Cyanos, Northern Polar Region, The Valleys
Near the colder northern polar region of the planet Cyanos, are the valleys, a crinkled series of mountain valleys and ridges. The weather is more extreme than the main populated city areas near the equator. The nor’ lazy wind that blows from the north is so called because it doesn’t bother to blow around a person – it likes to blow through them. Road access from Aoraki the Capital City is possible for most of the year however during the winter months often the only way in or out is by air.
The nekomi snow leopards live in a small and remote enclave nestled in the valleys. Generally, the snow leopards like to keep mostly to themselves, and even within their own community they prefer to maintain a certain social distance between their immediate neighbours, with a mile or two of road between their cabins. The valley inhabitants work and income centres primarily around the traditional occupations of farming, logging, milling, mining and plentiful fishing from the numerous streams, rivers and ponds that the valleys offer. A few merchants also support the local rural industries.
From time to time the valley snow leopards do come together, usually around the time of the full moon. In keeping with their preference of straight forward, no fuss names for things, their main gathering place is also known simply as the fire circle. The gathering at the fire circle is where community matters are discussed and decided, stories are told and passed on, and freshly caught fish are roasted over the fire.
The evening for the gathering was bright and clear, and a full moon illuminated the surrounding area reflecting off the freshly fallen snow. The fire had been prepared earlier in the day and it was already burning cheerfully as the various valley inhabitants young and old, began to arrive for the evening.
The Fire Circle
Tenzing: Hey Jaak! Com’n help me with this here barrel o’ fish – we need to get it up to Miss Asha, you know what she is like with her secret recipe of herbs and spices – she won’t let anyone else season the fish before it’s put on the fire!
Jaak, a young small framed youth of thirteen, was unusual in this community, in that it comprised almost exclusively of nekomi snow leopards. He was not a full nekomi snow leopard, but rather a neko-human who had only recently come to live in the valleys. Jaak was most definitely more used to the modern conveniences that a modern city like Aoraki offered, where he had until quite recently lived all his life – things like – mobile phone coverage, the internet and flush toilets. He had come to live with his father Altai, a full nekomi, following the death of his human mother in a car accident a few months before. His parents had divorced when he was young, and he had rarely been to the valleys while growing up.
Jaak’s father Altai, while kind and well meaning, was rather traditional in his outlook on life especially when it came to preserving the traditions and customs of the valley snow leopards and the culture in general. It was no secret that some of his attitudes could be a little inflexible. He had simply chuffed loudly when Jaak had asked him shortly after he arrived, if they could install a satellite dish on their cabin roof so he could access the internet via the – almost but not quite – Cyanos wide Tet-Net. Unfortunately for Jaak, the combination of the extremes of the northern region, and the deep volcanic valleys did not allow sufficient cell coverage without installing a modern and expensive satellite dish. Jaak’s dad did not do modern. Suffice to say, the transition from city to rural life for Jaak had not been without its challenges.
Jaak: I’m coming Tenzing!
Jaak trudged hesitantly towards the burly lumberjack, through the soft wet snow, the damp seeping in though his basketball boots and immediately chilling his cotton socks; the bottom of his jeans were already quite wet, and he gave a slight shiver.
Tenzing: Still wearing those city foosball boots Jaak? Hasn’t anyone told you? Snow leopard feet are natural snow-shoes! If ya keep ‘em cooped up in those boots with them damp cotton socks on you are gonna feel way colder. Take ‘em off and try without!
Jaak looked at Tenzing with a certain degree of skepticism. He rather liked his boots – in fact they were quite expensive ones and he had saved both his birthday and holiday money to buy them. Any kind of footwear was however a rare and rather novel sight in the valleys. Finally, he shrugged, sat on a nearby rock and started to pull them off. His neko-human genetics had indeed granted him large paw like feet, rather than humanoid type feet. In all honesty, in the city amongst his friends, he had been a little embarrassed by them, and it was quite rare if ever for him to go barefoot or even wear sandals. In fact, the only real thing that gave away his human heritage was his thick mop of grey hair. His tail was certainly floofy enough to pass muster at any game of catch and chew your tail.
Jaak wiggled his toes experimentally and put them on the ground. To his surprise the snow did not feel anywhere as cold as he thought it would and almost as if by some kind of innate instinct, when his foot touched the snow it spread out – indeed just like a snow-shoe. Tenzing looked on and gave an encouraging nod and motioned for him to toss his wet boots in the back of his pickup truck.
Tenzing: C’mon then muscles, give me a hand here with this big barrel o’ fish.
The fish had been freshly caught earlier in the day and were in a regular wooden barrel that had been cut in half and had handles made of rope on either side. Together, they managed to heave it off the back of Tenzing’s pickup truck, without major incident and down onto a wooden sled. Then they started to make their way up to the fire circle, Tenzing pulling on sturdy leather straps from the front and Jaak helping to push from the rear to where Asha was busy preparing the evening’s shared dinner feast (and standing guard with certain level of alacrity over her jar of valley famous herb and spice mix).
Asha: Well. There you are! Finally! Now shoo the both of you – there’s work to be done here and I don’t need any clumsy south-paw lumberjack and city-kit getting in my way!
Tenzing gave a sideways glance towards Jaak and with a slight smirk and roll of his eyes, that said, ‘she’s pretty bossy eh’ they wandered off together over towards the gathering crowd around the fire circle.
Tenzing: I wonder if we will see Layan tonight – a bit of a loner that one, even by our standards, he does like to keep to himself in his cabin up on the ridge.
Jaak: I’ve heard people mention him – but I’ve never met him. Dad says he is a bit crazy.
Tenzing: Crazy…? Hmm… not so sure about that, I guess living way up in the hills on your own might make you a little quirky, which he is, but yes, he certainly knows about a lot of stuff that others don’t, and he does have some of the best stories. The trick is to get him to tell them.
As was their custom the evening commenced with the community council – boring stuff really, matters like fishing hole permits and the need to replace some of the logs lining the forest trails. The key to keeping these meetings from going on for too long was the ironclad rule that dinner was never served until council business was done. The enticing smell of fish roasting on hot coals mingled with Asha’s herbs and spices along with her look was indeed enough to hurry along any proceedings and to quell the more loquacious.
Dinner was served, and without the need for a long and boring exposition by anyone trying to bolster the word count in a story – it was by anyone’s standards simply delicious.
Talk around the fire then turned to the telling of stories and tales and the huge steaming kettle of sweet milky tea, was soon being poured into mugs and passed around.
Altai: So, what tales of the valleys shall we have tonight then? Shall it be the one about the evil devil dog Teufelshunde – driven by his primitive and lustful canine desires, ready to savagely rip any unsuspecting nekomi entrails apart, disemboweling them with his razor sharp fangs dripping in venom and blood – ready to turn you into stone with one look from his rabid red eyes…
Jaak: Dad… aren’t we are trying build friendships with the hundels? We had a hunde exchange student at our high school back in Aoraki. He was certainly no devil – I liked him. Aren’t these old stories, well a little bit old fashioned and racist?
Altai: Chuff! Well out here boy, there is no we as you call it – it is all about us, preserving our own way of life; the culture. I don’t want any capital city government trans-cultural do-gooders sending any of their type out here. We keep to ourselves, that’s the way we like it – no need to be concerning ourselves with matters and goings-on beyond our borders.
Jaak sighed. The culture. It wasn’t the first time, and certainly wouldn’t be the last time he had heard those two words since he had arrived. He knew better than to try and convince his father otherwise at this point, the fact that he knew that the Hundel were actually really pretty ordinary kind of people, well…
…except for the fact that they sometimes drink out of toilets and that they don’t really like fish.