The Mark

The Mark

Chapter 1:  Foundling:

A gibbous moon pressed down on the sky like the thumb pad of a jaundiced god. A ragtag band of villagers chased a boy into a forest clearing, surrounding him, but not rushing to seize him.

He felt every inch the trapped animal, save he had no claws or teeth. There was only a single knife which he clutched more as a talisman than a weapon. Crackling torches forced him to put up a hand to block the glare, and the mark on his cheek became visible again.

Murmurs of curses, prayers, and amazement buzzed and hummed in his ears. The light in the mark was fading but he could still feel its heat.

An elder couple stepped forward as a walking keg of a man thrust his torch closer to the boy’s face, making him drop the knife as he stepped back and put up his other hand. From what he briefly saw of them, the woman seemed to hold some concern for him, lightly pressing her husband’s wrist down to lower the torch; she wouldn’t stop him from doing much else, but for that at least, the boy was grateful.

Walking Keg had bristly brown and gray whiskers, the moonlight a nimbus in them as he leaned forward and glowered, his free hand poised in the air, uncertain of its purpose. He seemed to want to touch the mark, but didn’t.

The fear in his eyes belied the gruffness in his voice. “How came you by this mark, boy?” The uncertain hand now pointed a meaty finger at the mark.

The boy swallowed, and when he spoke his voice was small in his own ears. “I killed my little sister.”

*************

Thunder had ever frightened him, and this storm had proven no different. In the small cottage at the top of the hill, where he lived with his parents and younger sister, they were more vulnerable than most to lightning strikes.

Seeking his parents for comfort as he always did, the tableau he walked in on shook him to his core with horror.

      His little sister was out in the rain, naked, arms outstretched to the sky, eyes closed and a beatific smile on her face. She seemed to be speaking, or praying; he wasn’t sure, but she had a knife in her hand with blood and rainwater dripping from it, washing the blade clean.       Stomach lurching, heart pounding, he ran toward his parents’ bedroom but stopped when he saw the small, bloody footprints that lead from the open door.

      “Nylii, what have you done?” He ran from the house toward his sister, and when he came to she was dead beneath him, his hands on her throat, his cheek sliced open from the knife, and the clouds clearing to reveal the dim light of a sickle moon. Her eyes were open, and save for the fact she wasn’t breathing, she looked like she was about to tell him a secret.

      Revulsion and horror made him scramble up and make it to the edge of the wet, dank woods as he heaved up the contents of their last dinner. Gasping for air, burning with thirst and wanting to scream, he wiped the stringy, rank spit away with a handful of leaves. His cheek was on fire, and there was blood on his chest and shoulder. He touched the wound to see how bad it was, and it flared, searing under his touch.

      He opened his mouth, but the ensuing pain had him back on the ground unable to scream. He felt something go wrong with his blood.

      She’d cursed him, marked him. For what, the gods only knew.

     “Nylii, what have you done? What have you done?” He realized he was shouting. Panicking, leaving the bodies for scavengers, he ran and never looked back.

                                                 ************

     More murmurs, louder this time as what he said was conveyed to those who couldn’t hear. He’d played whisper-down- the-line with his friends; he’d be a legend or a monster by the time it got to them.

      The couple stepped back.

     “She was afflicted?” the woman asked.

    He wasn’t sure what ‘afflicted’ meant, but he nodded: “She killed our parents at Reaving Moon. A blood sacrifice.”

      Cries and gestures against evil rippled outward through the mob.

     “What should we do?” the woman asked her husband.

      “Kill him, is what we should do…”

      The boy was tired, thirsty, hungry, and his adrenaline from running had spiked and dipped several times. Now he was just scared and angry.

       “I’ve done no harm to you! You came after me!”

        The husband glared and stepped closer. “Yer damn scar was shinin’! We din’t know what the hell ye were!”

       The woman spoke again. “We’ve children in th’ village, boy. Not much older n’ yew. Y’understand?”

      The boy fell to his knees. “I beg you, for one night, let me sleep. I’ll sleep here, outside of your town, and I won’t come in. I promise. Please just go. I’ll be gone in the morning.”  

      After some hesitation, the wife took the husband aside, away from him and the crowd. He stayed on his knees; the weight of the rabble’s stare was almost palpable as they openly regarded him with an unhealthy mix of fear and fascination. The couple’s conversation, judging from gestures and faces, was brief but heated.

 Read more at the link below on Niume. 

Source: The Mark

Cara-Cell

 

As autumn dies,

the bitter night wind

seeps into the stone walls

of what has become my

new home.

Hope of leaving

abandoned me.

She peers into the defeat

replete within my gaze,

and smiles

with

pleased and mocking scorn.

Dressed in midnight,

she comes,

a cream-skinned shadow

in silvered fog,

and tells me her name

is

Cara,

as if I cared,

as if defeat had somehow

changed to affection.

A Murder follows her,

and obeys her every gesture.

Her lacquered black nails point,

and soft eyes are

plucked like jewels from bone settings,

the screams

drowned by the eldritch music

of their raucous cries.

Why do you stay? she whispers in my mind.

Do you not see there are no stones to bar your path?

No chains, no locks, no guards to block your way?

Blind,

I stumble past

the warring scents

of lavender and carrion,

to roam

the shrouded night.

Exhausted,

helpless,

and alone,

by dawn

I find myself

returning

once again,

to where she freed me.

And barefoot, shivering,

crying ice-laced tears,

I walk the frigid riverbed

back to my

Cara-cell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leiko and the White Wolf (5)

5)

 

As it often happens when in a strange place for the first time, Leiko couldn’t sleep, and got up to skulk about the monastery to explore whatever piqued her curiosity, which was just about everything.

The dark halls with single torches intrigued her most, but she knew the monastery was likely labyrinthine, and didn’t want to risk getting lost.

She decided to see if Akira was up; perhaps he could make some sort of sleeping tea for her, if he wasn’t too angry at her behavior during dinner.

A bit peeved to find that she cared what he thought of her, she figured it was best to go apologize; he’d been kind to her, all things considered, and she hadn’t, as he’d promised, come to harm.

There was no threat here, at least not from the Brothers, but she could also sense an undercurrent of contained power, controlled, but almost throbbing like a heart, inside the walls, under the ground, a vibrancy running like a warm current tickling the fine hairs on her arms.

It was a sense of gathering power, and it gave her an excited, anticipatory fright.

If that was what they were going to teach her to harness and wield, she dreaded the learning of it, and never desired anything more.

Some of the doors were open, and she looked in to see the men packing large satchels. When they saw her, they hurriedly looked away, almost shamefaced.

She stood in the doorway of one, and the monk came over to close the door, but she wouldn’t leave.

“Leiko, I need privacy.”

“Are you leaving? Did Hakurou send you all on a journey? A mission?”

She saw his face change at the words ‘journey’ and ‘mission,’ and something clicked into place.

“You’re leaving.”

“Please…” he pushed the door at her again, not hard, but firmly, and she had no choice but to back away or let it hit her bare toes.

The lock clicked, and she heard him shuffle away.

They’re leaving because of me.

Disturbed, she went in earnest to find Akira, and ask what problems she’d be facing with them now that she was living here.

 

****************

“Come in, Ko.”

She went in, saw Akira standing by the small window, looking out at the yellow moonlight on the green grass, giving it a bluish cast.

“You knew it was me?”

He chuckled, but didn’t turn to her.

“No powers needed there; the brothers aren’t prone to knocking, and they’re a ham fisted lot if they do.”

“You called me ‘Ko.’ Hakurou changed my name. You call him master, but you defy him by using my old name.”

He turned to her then, looking at her intently; her observations were keen for one so young. Tigress by the tail…

“Between you and me, you will always be ‘Ko.’ That is the name I found you under, and the name in which you branded your father’s cheek with your spittle.”

She reddened at the memory, and looked away.

Good.

“It is also the first cord of our bonding, and I will only call you ‘Leiko’ when Hakurou is around.

“Are we agreed?”

She nodded, not wanting to speak yet, fearing her voice would squeak.

“You are not asleep; tomorrow, Hakurou’s going to start your training in the path of the Rei.”

She sat on the edge of his bed. “Some of the men are leaving because of me. I saw them.”

Akira inwardly cursed them for cowards.

“There is nothing to be done for it, Ko. Those that remain…”

“Those that remain…?”

He shook his head. “What is it you want?”

“Besides returning to Iwai? I’d like a sleeping tea, if you have any.”

“I do. I will even join you. Any later, and we will both see the sun before we topple.”

 

*****************

 

Hakurou’s voice was low thunder.

“I am grieved…so grieved I can no longer call you Brothers.

“You are craven, useless dogs.”

“You said to consider carefully, Hakurou. We all have—“
“No spines!” Hakurou’s fist slammed the large table they were sitting around, and they all jumped, blinking at the sudden fury of the motion and his expression.

Another monk spoke. “Maybe you shouldn’t issue edicts you don’t mean then, Hakurou.”

Hakurou sat down, the blood slowly leaving his face as his hand worried at his beard.

“You’re right. If you didn’t leave now, you’d prove a weakness in the fighting, and run, or die. Either way, you’d have the witches victorious, and this is not the time for people like you. I would say ‘men’, but that doesn’t fit you.”

The monk who first spoke stood. “I’ve had enough. You said we could leave. We’ve done our part, and served our gods; we want to go on serving them. We don’t want to die.”

Hakurou gave a bitter laugh.

“And if the witches win, pup, do you think they’ll leave you be?”

That gave them pause, and some of them remained sitting.

“He’s turned you? With that simplistic question, he changed your mind?”

One of sitting monks sighed. “He’s right, Brother Milal, there is no place to run they won’t find us.”

“But there’s a chance they won’t; there’s a chance we’ll survive, and as long as it’s there, I have to try. I have to take that chance.”

“Best be leaving then,” Hakurou said. “The sun is up soon, and Leiko’s first session will start at first light.”

They stood, and filed out in silence, giving the old wolf at least that much respect, dropping their pendants and rings in a reliquary beside the main doors.

 

***************

Leiko and Akira saw them leaving, and before Akira could react, she was off, running toward them.

“Wait! Please! Please wait!

The monk who spoke to Hakurou first stopped the rest of them, watching her wild eyed approach.

Seeing he was the leader, she went up to him.

“If you leave, sir, you weaken the monastery. You weaken us all.”

“I have no part in this war. It will be a bloodbath, and none of it theirs. You seem like an intelligent child, for a peasant’s daughter. Demand Akira return you to your homeland.

“Dosojin Monastery will be destroyed in the battle to come.”

“Are you a seer, now?” Akira interjected.

Milal looked at him as if he’d just bled on a hymnal.

“No, I’m a realist.”

“If you believe your god is real, ‘realist,’ then why don’t you stay and ask for victory? Your brothers need you.” Leiko said. “And I need you.”

He looked at her, incredulous: her rudeness knew no boundaries.

“He is not a god of warriors, you fool girl, he is a god of the temple. He watches over us in peace and in life, if we should so pray.”

She looked at him a long moment. He was bristling, but dared say nothing in front of Akira. He was shifting his feet under her gaze, and not making eye contact, but summoning backbone to stand straight and say:

“If there’s nothing else, child, we must go.”

She stepped aside, and as they filed past, the leader stood glaring at her, and she calmly bore it until it was his time to step forward on the path of stones.

As he passed her, she murmured so only the three of them heard her:

“Pray hard then, Milal.

As Akira began to close the door, she the fear in Milal’s eyes, but his pride wouldn’t let him capitulate.

He swallowed, and turned away from them, and walked out.

As the lock clicked, a roll of thunder resounded in the far distance.