Three Hearts: Chapter Four

A Change rite always ends with a full transfer from boy form to girl form or the other way around. Never had it been done alone, never had anyone excepting Mesdan attempted and made the decision to change all on their own. Generally it was to be for the good of a particular village, or area. There were plenty of his… type… scattered throughout the villages, but never had they changed on their own before. There also had not been a full change in years and years. To do so would require a very specific knife, of a glass Mesdan just happened to find and hone years back.

The idea of one freely changing back between forms is nearly heretical. Even for Outsiders, the concept of it is simply impossible.

So it is that, when Danni takes over as Mesdan falls and Mesdan’s body changes, Sojourn is so shocked that he loses hold of her hair.

Danni shifts into place with effortless, fluid  grace, dancing back away from Sojourn and the three slavers. One of them- with his skull-patterned shirt- raises what Danni instantly recognizes as a weapon, thought it appears as nothing more than a metal stick. The earth’s knowledge flows into her feet and then swirls up through the rest of her body, and the memory of Kesta being shot with it, a mere cycle ago, screams for her attention. The blast from it is light-fast, and invisible. The only warning she’ll have is a glow.

According to this memory, she won’t have any time to act.

Danni doesn’t act, just reacts, shifting her body to the side quick as a blink. She isn’t quick enough, though. The heat of the ray as it is fired is simultaneous with a crackling hiss and a streak of burning pain along her side.

Impassively, face as cold as Sojourn’s had been, she ducks behind Kesta’s traitorous brother as the masked outsider holding the weapon– which is long and thick with a silvered tip– sweeps it towards her. Brush on the ground catches flame, smoking as that invisible magic catches it. The traitor who had held her hair seconds before is still too stunned to move. He only starts to turn his head as she darts behind his legs.

Sojourn barely has time to yell as Danni slams her thin shoulder against the back of his knees, forcing them to bend. The beam strikes him full in the chest; Danni can hear it burning through skin and hissing at his bones, can hear some of his blood flash into steam.

Danni rolls away from Sojourn’s falling body, rises. As she runs for the cover of the trees, she hears a shout from one of the outsiders, unintelligible. A brief argument ensues, two sentences from the voice of the brightly-dressed outsider that come too fast to understand. The skull-shirted one’s voice rebuffs it with a single word she can certainly understand: “No.”

A lance of searing agony cuts along her leg and topples her over onto her hands and knees. She twists onto her back, brings up a hand, barely thinking. Before the weapon can turn on her again and focus her into ash, she gathers mana from around her and, without an incantation, without a word, hurls it into a barrier before her, a desperate shield made of desperate energy. The grass around her lends its life to the spell, turning grey and dead, drying and withering away in a moment.

The beam sweeps towards her, visible only as a ripple cutting through the afternoon air.

The heat blast crackles when it strikes her hasty mana shield. She can’t tell whether it begins to burn through it or not, but it doesn’t sound like her shield will last long.

She tries to stand, to duck behind trees, to leave her barrier as cover for her escape, but her leg will not move. She can’t move at all except in a crawl.

At any moment her shield could give way.

She hurls it at the outsiders.

The field of mana, visible only as a blue sheen in the air, sweeps away from her and washes forward like a wave, flattening grass before it, sending Sojourn tumbling aside, crashing towards the skull-shirted outsider directly. He stands his ground, though, either unaware of the danger or unafraid of it.

Whether because his mask drains it away or because of sheer bad luck, Danni watches her barrier disappear. She still isn’t in cover- the trees remain yards away, yards that feel like miles.

For a moment, the skull-shirted outsider just stares at her from behind that impassive mask. He doesn’t fire his weapon.

Suddenly, with the trickle of blood slipping down her chest, Danni realizes what he’s staring at. Her bandages have come undone, exposing her ebon-skinned breasts.

After she follows his gaze, she can’t help but stare as well. What in the heart of mana?

There’s a thunk, quickly followed by another, then another.

Danni looks up in time to see every single outsider drop to the ground facefirst, in time to wonder at Thaneen stepping over their motionless bodies.

He rushes to her, then stops a few feet from her, the wooden cudgel held loosely in one fist, dangling by his side as he stares at her, at her chest, then at her face. Thanee always was easy to read.

“Danni?” He asks in disbelief. “What has happened?”

“I… don’t know,” Danni answers cautiously, truthfully. “Honestly I haven’t the faintest. Ah…”

She shudders, dropping a hand down to her leg, to the cracked, burned skin on the back of her right leg, breath hissing between her teeth. The pain is excruciating.

Thaneen forgets himself, dropping his cudgel and kneeling down next to her, lifting her foot up onto his lap and away from the roughness of the forest floor

“Where did you…? Oh. Are you well, Danni? Are you going to stay conscious?”

She nods once, hugging her chest and feeling terribly vulnerable. “Yes.”

“You’re a witch now.” It isn’t a question. “Does the earth remember what happened here?”

Again, Danni nods.

“What happened?” Thanee asks quietly. One finger traces the charred skin on the back of her leg, sending a line of white pain from thigh to her spine and making her tremble.

“Than-”

“Why is Sojourn dead? Who are these people, these outsiders? Why is Kesta over there, barely alive, and where is the rest of the village? What’s going on?”

His finger presses at her wound, digging in too hard,

“Ah- OW- Thanee, stop! Stop, and I’ll tell you!” Danni snaps sharply. “You’re acting like a child!”

Thaneen blinks, then pulls his finger away, curling it into a fist, ivory knuckles gone paler than usual. His face is white as well, his mouth set in a tight line.

“I just don’t understand,” he whispers. “The whole village- empty. Everyone is gone but me, you and Kesta, and Kesta might die soon. I went out to the shrine earlier in the morning, then out to hunt- when I come back I find all the huts deserted, all the houses empty. I see Sojourn dead on the ground and three men near you, watch you put up the shield. I sneak around and- I kill those people, those Outsiders.”

“Than,” Danni says softly. “I understand. They came here to take us. Slavers.”

He nods, then turns his face away so she won’t see his tears. “We need to stop them. For Sojourn and Kesta’s sake.”

Danni’s heart hardens at Sojourn’s name, but she shoves it aside. The man had lived among them for a long time.  Now that he is dead, she doesn’t feel that it would be respectful to the memory of who he was to claim he had died doing anything other than defending the village. She isn’t sure if Kesta knows that his adopted brother betrayed him, but she is certain that if he doesn’t, he doesn’t need to know now.

“Well don’t run off before I’ve a chance to heal Kesta,” Danni replies. “And don’t mourn him before I give it a shot.”

“I have some questions about that, actually,” Thaneen starts, but Danni cuts him off.

“Save them,” she snaps. “I’ll need to concentrate. Can you get me to Kesta? I can’t move, my leg isn’t working.”

“Yes.”

Thanee pulls her up into his arms, lifting her easily. She weighs as little as a child, as Danni, is easy to lift. He carries her to where Kesta lies and sets her down beside him.

“Thanks,” she says absently, and gets to work, leaning over her friend.

Kesta is bleeding sluggishly from a mass of cracked and blackened skin.  It must have been his chest at one point. It would have made Mesdan sick to his stomach, but as Danni she feels only a hollow regret. She could have stopped this if she hadn’t been busy trying to become a shaman. She should have been here to protect the village. Whatever magic reversed her Change rite must truly wish to torture her; barely an hour earlier and she could have fought off the outsiders as they came.

Now, however…

“Can you heal him?” Thaneen asks.

Danni looks up at him. “As a witch? No. As a shaman? Yes.”

Thanee folds his arms. “We don’t have time for you to undergo another Change rite, Danni. If you can’t do this thing, the rest of the villagers will be lost. Only Kesta knows what happened. Your link to the earth is powerful, but not powerful enough to find what happened hours ago.”

“You think I don’t know any of that?” Danni snaps. “Hush for a moment. I’m trying to think.”

Change rite or not, reversed or not, she should still have that connection to the shaman side of her heart. She reaches inside of herself…

A cough from Kesta breaks her concentration. She jerks awake again, staring at him. He isn’t coughing up blood, and she supposes that must be a good thing. When he tries to sit up, though, he winces and groans, sliding back down again, gasping for breath.

His eyes focus again, finding first Thaneen, then Danni. His breathing steadies somewhat after a while.

“You went through the Change rite. You shouldn’t look like that,” he observes. “What happened?”

“That,” Thaneen says, “is what I want to know.”

Danni bites her lip and turns her head. Long black hair falls around her shoulders in a manner too familiar for comfort. She’d had a sneaking suspicion– for a while now– that she knew exactly what had happened. The knife’s magic had been severed somehow. When Sojourn had gripped Mesdan’s short hair, he’d done something…

It’s odd, all of Mesdan’s aches and little cramps from sitting in one position seem to hurt Danni as well now. She feels a separate person from the man she’d chosen to become– it’s obvious, though, that they share a body. She stares down at herself, as if to reaffirm it in her mind. Yes, her breasts, her body, her dark skin.

She hadn’t missed it. She feels as if she never left it, as if Mesdan and his hopes and dreams were simply that– hopes and dreams.

Something warm and liquid is trickling down her chest and over her belly. She’d almost forgotten that she was bleeding.

The cuts on her chest also reopened, from Mesdan’s shaman magic earlier. They aren’t bad and it’s not urgent, but she takes the time to rebind her bandages. When she’s finished with that, though, Danni feels no closer to figuring out what went wrong.

She becomes aware of something else, suddenly, something unrelated to any of the disastrous things that have happened. It overwhelms all attempts at rational thought.

Kesta and Thaneen are staring at her expectantly. Her stomach growls.

“I’m really hungry,” she says quietly. “Before we do anything else, I’d like something to eat.”

Kesta forces a smile. “Fine. No use thinking on an empty stomach. Truth be told, I’m hungry too.”

“You’re both in luck,” Thaneen murmurs hollowly. “My hunting trip was a success.”

 

 

 

 

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

——–

So here it is finally, the next chapter. One whole week after the third one was delivered! Crazy! Why, back in Demimind’s day I used to be getting like two whole chapters out a week! What is this madness? I’ll never get a story done with just one a week!

Pssh, it’s alright. If I’m lazy it gives folks a chance to catch up. No big hurry. I need to get all the writing this though, if I want a schedule of tuesday to continue.  Can’t be lazing about on Chapter Four. Gotta speed it up now in order to get Chapter Five out too. This is the last buffer’d page. Everything else will be fresh. And hey! A chapter where the main character DOESN’T fall unconscious! And it’s not really a cliffhanger, either. What the heck is wrong with me?

Anyway, enjoy.

-Eris

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Three Hearts: Chapter Three

Chapter: Initiation (3)

The landscape of Mesdan’s mind is fiery, an immense plain of verdant greenery now reduced to ashes by a rolling wave of liquid rock. In the distance, the red haze signals the fire’s rapid approach. Mesdan stands on the plain, gasping for lost breath. There’s still that awful nauseous feeling in his stomach. If anything it feels stronger here, where the scent of burning grass is mingled with the sickly sweet scent of burning flesh. Beside him, a girl, standing there with black skin like his and long, black hair, a girl with a thin, child-like body and soft blue eyes stares at him. Behind her there is a taller girl, more- more adult-like, more filled out with longer hair, closer to what he’d had before the Change rite. Her eyes are hard. He recognizes both of them, of course.

“Mesdan,” Danni says sharply, nodding to him from behind Dessdan. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Of course,” he replies shortly. “Where is the one I must fight?”

“Idiot,” Danni snaps. “Patience is required to be a shaman, as well as insight. Have you neither?”

“The monster is that way,” Dessdan whispers quietly, pointing towards the red haze on the horizon, towards the approaching wall of flame. “Be careful, Mesdan.”

“Thank you,” Mesdan says simply. He starts off through long grasses and sand, over the burning plains holding his fate.

It is a long and painful eternity that passes as he pushes onward.

The plain seems to go on forever. When he finally approaches the fire, when he can feel the heat of it on his skin and the sand between his toes, he watches the colors dance along the edges of the flame and understands.

There, standing before it, strolling leisurely towards him, is himself. 

No. It is as if he were a shaman all along. It is as if he had never been a witch. That is who stands before him, the version of him who is, was, and always will be a man. The man before him is tall, built quite strong, with flecks of grey in his close-cut hair, though Mesdan knows he is young in truth. His body is weathered and hard, like old earth, and his eyes would be soft and warm were they not filled with disgust.

In an instant, he attacks, while Thaneen and Kesta, both standing behind him, watch with folded arms. The two appeared near silently, but Mesdan can’t be surprised. After all, if this is to be his initiation, his worst fears would be brought before him.

Fears of a better him, fears of a real him, instead of the fake status brought by a Change rite. The bandages feel tight around his chest as the other-Mesdan strikes.

Mesdan is borne to the ground as other-him strikes him, knocking the air from his lungs  with a gasp. The other-him raises a hand like leather, curls fingers into a fist, and brings it down in one fluid movement, jabbing Mesdan in the gut.

Again. His ribs, his arms as Mesdan raises them to protect themself– a blow catches him on the cheek, the shoulder, the stomach. His shaman-self is strong. Too strong to fight back against properly. Pain explodes along his temple and blossoms against his chest as ribs crack. 

“Ah-!” He hears himself gasp. A strike to his chest makes his head spin, the pain, red hot and swollen, spreads in waves along his chest and back as the beating continues. A strike to the throat leaves him breathless, coughing.

Still, he does not fight back. He says not a word in response.

I am an abomination, he thinks. I deserve this.

He feels no emotion now, as his ideal double smashes him in the ribs, arms and head over and over. Nothing, and it’s alien, this feeling of emptiness. It’s as if the mere presence of this impostor is draining his energy. It’s as if with every blow, his own helplessness is vindicated and he just doesn’t care.

“Your weakness is going to get you killed!” Kesta is shouting.

“You are nothing,” his shaman-self snarls. “You are worthless, less than dirt, an abomination, a natural reject. Half-man! Half-woman! What are you but a freak?”

The weight of his shaman-self is crushing his ribs. Mesdan stares up at the face of his dream, of his idealized self, of the person he could have been if he had only been born a man, and finally a shock of anger wipes away all traces of his own apathy, of his unwillingness to fight back. A very real flush of rage forces his weak boy’s body to move. Too long as a girl has made his hands weak, his reliance on mana outside his own body has caused entropy to grasp at his muscles, but he closes fingers into fists and, summoning a burst of energy, pushes back up, struggles, blocks a blow from his other-self. He can’t breathe.

There is no mana in his mind. Nothing to draw on to fight back. The ambience of his mind is not something he can drain in order to cast a spell or incantation to reduce his shaman-self to ash. All he has is his body. His weak witch body.

His weak witch body with her sharp, sharp teeth.

He sinks them into his other-self’s arm as it comes down again, grabbing hold of it and wrenching it to his mouth.

His teeth dig deep enough to draw blood, and his shaman-self yells, smashing a fist into Mesdan’s temple and knocking him senseless. Blood coats his tongue, his and his. Dizzied, seeing stars, he rolls in vain, struggling as his shaman-self grabs his own arm and shouts something foul.

Half-man? Half-woman? Anyone who is at all a man or woman from birth cannot undergo a Change rite! When has Mesdan ever regretted being the way he is? Such words from something, anything like what he sees above him, on him now, anything that looks like what he once wanted to be– they are poisonous, bitter, toxic. He can’t believe they come from something shaped like his mouth.

His cracked ribs flare in agony as his other-self bears down on him again with his good arm, but Mesdan grabs the first blow as it hisses through the air towards his face. He feels bones grate with the effort. His shaman-self is still very strong.

“You don’t scare me!” Mesdan snaps. “You aren’t who I want to be anymore! Anyone as awful as you is nothing more than a nightmare!”

The world flashes red, stars dart in and out of Mesdan’s vision. His heart pounds and his eyes flutter as vision blurs, as the pain rises to a roar. But it isn’t new. It’s the pressure on his heart, it’s the fire already in his ribs. His double is staring down at him.

As he sees himself through his double vision, he watches his shaman-self smile.

“Good,” is all he says. “Then if you so swear to heal those who hurt and to guard the villagers from spirits and their inner selves and demons, I pronounce this initiation-“

“-complete,” Sojourn’s voice finishes.

His eyes are the first thing Mesdan sees as he comes back to consciousness. Sojourn looks tired. Mesdan feels tired, all over, aching and horribly stiff. Sojourn rises and reaches down to Mesdan where he sits. The new shaman smiles as he clasps Sojourn’s leather’d hand.

Sojourn is Kesta’s brother– well, adopted brother– and his tan skin feels warm against Mesdan’s hand as he lets Sojourn pull him upright, to his feet.

Mesdan notices the light next. It must be midday. No one is cheering, but he can feel the sun beating down on him and that itself is encouraging. He’s alive. Not only did he survive, now he is shaman. The two go hand in hand.

His ribs feel raw. The wound on his chest feels ready to split open again. Did he use mana while he was unconscious? Was it real? His skin must be covered in bruises.

The dream shell feels heavy in his hands.

Mesdan nearly drops it. He stumbles, nearly drops to the forest floor, nearly collapses face first onto the ground. He feels queasy, every part of him feels sick. Sojourn doesn’t move to catch him, and Mesdan falls to the ground, hands out to catch his fall. They nearly collapse when they strike the earth, nearly can’t support his wait.

He coughs, feels another wave of nauseating pain writhe through his guts, and empties his stomach on the ground. Sojourn is stepping back, an impassive look on his face.

“Sojourn-” Mesdan starts, staring up at him. Then he notices that he doesn’t seem to be in the same part of the forest he started. The people aren’t cheering because they don’t look like his people, his villagers.

The other shaman stares at him. His hand had been warm, but his face is cold.

“Well?” He asks, turning to the people. “I brought you a mana-user.”

Mesdan stares at them. There are three in total. All of them are dressed in the clothes of the rich, jeans and nearly new t-shirts. One of them has a strange device around his neck and the dyes that cover his shirt seem strange, patterned oddly. He lifts the device, aims it at Mesdan. Then he says something, and it’s in the language of Mesdan’s people- just twisted a little. The words can be made out, but no sense can be drawn from them.

“Cam er ah, flash foe toe.”

A second, no two seconds later, there is a blinding burst of light right in Mesdan’s eyes, offsetting the natural gloom of the jungle and burning the outlines of the three people into his memory.

They are human, there can be no doubt of that. They wear odd masks and have long heavy boots on their feet, but they must be human. He cannot see the color of their skin or eyes or hair- the masks are thorough.

“Who is she?” one asks. Its use of Mesdan’s language is slightly flawed. On its shirt, an immense skull pattern, stylized and embellished to a magnificent degree, stares back at Mesdan.

“Her name is Danni,” Sojourn replies. “I will give her to you for ten shells.”

“Steeper than usual,” the skull-shirted one comments. “But I have the shells.”

Mesdan struggles to stand. When he reaches his feet, however, he finds himself  on his back, staring up at the sky, at Sojourn’s cold eyes and outstretched fist. His chest is in blinding agony now. It feels like the blow cracked some of his ribs. He didn’t even see the shaman move.

The third person, whose face is hidden by that mask, and whose business shirt seems to be much crisper than the others, says something Mesdan can’t make out. From the way those masks occasionally turn to regard him, a chill feeling sinks into his spine and settles there.

It occurs to him. They’re talking about selling him. Her. Selling Danni? And with her, he will go. His mind spins in his head, pain arcing through his insides again.

He isn’t Danni any longer, though she lives in his head. How can they sell someone who doesn’t exist except in Mesdan’s mind?

Why would Sojourn betray him so?

The iron tang of blood reaches his nose. This time Mesdan rolls over onto his belly to look around. He is a few feet off of the path leading through the main village. Before him he can see Eliss’s cabin.

The door to Eliss’s old cabin is open. The smell of dried blood is wafting out of it. Slumped against the bloodied door frame, a very familiar face is softened further in  repose. His chest is burned terribly, the skin bubbled and cracked around his ribs. It smells of burnt skin and charred hope.

Kesta.

He’s breathing, but shallowly. If Mesdan can’t get to him to help him, he could die…

A hand is suddenly in Mesdan’s hair. His short, black, hair. It squeezes, grabs hold close to the base of his skull, and yanks him upright. For his part, Mesdan tries a kick, which Sojourn, still hanging on, sidesteps.

The pain in his skull intensifies, and spots dance before Mesdan’s vision. It swims and sways and his eyes blur with sudden tears.

“Sojourn-” Mesdan whispers weakly. “What are you doing?”

“As the Outsiders say: Making moh knee. It’s a simple enough plan.”

“So this is how you repay your brother and the others?” Mesdan snaps,.

Sojourn shakes him by his hair and snarls right back. “My ‘brother’ is a fool for taking me in. Five years I spend waiting for a raid, waiting for a chance to go back. Now that I have it, not even a so-called ‘brother’ will stop me from returning to the people I know.”

As pain flashes through Mesdan like fire, his mind finally gives in, and he blacks out completely…

…forcing Danni to the forefront.

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

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]