.

With their permission, I now present this book telling of their life, from their upbringing to that fateful day that Lanivara found us on my aethership, the Winged Gorilla.

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**RESCUED**
***********
Within a vast jungle region, creatures of varying sorts can be seen everywhere, from those who claim the skies as theirs, to elephants, and large cat-like predators. A much younger version of Thaldorn huddles beneath one of the vine-laden trees, looking fearful and alone. Around him, the sounds of the other creatures seem to further his anxiety as he trembles quite visibly.

Their story begins over five centuries ago within the jungle of Jojobo. After witnessing his parents being slain by a raiding army from a nearby poaching camp, Thaldorn found himself orphaned at a very young age. He knew little about how to fend for himself, let alone survive in such a world when he was only beginning his life. A tribe of aslarans appear in the distance as one of their scouts scans the area briefly, then signals to his comrades.

"Over here! I see him!" Thaldorn heard a voice shout as the aslaran scout pointed in his direction. The scared young gorilla did not bother giving it a second thought.

He fled.

A young gorilla was no match for a fleet-footed aslaran hunter, however. Within seconds, he found himself surrounded by the tribe. He snarled viciously, preparing to fight. The aslarans that had him cornered suddenly parted, allowing the eldest of them to step forward cautiously.

"Easy there, little fellow. I'm not going to hurt you. Neither are they," the wizened aslaran assured him. Thaldorn's eyes darted at the rest of the aslarans surrounding him, who all began removing their weapons and dropping them before him. "See? No hunter would dare drop their weapons if they meant you harm," he continued. He snapped a finger at those crowded behind him.
"Bring this poor soul some food!"

Two rather stocky-looking shards of Aslarn appeared, bearing baskets almost overflowing with fruits of many varieties. Thaldorn's eyes, while still wary and alert, glanced at the baskets hungrily. The aslaran elder nodded.

He motioned for them to drop the baskets. Momentarily forgetting his fear, Thaldorn grabbed as many things as he could carry before backing away, where he cautiously watched while eating as fast as he was able to swallow.

"There, there. Better?" the elder asked. Thaldorn nodded slowly.
"Excellent! One of our scouts saw those poachers kill your parents and rushed to tell us. He'd also told us that you were still alive. We apologise for not getting here sooner!"

The tribe around him nodded, smiling. "We really mean you no harm, little one. We actually came to give you a home, should you wish it." The elder gestured to his comrades. "We are the Hunters of the Thorned Vines. You will be safe with us. We promise you."

Though Thaldorn had his misgivings, he knew two things. One, if they wanted to kill him, they would have already.

Two? They had food!

Thaldorn seemed to contemplate the question for a moment, then nodded.

"I will come," he squeaked. The entire hunting party gasped in astonishment.

"...you can speak?!" one of the Hunters stammered. Thaldorn shifted his eyes from side to side as he continued stuffing whatever edible item he could find straight into his mouth.

Thaldorn nodded uncertainly. "I... thought all of us could. I mean, my parents..." he tried, his voice fading as the memory overcame him. Tears began to fill his eyes. The elder aslaran rushed to his side.

"Now now, little one. Don't cry. You will be well taken care of. You will see!" he assured the orphaned gorilla, offering a hand. Reluctant at first, Thaldorn placed his hand and his trust into that of the tribe's chief. As the tribe began to form a line of defense both in front of and behind the gorilla and their leader, the sun began its descent beyond the horizon.

The tribe led young Thaldorn to their secluded camp just before the eastern border of the massive jungle where, indeed, he was taken care of by its inhabitants. It was there that he began to realise that he was truly safe, the chieftain had spoken the truth.

**********************************
*THE HUNTERS OF THE THORNED VINES*
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A slightly older Thaldorn watches the hunters as they complete their daily training. Peering at the thorns that appear on some of their hands, he turns to Tijah, one of the other aslarans around his age.

"Tijah, why do they have those thorns on their hands?" Thaldorn asked, pointing to one of the tribal hunters who was engaged in a sparring session with another whom bore no thorns. Tijah laughed.

"I am honestly surprised Chieftain Sarel hasn't told you," Tijah remarked. "Those you see that bear the thorns have earned them. They are the most elite of our tribe, having overcome the Way of the Four Cats."

"The Way of the Four Cats?" Thaldorn repeated, now intrigued. Tijah nodded. "What's that?"

"They were so named after the four original founders of our tribe, each who taught an aspect of one of the great cats. The Way of the Cheetah, the Way of the Panther, the Way of the Tiger, and the Way of the Lion," Tijah explained before motioning to the four statues located just beyond the practicing hunters.

As the thorn-less hunter found themselves bested by their opponent, Tijah continued. "The Cheetah is where they learn to be swift and merciless," she stated, pointing to each of the statues in turn. Thaldorn followed her gestures as she spoke.

"The Panther teaches them to spring when one least expects them to, providing an element of surprise. The Tiger teaches to be vicious and feared, by man and beast alike. The Lion..."

Thaldorn gazed at the enormous stone statue, depicting a lion who looked prepared to attack. "The Lion teaches to have great strength and courage, despite the adversary. Where most would falter, our Thorn-Fists cannot. They are our first line of defense and the ones who will lay down their lives if needed to ensure the safety of the rest of the hunting squad with them should the need to retreat occur." Thaldorn listened, mesmerised. Tijah glanced over at him and giggled.
"The warriors who manage to master the training and trials of each Way are called to a secret ceremony known only to our Chieftain and the Thorn-Fists. To reveal the goings-on of those ceremonies, or even revealing its location, is immediate exile from the tribe and an eternal blood contract on that hunter," Tijah said seriously. Thaldorn blinked, surprised.

"H-has such a thing ever happened?!" he wanted to know. Tijah pondered for a moment before nodding.

"Aye. Once. Faracin, the Oathbreaker. He revealed the whereabouts of the ceremony in hopes to have his family attend. He was slain during the ceremony for betrayal, his family exiled from our camp. I've... not heard much else. My pa told me about it."

"That sounds... rather brutal!" Thaldorn breathed, causing Tijah to laugh again before nodding in agreement.

"Indeed so, my friend!" she remarked. "Not many are accepted into their ranks and even fewer make it to becoming a Thorn-Fisted. The trial for entry I've seen. It's... very brutal and tests the limits of all who think they stand a chance. The thorn-less that you see there... they've all passed it somehow."

"And erm... how does one ask to join them?" Thaldorn inquired, trying to sound casual. Tijah shot him a look. "I am just curious!!"

"First of all, you are far too young. They will not accept pledge-makers who are under eighteen years lived. Secondly..."
Tijah's tone lowered so only Thaldorn could hear her.

"...to join the Hunters of the Thorned Vines is a lifetime commitment. One does not quit or retire. The chieftain grants that to those who have earned it."

Thaldorn blinked again. "...and is that decided often?"

Tijah snickered. "Put it this way, my friend... the last such retirement was seventy-five years ago. The chieftain prefers to keep his elite going for as long as they can," she repsonded, pausing as she gathered her thoughts.

"To be fair though, he does do everything in his power to make certain that they are all well taken care of and every need met swiftly."

"I... see," Thaldorn remarked before a loud horn resounded across the camp. At the sound, every warrior who had moments earlier been practicing began racing for the camp entrance. Tijah grabbed Thaldorn by the arm.

"Follow me, we need to get to safety," she insisted, nearly dragging the gorilla behind her. Thaldorn allowed himself to be led to a barricaded hut just steps away from the training grounds.

Thaldorn watched as a dozen or so Hunters bearing the mark of the Thorn-Fists were led to the camp gates by the wizened chieftain, whom had become like a father to him.

"What is happening?" Thaldorn demanded. Tijah pointed out towards the gates.

"Poachers. Lots of them," she answered. Loud banging could be heard against the camp gates as the poachers attempted to break them down. Loud orders from the tribe's unit leaders followed as warriors began moving into formation behind the Thorn-Fists. The scene that unfolded next would remain burned into Thaldorn's memory for eternity. While he had seen the Hunters of the Thorned Vines in action before, it all paled in comparison to what took place now. Working as a single unit, the chieftain and the elite ones of the tribe leaped over the gates easily as the rest of the warriors remained on guard.

"OPEN THE GATES!" came the chieftain's call moments later. As the gates flew open, several poachers attempted to rush forward, only to be cut down by the Thorn-Fists who stood as a blockade between the open gates and the invading poachers.

"Archers, on my mark!" another aslaran called out. Twenty or so hunters fitted arrows into their bows and drew back, waiting for the command of their leader while the poachers who had somehow managed to breach the first line of defense held by the Thorn-Fists found themselves facing yet a second army who disposed of them easily.

"FIRE!" the archery commander shouted.

The tell-tale twang of many bows echoed across the area as a volley of arrows soared into the sky. Cries of pain and agony could be heard from beyond the camp's entrance as every arrow fired struck its intended mark.

Thaldorn watched transfixed as the remaining poachers found themselves surrounded, no escape route in sight. Defeated, they dropped their weapons and fell to their knees. Chieftain Sarel approached them, spear drawn.

"Why have you attacked my camp?" he roared, the sound more forceful and menacing than Thaldorn had ever expected.

The chieftain was furious.

"W-we were offered a hefty sum in riches if we returned with the body of a young gorilla we were told was here!" one of the poachers spoke up, scared out of his wits. At those words, the chieftain lowered himself so that he was at eye level with the one who'd just spoken.

His eyes were red with fury.

"Then you deliver this message to whomever sent you," he hissed through clenched teeth. "From the colours you don, I know which of the poaching camps you come from. We also know where it is. If you ever," Sarel snarled viciously. The poachers huddled together, the fear clear in their facial expressions. "...come after Thaldorn again, so Rahm help me, I will send every last hunter I have and obliterate your camp. Your existence will be wiped from Jojoban memory. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!"

Thaldorn found that even he was a bit afraid of the chieftain at this moment. The elder aslaran had always been very kind and nurturing towards him, making sure he was always provided for.

What he was witnessing now was downright frightening, yet the young silverback could not look away. The poachers all nodded hastily, murmuring in agreement.

"Good. Then you," Sarel growled, pointed at the poacher informant. "Take my message back to your camp. If I ever see you again, my hunters will be given a 'pursue and destroy' order before we make for your home. Go!"

"B... but what of the rest of us?!" another poacher cried. Before anyone could so much as blink, the chieftain rammed his spear into the poacher's chest, killing him instantly. Sarel eyed the other men.

"Any other ridiculous questions?" he snapped at those who remained. His query was met with complete silence. "Good. Hunters, lock them in the boneyard."

Thaldorn and Tijah both gasped. The boneyard was what the camp called the room of execution, where a series of gallows were located. Anyone who'd been taken there were never seen again.

His voice softening, Sarel spoke in the direction where he knew Thaldorn was hiding as the remaining poachers were bound and led towards the boneyard.

"Thaldorn, come here," the chieftain commanded. Thaldorn reluctantly emerged from behind the barricade, looking quite uncertain whether he should do as he was told or find somewhere else to hide.

The chieftain smiled at him. "It's quite all right, lad. I apologise that you had to witness that. It is over now. Please... come," Sarel coaxed reassuringly. Thaldorn hesitated for a brief second, then approached Chieftain Sarel. The elder tribal leader placed a hand on the gorilla's shoulder once he was close enough.

"It seems that the poachers know of you," the chieftain sighed. Around them, the remaining warriors dispersed, leaving them to talk. "Though you are far too young to join our ranks officially, I believe it is time that your training began." Seeing Thaldorn's look of shock, the chieftain offered a raspy chuckle. "Do not look so surprised, little one. It was always my intention for you to join us if you wished it. However, under these circumstances..."

As his words fade, the chieftain beckoned Thaldorn to follow, leading him back to the training yard.

"Starting at first light this next morn, your training shall begin. I would like you to be able to handle yourself if in the unlikely event you are somewhere we cannot protect you."

The chieftain pointed towards the sparring pit.

"Since you are still quite young, I will not subject you to the full extent of our training just yet," the chieftain promised. "However, it will still be quite the challenge. I am confident that you will overcome such a challenge. Am I to assume correctly?"

Thaldorn thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "I shall indeed!"

"Now that is what I was hoping to hear!" the chieftain boomed proudly.

A few years later, Thaldorn, just beginning his teen years of life, stands in the training yard as he and the chieftain begin their daily sparring session. The young warrior did more than just overcome. To the surprise and delight of the Hunters, he quickly mastered every lesson.

A thunderous ovation erupts throughout the training yard as Thaldorn manages to knock Sarel flat onto his back with an evasive counter maneuver that the elder aslaran never saw coming.

"Not even of proper age and yet has outwitted the chieftain!" remarked one of the Thorn-Fists. It was then that the required age to join the Hunters of the Thorned Vines was lifted for Thaldorn specifically.

The Room of Trials, bearing many obstacles, now stands between the aspiring Hunter and admission into the clan as Thaldorn works his way through them one by one. Sweat nearly drenching his hair, he hurdled over a wall that stood between him and the final challenge. Gasping for breath, yet refusing to give up, Thaldorn makes a mad dash for the exit leading out of the training yard testing grounds where a member of the Hunters stood, waiting.

"You're nearly there, lad," Sarel bellowed so that Thaldorn could hear. "Now... find a way past Aaseth and you pass your examination!"

Without the slightest hesitation, Thaldorn sprang into action, becoming a blur as he and Aaseth battled ferociously. Though the rules for passing were to either defeat the one guarding the exit or sneak past him, Thaldorn was never one to back away from a fight.

So fight he did!

A hush overcomes those watching from the spectators area as the final blow was struck: a ***CRRRAAACK*** reverberating through the area.

In a failed attempt to dodge Thaldorn's melee of attacks, Aaseth was struck in the face with the gorilla's wooden staff, sending him airborne for a second before the defeated Hunter crashed to the dirt floor unconscious. As Thaldorn approached the aslaran who'd been father, mother, mentor and much more to him, the spectators began to cheer. And so that day did Thaldorn officially earn his place amongst the Hunters of the Thorned Vines. In time, he became one of the single most decorated members of the tribe who was not yet a Thorn-Fist. Then one day...

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*THE THORN FISTS*
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"Syr Thaldorn!" a messenger called out as Thaldorn oversaw the training of a few new recruits. Bidding them to continue, he sauntered over to the messenger who handed him a sealed scroll embossed with the emblem of the Thorn-Fists. At the age where most Hunters were just attempting to pledge to the Hunters tribe, Thaldorn's call to the Ceremony of the Thorning was now at hand.
Trembling as he read, Thaldorn examined the scroll in disbelief. Tijah, who herself was looking to pledge, approached him.

"...judging by the look on your face, that's what I think it is," Tijah breathed. Remembering the Code of Secrecy, Thaldorn made sure the contents of the scroll could not be read from where Tijah stood.

"It is," Thaldorn replied numbly. Tijah patted him on the shoulder.

"Why are you so shocked, Thaldorn? If anyone deserves it, it's you!" Tijah pointed out. While Thaldorn could not disagree, the shock within him remained. He rolled the scroll back up.

"I just... never thought it would come this soon... I am only eighteen years lived!" he almost bellowed. Snickering, Tijah nodded.

"Aye, it IS a bit early. But you would not be holding that scroll if most of the Thorn-Fists did not agree with Chieftain Sarel," Tijah countered.

Thaldorn had to admit: She had him there.

It wasn't long before he found himself facing the Council of the Thorn Fists within a cavernous enclave beneath the campground. Blazing torches line each stone wall of the area, bathing the room in a soft glow. Kneeled before Chieftain Sarel is the hooded figure of Thaldorn, his head bowed. Around them, every marked Thorn-Fist stands in attendance to watch their newest member being initiated into the elite group. Somberly, the chieftain laid a hand upon Thaldorn's head.

"You who came to us young, who excelled in combat and the hunt at a far earlier age than any who are joined with us here," Sarel intoned, a sense of pride evident in his voice.

"Are there any who object to the induction of Thaldorn into the Thorn-Fists?" the tribal chief continued, his words sounding almost as if daring someone to try.

"Not I," a series of voices answered almost in unison.

"Then it is decided. Thaldorn, present your knuckles," Sarel commanded. The young silverback clenched each hand into a tight fist before holding them out towards the tribal leader. Thaldorn winced visibly as the first thorn was driven deep into the back of his hand.

"In remembrance of the Way of the Cheetah shall you bear their mark upon both hands," the elder aslaran murmurs as a second thorn was pressed into Thaldorn's other fist. One by one, eight thorns in total were grafted into Thaldorn's knuckles as each representation was announced.

The Way of the Panther...

The Way of the Tiger...

The Way of the Lion...

Thaldorn's eyes watered as the last thorn was driven into the flesh of his hands, yet he remained silent. Holding a thorned vine aloft, Sarel intoned a phrase in a language completely foreign to the new aspirant.

"Much like your oath to us binds you to the Tribe, so shall these vines bind your fists where your mark as one of us are displayed," the aslaran leader declared, wrapping the vines around each of Thaldorn's hands. Stepping back, the chieftain continued.

"Each member of the Thorn-Fists will strike a blow to these vines until they are forever embedded into your flesh," Sarel motioned for the others to step forward. Though the pain was unbelievably excruciating, he still remained silent as each of the fourteen other Thorn-Fists took turns pounding both vines into his hands. As the vines finally were in place, the chieftain stood before Thaldorn once more.

"So it is done. Rise, Syr Thaldorn of the Thorn-Fists and take your place amongst your bretheren," Sarel announced. As Thaldorn rose to his feet and strode proudly over to the other Thorn-Fists, each of them faced him with their fists crossed over their chests, their thorns faced towards him. In time, Thaldorn was asked to replace the aging chieftain, which he at first... declined.

"Are you bloody insane?!" Thaldorn nearly shrieked. Sarel chuckled, the chieftain's legendary abode sprawled out around them. "Why me?!"

Sarel locked eyes with Thaldorn.

"It has been my secret ambition to see that you are the next to lead the Hunters, Thaldorn," came the tribe elder's revelation. Thaldorn's jaw dropped open. "There is no other," Chieftain Sarel insisted. "Ever since the day you bested me in that sparring pit, I have intended for you to replace me."

Of course... Thaldorn being Thaldorn, he was not about to be convinced that easily.

"I still think you went easy on me that day, Syr!" the gorilla insisted. The chieftain sighed.

"I swear to you, I did not. How would it look to the Thorn-Fists if I had let you win. They can tell, lad. As can you, now," Thaldorn's mentor pointed out. As much as Thaldorn hated to admit it, the chieftain was right.
Days later, they both stood in a great hall. Chieftain Sarel faced Thaldorn, the Thornstave of Aslarn held in his palms. He held the symbolic weapon out to Thaldorn as a large crowd watched nearby.

"As the Sun sets when His time is done, so has my reign as the tribe's Chieftain," Sarel announced as Thaldorn respectfully grasped the offered weapon with both hands.

"Hail to the newest Chieftain of the Hunters of the Thorned Vines: Syr Thaldorn Rhiantha, Warrior of the Thorned Fist!" the retiring chieftain declared. The crowd began to cheer, the noise almost deafening as Thaldorn raised the Thornstave high. The Thorn Fists salute in respect, their fists crossed over their chests with their thorns facing outwards.

Now the new Tribe Chieftain, Thaldorn found himself elevated into a position he never thought possible. It was during his reign as such that he would meet...

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**THE SUN-CHASER**
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Unlike Thaldorn, Lanivara's was a happy and rather sheltered upbringing. Having never met her parents, she was raised by a kindly old hermit loboshigaru named Nicolae.

From the west, a haggard-looking loboshigaru enters, looking as if reprimanding his gorilla charge. Lanivara drops her head in shame.

...who would often have to run after her every time the sun rose. Despite what anyone would attempt to tell her, she was adamant that she could one day catch the sun before it set.

"Ooh, the Sun!" Lanivara, who had been peeking through one of their quaint little home windows, squeals in delight as the sun begins its daily journey across the sky.
"You stay put, young la-- LANIVARA!" the hermit shouted after her, but it was no use. She was gone.

"I swear, I am going to find a way to bloody seal that door closed when she gets back!" he would always threaten, but never actually did. Outside, Lanivara gleefully attempts to grab the Sun as it slowly made its journey across the sky.

Almost a daily occurrence, this became quite the routine. The moment the Sun peeked over the horizon, young Lanivara was out the door in her personal quest to capture it before Nicolae could stop her.
As each night fell, a rather disappointed-looking Lanivara returned home where Nicolae waited to scold her.

A forlorn-looking Lanivara enters the room, her head hung low. Seeing the look of dejection on her face however, the aging loboshigaru could never bring himself to scold her as he wanted to.

"I have tried to tell you, little one. Capturing the Sun is impossible!" Nicolae would try each time, only to get the same response in return.

"I can do it! I know I can!" Lanivara would insist, causing her caretaker to throw his paws up in exasperation. Since their home was in a rather secluded area of Jojobo, Lanivara's interactions with others was, at first, limited to just Nicolae and his pet wolf, Vannevar. Though Vannevar belonged to Nicolae, he was often chasing after Lanivara as she continued on her never-ending mission.

"I saw some funny-looking people today," Lanivara commented to Nicolae as she and Vannevar enter the hut. Just past them is small, but well stocked dining area and kitchen.
As promised, they'd returned long before sundown so that they and the elder loboshigaru could celebrate her sixteenth year of life lived with her favourite: vegetable stew. Nicolae froze at her words. Living in a secluded area of Jojobo meant that the chances of others being nearby were very slim. Within the last decade or so?

There had been none.

"Wait here, little one. Eat before your food gets cold. Vannevar!" the hermit called out. The large grey wolf-hound, who'd wandered off while they were talking, bounds back into the room and sits before Nicolae, who grabs one of his spears from just behind one of the kitchen's cupboards. Lanivara watched as both wolf and loboshigaru exited the tiny hut. The pair returned while the she-gorilla was clearing the table. Nicolae appeared troubled.

"Vannevar tracked trails of what I realised were blood. From what, I have no clue. But I do not think it's safe to be outside for now, Lanivara," Nicolae stated. Oblivious to any sort of danger, Lanivara hummed as she busied herself with cleaning the hut, not hearing a word the loboshigaru said. "Lanivara! Listen to me!" Nicolae almost shouted as he blocked her path.

Lanivara looked at her caretaker curiously. She had never seen Nicolae look so... panicked before.

"What is it, Nico?" Lanivara pried, her attention now fully on him.

Nicolae sighed, then motioned for her to sit. "Those blood trails were from beasts. That tells me one thing. There are poachers nearby."

Lanivara tilted her head as she sat, now even more confused.

"Poachers?" Lanivara echoed. Nicolae nodded. "Erm... what are poachers, exactly?"

Nicolae sighed patiently.

"Poachers are those who kill beasts, animals and the like simply for fortune's sake. The ones who left those blood trails were being chased by someone on only two feet."

"That's barbaric!" Lanivara seethed indignantly, her ears turning red. "We must stop them!"

"'We' are not doing anything, little one. You are staying here," Nicolae ordered. As Lanivara began to protest, Nicolae held up a hand. "No, I mean it. Stay here. Vannevar and I are trained to track these gits. We will find them, I promise."

Though she nodded, it was more out of acknowledgement than obedience. For the second that she knew loboshigaru and wolf were far enough away?

"I will find these poachers myself! The nerve!" Lanivara huffed, snatching one of Nicolae's spare spears and racing out the door.
It did not take long for Lanivara to realise just how much of a mistake her spontaneous reaction really was.

******************
*A CHANCE MEETING*
******************
"Oho! What do we have here?!" a rather bedraggled-looking human with yellowed teeth and wild hair commented as soon as he spotted Lanivara. He whistled shrilly. The voice catching her completely off-guard, Lanivara dropped the spear she was holding. Five other men appeared. The first pointed at Lanivara while another snatched her spear.

"Lookee here, boys! A gorilla! She ought'er fetch us some decent coin, eh?" he remarked to the others. A murmur of agreement answered him.

"Mebbe more'n decent, Bragas. She's got bleedin' pink hair!" another commented as they began to close in on the now scared gorilla.

Suddenly, Lanivara saw a creature who looked a lot like her appear out of nowhere, a wooden staff covered in thorns wielded with one hand.

"HUNTERS, ATTACK!" he bellowed. Lanivara watched aghast as a small team of aslarans appeared just as the one with the staff did. Out of nowhere. The second she could will her legs to move, Lanivara ran from the field of battle, screaming.

"I should have listened to Nico!" she heaved as she ran as fast as her legs would go. Finding an opening in a nearby tree, Lanivara squeezed herself into it and hid as best as she could.

"A few of the poachers managed to escape, Chieftain!" one of the aslarans reported to the other gorilla wielding the thorn staff.

"Find them. Bring them back alive if you can," the chieftain responded.

"You there!" A voice behind her nearly sent her scrambling further up into the tree. Grabbing a spiked branch, she turned and swung for all she was worth. "...are you serious, lady?! Stop!"

"You will never take me alive!" Lanivara vowed and swung again. The second she heard "OW!" she scrambled out of the tree and fled towards home. The chieftain shouted after her, but she was taking no chances. As she frantically assessed her surroundings, nothing in the surrounding area seemed the least bit familiar. It was then that she realised something...

She was lost!

"Oh why did I not just listen to Nico!" Lanivara chided herself as she continued to run. She could still hear the chieftain's voice nearby, but there was no way she was about to stop.

"Maybe I can hide here!" Lanivara thought to herself frantically as she spotted yet another tree covered in thick brush. Indeed, it was a much better hiding spot than that other tree had been!

"I can hear someone coming!" Lanivara clamped her mouth shut as footsteps drew close to where she was. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a thick-looking club of a branch. Brandishing it in her right hand, she emerged from the brush as the footsteps ceased.

"AAAAAIIIIIEEEE!"

"Meet your doom, poacher!"

Lanivara and the chieftain both narrowly missed one another with their attacks, Lanivara's swing sending her into a full circle before landing her on her rump.

"YOU!" they both shouted at each other, pointing.

"Poacher!" Lanivara spat at him, scrambling to her feet. To her surprise, the hunter eyed her, confused.

"Hold on... me? A poacher?" he repeated with a quizzical expression. Lanivara nodded, glaring at him.

"You kill animals for riches!" Lanivara accused him. To her utter disbelief, the chieftain began to laugh uproariously.

"...are you laughing at me?!" she demanded shrilly. She gripped her club and swung again, now quite angry.

"Whoa, hold on!" the hunter gorilla insisted, holding up both hands after dodging Lanivara's swing. "Miss, I am no poacher! In fact, I lead a hunting tribe that hunts poachers. A band of them led us here with their tracks."

"A likely story!" Lanivara hissed, cocking back to attempt yet another swing. "He's telling the truth, Lanivara. Greetings, Chieftain Rhiantha," Nicolae's voice said behind her as the loboshigaru grabbed the branch from the shocked she-gorilla.

"Please pardon Lanivara, she has not had many encounters with actual poachers... or others for that matter. Lanivara, this is Chieftain Thaldorn Rhiantha, Tribal Leader of the Hunters of the Thorned Vines."

Lanivara peered at Thaldorn.

"Tribal Leader of the... what, now?!" she laughed in disbelief.

"The Hunters of the Thorned Vines, miss," Thaldorn repeated. "We are a tribe of hunters who reside on the other end of the jungle."

Turning to Nicolae, Thaldorn adds, "Greetings, Syr Nicolae. So this is where you have been hiding!"

"Indeed," the hermit chuckled, saluting the tribal chieftain. Lanivara still looked skeptical.

"Hmph," she scoffed. "And how is it that you two know each other?"

"Because I am a retired member of his tribe," Nicolae revealed.

"Why have you never told me any of this?!" Lanivara demanded.

"It... honestly never crossed my mind to tell you about it," Nicolae admitted as Thaldorn watched the pair with interest.
Though the tribal chieftain tried his best not to show it, this rather fiery young gorilla intrigued him. Not to mention that she had been the only other gorilla he'd seen since his parents were slain.

"Most of our warriors would not think to divulge such, miss," Thaldorn added helpfully. Lanivara whirled around to face him, her expression indignant.

"Was I speaking to you?! No!" she huffed angrily. Giving Nicolae a sympathetic look, Thaldorn backed away, his hands raised in resignation. "THANK you! Now you, talk!" Lanivara continued, turning back to Nicolae, who himself retreated a few steps.

"Since many of our doings are not exactly allowed to be shared under tribal law, I just never brought it up at all," Nicolae admitted. Lanivara snorted in derision.

"Sod your bloody tribal laws!" she hissed before storming off in anger.

"I rather like this one," Thaldorn mused to himself silently as he watched her stomp off.

"I must apologise for her behaviour, Chieftain," Nicolae began, but Thaldorn shook his head.

"No, it is quite all right Syr Nicolae," Thaldorn insisted.
Taking a horn fastened to his waistbelt, Thaldorn blew into it.

A thundering blast resounded throughout the area. Within minutes, every member of the tribe who had joined the chieftain on this particular mission was at his side.

"Warriors, the hunt begins," Thaldorn announced loudly. His declaration was met with cheers. "I want every poacher in this area found and the creatures who still have a chance at life to be taken care of. Go!" As the tribal hunters disappeared in various directions, Thaldorn turned to Nicolae.

"Would you and Vannevar care to join me for old time's sake, Syr?" he asked. After a slight moment of hesitation, Nicolae nodded.

"It would be an honour, Chieftain. I should probably give Lanivara time to calm down, at any rate," Nicolae answered, drawing his spear.

"The honour is all mine, Syr. Come, let us hunt!" Thaldorn beamed as they too joined the search. Gorilla, loboshigaru, and wolf-hound race through the thick jungle vegetation. Trained in the art of tracking, Vannevar occasionally paused to sniff the area before re-joining his master.

"GET AWAY FROM ME!" a high-pitched voice echoed in the distance. Before either Thaldorn or Nicolae could react, Vannevar raced off in the direction of the yelling, snarling and barking as he did so. Nicolae's blood ran cold.
"It's--" he tried, but Thaldorn already knew.

Lanivara.

The young tribal leader sprinted after the wolf-hound, exchanging the thornstave for a spear as he took long strides across the terrain, Nicolae not too far behind.

"Drop your weapons or perish!" Thaldorn issued a warning as he arrived to find a team of poachers cornering Lanivara. As Vannevar now stood before Lanivara in an attempt to guard her, one of the poachers snickered.

"Why don' you come over 'ere an' make us, gorilla?" he leered, displaying his rotted yellow teeth. "I reckon we can make double our gol' 'ere if we'n turn th' both o' you in!"

"So be it!" Thaldorn snarled, leaping into the air. Lanivara stood frozen as she watched Thaldorn quickly dispatch of each poacher one by one, saving the one who'd just challenged him for last.

"W-wait!" the one with the yellowed teeth stammered as Thaldorn's giant hand that was now gripped around his throat began to constrict his breathing.

"Talk. Fast," Thaldorn spat out as Lanivara crouched down next to Vannevar, softly stroking his fur.

"Someone'n offered a fortune in gol' if we brough' back one or both o' you! Someone knew where she was," the poacher croaked, pointing at Lanivara. A feral and vicious growl escaped from Thaldorn as his crimson eyes bore into the hapless ruffian.

"H-had I known you were the other, I ne'er woulda come!" he finished, his breathing labored.

"Not good enough," Thaldorn proclaimed before hoisting the poacher over his head, causing him to scream in fright. Thaldorn suddenly felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Don't," Lanivara whispered softly. The chieftain felt his anger evaporate almost immediately at that one simple word. Placing the man back onto the ground, Thaldorn inched his face close to that of the ruffian.

"Thank this kind miss whom you were about to kill for her generous compassion. For I would have had none if she were not here," Thaldorn growled menacingly.

"I thankee, missus! Thankee!" the poacher managed gratefully, rubbing at his throat.

"You send word to whoever sent you," Thaldorn commanded, his voice low, every word laden with utter contempt. "Should anyone come after her again, they will be dealing with me personally," Thaldorn's voice rumbled with barely contained rage. Behind him, he could hear Lanivara breathe a sigh of relief. Shoving the disheveled and beaten man, Thaldorn bellowed a single word that boomed across the jungle.

"GO!"

It was from that day foward that Thaldorn and Lanivara began to grow close to one another. Onto the page in vivid detail is a painted portrait showing a happy couple smiling at one another.

*******************
*THE VOWS OF UNITY*
*******************

"I cannot believe I loathed you when we first met!" Lanivara says as they come to a halt. Both the tribal chieftain and the pink-haired silverback stand watching the sun disappear, declaring the end of another day in the jungle of Jojobo. Thaldorn gasped in disbelief, a hand held over his chest.

"You did?!" he asked with feigned indignation. Lanivara thumped him on the head. "...aye, I had that one coming."

Lanivara laughed as Thaldorn absently rubbed at the area where she'd just hit him.

"So erm..." Thaldorn began uncertainly, looking away.

"Hm? What's wrong?" Lanivara queried curiously, gazing at him.

"Well... you recall the Rite of Unity that Syr Nicolae finally underwent?" Thaldorn managed to get out nervously. Nicolae had too fallen in love with a human woman that both gorillas adored. Their ceremony of unity had taken place just a few months earlier.

"Do I!" Lanivara breathed, sighing. "It was beautiful--" The she-gorilla froze mid-sentence, her eyes now searching Thaldorn's face.

"Why Mister Thornfist, are you asking me to be your bethrothed?!" Lanivara inquired. Thaldorn gulped.
#wait 5000
"Well, now that she had just blurted it out like that, here goes nothing!" he thought to himself.

"Aye. I am," Thaldorn admitted in almost a whisper. After what seemed like an eternity to the thorn-fisted warrior, Lanivara spoke.

"...I have waited two years for you to ask," she confessed. Thaldorn blinked, not believing what he'd just heard. "Why so surprised, you big oaf?" Lanivara teased, taking his hand into hers.

"Nothing would make me happier!"

Thaldorn and Lanivara press their foreheads gently against one another, smiling.

Some time later, they stood opposite one another within a lush jungle garden enclosed by a fence of thorned vines. Donning a pristine suit of white, the tribal leader of the Hunters of the Thorned Vines looks almost regal as he holds Lanivara by the hand, admiring the dress she had chosen for the occasion: a glistening ensemble a much lighter shade of pink than her hair.
In a private and intimate affair, attended only by those closest to the pair, Thaldorn and Lanivara were bound in unity to one another.

"May your union be everlasting, your love for one another eternal," invoked one of the priests of Rahm. The priest looked out towards the small gathering of ceremony attendees.

"May I present to you Chieftain Thaldorn and Lady Lanivara Rhiantha!"

Congratulatory applause met his proclamation as the couple embraced one another as husband and wife.

Several days later...

"Chieftain! Chieftain!" a voice calls out as a young aslaran came racing across a rather expansive yard. Before him stood the infamous Hall of the Thorned, where all presiding chieftains resided during their reign. Lanivara was the first to open the grand doors of their home, allowing the young one entry.

"Hello there, little one!" Lanivara beamed as the youngster walked through the open doors.

"Greetings, Lady Rhiantha. May I speak with the Chieftain, please? It is urgent," the youth greeted back.

"He is here somewhere. Thaldorn!" Lanivara called out.

"I am right here," Thaldorn spoke from behind his wife, startling her. He chuckled as she swatted at him in mock annoyance.

"Stop doing that, Mister Thornfist!" Lanivara scolded him.

"Never!" Thaldorn said to Lanivara, winking at his wife. He laid a soft kiss on her cheek, then turned towards the aslaran who seemed troubled.

"Aye, lad? What is it?" Thaldorn asked as Lanivara disappeared further into their home.

"I have an urgent message here from Tijah, Syr!" the youngster replied, hastily handing Thaldorn a roll of parchment. As he unrolled the message and began to read, the tribal leader's eyes grew wide.

"They found the one leading the main poacher camp?!" Thaldorn said aloud, prompting his wife to emerge and rush to his side.
She too read the parchment, gasping.

"They found him!"

"Indeed, dearest," Thaldorn confirmed before saluting the one who delivered the message. As the youth scurried away, Thaldorn opened his mouth to speak, but Lanivara shook her head and smiled.

"I know what I married, love. Go," she insisted. Thaldorn shot his wife a sincere look of gratitude as he prepared himself to join the others who had found the leader of the poachers. In no time at all, the Chieftain of the Hunters of the Thorned Vines was in full battle armaments, both the Thornstave of Aslarn and his trusted spear fastened upon his back.

"Be safe, my love," Lanivara bade him farewell as he kissed her on the forehead and headed for the door. She placed a hand on his shoulder, sighing. "Return home to me."

"I swear it, dearest," Thaldorn promised. "I will see you soon."

***********************
*AN UNEXPECTED REUNION*
***********************
Moments later, Thaldorn stood before a set of iron-wrought gates that barred entry into the camp ahead. The other fourteen Thorn Fists stood side by side behind him, prepared to enter what would be the greatest battle of their lives. Tijah nodded at him as Thaldorn positioned himself before those gathered to join him in battle.

"Stand strong, hold true!" Thaldorn called out to his warriors. The beating of weapon against armour began to sound, growing in volume.

"Today, we end this!"

A thunderous roar from the assembled army resounded throughout the jungle around them.

"Archers are ready at your command, Syr!" came the call from the commander of the archery unit.

"My warriors are prepared to follow the Thorn Fists into the fray, my Chieftain!" the Spearmaster reported. Thaldorn nodded once in acknowledgement.

The preparations were complete.

"Thorn Fists! TO ARMS!" Thaldorn shouted, charging the gate at full speed.

"We're under attack!" the chieftain heard one of the ruffians cry out as he and fourteen others landed on the opposite side of the barricade that was meant to keep them at bay. Wielding the Thornstave, Thaldorn barrelled through their first line of defense alone, the Thorn Fists following their leader into the fray.

"The gate has been breached! Fall back! Fall back!" someone Thaldorn assumed was the poaching army's leader cried out as the gates into the camp were thrown wide open.

"Archers, on my command!" Thaldorn ordered as he and the Thorn Fists obliterated a second makeshift barricade that the enemy had sloppily attempted to construct. "FIRE!"

Poachers began to fall quickly as arrows pierced through their garments and became lodged into their bodies.

"Reinforcements! Brace yourselves!" Thaldorn shouted as the second line of warriors joined the Thorn Fists. In front of them, more men joined the poachers in an attempt to repel the attack on their camp.
"ENOUGH!" a familiar voice called out. From within the biggest dwelling in the camp, the former Chieftain Sarel appeared, looking quite angry.

"Sarel?!" Thaldorn managed to get out as he drew back from the attack. The kind and patient face of the aslaran who had raised him was almost unrecognisable now.

"Aye. Me," he answered simply as he now stood before his once-protege, sneering. "Surprised?"

"I do not understand..." Thaldorn muttered. Sarel snickered haughtily.

"Of course a simpleton like you would never understand!" Sarel scoffed in derision. Thaldorn stood visibly shaken as Sarel eyed him with a look that meant one thing:

Contempt.

"I, who led the Hunters of the Thorned Vines, cast aside for the likes of YOU, a common beast!" Sarel spat hatefully, confusing Thaldorn even further.

"I have no idea what you are even talking about!" Thaldorn returned, bewildered.

"Oho, is that so? Then I guess they," Sarel gestured to the other fourteen Thorn Fists. "...have not told you how I was forced to resign by unanimous vote."

"You were... what?!" Thaldorn demanded, glancing at his bretheren, who all nodded.
"That is because you became too much of a tyrant, Sarel!" one of the Thorn Fists accused him openly.
"Why was I not made aware there was a vote?" Thaldorn asked softly, suddenly feeling drained.

"Oh, I can answer that one for you," Sarel sneered, again pointing at each of the Thorn Fists in turn. "When a chieftain is forced to resign, their replacement is chosen beforehand. They chose you. By tribal law, the successor is excluded from the vote."

"We also thought you would vote in his favour without knowing his true nature, Chieftain," another of the Thorn Fists told Thaldorn as he glowered at Sarel.

"...then why did you ask me to replace you, Sarel?" Thaldorn pressed. At Thaldorn's words, every Thorn Fist now glared at Sarel. Sarel snorted.

"You thought I could do no wrong. You were so gullible, I knew such a gesture would have you continue to think so. I used you, as all beasts should be used," Sarel snarled, motioning to someone behind him. Thaldorn watched as one of the poachers dragged a badly beaten lioness to Sarel.

The lioness looked weak, her malnourished body riddled with open wounds. Seeing the distraught look on Thaldorn's face, Sarel guffawed loudly before kicking the poor lioness in the gut.

"STOP! What the blazes are you doing, Sarel!" Thaldorn bellowed, advancing foward.

"I am doing what I should have done with you the day we met!" Sarel raged viciously. He pointed at the crumpled form at his feet. "Like you, she is just an animal to be used and disposed of like common rubble," Sarel said finally, a malicious grin etched on his face. Sarel's words seemed to echo repeatedly inside his head.

"How DARE they replace me with an animal!" Sarel screamed viciously. "I, the greatest Hunter of my generation--"

"That was bested by one Thaldorn Rhiantha while he was still but a child. He is more like us than you could ever hope to be, Sarel!" a dwarf wearing an eyepatch reminded the former chieftain.

"HE IS AN ANIMAL, KAMALEI!" Sarel raged at the dwarven Thorn Fist with a jealous fury. "NOTHING MORE!"

Thaldorn had heard enough. With a ferocious roar of unbridled rage, he launched himself at his former mentor, the Thornstave of Aslaran striking Sarel in the throat before he had a chance to react.

"Go on. Kill me. Kill me and you will join me in death!" Sarel laughed as blood pooled forth from his mouth. "Killing a Thorn Fist is a lifetime of exile! Killing a former chieftain is a death sentence!"

Thaldorn froze for a second.

Seizing the moment of opportunity, Sarel kicked at Thaldorn's legs, causing him to stumble. Deftly catching a spear one of his men tossed him, Sarel attacked with fury.

"Gorillas are animals too, Thaldorn! Did you forget?!" Sarel taunted.

A red haze envelops Thaldorn. Sarel can be seen still, though he looked as if one were peering through a foggy glass the colour of blood.

Thaldorn emits a maddening, gutteral snarl that rumbles throughout the area. Sarel's earlier words, jumbled with those he'd just uttered, began to echo repeatedly in Thaldorn's head.

He is just an animal, nothing more!

Gorillas are animals too!

He is just an animal, nothing more!

Gorillas are animals too!

"A beast is always feral, always an animal--" Sarel continued, a malevolent smile on his lips. Thaldorn released his grip on the ceremonial staff of the Hunters, quickly switching to his favoured weapon. A second, more voracious and rage-induced snarl reverberated loudly as a spear was thrust out towards the tribe's former leader. The sneer that Sarel wore was immediately replaced by shock as the Thornstave of Aslarn clattered noisily to the ground, the head of a spear thrust deep into his exposed chest.

"I will suffer the consequences of my actions this day," Thaldorn's voice thundered as Sarel collapsed to the ground, his face frozen in death.

**********
*JUDGMENT*
**********
"Chieftain Thaldorn Rhiantha!" a voice proclaimed. of a great hall. Thaldorn, shackled from hand to foot, stands before the Council of the Thorn Fists.

"You are guilty of the murder of your predecessor, Chieftain Sarel Lionguard, is that correct?" a figure seated higher than the others questioned Thaldorn.

"Aye, Judge," Thaldorn answered truthfully. Lanivara can be heard sobbing quietly nearby.

"Then your punishment is clear," the judge continued, though his eyes betrayed the coldness of his voice. The one chosen to preside over this trial was none other than the loboshigaru who had raised Lanivara.

Nicolae Bel'Myrrdin

He glanced down at Thaldorn apologetically before his judgment was cast.

"Death."

"NO!" Lanivara screamed as she frantically attempted to reach Thaldorn. A large group of guardsmen barred her path.

"Let his wife go," ordered Nicolae. Lanivara nearly ran through the guards who were now trying to move aside to allow her passage.

"You big oaf!" Lanivara teared up, smacking Thaldorn in the head before hugging him tightly.
"If you would forgive the interruption," Aaseth, the one Thaldorn bested to pass his Trials of Entry into the Hunters, spoke up suddenly. With an eyebrow raised, Nicolae swiveled his head in Aaseth's direction

"Aye, Syr Aaseth?" the judge prompted. Aaseth cleared his throat.

"Thank you, Judge. I may be remembering wrong, however... is it not written into our laws that the Thorn Fists may cast a vote to lessen a setence of death?" Aaseth implored. A murmur could be heard from around the room. Nicolae nodded. "Aye. We have such a law. It can only be invoked if the guilty party wishes it."

Every eye in the room immediately shifted over to Thaldorn expectantly.

"No one ever wants to die, man or beast," Thaldorn responded before looking down at his wife who was now at his side. "I will place my fate in the hands of my brethren. What they decide will be my sentence."

"A sentence of death can only be lessened to one of complete exile from Jojobo," Nicolae added, his tone one of sincere remorse. "Do you still wish to proceed?" Lanivara's tear-streaked face gazed up at Thaldorn.

"I will return to you, my love. This I swear," Thaldorn whispered to her before looking back at Nicolae.

"I will my fate to the judgment of the Thorn Fists, Syr Nicolae," Thaldorn declared. The judge nodded.

"Then it shall be so. Thorn Fists, I will give you a day to delibera--"

"Forgive me judge. My decision is already made," Kamalei Ironhammer cut in, the first of the Thorn Fists to speak.

"Due to his undying loyalty to the Hunters of the Thorned Vines, his diligence and dedication as a Thorn Fist and his unparalleled service to us as a member of our tribe, I cannot in good conscience sentence one such as he to death, be he man or beast," Kamalei proclaimed, drawing the attention of all.
"I thusly cast my vote now. Exile."

"I too have made my decision. Exile," another chimed in.

One by one, the other twelve remaining Thorn Fists cast their votes, deciding the fate of one of their own.

"The Thorn Fists have spoken!" Nicolae declared as Thaldorn and Lanivara embraced.

"Chieftain Thaldorn Rhiantha, your destiny is sealed. You will be cast out of Jojobo at the rising of the sun. Until that time comes, you will be placed under arrest and confined to your home," Nicolae said. Thaldorn nodded in gratitude to both Nicolae and his fellow Thorn Fists as Lanivara gently grabbed his hand.

Kamalei stood once more and faced Thaldorn with the sacred salute of the Thorn Fists: fists crossed above his chest, the thorns facing outwards. The rest of the elite group followed suit, bidding a final farewell to their brother-in-arms. Thaldorn returned the gesture with pride. A single tear can be seen rolling down his cheek.

********
*EXILED*
********

"I will find a way to return to you, my dearest. I swear it."
The entrance of the Chieftain's abode fades into view where Thaldorn and Lanivara stood, their last moments together drawing to a close.

"I will hold you to that oath, Mister Thornfist," Lanivara sniffed, her head on his chest. Thaldorn could not help but chuckle. Even as his wife, Lanivara still called him by the nickname she gave him from time to time.

"I sincerely apologise, Chieftain. It is time for us to leave."
Thaldorn nodded his head at Kamalei. The Thorn Fists were charged with bringing him to where he was to be cast out of Jojobo forever.

"Let us go then, Syr Kamalei," Thaldorn replied, descending the steps before the place that had been his home for the last four years. He glanced back at his wife one final time.

"I will find my way back to you, my dearest love. This I promise," Thaldorn called to her as the Thorn Fists led him away.

"I will find a way!"

As the scene begins to fade, the view shifts to Lanivara, whose eyes begin to fill with tears.

"Come back to me, Thaldorn!"