(Note: The Tuigan language spoken in this depiction of the past has been given a cipher to obscure its true meaning.)
Life in Taan, the Endless Wastes, the Hordelands: it was hard and unforgiving. Its native folk considered it their holy land, full of great history and a thriving spiritual presence, but it was difficult for the outsider looking in to see more than its desolate badland. For its very inhabitants was it difficult too, at times.
The soil was rocky and stripped of nutrients, not that it really made a difference; the Tuigan had limited knowledge of agriculture. They subsisted almost entirely off herding animals that could digest the minimal vegetation growing there, or from fishing when northern ice floes melted for two months in the entire year.
They often had no food, no shelter, no soles for their boots or clothes for their backs. Their elderly risked freezing to death in their sleep during the colder season, and children rarely got the full nutritional benefits that they needed. Many of them grew up too sickly or too thin or too lame, or they didn't grow up at all.
There was no magic or medicine to improve their lives, unlike in the West. There was nothing, except what they could accomplish with their calloused hands. For a certain elfin's schism of these steppelanders, banditry was something they could accomplish.
Some distance up a crumbling hill, the lone woman of a ragtag band of--- well, bandits, sat upon her speckled grey mare.
"Borte-Suul," a raider called to her when he chanced to ride closer, and the elfin turned her knife ear in his direction. He seized up before the other rehearsed words flew as freely. "Ukq wjz Osokhbayar sehh oaran pda ukga. Pda dahioiaj sehh jaaz pk xa gehhaz wo sahh, pdaj ukq ywj fkej qo wp pda xwyg."
That he needed to rehearse at all made her angular eyes become moreso.
She was young and fair and still wore her bachelorette's sash about her waist --- a long cut of pilfered silk dipped thrice in evergreen dye --- but her availability was more from lack of choice on her part.
Her new duties as a raider came with intolerance she never experienced in earnest before, for her fellow man could easily avoid her when sequestered to a hut. Afield, however, she was given a wide berth like a malignant boil with the potential to spread through shared air alone. Most swallowed back their expletives for fear of drawing some disenchantment with her ire.
The elfin entertained the thought that she were indeed capable of slinging curses to give such pause to a man's heart, but these things did not exist. Tuigan were just simple people, made yellow-bellied and thin-skinned by their superstitions.
She dusted off the surface of her helmet, which served as an inaudible affirmation that she understood. She knew better than to speak. An older man rode up beside her on his ill-tempered stallion, grown irritable by burden and more irritable still by the closeness of Suul's uninterested mare, to speak on her behalf.
"Sa sehh lkoepekj kqnoahrao bqnpdan ql pda lwpd wjz bqjjah pdai pk sdana pda dehho iaap," this one, Osokhbayar, informed their superior while fighting his horse at the reins. The wiry whiskers of his beard moved expressively for how patchy they grew in. "Pdau sehh jkp nawyd pda swpydpksan kj pda kpdan oeza."
Borte-Suul turned her helmet in her hands and affixed it firmly to her head, smoothing the aventail against her slender neck, and her fingers untangled what long dark hair protested its placement. There was a tense moment of silence between the three. The presumed leader of this rabble chewed on his bottom lip to yank free some chapped skin, then licked wet the now raw and reddened wound.
It was a mild distraction. He still had deep-seated concerns about the nonhuman, but it would have to do on such short notice.
"Sa wppwyg kj ukqn wnnks," served as punctuation before he kicked his horse to action, and he cantered astride some twenty others to spread over the southwestward steppes. She watched them depart in a lonesome silence; men were quick to avert their judging gaze when she met it, but none dared to speak up. The elfin's chest deflated to bid them farewell.
"Xa wp pda nawzu, Borte-Suul," her one remaining companion, his voice embittered by her presence, ushered her to their intended destination. She let him take the lead before riding in step.
They were to separate on opposite sides of the Golden Way, awaiting travelers that funneled between the sunbaked cliffs and likewise between watchtowers. The majority of the raiders would come from behind to tackle the largest of the caravans, but the nonhuman --- under a veteran's suspicious lack of guidance --- had to claim the fore alone.
"Ukq sehh bena pda oecjwh wnnks benop," Osokhbayar spoke through clenched teeth that she could hear but couldn't see. "Kjya ep eo mqeapaz, ukq wna naolkjoexha bkn gehhejc pda iaj. Pdeo eo ukqn zqpu whkja." The duo had stalled only long enough for his commands before he departed for his post.
Borte-Suul crested the hill above the causeway alone, the red sun lengthening her shadow until it stood in the to-be caravan's path. Here she sat upon her mild-mannered horse, who grazed among the dead grass dotting the steppe, and remained patient for the better part of an hour.
Ah, and there they finally tread. Two fat and lazy men sat in the first oncoming wain, steering two equally fat and lazy horses. Perhaps only one was doing the steering, though, for a dripping bead of saliva served the sole evidence of life in his snoring companion. They were sleeping in shifts on their journey east, and the alert man's bloodshot eyes made it obvious that he was restless for his turn.
She watched them draw closer and closer still until her presence was not so easily ignored. He looked up at her higher elevation, blotting at the sweat and the dirt that encased his oily brow, and offered a friendly smile. What was initially thought to be a curious foreigner observing the passing travelers in peace became something less so.
The redness of her eyes fixated on the duo to spite the airborn dirt and the wind. Her bow was unholstered and at the ready. Why? The southern Wastes were practically devoid of any real threat. A deep, inexplicable distress brought goosebumps to the helmsman's skin and a turn to his stomach. Something was amiss and so he wished to rouse his partner, but nausea had crept high to choke his very words with bile.
When sound couldn't avail him, he was pressed to action instead, and his free hand attempted to stir the slumbering man. The slow Tethyrian bastard didn't wake. He was a deep sleeper somehow, even under this hot and bothersome sun.
Panic started to set in and he tore his partner's death grip off the reins. For all his attempts to spur the horses into a gallop or a canter or anything, however, they refused to listen to him.
The woman gently steered her horse askew. She reached for the quiver previously tied to the saddle, and her fingers plucked an old arrow whose dyed fletching had long since begun to fray. It was set, the nock steadied above her thumb ring, and her firing arm drew back upon the sinew.
The composite wood groaned under the monumental strain --- a slow but certain crackling that heralded her grisly intentions --- and her thick muscles trembled in protest. Once the hardwood had wed her bow's riser and no sooner, it was released!