The tangled, thorny undergrowth at his back was laden down with birds, the cacophony of their caws setting his teeth to grinding. Most of the feathered beasts that gathered were ravens but there were other species amongst them, too, if one took the time to look.

At his side stood the messenger from the Crovrems rurda, come to speak to them with the voice of Graos Oma. She was an ugly thing, to be sure, but huge and strong. She’d bear strong sons to any male willing to fight for mating rights. Indeed, if he wasn’t already paired with a Faivkol he likely would have taken her for his own. Perhaps he still would if his ‘daor wife’ continued to fail at producing offspring. Still there was no time to think about his personal life. That could wait. For now, he had a mission to accomplish. Possibly the most important mission of his life to date. And hopefully the first of many.

Gathered before him now were most of the nohoi, shuko and braak. Even a few emkurcar had come to join them, eager to share in this momentous occasion and perhaps earn themselves a new rank. If he had understood it right, a select few warriors had been chosen to stay behind with the rest of the emkurcar to aid them in keeping an eye on slaves and defending their camp against intruders. Any slave that tried to escape during this time would not be permitted to see the dawn of another day. Muunokhoi wonder what unlucky warriors had been given the task to stay and, despite himself, felt a pang of pity for their circumstance.

Still, there was no use thinking about them now.

Inhaling sharply, the warlord took a step forwards and gave a roar just loud enough to breech the sound of the birds behind him. “Nergui! Attention!” His voice was deep and gravely and was strong enough to quell the garble of squawks behind him to a low murmuring. ”I will not bore you with long speeches this day. We are Nergui. We know our strength. We know what we must do. Graos Oma has spoken and we are to carry out his will.”

Beside him, the marsh-coloured lioness nodded her approval.

“The kaar have spoken. A Kulukadok flies this way,” he snarled, “I say we go give it a Nergui welcome.”

Amongst the gathered crowds, some roared in acceptance, and the atmosphere grew suddenly electric. The fur on his hackles prickled upward in response and beside him, the hulking Gren gra-Groul, looked equally affected. His blood ran hot, pounding in his ears. He had not felt so alive in a long time and the sensation was like a drug.

Some of the faces staring back at him were those of loyal friends. Others were rivals who he’d gladly best in battle if given the chance. Some were newer, looking about them in trepidation whilst others seemed hungry for blood and carnage. Amongst the lions stood the hyenas, too; members of the vanguard. Their captain was with them, newly elected and a good choice from what Muunokhoi could tell. The canines were valuable assets and he was pleased to have them with him here today.

“We march,” he continued after a moment, “and we do not stop. We do not rest. The day is ours and we shall have our glory. The kaar have foreseen our victory, let us make the horde proud!”

The world seemed to be humming in response and Muunokhoi wondered, briefly, whether it was Tra Ord Omak he could sense there beneath his paws. Waiting. Longing. Patient and yet quietly eager.

“A Kulukadok flies this way,” he bellowed, “let us hunt!”

Gren gra-Groul lifted her rough voice in response; “for Graos Oma,” and across from them, lions and hyenas alike raised their voices in unison.

For Graos Oma. For Graos Oma. For Graos Oma!

Muunokhoi stepped forwards to take the lead and, in perfect unison, the great swathe of birds took to the air, turning the sky black, their wings ringing thunder. His spirit lifted with them. Exhilaration flooded his senses.

“You did well, worrurd hesr”, the large female complimented, moving up alongside him as if she was meant to be there amongst the leading ranks at the head of the group. “Their blood is stirred.”

“This is what we were born to do.” Muunokhoi was partial to flattery and decided to permit her to stay at his side – for the time being at least.

And, as the lions and hyenas fell into their march, the day was suddenly filled with battle chants, fierce and strong, driving their pace across the rugged terrain.

“Your horde is noisy,” Gren allowed the touch of a smile on her maw. He could not tell whether it was a compliment or merely an observation.

“The birds will circle back once they spy the kulukadok, after that, there will be no more chants.”

~Herds die, kin die,

We ourselves die also~

“We will continue to move as one force?”

“Until we locate our target, yes. Then we will divide.”

~But I know things that never die,

The glory of all the dead~

“Are you afraid of failure?”

It felt as if she were testing him, though why he was not sure. Perhaps he should have put her in her place after all; sent her to the back of the procession with the emkurcar.

“No. Our victory is certain.”

~Days die, lands die,

We ourselves die also~

“A horde against a parasite,” Gren said, “what could possibly go wrong?”

Ahead of them the flock of birds were fast disappearing, moving in such tight formation that was a wonder they did not collide and twist down to their demise.

~But I know things that never die,

The eternal Tra Ord Omak~

[Battle Song adapted from a Norse chant]