Friday, 13 April 2012

Clan of my Forefathers


Munroe Ballentyne, known to the other shamans of his tribe as 'Snake Heart' sat on the edge of the cliff and looked out across the icy steppes leading down to the edge of the frozen sea. All around a storm raged, winds blew the flaps of the tent, trying to enter and dash the contents over the edge. Up here, where the air was thin and the cold sapped the bones of even the strongest, Snake Heart stood wearing only his harness and a long green cloak.

Behind him stood those who would be tested, the potential new blood for the clan. Most of them were Minmatar, Sebiestors for the majority, but also a sprinkling of Brutor, and even an Ammatar. All would be tested, all would be brought before the ice serpent. The clan would grow, the spirits would be pleased and by that the Tribe would grow and become stronger. He turned and looked at those standing in a line, waiting for him. Most were enduring the cold well, but a few were suffering. And there, at the end, his own flesh and blood. His daughter, Carmilla. But for her there would be no favours. If the spirits willed it, she would join. If not... that didn't bare thinking about.

Turning back he looked once more out at the country before him. Mikramurka! It was good to be back, too much time spent away. Soon they would all be at the islands, back home.

Carmilla stood in the storm and watched her father. She had never seen him like this, before he had always seemed to be smaller, hidden. Alone except for her mother. Now, he seemed to be a tower, a pinacle of rock in a sea of torment. How many years had it been since that fateful day when he had bought her from the Serpentis. How many years since she had killed him to escape them, not realising who he was. So many years, so many trials, so much pain, so much heartache. And now, to be here with him, and yet so far away was... infuriating. But Kikia had suggested, urged, almost pushed her to find out more about her clan.

And who am I to ignore my Kikia, she thought with a smile.

"Children! We go now to the ancestral islands of our clan. The journey is perilous and not all of you will make it. As our forefathers were cast out and forced to walk these mountains so shall we. Their journey is now our journey. Their fate is now our fate. The spirits will guide each of us, those they will to join our clan will make it. Those who do not, will not survive. If you wish to turn back, you may at any time. There will be no shame, there will be other clans for you to join. As it was on our forefathers journey, there were those who prefered to turn their backs on us and rejoin those who cast us out. For those that make it, the Clan Ice Snake opens its arms to you. Now, who will lead the way?"

Carmilla listened to the words of her father, the Shaman of her clan. Much of what he said made little sense, but then her knowldge of the clans was minimal. Or the way things were

lead the way

done. What she was sure of, was that this was a clan she wanted to join, to be a part of.

lead the way

She paused and closed her eyes, something, someone was pushing her mind. Maeve?
"I will lead the way," she found her self saying, taking a step forward.
"Good!" her father said with a smile,"The way is treacherous. Are you scared?"

Yes, but the spirits are with me

"Yes.... but the spirits are with me."
"Then lead us sister! From your footsteps the echoes of our forefathers sing your praise. I will guard your back, as it was, so shall it be again."
Carmilla looked at the way he gestured. An ice slick path barely wide enough for one person lead away around the mountain, every so often she could see a small cairn of stones, a path to follow. Pulling her cloak around her she started off, the party following on.

As soon as she started on the path it was as if the entire mountain was against her. To her left a sheer drop of a thousand feet, on her right a snow and ice filled near vertical slope of the mountain. The path, if it could be called that, was carved into the rough side of the mountain. No hand holds that were reliable, no safety barriers, no protection. One false move and a thousand feet of screaming before an ignoble death. Cold buffetted her, snow lashed her, the ever present threat of failure and death following her, surrounding her like a mantle.

Feel the warmth of your love, we are with you

The words flowed through her mind like a torrent, cascading through her body. There was no snow or ice, only the feeling of warmth, like being submerged in a hot bath. Emboldened, she pushed on, knowing she was not alone.

Behind her Munroe watched his daughter. Even if he could not feel the aura that was now around her, he could sense the change in her as she walked. No longer was she stooping agaisnt the blizzard, but walking tall, carefully, as if this was a casual walk in the park. Behind him he heard a scream and he turned and looked down. One down he mused, there spirits were not with him. Looking at those behind he saw that more than half were walking as Carmilla was, the aura of their spirit guardians clear for one such as he to see. The others were holding on, by virtue of being tough and having those before and aft to look after them. Good qualities for those of the clan. But the trials would not be over for some time yet.

Even with the guidance of Maeve, Carmilla found the going hard. But every time she slipped she somehow managed to find a safe foot hold or hand hold. And as they reached the lowlands of the mountain she saw in the lengthening darkness lights ahead. Through tired eyes she tried to make it out and felt a heavy hand on her shoulder.
"Do not worry, the end is in sight," he whispered to her.
"Behold, here all those years ago our forefathers found a small hut with a light keeper. At the pinacle of rock that reaches out into the frozen ocean, it was here that they came at the end of their ordeal, only to find a futher one. But for awhile, they were safe, as we who have survived are now safe!"

The survivors crammed into the large shack that was perched on the edge of the cliff overlooking the frozen ocean. Lights inside and out, as well as heating soon brought out the cheer. As food was cooked over the open fire they started to sing. One of the brutor started, a song of hunters and when he finished they went around. Each of the seven sang a song until it came to Carmilla. They all looked on with keen eyes, even her father.

Sing of love

With a smile she started to sing one of the only songs she knew. A khanid love song she had sung for Ithiria years before while on a beach. The hut was silent as she sang, her song one that tugged at the soul, if not the heart, for few here had any love for the Khanid, but all respected the meaning of the song. Their souls yearned for the song, the spirits listened, as the survivors listened.

As the last note faded her father stood up a bottle in his hand and thrust it into the air.
"A great omen! For on the journey when they reached here there was time for love, and our clan was joined. A great joy was created as the lovers loved and those who did not sang of such love. The spirits are with us! Now drink! We toast our clan, we toast out tribe, we toast the Matari!"

The seven of them thrust their bottles skyward and roared a toast and started to drink. More bottles were opened, heady liquor was drunk and food eaten until one after the other they fell into a slumber.

Carmilla looked on at the sleeping forms. She was the last awake and tried to make herself comfortable, but something kept her awake. A gnawing, nagging suspicion that she had gained from living on the edge, with people hunting her. Looking around she picked up a woodsmans ax and opened the door and stepped out. The winds had died and the clouds were sporadic. Looking up she could see the stars, the constellations unknown to her. It was as she looked at them, wondering if there was any significance for her clan that she heard it. A twig somewhere snapping, the crunching of fresh snow slowly. She gripped the ax and listened. There, two more, three in total. Coming at her

Duck!

She ducked as Maeves warning flashed through her. Energy filled her, anger, fear, the adrenaline rushing as something impacted the wall where she was. There, outlined against the dim glow on the horizon was a shape, someone, one of them, who had dared attack her! Dared to threaten her clan! Dared threaten her father, her shaman, her Kiki! She screamed and lept, Kiki's name on her lips as she brought the ax around.
"Kikia!!!!"
A blade came up and caught the ax, but she was lungning past, the skills of numberless dirty fights coming to her, smashing her fist into the assailents face, pushing back against the tree, following up with a knee to the groin. A scream, male, as he went down. She picked up his sword and her ax in the other hand. Something flowed through her, the darkness shimmered away, and the dreamscape appeared. All around her the ash waste with the hut where her clan slept nearby, surrounded by the diaphamous shapes trying to break in. Shadows stalked towards her, blade of icy death in their hands. She stalked towards them, writhing serpentine and hissing. They dared to take her away from her Kikia, from her clan! She leapt with a howling scream of vengeance.

In the hut Munroe sat with his back to the wall. Again, he mused, she knew what was coming. Here was one who was intouch with the spirits themselves, and not just any, powerful spirits. The screams and sounds of battle coming from outside sounded as if there was more than just his daughter there, her oaths and cries at last starting to wake the others and one by one they picked up whatever weapons they could and went out. He chuckled to himself and stood up and went to the door and let loose a piercing whistle.

The foes they were fighting disengaged with practiced ease and backed away as the clan formed around Carmilla, holding her back until she slumped into the snow. As soon as she touched it, it melted, the heat from her body intense and they took to rolling her in the snow to cool her down.
"It was that first night," Her father shouted, " That they slept what they thought the sleep of the free. But people had been sent to bring them back, or failing that to kill them. Assassins came to kill them all, but one was on guard, one never let herself be swayed by the assumed safety. And she fougth them while her clan awoke, and though she died, we cherish her memory to this day, for she was the one who warned us, while the stars looked down as they do to this day. There, in the sky the constellation of Maeve Shineia, the Protector! The most powerful of the spirits who guard our clan. And what more pride could a father ask for than to see his own daughter take the roll of the Protector. Take this as a blessing!"
The clan standing around Carmilla slammed their fists into their chests and roared. They had fought as one, as a clan. And had won with the blessing of the spirits!

As the sun come up Carmilla awoke. Her head throbbed and her mouth felt dry. All around her there was grass and a roaring fire was set.
"So, the protector awakes. Here."
A mug of tea was thrust into her hand and she sat up.
"What happened? I remember someone was attacking us... then I blanked out."
"No, you fought with the spirit within you. It is a good sign."
She took the mug from her father and looked around.
"Who were they? That attacked us..."
"Warriors from our clan. You did well. Who is protecting you?"
"The daughter of my lover and my shaman."
"Kikia Truzhari? She has a daughter, I didn't know that.."
"She hasn't been born yet. And it's not the first time she's come to my aid."
"A shamans daughter still in the womb is helping you. By the blessed spirits."
He helped her to her feet and pointed out across the ice.
"There, those islands. That is where we are heading. As soon as you are aready we will break camp and head there."

The journey across the ice of the frozen sea around the coast was quick and before long they were all welcomed into a great carven arch at the bottom of one of the islands.
"Know now that the final challenges are within here. As soon as you cross the threshhold... you are Clan Ice Snake. But the final challenges will determine for how long you are. Step across the sacred archway. Leave behind who you were, and start your life anew, as members of our clan."
One by one they crossed the archway and entered the island until only Carmilla was the last.
"Daughter, why do you hesitate?"
"Come, take your place with us."
"There is much I have done, I wonder if I am worthy to join our clan. I do not want to besmirch it's name with my crimes and bloody deeds."
"Daughter, our clan has a bloody history of warfare and feuding. Secrets we have that cannot be shared except with our clan. What I know of you though, what your mother has told me, and your old Mistress, yes even her. I know that you are worthy of our clan. So do not let your Kikia down, leave behind your past life and start again as our clan sister."
He held our his hand and she took it and stepped into the archway to the cheering of the others.

For several days they learned what it meant to be clan Ice Snake. The ceremonies, the riturals, the tribal customs that were now their own. They learned the names of the stars over their islands, the names of the herbs that made their tribal concoctions to see the spirits. And they learned the secrets of the chamber of doors. One of the islands, a hollowed tower of rock held numerous levels, and on each level there were doors. Dozens of doors from simple wooden ones to high tech tritanium steel. Each room held a secret, but not all secrets were worthy ones. It was said the spirits guided each to their own room, and from that room they would learn a truth. They were each allowed only one door to try and open. And had three days to open it.

Carmilla sat before the door she had chosen. A heavy wooden door with an intricate lock of three bars of interwoven metals. For two days she had sat with her back to the guard rail and looked at the door, trying to puzzle out it's secrets and for two days she had gleaned nothing. But she would not give up.

As she sat there, the horn sounded for the assembly and she made her way there, with the others of her clan. They stood in a circle around the great alter of the clan and Munroe walked in followed by two men carring a large vase. Bowls of incense were burning, filling the air with a miasma of scents. Standing there, with the others of her clan she listened as her father began a ceremony, his words loud and booming and she fell in with the others in the chants as he spoke.
"And now... those who would be part of my clan, those I would call brother and sister. If you would dishonour the clan by your words, spek now"
"Our silence is our bond", they chanted.
"If you would dishonour the clan by your actions, leave now."
"Our place is our bond."
He gestured to the two men and they opened the jar. Reaching in they brought out three ice serpents, the famed and most deadly snake in the whole of the continent.
"If there be a falseness in your words, the symbol of our clan will strike."
As one, the circle raised their arms and started chanting.
"Test our honour and test our faith, the spirits will be done."

The snakes wound their way through the circle, all except one, the largest, which made it's way slowly towards Carmilla and after testing the air with this forked tongue, wrapped itself around her legs. The shaman smiled and just watched, though for Carmilla, it was terrifying. She closed her eyes and called out in her mind.
"Maeve... give me strength!"
The snake slowly unfurled itself and placed it's tail in its mouth, making the sign of her voluval, the oroubus, the eternal snake. All around gasped at such a sight and many blessings were offered. Eventually, the three snakes made their way back to the vase. Munroe looked on with a grin as she watched his daughter faint and slump to the floor. It matters not, she is now clan, she is now family. She is Ice Snake!





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