Nicholas Never

No. No, I don't want to hear what they said. If those damned horse-riding despots told you tales of Unnek, they told you lies. Oh, I am sure they believe those tales about Unnek, Queen of the Buzzards, or perhaps Unnek Ever Hungry? But either way, that doesn't change the fact they are wrong, and their holy men should know better. My, my... So many names you know for Vulture. Such a smart one you are! Baskor Blood Beak, Guttas, Glytha... This is what I shall do: I shall tell you about my Uncle Vulture, and you can give him whatever name you want. Agreed? Excuse me! It is my fire, and my food. If I tell you I have no interest in lies you were sincerely told by those who follow the Galloping Sun, then you should remain silent. But, since you insist on having horses involved, I will tell you a story about my Uncle Vulture and the Great and Burning Horse, Galloping Sun. I will tell you why my Uncle is so ugly. Ah, I see you are curious enough now to be silent. Sit, eat your stew, and listen. No, you don't get to know what's in the stew; accept food from one who knows its value. My uncle knows the price of a good meal.

Once, Ruling Sun claimed all he sun-shined upon as his domain. The Kith and Kin of Ruling Sun lived with him in a glorious palace, and for a time they were happy, even if their subjects were not necessarily so.

One day, Ruling Sun decreed all members of the household were to have bird companions, and so he summoned the birds to his palace. Vulture, a small and beautiful bird who heard the call, obeyed and flew to the Sun Palace. The Palace? Oh, it was beautiful. Everything was just so, and everyone made sure they acted with the utmost grace and poise. Vulture was not used to this splendor, and became both enamored with it and self-conscious, a fact that amused the more elegant courtiers. Still, he followed whatever instructions were given, as that is what one did in those days. He waited in line as Ruling Sun interviewed each bird and decided who they were to be paired with.

When it was Vulture's turn, he meekly appeared before the throne, and Ruling Sun asked how he spent his days. Vulture replied, his voice cracking slightly, that he enjoyed flying over the Good Green Earth and seeing all the beasts below. Ruling Sun found this quaint, and announced Vulture would be the companion of Galloping Sun. And Vulture accepted this, for that is what one did in those days. Now, Galloping Sun was a Sun Kin, but oh, he was wild and reckless. He enjoyed riding through the heavens at incredible speeds, caring more about his own fun than anything else. The rest of the family sighed, and pretended not to notice, because one didn't speak ill of family. Oh, heavens no, that just was not done.

Vulture tried his best to keep up with Galloping Sun, but his little wings could not flap fast enough and he did not have the strength to go long enough. Galloping Sun found this both irritating and pathetically hilarious. Cringing from taunts, an exhausted Vulture finally asked what he could do. Galloping Sun first laughed, and then thought about it with a sigh. He told Vulture to act like Hawk or Eagle and feast on the flesh of the beasts below. This, Galloping Sun said, would make Vulture grow fast and strong. This had never occurred to Vulture before, as he never ate before in any way. Back in those days, few needed to. But Vulture accepted he would now begin to eat, as this is what his master told him to do, and in those days, one did what one was told.

And so, after spending a few days looking for appropriate prey, Vulture and swooped down and caught Meelteel. Meelteel was a large and friendly creature, but he was also rather slow and a little dim. Vulture tried to apologize to the terrified Meelteel, trying to explain he had to do this to be a good servant, but Meelteel was too busy shrieking to pay attention to the apology. And with that, Vulture feasted on Meelteel's flesh, taking large bites out of Meelteel's juicy fat and muscles. This was before death however, so Meelteel quickly grew back what Vulture had eaten.

Just as Galloping Sun said, Vulture grew in size, strength, and speed. The more Vulture ate, the greater he became, and the more he could keep up with his master. Meelteel and its herd continued to be Vulture's primary source of food, much to Meelteel's continued horror. One day, Meelteel began to hide in holes, hoping Vulture would fly on. However, Vulture was determined to be a good servant, so Vulture learned to patiently circle in the sky until Meelteel came out.

For his part, Galloping Sun was having a wonderful time rampaging through the heavens, especially now that he had a sidekick. They would charge wherever they wanted and scaring the subjects of the Sun. Galloping Sun would charge in, burn and crush homes and camps, and Vulture would swoop in and feast on the confused subjects. One day, Galloping Sun bolted through the Sun palace, causing great damage. Ruling Sun, shocked at a giant hole in a wall Galloping Sun made, angrily scolded Galloping Sun. However, Galloping Sun saw no difference between what he had just done and what Ruling Sun tolerated in the past that. Indignant, Ruling Sun exiled Galloping Sun from the Sun Palace, who in turn became even more reckless. Vulture continued to serve and did what he was told.

Soon after, there was a rebellion against Ruling Sun. Changing Storm led a gang into the Sun Palace through the hole Galloping Sun made and threw Ruling Sun out of the palace and down to Earth. He fell so far and landed so hard that he crashed the surface and became stuck in the Underworld. This created Death, a new connection between the Earth and the Underworld.

And this is it all started to fall apart. Angry that their home was now damaged as well, many Beneath kith and kin climbed to the surface, some to escape and others to fight. The Storm Band, the Sun Kin, Beneath Kin, and countless other groups, gangs, clans, and families began to fight and murder and steal. First out of pride, then out of spite, and eventually, to survive. The Chaos Horde, the Ending Things, heard the fighting from where they slept outside everything, and decided to join the fight. People wanted to fight, to kill, to destroy... and nothing does that better than Chaos. For his part, Galloping Sun had moved up in the world. His reckless ways looked good compared to the Ending Things, so he became a leader of sorts. He had grown colder and darker, but his rampage was worse than ever.

And this is when Vulture felt something new. He had felt small and big, proud and apologetic, but now? Now Vulture began to doubt. You see, now when he feasted on flesh, the animals did not always heal, and they did not always live. Vulture had become a killer, and he didn't like that. He began to doubt himself, his path, and most of all, his master. He liked it even less when he realized he had killed Meelteel and Meelteel's last herd-mate. He once tried to broach the subject with Galloping Horse, who went into a fury and silenced Vulture.

The Lean Days were a time of hunger. People hungered for sustenance of all kinds, and what little there was made killers of us all. And those who rode with Galloping Sun, oh, they killed and killed well. About this time Galloping Sun's rivalry with the other Hothead of the Sun, Destroying Sun, grew to pure hatred. They'd set themselves up for a fight long before either realized it, and by the time either saw it coming, it was inevitable. Galloping Sun's warriors prepared him for single combat, strapping on barding and sharpening his hooves, and Galloping Sun ordered Vulture to prepare as well. And then, a miracle happened: Vulture said no.

And here we find the truth that the Barbarians know so well. What's their phrase? Nobody can make you do anything, something along that line. In either case, they have something there. The version My Uncle Vulture later taught was that blind obedience was the first sin, and it was a sufficient one. Sufficient to cause death, to be guilty, to be worthy of great punishment, to allow chaos into the world. Blind obedience is not good, my friend. And Vulture finally realized it, with the world crumbling around him.

Galloping Sun, unsurprisingly, was not particularly appreciative of Vulture's insight, and Vulture had to flee quickly. This was done with little difficulty, as Galloping Sun was too blind with rage to attack effectively, and his minions were too stunned to do anything. Unfortunately, Galloping Sun's woman was able to act, and cursed Vulture so that he could never eat what he killed ever again. This was a truly spiteful act; it did nothing to remove the perceived slight from her husband, causing nothing but pointless misery. Remember, friend: violence may be useful, but waste and spite can not be justified.

And so, an increasingly hungry Vulture watched from above as Suns Galloping and Destroying came at one another, seething with hatred that had lost its cause. Their battle was horrible. The field where they fought burned with a lightless fire, and many others died, some from one camp or the other, some unrelated. In the end, Destroying Sun crippled Galloping Sun, leaving him moaning as a river of his own blood slowly washed him into the underworld. Vulture flew down in an attempt to make peace before Galloping Sun was gone, but the dying god would have no part of it. Instead, Galloping Sun grabbed Vulture by the neck to drag him to Hell as well. Vulture's flesh and feathers burned, but he managed to struggle free of Galloping Sun before the dying God passed into Death's realm. The last thing Vulture heard was Galloping Sun ordering his minions to remember Vulture's betrayal and remember his unworthiness. Vulture again made his escape, though he was now deformed by burns as well as hungry.

And so, this is why Horse and those who love the horse hate the Vulture. They see my Uncle as a traitor, blind to the fact that their lord and master was a monster. Of course, at the same time, Vulture had much to answer for, and he was guilty. All were guilty by then, as survival often took more than virtue in the time before the Dawn.

Why would I consort with such a creature? Why would I call a traitor, scarred and cursed, my Uncle? Oh, no, I'm sure you would never word things so indelicately. Tend to the fire and I will tell you about Vulture's redemption in the dark.