Monday, April 23, 2012

Servant of Sana - Part I

The forest had fallen silent, the stillness broken only by the soft squish of wet moss under Vret’s paws. He lowered his snout down to a root; dots of red stained its rough surface. The scent of blood filled his mouth with saliva, but he swallowed and snorted the smell out of his nose. He had to keep the wolf’s instincts at bay.
Vret walked onwards, following the smell and the dots of blood. Behind him the other hunters followed, Bhair trailing right on his heels. The others had forms bigger and stronger than his; even Bhair’s hunting form, a fellow wolf, stood taller than him. Luckily his wolf form had the best nose, otherwise he would’ve been useless.
“Vret, stop.” Bhair walked next to Vret, fur bristling, ears flat. “The deer’s headed for a cursed place.”
Another hunting party had passed the area months ago and noticed the change. The feel of the woods was wrong: the wind died there, animals were quiet, and a foul stench wafted through the air.
One of the trees surrounding a little clearing now housed a demon. A summoner who served the God of Death Vixi had stamped the being there, a trap for powerful shapeshifters. But Vret wasn’t powerful.
“The demon won’t bother with me.” He broke into a run before they could stop him. Broken branches and faint tracks led him on a winding trail. The deer had faltered; he’d find it lying down soon. Then he could finish the animal and drag it back.
Silence deepened around him. The smell of rot mixed with and soon overpowered the scent he followed. Vret stopped, the green streak of fur on his back bristling. The deer had bed near a willow in the clearing that opened before him. Its sides were still, the fur matted with dark blood, a gloss had slid over its dark eyes.
Though an eerie feel permeated the clearing, nothing outright threatened him. Vret slunk nearer to the dead deer. Ears perked up, muscles tense he waited for a sign of the demon.
A rustle caught his attention. Vret froze. He drew breath, ready to call to the others, but the howl died; they wouldn’t step anywhere near the clearing.
Suddenly a bear ran from the bushes. Its eyes darted between Vret and the carcass. Vret sought the few words of bear he knew, but found only insults. Calling the bear a stumpy clawed flatfoot would only anger the animal.
The bear rose, a throaty roar bursting from its maw. Vret stood still. He looked at the deer, and then at the bear. The kill belonged to him. A growl rumbled in his throat; hackles raised he spoke to the insolent animal.
The bear lunged forwards. Its round taloned paw arched through the air and struck Vret’s shoulder. He staggered back, tail between his legs, head held low. The bear attacked again, striking the side of his head. The edge of his sight blurred, and he stumbled backwards. A piece of moss slid loose beneath Vret’s foot, causing him to tumble onto his side.
Carrion breath filled the air, teeth pressed against his neck. He let out a whine, a plea of mercy. The bear’s jaws snapped shut. Vret fell limp and slid over the roots of a pine.
The bear sniffed his face for a moment, but soon lost interest. It lumbered over to the deer carcass and began dragging it into the woods.
Vret drew a wheezing breath. He yelped as the bones in his neck began dragging into place. His magic healed him, but too slowly. Blood trickled down his face and neck; with each beat of his heart his magic and strength fled. As his magic faded, his body reverted back to his true form. Fur slid beneath pink skin, claws softened into fingers, and jaws shrank back into a human mouth.
Vret closed his eyes. He looked inwards into a time when Enna still lived. He’d lost the scent of a boar and tracked her instead; she’d burst out laughing when he told her. Later at the village she’d sought him out.
Vret gritted his teeth as the pain of losing her mingled with the pain of dying. Tears ran down his cheeks, disappearing into the blood. He drew another rasping breath, hoping it would be his last.

A movement caught Vret’s eye, but turning his head hurt too much. Coarse hands cupped his jaw. Elongated fingers webbed over his face and lifted it upwards. A blunt snout split into a toothless smile. Above thick bark-like skin stretched where the demon’s eyes should have been. A needled, dark-green mane ran along its back to the pine trunk where the demon still connected to the tree.
I am Sana. I can heal you… if you become mine. The words caressed his fading mind. His wounds began to knit shut, and the pain eased for a moment.
Survival, within his reach.
“No.” He spoke the words quickly, the answer he had been taught to give. Doubt circled his mind; demons made shapeshifters stronger, but enslaved their victims, slowly corrupting their nature. “I won’t betray my kin.”
I can wait for another one to wander here, but you… The demon twisted Vret's head, sending pain running along his neck. Its fingers held his mouth shut, muffling his scream. You will die. I can make you powerful. I can help you aid your kin.
He then saw his village, the small buildings, children darting between them, changing their form midrun to climb to a roof. One of the children disappeared amidst the trees. The vision followed the child as she jumped over roots and stones. Midjump she changed into a fox. Her tiny feet sent up puffs of dust as she shook off her clothes and darted onwards.
The little girl led Vret’s thoughts to his daughter, a talented shapeshifter unlike her father. Inis would be alone as well as his son Deri. Reet and her partner would care for them, but—
A shrill barking jolted him back to the demon’s vision. The child had backed against a rock, wolves surrounded her. Hackles raised they drew nearer to the child who pressed against the stone.
See what you could do with my help.
A roar drowned the shapeshifter child’s urgent calls for help. Branches parted as a monster emerged. Its skin bore resemblance to the scaly bark of a pine, and a dark green mane of needles ran down its back and along a thick tail.
The monster sprung forwards and grabbed a wolf with its elongated claws. The creature’s green eyes glinted with delight as its hand grasped the squirming and whining wolf. Slowly it tore the screaming animal in two.
The other wolves had fled. The shapeshifter child stood frozen for a moment, then darted in the direction of the village.
That could be you. Your kin may scorn you, but you could still protect them. The demon’s fingers pressed against his face. Tainted magic spread from them. With each moment he grew stronger. He could change into a big wolf, a bear, even a fool’s dragon.
Vret opened his mouth to speak, but his tongue didn’t move and his jaw hung slack. Numbness coated his body. The world began to fade, colors blurring into each other. His body began breaking under the strain of his magic fighting the demon. Pain dragged him unconscious as his feeble magic became part of the demon’s, devoured by the greater power.


  1. This is a great post. I really like the style with which you write.