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Author Topic: One Good Thing  (Read 362 times)

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Offline Auryn

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One Good Thing
« on: 02/04/18, 06:07:13 AM »
One Good Thing




With lungs full of smoke and a mouth full of blood, Hazaly was mumbling her death rites through sooted tears when she saw the stranger on the horizon.

Her vision swam in and out of focus, mostly out of. Scraped, pale fingers gripped and tore at the wilted grass beneath her as she pulled herself forward on her belly. One of hers she thought, trying so hard to bring him into focus. His back was turned, surveying the destruction laid out below, her once-home; good. Maybe she’d be able to get one last kill in before the Seiðr came for her soul.

Breath rasped haggardly through her teeth as she reached for the nearest something on the ground to use as a weapon. An axe, please, Oddgrimr almighty she hoped it was an axe. Broken-nailed fingers clawed for the hilt of what ended up being a club - not just any club, either, but one small enough to be the training ‘toys’ they gave the younger members of the tribe, padded with cloth to soften the blow. Her eyes stung and the memory of small arms clinging to her legs and wrapped around her waist or clutching her shoulders in a piggy-back ride drew a rugged sob from her.

Another sob was stamped roughly out of her when a foot came down on her back, pressing her sharply into the ground. The soft earth beneath from recent rain caved gently to her body. Nails scraped wood. Just a little more. Take them both down. Then die quick. Die before she eats you.

“You there!” The voice above swam through water to her. “Who are you?!”

She watched the blurry stranger turn. A slender dark patch silhouetted against the smoke and fire rolling out of their village over the gnoll. Though Hazaly could barely make him out, something clenched in her gut. That deep-seated power she’d never used, the power that the witch was sucking out of her brothers and sisters, told her something was wrong. He was wrong. Not the same wrong as the Seiðr.

The man above started making strange sounds. Choking. Pressure raised from her back - then the sound of a sickening crack brought his entire body down on top of her. She grunted breathlessly into the ground. Through watering eyes, the mannligr approached…



I



A loud pop from the crackling fire snapped Hazaly awake.

“Don’ sit up,” a voice out of sight urged harshly, “you ‘ave cracked bones.”

The smell told her ash trees, the oil they secreted poisonous to all but the surface-dwellers - the sharp air and the sounds of gentle creaking far below said the hut was up in the massive branches of said trees. Hazaly looked around slowly. She couldn’t have been out for too long - her eyes still stung from the smoke, and the soreness in her limbs was still young.

“Is this th-mmn,” She hadn’t taken the disembodied advice, and hissed sharply. A weathered pair of hands forced her back into the reed cot she lay on.

“How many,” she demanded at a rasp, head swivelling around to try and catch sight of her company as they struggled to get her back down, “How many??

“One more if you don’ lay still.”

The voice cracked like a whip, bringing with it recognition to the girl’s weary mind. Valhashra, the shamaness of the Norden Ash Tribe. A woman she had known, respected and slightly feared since she was small, since the truce between all the northern clans and the Council of Nords hard brought them together. Cowed before her authority, Hazaly whimpered and relented. The room tipped with her, dizziness overcoming her along with the thick smell of woody incense from the fire, and ash oil from the Seiðr’s anointed headdress. Valhashra hummed in the background, sometimes whispering words and verses with Force-magic curling around her tongue, between chewing on the herbs she combined slowly and carefully to a thick paste. 

Small slivers of wind made their way through the thick cloth flaps draped over the doorway, rustling through racks of hanging bunches of dry herbs, knocking together chimes made of bleached, hollowed bones. A Seiðr's hut was sacred - a place of healing and death, and the Force. Hazaly wandered what the soul-sucking witch's hut looked like. She imagined the skins of men strung up as its tarps, deer skulls adorned with blood-painted beads. The things of bed-time stories.

“Four,” the woman said at length, “includin’ you.”

Hazaly heaved with a miserable sob. She brought up a hand to cover her face, not wanting her weakness to be seen, trying to set her jaw.

“Come now,” the old woman scolded, not unkindly, bracing the girl’s cracked ribs with a surprising strength, “y’must be brave. There be much more ay’head.”

“Th-that’s nearly everyone,” Hazaly gasped, each lurch of grief wracking her sides with agony.

“An’ yet not everyone,” Valhashra responded simply. She settled back away near the head of the cot, and Hazaly heard the sound of a mortar scraping in a pestle, back and forth, round and around. Could that paste get any pastier? The sound of it, and the subtle rise of the herbs within to join the incense already thick in the air was a hollow comfort.

“The gods want ye fer somethin’, fer certain. Oddgrimr had his eye on you that day. The mannligr saw it too, this old woman thinks. One who brought ye in.”

Mannligr. Their Old Word for stranger, holding mysterious and negative connotations, a bad omen. A mannligr meant change, trouble, upheaval of their ways… not always the bringer, but rarely the savior. Hazaly swept her thoughts over the blur of a man. She couldn’t recall any details other than the unease, and how he may have been the one to kill the goon who’d tried to crush her into the ground. If he’d saved her, she thought grumpily, the very least he could’ve done was to make sure that asshole hadn’t fallen right on-top of her--

“Where you think you’re goin’ then?” Valhashra went sharply as the girl eased herself up over the side of the cot with a wince.

“To talk te him,” She breathed, gaze locked ahead with determination. Pain of the body was nothing to the hardened Mountain tribe… she’d overcome. She had to - there were so few of them left.



Hazaly found him at the very edge of the village, on the last and smallest platform by the side of a run-down storage house that seemed to no longer be in use - the walk had been hard, the climb down a ladder to the lower platforms nearly a fall, but it was as far as they would allow him into the village proper. The Ash Tribe, one of the oldest of the northern area and devoid of men, were known to be highly superstitious and entrenched in the Old World. Hazaly wasn’t surprised they had barely let him over the threshold.

She knew he’d seen her approach -though he remained sitting against the wall of the shack gazing out towards the forest - by the way a hand had reflexively shifted to a cylinder clasped to his belt. Light sword she thought. Weapons of the Jedi and Sith, of Zakuul; factions that meant nothing around here. Not in these mountains, not on this planet.

He felt so wrong, and looked wrong to match it. Something she couldn’t place, the way a person simply set one’s teeth on edge - ordinary enough a human, other than the strange green lights in his pale eyes, and the slender dark veins sneaking up from the neckline of his tunic. Sickly? Or was this the corruption of the Sith she’d heard so many dramatic campfire stories about?

“Hey, you,” She demanded, hating the sound of pain in her own voice.

He didn’t move or respond - he was like a statue, and she was having none of it. Limping up, arm around her side;

“Hey, you,” she repeated, and kicked the side of his boot.

“Shouldn’t you be resting?” He asked quietly, barely flinching. His voice was low, a little rough around the edges, just like he was. “I felt three broken ribs…”

“Y’saved me.” Colour rose to her freckled cheeks, staining each dot darker and angrier, “why me? Why me an’ no one else, Mannligr?”

He let her confusing mix of feelings hang in the air a little while, then said simply, “I’m not here to save anyone.”

Still, he didn't turn his head. For some reason that made her more upset. The words were so infuriatingly departed in emotion… and it was such a lack of respect, to not look in the eye with whom you spoke. It was frowned upon in the north.

“You’re not from ‘ere. Your voice s’all wrong.” Her gaze went again to the bladeless hilt at his hip. She noticed a second one, on his other side, though both were scratched and worn. “You one o’ them… Jedi? Sith?”

His chest wobbled briefly with silent, bitter laughter. So the statue could move. “What’s it to you?”

“If y’are, I can only think o’ one reason your lot’d be so far out from that Republic, or Empire, or whichever.” Cold blue lit up her eyes like jagged ice, “You’re ‘ere te kill her, arencha? The lone Shamaness from the Blood Nebula. Seiðr Yadash.”

“No,” His voice almost drifted off with the wind, towards the distant fogs amongst the mountains that were once here home; and for the second between twilight and evening the mannligr looked far older and more weary than he had before, trembly hand moving to massage his heart,

“I came here to die.”
« Last Edit: 04/19/18, 07:44:48 AM by Auryn »
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Offline Auryn

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Re: One Good Thing
« Reply #1 on: 02/19/18, 08:41:03 PM »
II



“Teach me,” She called forward for the umpteenth time, keeping good pace along the rain-mudded hills.

“Go home,” His advice hadn’t changed, and he hadn’t once looked back.


~


As was proper ceremony, Hazaly stood between the two rows of stacked pyres with torch in hand, freshly waxed drum clung over over front. Down out of the trees, with how times had been, the Ashen were nervous, huddled against the treeline in the growing darkness with two dozen torches among them. Drizzle fell from the gathering clouds, but it would not be enough to stop the fires. Distant thunder made the hounds tug nervously at their leashes.

She was the oldest, of all those left but one, and Hagar was too old and frail to carry out the rite. The others were children, one clinging to the old man’s left side and two to his other. Hazaly glanced over her shoulder towards them and offered the hollow comfort of a small smile before she tugged down her mask.

Decorated with raven feathers and bleached bones, the nose fashioned into a sharp beak from the ivory of a ballow’s trunk, the mask covered all but her mouth and chin. Ravens were Hella’s birds; hers which turned into the ethereal Heldottirs, who could come to collect the fallen tribe of the Norden Fjals upon hearing Hazaly’s call.

The Mannligr hadn’t left. Despite the attitude of impassiveness he’d tried so well to impress upon her, he had come as close to the service as was allowed, leaning against a distant oak, in the shadows. Even from so far, she could feel that sick crawling beneath her skin. A few of the elders swore at his presence.

Valhashra came forth, her thumb dipped in blood to stroke across the wide mask. “Do you know the words?” She whispered, as she leaned in to paint the runes.

Hazaly nodded quietly, and the shaman stepped back.

Once the first pyre was lit, the girl began a slow pace forward, punctuating each footfall with the still-flaming torch beaten against the drum.

“Kven skal syn-ge meg…”


~


“You’re goin’ off te kill the Seiðr,” She said knowingly, jogging to catch up with a hand pressed to her still-healing side, “Y’can’t get ‘er on ye own, I’m tellin’ ya. Each one o’ us she kills she gets stronger, an’ she just took the souls o’ nearly me whole tribe.”

Go home, Hazaly.” Well, at least he’d bothered to learn her name at some point.

“You need me-- Oddgrimr’s bung eye, ye need the whole bloody lot o’ Norden tribes if ye stand a chance!”

He didn’t reply; Hazaly doubled her efforts to reach his side, wincing against the sudden incline of the foothill and her boots sliding on the fresh mud, pain sliding in between her cracked ribs like a knife. She couldn’t figure this one out. He had saved her, carried her all the way to the Ashen if her friends were to be believed; but had since shown very little interest in any of them. Almost as though the act had been nothing more than a passing thought, idle distraction, not basic empathy.

Given the darkness pulsing around him, had he not already done one good thing, Hazaly would’ve assumed the Mannligr a creature of the dark Seiðr herself. As it stood, for all she knew, he was, and experiencing a moment of rebellion. She huffed out a frustrated breath, and continued on. He still held her curiosity fast and deadly in-hand.

“Valhashra won’ teach me the Force! An’ my tribe’s shamaness is dead! I can help! You can help me help them!”

“You can’t help,” He drawled, “her power is beyond you.”

“What makes you so special?” She snapped.

His pace faltered, as though the question had hit a nerve. Hazaly stumbled to a stop, gnawing nervously on her lip as she felt a rippled of emotion roll off his shoulders. Anger? No… something closer to regret, and bitter on the tongue.

“Nothing.” He said eventually, shaking her from the worry. There was that sadness again, the one beneath the layers of illness that tugged hard at her heartstrings, and it told the girl despite warnings from all her other senses, that she could trust him. That he wouldn’t hurt her.

“Your people… the ones who tell you I am cursed,” his pale, green-hued eyes fixed on her fiercely, causing the girl to question that very notion of trust she’d just grabbed for, “You should listen to them.”


~


Hazaly’s voice wavered just a little as those of the Ashen tribe rose in the second verse, thought she didn’t miss a beat on the drum. Acolytes of the shamaness came out from the crowd first, masks down, singing in tandem. One stroked her fingers along the inside of a metal bowl, around and around, creating an eerie metallic hum to join the beats.

“Hvem skal synge meg,”

Who shall sing me…?

Once they reached the end of the first line of pyres, others were permitted to join. Arn, the old man, tugged gently on the children at his sides, urging them they had to participate in this show of strength so that their brothers, sisters and parents could join the rest of their ancestors.

“I daudsvevna slynge meg,”

Into the death sleep, sling me,

Tears streamed down Hazaly’s face. She wondered if each time she had watched a funeral ceremony, the one she had thought marched so stoic and brave between the flames also cried beneath the mask. Maybe, she thought, that was it’s purpose. Remaining strong for others on the outside, while mourning within their masks of death.

“Når eg på Helvegen går.”

When I walk on the Path of Death.


~


“Are you a Jedi? A Sith? Neither?”

“Yes,”

“That inn't an answer!”

“It is, if you use your head.”

Hazaly came to an abrupt halt. She was heavily out of breath, unable to catch back the gasps she’d exerted, and tired. Should have been back with the Ashen, resting. At this rate, they would be halfway into the Shamaness’ territory by nightfall, unless he struck east along the foothills towards Oddrheim.

“All o' them. You’ve been Jedi an’ Sith an’ now you’re neither.”

“Good,” he nodded, so far ahead now that she could barely hear his hoarse, softly spoken manner, “go home.”

“I don’t… have a…” Hazaly slumped to the ground.

Home.


~


The song was loud now, as the entire gathering walked down through the channel they had created. It ran forward through rows, from the tips of the forest that was the Ashen home, sliding along within the valley between the mountains of the Fjallr, echoing off the old stone as though the voices of the dead had also joined them.

“Og dei spora eg trår er kalda, så kalda…”

And the tracks I tread are cold, so cold.


~


They had been sitting around the fire in glum silence for a while now, having set camp almost exactly where she'd fallen, though a little down-slope out of the wind. She was grumpy that he’d saved her again, but not quick enough to avoid a nasty bump on the head, which she nursed with some poultice from a pouch on her belt. It was a mild night for this area of the range, oddly mild, but the Mannligr sat only just shy of the fire, rubbing his hands close to the flame as if desperate for its warmth.

“Are ye cold?” She asked, shifting to offer the blanket that she’d woken up on. This climate was her own, the mountains the crib she’d been born in. She only felt the cold in the deep of winter, or when the winds blew down from the polar region with bitter frost riding atop them.

“I’m always cold,” He said, with a shrug. The dark, orange-rimmed shadows cast on his pale face made the sickness in him even more apparent.

Hazaly folded her legs beneath her and sat up, her back straight as a rod. “That from yer curse?”

The corner of his lip twitched in mocking - she was uncertain whether it was aimed at her, or inwards. “Something like that.”

“What kinda--”

“Do you ever stop talking?” He snapped. His glare pierced her across the tops of the flames.

Hazaly merely grinned, and said “Nope,” and--


In that moment it remind him of a far different girl with dark skin and violet eyes with that same retention of innocence through hardship. It reminded him of so many people, and the way they had smiled at him, and the way he had ultimately let all of them down in one way or another. It reminded him of the spaces between the pain, memories that had been intensely eroded with time and corruption, bubbling to the surface.

He could have hated her for that.

 

The stranger turned from her, and folded on the ground with his back to the fire. She could see his silhouette against the dark still trembling from the chill, and thought perhaps he’d had enough of her for the evening and was settling down to rest. She didn’t see the way he clutched his heart with gritted teeth, struggling not to cry out, nails digging into his chest as though desperate to try and rip an invasion from his body.

“You don’t want me to teach you,” he said finally, strained, but the pain expertly covered within layers of exhaustion. “You think you do, but I don’t have anything to offer you… nothing good, at least.”

Hazaly hummed softly with disagreement, propping her chin on both fists. “I think you’re wrong, Mannligr.”

He huffed bitterly. “And why is that?”

“Well,” She started, sounding incredulous herself, “the Seiðr o' me tribe never did. The basics, o’ course, like everyone, but she never took me on fer the shamaness’ path. She said the Gods had told her I was meant fer someone else, that it wasn’ her place te practise me'n the Force.” Her bright blue eyes, dim in the night-time, fell to watch the flames between them.

“She said I was never meant te be a Seiðr. So I thought maybe f’you were a Jedi… or a Sith, or neither or all,” she added to the end, with the ghost of hope.

She expected him to snap at her again. Another ‘go home’, another warning. Nothing. Maybe he was asleep already, bored of her talk and her persistence. Hazaly half-supposed that if she went down for the night, she would wake up to a damp firepit on her own, never to see him again.

She gave a small sigh, took the coarse wool blanket and curled up beneath it. Someone from the Ashen tribe must have given or traded it over before the Mannligr had left, for it smelled of the tree-leaf oils they used to seal their wood and skins there. An axe - not hers, lost to the torn ground where her tribe had once been - was clutched in one hand, shield set against her back. Sleeping upright wasn’t her ideal, but she could manage it, and it meant if he tried to leave without her in the morning, she’d be more likely to awaken.

Far from thinking she'd get anything close to an answer, Hazaly murmured tiredly to the darkness, “y’said… y’came here te die. Is that why yer seekin’ the dark Seiðr? Die in glorious battle 'gainst her?” Her slender eyebrows raised at that. For word of the witch to have left the surface of their world, her deathly power must have been infamous. Maybe, if any of them were lucky, the off-world hunters had put a bounty on her head-

“I… dreamed of this place.”

The girl gasped softly. If any time he could have ignored her and gotten away with it, that would’ve been one. Even so, the surprise was short lived, part of her expecting the response, the touch of vulnerability. He would never have let her come this far if he wasn’t prepared to entertain her to some extent. What that connection was, she didn’t know or understand… but Hazaly wasn’t so lacking in ability that she didn’t recognise the pull of the Force, bringing them together.

So for once, she remained quiet her breath hanging nervously in the air - a quiet that urged him to continue.

“I dreamed of these mountains, of your Seidr’s ugly power and its capabilities…” She watched the mound of him shift under the blanket.

“... and of you, for some reason. Don't think I saved you out of some misplaced empathy... you just have a part to play in this," This time as he moved, she saw the muscles in his neck strained against some hidden pain,

"and I am done trying to fight the will of the Force, for all the good it's done me.”

Hazaly felt her heart skip a beat with fervent excitement. She swallowed it down.

“The Seidr won’t cure you, daufi,” She said instead, “havencha been payin’ attention? She…”

The words died on her lips. Came here to die. Of course.

“Why?” She demanded softly, after an uneasy silence. “Why does it need te be her?”

Hazaly didn’t feel the cold easily. The night still felt mild, to her. But the words that followed chilled her to the bone, the weight of them making her clutch the blanket closer.

“Because I need to make sure it sticks, this time.”


~


“Døyr fe, døyr frender,”

Cattle die, friends die,

“Døyr sjølv det sama,”

You yourself will also die,


All the pyres were lit. The drum, finally covered with flame from each beat of sorrow it had been given, had been set atop the final one, central to the two rows, just before it would have burnt Hazaly’s fingers to clutch. Atop it stood another mask - the one of her own tribe’s shamaness, her wrapped body beneath it.

By the end of the long song, all the other voices which had joined her fell away, leaving her own, wobbling with cold and mourning.

“Eg veit et som aldreg døyr…”

I know one that never dies…



~


“Tomorrow.”

Hazaly’s eyes fluttered. She had almost been asleep. The fire was in embers. “Hmn…?”

“I can start training you tomorrow. Just don't expect much.”

Her lips curled into a smile against her knees.
« Last Edit: 04/19/18, 07:47:13 AM by Auryn »
My drawing was not of a hat.
It was of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.



There are many ways to serve the Empire