An Amazon's Honor - Denari V'Imlatishan - Kamwai
I give you a tale of a bold, wild, and stubborn youth. Of mounting glories and great achievements. And of a terrible failure. Of lessons forgot and of lost honor. Of a long fall from grace and scant hope for redemption.
Of a rigid code of honor.
Everyone has codes by which they live, and some have more than others. I have noticed that those who live in more 'civilized' regions seem to hold to fewer principles, and even those are 'flexible'.
The high peaks, cold hills, and barren plains of the distant Imlatishan region are not places of flexible ethics. To live where life should not, a community needs firm law, and individuals need unwavering discipline. Punishment for the slightest lapse is severe, but only death awaits the unprepared.
It is understandable then, that the wise women of Imlatishan adopted the strict Amazon ways for their Explorers and Warriors. Blessed be the wandering Heroine who showed the ancient Imlati the path. The tribes gloriously rose from mere savage groups scrambling about heeding little more than base male urges, to noble, matriarchal nomad communities, beginning the first era of human dominance in the harsh wilderland.
A girl who would be Amazon must prove herself worthy of those who came before and those she would protect. Weapons must be mastered, the body honed. The Amazon tests her abilities and skills only in mortal combat with worthy foes. There are many rules of conduct, and many traditions to follow. The path is not an easy one.
This was my path.
I wish I could say I was the ideal Explorer candidate. I wish I could say that I could run the fastest, or that my arrows flew the farthest. But it was not to be. Recalling my earliest days of training, I would have to say now that I was dreadfully average, at best. Aiyah! There were a few males who might have made better candidates than I!
Only the finest continue on to Explorer training. Though I knew almost all of the Amazon ways long before my year of candidacy, not one female of my tribe thought I could advance, not even my mother. Of course, she encouraged me at every turn, but she couldn't hide the pity in her eyes. Why I was so possessed to be Heorine I'll never know. One might as well ask why the fish swims upriver! Call it 'wanderlust' or a 'strong sense of adventure,' or whichever ineffable term you might. I simply couldn't deny it.
Some have talent. Some learn quickly. Some have far more than a fair share of luck. Some have all of these. These were my sisters - my competition! All I had was foolish desire. That, and perhaps, a creative approach to the tests. Perseverance alone might have taken me through, but I doubt even my desire was great enough to overcome my weaknesses. I had to find strength where there was none.
This, of course, was the solution. 'Strength where there was none' - any weakness in others became an opportunity for victory. Where my sisters were stronger, faster, more skilled, I was simply more observant. Their physical strengths versus my mental. A slower left side, a tendency to keep the weight forward, a recognizable pattern of attack. Always we fought on equal terms, but always I was better prepared. Often, I would lose horribly, but my goal wasn't to win every match. I wanted only to win enough.
My struggle continued, but my destiny as an Amazon Explorer was certain. Nothing short of death would keep me from leaving Imlatishan four years hence. This was the brightest time of my life, and the rigors of training did nothing to turn my eyes from the wonders that awaited me.
When I left my tribe, I had earned the high respect given any Explorer, perhaps more because of my unlikely beginnings. But still there was much doubt. One of my sisters offered to travel with me. My mother bade me visit every year. The Spellbinder wanted to train me further in magery. It seemed that although I had persevered against all odds to this point, I was thought doomed to fail long before my return as a Warrior, to say nothing of ever becoming a Heroine.
I set off, heart singing for the journey ahead, leaving Imlatishan behind, with every intention of proving them all wrong.
But they were right.
My deepest sympathies are with the people of Tristram. I have spoken of harsh life in Imlatishan, but the suffering here goes far beyond that. My people endure the worst nature has to offer, but undying evil does much worse. If all our returning Warriors had proven themselves in places such as the Cathedral of Khanduras, the tribes of Imlatishan would wield amazing power.
It does my heart much good to know that my efforts help these poor folk.
The small town of Tristram seems an unlikely setting for the story of an Amazon from the far off mountain valleys of Imlatishan. But some are born to wander, and one such as you needs no further explanation. My hunting skills and proficiency with the bow earned passage among trading caravans and migrating pilgrims, but no place ever held my attention for long.
Again, this reader need not be told how Tristram can feed one's hunger for glory. The search for worthy adventure came to a most certain end.
To become an Amazon Heroine requires rigorous training and constant battle to hone the warrior's skills. After completing the four-year Explorer preparation, every Amazon leaves her tribe for a time to find her own challenges. She evolves in stages, each with a higher level of challenge, earning higher glory and rank. The Explorer unstrings her bow, leaving it in camp and hunts her foes with whatever melee weapon she may find, even bared hands. Then as Defender she takes up the mighty axe. As Warrior she masters the blade and shield style, and as Avenger swings a massive hammer. At the end of this weapon progression, she becomes Huntress.
Between stages of the Amazon's life, a solemn ritual is performed to acknowledge victories, to focus on new challenges, and to strengthen the Amazon's spirit. The way of the Amazon is recalled in verse, sacrificial offerings of fallen foes are given, and humble words of deeds are sung to the Mother Goddess. Should the Amazon be deemed worthy of elevation, an Omen is bestowed - only then does the Amazon take up her new quest. I apologize, it is forbidden to describe the nature of the Omens, for each is different and private for each Amazon.
Every young girl in an Amazon society is told that every Elevation ritual ends with an Omen. This is how well the Amazon knows her path.
It is said that the first Amazon tribe was nearly destroyed to the last Warrior in its battles with the witches. Until I ventured into the caves below Tristram, I had honestly thought these old tales of ancient Amazons battling wicked winged women to be fanciful stories told to children. Or possibly metaphors symbolic of the Amazon's duty to protect and remain vigilant. But the witches are real, and I now have a much greater respect for those of my tribe who had returned to Ilmatishan as Heroines.
The rage I felt when I first saw a witch is indescribable. How could it be that a monster I discounted as fantasy suddenly inspired such hatred and awe? Surely it isn't the most hideous creature that lurks below Tristram. The witches are not necessarily the most evil. I could not understand my imbalance in their presence.
I do now. Obviously, there is history. If witches are real, so are the stories. A force that nearly destroyed the origins of the Amazon culture deserves unending vengeance, invoking a primal fury from deep within. I have an Amazon spirit, a spirit that cannot rest in a world where one witch yet breathes.
Perhaps more importantly, and more common to us all, the witch was the first human seeming fiend I'd ever seen. By physical appearance, I see commonality. I hear a human voice. I see female features. I assume a human intelligence, perhaps a human spirit, trapped below a veil of evil.
But that is illusion. The witch is pure evil, and our subconscious urge to humanize and pity it only weakens us. It is an insidious, mocking power the witch holds over us with no effort at all.
They are the arch-enemies.