A single jackal padded his way across the vast dead wastes of the Sill. Above him, no moon hung in the sky, blackness even to the borrowed night eyes of the creature of the night whose skin Aki wore. He reared back his head and let out a whooping howl, calling into the black for others, be they jackals or men.
Somewhere far away, Aki thought he heard an answer, like a whisper, not a howl but a laugh. “Ey, ey, ey. . .” A shudder went down his spine and he padded onward across the chalky dirt, too black and lifeless to even be called sand that covered the wastes. He moved fast, panting as he went, trying to cover as much ground as four legs could cover as fast as possible. For a minute he let himself entertain the thought of turning back, of ignoring the call which had come out to him to meet this new moon night.
Then he saw the bird. Ears shot up, fur stood on end, tongue curled back to show teeth and a growl formed in the back of Aki’s throat. A single raven stood atop the burnt remains of a stump, charred so long ago in this land so dead that not even worms and beetles would eat away the remains. The raven shot up its wings and let out a screech, “Kaw!”
And somewhere in the distance Aki heard in answer, “Ey, ey, ey.”
Aki stood up onto two legs, letting the jackal fall away and taking back the form his mother had born him into the world wearing. He blinked to let his weaker, human eyes adjust and found the raven too had stood up to two legs. Aki looked the man over, skin black as midnight and eyes bright as the moon, pale white teeth showing through his smile, “You’ve walked a long way from the Crescent Bay, Aki.”
The younger man smiled, scratching at his black hair, pulling out a single sand flea that had found its way amongst the fur he had worn, “Papa Sizwe. I should have known an old meddler like you would be involved in this. I could admit to taking on a pair of wings myself for part of the journey.”
Sizwe took the measure of the young Denier, observing his long black hair and soft featured jaw, his skin the color of dark brewed coffee, “Why the two of us, I wonder?”
Aki laughed, “I assume me for my good looks, and you for your charm and wit.”
Sizwe scoffed at that, “You mean to seduce the Ghul Queen, do you? Hah!” And somewhere out on the wastes something laughed back, “Ey, ey, ey!”
Aki went to speak again, but Sizwe held up his staff to silence him, the gourds that hung atop it rattling as he cocked his head to listen and wrinkled his nose, “Something else is hear.”
“I think, Papa Sizwe, that if there were another creature here, my jackal nose would have sniffed it out.”
Sizwe leaned down to the dirt, grabbing a handful and mumbling a few words he threw it into the air, sparking and crackling as it lit upon the form of a creature. She stood six feet tall, or would if she stood up straight, but the creature before them hunch over, he ruddy brown fur hanging low and long, flowing as she let a peel of laughter escape her tooth filled mouth. And somewhere, very near in the ruins of the Sill something answered her, “Ey! Ey! Ey!”
“Speak your name, Dokkaebi,” Sizwe snapped, “I’ve no love for your kind, pack of rabid dogs that you are.”
“Eh, Papa, that may be because you do not know how to laugh. We Dokkaebi like to joke with menfolk like yourself, so dour and scrunched. Did one of my brothers ascertain the hiding spot for the jug of your beverage of preferentiality?”
Sizwe held his staff out at her, crouching for a strike if the need arose. He fingers curled tight around the thing bone club she clutched, growling at the old medicine man’s unspoken threat. Aki interjected himself between the two, “Come, Papa, sister! We have all been called here for the same purpose, let us save our weapons for the Sun worshipers!”
Sizwe sneered, not loosening his grip on his staff, “Your name, Dokkaeibi.”
“You’d do well to keep to straight talk then Rippina—any backwards nonsense Dokkaebi speak and I might forget we share a common purpose.”
“I shall assure the execution of your most ignoble of desires, oh venerable one.” Aki could not help but laugh at the response.
And very close in the wastes, the pack of hyenas answered, “EY! EY! EY!” Sizwe and Rippina spun now, turning their weapons outward to ward off the scavengers, Aki backing up to join them, reaching at his belt for his jambiya.
Before them, the largest of the hyenas, a massive female double the size of an ordinary beast stood up, shedding the hyena’s skin, stepping forth into the circle her pack had formed round the three mortals. Her nakedness clung to her, perfect breasts and buttocks gleaming in the dark, skin the grey of rotting flesh, eyes burning black against the moonlit sky.
“Bow before the Queen of the Ghuls,” he words were but a whisper into the night, but the three proud loners bent their knees that night, some of them perhaps for the first time, while Akeelaya Gia’Anar Ri stood before them.