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Lore of the Ferali: The Books of Blood
Book 1 – Scions Raven
by Chalice Divine
Chapter One – Thrice Cursed
I am nameless among the people. They fling stones, and trace the sigil of the tri’wargea in the air before me, that which repels a thrice-cursed demon child. My aspect is slight, with blood-skinned eyes and sharp even teeth. Where the people are thick and dark, I am slender and blue-white, the color of northern ice, and where others are warm to touch, I alone am bitter cold.
This, and the defiance of my parents, is how I became an exile of the Warfang blood clans. My father and mother defied the will of the Scion Forest Lords, desiring me to live despite the will of the people, and as punishment both were left to wander the black heart of Fenqual, the forbidden wood. Locked in the feral form of our clan, they no longer remember walking upright, or even the life of their children.
Thus do my people suffer when they defy the Scions of Ferali, the feral animal spirits that rule the clans.
I would have perished, had my sire’s kin brother Zhoh not born me away on the day my parents were cast forth. The people would have dragged me to the sacred naming rock and smashed my brains upon it. He carried me to the camps of the exiled, the accursed that dwell along the fringe of the forest, claiming for me the den farthest and deepest among the trees. None dared oppose him, for he is most feared among the Ferali as the mightiest of all warriors.
So it is that I dwell now in the forest, bereft of my sire, among the hearths of those whom none may name. Some in this place choose solitude, while others swear alliance to the strong. Our numbers are small in the shadow of the living Warclans, but the named suffer us to live on, that we might serve as first watch against the incursion of enemies. Among the unfortunates that dwell here, most are rock bear, dire wolf, or brush fox. I alone bear the bloodline of the great tree cat.
Many who come here are too young, and fall prey to the older outcasts. I alone survive due to the protection of my sire’s kin brother, who armors me with the threat of his vengeance. He bears me a great affection in the name of my father, and brings me such meat as he might spare.
None in this place molest or harm me, for the named may do as they will against the accursed, and none gainsay them. In this way am I safe in the solitude I prefer, and free of the domination of the ruthless and evil minded.
I sleep alone, hidden from the predations of others, yet there are some nights when I lie shivering in my den in the grasp of nightmare. These dreams haunt my waking hours. So it is that I go about draped in the distant screams of the dying, my spirit smothered by the piteous cries of young females bred in violence.
Yet on one day, late in summer during the early morning starlight before dawn, the presence of an intruder drew me from sleep.
I started up from the red boil of a prey dream, after a thick rain of mold spattered down on my nose and brow from the den roof. The smell of rainwater and chel-chel fortune smoke from the banked fires of the neighboring camps mixed with another faint scent, the musk of wet feathers and dust.
A raven perched on a high rock ledge above my curl, and peered down at me with wise red eyes.
My breath leaked past my clenched teeth, so great was my astonishment.
With feathers and a beak as pale and limpid as my skin, the faint blue light of the cave mold clinging to the walls gave it the appearance of living ice. A fey and beautiful thing, this strange bird; for when among the people has the raven ever clad in white, rather than a tunic of ashen feathers and shining coal?
I did not move, and for a long moment we stared at each other, but a sudden fierce tickle of mold spores in my nostrils made me sneeze. When I looked again it was gone.
Fear slithered into my veins, a frigid draught of horror coiling inside me. Bad that I am misshapen and wild cold, but if my mind stirs within its cup of bone, I fear even my uncle will set talon to me.
It could only be a vision, that delirium my people call ‘a seeming’; a thing much feared among the people as wild witchery, delivered by the forbidden tongue of unclean spirits. I lay shivering, despite the damp heat of the den, the pain of this evil drawing forth the water of my eyes to trickle down my cheeks.
After a time I sat up, sighing, and brushed the mold spores from my face. There could be no wisdom in sitting alone with such terror. I resolved to set it aside, until such a time when I might ken the thing with greater understanding. I pulled the tangles from the long thicket of my silver hair, and plaited it with oil-stained strips of red elk hide, pulled on a slight tunic of pale spider silk, and made my way up the tunnel that opened onto the great wood.
My den weaves among the thigh-thick roots of a giant sentinel oak, one of the hundreds that guard the bare rising circle of the warrens of my people. The dens of the bloodline clans are carved into an ancient sky watch in the middle of this rise, a proud mountain of granite. Every flank of that monolith is freckled with the dark mouths of the clan dens, each maw carved in the likeness of a different bloodline Scion.
I still miss the upper plateau, where the named meet, dance and tell the stories of the ancestors before great communal fires.
There are great shelves on the shoulder heights of that plateau. There the elders nap when they will, or sit watchful and patient as vigilant cubs wash and comb their war braids, fetch meat and drink, or lead those seeking council to their hearths.
I sat upon one of these high shelves once, at the feet of my father while he spoke as an elder. The forest wind brought strange pungent smells from deep and far away, and I watched the great sky’s fire moon trace the brilliant red and grey inter-woven canopies of the forest top far into a fading horizon. I wished to fly from that shelf and soar above all, but my sire’s hand rested on my head, and I remained in quiet contentment beneath it.
I remember how he laughed, and ruffled my hair when I spoke of that desire, and whispered in my ear that cats cannot not fly. I miss the warmth of his hand when I think of this time.
I brush the bark of my tree with cool fingertips. A slight shudder runs rustling up the trunk into the limbs and its leaves shiver in greeting. A desire to climb to it’s height and watch my people from afar kindled in my heart as it does every day, but I fear the sorrow of it.
To see them moving among each other in the shadow of morning, with campfires twinkling like stars, is a sore reminder of my loss.
Lifting my chin, I snuffled at the morning air, and tasted the spoor of the exile Thincloud. Her den is not far from mine, for like me she prefers the solitude of the trees to the crowded camps of the outcast along the fringe. I think of her so, though it is forbidden to name the lost.
She bears the curse of prophecy, and often strange visions cloud what is before her. But her cloud-blind eyes sometimes clear when we share meat, and she speaks with a clear mind. At these times I can pretend we are two clan sisters sharing a kill, instead of accursed nameless, groveling in the scree of the forest floor.
If she was well this day, I might claw some understanding of the seeming that appeared to me; for she is also a reader of dreams. I decided I would take meat to her in offering, and speak of my vision if she would hear it.
A scream pierced the morning mist, sharp as the unexpected cut of a skinning blade. I recognized it as Thincloud’s. The sound of her pain quivered the strings of my heart, so that it thrummed fast and frightened. Hissing, I dropped to all fours, willing myself into the change. My skin boiled as fur sprang from its roots, covering me in a fine white shimmer. My vision grew verdant and much unseen became visible, as I shifted into the sacred form of the great tree cat.
I clenched my jaw against the pain of the change. Yet even as it rushed through me, I began to move, sliding into low brush and streaking towards Thincloud’s hearth. The smoke of a fey cold began to radiate from my jaws, sending wisps of vapor streaming in my wake.
As I streaked through the trees Thincloud cried out again, a jagged shriek of pain that drove haste into my paws. Within heartbeats I gained the circle of her den camp. The coppery smell of blood filled my nostrils, and within me I felt the stir of the blood clash, the berserker spirit of my people. It tangled my reason, the savage instinct thickening my thoughts like hot tree sap.
I strained against it, struggling to retain clarity and caution.
The skin covering the mouth of her den stank of vicious male rut, and I slipped beneath it and down the entrance tunnel on silent pads. I heard a muffled gasp, followed by the thud of a heavy blow. The guttural taunts of the male, and the whimpers of Thincloud rang in my ears, hurling me into the well of the blood clash.
Thought fled from my brain. I flung myself down into her curl.
The intruder sat astride Thincloud, pinning her arms to her sides with powerful thighs, and ripping at her tunic. I sprang snarling at the pale curve of his naked shoulder.
There was a confusion of howls, snarls, and yelps as I raced over and about the dim figure of the male, my teeth chattering stinging holes in his flesh like angry bees. He staggered upright, flinging me aside, as the change crackled in his bones. Fangs swelled down his thinning lips, skin writhed with patches of sparse rough fur, and he howled a challenge as he dropped to all fours.
A berserk wolfling towered before me, head lowered and eyes flaming with malice.
Still, I feared him not.
With a venomous yowl I closed with him again, searing his flesh with blistering ice burns wherever my breath licked him. I savaged him, racing across and beneath him again and again, lost in a blurred ferocity. My razor sharp claws slit great scores along his ribs and flanks, and ripped furrows of meat and fur from his quivering belly.
All the while he turned in baffled circles, the bitter froth of his veins streaming from dozens of wounds. His drooling fangs clashed on empty air, and though his paws flashed out for me time and again, he could not pin me.The ice of my rage clung to his face, cracking the skin about his eyes and filling his nostrils with a choking frost. The stench of his mating musk drowned in the cresting reek of his fear.
With a strangled howl he sprang free of me, and bunching his powerful shoulders, gained the entrance tunnel in a single bound. He fled, yammering, up the tunnel.
I turned to pursue, but the wails of Thincloud melted the ruby film veiling my vision. Tearing myself free of the berserker will, I turned back to my friend.
The blood of my enemy fouled my tongue. Pawing at my mouth to pull the tufts of meat-soaked fur from my fangs, I crept to where she lay, twisting and screaming among her furs. Black smudges of harm darkened on her arms and chest, her soft lips split and puffing from the violence of his hands.
Purring, I rubbed a gentle cheek along her spasming arms, blowing a warm breath of affection along her bruised neck and face, and touching my cold wet nose to her cheeks and trembling chin with gentle care. After a time of this she quieted somewhat, and wiping the water from her eyes with the rough cloth of her shift, she turned her face to me, mouth lifting in a tremulous smile.
“Little Cat,” she sighed, and struggled into a sitting position, her mouth squeezing into a bow of pain as she did. Panting she pressed a hand to her side, her gaze darting around the den space, still wincing with fear.
My fur receded, and the sharp needles of my teeth began to shorten and blunt as the change faded. I raised myself, arms shortening, and hind legs bowing forward once more into the two-leg form.
“He is gone now.” I said, in a low soothing voice. “I have driven him forth.”
The hot copper ambiance of blood lay thick in the air, and her face drained of color as reason returned to her mind.
“What have you done?” She whispered, groping about the front of her shift, and drawing the torn edges closed to cover her bare breasts.
“It matters not.”
I bent over her wash bucket and moistened a scrap of soft rabbit fur. Kneeling before her, I dabbed at her wounds, crooning as she flinched at each touch of green-minted water. She stared up down me, blinking like a snare-blind hare.
“Matters not? That was Malek’s get, he that leads the dire cub pack. He will return for us, with many others. We will be ravished and eaten.”
“All will be that must be. The will of the tribe will remain.”
She laughed then, her voice shaking with a timid scorn.
“You are thrice-cursed, the most shunned and lowest among the people. Through no fault of your own are you here, yet still you hold to the beliefs of the people? I should think you would not have so deep a faith in their ways, being the most injured and bereft among the lost.”
I dabbed at her wounds and caressed her back with my free hand, rubbing soft circles up and down her spine. “The blood clash overcame me. We can only now face whatever comes.” I shrugged and glanced at her, shame faced. “I could not withold it.”
She winced, and touched my cheek with a bloody hand. “Oh, Little Cat.”
In the distance, the howls of wolves began to bell throughout the forest, and we both turned pale faces to the den tunnel.