Three Hearts: Chapter Two

Chapter: Shadowed Ground (2)

 

The whole village plans to be gathered to see it. It is to take place in a small patch of ceremonial ground, twenty feet off the beaten path that runs through the village and surrounded by trees and vines of all shapes, sizes and purposes. People have already started to prepare, but Mesdan is not with them.

Mesdan is in Kesta’s quarters, with Eliss.

It’s just beyond second twilight, with neither moon nor sun in the sky. Eliss’s family– which consists almost entirely of brothers now, those who had been away hunting when the shapeshifter struck, on month-long excursions– is either missing or dead. Eliss is arguing with Mesdan, scribbling with charcoal on a long, dry leaf.

Her throat has healed, yes, but she still cannot speak. Kesta worries that perhaps she never will again, but neither he nor Mesdan wishes to tell Eliss that. She rests on Kesta’s bedroll, surrounded by gifts of stone or spice, condolences on her family and blessings for her survival.

Let me watch!”

Even the way she writes now is furious, scrawled angrily rather than written with care. It isn’t so much a want as a demand.

She hands him the leaf, fuming. Her whole body is weak from her ordeal. The fates only know when she’ll recover, Mesdan thinks. But she will recover. Even if it means missing out on my initiation.

“You’re still weak,” Mesdan observes. “You know how grueling the initiation is. I will not allow you to be present, let alone stand– rather, lie– vigil and wait for me to return.”

Elissa scrawls something on the leaf as he hands it back to her. Her writing is agitated and shaky.

“If you were a man you would let me do as I please.”  

Mesdan reads it, sighs, and shakes his head wordlessly. Eliss herself knows it isn’t true. What can he say to that? Besides that he is a man. He’s gone through the Change rite and everything.

He slips the leaf back to her when she reaches out for it. It seems she might already regret those words, but no amount of rubbing them out will rub them from Mesdan’s mind now. Eliss doesn’t consider him a true man. The knowledge makes him burn.

“It’s selfish! Let me watch! You didn’t let me watch the witch one either!”

Mesdan arches an eyebrow quizzically as he reads her latest message. “I wasn’t even here for that, Eliss. You’re being too impulsive-”

And that isn’t fair. Mesdan regrets the words as soon as they come out, and bites back the rest of the sentence. He turns away, handing the leaf to her and heaving another sigh.

“Please?”

The next reply is written carefully and she places it against his half-curled fingertips with a certain delicate hopefulness he finds heartbreaking. It hurts even to read it. As a shaman, his duty should be to keep the villagers happy and to defend their souls. As a witch, his duty should be to keep the villagers safe and protect their bodies. Mesdan is being torn to pieces between the two– or at the least stretched. But this is to be his shaman initiation, after all.

Eliss is his friend. He wrestles for a moment, with himself, with his witch training.

“Fine,” Mesdan says quietly. “But Kesta won’t be able to watch you. He’ll be busy administering initiation.”

“Actually,” Kesta interjects from directly behind Mesdan’s left ear. “That’s not true. I’ll be watching over Eliss.”

Mesdan stops himself whirling around through sheer will alone, stops the witch response bursting from him, and pulls his calm together as only a shaman should. “Oh.”

He forces himself to turn his head slowly.

Kesta smiles at him apologetically. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Mesdan replies dully. “I expected it.”

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

Mesdan glances up to find Thaneen staring back at him. The freckled, pale white skin is recognizable all throughout the village– and the short, bright red hair is easily the most conspicuous. Thanee is one of– well, had been one of– Danni’s best friends. Mesdan, however, having just completed his rite, turns his head, hot shame creeps from somewhere down near his chest all the way up to his cheeks. He feels nearly naked– and really, he is.

“Than–” Mesdan starts, and for a split second it’s like the Change rite meant nothing. Thanee bowls his sentence right over.

“I was okay with the Change rite, you know that, it’s just– aren’t you still feeling– weak from that? Wouldn’t it make sense to give it time?”

Mesdan gazes at Thanee steadily, meeting the boy’s eyes. “Yes. It would make sense. But this village can’t survive another month without another Shaman to watch over it. When Feskun fell to the charm of the Queen, I knew that I needed to take the Change rite and take his place. I have taken the Change rite– though I know it hurts you to see me this way. Now I have only to become Shaman through this initiation.”

Thanee puts a hand on Mesdan’s shoulder, and for a moment Mesdan feels a horrible wrenching indecision. It vanishes as Thanee’s next words fall out in a rush.

“If you do this, Danni-”

“My name is Mesdan,” he replies quietly. “Or does the rite mean nothing to you either? How many times must I say it? I’m different. I’m not a witch anymore. I’m a shaman. I took the rite. I’ve diverged from that path and there’s no telling when I will return. This village needs no witch. I will be a shaman.”

He takes a deep, shuddering breath, trying to gather his wits again. He doesn’t shrug Thaneen’s hand away, but he doesn’t move to accept the gesture either. After a few more moments, Thanee drops his hand and sighs.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I meant no offense. I’m just not used to it yet, I guess.” He pauses, then shakes his head ruefully. “I never wanted to share you with anyone. Now I suppose I don’t need to worry about that, at least.”

Mesdan smiles weakly. Always right to the point, with Thanee. “Yeah. You can have me all you want once I’m shaman. I promise you won’t have to share at all. At least wait until I’m healed up though.”

Thanee punches his shoulder playfully. It still makes Mesdan wince. Seeing his expression Thaneen leans in close, enough that his forehead nearly touches Mesdan’s. “A tough man like you? You’ll be ready by tomorrow’s end,” he whispers. “Just wait and see.”

Mesdan feels acutely aware of how close Thanee’s fingers are to his hips and for a moment, he is literally left speechless. The closeness of his freckled friend takes him by surprise, and the heat between them is something to be savored in the chilling air. Mesdan’s eyes wander, taking in the curve of Thanee’s shoulder, the familiar fang-shaped birthmark on his right cheek, those warm brown eyes and the sturdy– though a little thin– frame. He’s close enough to kiss.

He comes back to himself. “Than-”

“Right,” his friend replies, voice choked, pulling back. He turns away, hiding his face. Mesdan catches a glimpse of Thaneen’s reddening cheeks before the boy stalks off and leans against a tree. Mesdan takes a calming breath, lets his heartbeat return to normal, and forces his attention back to his work.

Creating dream shells is hard enough without worrying about feelings for Thanee, or the reciprocation of those feelings BY Thanee. Mesdan can’t afford to split his attention now.

He rethreads the bone needle, and tries again. He’d been doing pretty well before Thanee had interrupted him. He retraces the heart-weave, taking another calming breath. When he finishes tracing out the intricate semi-circle triple pattern and the helix down the middle for support, he takes the shell fiber from the hole in the needle and, very carefully, snaps the needle in two. By the time he looks up, Thaneen is gone. He probably slipped away to find his relatives in the crowd of villagers gathering.

The shaman initiate glances back down at his dream shell and sighs heavily. His newest work, his grand pattern, spread right across the heart-weave, is Thaneen’s name in witch-rote. Well.

Mesdan makes a face, drops the old dream shell and picks up new fiber and a new bone needle. Closing his eyes and trying very hard not to think of Thanee again, he starts over.

Midnight comes far too fast for Mesdan’s comfort. The moon, rising into the sky through the forest canopy, shines down like a second sun. It won’t last. A shamanic initiation will require complete darkness. Kesta himself had spoken with the sky and asked it to cover the moon for the night. Mesdan shivers a little. The light is a comfort. Especially knowing that he will spend the remainder of the night- and the next- alone, outside, and in total blackness.

He can’t remember a time in his life when he’s enjoyed being in the dark. Not a single time. The darkness hides monsters, demons and otherwise. To enjoy it would go against every ounce of his witch training. To enjoy it would go against his very nature. Still, it seems a nonissue compared to the immense task before him. Initiation for shamanhood would require many things of Mesdan, things he isn’t sure even now he’s ready for. His dream shell is complete and he has the support of Kesta, Thaneen and Eliss to count on, but he still knows that it will be dreadfully difficult. With that knowledge haunting him, he tries his best to find his center now. He doesn’t know and won’t be told who will administer the initiation. Kesta only tells him things like that because the two of them are close. Much closer than they should be, to be frank. Thaneen would be jealous if he knew. But there are some things Thaneen can never understand.

Some things Thaneen shouldn’t understand. Mesdan’s relationship with Kesta is one such thing.

The crowd around him– the entire village, really– isn’t murmuring or talking at all. They simply stand and wait. At a witch’s initiation, jeers and catcalls are relatively commonplace– whistles of appreciation, perhaps, things meant to test the discipline of the girl who is to become a witch. Test it as hard as can be. This is necessary. In order to hunt monsters, one must make their heart like stone. In order to defend the bodies of those around them with the mana and the life-force of the air, the moon, the stars and the earth, one must have iron discipline lest they fall to that power and become like the creatures they seek to destroy.

Whole villages could be annihilated by rogue witches. Their power could level all but the strongest of log cabins and turn brave warriors to nothing but ash and dust as easily as it could do the same to a monster.

His thoughts drift back to the present. It’s growing darker now. A glance at the sky tells the tale of a forgotten and forlorn moon, and of a lone cloud as black as the darkest soil sweeping across the sky and hovering there maliciously over it, under it, sending the whole of the jungle into shadow.

No words still. He is alone with his thoughts, and in the darkness. Alone, though as a shaman he can feel the presence of the crowd nearby. It hasn’t begun then. Surely it would soon.

Mesdan closes his eyes. It’s meaningless. He can’t tell the difference between the black of the back of his lids and the light of opening his eyes. There is no difference. It’s shadow, shadow and shadow all around him. He can’t let it set in that he truly IS alone, that despite being able to feel the crowd out there, they cannot and will not lift a finger to help him during this initiation. He is to face this trial alone. His ordeal is all alone.

While he waits for his first test to start, he can feel the panic start to gnaw at him. To distract himself, he lets his mind wander again.

When he had been a her, before the Change rite, he remembers going through the witch initiation as Danni. The dream shell in his hands chimes. He opens his eyes, looks down at the hypnotic, glowing weave of it sitting in his fingers, and is swallowed up by the past.

 

[Memory]

 

“A slip of a girl cannot undergo witch training, Dessdan,” Ginna snaps. “If you grow to become strong, return to me, but not before you are truly ready.”

Danni flushes red from where she lies. As Ginna withdraws, she pulls the shell blade from Danni’s neck. Danni hates it when Ginna calls her Dessdan. It’s a girl’s name, not a witch’s, and no matter what anyone says Danni will become a witch.

“I am not a slip of a girl!” Danni hisses, her eyes stinging with tears, stupid, weak tears. “I’ll prove how strong I am.”

Ginna arches an eyebrow, but says nothing as Danni pulls herself to her feet and glares at the old witch defiantly. For a time, silence is all that passes between them, then:

“You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, little girl, but if you truly wish to show me how strong you are, seek out the eldest shaman in the village and defeat him. I care not whether it is with skill, magic or the strength of your scrawny arms. Find him, challenge him, and defeat him. Then I shall let you train under me.”

Ginna doesn’t seem to find this a likely possibility at all.

When Danni reaches the shaman’s hut, she expects him to be outside, working in the garden. He isn’t, but a familiar face is there to greet her. The eldest shaman in the village is named Wesdal.  The shaman’s hut is secluded and while he doesn’t often get visitors, he walks down the path every day. His apprentice, Keeta, looks up and smiles as Danni approaches down the worn path.

“Good eve, Dessdan-” He starts.

“It’s Danni,” she snaps, irritable already. A witch doesn’t have much use for manners. Still, she shakes her head apologetically before she continues. “Sorry. It’s been a long day. Can you go get Wesdal for me?”

Keeta just smiles at her apology, then seems to brighten up even further at her request, nodding and turning to enter the hut.

She hadn’t meant to be rude to him. Of course, Keeta would never say it, but she’s sure that he doesn’t like her very much.

She likes him well enough. Keeta is a little weird, but then again, so is Danni, so she doesn’t mind. His eyes don’t wander the way other boys’ do. Danni isn’t sure what to make of that, but it does seem strange to her that he never… well, looks at her. He must just not like her very much. She simply can’t imagine any other reason.

“So, here to challenge me?”

Wesdal’s warm voice breaks her out of her daze. He’s a tall, thick built man with soft amber eyes and weathered features, like old stone. He isn’t old, really, but all shamans get like that. Wrinkly and dry before their time. She stares up at him blankly a moment before the sharp part of her mind smacks her out of it again.

“Oh!” she almost yelps, snapping alert. “Yes! Ginna won’t let me train under her until I defeat you.” Danni pauses a moment, then stares at her feet. “I don’t think she wants me to be a witch at all.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Keeta whispers.

Danni isn’t listening, though. She raises her head and meets Wesdal’s expectant eyes with her own hard, blue pair.

“Fight me.”

Her words are like iron.

 

[Present]

 

Mesdan shakes himself awake and alert again, drawing his eyes up and away from the dream shell. Darkness has surrounded him completely. The glow of the shell shimmers for a few more seconds and then fades away. His heart begins to pound and Mesdan becomes terribly aware of how alone he is in the darkness. It takes a few deep, calming breaths to remember his purpose here.

The past is the past. The present is the present. This is not the witch initiation. His foes will be beatable.

This time. Now that he knows more.

“Danni.” A voice calls from the darkness. “You must learn to face your fear, or you will never be able to protect your village.”

He can’t place the villager’s voice. He nods anyway, sure that whoever it is can’t see him. Mesdan wonders whether or not there’s anything really there, or if it’s simply the dream shell’s hypnotic influence plaguing him still. His whole body aches from his ordeal the night before.

The dark around him grows more so, swirling in like a velvet caress. Its chill touch makes his ebon skin break out in a sweat. He wills his body to move, to pull itself up, to push away from his seat on the ground. It doesn’t listen. With a shock, Mesdan realizes that he’s completely paralyzed.

A nightmarish haze hangs on his heart, on his hair, all over his aching body. It clings to him, dirtying him. He feels filthy, profaned, like his mind is being sullied somehow by this invasive presence. It seeps into him, into his self, and shakes him to his heart, to the core of his soul. He can feel it eating away at him.

“Lost yourself so easily, little girl?”

Ginna’s voice is so cold it chills him to the bone. It echoes at him out of the dark.

“You have no right to claim shamanhood. Do you mean to betray your oaths as a witch?” the voice mocks. “What sort of vows were they, to be broken like this?”

The words have literal bite to them. He can feel the marks they leave on his bare skin, on arms. This is, after all, shaman initiation. He was stupid to believe the foe he must face would be a physical one.

He would cry out at the pain, but his mouth won’t move. His whole body is still.

Yet apprentice shaman must survive this test! He can scarcely believe it- the pain of this first obstacle alone is excruciating. Without incantation, though, with barely any movement at all needed, a shaman could heal or hinder with a thought, with the sheer force of their own mana, their own spirit.

He hesitates a moment more, trying to gather himself as the haze penetrates deeper into his mind and the sick feeling in his belly grows riotous. It builds to a point, then sinks back down. His heart throbs in his chest and he feels a convulsion shudder through him. If this keeps up, he’s certain he’ll die.

Mesdan forces his mind inwards. Around him, the silence deepens. As he dives deep into his own psyche, his heartbeat slows and his body relaxes.

A few moments later, and the darkness swallows him completely, devouring his motionless body as surely as night follows day.

 

 

©2012 Sam Oliver [Eris]

Cliffhanger. Split the original chapter 2 up into 2 chapters instead- chapters two and three-  to make it more sane. Finals week is NEXT week, but it’s nowhere near as hectic as this one, sooooooo…. I can get a regular schedule by next week instead????

Was that enough question marks??????

Probably.

<3s to all,

Eris

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Three Hearts: Chapter One

Chapter: Polite Society (1)

Mesdan– formerly Danni– sleeps long into the day. From midday onward towards dusk, he sleeps, sleeps and sleeps, eyes closed, breathing even. No one wakes him up and no one comes to congratulate him on his recent Change rite. No one does this because it is not the way of the man to celebrate small things. It is not the way of the man to sleep for the entire day, either, but Mesdan does this because he is exhausted, and this, as an excuse, is enough for the other men of the village.

The main reason, however, for no one waking Mesdan up would have to be this: Mesdan is the oldest man in the village.

He opens his eyes, and it is well past dusk now. He can see it. It’s perfect for him, though. He hadn’t wanted to wake up until now anyway. It would be dangerous to practice his art in the day, when others might see it. Not for his protection, of course, but for theirs.

He rolls over in his hammock, setting ebon feet on the brown woven mat of the floor.

A familiar girl with short black hair and pale, pale skin stands at the doorway of his hut, staring at his nude body with interest. “Praise to the skyborn,” she purrs casually. “Aren’t you up early, Danni?”

“It’s Mesdan now,” he replies curtly. “It’s not proper to lurk near a sleeper’s hut, Eliss. Worse when it is the hut of a shaman.”

“Sleep poorly? Did you forget your initiation is tomorrow?” she asks, and then ducks away before he can find something to throw at her.

Mesdan sighs, standing up, crossing the hut in a stride to the door and closing it, then barring it with the broom set next to it. Before he does anything he should probably rebind his wounds.

He sits on the edge of the hammock, reaching under it to grab his roll of medical tape. After unwrapping the dirty bandages from his chest and lower body, he slowly starts to bind them up again. The old ones are stained near totally red with his blood, and a fresh stain starts to spread the moment he finishes wrapping the new ones around his chest, shoulders and waist. It doesn’t hurt. The medical tape administers anesthetic any time he rewraps. It’s an odd feeling. The technology is old and, at present, not something he cares to dwell on the origin of.

His chest and his waist are both covered in scars.

Even being a candidate for shamanhood would make injuries such as his quite common. For Mesdan– formerly Danni– such a thing was to be a matter of course. His chest had split open– and resplit every time subsequently– the moment he had tapped into Mana. It had been an accident that first time, and the first inkling aside from his black skin that he would be shaman.

Well, witch at the time, but that is a different problem, and one that Mesdan doesn’t particularly feel like he needs to delve into.

After he finishes wrapping himself up in bandages, Mesdan leaves the hut, unbarring the door and closing it behind him to keep out the rain.

He enters polite society, then, dressed only in bandages and with no weapon by his side but his tongue and his wit. The trail at least is one he knows well, even in the dark. A long woven path of leaves, dry and cracked from overuse, leads him away from his hut where it sits at the village edge. Along the path not a soul can be found. Eliss had been rather foolish to come visit him at this time of the evening in any case. As a shaman– rather, as a shaman-to-be– he could survive the deadly dust given off by the night-opening plants, but precious few others among them could.

A cloud of it, near invisible but for the half-light of the swollen moon shining through the trees, hangs over the path in front of him, and he brushes it aside as he walks towards the first of the homes– this one made of log where his had been made of clay, straw and hard work.

A witch is allowed envy. A shaman is not.

He shrugs aside his momentary irritation, stalks up to the front step of the home. It rises above him a good ten feet again, a long oaken log-woven house with a thatch-and-vine roof. The door is ajar, and darkness lurks within. No one has lit any candles, and for a moment Mesdan thinks nothing of it. After all, if all of them are sleeping it wouldn’t surprise him.

But a sharp, bitter iron scent reaches his nostrils. He tugs the door away further and holds up a hand, reaching out to just barely touch his Mana, letting it run through his arm and up to his fingers. They glow, then, shining brightly, illuminating the interior of the house before him.

The log floor is wet, and as he steps inside, he realizes it’s covered nearly entirely with blood. The slickness of it is everywhere, and it is quite, quite fresh. It sticks to the bottoms of his feet, and a wave of revulsion, lessened somewhat by a hard year of training, runs through him like a shudder, bringing bile to his throat. He chokes it back down again, swallows a scent like bad meat and tries very hard not to bolt.

He forces himself to take another step inside.

Beyond the entryway is a scene of devastation like nothing he has seen before. The entire room is a wreck- chairs and handcrafted furniture shattered to pieces and strewn everywhere, animal skins lying here and there on the wooden floor, some so badly torn that the creature it came from is unrecognizable. Every glass window has been shattered to let the dust in on the breeze. It wouldn’t come until later in the night, with any luck.

Mesdan can feel the aura– near palpable in the air– of something horrible, too. It pushes at him, oppresses his own. Something he recognizes almost immediately.

“Awful, isn’t it?”

The voice is like Eliss’s, but it isn’t coming from her mouth.

Eliss is lying on the floor in front of him, throat torn open, spine nearly severed. Her blood is pooled around her head, one arm broken, the other flung outward stick-like. Her pale skin is gaunt now like a ghost’s. Her clothes have been torn to shreds and her eyes stare up at him, not in accusation, but in fear, pain, desperate pleading. She still lives, then.

The voice comes from something in her shape, and now it makes sense to Mesdan that she came to visit him so late. The creature wearing Eliss’s skin is lounging in a chair, slowly licking blood from a finger, eyeing him like a cat watches a mouse. Her entire body is covered in it, the crimson fluid is splashed crazily along walls, doors, wooden windowsills.

“I was going to kill her family last, you know,” the shapeshifter says casually. “I think I like it better this way.”

With detached shock, Mesdan realizes that some of the blood is dry and some of it is new. His gaze is drawn up to the ceiling, where three desiccated corpses hang from rope that looks like… like hair…. They’re swinging gently, broken people made into dolls. They’ve been flayed and no doubt have been dead for ages. Drained of blood.

Mesdan’s gaze drops back down.

“When I heard there would be an apprentice shaman I was so- excited!” that voice hisses at him from across the room. “You haven’t any idea how boring this town has been. Two-house villages are so easy. You should have seen the look on her face when I revealed–”

“Silence,” Mesdan says quietly. “Please.”

There’s no power in the voice. There isn’t a hint of command or of anger or sorrow. There’s no shock, no stunned disbelief.

The shapeshifter stops midsentence, staring at Mesdan, astonished. Perhaps none of its victims had ever stood up to it before.

Mesdan closes his eyes a moment, blocking out the destruction around him. He wishes sorely he’d brought his broom with him for a better channel. But that, of course, wouldn’t be shaman way. Strictly speaking, what he needs to do now isn’t shaman way either, but then, he still has’t done the initiation ceremony yet, so technically he isn’t even shaman.

He takes a deep, deep breath and opens his eyes. Mana is a shared resource, between witch and shaman. Were he a true shaman, he’d use the mana of his own–as it should be!– but even for the light around his fingers now, he’d used witchcraft instead, mana from his surroundings. He draws on that now.

“You are an aberration,” he whispers. “You have broken entry into this house and village to make a mockery of those I swore to protect.”

The shapeshifter frowns, wrinkling its pale brow as if trying to follow what he says. “That doesn’t sound like a shaman chant,” It says, plainly puzzled. “What’s that part of?”

“My sacred oath,” Mesdan continues, ignoring that. “Is to deal with such matters as only a witch can.”

Gritting his teeth for the charge he knows will follow, he focuses the energies around him into a glowing orb in his mind, and forces it into being above the creature. He lowers it, the invisible sphere surrounding it totally, completely.

He lifts his open hand, pointing his palm, glowing still with witchlight, at the shapeshifter. “By mana and the earthborn, I banish you from this plane, shapeless one!”

The shapeshifter’s stolen eyes have time to narrow, it has enough time to gather itself and prepare for a leap before the energy swirls around it, hurtles at it in a hundred blue, crackling bolts. The whole room greys as the wood’s very spiritual life is sucked from it, giving its power to Mesdan to prevent him collapsing. A moment later the thunderclaps sound, deafeningly loud, blowing the door behind him wide open with a crack, knocking Mesdan on his back. His head meets the floor and he bites his lip hard enough to draw blood.

Mesdan remains on his back, but lifts his head just enough to see the remains of the shapeshifter, nothing but ashes and dust, blow away in the breeze from the open door. It’s dead silent. He puzzles over the fact that the creature hadn’t bothered to change shape as soon as it saw him.

Mesdan pushes himself up onto his elbows. He’s sticky with blood now, his back feels covered with it. Knowing that most of it is Eliss’s is not helping. He manages to sit up on the third try. He still feels weak and shaky, as the conduit to those energies. His body is afire.

He crawls over to Eliss’s warm form where she lies on the floor of the house and places his burning hands on her mutilated neck. She stares up at him, eyes now half-closed, surely close to death’s door.

Healing is not a witch’s work. Witches are meant to destroy aberrations. Shamans clean up after the messes they leave. His training as a shaman isn’t nearly as extensive as his training as a witch.

Mesdan purses his lips and then shakes his head. It isn’t important now. He needs to do something.

He closes his eyes again and, tapping at his mana, opens a flood of it, unlocking a gate and letting it flow into Eliss.

“From earth, from wind, from water and fire, I call on all to heal wounds most dire. This girl is injured, I beg of thee, save her now as a Leaf on the Tree.”

The incantation is certainly not a shaman prayer, but the mana in him responds to it at once, leaping forward and washing over Eliss’s wound in a flash of incandescent blue light. Skin starts to mend, tendon, bone and muscle reweaving. Mesdan takes a deep, shuddering breath as his chest-wound re-opens. He can feel the warmth of his blood against the bandage. The sting is nearly unbearable. A blinding headache rips through him and leaves him weak. His concentration falters. The healing weakens and then stops entirely, while a searing pain jabs at his chest. The mana roars through his blood, eating at his skin, muscle and bone even as he struggles to finish the healing, to finish what he started.

It is then, and only then, that a tanned, blonde-haired man wearing blue jeans and a halved t-shirt steps up next to Mesdan. Mesdan is aware of being picked up gently and placed to the side. A hand is drawn across his chest, and the wound closes, the raging mana in his body is calmed. The man, who Mesdan knows quite well, shakes his head when he sees the fresh red against Mesdan’s bandages.

“That will be enough, Danni,” the Elder says quietly. “I can finish her healing from here.”

“It’s M-Mesdan,” Mesdan gasps, trying to right himself again, trying to sit up but only managing to rise halfway before collapsing back. He should not have tried something so complex. Surely the mana inside had nearly killed him.

Ironically, the Elder- all of the Elders in the village, really- is younger than Mesdan. He has not, of course, taken age as well as Mesdan, since he spent much more time training as a shaman rather than a witch. The Elder is nowhere near as old as Mesdan, and likely won’t live nearly as long, either.

“You haven’t been initiated yet, Danni,” the Elder replies, smiling. He draws a hand along the myriad of wounds covering Eliss, starting from largest to smallest, chanting in that strange language fingers glowing as they touch each cut or gash. They seal themselves as his hand passes. There isn’t a mark on the Elder after he has finished- no wound opens. No blood from eyes, mouth or nose. Mesdan feels a shock of shameful envy. The Elder, whose name is Kesta, turns to Mesdan when he’s through.

“You shouldn’t be trying shaman magic without initiation.”

“I did what I had to,” Mesdan snaps. “Would you not have done the same?”

“The risk? Your life. The reward? Perhaps some healing that may save Eliss’s life? It isn’t the same as witchpower, Danni. Have we not been over this?” The Elder’s voice is reproachful.

“Yes, Elder,” the boy replies quietly. “We have been. There just wasn’t time.”

The older-looking man smiles at him sheepishly. “There rarely seems to be. Honestly I don’t think she would have lasted until I got here if you hadn’t healed her. Had you used the incantation you promised to, though, I could have been here sooner. As is, the only reason I came running was because of the thunder.”

Mesdan makes a face. “I would have sent up the signal, but there was no time. It was a shapeshifter, Kesta. What could I have done?”

“I’m not scolding you, Danni-gran. How could I? I’m just saying that we should be better about what signals we pick. Had I been a moment later, perhaps Eliss would have died. If you had needed to run to me, you would not have been able to. You would have worn yourself bloody. Perhaps she would have lived, but at the cost of the oldest member of our village? Too high a price! The sooner we initiate you, the better,” Elder Kesta finishes.

“Speaking of prices,” Mesdan says quietly, struggling to keep his voice level. “Look above you.”

Kesta glances upward. His face turns pale white. What the sight of so much blood could not do, the sight of the desiccated corpses of Eliss’s family does. He stares down at Eliss, who cannot talk, though her breathing is stable again. Her eyes are open, but see nothing. Perhaps the pain is too much. Perhaps the anguish of watching her parents flayed before her has left her mad. The reasons don’t matter. Mesdan aches to try to help, but knows that any more use of his own mana could damage him further. He lies back helplessly, but doesn’t fume.

Kesta will take care of her.

“We should have set up a guard last night,” the Elder says bitterly, while checking Eliss’s pulse.

“It was a shapeshifter, Kesta,” Mesdan replies gently. “It would have made no difference.”

“Did you hear what happened to Thatcher’s Creek down the path?” Kesta asks.

“Yeah.”

“Pretty crazy, the way a single shapeshifter could kill an entire village.”

“Yeah.”

“Not so crazy anymore, is it?”

Something in his tone digs under Mesdan’s skin and settles there.

“What are you getting at?” Mesdan asks suddenly. “That we’re lucky?”

“Well-”

“No. We’re not lucky to have lost a whole family to a monster, Kesta. We’re not lucky it was just one family. Luck would be living somewhere there aren’t monsters like that to deal with. This wasn’t luck, it was ill fortune. Perhaps not as ill as another I could name, but much worse than nothing happening.”

Mesdan pushes himself back up into a sitting position, gazing at Kesta steadily. His voice is like iron when it leaves his lips.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes, Danni-gran,” Kesta replies meekly. “I understand. It is, though, the shaman way to take our blessings and give thanks.”

Mesdan blinks, takes a deep, calming breath and sighs. He’d become the eldest Witch again almost immediately and without even realizing it. He struggles to let go of the tension which grips him, slowly letting his shoulders and body relax. Really he wants to go and find a place to be alone, but he has the rest of his errands to run yet. With any luck the larger house down the path would be safe– since Kesta usually sleeps there, he can’t imagine it not being safe.

The grief will hit soon. He needs to keep moving.

As Mesdan stands and prepares to leave, he is not looking forward to the next few days. He especially isn’t looking forward to midnight tomorrow.

When initiation is to begin.

 

 

©2012 Sam Oliver [Eris]

Three Hearts: Introduction and Prologue

Three Hearts

A novel in serial by Sam Oliver [Eris]

Introduction: 

This has been a long time coming. I didn’t hit an idea for it until a while back- not too long ago, but long enough that I wasn’t even sure if it was going to come at all. Until now. I have a new novel, a new world, and a new adventure stirring in my mind, and this is how I mean to express it. The characters will live and breathe and die. They’ll grow and have fantastic journeys. Now, normally I’d be inclined to just babble on and on and on- but I think I’ve said enough already.

This is my new work of art, my new work in progress. All I can say now is this:

Enjoy.

-Eris

Prologue

The forest nearby is quiet. Far too quiet, a thick and expectant silence that seems to swallow the heartbeats of those within it. Even the night wind brushing the leaves makes only the faintest rustling. The moon that rises in the air is waxed full and cold, a blue nimbus surrounding it, a fog that seems to shift and spark in the wind. After a time, a long, dark finger of cloud overtakes it and smothers it completely, and the world below is plunged into absolute darkness.

A darkness pierced by a small globe of light, moving swiftly down by the immense rocks, the hand of stone that rises up to kiss the sky. The light pulses with power, with an element of magic, of mana, that rises around the source in a determined shield against the darkness and the silence.

There is a pause and a loud thump, an intake of breath, sharp and pained. The globe falters and then shatters into sparks.  Dropping lower, we make out still nothing in the dark of the hidden moon. We hear, however, heavy, ragged breathing.

Then the moon comes back and floods the jagged stones with silvery, fragile light. There, picking itself up, is a small figure with darkened skin and hair wrapped tight in a long braid. It dances past the shadows of the immense monoliths beside it, right up to the edge of the cliff, careless of stones dislodged by its passage, careless even as the tiny rocks chip away, worn near smooth with age, and fall into the black depths, the rolling tide below.

The girl– for as the moonlight floods down, we see the curved hips and the long hair, the supple body and the teasing flash of bare dark skin near its chest– is swaying on her feet now. Blood drips down her legs, shocking crimson splashing the stones near her feet in drops, in starbursts of red. Around her chest and around her waist, bandages, bindings cover her near completely, hiding skin, hiding whatever wounds drip that blood.

We see and don’t understand the change in her heart, in her stance as she straightens. We see but don’t understand the the set of her mouth and the determined grip she has on something by her side. It is drawn into view.

A thin blade with no hilt, a shining stone edge. The girl reaches up, grips her braid in one hand and the knife in the other, drawing her head back and away. The knife edge is given no resistance, and she makes not a sound as it cuts.

A moment passes. Another. A change comes over the breathing of the girl.

A long black braid glistens, hangs in the air, casting eerie moon shadows over the roughened stone at the cliff’s edge. In another moment, it falls from ebon fingers, slipping down into the silent, hungry waves. A knife plummets down to land in the water as well, vanishing from sight.

A tall, dark-skinned boy stands at the rocks now, his black hair ragged and short, and for a moment it seems as though he will leap into the waves to follow after hair and knife both. The moment seems to stretch into minutes as he watches the water slowly crashing against jagged glass spikes below.

The boy lingers there until dawn breaks, then turns and, moving stiffly, returns to the stand of trees to disappear into the forest. Silence follows him.

 

©2012 Sam Oliver [Eris]

Thinking about Novels

I haven’t said much about these except in my serial novel Demimind earlier. You know, like, years earlier.

It hasn’t quite been a year since I finished Demimind. It feels like it has, but it hasn’t. Having written a grand total of one novel, I can tell you that it is altogether a different beast from writing, say, one short story. For one thing, short stories are shorter. I’ve said that before.

 

A novel has time. It can grow. The characters don’t need to make sense right away. The plot can unravel before your eyes like an old, worn scroll. Sometimes it unravels quickly, sometimes it unravels slowly, but always, ALWAYS it unravels. Even if you reach the end and realize the scroll will keep going, it unravels. Without plot, the novel cannot be driven. How do you drive it forward?

 

Patience is key. The first impulse is to get done with everything, is to write down all this exposition about everything that has ever happened ever. You’re excited, you want to tell everyone that your character is secretly in love with Rosaline and is scared to death of rats and never has liked the color pink- well you can do all that, but I like to sprinkle it in. I like to stretch the development of my characters out a little. If you put everything there is to know about each character out there instantly- what do you have left? What more is there to say?

Characters are the plot. They drive the plot, they live the plot and breathe it. Not all of them, but the main characters? They are both slaves and masters of it. You cannot have characters without plot. They need it to survive. Everyone- even super villains!- should have a little backstory even if it’s something like ‘This monster was just waiting in the trees for the party to pass’. It can be as complex as ‘The goblin Larry was adopted by an orc and an elf when his parents were killed in a forestfire. Though horribly scarred, he grew up as quite a nice person and was vegetarian all the way through high school until one time between classes his friend snuck some meat into his afternoon lunch and since then he has loved meat.’

If you ever put that much exposition in all at once it probably won’t be that great to look at. You can space it out more and give tidbits of history at a time. Now, I can only speak for me, but one thing I love to do is have characters exposit trivia. Not out of nowhere, not because a character ‘magically does not know anything about the town he spent three years living in’, but because there is an honest need- or compulsion- for the trivia to be mentioned. I don’t like walls of exposition- it tends to break story immersion for me, so it’s not something I like to include in my novels. If it’s necessary or something the character just does as a character trait or even a general whim, that’s fine. In the actual meat of the text, it can be disorientating and can even pop me right out of the story again. Exposition can be the most boringest thing.

So now you know one secret- exposition! In moderation, in time. That’s how I like to do it. I can’t remember now if I did that for Demimind- see how I am??- but it’s how I like to write now.

Next on the long list of things I need to relate… While plot is essential, characters are even more so. And characters twist the plot. It could start going one way and twist the other. If you have plot twisting the characters, it’s probably from the machinations of another character. Characters mess with characters, then, not plot. One common theme seems to be something like inevitability.

I don’t like that. To some, perhaps in my book Demimind it seems inevitable that one of the Seasons needs to die.

In fact, I think while talking about it, I was wondering who I needed to kill off. Uh uh. Not anymore.

In my books, I prefer to leave inevitability out of it. So-called Fate means little in most of my stories. If a character’s actions and personality lead it to do something and no one tries to stop it, I think to myself ‘Huh, that’s interesting.’

The characters’ actions should be what MAKE the plot, not vice versa. At the least that’s how I roll with my stories. When reading I don’t want to know exactly what will happen next usually. If I know exactly what will happen and how each character will react, what’s the point of reading on further? Without that element of unknown, without, say, prophecy or Fate, I feel like it’s a lot easier to push the characters further. I think that may be part of the reason so many prophecies in stories are so open-ended. That may just be wishful thinking though. When J.K. Rowling did her Harry Potter series (which I love as a kid and am jealous of as an adult), one of the things I noticed was that her prophecy kept us guessing.

WHICH ONE LIVES AT THE END???? IT IS A MYSTERY!!! 😕

Though of course, we all guessed that it was that Harry guy. Unless you had your bets on the almighty Voldemort in which case you seriously know nothing about the way stories work!! 😦

Everyone knows the good guys win every single time. Seriously!

 

That’s all I have for now, guys, gals and others.

<3s,

-Eris

Emotional Sensitivity, Backlash and troubles with Empathy

Now, I’m sure I’ve said it somewhere on the internet, but I can’t remember if that somewhere was here- and the memory problem is, of course, something that I’ll talk about in another post ONE of these days.

I’ve always been an extremely sensitive person. I get emotional impressions from people or general atmospheres. Predominantly I suppose I’m best at guessing it in the emotionally repressed society of America, but it works without any real range limit. If I’ve had contact with someone before and time to get used to them, I can generally get pretty good at telling how they’re feeling or what’s got them down or happy, et cetera et cetera ad infinitum. If it’s an emotion, I can feel it, taste it, sense it, hold it– whatever it means, whatever THAT means.

I’m good at reading people. I’m not bragging or anything. It’s just a thing. I don’t think it makes me any more or less special than anyone. Everyone is special and fascinating.

The point is quite simply, I feel it when someone else is hurting. I always have and I always will. If I know the person, I can tap into the impressions I get from them and I guess infer things. not always with incredible accuracy, not always understanding what I see, but it’s just how it’s worked. It’s intuition to some extent, annd… and story experience to another. The world likes to run in certain patterns– the human psyche has some of those patterns run in ruts. Tyrants being ‘overthrown’ and taken over by other, different (if not necessarily more brutal) regimes. Girls being kidnapped at a young age and made to live horrible lives.

It’s a vast, vast, VAST story, and we’re all characters, and… from time to time, I’m allowed to cheat a little and read up on the other characters.

As part of the price and reward, I get what I like to call ‘backlash’.

I suppose it’s like being kicked in the gut. Only I guess more like being hit all over sometimes, or being tossed, to use an overdone analogous, on a raging sea. Smashed against the rocks– no, maybe more than that. It feels as if my mind IS the sea, near empty normally, shallow with a few seashells at the bottom. Being tugged out by waves or knocked onto the shore- literally stunned- is the worst and best thing that can possibly happen to me. And there’s part of it.

I like it, in some ways. I feel like a channel, and the good feels good and the bad feels bad. It’s two extremes I suppose, and by any other definition it’d be bipolar disorder, I suspect. My control over these feelings varies from day to day. Sometimes I can keep them from flaring, others they put words in my mouth and I say things I honestly did not mean at all. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable, sometimes it…

It hits hard and fast and if I’m not feeling that great or if I’m already hurting a little, it can send me into an immediate breakdown. Parties can be the worst– not the parties themselves so much as being sick with eleven different friends’ anticipation issues and my own self-esteem problem. In fact, breakdowns just before going to parties are pretty common. I rarely feel like I want to go, especially if anyone else in the family or friends area is feeling sick or doesn’t want to go either. If everyone wants to go and I don’t, the conflicting emotions might make me decide to follow along even if my own original vote was a nay.

In arguments, I spend as much time as possible trying to create an equilibrium between two irritated parties. If there’s one thing that’ll make me upset in a hurry, it’s two people (regardless of if I’m friends with one of them or both of them or neither of them) who aren’t getting along.

I suppose I like arguing so much at least in part because of my brother, and at least in part because, if it’s in good fun, I’m perfectly happy arguing a case that HAS no case, just for the feeling of in-syncness it can provide.

I think being in sync with people to that point, synchronizing my emotions with theirs, mimicking, no, complementing their own emotions with my own is a habit of mine. Something I do almost subconsciously. And… I think it’s a form of shield.

I think to some extent I never come out of my shell. I never let myself grow or do anything I really, honestly want to. I think I sit here and let the emotions batter against a mirror, bounce back, reflect what I feel from others. I feel like people who are nice to me should expect nothing but kindness in return. And that they should get it.

I feel like I’m repressing myself. And I’m not exactly sure what buttons I need to stop pressing to open myself up again. But I do know that I would like to find out.

And to stop.

 

<3s,

Eris