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Of Lonely Hermits

In the icy wastes of the far north, the lone man is not only a dead man, but a mad man.

In the icy wastes of the far north, men are rare. The only society in 
that land is a scant number of isolated villages. In order to survive 
their harsh and barren environment, the people have taken to 
following a strict culture that punishes those who cannot directly 
contribute to a given group’s survival. This practice has lead to the 
creation of a class of hermits confined to the mountains. These 
individuals are condemned to solitude; they are banned from 
approaching or interacting with villages and only survive via their 
own means. In such a brutal environment, isolation is more than 
death; it is madness.
Covann slept lightly and with great effort. His hands gripped the 
mouth of the bedroll with all desperation in the cold’s siege. In 
full clothing, gloves, boots, and roll, he still felt as if he only had 
his beard and hair to keep him warm. Only at the feeling of wind 
hitting his face and stinging his chapped lips did he finally give up 
the facade and release his tensed eyelids.
At first, Covann was blinded by the pure white of the snow 
peeking through his loose tent flaps. His hand moved to shield 
him but quickly slapped the ground when its owner came to a 
realization. He slept the morning away.
Still wrapped in his bedroll from the waist down, Covann dove 
onto his belly, slipping his head through the tent’s opening like 
a terrified grub. Around him sat hundreds of berry bushes, the 
perfect food for northern caribou, empty of all bounty. His face 
fell slack, dipping his beard in the snow. The herd he’d tracked for 
months passed him while he tried so desperately to sleep.
One year, four months, two weeks, and three days in exile sat 
poorly with the man. Food was always rare, but the winter made 
prey scarce and cautious, and this time his last good meal was 
three weeks prior. His stomach felt deep, almost heavy with pain, 
ironically bloating his belly. He thought of scooping snow into his 
mouth with his tongue for a moment, desperate to alleviate the pain 
and almost willing to ignore the fact it would melt instead of feed him.
His debilitating malaise subsided at the sound of commotion in 
the bushes. Carefully lifting his head, Covann was blessed with the 
sight of a fox desperately gnawing at bark. Its thinning white coat 
barely covered an emaciated form, but even the thought of peeling 
a sliver of muscle from the critters’ tiny bones made him wet in the 
mouth. Surely it wouldn’t be able to run, so thin, so weak, so easy.
His steps were slow, pushing the soft powder at his feet as 
carefully as he could manage. So close, he wanted to jump, but he 
had to get closer, just a little closer. His stomach twisted in painful 
hunger, so desperate for the poor fox.
Suddenly, a horrible sound tore the skies, a brawl of high and 
low pitches echoing off the very clouds in a roar that alerted the fox. 
Covann pounced, his arms thrown out wide like a vast net before 
crashing into the snow. His hands scrambled to pin the critter, 
receiving an onslaught of scratches and bites to his unprotected 
face. He grabbed the tail; it slipped. He squeezed a paw; it jerked out 
of his grip. His hands closed on its neck; he was bitten on the nose 
hard. Before Covann knew it, the fox had gone, leaving a trail of 
tiny tracks and him lying in the snow, exhausted and bleeding.
Covann languished, the cold burning his fresh cuts and his 
hunger squeezing his midsection. In his despair, the wind seemed 
to whisper goading words demanding his demise. Death was not 
certain, though—he had one more option.
Covann walked with weak feet. In his musings of better times, he 
remembered an old tactic his father would employ in such winters. 
While the wastes were frigid and cruel, they played host to many 
peaks and clearings. One could see far with little obscuration atop 
such wind-scarred cliffs.
For some hours, he trudged through the winter powder, his 
supply pack weighing him down and aching his shoulders. On 
the horizon sat a beacon of a mountain, its sharp slopes cutting 
the whitened winds. The pointed pillar’s black stone drew out the
man’s awe despite his desperation. The sight drew further memories 
thought lost, of shamans swearing of great cities built by men with 
forgotten magics to emulate the land’s cordilleras. The memories 
brought warmth and kicked his feet forward.
Other thoughts of laughter and sweetness pulled him further 
still, forgetting his soreness and hunger. Such alleviation made time 
melt into a leisurely river, only freezing back into its true shape 
upon reaching the mountain’s base as he was greeted with a strange 
sight. In the mountain’s trunk sat a grand door, as black as its host. 
The oddity’s sheer size dwarfed the man, with at least a hundred of 
him able to march the threshold side-by-side. Upon it sat strange 
carvings beyond his understanding.
Whether he had been away from human thought for so long 
or the symbols were never known by him was not his concern. All 
his strength could not part the anomaly and he had no time to; His 
death sat on the ground while his life stood on the summit.
Leaving his pack on the snow, Covann pounced on the 
mountain’s face. The jagged rock bit at his hands through his gloves, 
its coldness stinging him like a salt-tipped knife. Length after 
length—span after span—slip after slip. The wind stung, the stone 
bit, the muscles ached, and the hunger grew. Never did the agonies 
let up, leaving a mark upon his sanity as he pulled himself onto the 
frosted peak.
His body rolled onto the near-flat surface of the mountain’s top, 
collapsed onto the tightly packed snow. He sunk, but not by much. 
Desperate gasps took hold of the thin air, rubbing relief on his 
sizzling fibers. He wanted to rest, he needed to rest, but rest was 
Covann climbed to his knees, then to his feet. His eyes beheld 
an overwhelming sight; his entire world laid before him in humbling 
smallness. Great forests of pine framed vast tundras populated with 
uncountable herds of caribou. A great work of white and green 
playing home to a host of brown food. A long exhale poured out of 
Covann’s mouth, a deeply needed relief that was soon soured.
In the corner of his eye, Covann spied a growing storm stirring 
in the eastern sky. He turned to see its grey mass churning, angrily 
sweeping up snow just to blow it back down to the ground, onto 
something . . .strange.
His eyes squinted, parting the wind until his memory slapped 
him. He was looking at a village.
Two dozen tents made of furs and fats sat in the tundra, all of 
them collected around a totem-encircled bond fire. Covann was 
entranced by the blaze, its warmth and intensity beguiling his knees 
to shuffle its way. The oranges, yellows, and reds formed a beacon 
of promise; of food—guaranteed food, shelter, real sleep, and 
people . . .people . . .people!
He heard laughs, cries, moans, screams—felt hugs, kisses, 
caresses, pats, punches. He heard people . . .then he remembered.
Even if they didn’t know him, the villagers would sooner spear 
him than take in a wildman, a forgetter of human tongues. They’d 
likely string him up as an effigy if they knew he was an exile, a 
breaker of sacred rules.
So Covann sat, and he watched. A man, marked in shamanic 
fetishes and charms, approached the fire, staff in hand. His mouth 
made strange motions whose sounds could not reach its snooper. 
He threw his arms up, down, outward and inward—jerked himself 
to and fro and danced as if warring spirits took him as battleground. 
The storm responded with matching strangeness, its anger growing 
as something inside fought it. The something thrashed in the 
maelstrom before tearing its way out and spewing westward toward 
The intensified clouds revealed a hideous thing. A massive beast 
filled with screeches and roars, gliding on the winds with sailed 
forelegs and wrapped in white, matted fur. Its long neck ended in 
a head crowned with horns, tusks, and antlers browned with old 
blood. Its twisted face pouring smoke from its short snout, and thin 
lips opened to a cage of teeth, releasing terrifying sounds of death 
and predation. The storm chased it, and Covann raced downward. 
A dragon prowled his world.
The Hunter acted swiftly, scaling the height and retrieving his 
things from the snow. The pain of the climb did not plague his 
mind, nor the heaviness of his pack or the splinters of his spear as 
he pulled it out. The caribou were plenty, but dragons’ bellies were 
He interrogated his mind for the closest prey, squeezing 
information like a barely damp rag. Should he go north? Warmth. 
Should he go southwest? Smiles and hugs. Food. Home. Death. 
Home. Feed!
Suddenly, a caribou screamed in the distance through the trees.
There was no time; the dragon would take his prey if he 
waited even a moment. He sprinted into the woods, kicking up 
snow, knocking against trunks with his shoulders. The hissing of 
the creature poured upon him, filling him, becoming him. This 
new beast could feel spittle pool in its cheeks—oozing out of its 
mouth and flooding its beard. This beast could feel the wind grow 
stronger, its encroachment on the tundra coming to an end. It 
pounced from out of the trees, mouth-frothing and eyes filled with 
hunger. The storm was upon it, snow pouring from the screeching 
sky, mouthing the sounds of his own madness. Food, food, food, 
he saw it walking upon the tundra, not grazing but walking with 
caution. Brown fur, brown antlers, food, food, food! The spear lept 
from him, defying the wind and delving into the food’s flesh. Bones 
broke, the hips had shattered, no running, only feeding. It dove 
onto the food, its screams, and gasps sailing past the beast’s ears. Its 
fingers came upon the flesh. First, fur was ripped from skin; then, 
skin torn from muscle. Fingers delve between the fibers, pulling 
proteins and sinuses, ligaments bending like wet twigs and veins 
slinking outward to stick to the beast’s hands, pouring blood onto 
It was food; it tasted wet; it was raw; the storm lifted; Covann 
felt confused. The beautiful white was stained red, so was the 
caribou’s brown, so was he; so was the dragon in front of him.

Covann froze in absolute, irresistible horror. The beast stared 
him down, its black and brass eyes like two explosions within 
deep voids. The impossible orbs nearly popped out from the red 
and white snarling face of the monster. Its jagged, tusked teeth 
flashed their revolting brown as a putrid sulfur breath assaulted his 
scratched face. It stood tall and belched flame.
Every cell screamed in unfiltered agony, pushed against a wall 
of pure obliteration until skin peeled and flesh was tender. Covann 
felt as if wrapped in a cocoon of both burning and numb meat. The 
pain was too much; worse than the cold, worse than the hunger, 
worse than the soreness, worse than the salt tipped knives. . .almost 
as bad as the loneliness.
A blackness came down from above. It was wet and stunk of 
death. It closed. . .if the jaws of his monster hurt, Covann didn’t—
couldn’t know

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