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!
PrologueCome 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.
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!
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 MorningHer 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?