It was a usual day of winter in Tokotna. Freezing cold temperature, dark clouds constantly looming over their heads and the possibility of a blizzard so high it was almost granted. But despite all the negativity in his life, Miki Itigiaq was very excited for today. The man was really looking forward to participating in the Tokotna Winter Sled Marathon, as it was his childhood dream. Of course, he had heard the stories of contestants whose bodies never recovered but it was a rare occurrence and he had blind trust in Koning. He was the son of Fenrir, the King of the Mountain himself. He was the heir to that very throne. Koning knew the area as well as his father did and Itigiaq was certain not only were they going to be fine but they were going to do so much more... Itigiaq was planning on winning the race, or at least his brother. The man exited the shared ger with a smile on his face, dragging a sled loaded with tack and the supplies necessary for the journey behind him. The dire could hear something being dragged and so he got up from the ground, looking at Itigiaq.
Tatu left the ger as well, dragging his own sled with necessities behind him. He was as excited as his brother was, maybe even more. It was an ambition they both shared since childhood, participating in the Tokotna Winter Sled Marathon and ideally bringing home a trophy. Sibling rivalry was always there but never with a malicious intent. The brothers loved each other dearly and would protect one another at all costs. Seeing Tatu approach her, Taleesha smiled and began wagging her tail, making bits of snow fly towards all directions. Tatu smiled back at the half mane, slightly picking up his pace as his eyes moved to his brother, who was waiting since they agreed they would prepare their Tokotas together. Taleesha took a breath, turning her attention to the dire while waiting for Tatu to reach them. "It's a three-day run. We could get it done in a day. Maybe less. Surely less. Hours." Taleesha told the dire, her eyes glistening with mischief. "Perhaps we should finish it in less time." The dire replied, shifting his gaze back to Itigiaq. Taleesha smirked to herself -having planted the seed- and got up just as Tatu arrived, smiling at her.
Itigiaq carefully pulled one of the blankets from the pile on his sled, examining it for a few seconds before he laid it on the dire's back. Koning huffed lightly but stayed silent, knowing it could come in handy, as the Ridge of Elders -or Aippaq's throne as some called it- was a place that didn't make it for you. Next came the saddle, pure leather, handcrafted specifically for Koning himself. Ain't no king without proper armor. Tightening the straps that went around the dire's torso, Itigiaq turned to look at the sky, seeing nothing but dark clouds floating over them. "Lovely weather." He muttered in a sarcastic tone, smirking as he reached to grab the reins. They were placed and fitted on the dire's head, Koning remaining still and silent throughout the process. Once every tack item that the dire was required to have on, was fitted, Itigiaq took the dire by his reins and led him to the sled. Itigiaq hooked the sled ropes to the metal rings on the dire's tack but ended up double military-tying the knots to make sure the ropes wouldn't come undone even if all hell broke loose. Itigiaq and Koning had to be prepared for anything.
Tatu turned to look at Taleesha, wondering if he should have picked a different Tokota, maybe one with more fur. Quickly dismissing all thoughts, relevant or not, he pulled one of his blankets from the sled, laying the lengthy pelt-turned blanket on Taleesha's back.The half mane turned around to look at the soft material that was placed on her back but Tatu turned her head back to its original position, as she needed to be straight or they run the risk of the blanket slipping or even falling entirely. The half mane complied and the saddle followed, leather pouches, ropes and other lightweight materials hanging on either side of the leather saddle. Next were the leather reins, which got on Taleesha's head very easily, considering the half mane actually liked wearing them. Lastly, Tatu had to attach the sled's ropes to the metal rings on Taleesha's breast collar but he decided to double tie it as well, just for peace of mind. Once he was done, he proceeded to get on the sled, pulling the hood of his coat up to cover his head. [Inuktitut: Are you ready brother?] Tatu asked his brother, grabbing Taleesha's reins.
[Inuktitut: We were born for this, brother.] Itigiaq replied with a sly smile, getting on his sled as well. The man pulled the dire's reins into his grasp, encasing them inside his gloved hands. [Inuktitut: Let us go then. May the best man win.] Itigiaq said, taking a deep breath before he pulled his hood up, mimicking his brother. Upon hearing the equivalent command, Taleesha and Koning began trotting towards the large 'start' sign, covering the distance very quickly. The Tokotas came to a halt and Itigiaq turned his head to the right, looking at the officer who would signal the start of the race. [Inuktitut: Tatu, it's her.] Itigiaq said, nudging his brother before he quickly turned his head to the opposite direction, looking at the other participants.
[Inuktitut: And here I always thought you were a womanizer.] Tatu said mockingly, batting his eyelashes at his brother. Tatu turned his head to look at the female officer, giving her a small smile once he realized she was watching them. She gave him a friendly wave accompanied by a radiant smile before checking her clock. The half mane exhaled silently, trying to mask her amusement through a resting bitch face.
"I'm surprised, brother. I must admit, I didn't see that coming." Itigiaq said with a smile, turning his gaze to his brother once more. Seeing the flash of red on his brother's cheeks, Itigiaq smiled again, but before he could say anything else, the officer's voice came through the speakers, telling the contestants to get read. Itigiaq found himself tighten his grip on Koning's reins, this race was close and personal and at least one of the siblings had to place to honor their father's memory, who died before he could race. "All contestants, welcome to the Tokotna Winter Sled Marathon of 2016 for single Tokota sleds. The trail is marked by red glow-in-the-dark flags every twenty meters. Officer Tatkret will be delivering a box of firecrackers to each contestant. Do not hesitate to use them if you lose the trail, as officers will be patrolling the area. My name is Kelly and thank you all for participating." The officer's voice was smooth and soft, calming all underlying worries. There was a silence for a few seconds before the drum -an old tradition- began beating, the Inuit brothers recognizing the beat as a protective prayer. The race had begun.
Tatu and itigiaq took a moment for themselves, smiling at each other before Koning and Taleesha began sprinting like their life depended on it. Lifting and lowering their paws from the snowy ground like a well-oiled machine, their breaths were coming out like white clouds of smoke, contrasting with their eerily dark surroundings. They weren't running for long -or at least that was what they had estimated- and they had already left the open tundra behind. Having transitioned into a forest area, the two men had expected less sun due to the height of trees but what they didn't expect was thick, heavy fog. "Of course people will get lost with this weather." Itigiaq yelled at his brother, Tatu and Taleesha a few feet ahead of him and the dire.
"Keep up!" Tatu yelled, turning his head back to look at his brother and make sure he's okay. A bark from Taleesha however, made him turn his head back straight, looking at the trail once again. 'Endless forests full of mist and creatures that lurk in the dark. Thanks a lot, Kelly.' Taleesha thought to herself, opening her mouth to take a breath but quickly coughing as this thing was far too humid to be called air. 'More like inhaling water...' The half mane thought to herself, keeping her eyes on the trail.
A sudden wave of worry rushed through the dire when Taleesha coughed, thinking that maybe she was ill or injured. Seeing no blood on the snow she passed, however, he realized she was okay and a weight was lifted from his shoulders. He continued running, keeping a steady and decent pace, which unfortunately wasn't as fast as Taleesha's. The dire hastily scanned his surroundings, seeing nothing but the glowing red flags due to the fog that kept getting thicker as time went by.
As the two Tokotas raced through the forest, hours flew by and so did daylight. The dire and the half mane began slowing down, the fog was clearing up and their bellies had begun rumbling. "Let's take a break." Tatu yelled at his brother, pulling on Taleesha's reins to make the half mane slow down even more, reducing her gait to walking. Koning caught up and the two brothers looked at each other, both taking deep breaths to relax. After a five minute break for food and water, the Tokotas were ready to get going but the loud howl-like sound of the wind told the brothers a blizzard was coming. "We have to outrun it." Tatu told his brother, rubbing the back of his neck.
"We must get on high ground." Itigiaq replied with a nod. "The Ridge of the Elders." They both exclaimed, the fog clearing just in time for them to see the high mountain peak. [Inuktitut: May Aippaq and the Spirits be with us.] Tatu said, him and Itigiaq quickly getting back on their sleds. "Mush!" They both yelled, the Tokotas once again sprinting. Leaving the foggy and depressing forest behind them, Koning and Taleesha were once again on the open tundra. Racing across the frozen ground was one of the things both Tokotas loved, despite their differences. Taleesha was again ahead of the dire but she decided it was better if one was ahead so they could warn the other for dangers -and she liked being the leader- "Come on baby girl." Tatu yelled at the half mane, further encouraging her to get even more space between her and Koning. Taleesha and Koning moved their gaze to look at the mountain ahead, seeing an officer and a Tokota dressed in orange far in the distance, near the base of the mountain. "At least we know where we'll be staying until the blizzard hits." Itigiaq said, smirking at the thought of sleeping on a bed instead of icy rocks. "Almost there." Both men muttered.