Wednesday, March 28, 2012

From the archives: Liah Fearstalker

I have some older samples of character backgrounds and other game-related writing that I thought I would move over here.


To start with, I have a couple of pieces written for a character named Liah Fearstalker ('Sings-Tales-With-Knives'), a character I roleplayed in a Werewolf: the Apocalypse LARP several years ago.

These are some pretty long samples so I've put them behind a jump.

  My Change

I was born on a Cherokee res in North Carolina, but I didn't remember being there. That's because soon after I was born, my mom moved in with Grams and Granddaddy in Dallas. (Well, he's actually my step grandfather, but I'm not allowed to call him that.) Grams is Hopi and she taught me a lot about Indian ways, but I'm more Cherokee than anything else and I always had the sense that they weren't my ways. And she didn't do it when her husband was around, anyway. He didn't like it. He tried too hard to be white and "make it" in the white world. He was a manager at a grocery store, and he took his job very seriously.

They took my mom in when they heard she was pregnant - I suppose my father must have told them, though he sure as hell didn't want nothing to do with me. He's part Cherokee too, but he was all weasel, escaping from what he saw as the trap of fatherhood and marriage. He's still around somewhere; in New Mexico I think, but I'm not sure where. I've never met him. He always managed to visit his mom when I wasn't around. Probably my mom wasn't around either, though that's hard to imagine.

I had a pretty good childhood -- going to school, doing projects with Grams (cooking, sewing, beadwork, that kind of thing). My mom didn't have much to do with it, she was drunk or high most of the time. I could tell Grams didn't approve and it pissed Granddaddy off to no end but Grams protected her from most of his wrath. She still wasn't much of a mom to me, and however hard Grams worked at it, she couldn't compensate. What does an old woman know about raising children? Well, it turns out she knew more about me than she let on, but I'll get to that later.

We were living in the thick of Dallas, in an apartment building with a bunch of other Indians and Latinos. I went to school with them, too. School was all right, up until 6th grade. Then I started getting into fights. I never thought of them as being related to me -- somehow it was always the other person who started them. I didn't realize I was carrying a chip of anger like a piece of the sun, and about as hot, too. People could sense the anger radiating off of me, but I didn't know I was angry. I just thought everybody else was too eager to jump into fights. Which was true, too.

Anyway, by the time I was in high school, I had hooked up with this girl gang composed of Latino and Indian girls. They jumped me in freshman year. It felt pretty good to belong to something; besides, did they ever know how to party. We went to some ragers that year and the next. I was having a grand old time.

My grandparents were getting pretty upset. I was coming home late (even on school nights), my grades had started to slip, and I would come home stinking of booze and pot. Grams said I was getting to be worse than my mom; that pissed me off more than you would believe! But it got me thinking.

Then my gang decided to ally with this other gang, composed of a bunch of sweaty, smelly hispanic guys. I didn't mind having allies, but they were expecting us to sleep with them, and I wasn't going to do that. The other girls didn't seem to mind, though (I guess they thought the guys were cute). So I told them that it was time for us to part company. This was at the end of my sophomore year. They accused me of being a lez and a traitor, and I told them that it wasn't true, they were traitors for making this deal behind my back. And I'm not a lez. I'm just not going to sleep with any old guy; look where that kind of thing got my mom.

That summer was the worst summer of my life. Aside from the occasional threat, I didn't hear from my girls any more, and nobody would welcome me at their parties any more. I had nothing to do and nobody to hang out with. So I started reading. And talking to Grams. She's pretty interesting. I think she could be a shaman, she knows so much; that is, if they let women be shamans.

I started to focus more on school that fall, too. I had this one teacher, my art teacher, Ms. Peters, who really opened my eyes. She wasn't Indian, but she had studied some about Indians when she was in college. My grams wouldn't tell me about Cherokee, but Ms. Peters would. And she told me where I could find out more. She also recommended all this other stuff; a book called "Reviving Ophelia", some stuff on vegetarianism (she was a vegetarian), some stuff on feminism and some other stuff on racism. I'm a pretty fast reader and I realized that I liked to read. I was learning a lot, and I realized that even if you didn't learn that much in school, school was an important step on the way to the place where you do learn stuff, college.

Well, all this reading really turned me around about a lot of things. I realized that I had a chip on my shoulder and I started directing it at the people I was really mad at, like the bigots, the bureaucracies and my father. I started to consider myself an eco-feminist, and I was hanging around with a different crowd now, a bunch of nerds and misfits with a lot of thoughts about the world and their place in it.

Thanksgiving was a drag. I told my grams and my granddaddy that I wouldn't be eating turkey this year and my granddaddy got kind of upset. Things went downhill from there -- we argued about everything from the stupid football game to the racism of the holiday. Finally he kicked me out.

"Come back when you've got your head screwed on straight!" he shouted, slamming the door behind me.

I went to the library (which was closed) and sat on the steps until it was dark. It was amazing that no cops bugged me. Then I snuck into my room, grabbed my stuff and was ready to sneak out again when Grams came in, quietly shutting the door behind her.

"Don't go, sweety," she said. "Your grandfather didn't mean it."

"He's not my real grandfather," I shot back, then felt bad when her face fell. She hadn't done anything to deserve it, this conflict and anger in her home. And she had tried really hard to help me and teach me the things that she thought were important. "Sorry, Grams. I'll come back, maybe, when we both cool down. For now I've got to get out of here."

"Okay, but take care. And let me know where you're staying," she said, kissing me on the forehead.

I called Ms. Peters from a pay phone and left a message asking if I could stay with her. Then I went to Denny's and hung out there until they kicked me out. Then I went to Ms. Peters' house to see if she was there. She was. If only she hadn't been there!

She brought me in and we had tea together while I told her all my difficulties. Towards the end she called my house to let them know I was all right and that I was staying with her. I could hear my step grandfather yelling at her from across the table.

"See how unreasonable he is?" I said when she hung up.

"He's just worried about you," she said. We didn't talk for a while after that. I needed to think about things and I guess she sensed that. So we spent the morning in front of the TV while she corrected papers. We fixed ourselves lunch - tuna fish sandwiches. (I would eat fish sometimes.)

This next part is stuck so clearly in my mind -- I don't think I'll ever forget it. We were cleaning up the kitchen after lunch. I heard a squealing of tires outside.

"Come out and face us, bitch!" a girl screamed outside.

"Holy shit!" somebody else yelled.

It was my gang. I don't know how they found out where I was. Maybe my mother told them.

Anyway, I heard a gun shot, and I looked over and saw Ms. Peters falling over. I realized that the wetness I felt wasn't from the faucet. It was blood. Her blood.

I don't really remember the rest of that day. I know I took my mom's car and drove until I was too tired to drive any more. I drove for days, resting a couple of hours here and there at rest stops. Finally I decided to go to the res where I was born. Maybe I could find my grandfather. My mom had told me that my Cherokee grandfather was a kind of shaman. She wouldn't tell me any more about him, though, so I was really curious about him. But when I got there I found out that he had left a long time ago and nobody had seen him since before I was born.

Now I didn't know what to do. I was sure the police were looking for me (and maybe they wanted to arrest me), and I didn't know anybody out here, but I sure as hell couldn't go home. I had no money left for gas or food and the car wasn't mine so I couldn't sell it (it was pretty close to worthless anyway). I got the bright idea (probably because I hadn't eaten for a while) to go on a vision quest. So I wandered out in the middle of nowhere (hiking most of the way) until I found what seemed like a good spot, and started to meditate.

After a while, I fell into a kind of daze. I started going over the events of the past week or so in my head. I started to remember what happened after Ms. Peters was shot. I felt this tremendous wrath fill me, consume me, alter me. I started roaring; I tore up the room yelling my rage. Then I looked down at myself. I was loathsome, covered in hair and stinking like a dog. I was so shocked that I closed my eyes, concentrated for a moment, thinking "please make it go away", then opened them and looked. I was normal, though my clothes were in tatters, as was the room. I changed into some of the clothes I had brought and went home. Grams told me that this kind of thing ran in our family but she had been praying it would skip me (as it had her). Which was why she didn't tell me. That really pissed me off and that was when I decided to leave.

I must have still been in shock which is why I didn't remember it until now. Once I realized what had happened I started shaking and praying to the spirits to guide me. I must have prayed for like an hour straight. All of a sudden I started feeling light. This immense calmness swept through me. A beautiful, multi-colored bird swept up to me and then away from me. I followed her.

She led me up through the clouds to this strange land that was beyond and yet next to the normal world. I realized that as she flew, she was singing and I began to sing along with her. The song was a wise one, full of tribal rules (for no tribe I knew of) and history. I can still remember this song -- most of us call it the Litany. She sang other songs, too, but I can't remember them all.

Finally we came to a man. He looked familiar to me and yet I knew I had never seen him before. The bird flew away. The man was meditating very deeply. I watched him for a long while. I wanted to talk to him but I thought maybe it would be bad for me to disturb him. Finally I decided that he wouldn't notice me unless I made him, so I touched him over his heart. His eyes flew open, and then were both back at the res.

He explained that he was my grandfather, and told me how he got lost on a dream quest even though he had vowed to look out for me and be there for me when I Changed.

--------------------------------

Tsali's Axe

After I brought my grandfather out of the spirit world, we took what little money I had left and rented a motel room and bought some pizza. We were both still in a dazed state after our experiences, and we spoke little. There was time for catching up later, when we were truly back in the physical world, body and mind.

Then we each went to our beds, turning out the lights and still maintaining our contemplative near silence. I lay there in the darkness, under the stiff sheets which smelled, to my newly keen nose, of people loving and fighting, sweating and dreaming. My mind began to drift; the smell of cigarettes became the smell of wood smoke; the cold of the air conditioner became the cold of winter; the smell of sweat became the smell of tears.

* * *

I was lying under a coarse woolen blanket; there was a fire nearby. There were many others around under similar blankets and there was a smell of sickness and despair, and, strongest of all, the bitter scent of betrayal.

The breath fogged before my face; and yet I knew that the weather would get still colder. Winter was only just stretching out her icy fingers.

There were soldiers all around, most of them white men but a few of them were Garou. That was the worst betrayal of all; that those who were destined to serve the Earth Mother by our sides had brought instead misery, sickness, war, genocide, betrayal and the Great Balance Destroyer, known as the Wyrm. Never will we forget that betrayal; and never will we trust those tribes again.

As I lay there shivering and contemplating my hatred, one of the soldiers approached me. I knew him, for he had been harassing me throughout the trip. He was jealous because my brother, Tsali, was a great leader of our tribe and had been protector of the caern they had stolen. He was Garou, of those they call Get of Fenris. They were not our worst tormentors, but they were the most noticeable.

"Are you cold, little one?" he asked in the white man's tongue which I spoke better than he.

I refused to answer, staring straight up at the stars. He came and stood over me, one foot on either side of my head. I looked toward my feet. The other soldiers had moved farther away; presumably to allow him greater freedom for his whims.

My brother was awake now and his hand crept toward his hatchet, a gift to him from our mother. I don't know how he had managed to keep it hidden all this time, but we might need it, were we to ever make our escape.

*Let me handle this, brother,* I spoke into his mind. *This dog is not worth it.*

That "dog" must have picked up some of my mind speech, for his face flared.

"Let me keep you warm," he said forcefully.

Outrage moved my tongue even as my mind was racing, looking for an escape.

"Would you break even that, the most fundamental part of the Litany?" I hissed at him.

He kicked me in the mouth.

"Shut up!" he yelled. "The Litany doesn't apply to belly-crawling worms!"

In a flash, he was on top of me, pressing me against the ground and pulling off the blanket and shift which covered me. A sharp stone cut into the small of my back; he stank as if he had never bathed.

There were many around who were kinfolk, but there were many who were not. Besides, even were I to shift, it was likely I would not best him, for he was obviously of the Warrior's moon, which I was not.

Helpless, white hot anger filled me. For a moment, as he began to press himself into me, I feared I would shift whether I willed it or not. Then I heard a strange singing, an unearthly cold, hard voice singing of a long ago battles and forgotten lore of war. It was the axe, calling to me, drinking my rage like it was the purest honey. I willingly surrendered myself to the axe, feeding my anger and my soul into it, becoming distanced from my body as it was raped beneath the stars. As the axe, I thrummed with joyous and terrible wrath, thirsty for the blood of the oppressor. I was alive with energy, dimly remembered deaths stirring my power and filling my song. I flew towards the paired bodies on the ground near me; the source of my thirst and fountain of my power. I cleaved into the one on top, bursting his skull and causing his blood to flow sweetly and redly onto my tooth. I drank eagerly and swiftly, luxuriating in the rapturous warmth and richness of it. I drew back, preparing to strike the other one, the true fount of the powerful thread of feeling flowing through me.

*No!* Tsali yelled dimly in my mind.

I ignored the buzzing voice and flew towards my target eagerly. Just as I was about to connect, a warm hand grasped my handle, and my consciousness was thrown from me.

Disoriented, I looked around. I realized that the soldier's body was on top of me still, violating me even in his death. I threw him off me with a great cry which drew the soldiers close with suspicion.

"I'm going to run," Tsali whispered. "Let them think I killed him. When you can get away, come meet me in the hills to the north."

With that, he ran away, axe in hand, still singing its terrible song. The soldiers tried to stop him, but he was swift and strong and he killed one as he ran. He did escape to the north and managed to bring many others there, but I never saw that last free home, for our people needed me. I knew that when he asked me to meet him I would not go. Most of our people would not be able to go there, and they needed me to heal their hearts with my songs and stories, and to serve as our pipe bearer until the pipe chose another.

* * *

There was a flash of many lives and feelings inside me. The tears no longer smelled of bitterness but of loss, and my ancient, aching body was seated by a fire in the cave, wrapped in doeskin. A young man sat beside me, my son.

"We cannot exist without you mother," he said, tears shimmering in his eyes. "Who will lead us in the Ways of the Earth Mother? Who will enforce our laws and tell us the stories of the Great Spirit?"

"Son," I said, my voice cracking and aged, "You don't need me for that. The Spirit will guide you as it guided me. You know the stories by now, and you are the best interpreter of our laws. You can lead the people. It is time for me to go, for I am old and incapable. It is the law."

"I hate the law!" he shrieked. "The law is wrong if it takes you from us!"

My face grew stern and cold, for what he said was wrong, and we would be punished for it if he continued in this way.

"The law is never wrong," I said impatiently. "It is only your understanding that is flawed. But perhaps there is a way for me to stay with you and guide you always without breaking the law. Let me think on it."

And I gestured for him to leave, which he did, the tears still shimmering on his face. I knew that his pain was my fault, for I had lingered too long in taking this action. But always it is most difficult to forge a path, even for one such as me, who had forged many paths for my people.

I sat by the fire, contemplating my life, my service to Uktena, and to the pipe, and to my tribe, and to those who took the form of the wolf. The flames danced before my eyes, and I fell into a deep trance, just I had once done by the shores of Atagahi, the lake of the Great Uktena, the lake which was never to be seen by the eyes of man.

The light in the depth of the fire became the light shining from the jewel in Uktena's forehead, and Uktena spoke to me, filling my head with his great and terrible voice. I felt little fear, for I was old and I had heard his voice before.

*You have served me well,* he said. *Your reluctance to leave my service is appreciated. But it is time for the young to try their hands, for even if they fail, your people cannot survive to honor me if you do not leave them.*

At this I began to weep, for I felt the truth of his words deep within my bones, and I was weeping for my people, for they would miss me. I was also weeping for myself, that I could no longer perform great deeds and bring honor and glory to Uktena and to our Earth Mother and to my tribe.

An axe appeared in the flames.

*Take your life with this axe,* Uktena said, *And you will always remain with your people to watch over them, protect them, and guide them in My Ways and the Ways of the Earth Mother.*

I reached into the fire and grabbed the axe, the flames merely warming my tired flesh. Uktena faded away.

I hefted the axe in my hand. It was a simple thing with a wooden handle and a stone head. Carved into its handle were letters I couldn't read. I felt the the head. It was very sharp. The axe was singing to me, beckoning me to greater glories. Swiftly, before I lost my nerve and shamed my people, I drew the axe across my throat. Eagerly it drank my blood, and then it drank my spirit. My awareness began to fade. As it did so, I heard my son crying dimly beside the body on the ground (no longer my body).

*Don't cry,* I said. *For I am still with you, as long as you bear the axe with honor.*

He grabbed my handle, and with a great howl, cried of my death to the tribe. They gathered around, joining in his howl. I let the last of my awareness slip away. He would make a good leader, and if he ever needed me, he had only to call.

* * *

Sunlight on my face woke me, and I saw my grandfather standing beside my bed, looking at me curiously. Then I realized it was not me he was looking at, but rather the axe lying beside me.

"It's a long story," I said with a grin, crawling out of bed, cradling the axe in one arm. "I'll tell you over breakfast?"

And with that we packed up our stuff and began to catch up with each other.

--------------------------------


The Tale of Ulunsuti

or, How I Got My Name

Well, we're on our way to Albuquerque now, I thought to myself as the four of us set up camp for the night.

"Do you think we can find my father there?" I asked my grandfather.

"I don't know," he said irritably, his face closed.

*What's wrong?" I asked, thinking that maybe he didn't want to discuss family matters in front of strangers.

He ignored me, turning away to finish the last touches on the tent he was putting up.

When we were done, the three of us, Grampa, Before-the-Tears and I, sat around the fire while Ayasha began preparing our dinner with the rabbits Grampa and Before-the-Tears had caught.

I furtively studied Before-the-Tears while we sat around the fire. I wasn't quite sure what to make of him. Bold and impetuous, he had led us to take actions which might be deemed reckless. And yet there was certainly an appealing nobility to foolhardiness.

"Why don't you tell us a tale, Liah?" he asked me. My heart skipped a beat at being put on the spot so.

"Uh..." I said, wracking my brains for a story. My grandfather was looking at me curiously.

*What story should I tell, Grampa?* I asked silently.

"Why don't you tell the story of Ulunsuti?" he suggested, something glinting in his eye that wasn't humor.

"Well, uh, a long time ago during a war with the Shawnee, a medicine man named Aganunitsi, "Ground-hog's mother", was captured by my people, the Cherokee."

And thus I fell into the story.

"As the people began to prepare him for the long slow warrior's death, he started to brag about his power and his bravery. After telling of his many exploits, he made a boast which made all the warriors laugh.

" 'I can capture the Ulunsuti,' he said.

" 'I don't believe you,' the warriors jeered. Ulunsuti is the jewel in Uktena's forehead, and the only way to capture it is to kill Uktena, which the warriors knew was impossible.

" 'It's true,' Aganunitsi said quietly. 'If you don't believe me, then why not let me try.'

"And then it was as if a great spell came over the warriors, for Aganunitsi was indeed a powerful magician. They released him, on the condition that he fulfill his quest. And he left, on his way to defeat Uktena and capture Ulunsuti.

"When the women heard what the men had done, a great wailing filled the village, for the women knew that Aganunitsi would succeed, and when he did, calamity would befall the Cherokee.

"As for Aganunitsi, he traveled north through the Smoky Mountains. After a time, he came upon a long black snake, longer than any he had yet seen. He knew it meant he was on the right path, and hurried onward knowing he was headed for bigger things.

"The next day he passed a village and he saw a giant green snake as he passed. He laughed and called the villagers to look at the 'pretty serpent.'

"Reassured, he kept going. Every day, he stranger and larger reptiles, so he knew he was getting close.

"One fine morning as he walked, his body started to tingle and his medicine pouch grew hot. He knew he was very close, so he stopped and strung his bow (for the warriors had given him their best bow) and walked very quietly and stealthily up the mountainside. Soon he came upon Uktena sleeping in a bend in the road. Without his strong medicine, even this glimpse of the mighty Uktena would bring death to him and his family.

"He quietly sneaked back down the mountain until he came to a flat place of soft earth. He dug a trench in a circle and then built a fire in the trench. When the fire was burning steadily and certainly, he walked back to where Uktena slept. He stealthily circled around Uktena until he had a clear shot at the seventh spot from its head (Uktena has diamond shaped spots all down his back, like a diamondback snake) as that is the only shot that will kill him. Aganunitsi's arrow flew true, cleanly piercing Uktena in his back.

"Uktena woke and rose up, hissing in his fury. Poisonous black blood poured from the wound. A drop struck Aganunitsi in the forehead, but he didn't notice, as he was too busy running down the hill back to the trench. Uktena chased furiously after him. Aganunitsi leapt over the fire in the trench and stood in the middle of the circle of fire. With his medicine he beckoned the fire higher. Uktena attempted to strike him again and again, but the fire stopped his strikes and burned up his poisonous blood wherever it flew. This lasted many hours until Aganunitsi was exhausted and Uktena fell dead.

"For seven days Aganunitsi waited while birds feasted on Uktena's flesh until it was all gone. A raven started to take the gem from Uktena's forehead (Ulunsuti) away (for with it he could restore Uktena and save our people) but, alas, Aganunitsi shot the raven with his bow.

"He grabbed Ulunsuti to put it in his medicine pouch. It burned his hand, and he bore the scar in his hand until the end of his days. Then he traveled back to the Cherokee village, the uncomfortable warmth in his pouch reminding him ever of his deed.

"He was surprised upon his return, for while the warriors welcomed him and praised him for his prowess and held a feast in his honor, there was a glittering sadness in their eyes, and the women spoke little to him, even the one sent to warm his bed. He wondered a little at that, but no great curiosity stirred in him, for that light seemed to have gone out. Nor did he notice the snake which had grown fro his forehead where Uktena's blood had struck him.

"The next day he left the village to return to his people, the Shawnee, and served them as a great medicine man, one of the most powerful that had ever been. His powers of healing were unsurpassed, and his visions were clear and true.

"At the end of his life a group of Cherokee medicine men came to him to claim Ulunsuti. Willingly he yielded it, for it had been a heavy burden, in spite of the great power it had given him. As soon as it left his hands, he died, the black snake in his forehead shriveling up and falling off.

"This is where most people end the tale, saying the great jewel was passed on from one medicine man to the next for a long time, hundreds of years. And after the jewel was taken from Uktena's forehead, the Cherokee suffered greatly, as did the other tribes, and likewise the garou tribes of the Pure Land suffered. Because of Uktena's fall, the white men came, and those terrible shape shifters, the Wyrmbringers, whose names are written down in the bloodied books of treachery and shall not be forgotten in all our lives, from this one to the next.

"Uktena had been our protector and our strength. Without him, we were unable to stop the Wyrmbringers from destroying the Croatan. Possession of Ulunsuti protected us for a while, but eventually that scant protection failed too, and we were driven from our lands, as were those we protected.

"Finally one of our medicine men, the son of Anawaggia Owl, a metis whose father was unknown, had a vision. He knew his vision was true, and he called the other garou of his tribe, the Uktena, together for a great Rite."

As I was telling the story (or rather, the story was telling me) I had unconsciously taken my knife from my boot and was gesturing with it.

"This rite," I said, my voice dark with mystery, "Is the most secret of the secrets of the Uktena, and is barely whispered of even in the most private Uktena theurge circles.

"But it is time that the deeds of the son of my ancestor were known. For his bravery and sacrifice, the shame of his birth shall be blotted out. He-Who-Bears-the-World was his name. After many days and nights of fasting and sweat lodges, chanting, and smoking the sacred pipe, they were ready to complete the ritual. Wins-the-Battle, his best friend, handed him his sacred knife, used only in the most revered Rites, and passed down for many generations.

"He-Who-Bears-the-World held Ulunsuti in his left hand." I stretched out my left hand, still consumed by my tale. In the flickering of the fire, I saw the two friends standing there. I was witnessing the rite as it happened, even as I was telling the tale of it a hundred years later.

"Holding the knife in his right hand, He-Who-Bears-the-World cut open his forehead and with a swift motion, blood flowing down his face, placed the gem into the cut. His skin closed around up around Ulunsuti and his form began to change before their eyes. In reverence, the others fell to their knees, for He-Who-Bears-the-World had been transformed into Uktena.

"Uktena spoke to those assembled, saying, 'From this point until the end of all days, I shall never again forsake you, in honor of He-Who-Bears-the-World's sacrifice.'

"At that, they all fell asleep and Uktena disappeared. They they awoke, they forgot what had happened, thinking thinking only that He-Who-Bears-the-World had rushed off to fight the Wyrmbringers and had probably died. Of the Ulunsuti, save for a few Theurges, they thought only that it had been lost many generations before."

I came out of my tale to a wet warmth dripping from my left hand and saw that the others were watching me with rapt attention. I was swaying on my feet (for I had stood up to tell the tale) and felt as exhausted as if I had run the rest of the way to Albuquerque. I sat down, looking at the fire.

Ayasha came over to me and bound my hand gently.

"We should call you 'Sings-Tales-with-Knives'," she said, her voice light but also caring.

I looked at her with gratitude and a new warmth. Tsali looked at her in thoughtful surprise, and Before-the-Tears was nodding his head in agreement. The feeling of unity was almost unbearable to me, who had never felt that kind of closeness with anyone before.

I began to tear up and looked into the fire to avoid their gazes, so that I wouldn't cry. There in the flames I saw a lioness with the head of a woman, and she was gazing at me. My pack mates (for I knew, now, that we were a pack, for now and forever) saw my face, and almost as one, turned towards the fire.

"An excellent tale," the sphinx said, "And well told. Your name is well chosen."

And then the fire was merely a fire once again. We sat in silent camaraderie and ate the delicious dinner Ayasha had cooked for us.

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