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Off a Beaten Path

Tawni Kindness, Venati Gunmage (Bullet Witch)

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Tawni’s village had taken a similar path for generations, moving through human lands unimpeded. While technically they were on land owned by various aristocrats and barons, they had always kept to themselves and lived in the deeper woods. They thought that their presence was unintrusive enough so that their hosts would be glad to have them for the meager offerings and crafts that they provided in exchange for the freedom to wander. Their price was never a question, that is, until Baron Jarond Kilnmeader. The son of a wealthy man, Kilnmeader purchased a homestead aggressively and immediately began harassing the Venati on his land. Normally they would have simply left but the land that Kilnmeader occupied cut a swath through their route; if they could not negotiate with him they would be trapped by circumstance and geography and would have to renegotiate with other land owners.

“This isn’t fair! Somebody has to stop him!” Tawni mewled to her mother. Her mother, ever patient simply smiled and brushed the fur smooth upon her daughter’s cheek. “Dear child, if he will not listen we will have to simply find another way. It’s not within our power to stop him from exacting whatever price he wants.” She said dotingly, before making her way to the washing basin with some of the night’s cutlery. “We do have that power. In the books…” Tawni said, through gritted teeth. Her mother stopped dead in her tracks, and took a deep breath. “Tawni, those rites are forbidden. The elders decreed that magic such as that couldn’t be used; the toll it takes on one’s spirit alone…” She said. She had only ever heard stories, but the stories were enough to send a shiver down her spine. “No, I’m sure he’ll come around…” She said. Tawni, for the moment, had resigned herself to her mother’s wisdom. But still, the nagging sensation she felt at the back of her mind kept her up into the night.

As the days turned into weeks and whispers of failing negotiations filled their caravan, Tawni found herself doubting the rules set in place by her elders. It was a heretical thought; Venati view the eldest among them with such reverence that it couldn’t possibly be considered to go against their wishes. But she knew, based on the stories that she had heard, that the power to rectify her tribe’s problem was at her fingertips. The powder keg was filled, and a few nights later it would be struck with a spark.

Kilnmeader had ordered the Venati off of his property by the end of the next night, but he didn’t trust them to leave as they were told. He sent a warning; in the dead of night, one of the caravans was set ablaze by one of Kilnmeader’s men. Escaping before the Venati had a chance to extinguish the fire they were not witness to men pulling Tawni’s younger sister, alive but badly burned from beneath a plank of charred black wood. Tawni’s body acted on its own’ in her recollection of the rest of the night she went to a trunk, gathered a pistol and the six bullets she owned, and walked to their elder’s caravan. She remembers being willing to hold the elder at gunpoint to demand the book of secrets, though she also remembers being thankful that they were assisting with the blaze on the other side of the camp so that she didn’t have to.

She ran into the woods, studying the tome and its incantations by moonlight. She only had one day left; in her mind there was no doubt that Kilnmeader wouldn’t care that her sister couldn’t be moved. The illustrations in the book alone would have put Tawni off if she had not seen what she saw earlier that night. But she read on until she was too tired to keep her eyes open.

The Venati, with their injured child, stood their ground. But the Baron’s men never came. They were all dead, killed in such a way that the local investigators couldn’t even really describe the scene outside of the amount and… enthusiasm of the carnage. Tawni had been a young girl with a rebellious streak, a week before. But now she was something different. Sure, she still looked the same, the same dusky brown fur on her cheeks, the same tail. But everything was somehow different; you don’t eviscerate ten men with forbidden magic and just get to walk away.

She never returned to her caravan, instead heading west to the city. She knew without a doubt that there would be people hunting her. She didn’t want to bring any suspicion upon her family, and more than that, she knew that she couldn’t look her mother in the eye again. Now she wanders, from city to city, seeking out likeminded people who will sacrifice everything to fight against people who would oppress them.

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