Archive for the ‘Volume 1 Issue 5’ Category
By Paula Ray
Graphic Art by Jack S. Rogers
They’re here, again. Leather wings beat against the tin roof. Talons scratch metal with a sinister screech. The hair on Darvana’s arms stands at attention and dread wiggles up her spine like worms. She knew the Scurlots would return. Her father, Kartu, warned her before he was imprisoned. He said it was his fault; he had summoned the beasts by accident. Kartu had a habit of toying with magic and making a mess of things.
“Darvana, take your brother to the cellar!”
Seeko grips the wrungs of his crib with such force his tiny knuckles are white. Even now, he does not cry or make a sound; he never has. Darvana places him in a mofi-pouch and slips the straps over her shoulders. He grabs onto her copper braids and buries his plump face in her bosom.
“It’s okay, Seeko. We’re going to the cellar. They can’t get us there. Don’t worry.”
Her Mother, Lonisa, piles fruit and canned food onto a blanket and ties it as Darvana walks past the kitchen. Lonisa wipes her brow with the back of her hand, between shallow breaths she says, “Grab the water-bucket by the stove.”
They haul the food and water into the cellar. Lonisa sprinkles Aldero dust along the edge of the hatch, locks it and hangs a Soranea medallion from the handle. As long as they do not light a fire and the floorboards made of Tunogo wood are above them, they are safe. Darvana knows the dust and medallion serve no other purpose than to appease her mother’s superstition, even the lock is pointless. It is the wood harvested from the hillside where the great sorcerer, Tramone, once lived that provides protection.
A familiar pungent odor filters down through the cracks overhead and burns Darvana’s nostrils. Lonisa opens a jar of mint oil and rips three long strips from her petticoat. She quickly douses the rags and hands Darvana two. Darvana loosely wraps one around the baby’s nose and mouth and brings the other cloth to her nose and inhales deeply. The mint cools the burning sensation. Darvana ties the cloth and nods thank you toward her mother.
There is no light save the jars of glowing Tunogo sap lined along the top shelf. The luminescent blue creates a strange, eerie haze and time seems to stand still. Huddled closely together, Lonisa and Darvana scan the small space, glancing at one another briefly, avoiding prolonged eye-contact. Fear breeds on fear, Kartu used to say. They know the less they sense the fear welling within each other, the calmer they will remain.
Seeko has just learned to crawl and is squirming in his pouch. He pushes his fists against Darvana’s breasts so hard she’s convinced he’s bruising her.
“Seeko, stop. You’re hurting me. You can’t crawl around right now. Be still.”
The baby arches his back and shoves his hands against her, this time the straps on his pouch tear apart. Darvana gasps and tries to catch him, but he falls to the stone slab floor with a thud and crack. Blood pools around his petite skull. Lonisa gathers him in her arms and inspects his injuries. Darvana retrieves Aldero leaves from the shelf and hands them to her mother.
“Is he okay, Mama?”
Seeko looks about with eyes wild. Lonisa places the leaves on his wound and kisses his forehead. “He is stunned. I think he’ll be okay. Prepare a palette with the blanket and bring me the lantern; I need more light.
“Mama, we can’t light the lantern. Red beetles will come.”
“We have no choice, Darvana. The mofi-pouch is thick. It’s difficult for the beetles to bite through and the mofi hide will shade Seeko’s body. I have plenty of Andero leaves to shield the light from his face. Get the lantern and matches. I can’t tell if he needs stitches or not. This must be done. I’ll work quickly. It’ll be all right, love. I promise.” Lonisa reaches over and caresses the back of Darvana’s hand.
Darvana lowers her head and bats back tears. She notices Seeko’s blood on her hand and sees Lonisa’s hand is coated, red and glistening. Seeko is bleeding profusely. So much blood from such a tiny baby.
“But…Mama….what about you?”
“You heard me.”
Seeko closes his eyes and his breathing lulls into a slow rhythm.
“Mama, keep him awake. Don’t let him go to sleep.” Darvana’s voice is shaky and hushed. Lonisa does not look at her. Instead, she takes the lantern and sets it by the baby’s head and fishes in the matchbox with frantic fingers. Darvana nudges the baby until his eyes open and she lowers her mouth to his ear and clicks her tongue. He usually smiles and wiggles his feet and hands when she does that, but this time, he lolls his head from side to side with eyelids fluttering.
Lonisa gives Darvana a hard direct gaze and nods. “Move away now.”
“No. You need help.”
“Move away, I said.”
From a dark corner, Darvana trembles and watches her mother strike the match and light the wick of the lantern. Lonisa washes his wound to assess the extent of his injury. She threads a needle and burns the tip to sterilize it.
The ground vibrates. Glass jars clink against each other and cans rattle. Dust falls from the ceiling like snow and Lonisa pulls a cover over herself and the baby. Darvana stares at the light coming from beneath the thin fabric covering and mumbles a prayer. Stones from the floor crumble and hundreds of red beetles scuttle toward Lonisa and the baby. There is thrashing and whimpers, but no screams. The light goes out and the beetles rescind into their underground boroughs.
Darvana yanks the covering from Lonisa and Seeko and finds her mother’s dress shredded and arms and back pockmarked with numerous bites. Hair shields Lonisa’s face. The baby is wrapped tightly in his mofi-pouch and Aldero leaves overlap across his face and head. Darvana peels the pouch away from his skin and removes the leaves. He is peppered with small welps, but his skin is not broken. Lonisa collapses face down onto the floor and Seeko kicks and punches the air, as if he is fighting an invisible monster.
“Mama?” Darvana rolls Lonisa onto her back and discovers her eyes have been devoured and her breath is ragged and labored. Lonisa reaches toward Darvana’s face. One long sigh expels from Lonisa’s lungs and she ceases to breathe. Darvana panics. She attempts to resuscitate her mother, but fails.
“Mama!” Shaking Lonisa and crying hysterically, Darvana’s stomach muscles tighten and chest clinches. She looks at Seeko, who coughs up blood and closes his eyes.
“Seeko! No!” Darvana pulls the baby to her chest and clicks her tongue in his ear. She clicks and clicks until the voice of her father rings in her head. Ever since childhood, whenever Darvana experiences extreme trauma, she and her father have been able to telepathetically communicate for brief periods of time.
“Darvana, breathe, child. Long slow breaths.” Kartu’s voice is raspy and quiet, as if it is taking every ounce of strength he has to speak.
“Father, what should I do? Tell me…” Darvana’s throat restricts as tears fill her eyes, “I don’t know…”
“You need to take Seeko to the medicine woman. Remember Shilo? I took you to see her once when you were a young girl.”
“Yes, I remember.” Darvana swallows hard. “She has a cabin hidden by moss near Gya Falls, but I can’t travel now. The Scurlots are here.”
“I know they are, love, but you must carry the baby to Shilo; his wounds are severe. She will help you. Take the Soranea medallion with you. She’ll need it.”
“Father. Mama is….”
Kartu’s voice shatters with grief. “I know, love, I know” There is a long pause of silence, “Pack food, water, Tunogo sap, and as much Tunogo wood as you can manage.”
A high pitched ring vibrates through her head and Kartu’s voice is no longer audible. She rubs her forehead to ease the pressure building behind her brows and sets to the task of wrapping her mother’s body in a blanket. Darvana weeps as she places a sacred amulet on Lonisa’s chest . There is no time for a proper burial; Seeko’s injuries will not wait.
Darvana loads a sack with the necessary items and tethers four jars of sap around her waist. She mends the mofi-pouch and hangs Seeko from her chest then straps the supplies to her back. The cumbersome weight makes climbing the stairs difficult. She puts her hand on the hatch and hesitates. There is no sound of talons on the roof. With a deep breath, she pushes the door open and is greeted with blackness so dense she is unable to see into the room. The stench is stronger now. She pauses and applies a few more drops of mint oil to the nose-rags. Seeko tugs her braids and she smiles.
“You are a strong boy, Seeko. You’re going to be okay. Here we go. Hold tight.”
With palms pressed against the floor, Darvana pushes herself up and into the living room of their cottage. The glowing jars cast a dim blue light, but in this home where she has grown into a young woman, she knows her way about and easily makes her way to the front door without stumbling. The door knob is cold against her sweaty palm. She presses her ear to the door and listens closely. Nothing. A gentle turn and the door creaks open.
On the porch, the wind slaps her face and makes whips of her braids. Seeko squirms in his pouch and Darvana clicks in his ear while tying a wide scarf around her head to tame her hair and keep her ears warm. She tucks the hood of the mofi-pouch securely around Seeko’s delicate skull and tries to recall the way to Shilo’s abode.
With arms wrapped around Seeko, she leans into the wind and heads west, toward Gya Falls. The main road is littered with abandoned transport crafts. There are no signs of bodies, dead or alive. This is the way of the Scurlots. They capture their victims and carry them back to the nest for feeding. She steers clear of the woodland, the most likely place for the nests, but the road is not safe either and she hurries toward the foot trail cleared by her father years ago. It runs parallel the river, straight to Gya Falls.
Her eyes adjust to the dim blue light and as the wind dies down, her hearing grows keen. There are screams in the distance along with sounds of Scurlot screeches and cracking of limbs. Her heart races and she picks up the pace, running toward the trail, head rotating, searching the sky for the hungry beasts.
The sound of water lures her to the trail.
“Seeko, let’s get some fresh water and rest.”
She finds a trickle of fresh spring water along the rock wall of a nearby cave. She has drank from this stream many times. The water is cool and refreshing. She drinks and gives Seeko small sips as she catches her breath. They have far to go and must not stay in one place too long.
Down the trail they continue. The familiar stench grows strong. She senses the presence of a Scurlot and slowly turns to look behind her. The odor of the Tunogo wood usually keeps them from coming too close, but this one seems brave. Darvana grabs a sap jar and holds it out in front of her. The form of a half-breed comes into view. Its mercury eyes glare at her and its human face is marred by metal spikes along its forehead and jawline. The half-breed grins and licks its lips with a green forked tongue.
Half-breeds do not eat humans, but they have been known to mutilate and torture for sport. Darvana pulls a Tunogo spear from her hip holster and waves it toward the half-breed. It flaps its giant black leather wings and backs away with a series of clucks and coos. Another swoops down and they circle Darvana and the baby, sniffing the air and scratching the ground with their red claw feet.
Seeko kicks in his pouch and she hears his straps rip again. She drops the spear and catches the baby. A half-breed lunges forward and grasps her scarf in its gnarled hand. With a yank the scarf twists around her neck and she struggles to breathe as one of the half-breeds drags her into the woods. The other sniffs the spear and whimpers then follows. Darvana holds Seeko tight and closes her eyes, whispering a magical chant her father taught her as a child. The half-breeds stop and cock their heads from side to side. She says the chant louder. They scratch and march in circles. She repeats the chant and hears a woman’s voice call out in the distance.
“Chaka Fay Chaka Fay Noo”
The half-breeds look at one other then toward Gya Falls.
Again the voice calls.
“Chaka Fay Chaka Fay Noo”
The half-breeds fly away, leaving Darvana trembling on the ground.
“We must hurry, Seeko.”
She pulls herself up and grabs her spear and secures a leather strap around Seeko and her waist. “Hold on Seeko.”
With skirt lifted to her knees, she runs toward Gya Falls, glass sap jars clink together. Into an hour of nonstop running, her legs shake with fatigue, but she continues until the sound of crashing water brings a smile to her face. Now she must find Shilo’s cabin hidden behind moss.
A drone of night bees buzzes around the base of an Aldero bush. Darvana follows the sound and finds the Aldero’s white blossoms weeping milk. Slowly she lowers her hand between the leaves and catches drops of milk in a jar lid. The bees tickle her wrist and fingers, but do not sting. She lifts the lid to Seeko’s lips and he drinks eagerly.
“There now, you’ll be good as new in no time.” She whispers in his ear and kisses his forehead.
Leaves rustle as if something is walking nearby, something large. She lifts her nose-rag from her face and sniffs, but there is no putrid odor, only a faint sweet scent of bread baking. Her stomach growls and she searches the mossy hillside for a cave that leads to Shilo. The aroma grows stronger as she nears an opening in the rock near the falls. The rustling is closing in on her heels, but she is not afraid. If this thing meant to harm her, it would have made a move already.
Inside the cave, the darkness decreases in the incandescence of light crystals embedded in the stone. There is a worn path that leads to a red door ahead. Darvana spins around and looks behind her. Something is following her. A shadow ducks behind a boulder. She squints and stares.
“Come out and show yourself.”
She continues toward the red door and prepares to knock when the door swings open with a loud creak. A rattle sounds behind her. She turns. A shadow slinks out of sight, into a corner.
The scent of baked bread draws her inside the dwelling. There are baskets and baubles hanging from the ceiling. Crates rest atop one another–four and five high on either side of the path and create a clutter that is oddly comforting.
Darvana waits, but there is no answer. She calls again.
A shuffle comes from behind. She turns and sees a large black dog with grey eyes and silver tag hanging from its neck. It bears its sharp teeth and growls again. Darvana backs away, feeling the edge of the crates with her hands, knocking a few over in her clumsiness. She bumps into something soft and turns around to see Shilo holding a crooked Tunogo staff and wearing a brilliant gold gown. Shilo’s black hair flows in loose ringlets to her waist and she has tattoos about her face in the shape of sacred symbols, but instead of marring her countenance, these tattoos enhance it. Shilo is exotic and alluring, a middle-aged woman whose beauty refuses to fade.
With a deep alto voice Shilo speaks, “You call me?”
“Yes. I met you once with my father many years ago.”
“Who your father be?”
“Kartu, the magician.”
“Magician?” She laughs and pulls the mofi-pouch away from Seeko’s face. “This your child?”
“No. No, Ma’am. He’s my brother.”
“No Ma’am? You peasants and old ways.” She looks Darvana up and down as she circles her, tapping her staff on the floor. The black dog at her heels, follows close behind. The dog sniffs at Darvana’s hem. “Why you come here?”
“Father said you could help my brother, Seeko. He has a head injury and red beetle bites on his body. Also, Father said you may be able to help me lift the curse of the Scurlot.” Darvana digs the Soranea medallion from her pocket and hands it to Shilo. “He said you’d need this.”
Shilo yanks the medallion from Darvana’s hand. “So it was your father who summoned beasts with Tramone’s magic? He not strong enough for magic of sorcerer.” Shilo stomps about raising her hands in the air, speaking in a foreign tongue with rage, she turns and holds the Soranea medallion under Darvana’s chin. “I should curse you. Avenge your father’s plague. Where he? Why he not come with you? He afraid of Shilo? He should be afraid.”
“He is imprisoned in Tambridge Towers. After the last season of the Scurlots, the guards removed him from our home.”
“How they know he do curse? They know not magic.”
“Apparently they do, because he was imprisoned for summoning the beasts.”
Shilo cocks one eyebrow and tilts her head. “They knew, but I did not? Impossible! It was you and you blame your father.”
“No. It wasn’t me. I don’t know magic.”
“Give me baby.”
“You won’t hurt him?”
“No. I hurt not child. Let me look you. Remove pouch.”
Darvana removes the pouch and sack on her back.
Darvana slips the scarf from her hair. Shilo grabs her braids and laughs. “You child. How old?”
“Seventeen, braids like this…dress like this?”
“Undo braids and bodice. Bare shoulders.”
“Yes, I look for markings of magic.”
“I have no markings I assure you and I prefer to leave my hair be.”
“Unbind hair, little girl.”
“I’m NOT a little girl.”
Shilo smiles and Darvana’s fingers frantically unbraid her hair. Waves of copper cascade over her hips. She tugs at her bodice and loosens the laces then slides her blouse over her shoulders. “See, no markings!”
Shilo studies her shoulders and jabs some sort of apparatus three times into Darvana’s left shoulder.
“Ouch! What are you doing?” Darvana looks down and there are three sacred symbol welps on her shoulder.
“Now you have markings of magic. When your birthday?”
Darvana rubs her shoulder and frowns, peering at Shilo through copper strands. “I’ll be eighteen in three weeks, Aut 23rd.”
“Not much time. Come.” Shilo scoops the baby into her arms and heads down the corridor.
The corridor leads to a large room adorned with luminescent crystal carvings and furniture fashioned from Tunogo wood with cushions upholstered in fur. Loaves of fresh baked bread line the hearth alight with a blue flame and the scent of Bantina tea wafts through the air. Shilo takes a seat by the hearth in a gilded throne and motions toward the fire. “Eat, drink. You need be strong.”
Darvana rubs her hands on her skirt and looks down at her dirty palms. A young man brings a bucket of water over and leads her to a comfortable chair. His eyes are gray and hair is black. He is wearing a black tunic and black pants. A silver chain hangs from his neck. He nods for her to sit. She does. He takes her hand in his and lowers it into the water. It is warm and soothing. She sits quietly by the fire and watches him, how gently he bathes her hands while avoiding eye contact. Darvana asks, “What is your name?” He looks toward Shilo as if he is unsure if he should answer. Shilo is busy feeding Seeko broth and doesn’t pay the young man any mind. He reaches for Darvana’s foot. She pulls it back.
“What are you doing? What is your name?”
He nods toward her foot and motions. She moves it toward him. He takes her ankle and removes her shoe and lowers her foot into the water. It feels so good she decides to not talk and just relax as he massages and bathes her feet.
Shilo looks up. “Women treasures. This something peasant mothers not teach.”
“You know nothing of my mother.” Memories of Lonisa fill Darvana’s mind and she bursts into tears, sobbing, until she can barely breathe.
“What wrong?” Shilo asks.
“My mother was attacked today by the red beetles and I left her. I left her wrapped in her mother’s quilt, abandoned in the cellar without giving her a proper burial, because…”
“Shhh.” Shilo rests the baby in a fur lined basket and moves toward Darvana, who covers her face with her hands and tries to stifle her cries. The young man moves away and Shilo draws Darvana close and strokes her hair. “You’ve come to right place, everything be okay. Hush now. We’ll bury mother. First, you eat and rest. I take care of brother.”
Darvana looks into Shilo’s eyes and sees compassion and sincerity. The young man brings a plate of hot stew and bread to Darvana and a tall glass of tea. She reaches for the food and drink and whispers, “thank you,” then wipes tears from her cheek. The food is delicious. She eats hurriedly and soon her eyelids become heavy. Shilo takes her by the hand and leads her to a feathered cot. “Sleep, morrow much you learn.”
Darvana drifts off to sleep. Images of her mother, smiling and singing, lull her to dream.
The next morning, Shilo is fluttering about, waving her hands in the air and chanting some crazy witchcraft. The young man is sitting at the kitchen table soundlessly laughing and quickly straightens himself and looks serious when Darvana enters the room. Shilo stops and faces her.
“Big day. Come. Eat.” She leads Darvana to the kitchen and sits her down at the end of the table and places a big bowl of green porridge in front of her.
Darvana grimaces and pulls back. “What’s this?”
“You need. Eat.”
Darvana lifts the spoon to her nose and sniffs. It smells foul. She sticks out her tongue and licks at the porridge on her spoon and shudders. The young man laughs soundlessly and gobbles his mush, eyeing her over the bowl.
She pinches her nose and shovels the porridge in, trying to eat it as quickly as possible then gulps down the water in the pewter goblet beside her.
Shilo watches. She isn’t amused. As soon as Darvana eats her porridge, Shilo ladles more into her bowl.
“No. I couldn’t possibly. I’m stuffed.” Darvana pushes the bowl away.
Shilo moves it back. “Eat all.”
The young man holds his bowl out. Shilo tells him, “This porridge not for you.” He frowns.
Darvana passes her bowl to him. “Here. You can have mine.”
He smiles and looks up at Shilo, who grabs the bowl and sets it in front of Darvana. “YOU eat all.”
She gobbles it up trying get it over with. Suddenly, the walls of the room appear to inhale and exhale. She feels tingly, warm, and weightless. She hovers two feet off the ground. Doing pirouettes mid-air, she discovers: the faster she spins, the higher she rises. Soon Darvana becomes dizzy, disoriented, and imagines herself in a dark prison cell.
Her father Kartu leans against a grimy stone wall. His wrists are chained and his head hangs like a church bell waiting to ring in a deserted steeple. The room is not Shilo’s kitchen, but a dungeon. Voices growl in the corridor. She hears screams in the distance and has the overwhelming sense that death is present. Darvana doesn’t know how she got there, but she knows she is invisible, an observer. Her father is unaware of her presence.
Liquid gushes down her throat and she blinks. Shilo pours water into Darvana’s mouth and begins to wrap a heavy rope around her waist and tie it to an anvil. It prevents Darvana from floating too high or perhaps away. The silent young man reaches for Darvana’s hand and guides her onto a soft fur chair.
“You took easy. You ready.” Shilo grins and kisses Darvana’s cheek.
“Took easy? Wha…”
“You have magic blood like brother.”
“Yes. My son like brother. See.”
With blurry vision Darvana observes the young man morph into a crow. She shakes her head and blinks again and he becomes a dog and then changes back into a young man.
“This Mezulo. He Shilo son. He be whatever he need be.”
Seeko crawls toward Darvana and as he crawls he turns into a kitten and meows at her feet.
“Seeko?” She picks the kitten up and pets as he purrs. The kitten has a wound on its head just like her brother. Seeko turns back into an infant in her lap and she laughs when he licks his hands and rubs his face with his nose twitching. He smiles with gray eyes twinkling.
Mezulo tickles Seeko under the chin and leans toward him. Darvana feels the warmth radiating from Mezulo’s skin and his closeness makes her a bit woozy and causes her face to become hot. He turns and looks into Darvana’s eyes and gazes for a moment then smiles and stands up straight, gently placing his hand on her shoulder. She squirms in her seat and pretends to not notice he is touching her, but inside she feels an electric current running through her body and she likes it.
Shilo gives Mezulo a furrowed-brow head shake and he removes his hand then she smiles at him, caresses his cheek, and tousles his hair. He pulls away with a grin and shrug and stuffs his hands in his pockets. Turning her attention back toward Darvana, Shilo raises her arms in the air and in loud sing-song voice she proclaims, “Mothers of Aldero root and Sisters of Soranea bloom, permit this daughter of chosen blood to receive her gift full force that she may reverse a curse set forth by her father, Kartu, apprentice of Tramone.”
Apprentice of Tramone? Father was a sorcerer’s apprentice? He never told me that.
A rumble sends tremors through the room and Seeko turns toward Darvana’s chest and hides his face. Shilo looks down at him and scoops him up in her arms and places him in a cradle. She motions for Darvana to stand. She does and the next thing she knows, she is holding hands with two strange women on either side of her. There is a total of six older, cheerful women with wrinkled, expressive faces. They all start walking in a clockwise circle. The women chant and Darvana feels herself become drowsy.
When she awakens, all the other women are gone, but Shilo, who sits, staring at Darvana from across the room. She is holding a black leather-bound book in her hands and is tracing the gold letters on the cover with her fingertips.
Darvana rises to her elbows on the bed, squints and sees Mezulo playing with Seeko then her vision becomes blurry and she blacks out again.
The taste of cherries brings her back to her senses. She licks her lips and opens her eyes. Shilo strokes her hair and touches the tip of her nose. “You strong. Stronger than Shilo your age. You sister now.”
“Sister? Does that mean Mezulo is now my brother?”
With a musical laugh like a tambourine, Shilo smooths her dress and puts her hands on her hips. “Why you ask?”
Darvana blushes and shrugs.
“No. Mezulo no brother to you, lovely.” Shilo winks at Mezulo and his face turns bright red.
“We go soon. Pack.”
“Go? Where are we going?”
“Nest. NO!” Darvana jumps to her feet and squares her shoulders with Shilo. The blankets fly across the room and wind knocks Shilo off her feet.
Shilo pulls herself back up and shakes her head.
“We work on that. Tantrum no good for magic. Must learn control. I teach later. Now we pack. Come. Help.”
Darvana looks toward Mezulo for reassurance. He nods and motions her forward. She steps into the kitchen and helps them pack.
“We not stay long.” Shilo whispers. “You break curse and we return home, blink of eye. Not be scared, lovely; Mezulo protect.” She eyes her son, who stands tall and puffs his chest out.
Seeko, in kitten form, peers from a Tunogo crate. Darvana walks over to him and puts her hand on the crate. He licks her palm and she giggles. “Seeko. Looks like you’re cozy in there. Nothing’s gonna get you, that’s for sure.”
Mezulo, Shilo, and Darvana prepare their sacks and strap them on their backs. Each carry Tunogo wood spears, bow and arrows, and sap. Mezulo totes Seeko’s crate and they close their eyes and huddle together as Shilo chants softly.
When Darvana opens her eyes, she can vaguely make out the shapes of large trees. She recognizes the scent of Aldero blooms and the putrid stench of the Scurlots. They are not far. She hears their screeches and the screams of their prey.
A large branch falls to the ground with a loud thud. Darvana peers in the direction of the noise. The sound of flapping wings comes from behind. She spins and strains to see. A hiss is near her ankle. She looks down and a black snack with silver eyes slithers away. Mezulo is nowhere to be found. She hears an eerie cry on her right, close by and then a Scurlot collapses on the ground. Its giant face lands inches away from her feet.
She stares into its lifeless mercury eyes and grimaces at its blood-soaked green tongue lolled out of its beakish mouth. She has never been this close to a Scurlot before. She can’t help but poke it with her Tunogo spear and take great joy at the sizzling sound as the spear penetrates the Scurlots furry swollen belly.
The snake slithers back toward her and transforms into Mezulo. She gives him a smile and he nods, as if to say, “Turn around.”
Shilo disappears into the underbrush and tucks Seeko behind the foliage of an Aldero bush. Scurlot only crave human flesh; Seeko is safe. As Shilo makes her way back over to Darvana, a Scurlot swoops down and grabs her by the arms. Shilo stabs the beast with her spear and the Scurlot drops Shilo from more than twenty feet in the air. The wind is knocked out of Shilo. She gasps for breath and looks up just in time to spy another flying toward her. Mezulo shoots a Tunogo arrow into the chest of the Scurlot then shoots another arrow at a Scurlot headed toward Darvana.
Darvana ducks as she is sprayed with yellow blood of the beast. She wipes her face and sees Mezulo change into a panther. Her mind is a whirl. Mezulo and Shilo are fighting off Scurlots and she is standing in one spot, watching the terror all around her. Her chin trembles and she feels helpless.
“Darvana. Close your eyes. Do not watch.” Kartu’s voice is strong.
“Close your eyes.”
She obeys. She hears Shilo scream.
“Keep them closed!”
She clenches the spear in her grip and squeezes her eyes shut as tight as she can.
“Repeat after me!”
“Chaka Fay Noo May Dee Lar Tu…”
She repeats her father’s chant.
“Chaka Fay Noo May Dee Lar Tu…”
She repeats the passage again.
“Don Par Ku Sen.”
“Don Par Ku Sen.” Her hands shake, but she feels stronger.
Darvana lifts her arms above her head and feels the wind beneath her wings. Wings?
“Keep your eyes closed!”
Darvana wants to look. Does she have wings? She feels herself rising, flying, and her throat begins to burn.
“Look! Now! Breathe!”
Darvana eyes open and she sees the nest below. The world is bright. She can see everything for miles. Her body is covered in iridescent scales and her wings are transparent. She exhales and fire plumes from her snout. She circles the nest and Scurlots fly toward her. With one long exhale, she ignites them and watches as they descend with their leather wings disintegrating into ash.
She hears Shilo’s cry from below and dives toward the nest. A Scurlot has Shilo in its claws and a snake in its beak. She doesn’t want to burn Shilo. She looks for Mezulo. He isn’t in sight. She has to make the Scurlot release them before she can torch the beast.
A red hornet flies toward the Scurlot. It stings the beast and flies off and stings it again and again, buzzes around its face and causes the Scurlot to flap its wings and let out a shriek. It drops the snake and then the hornet attacks the talons of the Scurlot and soon Shilo is released.
Seeko. Is that Seeko?
Darvana looks toward the crate in the Aldero bush. He isn’t there. She watches as Shilo opens her hand and the red hornet lands on her palm and changes into Seeko. Shilo snuggles him to her bosom.
Darvana blasts the Scurlot with a massive flame and then turns her attention toward the others, hovering around the giant nest. All the human prey are dead, except for one little girl trying to climb out of the barricade of sticks and moss.
Shilo turns toward the stranded girl in the nest and motions her to duck down. The girl obeys. Shilo sets Seeko on the ground and waves her spear in the air. The arrows and wood from the crate levitate and move toward the nest and form a roof over the child.
The remaining Scurlots shriek and hiss. They fly toward Darvana. She waits, hovering in one spot until they are close enough and then she blazes them. Two Scurlots dodge the fire and one dives down and seizes Shilo. The other circles behind Darvana and attacks her head with its talons. It rakes its claws across her eyes and she loses her balance and spins as she tries to swat the Scurlot away. She feels herself rapidly heading toward the ground and she flaps her wings, but the weight of the Scurlot keeps her from being able to stay airborn.
Darvana crashes into a patch of Aldero plants and flings her giant snout, causing the Scurlot to lose its grip on her skull. Once she gets the Scurlot in her sights clearly, she fries it in one breath.
Kartu’s voice booms in her head. “Now. You must speak with your dragon tongue and release the curse.”
Unsure what to say or do, Darvana opens her mouth and words pour out. Words she does not recognize. She speaks with a voice louder than thunder. She feels her heart race and her body become frigid and stiff.
Shilo, Mezulo, and Seeko stare with mouths agape. One Scurlot scratches the ground with its talons and sends out a mournful cry. Darvana hesitates when she sees another flock of Scurlots headed her way. She swallows hard then continues to chant. Slowly the Scurlots disappear, vanishing, as if they are simply being erased somehow.
With all the Scurlots gone from sight, Darvana hears Shilo, Mezulo, the little girl, and even Seeko applauding.
Kartu’s voice whispers in her head, “I’m proud of you, love, so proud of you. Now, dragon-girl, how’s about breaking your Pops out of this prison?”
Darvana smiles and responds, “Yes, Sir. I’m on my way.”
She hears his cheers dissipate into silence as her body returns to normal. When Darvana softly lands among the Aldero blooms. The sun is shining and Shilo embraces her in a warm motherly hug as Seeko claps his hands. Mezulo gazes into her eyes and shyly approaches. The little girl bursts through the Tunogo wood roof of the nest and says, “Don’t forget me!”
Shilo lets go of Darvana, picks Seeko up, and goes to the little girl.
Mezulo and Darvana face one another. He moves closer and plants a soft kiss upon her cheek.
Paula Ray’s story is one of the four stories chosen fromAurora Wolf to be in the anthology “Dreams and Screams” coming out around April.
The black and white graphic art is by Jack S. Rogers. The art is an examle of what can be ecpected of each Dreams and Screams story.
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