So many of you have said encouraging things about the Tukti that you’ve given me the courage to post an excerpt that can be read as a short story, more or less. I will need to provide a little bit of context though. The Vokh are the rulers of the world of Vokhtah. The are extremely aggressive, psychopathic beings who cannot be in close proximity to each other without fighting. So each Vokh lives alone in an eyrie with small servitors called iVokh. The iVokh are far less aggressive than the Vokh but are still borderline sociopaths.
The following excerpt is about one distinct group of iVokh who are called Traders. The Traders and the Healers are the only two groups who live independent of the Vokh. The official leader of the Traders is called the Quartermaster and here, the old Quartermaster is dead, apparently having died in its sleep.
Read on :
The Traders were all gathered in the Great Hall, paying their last respects to the old Quartermaster when the Old One snuck back into the caverns that had once belonged to its Master. It found the four large cushions scattered untidily around the low table in the centre of the main cavern.
One of the cushions was already stained with spots of dried blood but the Old One was not interested in the new Quartermaster’s careless feeding habits. Plucking the cushion from the floor it hurried over to one of the torches and carefully examined the cured tukti leather for any rips or tears. There were none. Then it turned the cushion over and gave the same, meticulous attention to the thicker akaht hide that had been used on the bottom. Again it found nothing.
Returning the cushion to the exact spot in which it had found it the Old One went through the same careful process with the second and third cushions. Still nothing.
The fourth cushion had been thrown to one side and when the Old One lifted it up its cilia went rigid with distress. This must have been the cushion its Master had used the most because its scent still lingered in the soft leather, the combination of dreamweed and sweat as distinctive as the features of its face.
Hugging the cushion to its chest, the Old One stood with its head bowed for a long moment before it finally stirred and took the cushion closer to the light. As with the first three cushions it found no rents in the soft tukti leather on top and no holes in the seams. However when it flipped the cushion over its eyes were immediately drawn to the three curved gashes that marred the thick hide. Too clean and sharp to be the marks of abrasion, the two smaller holes were spaced fairly close together while the third and largest was some distance away.
The Old One did not know what could have made those holes but as it ran its hand over the leather it poked a finger in each of the smaller holes. When it pulled its hand away there were small red hairs caught under the two claws of its left hand. It stared at its fingers for a score of heartsbeats before poking its fingers back in the same holes. This time however it stretched its thumb as far as it would go towards the larger, solitary hole. Even at full stretch its thumb fell short of the hole…
…but thumb of Plodder could reaching…
That insight made the Old One go cold and it dropped the cushion with a hiss of dread.
Why would its Master poke holes in the bottom of a cushion… and then replace it so the holes would not show?
Snatching the cushion up again the Old One lowered its head until its cilia were almost touching the holes left by its master’s hand. Then it sniffed, long and deep. The scent of dreamweed and sweat was very faint but it was there, as was the sharp, acrid smell of fear.
The Old One was shaking as it returned the cushion and then let itself out of the cavern for the last time. It was still shaking half a turn later as it squatted in a disused storage cavern trying to make sense of the unthinkable. Ever since leaving the new Quartermaster’s cavern it had been searching for innocent reasons to explain what it had found yet in the end only one terrible explanation fit all the facts – four circuits ago someone had entered the private sanctum of its Master and had used that cushion to end its life.
For someone like the Old One who had been trained in the Teller fighting techniques the stench of murder was unmistakable. It had been taught to kill in a score of silent ways and smothering had been one of them.
The Tellers who had come to kill the Master must have known of its growing use of dreamweed and must have hoped to use the weed induced lethargy to make a quick, natural looking kill. But its Master had not yet been an addict and it had been a Plodder. It must have awakened and tried to push the cushion away. That was why it had been found with tukti hairs beneath its claws.
As the Old One rocked backwards and forwards, its cilia rigid with a keen it did not dare release it tried to convince itself that death had found its Master quickly and without pain yet it had known the old Trader too long and too well to believe that comforting lie. Plodders never gave up and despite being old and fat its Master had been a Plodder. It would have kept on fighting until the moment its hearts had finally stopped. A long, slow, merciless death…
Apologies if anyone found this snippet too confusing.