Droole

Dove's Blood: Paths within Paths

The Kerib’el and the Thorn begun to spin around each other. First they took their preferred forms and moved with a fluid rhythm Mariska could not sense. This was something integral to them, a music that only they heard. She watched them in awe at the precise and beautiful movements, and felt herself swaying unintentionally along with their un-heard and un-felt music. An awareness grew of her own internal music. It was part pulse and part breath, but there was something deeper still. It was an understanding of self, a knowledge of all her working parts and all that lived within her. Each cell and bacteria, all the tiny pieces that made up ‘Mariska’, the functioning of her organs and the life and death on the surface of her skin all sung their own tiny piece to her Song.

She felt the blended wolf-human mind as well and heard the two-part harmony of her Song, unlike the singular Song as other of the Ulf’el. As they danced, they touched Mariska’s mind with their own. She felt their music, their Songs, and realized they were exposing their Truth to her on a very intimate level of consciousness. Her awareness expanded and she realized that the two spirits began to harmonize with her as well. That was strange and yet familiar. She watched them dance as she thought.

They shifted to other forms, both known and unknown to Mariska, as they twirled and undulated around each other. Then the Thorn twirled in an even spin, moving faster and faster. The Kerib’el spread out beneath him and formed a flattish puddle of liquid. As the ball-form of the Thorn spun, its myriad of vine-like branches began to open in the center. Beneath it the Kerib’el formed a needle-like point at its center and began to rise, pulling itself in towards its center line. Wider and wider the center opened as the Thorn slowly flattened out into a ring as the watery Kerib’el drew up through the opening in the center. Mariska startled.

The Thorn looked like a crown of thorns!

She felt a surge in power as the two beings approached her. She felt their minds, open and inviting. They encouraged her to hold still and trust them. Trust an alien being? For the sake of the One Song, yes – she would trust that they would not harm her. She stood still even as the barrier around them started to fade. The two were pulling all their power into a single sharp focus.

All at once, she understood their intentions even as they acted them out. Bound, spirit to flesh, Mariska would become an item of power. It was unheard of, and extremely dangerous! The extra Flux would rip her physical form apart!

The combined figured turned with a fast half-flip so that Mariska looked through the ring and at the bottom most point of the Kerib’el. Them they surged towards Mariska, the point touched her throat, and a white hot pain shot through Mariska’s entire being. Her sudden apprehension and lack of faith in the two beings caused a huge surge of dissonance.

There was a warm tingle around her neck, as if being tattooed. She reached a hand up and felt the skin around her throat raised up into an uneven circlet of some kind. Parts of it were flushed with warmth as other sections went on burning with throbbing pain. With each throb, another section of the “tattoo” faded into the tingling warmth. With each throb, the Kerib’el and Thorn faded along with the bubble of reality around them. Soon the chaos of the outside time streams surrounded them once more in all its confused glory. Mariska shuddered.

“Trust.”

But she couldn’t trust, this was a dangerous surprise. They had to know what this meant for her physical body. Her confusion increased. Why would they do this?

“Relax.”

The beautiful melodic duel-voice reached her mind and heart, but her anxieties refused to be satisfied. The Thorn and Kerib’el radiated peace, compassion, and an encouragement to trust. That all would be explained and she would understand. Mariska still struggled, but her efforts were less energetic. There was something she had missed. She knew it to be true, but things were hazy at best. They wouldn’t risk disruption, even for a great cause, as they would cease to exist. No being wished for that kind of ending.

“Peace to you Two-Songs.”

The unified voice was soft, gentle, and lifted her fear away from her. The voice-touch reached deeper into her own consciousness and smoothed the instinctual fears. This helped her to calm down more and relax. Understanding started to seep in around her conflicted thoughts. They pulled up memories of her timeline, of her initiation and the added physical parts thrown into the circle. Mariska shivered, the dark memory caused her stomach to twist. She was more physically stable and now she would be more fluid.

Slowly their Songs merged, harmonized, and the pain of the dissonance faded to joyous rapture. The relief was deep. An added benefit of merging with the two was both simple and profound. The chaos around them started to make sense. As their Songs merged, so too did Mariska’s understanding grow.

She was able to read the time streams. They finally made sense! She even saw her own, homed in on it, and saw what the two had seen… The Scion of the Void. She saw her fates along multiple choice paths. But she saw what they could not see. Their minds were not able to cope with the reality she understood – a dire manipulation of the worst kind. She saw the patterns of missing time lines. Choices rendered useless and paths blockaded. They did not have full omniscient, because the Void’s Scion had eradicated many of those time lines! Only a small few were left in which he appeared, and all of those were linked to her existence.

Either she was the reason he existed, or he was hiding.

The more she observed the time streams, the more she understood. Another line of reality showed itself to her that chilled her blood. The two spirits were right, in that she had plenty of physicality to share with them. But, if she tapped into their powers while in the realm of flesh and blood, she would need to feed. If this need wasn’t sated quickly, she could kill just by touch – energy drained from other living things instantly.

There was always a cost.

Her mind flickered across all the multiple time lines with the streams and found the one she needed to return home. All the various options and choices of others around her played out before her as she sailed through the time lines. Closer and closer to her own linear reality she traveled, passing events that to her physical self were merely memories. Here in the streams, they played out once more and were relived with perfect clarity. She saw the Rogues, the staves, and the void essence held within a strange orb. She watched herself as she ran across the field, bit the staff, and suffered the same draining effect as the gateways. She saw herself break free and knew for certain her efforts disrupted the ritual. That disruption sent the energy into a swirling vortex that fed on itself, expanded, and exploded.

The blast destroyed the staves, the Rogues, sent her and the Rogue that pursued her flying into the forest, and watched as their souls were forced from their bodies. She noted as well, that the explosion ripped a massive hole between the worlds. Rather than destroying the gateway, it made it larger and more powerful.

Mariska grinned.

She followed the events and closed in on her particular line. The rescue, the mourning, the collation of bodies, and the trip to the ER staffed by kin to the Ulf’el. They tried to revive her. Here is where Mariska paused. Did she continue down this line, or enter here? She glanced down the line of options and saw fire, and her body’s death. Entering here would cause other disruptions. She saw those choices laid out before her, and discovered one of the spies. Her own Aunt.

No, she’d risk scaring the morgue staff instead. It would give her more time to work in the linear, physical world. She could surprise her Aunt, confront her, and find out why she was a traitor to the One Song. Mariska planned, memorized as best as she was capable the myriad of paths down that series of choices. Then she flowed to the morgue and picked the path that allowed her to be alone when she reentered physical reality and the time line.

With the blended Flux of all four beings, she sliced a fine slit between worlds, seeped through it , resealed the opening, and slid back into her body.
Droole

Dove's Blood: Time Lost

She was lost again in the swirl and eddies of time and space. Nothing made sense. This is what the spirits warned would happen if she lost the crown. Now she tumbled through the chaos of flashing images, sounds, and smells, disoriented and with no way to know what was up, down, left, right nor when she was within the time-stream. Just a mote of substance, she floated directionless and time-lost.

Her mind recoiled at the array of what-if’s and to-be’s, used as it was to a single direction of time. Her heart ached as she saw all the possibilities played out before her mind from the night her family was attacked by robbers. The night she learned that monsters were very real and wore different forms then what was shown within storybooks.

If her father had run towards the kids, no one would have died. If the robbers had come a little later, they would have not entered the house and again no one would have died. If her mother had gone into the kitchen, the atrocities committed in the kitchen would have instead been enacted in the basement. If her sister had come home the night after, again no one would have died but their stuff would have been all stolen. That timeline would have brought hunters to the house the night of Marton’s initiation. More death, for everyone, and an entire bloodline wiped out. If, if, if… so many potentials if only one of the myriad of choices were made differently, or had been made differently, or will be made differently. Mariska’s sense of placement within her own timeline slipped.

There were only certain beings that were able to travel between the points of creation, from the very beginning of time, to the time-locked reality of the physical world. The Thrones, which never moved from their point of creation but could see all points of creation and interact by warping space-time. Their minds were multi-faceted like their semi-physical representations – crystalline beings of light and power. The Erif’el, guardians of the Thrones that never strayed beyond the borders of their Sepirot unless by dire need. Multi-headed creatures whose semi-physical forms often took the guises of hydras, Cerberus-like things, or creatures with multiple limbs for heads. Scary creatures. Both were very scary creatures. Scarier than anything else she ever encountered because they knew before she did what path she would choose – because they could see all possibilities.

Mariska shuddered at the thought and closed her mind from that path. If they sensed her thoughts, and believed she sought their help, they would help – in their own, alien, incomprehensible way. Often such ways were not entirely helpful to the one they helped. The help was often helpful only to them.

Her thoughts strayed to the other two who could travel these pathways. These were gendered beings, unlike the others. One male, one female, and took forms that aligned with how the middle worlds were divided. The female were the Kerib’el. The male known only as “the Thorns”. These were the ‘soldiers’ of the Erif’el and were more easily communicated with as their mind, though multi-faceted, were a bit more linear.

The Kerib’el were creatures of fluid forms. When in the world of flesh and blood, they often were mistake for water nymphs or river spirits. Some even took on the visible forms of sinewy, water-dragons when enraged. The Thorns were the males. Wiry, Mobius-strip-like, snake-like beings with no obvious head or tail. Their bodies sprouted various sized, sharp, thorn-like spikes of different kinds, they made a sliding-clicking noise when they moved. No one ever managed to find its end or beginning, mostly because they were dangerous to approach or touch. Tales of beings from the physical worlds turned to goo, “blended” by those constantly moving spines, haunted the dreams of young initiates.

However, they share this ability to view all of reality, and all of its branches within branches of possibilities, that allowed them to travel the time-streams of creation. It was this ability Mariska needed. The loss of the crown meant she could not function in the confusing deluge of choices around her. Her mind locked on the thought of that crown and mourned her fate. A wistful wish filled her being. If only she had the same ability, to be able to sort out all the choices before her like the Kerib’el and the Thorns, she would be able to continue on her quest. The emotion filled her, emanated from her, and her consciousness filled with that single sadness. It blocked out the confusion around her as she focused on that sorrowful wish. She became, for a moment, that wish and nothing else around her mattered.

A single sad note began to ring out around her like an aura of sound. It pulsed once and raced through all the branches of reality.

Something responded. A soft note, deep and very resonant in tone and texture. Mariska sensed them before she was fully aware of them. Two beings, male and female, appeared from the multi-branches of the time-stream. A single Kerib’el and its partnered Thorn.

“You do not belong here.” Their voices flowed over Mariska’s form and through her very essence. Their consciousness nearly erased her own with their powerful presence.

They pulled back as they sense her weakened state, and created a point of singularity around the three. The time-stream slipped by them as they stood still in a bubble of calm linear reality. Mariska blinked at them, too in awe to think let alone speak. The Thorn held up a part of its self, snake-like, even as it slid and rotated around itself. The Kerib’el took a watery human female form that was semi-transparent. They “looked” in her direction, if the direction they faced was an indication. Neither of them had eyes the way she understood them, and the Thorn had no true head or face.

“She belongs down-stream.” The male consciousness translated into a rough voice-touch within Mariska’s own. It sounded/felt irritated.

“Her time-line is warped.” The female voice-touch was cool and soothing like a warm bath. Their attention turned towards each other, and then outside of the bubble of reality.

“Yes, so it is… and more…“ The male was intrigued.

Mariska stood there watching them, as they seemed preoccupied with something. Were they reading her time-line? It was the only thing possible, right? They would move, duck, and weave sometimes as if surfing through the branches without leaving the bubble of reality. A thought occurred to her just then, maybe the bubble of reality traveled the streams and she simply couldn’t see past the white barrier that surrounded them?

They paused. Something agitated them. The male spun out of the serpentine shape into a massive ball of swirling spiky spines. The female shimmered and lost distinction, although she remained humanoid-shaped. Mariska’s consciousness pulled back from the barrage of information as they searched the time-lines, all the time-lines, all at once, as if seeking an answer. Then just as suddenly, they wailed, a long, horrible, soul-wounding note of pain and fear.

“She must return,” they spoke this in unison, full of trepidation and anger.
“Her path is the only way clear.” The feminine voice of the Kerib’el trilled. Its body lost the corporeal human-like form and turned into a single blob of water.

“Too many paths blocked.” The Thorn answered angrily, its body whirling dangerously, like that of a blender set on high speed.

“Too many ways barred...” The blob of water that was the Kerib’el trilled and faded off even as the blurred, spinning mass of the Thorn picked up the conversation.

“- and she will not know which path to follow…”

“- to keep the Harmony of the One Song.”

The broken conversation, where they switched between who was speaking, was hard to keep up with. Mariska’s attention switched between their floating forms, trying to discern who was communicating the concepts.

“There are too many ways to failure, death, or disharmony…” The Thorn started to speak again.

“- too many paths to choose.” The Kerib’el finished the sentence. Again they continued to switch between who was speaking. It was left Mariska light headed.

“She is linear and choice-blind...”

“- and would not know which paths lead to harm…”

“- and she must avoid those.”

“What is this?”

“There is a darkness of nothing that touches…”

“- all things. Too many endings that are premature…”

“- Void and nothingness…”

“- and not how time’s ending should end.”

“How did we miss…”

“- this nothingness?”

Suddenly they stopped all motion, all movement, and all emotion. Slowly a bubble of shock and horror flowed over Mariska’s sense. She staggered back as its intensity grew heavy and thick.

“SCION!” Their combined voices rattled the bubble of reality. The added intensity of their loathing hatred filled the bubble and nearly burst it. They swung their attention back to Mariska.

“We will help you.” They spoke in unison now. Two voice-touches brushed her own with a gentle thrust of confidence in their choice.

“There is a cost.” Mariska stumbled over the words.

There was always a cost, a balancing of favors. To keep the Harmony intact a payment was always required. To accept such help from these two, the cost would be staggering and possibly never repaid in her lifetime. Her fear was obvious to the two beings. They offered her a gentle understanding.

“The cost is protecting the One Song.”
Droole

Strange conversation (re post)

Re-posted due to the previous being a MASSIVE bit of text.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Strange Conversation

“How do you believe spirits feel after being bound to an item?” It was the older female's voice again. Spirits? Mariska frowned, more confused then before. Doubt crept into her mind – had she really heard her name earlier? If so, they may have moved onto a different topic. But… Spirits? A Council? Finding “her”? These were not things she associated with one another.

“I… I don't know.” Her father sighed in resignation, the response stammered and uncertain in tone. “All I know is that Denise said...”

“Denise is not a spirit-speaker is she?” The voice of the older woman cut him off again, her tone superior, foul-tempered, and sarcastic. There was a deep resonance in it, almost growl-like. Mariska tilted her head slightly to one side.

What was going on?

“Ma'am, I meant no disrespect.” His hands came up as if to ward the other person off. Fear clearly colored his voice. It wavered. “With how both Marton and Violeta proved...” Again her father was cut off by the older woman.

“I know how Denise's line has twice proved true.” Footsteps again, this time moving away from her father. Hearing her mother’s name in that high-handed tone of voice ran a line of cold down her back. Her mother was a very dominate woman that accepted no denials and got her way every time. This woman had the audacity to act as if Mariska’s mother were beneath her? Who was this person?

Mariska peered around the corner as far as she dared and attempted to get a look at this snotty, inconsiderate, rude, and presumptuous woman. Her dislike for this ‘visitor’ sprouted. She was so disrespectful and stuck-up. Who the heck was she? Why was her father cowed just by her tone of voice? Why did he seem to fear her?

“It runs in her bloodline.” The old woman continued dismissively, as if this were an obvious fact. As she spoke she moved to the far side of the living room. “It is expected of her... and of you.”

Mariska's neck prickled in response to that comment. ‘Proved true’? ‘Expected of’ her mother and father? She leaned a bit more to her right, risked being seen, and was rewarded with a glimpse of this snotty old woman. The details were limited as she moved out of Mariska’s line of sight. Her father’s back obscured the view. However, she could tell the woman was taller, had long black hair streaked with gray, and walked with a royal air.

He leaned so heavily against the arm of the couch her father was half sitting on it. Her mother wouldn’t like that at all. His body faced the fireplace, but his head was turned to watch the older woman. Empathy welled up inside the teen. She hated seeing her dad like this, so worn down and beaten by life. Her father sighed, looked at his hands, and slumped his shoulders. He looked up in the old woman's direction twice as if he considered saying something again and opted not to speaking. His right hand gripped and relaxed repeatedly on the couch back. His pause for thought lengthened. The clock in the kitchen ticked loudly in the silence.

Where Mariska hid, she couldn't see much of the living room beyond her father and the couch - not unless she increased her risk of being caught. With that thought she ducked back behind the laundry basket, suddenly very wary. Her instincts proved true as the woman walked past where he father stood blocking her view, and towards the kitchen area.

“Well?” The old woman's voice prompted, but it held a strange encouraging note. It was as if she waited for some argument her father held but did not speak.

“Yes, Elder. I know. That's why we were paired as mates.” His shoulders sagged a bit as if defeated. A long intake of breath followed by a sigh indicated he sat on the verge of giving up. Both of his hands rose to his face and he scrubbed it in frustration. Footsteps sounded again as the old woman continued to walk towards the kitchen. Mariska cringed behind the laundry basket as the old woman turned to look at her father, her eyes passing over Mariska’s hiding spot.

Mariska's heart ached. It was bad enough her overbearing, arrogant, worthless mother treated her father like this too. But to hear her father talked down to by some old bat angered the teen. A surge of hatred bloomed and dangerous, violent thoughts surfaced. Mariska bit the side of her tongue as she attempted to keep her mouth shut and her hiding spot undiscovered.

A quick flash of memory rose. The comparison between this woman’s behavior and her mother’s were exceptional. The same air of authority, the act of looking down their long noses at others, and the attitude that they were so much better sickened Mariska. Her mother’s constant outings, business trips, and sudden disappearances had damaged the mother-daughter bond between them. Her constant pushing of all the kids to ‘be better’ and the disapproval of anything not utterly perfect created an insurmountable wall they all climbed - including her father. She often treated these “imperfections” as if they were his fault, and punished him as much as she might the children. When Violetta, her older sister and first born of the siblings came of age, suddenly the world revolved around her, and their father and the other children were forgotten. He was treated like a common babysitter from that point on, and never since then did Mariska see them laugh together, cuddle, or show any real affection to each other. When Marton grew up this cold distance increased and deepened. She didn’t seem to care that he was an amazing father, or a caring human being with thoughts and feelings of his own. Now here was another snot-nosed… Mariska cut the thought off before she was tempted to mutter the foul words which sprang to mind just then.

As she looked at this… old… piece of… woman… thing, she sneered. At this point Mariska picked up more details of what this woman looked like. She was was exceptionally old. Although she stood tall and proud with a straight posture like that of a younger woman's and a graceful, stable stride, Mariska noted that the flesh of her face, arms, hands, and legs bore the marks of a long and active life. Veins showed here and there on the backs of her hands and down her legs. Her facial skin wrinkled and sagged around the eyes and mouth. Although fit and thin, her skin was loose around the jaw and neck. Moles and freckles adorned her all over the areas of exposed skin. Her eyes were slightly sunken, and her hair thinner and a bit wispy around the temples.

“Yes. Indeed.” The words were drawn out carefully, thoughtfully, as if the pairing weren't as good as this old woman wanted and wished it was something better. The hairs along Mariska’s neck stood on end. Her father shied, suddenly very concerned. The woman’s eyes flitted across the room, touched lightly and briefly on various items in the house as if she assessed their value.

“I'm sorry, Elder. I'm just concerned with the influx of demon-dog attacks on the Clans and...” The words caught in his throat. ‘Elder’? What was this about an Elder? Okay so she had some kind of authority, but it wasn’t a lower-case “e”. The tone in her father’s voice reflected more then just a respect for her age. It was more like how one might address a judge or police officer when caught in their disapproving gaze.

Mariska didn’t have time to digest this. The hesitation quickly caught the Elder's attention. She turned to look at Mariska's father, her eyes passing over the hallway again. This time they paused, narrowed in consideration, and Mariska's heart skipped a beat again. She was caught! She was sure the old bat saw her!

Except… No…

Maybe?

A soft, humorless smile touched the corner of this woman's lips. She didn’t make eye contact with Mariska, but Mariska was certain now that she’d been seen. But rather then act, the woman’s gaze moved on to look at her father instead. There was a coldness in the gaze she laid on him that the teen did not fully understand. Oh… No. Was her father about to get into trouble over her? Fear and anger raged inside her.

“Although you've performed honorably,” a sneer on the woman’s face lifted the upper lip just enough to show a glint of teeth, “it may be time to make some changes.“

Her father startled and stared in shocked horror at the ‘Elder’. Mariska’s anger and fear subsided with her own shock. Was the Elder suggesting… No. She wouldn’t replace her father… She couldn’t! Could she? His mouth opened to answer, but her words kept spilling out.

“We may not be of the North-Sea Clan who act as if fear were a beast to subdue. We understand fear for what it is worth. Even so it is a dangerous thing. If these are your feelings, you will infect the children still in your care. We cannot have that.”

Mariska shoved her fist into her mouth and plugged the horrid scream of rage that wanted to spill out. Her father stood, no longer on the couch arm, and stared at the Elder. He stammered at first, then his emotions welled up and tightened his voice.

“No. Elder, please. They are not just my charges, they are...” The words finally spilled out in a slurry of extreme emotion. The Elder held up her hand and sneered down at him from over an upturned nose. Her left lip curled even more into a small snarl that showed a flash of bright white teeth. His voice cut off, silenced by her feral gaze.

“Mind your place. You were lucky to even be paired as high as you were. Denise holds great status and rank within the Clan while your brother barely received notice before he died.” A pained expression wrinkled the skin around the eye Mariska was able to see on her father's face. Then he frowned. His fists balled up as if he wanted to swing.

“He loved the Clan, and sacrificed himself to save our secrets…” The words came through clenched teeth. The Elder took two, long, swift steps towards him and stopped a full arm’s length away. Her body posture and facial expression was full of pure malice. He put one foot back and ducked his head to avoid her gaze.

“Yes. Indeed. However,” she continued with a cold voice and clipped tone, “his sacrifice marked you,” she pointed at him, “as a potential excellent mate.”

With this said, she turned and walked back to the other side of the room, haughty and arrogantly scornful. But as fast as her anger had risen, she quelled it. At least outwardly her demeanor shifted to one of cold detachment. While Mariska’s father stood cowed once more, the teen wanted to tear the Elder’s eyes out. She was treating him like some kind of animal, only good for breeding! What was wrong with this woman, this… this… Several curse words came to mind, but none of them perfect enough to express Mariska’s indignant disgust.

“His weakness ended up his greatest strength in the end, and we hope to breed that into the bloodline. Seeing that you share this same -” The old woman waved a hand back in forth in a dismissive gesture as she spoke, a slight pause highlighted her unimpressed feelings. “- quirk… of character, well, we figured you'd be at least a good brood-keeper.”

Mariska saw her father's eyes narrow, but he kept his peace. She was baffled. Quirk? What quirk? Brood-keeper? Bloodline? Oh no… that sounded like arranged marriages!

“As it is, the only reason we haven't replaced you is because you've done an admirable job so far. Denise will be pleased to know this, I'm sure. However, your production rate is lower then expected. That needs to be corrected and soon. There should have been at least three more children.” The Elder crossed her arms over her chest and looked down her nose at Mariska’s father. He paled.

Mariska's mind reeled. Replaced?! But… Arranged marriages were something from the past, especially here in the U.S. However, this treatment was far worse. He was a thinking, feeling, human being, and not just some stud paired up with a mate to produce the best offspring! A sick feeling rose inside of her gut. If her parent’s marriage was arranged… Then wouldn’t her siblings… and… Oh No. She would… No. Just no.

“I understand,” a false sense of kindness and lackluster compassion grated on both Mariska's and her father's nerves, and they both flinched slightly, “that you have some minor performance issues. That your emotions get in the way and cause you to falter.”

He blushed bright red, his fists bunched until white showed on his knuckles. Mariska took a moment to realize what was meant, and she flushed with her own mixed embarrassment. This time he took a step forward towards the Elder, then thought better of it. The Elder looked at him a bit amused. She wasn’t as upset before, because she baited him with that line. It was painfully obvious to Mariska that she was toying with him now. His breathing was ragged and angry as he struggled to control his temper.

“It's no business of mine if you love her or not.” Again that false, almost sarcastic sweetness to her tone grated. Her father slowly forced himself to take a step back, distancing himself from the Elder. Mariska clutched at the fabric of her nightgown by her knees. Her mind drew back at the thought that her parents maybe didn't love each other, even as anger raged in her own heart. She had hoped that maybe, just maybe, there was something more between her parents. There had to be some reason why her father stayed on and kept suffering. Something worthwhile had to exist, didn’t it, to make sense of everything? Right?

“But, if you cannot perform your duties as her mate, it becomes a concern of the Clan. So...” A sly smile spread across the Elder's features. “A favor for a favor?”

Mariska gaped. Her father paled again. The Elder grinned with a feral intent. That… piece of… She set him up!

The Elder and her father locked eyes and stared hard at each other. The Elder continued to grin while her father frowned in anger. The battle of wills lasted about a minute or so, during which the Elder's grin broadened as a look of horror bloomed across her dad's features. The Elder’s grin was like that of a Cheshire Cat. Her dad shook his head ‘No’. The Elder shrugged and looked on as if her trade of favors were the only way out of this mess.

Some kind of understanding passed between them. Mariska wasn’t sure what this “favor” might be, but she saw the struggle in her dad’s eye. Then he broke first and looked to the floor crossing his arms over his chest.

“If it is what I think you want,” His voice was tight, hurt, angry, embarrassed.

“It’s for the good of the Clan and it’s bloodlines. You do understand?” Silky, sweet, and false, the Elder’s voice purred over those words.

“I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand. If it means that I get to stay here…” He wouldn’t look at the Elder now. He turned to face the fireplace instead.

“Good!” The Elder bubbled with enthusiasm. “I’m sure you’ll make the right arrangements? He doesn’t have to live here but, they’d need a room to themselves.”

“Yes.” He stated flatly. Then added with a worried tone in his voice, “is it someone I know?”

Mariska was floored. She glanced between the Elder and her father. He overwhelmed mind finally caught up with the conversation. Her mother was getting a new… partner. In exchange her father could stay on to care for his kids. She suddenly felt her gut tremble and roll. Bile rose in her throat. She couldn’t listen to anymore.

Mariska crept backwards down the hallway, mindful of the floorboards. With quick glances behind her now and again took care not to be caught now. Even with Plausible deny-ability on her side, the thought of facing down that Elder brought murderous thoughts to the surface. She picked up other snippets of the continued conversation, but ignored them. She wanted to help her dad, extract him from that terrible confrontation. But, she was at a loss.

Carefully she pushed back into her room and shut the door as far as it would go without the latch clicking into place. Then back into bed with a delicate touch so the bed barely creaked. She strained to hear the conversation, but it had stopped. A bubble of anxiety rose, but she was too overwhelmed to care if she got caught now. She just wanted to go back to sleep and forget this whole night.

Her stomach rolled again, bubbled, and threatened to push up the remnants of dinner. She laid as still as possible and struggled to keep from vomiting. Then a thought occurred to her. She could use being sick as a ruse to break the conversation and hopefully rescue her dad.

She started to get up from bed more obviously this time, when footsteps sounded in the hallway. She hesitated, her stomach churned. Then determined to continue she got up and walked back towards her door. A tired-sleepy facade added to her already ‘I’m going to be sick’ look was painted across her face. As she reached for the door calling out to her father, it was pushed open. She startled.

The Elder stood there with a strange look on her face. Mariska stood transfixed. Behind the Elder her father stood on tip-toes to see past the imposing shoulders.

“What is your favorite animal, child?” The question startled the teen, and all pretense dropped away to nothing. A powerful presence, like some kind of aura, emanated from the old woman. She felt compelled to answer.

“Ah… Wolves, and ravens.” The old woman seemed very pleased at this answer. Mariska quirked her left eyebrow.

“What time of day do you prefer?” Suddenly light-headed, a sense of surreality filtered in past her nausea. What was going on here? What did this nutty old bat want to know about her favorite time of day?

“Well, child? I don't like asking questions twice, it's unseemly.” Why was she being interrogated? Mariska pulled back as she frowned at the Elder. Her confusion and discomfort plain onf her face.

“Uh, uhmn…. Night.” The old woman's smile spread widen and a soft gleam seemed to light inside her eyes. What ever Mariska said apparently was the right thing. The woman stepped farther into the room and forced Mariska to retreat. A mix of horror and a sense of invasion made the hairs along her neck, spine, and arms prickle.

“Favorite Color?” Mariska blinked. The woman snapped her fingers and waved a hand to hurry the answers. Mariska took another step back and her frown deepened.

“Purple.” Mariska’s answer elicited a wider smile from the Elder.

“Food?” Food, food?! What was this? The Elder raised both eyebrows as if the answer to her questions was both important and interesting. She was insane! Mariska didn't hesitate as long this time.

“Steak, rare.” Mariska’s stomach lurched at the thought of food, even as she said it. The Elder’s gaze now swept over Mariska’s bedroom and ignored the teen’s discomfort. Her eyes landed on the bookshelf filled with books of various shapes and sizes.

“Books?” The question was touched with real curiosity, as if this woman actually cared.Books?! Mariska's mind couldn't fathom what was happening. The comparison between what Mariska saw before of this woman and how she acted now was so confusing. But Mariaka’s answer came faster now, more rapid fire.

“All kinds, especially histories.”

“Really?” The Elder turned her attention back on Mariska. She seemed pleased and throughly fascinated. “What kind of histories?”

“Uhmn… Old histories, battle tactics, Machiavelli’s the Prince is a current read though it's a bit dry. Uhmn.. I'm also reading Shakespeare too for English class.”

“But that’s not a History.”

It was a question wrapped as a comment. Her teachers used that tactic. Mariska smirked. “No, but it does give insight into the society of the time period in a way strict historical accounts don’t.”

“Fascinating, no tech?”

Mariska shook her head. She was about done with this interrogation. “I have some computer classes in school, but it's not that interesting.”

“Ever notice strange things that cannot be explained?”

Mariska tilted her head to one side and stared at the woman. Her sarcasm burst out before she could control it. “You mean like having some nutty old woman walk into my bedroom in the middle of the night and start popping off questions at me? That’s pretty strange.”

She heard her dad gasp behind the nut-job “Elder”. The Elder stared at her long and hard, as if trying to decide how she felt about that answer. She took a deep breath, cleared her throat, and just smiled. It was that Cheshire Cat look again!

The smile of the old woman’s face broadened as she spoke. “What do you dream?”

Mariska put her fisted hands on her hips and glared at the woman. Dreams?! She stammered in frustration. “I… I don't remember my dreams.”

The old woman frowned at this response, looked thoughtful, then gave a curt nod to herself. “I'll fix that shortly. Dreams are powerful things. They can show us paths and wisdom we normally wouldn't see or understand when awake.”

Mariska pulled back, turning her face away to look over the Elder's shoulder. She spotted her father. Concern was etched in his staring beading eyes. He ever so slightly shook his head “no” and motioned with his well manicured hands for Mariska to pay attention to the Elder. She raised her other eyebrow, then looked back at the Elder.

“One last question… Have you bled yet?” That was her limit. Embarrassed and enraged Mariska rose up to her full height and looked the old woman deep in the eyes. Her fists clenched into tight balls, shoulders rounded and she rose to her toes. A deep, low growling answer rose from Mariska's throat. The Elder seemed a bit shocked, then thoughtful, then interested as the teen spoke up in a rush of angry emotions.

“I'll have you know that is no business of anyone's but my parents. That is an extremely personal question. I don't even know who you are, why you are here, or why you are in my family home.” It was all Mariska could do to keep her tongue civil and not revert to very foul language. Her father cringed in the background, and watched the Elder's back as if she were some kind of viper.

“Well,” the Elder seemed amused and not insulted, “I am a Clan Elder of your bloodline child. Although you don't understand what that means now, you will. You will. Soon enough you will. When you do, you shall also know my names and titles, what they mean, and why you must heed them. Until then, whelp...”

The Elder left a sputtering Mariska to stew. She turned towards Mariska’s father. “Well? Has she?”

With a sad look in his eyes, he nodded once then added, “Just last month. Middle of the month… Uhmn, under the crescent moon I believe. I’d have to check the,” he glanced to a horrified Mariska and gave her a wane, appologetic smile,” the uh… the family calendar.”

“Dad!” Mariska's horror and embarrassment grew. She felt a little bit betrayed. That was personal and private information. It was bad enough that she had to go to her father in the first place when it happened, since her so-called mom was out on some business at the time. But then, he kept track of it?! On a calendar?! What was this nonsense about a moon-phase?! His words and actions confounded the teen.

She looked back a the woman. Who in the world was this nutty old bat?! Why was she so important that her father treated her like royalty in their house?! And share private information with her?!

The Elder seemed inordinately pleased and didn't notice the Mariska’s outburst. Her father on the other hand flinched. Considering the conversation he had with this Elder, she understood he was sensitive. But the look in his eyes spoke of something else. Somewhere at some point during the conversation in her room, something had significantly changed. She wasn’t sure what changed, but he seemed fearful of her now too. He feared his own daughter? Denial. How could her fear her?

Mariska settled, now more concerned by her father's reactions and stared at him in confusion. He looked at her with a touch of sadness, a hint of an apology, and… fear. Yes, she was sure of it now. He feared her. Before Mariska could ask, move, or respond, the Elder turned with a swift motion, put one finger to the middle of Mariska's forehead, and then all was dark.

The Next Morning

Her father came and woke her the next morning. It was still early and her body felt beat up. He looked tired. He smiled, but the brightness of it was faded as if forced himself to smile. It was wane, and false.

He sat on the foot of her bed with a small box in his hands. She propped herself up and then rubbed her eyes. Mariska was slightly confused and bleary-eyed. Half-remembered images swam in her mind. Last night was a blur, the memories faded into the dream-scapes, mixed with them, and became somewhat forgotten. She frowned. Was it all just a dream?

Without a word he handed her the box. Her eyes flickered between the box and him, then she took it. Slowly she opened it and looked inside. A soft-colored moonstone sat in a cage of silvery wire. It was attached to a thong of braided black leather. He reached into the box, took the necklace out, and put it over her head.

“Wear it always. It will save your life.” With that he rose and left her room before she was able to respond. She stared after him, silent, curious, and worried. What did it all mean?
Droole

Dove's Blood: The Void

Prior Scene



As the wall of the Sepirot drew closer, Mariska examined it carefully. Here is where her true soul-form would be exposed. The experience was like that of walking up to the inside of a crystalline sphere coated in some kind of reflective material. Down where the 'ground' within the Sepirot met the wall, it wavered as if water-like. The sky arced up and inwards, back towards where she had come from and out of sight behind the clouds of the Sepirot's 'sky'. It too rippled and sparkled in the light of the Sepirot's 'sun'.

Her own reflected image was broken and distorted from this distance by the ripples. An excitement filled her with a breathless, joyful, anxiety. She would see her true soul-form finally. Something very few others ever managed in an entire six generations of the Clan. It was said that once she witnessed her own form, she would also gain a second sight. The truth peeled away the faded cloak of physical reality. She would from then one be able to see other's true forms. The ability to decern their very nature would be hers.

The closer she got the more clear and less distorted the reflections. Body parts winked in and out between the ripples. Her pace slowed. What she started to see was not what she expected, at all. Her heartbeat quickened. Shallow quick breaths built into deeper and heavier huffs of agitation and anger. She fought with the denial.

This was the truth! But... How?!

She gazed at the filmy water-like wall for a long time struggling with the reality shown therein. While the rhythmic ripples still marred an otherwise perfect reflective surface from time to time, she was close enough that it didn't distort the reflection as much anymore. The reality behind her repeated itself in reverse. Her image blinked back at her showing more then just an outward reflection. Mariska could she her blended soul-form in that surface just like the elders promised. But it hurt to see it.

Human... and wolf.

Her years of study and everything her caste elders taught her suddenly meant nothing. She was supposed to see her own reflection with a second overlaid image of the wolf because she wore its lifeless skin. The bond-vessel only retained a spiritual reflection because of the soul bond from the human side. A hybrid human-wolf wasn't supposed to happen. It wasn't allowed. Such beings went insane because of the duel consciousnesses which fought for control. Two souls inhabited one body was a living death. But her reflection showed an imperfectly blended hybrid.

That meant something far less pleasant. Her soul-bond was never a wolf pelt, nor a newly slain beast. Mariska shuddered. It meant she was soul-bonded to an actual living wolf.

She should not exist.

(flashback)


(+467)
Droole

Dove's Blood: Prologue and Chapter ?

Note: This is the prologue and chapter one.

I posted it earlier, but hid it as I wanted to finish editing some of it. I had placed a bit of this into Critique Circle for a review and realized something. When it comes to "Prologues" there is a right and wrong way to do it. So I scrapped it, made the original a chapter w/sections, and re-wrote the Prologue.

As I'm doing this piece meal, I'm not sure when or where this chapter will fit. Will it be a full flashback? Or will it be something else. The main story follows the adult MC (Mariska), and this is a glimpse into her past as a teenager. I have one other scene that is a second glimpse into her past as a young child of about 6 or 7 years old. But that's still in the wroks of be re-written.

This is where I break with traditional Nanwrimo rules and am using something I had started with prior to November 1st. However it's all been re-written and re-worked. I think I've add 5k+ words or more to the original piece. I'll have to go back at one point and re-do my word count to reflect the "new" words a little better. For now I'm just trying to write!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Prologue

Come close child. It is time you learned about the One Song, the Sepirot, spirits, and disharmony...

First there was Silence. It was a void of dark, nothingness, emptiness, soundless nothing. We know it as Un'el.

Then came the Note. Ay'el.

The Note shattered and bloomed into the Choirs. They formed the Sepirot, wrapped and contained by the Void whose barriers we dare not cross. We would cease to be and our own Song, Silenced should we dare.

As the Sepirot organized themselves into various Chorus groupings, and then further into Harmonies. Beings of self-awareness arose as single Songs, Tunes, Rhythms, Beats, or Notes. Most humans know them as Angels, spirits, or other such things. We know them for what they are. The Urea'el. Grand-children of the One Song.

However, the emanations of the One Song are filtered through the Sepirots. as it filters through the Harmonies of the Sepirot, it warps the Song. This warping can lead to dissonance. Too much dissonance causes the bonds of energy within a spiritual being to disrupt and dissolve. Their Song, silenced. Their awareness, destroyed.

If you disrupt too many Songs within the Harmonies of a Chorus, the Chorus ceases to exist. Disrupt too many of the Chorus groups, and the Choirs are Silenced. It is possible that the One Song can fill these gaps, but then reality becomes distorted. How?

We are the end result of the One Song, child. From the Sepirot's organization, all that which you see around you here and now was formed. Life arose, each a single note or tiny Song that other people call souls. The creation of the world as we know it mimics the organization of the One Song. When people of different cultures come together they either harmonize or cause a great dissonance. This is due to the influence of the Choirs. Enough dissonance, like that of the spirits, will destroy us as well.

Yes, child. This is why those of the (spirit-speaker caste) must understand music. For it is a tool to better understand how the energies flow in the world. It also can be used to "speak" to others and carry basic concepts regardless of the culture - and this too is due to the One Song that vibrates the very essence of our souls.

No. We are not half-spirit. Our spiritual energy runs within our body. It is a vessel, and the energy powers it. When the energy wanes, our bodies die and our Song is released. If the body is damaged enough that it cannot sustain the energy within it, our energy is released. Our Song then returns to the Aether.

Creatures did once exist that were once half spirit, but they created such a dissonance the Choirs hunted them down. We know them as Urota'el. They are evil. They cared not about the Harmony of the Choirs, nor of the One Song. It is a good thing they are gone.

Oh. What of us? We werewolves only have one soul, dear child. However, we have a dearth of energy that disrupts our bodies. To find balance and create harmony, we must bond with the shell of a wolf. Any other creature would not bond as well, and it would cause a serious dissonance. I have seen some youths try to bond with dogs or cats, and die. To host two souls would cause an over abundance of energy, as well as insanity as the other soul fought to take control. The physical body must retain a balance with it's energy and soul, or bad things happen.

Now it is time to seek your soul-bond. Go dream child, tell me what you see...



Chapter ?: The Visitor


Early Morning

(date set years before the actual events)

At first, all was darkness. Voices filtered first into and then through Mariska's wakening mind. They were whispered in the background, definitely outside of her bedroom, and perhaps... just down the hall? Their words were unrecognizable at first. One was familiar and male by the deepness of the tone. Her father, maybe? The other was raspy, female, and not one she recognized. That was odd. Her mother hated having strangers in the house.

The whispered tone suggested secrets, confidence, and hidden needs. That caught Mariska's attention. Sure, it was the middle of the night and it was only polite to be quiet. However, the furtiveness didn't sit right. There was no reason she could think of that would warrant the extra caution against being overheard.

Well... maybe. With how her mother, oldest sister, and older brother behaved maybe it made sense. Wait.. No. They weren't here. She tried to open her eyes. Slowly they peeled open with effort.

Sleep-sticky gunk on them made it difficult. Blinking several times to clear them helped a little bit, but she needed to use her hands. But, however awake her mind, her body was still caught in sleep's embrace. The tight, comforting fit of the fluffy, gold-thread, maroon-colored, embroidered blanket and super-soft matching cotton sheet tucked neatly around her didn't help either. The sensation was like being wrapped in a cocoon. She strained to hear the conversation, waiting for the sleep paralysis to wear off.

Silence again. Then feet shuffled across the room carpet. Someone cleared their throat. The sound of something hard placed on a table came next. Then more Silence.

Mariska yawned and sneered. This disturbance in her family's house was downright annoying. Especially since there her Biology class had a chapter test today, and it wasn't open-book. Her Biology teacher was not a forgiving woman. A memory filtered to the surface of her angry thoughts. Oh! There was a Prom Committee meeting as well she needed to attend. She closed her eyes again. Hopefully they'd stay quiet enough so she could go back to sleep.

Voices rose again. Anger warred with both common sense and her growing curiosity. The urge to sleep, go out there and yell at them, or find out what they were talking about see-sawed inside her. No, no, no. She needed the sleep. But... what were they talking about? Her curiosity pulled at her hard. They were being very secretive... too secretive.

She had to find out.

She took a deep breath and concentrated on her limbs. Her finger tips twitched but nothing else. Coming more fully awake now as her frustration and anger grew more intense, her concentration sharpened. Move... just... move... just... A sigh escaped her lips as she finally rolled over.

The whispered words once more floated up the hallway. They must be in the living room. Her bedroom was the second one down the long hallway that opened into the living room. The way they echo'd softly, yes... Yes. The living room. Still, the sound carried poorly down the hall. So they must be on the far side, closer to the fireplace.

Even as she laid very still, it was difficult to understand anything besides a few whispered snippets of a word or two. She shifted to her other side, and stared at her bedroom door. It stood ajar, a thin sliver of light filtered through the crack between the wall and the door's edge. A bit of the brass doorknob on the outside portion of the door glittered slightly through the crack.

Frustration gnawed at the edges of her patience. Details of the conversation were limited and made no sense. One voice, the female's, was definitely older, and sounded thoughtful but arrogant and stern. It reminded her of her mother. Maybe it was an Aunt or cousin? She wasn't sure. The other voice, the male one, carried curiosity edged with worry in its tone. It sounded like her father. Well, that made sense. He was almost always at home.

Mariska stilled her breathing, trying to hear - but to no avail.

She sighed, more frustrated and even more curious then before. That curiosity warred with sense. Mariska knew the rules, and that she wasn't yet considered an "adult". She traced a finger along the circle patterns on her bed sheet thoughtfully. She could hear her mother's voice in the back of her mind and frowned at the thought. Such conversations were not for her, especially ones not directed at her. Whispered conversations, were even more off limits.

Mariska narrowed her eyes as a bubble of rebellion rose inside her chest. Her dark brown eyes flicked up towards the door as the urge intensified. The crack in the door called to her, tempted her. The voice of wisdom fought for control, telling her to stay in bed and go back to sleep. As the silent war waged inside her, she shifted over to her other side in order to avoid looking at the door. She pulled the blanket and sheets over her head too tired to block out the voices. They hesitated for a moment as if they heard her restlessness.

Mariska froze, suddenly concerned. Her heart raced and her mind wondered even as she listened intently for footsteps in the hall. Slowly she shifted back, carefully mindful of the bed springs. Her eyes peered out over both of her hands, fingers clutched the edge of the blanket tightly. She watched the crack of light for any signs of life.

Nothing.

The voices continued, the same distance away, and with the same intensity as before. She sighed, relief coursed through her body. The back of her head pressed into her soft but firm pillow, the matching maroon color of the pillow case lifted into the sides of her vision. The gold embroidery along the pillow case’s edges glinted softly in the dim light. She pulled the blankets back up over her head again. It wasn’t worth it. It really wasn’t worth getting grounded. Too much rode on her obedience to the rules. She was so very tired of getting into trouble just because her willpower was so weak when things were so very interesting. How many times in the last month did her prying get her into trouble? Four, five maybe?

There was the sudden business trip her mom had to run off to, and missed Mariska’s Cheerleader trials. Mariska had rifled into her moms’ suitcase and found some really strange items in there. A case of bullets, the broken-down pieces of a hand gun, a bag of stones that were warm to the touch, and a red book of names and numbers but no other identifiers. Even at 17 her mother was still far stronger then the teenager. She had gotten her back and shoulders whipped before her father intervened. It was so bad that even a full month later, she still carried the bruises from it.

Then, she had crept into Violeta’s room looking for a her missing diary. Her equally stuck up older sister had a bad habit of reading Mariska’s private thoughts and teased her about it incessantly. Then there were the very personal and very probing questions Violetta often asked about certain events. These questions often didn’t make any sense. Like why would she care if Mariska remembered her dreams or not, and why she never wrote them down? She’d even asked if Mariska was ever drawn towards any animals, like dogs or ravens. What was that about? Originally her sister wasn’t supposed to be home that day. However, Violetta had returned home in such a rush, she forgot to close the front door. Mariska hid under the bed with seconds to spare when she heard the footsteps coming up the stairs. Violetta entered, paused, sniffed, and then forcefully kicked her bed across the room. It slammed into the dresser enough to rock the mirror on it and send some things tumbling to the floor. Somehow Violetta had known there was someone in her room and under the bed. The memory of her sister’s rather violent reaction and the feral, animal-like, hunted look in her eyes still left Mariska cold. Violetta growled, squatted on all fours as if to spring, and shot a hand out at Mariska. Then, a light of recognition flickered in the older girl’s eyes. She stopped, blinked, jerked back, then yelled for her father. Two weeks full grounding followed.

It was her eyes that disturbed Mariska most. The irises were huge, leaving no whites showing. When Violetta had recognized Mariska, the eyes changed back to normal-looking human eyes.

Marisk rolled over to her side and away from the door again. Those were the two worst incidents. The others involved school. Her grades in science class were weak, but only because the teacher thought she was cheating. Mariska had been looking at another student’s notes, both of them having already handed in their tests. A student behind them, who unknown to the other two was still taking their test, was asking questions. The explanation that they were only comparing notes fell on deaf ears. The result was all three tests were thrown out and were given zeros. Tests were 50% of their grade in that class. It wasn’t fair! On top of that, her mother’s reaction to earning a B+ was insane. A tutor now showed up every Tuesday and would continue until her grade improved. That meant no more Cheerleader practice until the end of the school year.

Then, the accident. She hadn’t meant to break her friend’s arm. The other girl had patted Mariska on her back shortly after her horrible beating, and Mariska just reacted. The girl was shoved so hard she toppled over the seventh-level railing of the school’s outdoor sports field bleachers. Mariska swiftly realized what she just did and grabbed for her friend’s arm to stop her fall. She grabbed it, but it snapped against the railing.

More whispered voices broke into her revere. Closer this time? They were louder, that was certain. She glanced at her bedside clock. It read 3:00 am. Why was her father speaking to someone this early in the morning, on a school night? Concern gripped her heart. What if it was about her mother, or Violetta? What if something bad happened to them? Oh… What about Marton? He was serving over seas in the Marines right now… Anything could happen to him. Or was it Alek? Her brother was sickly and always being taken to the hospital for something. Was he okay?

Mariska’s lips pressed together into a thin line. The need to know what the two talked about rose steadily. Her curiosity began warring again with common sense. Maybe, she should just go back to sleep? She didn’t want to be grounded from attending the Prom meeting after school. But…

She again strained to hear and understand what was said. Her breath stilled and her heart slowed in response. Still the words lacked meaning, and were so muffled by the blanket they were worthless. With a surety her curiosity found footing enough that she acted. It wasn’t worth suffocating her self over. If it was about her family, she needed to know. She sighed again and rolled back over to face the door.

Her curiosity mingled with both her irritation at being woke and concern for her family. She stared at the door for a long time and tried building up the courage to sneak up to it. The cost of being caught listening in weighted heavily in her heart. She shivered, her courage weak. Then, she vaguely heard what sounded like her name. It was mentioned – twice. Once as a comment spoken by the female voice, then again as a question voiced by, she assumed, her father. She sat up.

Her mind cleared as it burgeoned with a sly deviousness. There was her ticket. If they were whispering loud enough for her to hear, and used her name, then it was for her ears. Her curiosity was now justified. Blanket and sheet fell to the side of her bed as she got up and sneaked to her doorway.

“Yes...” The rest of the sentence faded into meaningless mutters. Mariska grunted softly to herself and peered through the slim opening between her door and the door-jamb. No-one stood in the hall, but shadows moved at the far end where the hall met the living room. With narrowed eyes, she again weighted the consequences of being caught. The hallway was darkened, the lights off. With a glance down she assessed her nightgown. It was a long, dark navy-blue and covered in tiny blue and purple printed stars. Looking it over she nodded to herself. The light color of the stars weren’t bright and faded into the fabric in places. Thankfully they wouldn’t sparkle. The darkness of the fabric’s main color would help her to blend into the background shadows in the hallway.

She looked back up again. The light seemed to come from the left and she surmised that her earlier assumption was correct. They were in the living room. The light emanated from the living room standing lamps that stood on far left wall along either side of the fire place. The entrance of the hallway was along the wall to the left of the fireplace, and situated closer to the kitchen divider (counter seating). At the end of the hall on the left corner stood one of the large household laundry baskets full of towels and clothes.

With keen eyes, she gauged the distance between the basket and herself. She also considered it's size and overladen capacity. If she were quiet… Yes. She wouldn't be spotted.

Without a second thought, Mariska carefully opened her door just wide enough to squeeze through. The hinges stuck a little with a tiny protest. She paused, held her breath. Her glance flicked between the door and the shadows at the end of the hall several times. No one responded. Her breath released slow and soft. Good. She wiggled ever so gently in order to delicately free herself, so the door hinges stayed silent.

Finally freed of her tight spot, she stooped down and tip-toed forward in careful measured steps. Being careful of the loose and very noisy floorboards, she stepped delicately. Her weight shifted in slow motion as she crept forward.

The house was of older construction, past down generation to generation through her father’s side. It was a multi-level estate in King of Prussia, near the National Park. Due to its age, it had weak spots in the floor. Due to the house’s physical location, there was little traffic noise to cover her approach. Although her parents paid to update it in the last ten years and fixed the worst parts they never really repaired the floorboards. The foundation needed to be dug out and the house raised as they repaired the crumbling stone that supported it. When they did that some of the underlying flooring was repaired, but only the worst of the floorboards were replaced or fixed. Although the reasons for this exclusion escaped her as her family could have afforded a full repair job, there was the question if they didn’t finish the repairs on purpose. She couldn’t prove it, but it seemed planned. There was a distinct pattern to the location of those floorboards that creaked the loudest. It was as if to let people know where other people walked through the house.

Years playing hide-and-seek like games with her brothers embedded that knowledge into her memories, made it a part of her instincts. Some of the boards squeaked in different pitches within that pattern. They used to, as young kids, try to make the house “sing” until their parents chased them outside in annoyed frustration. Some days when she was in a rush she might forget. But creeping forward as she did now, she was intimately aware of those spots.

Under the painted family portrait was a bad one. It groaned deeply when stepped on. Balancing on the tip toes of her left foot, she reached as far as she was able to avoid it. She placed her hand cautiously on the gilt wooden frame to steady herself. It scrapped slightly against the wall. She froze, listened, glanced up towards the end of the hall, and held her breath. Her heart raced. Her ears filled with her pulse.

The voices continued unabated.

With relief and an increasing self-confidence, carefully she finished the step. Her weight shifted forward and slowly her hand lifted from the frame. It shifted back again, but with a little less noise. She paused again, but briefly this time. With a quick furtive look she glanced back to the end of the hallway. Still nothing. Her luck held out so far. The door and shifted painting hadn’t alerted them yet, so she assumed she had a bit more leeway. Either their conversation distracted them or her skills at sneaking about were amazing. She smiled to herself, pride welling up in her chest.

Quietly she slid sideways, to the opposite side of the hallway and away from the safety of the basket’s shadow. A tall female figure walked out of sight, behind the corer of the hallway. Still too far down the hall to see deeper into the living room, she continued forward. Another carefully placed long step, a shorter step, and another sideways slide and she was at the halfway point. It was like dancing.

Closer now, more of the conversation was understandable. She continued forward, more cautious now. Her attention divided between her forward progress and trying to piece the words together.

“But,” her father’s voice, she was now absolutely sure it was her father’s, spoke with deep concern, “what if she is...”

“Then we find her,” the older female voice interrupted. It did sound a lot like her mom’s, just slightly strained and a little bit rough. The indifference in it grated at her nerves. Mariska quirked her left eyebrow, it wasn't a voice she recognized. Too few guests came to the house, and rare were visited from extended family. So it could be anyone that either her father or mother knew.


“Find her?” Her father’s voice seemed strained and not happy with the older woman’s comment. It echoed Mariska’s own silent question. The thought of ‘being found’ confused her. Doubt made the nape of her neck prickle. It… It was her they were talking about? Right? Or… was it? Now she wasn’t so sure, and that tingle of doubt grew stronger in the back of her mind the longer she listened. Carefully, after another series of mincing steps, she slide sideways again. Now more then three-fourths of the way down the hallway, she could see more of the living room.

Her dad’s back faced her as he leaned on the ample, plush, gray-green couch that dominated the main space of the living room. His fingers dug into the top cushion as he clung to it to steady himself. His distress was obvious, and a pang of empathy dug into Mariska’s chest. Her gaze flickered over the rest of the living room she was able to see, but the older woman was still hidden by the corner of the wall.

“Anything could happen. What if what happened with Marton…” His voice was pained now, afraid.

“We will find her.” The woman’s voice rose with a hint of authority and stern disapproval. “Do you not trust us to do the right thing?”

What were they talking about? What about Marton? Had she heard her name earlier? She sneered and frowned. This verbal dance made no sense. Maybe it wasn’t about her after all. But if not herself, then who else? Mariska stole a glance back down to her bedroom door, then again to her father’s back. Maybe she should go back to bed? Then with a mental shrug she justified her continued action to herself - she was too far out of the bag now, no point stopping. So her curiosity prevailed.

She slid sideways again, back to the left side of the hall and the safety of the wall’s cover. The laundry basket’s shadow sat a mere handful of steps away. So close. Just a little bit more and she’d be safe. Well, relatively safe all things considered.

“But… I…” A very emotional sigh escaped from her father with a powerful huff. She could hear a great intake of breath as her father bit back what he was about to say, and changed tactics. “Yes… Of course I trust you and… the Council. I…”

The conversation paused again, as a set of soft footsteps walked in her father’s direction. Her heart skipped a beat. She crept closer to the laundry basket, slowly. Crawling towards it on all fours now, like a cat stalking prey. She edged forward, hunkered down into a more comfortable position, and peered above the stale-smelling towels. The years of roughhousing games her brothers played with her when they were younger came in very handy. She smirked at the thought, pride welled up inside her. The stalking, modifications to games like tag, or hide-and-seek were her favorite game because she was the best at it. Right now, she mused with an over satisfied ego as she reached the basket and crouched behind it without being noticed, her skills were elite.

Strange Conversation

“How do you believe spirits feel after being bound to an item?” It was the older female's voice again. Spirits? Mariska frowned, more confused then before. Doubt crept into her mind – had she really heard her name earlier? If so, they may have moved onto a different topic. But… Spirits? A Council? Finding “her”? These were not things she associated with one another.

“I… I don't know.” Her father sighed in resignation, the response stammered and uncertain in tone. “All I know is that Denise said...”

“Denise is not a spirit-speaker is she?” The voice of the older woman cut him off again, her tone superior, foul-tempered, and sarcastic. There was a deep resonance in it, almost growl-like. Mariska tilted her head slightly to one side.

What was going on?

“Ma'am, I meant no disrespect.” His hands came up as if to ward the other person off. Fear clearly colored his voice. It wavered. “With how both Marton and Violeta proved...” Again her father was cut off by the older woman.

“I know how Denise's line has twice proved true.” Footsteps again, this time moving away from her father. Hearing her mother’s name in that high-handed tone of voice ran a line of cold down her back. Her mother was a very dominate woman that accepted no denials and got her way every time. This woman had the audacity to act as if Mariska’s mother were beneath her? Who was this person?

Mariska peered around the corner as far as she dared and attempted to get a look at this snotty, inconsiderate, rude, and presumptuous woman. Her dislike for this ‘visitor’ sprouted. She was so disrespectful and stuck-up. Who the heck was she? Why was her father cowed just by her tone of voice? Why did he seem to fear her?

“It runs in her bloodline.” The old woman continued dismissively, as if this were an obvious fact. As she spoke she moved to the far side of the living room. “It is expected of her... and of you.”

Mariska's neck prickled in response to that comment. ‘Proved true’? ‘Expected of’ her mother and father? She leaned a bit more to her right, risked being seen, and was rewarded with a glimpse of this snotty old woman. The details were limited as she moved out of Mariska’s line of sight. Her father’s back obscured the view. However, she could tell the woman was taller, had long black hair streaked with gray, and walked with a royal air.

He leaned so heavily against the arm of the couch her father was half sitting on it. Her mother wouldn’t like that at all. His body faced the fireplace, but his head was turned to watch the older woman. Empathy welled up inside the teen. She hated seeing her dad like this, so worn down and beaten by life. Her father sighed, looked at his hands, and slumped his shoulders. He looked up in the old woman's direction twice as if he considered saying something again and opted not to speaking. His right hand gripped and relaxed repeatedly on the couch back. His pause for thought lengthened. The clock in the kitchen ticked loudly in the silence.

Where Mariska hid, she couldn't see much of the living room beyond her father and the couch - not unless she increased her risk of being caught. With that thought she ducked back behind the laundry basket, suddenly very wary. Her instincts proved true as the woman walked past where he father stood blocking her view, and towards the kitchen area.

“Well?” The old woman's voice prompted, but it held a strange encouraging note. It was as if she waited for some argument her father held but did not speak.

“Yes, Elder. I know. That's why we were paired as mates.” His shoulders sagged a bit as if defeated. A long intake of breath followed by a sigh indicated he sat on the verge of giving up. Both of his hands rose to his face and he scrubbed it in frustration. Footsteps sounded again as the old woman continued to walk towards the kitchen. Mariska cringed behind the laundry basket as the old woman turned to look at her father, her eyes passing over Mariska’s hiding spot.

Mariska's heart ached. It was bad enough her overbearing, arrogant, worthless mother treated her father like this too. But to hear her father talked down to by some old bat angered the teen. A surge of hatred bloomed and dangerous, violent thoughts surfaced. Mariska bit the side of her tongue as she attempted to keep her mouth shut and her hiding spot undiscovered.

A quick flash of memory rose. The comparison between this woman’s behavior and her mother’s were exceptional. The same air of authority, the act of looking down their long noses at others, and the attitude that they were so much better sickened Mariska. Her mother’s constant outings, business trips, and sudden disappearances had damaged the mother-daughter bond between them. Her constant pushing of all the kids to ‘be better’ and the disapproval of anything not utterly perfect created an insurmountable wall they all climbed - including her father. She often treated these “imperfections” as if they were his fault, and punished him as much as she might the children. When Violetta, her older sister and first born of the siblings came of age, suddenly the world revolved around her, and their father and the other children were forgotten. He was treated like a common babysitter from that point on, and never since then did Mariska see them laugh together, cuddle, or show any real affection to each other. When Marton grew up this cold distance increased and deepened. She didn’t seem to care that he was an amazing father, or a caring human being with thoughts and feelings of his own. Now here was another snot-nosed… Mariska cut the thought off before she was tempted to mutter the foul words which sprang to mind just then.

As she looked at this… old… piece of… woman… thing, she sneered. At this point Mariska picked up more details of what this woman looked like. She was was exceptionally old. Although she stood tall and proud with a straight posture like that of a younger woman's and a graceful, stable stride, Mariska noted that the flesh of her face, arms, hands, and legs bore the marks of a long and active life. Veins showed here and there on the backs of her hands and down her legs. Her facial skin wrinkled and sagged around the eyes and mouth. Although fit and thin, her skin was loose around the jaw and neck. Moles and freckles adorned her all over the areas of exposed skin. Her eyes were slightly sunken, and her hair thinner and a bit wispy around the temples.

“Yes. Indeed.” The words were drawn out carefully, thoughtfully, as if the pairing weren't as good as this old woman wanted and wished it was something better. The hairs along Mariska’s neck stood on end. Her father shied, suddenly very concerned. The woman’s eyes flitted across the room, touched lightly and briefly on various items in the house as if she assessed their value.

“I'm sorry, Elder. I'm just concerned with the influx of demon-dog attacks on the Clans and...” The words caught in his throat. ‘Elder’? What was this about an Elder? Okay so she had some kind of authority, but it wasn’t a lower-case “e”. The tone in her father’s voice reflected more then just a respect for her age. It was more like how one might address a judge or police officer when caught in their disapproving gaze.

Mariska didn’t have time to digest this. The hesitation quickly caught the Elder's attention. She turned to look at Mariska's father, her eyes passing over the hallway again. This time they paused, narrowed in consideration, and Mariska's heart skipped a beat again. She was caught! She was sure the old bat saw her!

Except… No…

Maybe?

A soft, humorless smile touched the corner of this woman's lips. She didn’t make eye contact with Mariska, but Mariska was certain now that she’d been seen. But rather then act, the woman’s gaze moved on to look at her father instead. There was a coldness in the gaze she laid on him that the teen did not fully understand. Oh… No. Was her father about to get into trouble over her? Fear and anger raged inside her.

“Although you've performed honorably,” a sneer on the woman’s face lifted the upper lip just enough to show a glint of teeth, “it may be time to make some changes.“

Her father startled and stared in shocked horror at the ‘Elder’. Mariska’s anger and fear subsided with her own shock. Was the Elder suggesting… No. She wouldn’t replace her father… She couldn’t! Could she? His mouth opened to answer, but her words kept spilling out.

“We may not be of the North-Sea Clan who act as if fear were a beast to subdue. We understand fear for what it is worth. Even so it is a dangerous thing. If these are your feelings, you will infect the children still in your care. We cannot have that.”

Mariska shoved her fist into her mouth and plugged the horrid scream of rage that wanted to spill out. Her father stood, no longer on the couch arm, and stared at the Elder. He stammered at first, then his emotions welled up and tightened his voice.

“No. Elder, please. They are not just my charges, they are...” The words finally spilled out in a slurry of extreme emotion. The Elder held up her hand and sneered down at him from over an upturned nose. Her left lip curled even more into a small snarl that showed a flash of bright white teeth. His voice cut off, silenced by her feral gaze.

“Mind your place. You were lucky to even be paired as high as you were. Denise holds great status and rank within the Clan while your brother barely received notice before he died.” A pained expression wrinkled the skin around the eye Mariska was able to see on her father's face. Then he frowned. His fists balled up as if he wanted to swing.

“He loved the Clan, and sacrificed himself to save our secrets…” The words came through clenched teeth. The Elder took two, long, swift steps towards him and stopped a full arm’s length away. Her body posture and facial expression was full of pure malice. He put one foot back and ducked his head to avoid her gaze.

“Yes. Indeed. However,” she continued with a cold voice and clipped tone, “his sacrifice marked you,” she pointed at him, “as a potential excellent mate.”

With this said, she turned and walked back to the other side of the room, haughty and arrogantly scornful. But as fast as her anger had risen, she quelled it. At least outwardly her demeanor shifted to one of cold detachment. While Mariska’s father stood cowed once more, the teen wanted to tear the Elder’s eyes out. She was treating him like some kind of animal, only good for breeding! What was wrong with this woman, this… this… Several curse words came to mind, but none of them perfect enough to express Mariska’s indignant disgust.

“His weakness ended up his greatest strength in the end, and we hope to breed that into the bloodline. Seeing that you share this same -” The old woman waved a hand back in forth in a dismissive gesture as she spoke, a slight pause highlighted her unimpressed feelings. “- quirk… of character, well, we figured you'd be at least a good brood-keeper.”

Mariska saw her father's eyes narrow, but he kept his peace. She was baffled. Quirk? What quirk? Brood-keeper? Bloodline? Oh no… that sounded like arranged marriages!

“As it is, the only reason we haven't replaced you is because you've done an admirable job so far. Denise will be pleased to know this, I'm sure. However, your production rate is lower then expected. That needs to be corrected and soon. There should have been at least three more children.” The Elder crossed her arms over her chest and looked down her nose at Mariska’s father. He paled.

Mariska's mind reeled. Replaced?! But… Arranged marriages were something from the past, especially here in the U.S. However, this treatment was far worse. He was a thinking, feeling, human being, and not just some stud paired up with a mate to produce the best offspring! A sick feeling rose inside of her gut. If her parent’s marriage was arranged… Then wouldn’t her siblings… and… Oh No. She would… No. Just no.

“I understand,” a false sense of kindness and lackluster compassion grated on both Mariska's and her father's nerves, and they both flinched slightly, “that you have some minor performance issues. That your emotions get in the way and cause you to falter.”

He blushed bright red, his fists bunched until white showed on his knuckles. Mariska took a moment to realize what was meant, and she flushed with her own mixed embarrassment. This time he took a step forward towards the Elder, then thought better of it. The Elder looked at him a bit amused. She wasn’t as upset before, because she baited him with that line. It was painfully obvious to Mariska that she was toying with him now. His breathing was ragged and angry as he struggled to control his temper.

“It's no business of mine if you love her or not.” Again that false, almost sarcastic sweetness to her tone grated. Her father slowly forced himself to take a step back, distancing himself from the Elder. Mariska clutched at the fabric of her nightgown by her knees. Her mind drew back at the thought that her parents maybe didn't love each other, even as anger raged in her own heart. She had hoped that maybe, just maybe, there was something more between her parents. There had to be some reason why her father stayed on and kept suffering. Something worthwhile had to exist, didn’t it, to make sense of everything? Right?

“But, if you cannot perform your duties as her mate, it becomes a concern of the Clan. So...” A sly smile spread across the Elder's features. “A favor for a favor?”

Mariska gaped. Her father paled again. The Elder grinned with a feral intent. That… piece of… She set him up!

The Elder and her father locked eyes and stared hard at each other. The Elder continued to grin while her father frowned in anger. The battle of wills lasted about a minute or so, during which the Elder's grin broadened as a look of horror bloomed across her dad's features. The Elder’s grin was like that of a Cheshire Cat. Her dad shook his head ‘No’. The Elder shrugged and looked on as if her trade of favors were the only way out of this mess.

Some kind of understanding passed between them. Mariska wasn’t sure what this “favor” might be, but she saw the struggle in her dad’s eye. Then he broke first and looked to the floor crossing his arms over his chest.

“If it is what I think you want,” His voice was tight, hurt, angry, embarrassed.

“It’s for the good of the Clan and it’s bloodlines. You do understand?” Silky, sweet, and false, the Elder’s voice purred over those words.

“I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand. If it means that I get to stay here…” He wouldn’t look at the Elder now. He turned to face the fireplace instead.

“Good!” The Elder bubbled with enthusiasm. “I’m sure you’ll make the right arrangements? He doesn’t have to live here but, they’d need a room to themselves.”

“Yes.” He stated flatly. Then added with a worried tone in his voice, “is it someone I know?”

Mariska was floored. She glanced between the Elder and her father. He overwhelmed mind finally caught up with the conversation. Her mother was getting a new… partner. In exchange her father could stay on to care for his kids. She suddenly felt her gut tremble and roll. Bile rose in her throat. She couldn’t listen to anymore.

Mariska crept backwards down the hallway, mindful of the floorboards. With quick glances behind her now and again took care not to be caught now. Even with Plausible deny-ability on her side, the thought of facing down that Elder brought murderous thoughts to the surface. She picked up other snippets of the continued conversation, but ignored them. She wanted to help her dad, extract him from that terrible confrontation. But, she was at a loss.

Carefully she pushed back into her room and shut the door as far as it would go without the latch clicking into place. Then back into bed with a delicate touch so the bed barely creaked. She strained to hear the conversation, but it had stopped. A bubble of anxiety rose, but she was too overwhelmed to care if she got caught now. She just wanted to go back to sleep and forget this whole night.

Her stomach rolled again, bubbled, and threatened to push up the remnants of dinner. She laid as still as possible and struggled to keep from vomiting. Then a thought occurred to her. She could use being sick as a ruse to break the conversation and hopefully rescue her dad.

She started to get up from bed more obviously this time, when footsteps sounded in the hallway. She hesitated, her stomach churned. Then determined to continue she got up and walked back towards her door. A tired-sleepy facade added to her already ‘I’m going to be sick’ look was painted across her face. As she reached for the door calling out to her father, it was pushed open. She startled.

The Elder stood there with a strange look on her face. Mariska stood transfixed. Behind the Elder her father stood on tip-toes to see past the imposing shoulders.

“What is your favorite animal, child?” The question startled the teen, and all pretense dropped away to nothing. A powerful presence, like some kind of aura, emanated from the old woman. She felt compelled to answer.

“Ah… Wolves, and ravens.” The old woman seemed very pleased at this answer. Mariska quirked her left eyebrow.

“What time of day do you prefer?” Suddenly light-headed, a sense of surreality filtered in past her nausea. What was going on here? What did this nutty old bat want to know about her favorite time of day?

“Well, child? I don't like asking questions twice, it's unseemly.” Why was she being interrogated? Mariska pulled back as she frowned at the Elder. Her confusion and discomfort plain onf her face.

“Uh, uhmn…. Night.” The old woman's smile spread widen and a soft gleam seemed to light inside her eyes. What ever Mariska said apparently was the right thing. The woman stepped farther into the room and forced Mariska to retreat. A mix of horror and a sense of invasion made the hairs along her neck, spine, and arms prickle.

“Favorite Color?” Mariska blinked. The woman snapped her fingers and waved a hand to hurry the answers. Mariska took another step back and her frown deepened.

“Purple.” Mariska’s answer elicited a wider smile from the Elder.

“Food?” Food, food?! What was this? The Elder raised both eyebrows as if the answer to her questions was both important and interesting. She was insane! Mariska didn't hesitate as long this time.

“Steak, rare.” Mariska’s stomach lurched at the thought of food, even as she said it. The Elder’s gaze now swept over Mariska’s bedroom and ignored the teen’s discomfort. Her eyes landed on the bookshelf filled with books of various shapes and sizes.

“Books?” The question was touched with real curiosity, as if this woman actually cared.Books?! Mariska's mind couldn't fathom what was happening. The comparison between what Mariska saw before of this woman and how she acted now was so confusing. But Mariaka’s answer came faster now, more rapid fire.

“All kinds, especially histories.”

“Really?” The Elder turned her attention back on Mariska. She seemed pleased and throughly fascinated. “What kind of histories?”

“Uhmn… Old histories, battle tactics, Machiavelli’s the Prince is a current read though it's a bit dry. Uhmn.. I'm also reading Shakespeare too for English class.”

“But that’s not a History.”

It was a question wrapped as a comment. Her teachers used that tactic. Mariska smirked. “No, but it does give insight into the society of the time period in a way strict historical accounts don’t.”

“Fascinating, no tech?”

Mariska shook her head. She was about done with this interrogation. “I have some computer classes in school, but it's not that interesting.”

“Ever notice strange things that cannot be explained?”

Mariska tilted her head to one side and stared at the woman. Her sarcasm burst out before she could control it. “You mean like having some nutty old woman walk into my bedroom in the middle of the night and start popping off questions at me? That’s pretty strange.”

She heard her dad gasp behind the nut-job “Elder”. The Elder stared at her long and hard, as if trying to decide how she felt about that answer. She took a deep breath, cleared her throat, and just smiled. It was that Cheshire Cat look again!

The smile of the old woman’s face broadened as she spoke. “What do you dream?”

Mariska put her fisted hands on her hips and glared at the woman. Dreams?! She stammered in frustration. “I… I don't remember my dreams.”

The old woman frowned at this response, looked thoughtful, then gave a curt nod to herself. “I'll fix that shortly. Dreams are powerful things. They can show us paths and wisdom we normally wouldn't see or understand when awake.”

Mariska pulled back, turning her face away to look over the Elder's shoulder. She spotted her father. Concern was etched in his staring beading eyes. He ever so slightly shook his head “no” and motioned with his well manicured hands for Mariska to pay attention to the Elder. She raised her other eyebrow, then looked back at the Elder.

“One last question… Have you bled yet?” That was her limit. Embarrassed and enraged Mariska rose up to her full height and looked the old woman deep in the eyes. Her fists clenched into tight balls, shoulders rounded and she rose to her toes. A deep, low growling answer rose from Mariska's throat. The Elder seemed a bit shocked, then thoughtful, then interested as the teen spoke up in a rush of angry emotions.

“I'll have you know that is no business of anyone's but my parents. That is an extremely personal question. I don't even know who you are, why you are here, or why you are in my family home.” It was all Mariska could do to keep her tongue civil and not revert to very foul language. Her father cringed in the background, and watched the Elder's back as if she were some kind of viper.

“Well,” the Elder seemed amused and not insulted, “I am a Clan Elder of your bloodline child. Although you don't understand what that means now, you will. You will. Soon enough you will. When you do, you shall also know my names and titles, what they mean, and why you must heed them. Until then, whelp...”

The Elder left a sputtering Mariska to stew. She turned towards Mariska’s father. “Well? Has she?”

With a sad look in his eyes, he nodded once then added, “Just last month. Middle of the month… Uhmn, under the crescent moon I believe. I’d have to check the,” he glanced to a horrified Mariska and gave her a wane, appologetic smile,” the uh… the family calendar.”

“Dad!” Mariska's horror and embarrassment grew. She felt a little bit betrayed. That was personal and private information. It was bad enough that she had to go to her father in the first place when it happened, since her so-called mom was out on some business at the time. But then, he kept track of it?! On a calendar?! What was this nonsense about a moon-phase?! His words and actions confounded the teen.

She looked back a the woman. Who in the world was this nutty old bat?! Why was she so important that her father treated her like royalty in their house?! And share private information with her?!

The Elder seemed inordinately pleased and didn't notice the Mariska’s outburst. Her father on the other hand flinched. Considering the conversation he had with this Elder, she understood he was sensitive. But the look in his eyes spoke of something else. Somewhere at some point during the conversation in her room, something had significantly changed. She wasn’t sure what changed, but he seemed fearful of her now too. He feared his own daughter? Denial. How could her fear her?

Mariska settled, now more concerned by her father's reactions and stared at him in confusion. He looked at her with a touch of sadness, a hint of an apology, and… fear. Yes, she was sure of it now. He feared her. Before Mariska could ask, move, or respond, the Elder turned with a swift motion, put one finger to the middle of Mariska's forehead, and then all was dark.

The Next Morning

Her father came and woke her the next morning. It was still early and her body felt beat up. He looked tired. He smiled, but the brightness of it was faded as if forced himself to smile. It was wane, and false.

He sat on the foot of her bed with a small box in his hands. She propped herself up and then rubbed her eyes. Mariska was slightly confused and bleary-eyed. Half-remembered images swam in her mind. Last night was a blur, the memories faded into the dream-scapes, mixed with them, and became somewhat forgotten. She frowned. Was it all just a dream?

Without a word he handed her the box. Her eyes flickered between the box and him, then she took it. Slowly she opened it and looked inside. A soft-colored moonstone sat in a cage of silvery wire. It was attached to a thong of braided black leather. He reached into the box, took the necklace out, and put it over her head.

“Wear it always. It will save your life.” With that he rose and left her room before she was able to respond. She stared after him, silent, curious, and worried. What did it all mean?
Droole

Dove' s Blood: Book of Names Part 2

Time for research...

---

(Describe walking up Ben Franklin Bad. The fountain. Its significance. Crossing over to the street the library sits. Walking up the stairs. And into the building. )
(note need a travel scene - push plot more - have her talk to an important secondary character)

Mariska briskly walked through Center City scowling with frustration. Today just didn't want to work in her favor at all. Out of the five main modes of public transportation, she wasn't sure which she hated more - the bus, rail line, high-speed line, taxis, or the subway. The rail line was normally ok, but occasionally wackos found their way onto the train. Thankfully they left her alone, even if they made trouble for the other passengers. Ever since she Bonded, the wolf was near enough to the surface that most of those not (of the people) stayed away from her. Sheep feared predators, and most people in the city were sheep or sheep in wolf's clothing.

She reached Logan Square, where in the center stood the Swan Memorial fountain. It was gorgeous. The circular fountain took up most of the "square" that sat at the about the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It was more of a traffic circle with a massive fountain in the center of it. The statues inside the fountain were green from the water and weather. Just inside the outer rim, sitting within the fountain's main pool, were smaller, large-dog-sized sculptures of alternating frogs and turtles. They faced the middle of the fountain and spewed long arcs of water from their mouths. Three Native American figures, a man, woman, and girl, faced outward as they lounged up the center "steps" within the fountain's center. The woman and girl each held onto a swan that spewed water from their mouths, outward and into the fountain's main pool. The man held a fish, Mariska always imagined it was a trout, that also spewed water from it's mouth. At the center a huge plume of water geysered straight up about 2 or three stories, when compared to the buildings nearby.

Seeing it lifted her mood a little bit and a smile graced her features. She paused for a moment and admired it. Children, teens and adults were playing in it as they always did in the Summer. The trees swayed in the light breeze. The flowers bloomed in the beds around the outer circle that separated the sidewalk from the square's main area. She spotted a bum under a bush and snorted in disgust. Her reverie shattered, she continued to the library on Vine Street with a quick step.

The library was just as impressive but imposing. It's age and style of architecture gave it a lofty and noble air as if it looked down upon all who approached it. The sign outside said it was designed in the "Beaux-Arts style", but as Mariska looked she couldn't tell the style apart from images of old Roman buildings. She wasn't here for the looks. She shrugged her messenger bag higher up on her shoulder and entered the building. Her footsteps echoed in the main entrance as she walked through the gated doors. A guard at the entrance greeted her. (Need more research on this - I can't remember.)

(Need to know the rules about the old books and such).
(She gets a clue as to where the book is.... in Transylvania... or was)
(She runs into one of her Clan Elders who doesn't normally care about books in general.)
(He ends up helping her retrieve the book later on.)

Mariska clutched her notes to herself in a death grip. The skin on her knuckles paled with the strength of her grip. She raised her left eyebrow as she listened to his words. Something about them was off. The fact he was in here in the first place, let alone in the rare books department, deepened her suspicions. Was he one of the spies or was this just coincidence?

"I need to go, I have more research to do for a haunting near South Street." It wasn't a lie. Well, it wasn't exactly the truth either. She wasn't here for a haunting, but she didn't say that specifically either. Plausible deniability at its finest. He frowned.

(+ 605)
Droole

Dove's Blood

Not happy with how I started. I worked hard on the back end and now I'm wondering. I'm going to take a random prop, some music and just write a scene. Screw strict outlines. I have my core concept and ending point in mind, I just need to find a starting point and get there.

Hrmmn..

Looking over the Kindle book I grabbed titled "150 Prompts for Fantasy Writers" by Elizabeth Huff an old memory was triggered of an story-line I had in mind for this. Finding a book of names. A magical item that recorded the history of a given bloodline over centuries. The trials she had to go through to retrieve a selection of mystical items.... This would fit well into the "epic" feel of the end point I have in mind. So I have part of the middle.

So on to the book of names.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was mid-afternoon and the bright rays of the summer sun filtered through the curtains in the house. It painted the walls and carpet with a cheerful yellow-white tint that Mariska did not feel. Motes of dust sparkled and flickered as they past through the beams of light. She silently watched them, her mood contemplative and a bit sour. She rested her chin in her left hand. Her left elbow propped up on the arm of the chair in which she sat. The only sounds in the house were that of her breathing, the tick of the clock in her kitchen, and the soft sounds of traffic on the road in front of her home. An eery quietude reigned over her mind. No emotions, no burdens and no worries bothered her conscious thoughts, but her subconscious roiled in the darkness within the back of her mind.

She closed her eyes and focused on the tick of the clock. Mariska listened to the ticking's soft, unique sound without counting them. Normally in such a state of mind, she might count them to distract herself from the emotional response. Not this time. This time she just listened to the slightly crunchy texture the gears made when they shifted to mark the seconds. Eventually and with a slow, measured, repeated cycle of breath, the disquiet in her subconscious also calmed. Her heart beat slowed a little bit more, as if to match the ticking. She sighed and shifted her weight in the chair.

Today was not a good day for strange things. There were initiates to train, animal bond-mates to find, reports to give to the Elders, and... The disquiet crept back into her mind. She opened her eyes again and re-focused just on the light streaming in through the curtains. She watched how it changed the color of everything it touched.

Calm. She must remain calm. The only way to discover what happened earlier that morning was to remain calm. It was a mantra that ran through her mind several times before she readjusted her position in her chair again. A frown creased her forehead. Fidgeting was an outward sign of her discomfort and she knew it. A heavy sigh escaped her tightly pressed lips with a purring-pop. The lack of self-control was even more aggravating.

It wasn't the first time strange things happened. The reminder helped sooth her nerves. Also, it wasn't the first time strange things happened to her. It was part of the job description, part of her role as (spirit-speaker), and something that followed her like a dark cloud all of her life. She moved her left hand away from her chin and looked at her palm. There on the heel was the odd mark that baffled even the most wise Elder. It was silvery like a stretch mark instead of dark like a normal birthmark and it glowed during the full moon. Marked. Of course strange things happened to her, and quiet often. She was marked by the moon Herself.

'Huh.' She huffed to herself, then leaned her chin back into her hand. Lines formed around her eyes and mouth. Worry wormed into her heart. Sure, strange things happened to her, but... It was very rare that strange things happened to her and she had little to no memory of them occurring.

She looked down at the paper in her right hand. It was a simple thing of unlined parchment. On it was written a note with a list of items. The words were in her own, long-lettered, graceful, script-like handwriting she normally used when writing a letter. There was nothing rushed about it either, which unsettled her even more. Mariska shook her head.  It was obvious she was the author, however doubt clouded her judgement. There was a memory, but yet not a memory - maybe. It didn't seem real.  There was a soft, opaque, fuzzy quality to it, as if she wrote the note during some kind of trance. Even so, the memory was far less trance-like and much more dream-like. It was fragmented, and even as she mused over it the pieces faded away - forgotten. That was more unnerving and made this memory even more dream-like. People forgot their dreams a lot fast and more readily then other memories. But, if it were a dream then why did the note exist?

The skin on the back of her neck prickled and tingled. Then, a chill ran down her spine. Her whole morning was missing, she had woken up on her couch with an open book laid across her belly. She discovered the list laid out on the table, but there was no memory of how it got there. In fact, she didn't know why or when it was written, nor when or if she fell into a trance - if it were a trance. She did not find her supplies in disarray either, as might be expected when trying to find writing tools while in a trance-like state.

More disturbing, there were no memories of waking up this morning either. She remembered going to sleep, and that was it.</div>
Bothered by these thoughts, her gaze lifted back to the dancing dust motes. Avoidance was never an answer to seemingly unanswerable questions, but it helped her to keep calm while her subconscious puzzled things out on it's own. At least it normally helped, however her instincts pushed at her. She was wasting her time. Something foul loomed over the land and she needed to be quick to stop it. But, why her?

The paper in her right hand carried a psychological weight, as if it grew heavier and heavier while her thoughts grew darker. It felt so heavy. She lowered her hand into her lap. Again her attention was drawn back to the note and list. She stared at it for a while longer without reading it. With another soft sigh, she sat up straighter, leaned forward, and forced herself to examine it more closely.

'There is a great evil building in the world. Choirs have gone silent and reality quivers at the loss.'

Rumors among the other Clans suggested some kind of disturbance within their Choirs, but she had dismissed them. The Choirs were sensitive to Dissonance, and were often offended at something or another. Sometimes under-educated human "New-Age" witches and such disrupted the energies. It happened. Now... maybe these disturbances meant something more if this line were true. The hairs on the back of her neck and arms rose.

If the Choirs were going silent, that would be disastrous for all of reality. It was their Songs that shaped physical reality and kept the souls of all living things empowered with life. If the Songs stopped, that would cause a disruption of the Harmonies. If that happened, the One Song would... destabilize. She shivered and read the next line with a bit more trepidation.

'To find the Key and close the Gates so that-which-should-not-be is trapped within the Sepirot, I must find these items:

  • book of names

  • black-bladed sword

  • ring of hematite

  • disk of obsidian

  • black cloak of an ancient assassin

  • the crown of thorns



'Beware the territories you cross. Some are lost, some are lost but found, and others are in plain sight.'

It sounded like her, especially when she had initiates to train. A wry smile tweaked the corners of her mouth. Now she knew what her students felt when she gave them cryptic answers to their questions. She did that with them so they would think for themselves. If she gave them all the answers, they'd only learn by rote and that was not always the best way to teach. But why would she do that to herself?

She skimmed the list two more times, trying to decipher the items. Only one of these items was familiar, but she knew better then assume that the "crown of thorns" was the same crown from Christian teachings. It could be, many reliquaries held imbued items of significant power. Religious artifacts often pulsed with energy. They were permeated by the power of belief from the people. The more others believed in an item of power, the more power it contained. Some ancient items from long lost cultures, that once were hailed by the whole population, pulsed with a life of their own. However, most of these did not have the same kind of power that spiritually-imbued items did.

Were these religious artifacts, were they talismans like the ones her people used, or could they be something else? She wasn't entirely sure, but her instinct told her that what ever they were, they were very powerful if they could lock something dangerous into the Sepirot. After a moment of further consideration, she read the rest of the note. The next line below the list of items left her feeling cold, uncertain, and very confused.

'Do not directly ask the Elders, there are spies among them.'

Why? What spies? Or maybe.. what kind of spies? The more she thought about this the more her gut twisted. If there was something out there with such power and destructive ability, that the only way to stop it was by binding it to the Sepirot - who among the Elders would want to stop it? Unless... No. Even the most asinine, selfish, status-blind moron within her Clan wouldn't put the whole of reality beneath their need to rise in rank.

Plus, to further bury that thought, the Elders already held the highest status. There was no one leader, nor an Eldest of the Elders. They ruled as a Council. So what would be achieved? She thought about it, her gaze moved back to the top of the note. Silent Choirs... That-which-should-not-be... Spies within the ranks of the Elders...

Mariska startled. There was a group that aided whatever this thing was to silence the Choirs. Someone or someones within the ranks of the Elders knew and was spying for either it or this group. That was the only answer. Mariska's heart fluttered and dropped to her stomach. Oh no.

Sickness rose up inside of her. She tasted bile in her mouth. Quickly she looked over the rest of the note, both angered and afraid of what she might discover.

'Do not directly ask the spirits, they will not help me if they know about my search.'

Of course it was something spiritual, if the Choirs were going silent. The pieces finally fit. She was warning herself. How she managed this, she'd find out later. Right now the warning was very clear. Trust no-one, get the items, bind the thing into the Sepirot to stop the madness. Save the world? She raised her left eyebrow. She was supposed to save the world?

Right. The whole situation came across as some weird joke. Fraught with mystery, intrigue, and hidden treasures, this felt like some kind of fictional, fantastic, adventure. It rankled and made her stomach churn in response. Her eyes moved slowly as she re-read the list of items again, the words stark black against the white paper as if they were alive and leered at her. How was she supposed to save the world?

A sneer of disgusted disbelief spread across her face as she lifted her left index finger to brush lightly at her lips. Her thumb was tucked neatly under her chin. She tapped at her lips with her finger as she mused silently, deep in thought. It was one of the few nervous habits she kept after years of recognizing and reigning in the others.

As her mind wandered, she continued to tip-tap her finger against her lips. She glanced down from the paper to her finger. Managing the outward reactions of the body took years of patient study and practice. It was essential to her role. Showing weakness of any kind let others manipulate, use, and control her. If beings of the flesh could do this, she was then a very easy target for the beings of the Sepirot. Her finger paused. The Sepirot. Spirit beings. Being manipulated. Oh god... the trance...
Her eyes widened. That's what happened! That's why her memories were faded and strange. She had been possessed!
She shot up out of her chair and paced around her living room. The note crumpled width-wise as she made a fist. It was the only clear answer, but by who or what she wasn't certain. She cursed in four different languages, in a long string of jumbled words.

Approaching the Elders with the list wasn't allowed, the warning was clear enough on that point. There were an unknown spies within the Clan. If she couldn't speak to the Elders, could she speak to the Clan (scholars)? No. At least, not until she had more information to bring with her so that her questions were more curious than probing.

Perhaps if she meditated on and prayed to the Sepirot for guidance... No. That was equally as dangerous. Even if she didn't ask directly, the language of the spirits realms didn't allow for much subterfuge. They would know why she was asking for guidance. She didn't know what the "that-which-should-not-be" really was, although she believed there was a better chance that it was a being of the Sepirot.

Wrinkles appeared on her forehead as her concern and frustration deepened. There was no easy path, no simple answer, and time was not on her side. A growl issued from her chest. Something in the back of her mind twisted. The she-wolf reached up and out with a wave of protectiveness preceding it. She felt the hairs on her body begin to rise and lengthen.

No. She stopped pacing, her breathing was heavy. Not now, not here. She soothed the she-wolf. Mariska closed her eyes slowly and counted to twenty. Her pulse still raced, but she was more calm now. She needed to think.

What she needed was information. She knew very little about the items other then a short list that barely described them. What other path was there? Where should she begin her search?

As her eyes opened, they focused on the bookshelf next to her bedroom door. With a jolt of inspiration she grinned with feral joy. The Library! Philadelphia boasted one of the oldest libraries in the United states, with the number one oldest library right across the river in New Jersey. One of the items was a book after all, so why not start there?

Mariska jumped up towards her bedroom to grab her messenger bag, her long, dark hair trailing loosely behind her. Her new found energy restored her motivation and she moved quickly through her house to gather certain items she wanted to take with her. A small camera, notebook, pens and pencils, a handful of loose-leaf unlined paper, her tarot cards, pouch of imbued stones, dowsing pendulum of white gold, and pocket magnifying glass went into her small-ish dark brown leather messenger bag. Then with a skip in her step, Mariska locked the door behind her as she headed for the heart of the city.

(+1,495)
(+1,066) (edits)
Droole

Dove's Blood: Initiation (WIP)

Character notes:
Born March 3rd 1986 (30yrs old)
Current Story line date 2016

NOTE: Words in parentheses are placeholders for specific langue words that still needs to be crafted.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Testing is complete, Elders." Mariska words were succinct and her tone clipped. The clipboard in her hand tilted down as her eyes turned to view the gathering of Elders who stood in her kitchen.

Three men and three women, whose ages ranged from early 40's to late 60's, were dressed in business casual, sipped at their glasses of red wine, and gazed at the nine initiates at Mariska's feet. The teenage initiates knelt, blindfolded and dressed in thin white robes, on the floor of Mariska's home at her feet. Their backs toward the Elders, they faced the fire place in her living room. All of them shifted uncomfortably and stirred the soft scent of freshly washed hair into the air. The soft lavender and mint smells tickled Mariska's nose. It took a wealth of willpower not to twitch or rub it, instead she brushed her long, straight, loose black hair behind her right ear with the pen she held. With a short jab she stuck the pen behind her ear and trapped the errant locks in place.

Mariska's wary gaze flicked from face to face, as she judged the individual Elders' reactions as she continued to speak.

"These nine have the right genetics. The Elder of our (healer caste) sent me the reports two nights ago. They Harmonize with the Songs of their family lines very well." Mariska noticed the Elders all seemed very please with this. Her own confidence in this selection of youths bloomed ever more. If the Elders were pleased, that would bring Clan Harmony. Harmony within the Clan brought better results during the Bonding.

"Although," she continued unabated, "Lynda's Song melds with several Choirs, and the spirits have an intense interest in her."

There it was, a subtle stirring. Three of the Elders, including Lynda's Great Aunt, looked concerned. The other three seemed shocked, as if they thought this young teen wouldn't amount to much. Lynda was sickly, and always seemed in poor health. It was a miracle she survived to puberty. Mariska raised her chin, tilted her head slightly sideways, and looked down her nose at the initiates. The clipboard lifted once more and she flipped through the pages attached under it's clip with deft fingers.

"Four of them know some of our ways." Even as the Elders murmured in discontent at this news, Mariska continued as if she heard nothing. Instead she filed away which of the voices were strongest and more angry.

"This is a breach of etiquette, of course, in keeping (the Silence). However," Mariska paused and looked for the owner of the one voice that spoke the loudest. She made sure their eyes met and held so her next point was understood. Elder or not, these nine held the most promise and she didn't want to see their families unnecessarily punished. If the initiates were able to Bond, those particular bloodlines needed to stay intact.

"It seems this was due to an innate and powerful curiosity on their part." Again she paused with her eyes still fixed in a locked stare with the Elder. With a faked a deep sigh to let that fact sink in, then looked back to her clipboard. "I do not recommend punishment for their families."

As much power as the Elders carried, Mariska was the Clan's current (spirit speaker) in this city. These teenagers were from this city's packs, and she knew the city's Song the best. Her words carried almost as much weight as theirs. Still, she maneuvered carefully as she could be replaced if she caused too much Disharmony by acting above her status.

"Instead," she continued, again as if she didn't hear the mutterings, "the children should be sent for formal training as spies. They carry a mark of (shadow and secrets) within their Songs."

More stirrings and muttered angry whispers.

"We have three hawks, a dog, a bear, and four wolf songs among these nine." The murmurs stilled in shocked surprise at Mariska's announcement.

"Are you sure?" Mariska looked up to identify the speaker. It was Madeline, Lynda's Great Aunt.

"Yes. Their Songs were clear and precise. I am pleased to say this batch were well bred." The compliment was purposefully timed, and the looks on the Elder's face was perfect. They preened, calmed and were now less agitated. It was due to the Elders efforts inf plotting the bloodline pairings that allowed this to happen. As much as she personally hated the match making process, and didn't want to bother with children of her own, she knew it would be her time soon enough. With current forays into the Sepirot, she wasn't the best candidate for matching. There was too much of a chance of an unborn child absorbing too much Flux. The demands of her position due to the current unrest within the (spirit wilds/Flux pathways/Flux) left her un-match-able. She was glad of it.

"I have one request, though. I would take Lynda on as my apprentice, if it would please the Elders."

The Elders all scowled. Mariska knew it was a stretch to even ask, but she sensed such potential in Lynda. Normally such assignments were not given until after the Bonding ritual. Sometimes bad things happened during the ritual and the Bond wasn't made. Worse, sometimes the initiate went (Wild).

"You're out of order Mariska'el." Dirk Reinhart narrowed his eyes as he spoke. "You know castes are not a given, until the moon waxes full. Only then are their signs known."

Mariska bowed towards the Elder, "Of Course, Elder. But while I waited for the genetic tests, the moon did wax full. Look out the window, then come and see their foreheads if you do not believe me."

All the Elders startled then, as Dirk spun towards her kitchen window and gazed out at the full moon. There was a rush, as all of the Elders quickly approached the initiates to look at their brows. Each of the initiates foreheads were marked by a softly glowing sigil. Around their necks hung a moonstone with an animal silhouette on it. Mariska walked around behind them, so the Elder could see unimpeded. As she then walked down the line of teenagers, Mariska gave voice to them given names.

"Duncan, John, Dimtru," Mariska named the three boys with hawks on their moonstones. They were marked as (warrior caste). With fair skin and a range of blond haired, they seemed light boned and rangy.

"Marilynn," was the next named. Her moonstone displayed a bear and her forehead sigil marked her as a guardian.

The next teen's moonstone showed the mark of the dog and no his forehead was the sigil for healer. Marisk smirked as she gave his name, "Shawn. He's an extra sneaky one."

Mariska then moved behind the last four youths whose moonstones were marked with wolves. She named each in turn, "Lynda, Faith, Justin, David." Lynda's forehead was marked with the sigil for (spirit-speaker caste). Faith and Justin both had the sigils for (warrior caste). David's sigil made the gathered Elders gasp. He held the (assassin caste) sigil, which was rare and not well received.

"David has already lived up to his caste. He tried to poison me yesterday while making lunch." Mariska said this with a wry grin as David chuckled. "He forgot the most important lesson of the (spirit speaker caste)'s abilities. I can hear the songs in things."

"But the sigils... they aren't supposed to show unless..." Madeline looked shocked, her eyes searched Mariska's face for answers. She was also (spirit speaker caste), but knew far more then Mariska did. Where the older Elders looked on in dismay and confusion, Madeline's face carried a deep worry.

"They aren't supposed to show until after the bonding, yes I know. However, as you can see they are showing." Mariska trailed off as Madeline's breath hitched.

"Heralds? Of what?" Madeline's question floated in the air unanswered. The other Elders were suddenly tense and stared at the elder (spirit speaker).

"I do not know, Elder. But, I do know I received word from three other cities. They have Heralds as well."

"What is this... Herald?" Dirk looked perplexed as he spoke.

Madeline turned towards the others and explained. Her words wavered as she spoke. "Heralds were the spirits way of warning the physical realm of something big. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good. For example, Heralds were seen in Germany before the rise of Hitler. It was later discovered they were there to protect the bloodlines. Others were seen before the second coming of the Scions. Those Heralds were seen world-wide but not all of them were of age."

"What do you mean... not of age?" Dirk was more agitated now.

"What she means, Elder," Mariska interjected softly, "Is that during the second coming of the Scions, the spirits didn't have time to warn us properly. So they marked infants, unborn children, as well as new initiates."