The steady beat of an axe on wood echoed through the forest, loud in the absence of animals. It was foreign here, the first sounds of a long train of newcomers. It was wrong. For thousands of years the animals and their kin had run these lands, living in harmony with the forests and rivers that ran through it. Now man was coming, and with man came change. With man came war. With man, inevitably, would come death.
“Papa!” The groan, exasperated but full of love, sounded loud in the close atmosphere of the small wigwam. Chuckling under her breath, Ano’ni Otenon gathered the knocked over mugs and plates, brushed aside by her father in his haste to escape to bed. It had been a long hunt for him, and the first kill in what felt like weeks. He’d crawled into his bed ten hours prior, and had yet to rise. He was so deeply asleep that even the soft snores that usually arose from his corner of the tent had fallen silent, drawing Ano’ni to check and make sure he was still alive. He was, just lost in a slumber she knew could last a full day, if not more. Prey was scarce, and this hunt had lasted for three days straight. The Hunters had almost turned back, giving up the fruitless hunt. Only at the last moment had a tired deer stumbled onto the path, giving them hope. One deer for an entire Tribe. It would last maybe a day before the Hunters would be back out, continuing their endless hunt in a dying land.
Ano’ni looked to the deer-hide flap that served to keep the cold air out of the home, distracted by a hushed murmur coming from outside. It had been bothering her for awhile but had ignored it, believing it would fade. It hadn’t, and was actually growing louder as time went on. She glanced back at her father, to be sure he wasn’t disturbed, then stuck her head outside. Her ire was rising with her curiosity, and only grew as the sound picked up in volume, the hide no longer muffling it. Other tent maidens were also leaving their wigwams, their irritation an audible buzz in the air as they hissed amongst themselves. To disturb the Hunters’ rest was unforgivable, and whoever was causing the commotion was sure to be punished.
Ano’ni was the youngest of the distinguished tent maidens, the term given to the woman who cared for the tent or wigwam that a Hunter resided in. The Hunter she cared for happened to be her father, as her mother had passed on years before. She had gladly taken on the strenuous, and prestigious, task. Ano’ni’s own hair contrasted starkly against the silver and grays of the elder women, being a dark brown that belonged only to the young. It complimented her light brown skin and youthful complexion, marred by life only through the scar her father had given her in a moment of pure, helpless rage. He had apologized for weeks on end, unable to forgive himself of such a weakness. The scar cut a line through her dark eyebrows, ending at the corner of her eye where wrinkles were forming from her endless mirth. Even that moment of pain and terror hadn’t wiped the joy from her life. Now, though, the eyes that were normally a warm and caring brown were growing hard and angry. She stepped outside, tying the deer hide firmly behind her. She would not have her Papa woken early. He needed the rest.
She followed the other tent maidens to the source of the commotion, the cool snow tickling her skin as it fell on bare flesh. When she saw the source of the commotion, the creators of the havoc, she could not help but to freeze where she was. They were so strange. She used her smaller size to slip through the older tent maidens, staring curiously at these invaders.
They were captives, or so said the shield maiden who was trying to explain the commotion to the Head tent mistress. The poor little fool had not been aware that the Hunters were back, that her prizes would cause such a ruckus. For indeed one of the two, at least, was creating quite the scene. He pulled at his ropes and shouted as loud as he could, trying to stand before being forced back down to his knees by the embarrassed shield maiden. Finally she drew a knife and held it to his throat threateningly, finally silencing his shouts.
They were human, they must be. Magickless and shapestuck. They were unlike any men Ano’ni had ever seen, very different than the men of the Tribe. One of these barbarians could only be described as the sun incarnate, with the fiery disposition to match it. Golden and handsome, light skinned and light haired. Even his structure seemed light, much thinner and weaker looking than the men of her own Tribe. His hair was like spring sunshine, a soft and gentle yellow, yet burning with the hidden fire of upcoming summer. His eyes were like the sky, blue and endlessly reaching on forever and ever. His skin was tanned lighter than theirs but marred by the same callouses that came from hard work. So different than the dark beauty of the Shi’tani people that she called family, yet beautiful nonetheless. The Shi’tani had dark hair and dark eyes, their skin tanned by the sun on snow, and made strong by their endless burdens. Still, he was not as strange and different as his companion. Whereas the golden man was loud and violent, his companion was the opposite. Dark, contemplative, and watchful. His skin, his hair, his eyes… They were all black, or perhaps a brown so complete it merely looked so. Even the Tribe men were lighter than him, their skin seeming light beside this intruder’s. This man looked like he belonged in the sun, maybe even to the sun. He was silent, had not made a sound since his capture. He merely watched, silently absorbing all he saw. Ano’ni stepped away from him, fearing the intensity she saw in him, solid and overwhelming. He did not speak, and said a thousand things all at once. While the other man was loud and boisterous, even annoying, this man was terrifying in his silence.
As she examined him his eyes suddenly flashed to hers. Locked on. Sound faded away, leaving her completely silent. The wrathful chatter of the maidens dulled to a merely murmur, the soft tinkling of the teeth of the foolish on the shield maiden’s necklace becoming less than nothing, the maiden still gesturing on helplessly. All that existed was the man, and with the man the hate she saw burning in those black eyes. All the hate, and all of the consideration. She saw him, and he saw her. She felt she couldn’t breathe, felt him sucking the life out of her through her eyes. He didn’t have to say a word or speak their language to express all of the things he wanted to do to her . She felt like she was suffocating.
Fur brushed under her fingers, strong and comforting, breaking her from the trance. They clenched in the soft pelt, reveling in the feeling of safeness that emanated from it. She looked down, met the golden eyes of the wolf. Loving, sad, and infinitely tired eyes. Her father, or one of his forms.
“You should be resting,” she murmured to him softly, kneeling. She used her free hand, the one not draped around the thick neck of the black wolf, to brush the fur away from his muzzle. Then she hugged him, felt the gentle feel of his tongue on her shoulder. Reassuring her despite his exhaustion. Then he pulled away, walking over to the dark man.
They locked eyes, man and wolf, an instinctual battle of wills. Man and beast, captive and Hunter. Amber and a brown so deep it looked black. The battle went on for a minute, two, the silence surrounding them waking Ano’ni to the fact that the gathered women had fallen silent. A Hunter had come forth. Her father, that black wolf who now defending her from a hateful onslaught, had been roused from his rest. He had emerged wearily from his den to confront the commotion and to seek out the daughter that usually attended him so carefully while he slept. He had perhaps smelled the humans right away, had not been surprised like she had been. Man was nothing new to him, after all. They had always sought to cross the Pine Barriers and invade their lands. He might have even killed a man before. She didn’t know.
Her father snarled, sharp and forceful. Both Ano’ni and the dark man flinched, one in fear and one startled from her thoughts. Satisfied, the wolf then looked at the golden man through hard amber eyes, the fur on his ruff settling back into place where it had only moments ago been rising in anger. The man fell silent quickly, quelled by the new menace of a beast intelligent beyond its appearance. He was a foolish pup, thinking he could scare the women into letting him free. He would never be free. Not if the Shi’tani had anything to say about it.
The black wolf returned to his daughter’s side, then moved on past her. His pace was hurried.
“Are they men, Papa?” she asked, turning and walking beside him, bare feet quiet on the caked-down ice of the camp. They were leaving the Hunter’s corner of the camp, heading over to the Warrior’s, and with them, the Pack leader’s den.
The black wolf looked up at her, blinking. The words he spoke slid across her mind, like a thought that didn’t belong to her own self. ‘Yes, daughter. They are men, and their presence this far into our land is troubling indeed. Were I not so tired I would have met them as man to assuage their fears, but I fear now that they’ve seen me they will bring the might of man upon our Tribe should they ever escape. To them we appear as demons, for men have ever been blind to anything and anyone too different from them.’ Her father fell into a troubled silence, and Ano’ni did not press him into talking more, she herself reviewing and thinking of the words he’d pressed into her mind.
They would have to move. It was the only conclusion she could come to, and it thundered in her mind as they approached to low-slung dark tent the Pack leader called his den. The Pack leader always remained in wolf form, the gods having taken his man form when he sacrificed himself to the pains of being leader of the Tribe. Before they could call in to announce themselves, the low growl of the leader invited them in. He had heard the ruckus, then, and had been waiting to hear what it was about.
Entering the den left Ano’ni blind for a moment, but not long. Though she was not in wolf form, for women were prohibited from embracing that side of themselves, her eyes were, by nature, much stronger than any human’s, quickly adjusting to dark and dim light. Her father had no troubles at all.
What she saw inside the den startled her into absolute silence, so unexpected was it. It was a woman, not of their Tribe, and in wolf form. Ano’ni could not keep the distaste from her face, having been raised to think of such a thing as vulgar and rude. The wolf woman, however, seemed at ease and comfortable in her body, so evidently it was not a new thing to her.
‘Do not fret, young one’, a voice rasped in her ear, and Ano’ni realized it was her Pack leader. Falling to her knees she quickly twisted her head to the side, revealing her neck to the elder male. It was a gesture of submission, one which he released her from with a friendly thump of his tail. Time had aged the leader into a great silver wolf, larger than any others in the Tribe. Whereas her father rose to her hips, her pack leader’s head rested at chest-height. She did not know how long he had led their Tribe through the ice and snow, but he had been there since her father had been a pup nearly forty-seven years prior, and her father often joked that he hadn’t aged a day. Ano’ni had even heard the elder matrons say that he had been there since their days as pups, nearly seventy years past. Perhaps he did not age. A curse, or gift, of the gods. All she knew was that he was wise and kind, a benevolent leader to his kin, and cruel to those who threatened the Tribe. ‘Do not fret,’ he repeated, this time absently. ‘This is Merikah, Pack leader of the Western Tribe. She has brought important news to me, news which I believe might be similar to the news you brought us.’ His eyes turned to Ano’ni’s father, and he continued in a somber tone, ‘Terukah, tell me, what brings you here? I fear I already know, though I wish to hear it from you directly.’
‘Man, my leader,’ murmured back her father, Terukah by name. His tone was soft and respectful, and he, too, had been stretched out in a submissive stance that he now rose from. ‘Two men were found by a shield maiden out patrolling today. They were distressingly close to camp before they stumbled into our traps, and she found them trying to escape. They are now tied amongst the tent maidens, who will keep them under watch until you decide what to do to them.’
The Pack leader was silent, thinking the news over. His eyes closed, and Ano’ni realized humbly that he must be conversing with the Western Tribe leader. She had known for awhile that the other three Tribes ran different than her own Southern Tribe, though she’d never met another female warrior from them. She had never met another Pack leader, so that experience was especially unique to her, having not even known female Pack Leaders could exist. She had merely assumed that all pack leaders were men. Merikah appeared younger than their own Pack leader, still a brown tint to her silvering fur. Her eyes were mixed colors, one being a light green, the other being a dark amber. She was beautiful Ano’ni had to admit, and she woke a longing in the young tent maiden. What did her own wolf form look like? Would she ever know? She heard that when one underwent the womanhood rite, something she was due to undergo in only a few weeks, woman and wolf would meet and join into one body, even if they stayed only in that one form. Only rumors of it, though, for it was prohibited to tell what one experienced within those rites.
The Pack leader’s voice rolled over those thoughts, burying them for the time being. ‘I had feared that was what you would say, Terukah. Merikah tells me that her own warriors have found a human in their traps, though he had perished from the falls. A search party sent out by her found no traces of other human scouts that may have been luckier, but still we must be prepared to flee. The Eastern Tribe will be contacted at once to warn them, and then we must join together to flee once more. Man is, finally, pushing us out of our last ancestral home. We have expected it, but to look it in the face….’ The old wolf fell silent, sadness in his amber eyes. The Southern Tribe had undergone these migrations three times before, traveling to different lands. In the first they had been driven from their Southern lands, traveling East. From there, both the East and South Tribe had been pushed West, who had in turn been pushed north. Now all four Tribes resided in the Northern Tribe’s lands, and they had nowhere left to run. The land they lived in now was unable to support four tribes, and it was killing the land. Too few calves from the deer and caribou to replace what was being taken, and too few fish returning from their breeding migrations. To the far, far north was only ice and snow, and while the Shi’tani people were unaffected by the ice and snow thanks to their nature, there was little prey there. Whales, sometimes, but whales were sacred and to be killed only for certain ceremonial rites. They would have to flee farther than ever before, far away from the lands their ancestors had been born to. South, probably, and to the west. There, supposedly, was land that had yet to be touched by man. Supposedly. The reports were hearsay only, with no scouts ever returning from their treks south.
Ano’ni bowed her head in disbelief, digesting the words of her leader. Somehow she had always believed it wouldn’t happen to them, that they wouldn’t need to flee in her lifetime. She had believed that it was a problem for another generation, that she would live and die in this very camp. It wasn’t to be. Her father was very much affected as well, his head hung low in sadness.
‘I offer to send news to the Eastern Tribe,’ Terukah said softly, finally looking up. His ice blue eyes were dark with a sadness Ano’ni knew she couldn’t possibly understand, her own grief only a fraction to his own. Their traveling away would mean leaving behind the grave of the mother she never knew, yet her who father had loved dearly. Her heart ached for his pain, if not for the source of his pain. She had never known the woman he grieved so deeply for, but she knew the man and hated his pain.
The Pack leader nodded absently, apparently conversing with Merikah already. ‘Go, then, and may the gods guide your paws to safety,’ he finally said, looking up. ‘And Ano’ni, prepare yourself. We are pushing your womanhood rites forward, you will be joining the ranks of the shield maidens before the new moon. Begin your Hunt preparations’. He turned his back on the two, dismissing them.
Ano’ni brushed her father’s pelt with a deer-bone brush, spreading the oils to better protect him from the wind. Cold did not bother them, but the wind brought a bitterness that made even their superior bodies chilled. His tail was tapping impatiently, and finally she put it away. She ran a hand through the soft fur surrounding his muzzle, stroking the fur atop his forehead, short and soft. “Goodbye father, gods guide your paws, and come back soon.”
He looked at her, and he smiled a wolfish grin. Then he was gone, disappearing into the whirling snow. She stared after him for a moment, then returned to camp, missing him already. So soon after the last hunt. She was to be alone for awhile longer, then.
Back inside the empty tent she realized just how lonely it would be once she was made a shield maiden. Her mother had died in childbirth and she had grown up with her father. Since women couldn’t be Hunters, he had been teaching her how to be a shield maiden. The term “shield” was largely ceremonial, as shields were only employed by those who wanted it. She had trained herself to work a bow and daggers, with her father teaching her how to spar and battle. Up until now the daggers had been ceremonial as well, for war was unheard of amongst the Tribes. Her bow had brought down a rampaging bear in early spring of last year, and the Tribe had feasted for days. The bears had moved on, though, along with the rest of the game.
All of a sudden the emptiness of the wigwam was too much, and the Tribal girl stood, quickly exiting. She tied the deer hide flap behind her, and set off randomly into the camp. Normally she would be stopped a dozen times by a dozen different people, but today the atmosphere was tense. The air itself was quieter, letting her know that the humans had been put away elsewhere, out of prying eyes. Curiosity led her feet in the direction of where she had last seen them, but the memory of those dark eyes kept her from seeking too closely. Without her father she feared she would be devoured completely by those eyes, should they happen to meet hers again.
“Ano’ni, child, do you mind heading into the forest and fetching me some mint?” The girl whirled on bare feet, looking guilty at being caught looking for the humans. Her worry faded though as she saw the eldest woman in the Tribe, Ma’eya. Everyone in the Tribe referred to her simply as ‘mother’, including the pack leader. “I’m afraid I’m almost out and we’re going to need it for your ceremony in a few days,” continued the old woman, unaware of the fear she’d created in the young girl.
“Yes Mother!” Ano’ni replied, hiding a grin behind serious eyes. Everyone knew that the Shaman’s mistress had a fresh supply of mint, and it was easy to guess that Ma’eya was merely hoping to keep Ano’ni from being sad about her father’s quick farewell. The elder acted strict, but she had long been a good companion to the girl. The Mother she had never had, so to speak. “I’ll let you know when I have some!” With that she quickly kissed the elder on the cheek, darting out of the camp she called home.
As she stooped to pick the last of the mint, she had to hand it to the old coot. She’d chosen the herb that grew farthest away from camp, bringing her nearly to the Western Tribe’s border. She could see almost all of her own Tribe’s land from where she stood, the Western Tribe having a much higher altitude due to the foothills that ranged throughout land, sloping up to the highest mountains in the region, the Howling Mountains. A grin stole across her features as she thought of the name, quite proud that her people had driven the humans to name it that. Once the Shi’tani had found out the name they had happily adopted it in place of their own Kilana Mountains, which merely mean ‘tallest’ in their language.
The scent of smoke filled her nostrils, alarming her enough to drop the mint and turn to look. As she turned she fell into a crouch, certain that this smoke could not belong to her people, they would never burn fires during the day. Her eyes widened in horror as she saw what was the source of the smoke, and what it would mean for her people.
Smoke was curling above the pine treetops, the tallest ones of the edge of the territory. The Pine Barriers. There the pine trees were so thick that unless you knew the path through, the only way through was to cut down the trees. Or burn them. A whine stole from her throat as her nails pierced her palms, tears threatening to fall. The humans were burning their only barrier from the rest of the world. If, when, they fell… they would be open to attack.
Forgetting the mint, the young girl ran as fast as she could to her home. Every step of the way, for every shard of ice that caused her feet to bleed, she wished for a wolf to call her own.
The Tribe took the news well, or as well as they could. The Pack Leader called a meeting, reassuring them that the humans had no way of knowing that the Shi’tani lived in these woods, and so they would have a few days to migrate to their allies in the west. News had yet to return from the Eastern Clans, and as such they couldn’t afford to go that way yet. If they had already fallen to the humans then there was no safety there.
Ano’ni was told that her womanhood rites would be the next day, and to begin fasting immediately. Old Ma’eya never asked for her mint, having retired to her wigwam to ease the stress of potential evasion. Ano’ni didn’t blame her, and was glad in a way. After all, the mint she had collected now lay on the ground, going to waste.
As the girl returned to her wigwam, now too worried for her father to rest, she could taste the tension in the air. The Tribe hid their fear well, but it was there. Everyone was waiting for the attack. She crawled into her bed, realizing that it was going to be a long night if she wasn’t allowed to eat. Sleep would make the time pass quicker.
On the second day of her father’s absence, Ano’ni prepared herself for her maiden’s rites. Tomorrow the new moon would rise, meaning that tonight she would be bathed in fire to come to her adulthood. Before the Shaman came for her she must be cleansed and ready for the ceremony. She wasn’t to eat, only drink water from the Shaman’s spring. She had a flask of the water now, her stomach growling angrily at the lack of sustenance it had been given this day. She uncapped the flask and brought the bottle to her mouth, almost spitting it out at the shock of the frigid temperature. It was colder than any ice water she had tasted, a far cry different than what she had expected to come from a spring. Springs usually brought forth hot water, an amenity she had enjoyed numerous times in the past. The Shaman’s water, however, was sacred. Only those going through their woman or manhood rites could consume it, and even then it must be on an empty stomach.
This done, she knelt on the ground, pressing her forehead into the floor in a prayer to the Goddess of the Hunt and Moon, Aa’eya. Before the night was over she would meet with her Goddess in the flames, and her life would be changed.
A hand on her shoulder woke her from her slumber, jolting her awake. Her eyes were wide, realizing that the sun had fallen. Pale silver light entered through the tent flap, illuminating the ground in front of her. A full moon. It was time, then. Tonight she would meet her Sister, and take her place as a woman of the Tribe, a full-fledged shield maiden. She would leave her father’s wigwam for the last time, and take up her own home.
“Follow me, sister. You have much to do before your Wakening,” the elder woman, one Ano’ni recognized as the Shaman’s mistress, lifted her to her feet gently. Ano’ni’s bruised knees cracked in protest, and she had to push against her back to get the bones back in place from her awkward sleeping position. Her head swirled and she stumbled, falling into the mistress, who held her until she could move on her own.
Once she was steady, Ano’ni followed the mistress through camp, followed by two Hunters, one on either side. They were both in human form, having rested enough this night and day to resume their original forms. She wished, halfheartedly, that her father would be there to see her. It wasn’t to be so, though, as he had still not returned from his journey to the Eastern Tribe. Tonight she would be bathed in a pale fire and step out as a new woman, ready for a new life. She would do it alone, no family to guide her.
She was led to the mistress’s hut, where she removed her soiled clothes and waited direction. The mistress led her to a stone tub that was filled to the brim with steaming water, helping her in so that in her hunger-weakened state she wouldn’t slip. She was cleansed, the dirt washed away from her body by tender, caring hands. The mistress was going out of her way to act as a mother, when she had none.
Ano’ni loved her for it.
When her bathing was done she was led out of the tub, and wrapped in a thick deer-hide wrap, one that would fall away easily when the time came. Then, using the silver Moonberries that grew only in certain places on the tundra, she had the designs of a maiden painted on her face, paint that would soon sear her skin and never again fade. No matter what, she would forever be a shield maiden of the Southern Tribe.
Outside the tent she could hear the Tribe gathering, unusually hushed for such an occasion. She understood. The rushing of Ano’ni’s womanhood rites bode ill for the Clan, and no one could forget the two humans who were even now kept under watch. Ano’ni could see them from where she stood in the tent, looking through a steam hole near the bath tub. They were watching the gathering with ill-concealed interest, gathering information for when, if, they returned to their own kind. The blonde man was easy to see, and for once he was silent of his own accord. The dark man was less easy to see, having sat in the shadows. Ano’ni knew immediately that it had been a deliberate choice on his part. He was not a fool. Teeth flashed in a snarl, or maybe a smile, as his eyes caught hers. She blushed, looking away. She wasn’t supposed to interact with the humans, no one was. The Pack Leader had declared that immediately after the pack leader Merikah had left their camp to return home.
After her people settled into silence she was led out of the tent, out of the dim yellow light created by candlelight and into the silver light of the Moon, and Her love. Aa’eya, her Goddess. The Tribe parted before her, dipping their heads in respect. Some couldn’t meet her eyes, and some that did met hers with anger and disbelief. This was change. It seemed small, but it spoke of much more.
The path was cold on her bare feet, unusual. It spoke of a frigidly cold night ahead. Suddenly the path ended, and a sphere of emptiness was ahead as the Tribe stood back. Her eyes rose from where they had been studying the ground, looking ahead now. The logs stood before her, three great ones reaching high overhead. She saw where she was supposed to walk into, an opening that just matched her height, and was suddenly nervous. What if the Goddess denied her? Brought the logs crashing down on her for being too early?
Then she would die, she thought, heart hardening. And she would have died for her Tribe, without shame or regret.
The fire flared to life, gold and silver intertwined to create a living beast, reaching high into the heavens. The silver began to take over, devouring the golden tongues that licked and fought for life, but were soon extinguished. Soon all that remained was a burning white fire, light blue flickerings deep in the depths.
Ano’ni felt the mistress behind her, and braced herself. She sucked in a sharp breath at the sudden chill as the wrap was stripped away, leaving her bare except for the markings on her face. Her sense of modesty failed her, and she did not flinch away. She saw only the flames, for they had began to reach for her, whispering her name. They were not nasty whispers, but stories and promises of the beauty of life.
Without her realizing it, she took a step forward. And then another, and then another. Only when the first flame licked her hand did she realize she was reaching towards them, nearly to them. She didn’t pull back, though. She was enraptured, caught up in them. They, in turn, pulled her closer.
Finally, she stepped inside completely.
The flames were not hot, perhaps being the same temperature of the bath she had received before meeting them, though they were infinitely more comforting. They were like her father, brushing her hair from her eyes and pulling her into his embrace as he could not be there. They whispered to her, comforting her through her loneliness. The tears spilled silently, wiped away by the flames until all of her fears had been burned away, leaving only the promise of a new beginning.
Just as she was relaxing the flames parted, revealing not the Tribe, but something else. A woman. Ano’ni’s eyes widened in awe and she fell to her knees, baring her neck in subservience. The woman laughed softly, taking the new maiden’s shoulders and lifting her into a warm embrace. “Hello Daughter, it is good to see you. I’m sure you’re eager to meet your Bonded Sister, are you not?” The woman’s voice flowed like liquid silver, warm and brilliant all at the same time. Ano’ni was finally able to lift her eyes from the Goddess’ hem, to look her in the face. She was beauty, and kindness, and love. Aa’eya, Goddess of the Hunt and the Moon, had come to greet her. Did she do this to all men and women who were going through their rites? She must.
The new maiden opened her mouth to reply, but couldn’t seem to find her voice. Instead she felt a tightness around her throat, halting her breath. Her ears began to ring, softly at first, before slowly ascending to the screams of a dying beast. Confusion enveloped her and she looked desperately at her Goddess, wondering what was going on. Was this part of the rites? But no, it couldn’t be, for there was terror in her Goddess’ eyes. Terror, and despair.
The screams in her ears were growing louder, more painful, and she wanted to beg the Goddess to make them stop, but she couldn’t. Couldn’t voice her voice, her breath. She was choking. She was enveloped again in arms as the Goddess held her, and it took all of her strength to hear her words through the screams, “You are under attack, Daughter! Wake! Wake and flee! Quickly! Go!”
The peace of the white light blacked out as the flames were doused by cold water, drenching her. She whirled, disoriented by the sudden change in lighting and atmosphere, the screams no longer seeming like an annoyance, but a promise. They were the screams of the dying. Chaos surrounded her as people fled, making it only a few feet before a roar of thunder and a flash of light brought them low, holes in their bodies and lives fading. A cry escaped her as she tried to stumble towards one, but accidentally fell as her legs gave out. The ice ripped the tender skin of her knees, and she looked at the blood staining the snow in horror. It wasn’t her blood. There was far, far too much.
Shouting to her right drew her attention from the slaughter, and she looked into the black eyes of the human she so feared. He was approaching her with a deadly look on his face, lips curled in a feral snarl. Before he could reach her, though, a familiar voice brushed her mind. :Sorry I am late for your maiden rites, daughter. I hope you have met your sister, and I hope you can forgive me for returning so late.: Ano’ni jumped, then felt tears of hope burn her eyes. Her father had finally returned? Maybe he brought Eastern Tribe reinforcements? She pushed herself into a kneeling position, looking around, dark man forgotten as she desperately searched for her father. When she found him, she let out a keen of agony. He had no reinforcements. He was nearly dead, limping towards her with dulling eyes. Even worse his wounds appeared to be from wolves, undoubtedly the Eastern Tribe. He limped to her side, gently licking the side of her face in greeting. Then, as if this final movement had been too much, he slumped to the ground, resting his giant head on her knees. :I’m so sorry, daughter. I can’t protect you now.:
Ano’ni keened softly, wrapping her arms around her father’s head. He was all she could see, the rest of the chaos fading into nothingness. His breaths were slowing, becoming labored. Finally his chest shuttered, and stilled. She ran her hands over his muzzle one last time, then closed his dulled amber eyes. Curling her body over his head she gave him one last hug, and then looked up.
He was watching her, waiting patiently for the scene to end. Gone was the feral-ness from his eyes, replaced by a slight amusement. She bristled at the realized that her father’s death had been nothing more than entertainment for him, that he was waiting for her to focus her attention solely on him. He grinned as he saw her watching, taunting her with his laughter. She screamed in fury, trying to stand only to come to the horrified realization that her father’s body had her pinned to the ground. Weak as she already was from fasting and the ceremony, she could barely lift his slackened head.
She struggled against his weight, watching in terror and agony as the man approached her, hands out in a mocking semblance of peace. He was speaking to her in a language she didn’t know, words slow and calm. Was he trying to placate her? She snarled, something that would seem almost comical under normal circumstances but obviously had some effect on the man, causing him to stop. He said something else and she just glared, wondering if he was the fool he was appearing to be. Why was he trying to speak when he knew she couldn’t understand? As she was silent he grew frustrated and shook his head, stalking over to her. He stood above her, then in a moment of rage, kicked the corpse of her father off of her. She gasped as the blood returned to her legs, but had no chance to move before he grabbed her arms, yanking her to her feet.
He pulled her arms behind her back, pulling her against his body so that she couldn’t pull away. From her standing position she could see how the battle, no, the slaughter was going. Ma’eya, Mother, was dead, slumped against a stump with her blue eyes wide open. The eldest was no more. The Pack Leader was dead, head lopped off at the shoulders. The Shaman’s mistress was screaming in agony, a sword sticking out of her gut. Even as she watched another man, a human, approached and ended the poor woman’s misery. Ano’ni’s first instinct was to flinch away, close her eyes, but she forced her eyes open. She would not forget, not ignore, the death of her people.
The gore-spattered man who had just slaughtered the Shaman’s mistress approached the dark man who held her, gesturing angrily with his sword. Ano’ni whimpered, realizing that he wanted to kill her and didn’t know why she was already killed. The dark man responded to the shouts with his own, and before Ano’ni could think he took his free hand and spun her around, forcing her to bend so that her ass stuck out. Laughing he caressed it, then gave it a slap. With a grin he pushed her towards the other soldier who easily wrapped an arm around her. Horrified, Ano’ni struggled in vain, fearing another groping. He had another thing planned for her, though, and dragged her against him as he began to walked through the bloody camp.
A hand caught her eye, and she cried out as she saw it was the youngest child of the Tribe, born only three moons prior. Lan’ai, a beautiful little girl, extinguished. What had they done to deserve such a slaughter? Try as she might, she couldn’t break the man’s grip, and could only watch as they passed the body. Left to rot in the morning sun.
She stumbled against the man and received a harsh jerk in return. In return to the sudden loss of balance she stumbled, and with a snarl he grabbed her behind the legs and simply lifted her over his shoulder like a bag of grain. It was almost a relief. Her strength was gone, and now she could only see his back. Her relief was short lived, though, as she quickly found out. In almost no time as all he was playing with her ass, pushing gloved fingers between her thighs and rubbing the harsh material on her bared sex. She snarled, wishing that she had her daggers on hand to teaching him a lesson in respect, and wishing more than the ceremony hadn’t demanded her nudity. That was probably the only reason she had been spared, to become a whore for the trip back home.
The trip through the forest back to the human camp was long, and it was cold. Her normally cold-resistant body was stung by the icy wind, and before long she was shivering miserably. Exhaustion dampened her mind until even the unwanted probing of the man didn’t register. Finally the blood rushing to her head became too much, and she felt the blackness of sleep overcome her.