Fantasy Fiction posted December 20, 2018

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A 'Storm Approaching' Entry

The Last Priestess

by Y. M. Roger

Storm Approaches Contest Winner 

Rubbing my own arms in a gentle soothing motion, I looked out the window to the West. There would be another storm crowning the horizon soon – I could feel it beneath my skin. It had only been four days this time not the nearly six-day spacing that had become the new norm for a blissful two months. But with what the last one had left in its wake, I guess I should have expected the drastic change.
I glanced over at my tiny bed, at the god-like figure that still slept there.  His sculpted chest rose and fell in a slow, easy rhythm. He was alive, at least, and his proximity made my skin feel so much more than a storm. I attributed that to the fact that he was the first man I’d seen since I was almost five. An interest in the unknown was all it was. It was an easy lie to tell myself for now. I tore my eyes away from him and back out to the horizon.
Sure enough, the first signs of the deep purple disturbances were beginning to snake across the sky. The faintest hint of rotting vegetables reached my olfactory as the indecisive wind seemed to resolve itself to another storm’s passage. That was my cue to start preparations for the gardens and such.
I worked almost from muscle memory as I let my mind wander back over the past.
We’d arrived here on this isolated island over two decades ago. I vaguely remember my mother trying to make a game of frantically wrapping me in burlap layered with garlic and rosemary “to throw off even the best wolves”.  I do remember watching her cry as she cut her long hair to just above the shoulders and coated its pearly-white beauty with pitch. She’d strapped me to her back, I think; my instructions had been to make no noise and breathe as little as possible.
My fear at that point was over-whelming as everything became a blur. Off and on, there were voices – some hers, some not. Then she argued with a group, and then – even through the burlap and the herbs – I could smell the burning hair and flesh. I must have passed out because I awoke to the smells and sights of the open ocean with Mother standing over me as she tilled our small sailboat.
“You are awake, Asymah,” she smiled down at me, “get up and secure everything for our journey.”
“To where?”
“To our Sanctuary.”
She looked so tired – hair gone, and what remained was black. She wore men’s clothing: shirt, dungarees, and work boots. I stared at her in wonder and was about to ask what was happening, when she reached down and placed her black-stained fingers over my mouth. “Not now, Asymah. Just do as I say without questions this once. Please.”
Later, she told me of the strife between the Hawk and the Wolf Clans. How their animosity and conflict had boiled over into the lands of the Elk Clan. How all the clans were slowly being turned against each other and against the presence of magic in their lands. Some called it a return to the natural way of existence. My mother had scoffed at the ignorance that pervaded all of the clan leaders; did they not realize that magic was the part of the natural way of existence? That to turn one’s back on it would open the door to ignorance and allow dark magic to seep into the world?
We had lived in the Land of the Elk before our hurried departure – they had welcomed our presence as a blessing to their clan. Even now, I could close my eyes and still see their proud animal forms: so large and majestic. And I could always sense who each one was even before they would shift back to their human form. Their eyes would usually give them away to me, but I only had to smile and reach out to them and the Elk would ‘speak’ to me in his human voice. I would know immediately who they were. Of course, their ‘speech’ was not verbal – it was inside of me. At least, that was how I had explained it. Mother had just smiled as she, in her own words, welcomed my first revelation.
For over two decades, we lived on this small island – mother training me in the ways of our ancestors best she could without our elders, especially as new gifts presented themselves almost yearly.
“I do not know what the spirits have in store for you, my child,” she had smiled sadly that horrible day, tears welling in both her eyes, “but whatever it is, know that I have prepared you for it.”
The evening of the day she had spoken those words was the evening of the first storm, and the day I lost her.
As the putrid wind had built and the purple tendrils had roiled and devoured the sky on its approach from the West, my mother had retrieved her ceremonial dagger that she so rarely used that I had not remembered what it looked like until that day. I will always remember now. I can never forget.
“You will always be safe here inside,” she motioned to the interior of our small home we had built aroung the small craft that had brought us there, “the world may appear different, but you will be safe.”
A shrill cry howled above the winds as long purple fingers dipped out of the sky just beyond the shoreline. She glanced over her shoulder and turned quickly back to face me – her face transitioning from fear to calm and acceptance.
“Follow your heart, Asymah. It will always protect you as you protect others.”
It was in that moment that I realized she was saying farewell. I went to open my mouth and reach for her, but she only reached out and placed her fingers on my mouth, her head shaking just slightly from side to side.
“No questions, please, there is no time. Stay,” she turned and yanked open the door, filling the small area with the driving wind and its moans. I nearly choked on the stench that rode those winds. She turned to look at me one more time.
“I will always be with you, Asymah.” The door slammed shut.
I managed to watch out the window as the deep purple clouds opened like a giant maw and its tendrils crawled along the ground toward her. Without hesitation, she shouted the ancient words of protection she had taught me so long ago, but instead of reaching out with her palm and defending herself, she ripped her shirt down the front and sliced a gash from one shoulder to opposite hip. I screamed as the fingers reached her feet. But she continued to shout the spells of protection above the storm’s howls as she cut each forearm from elbow to wrist, her blood flowing freely upon the ground as she spun. And wherever the blood fell, the tendril’s retreated, their colors sparking magenta and even bright red where her blood touched them.
She cried out the spells one last time as she fell to her knees and drove the dagger into the ground. Even before the knife breeched the soil, the maw began howling so loud that nothing else could be heard. But when she crumpled face down, her hand still gripping the knife, the sounds it made became deafening. Yet, even as the storm shrieked and moaned, its fingers retreated back beyond the shoreline and darkness crawled overhead until not even the sun in the sky could be seen. The blackness only lasted a few moments until the winds fell away and the storm dissipated, leaving the sky as if nothing ever happened.
Within moments of her collapse, my skin came alive with the sensations of the storm for the first time. It was as if it was trying to invade who I was – similar to when I ‘speak’ to animals but different. So unfamiliar yet so deeply evil and dark that I had cried and rubbed my arms and legs until the storm and, therefore, the feeling, had completely lifted.
I buried my mother under her favorite tree – it was right and fitting that she be returned to the land from which we draw our power. I replaced her dagger in its box in her small trunk. I figured it would never be needed again.
And she had been right about the world being different. In the five years since the first storm, I have watched each subsequent storm elicit multi-chromatic changes in both our plants and even the few small animals here on the island. I’ve also noticed that the birds – whether they be migratory or not – will sometimes undergo some sort of color or skeletal change in the aftermath of a storm. Pretty much anything that is caught in its driving wind and sometimes rain is affected. But the purple tendrils of the dark and twisted magic have never touched the island again.
And anything inside my small home is untouched. I have a little flowering bush that I planted in a pot. Of course, it has yellow and orange leaves and bluish-green blooms with orange splotches, but that unique coloration – the result of an early storm – has remained constant. I call it “teatra” [pronounced tay-o-tra] which means friend in the language of our ancestors. It and the animals that stop by once in a while are the only interactions I have. But they are enough.
At least they have been up until now.
Now, as I walk back through my door and ‘feel’ him even amidst the sensations of the storm, I have begun to question so much of the existence I have here. Securing the door, I glance over at my bed again and sigh. He really is beautiful.
I need not wonder about his clan as only one would explain his appearance here: he must be Hawk. His shoulder-length hair certainly bore the tell-tale striations, but the usual pattern of browns and golds was broken throughout with silver and bronze. Of course, I do not remember enough about age differences and such among the Elk much less in the other clans to even know if the multiple colors had any significance.
I secured the inside window shutters and knelt beside his sleeping form. Lifting the covers, I gently inspected the dressings. They would definitely need changing again, especially the two larger ones where I had to sew them. The splint on his arm was still straight and there were no circulation issues – it had definitely seemed simply a fracture when I had set it. As my hand passed over him, I marveled at how much larger his features were than mine. But it was just as I was placing the covers back that I heard it.
I froze, afraid to move again as the speech was so unlike anything of which I was accustomed to ‘hearing’ inside of me. I searched his stone face with the decidedly harsh features that had appealed to me from the first day I found him unconscious on the grass. There was not the slightest indication that he was aware of his surroundings right now. The ‘spoken’ name had been accompanied by a sharp spark – for lack of a better term – in my mind’s eye; such a spark had always denoted importance of some sort.
I continued to watch his face as the storm howled and moaned outside. When there was no other indication of awareness, I made to stand.
Again, no physical indicators of consciousness other than the mental word, but this time, I was unable to contain the grin that pulled itself across my face.
“Okay, Gauvain,” I said above the noise of the wind and pounding rain as I reached for his cheek, “I am Asymah.” I rested my palm there momentarily as I finished speaking. “You are safe here.”
An awareness ricocheted through my entire body, registering inside as a sigh, but it was not my sigh. It was Gauvain’s, and it inexplicably made me sigh outwardly in response. Unsure of so many things regarding him, I stood to prepare the herbs and cloths to change his dressings.
It was the burning sensations that first pulled me from the depths of my healing sleep – that and the reverberating sound of my clan’s rejoicing in my mind at my regaining my conscious link with them. But this burning was not such in the true physical sense. This burn mimicked the searing connection between betrothed...a link about which I had only read in the ancient texts. Of course, couples were mated all the time within our Hawk clan and, occasionally, across clans, as had been the case with my parents - my father was Hawk, my mother, Wolf. However, with the disappearance of the last of the blessed mage priests and priestesses over twenty years ago, a spiritual betrothal was unheard of amidst any of the clans. The Elk had claim to the most recent just over twenty five years ago.
The heated yet gentle touch across my abdomen brought the memories of my recent battle rushing forward as I fought to remain completely still, pretending I still slept soundly.
My small team had managed to free the captives without alerting anyone in the Dark Citadel. Because they were in such a weakened state, most were unable to take Spirit form and fly, and we were forced to proceed on foot. One of the more frail females slipped down an embankment, alerting one of their patrols to our presence.
Duncan had immediately run off in Wolf form and I had flown as Hawk to draw the Dark Ones away from the group. There had been three Hawks in that patrol – their tell-tale red eyes cutting through the darkness as they pursued me. When we were far enough away and, to my dismay, over the ocean, I had turned to fight them. But the battle had been somewhat short-lived as the three of them suddenly extricated themselves from the aerial combat, withdrawing just slightly down and away. As I dove at them again, my talons ready for blood, the sky behind them became soaked with the Dark Mages’ seeking tempest, its forerunners reaching toward us. The last thing I saw before turning to escape was slave hawks’ bow of allegiance as the purple fingers snaked around them and headed for me. My side ached as did my other injuries, but I had to outfly it or I, too, would become its red-eye slave. I was at the point of exhaustion, when one of the bones in my wing had broken. I fell without any hope of control.
The hard ground had been my first surprise as I had expected to drown in the ocean. But the true shock came as I began to make peace with my ancestors, fully expecting the tempest to consume me. But the tempest drew up short, clearly wanting to claim me for its own, but settling for a howling and wailing retreat instead. As the pain and weariness had overtaken me, I remembered being confused as to why it had left without claiming me, had not even ventured near me.
The revelation that resulted from her touch and that moment in my memory had me gasping awake. A White Priestess lived here!
I felt his consciousness suddenly return as I finished changing his dressings for the first time since that last storm had passed. I stood and moved away from him. I tried not to appear as though I was retreating by picking up all of the scraps and, perhaps, some dirt on the floor that wasn’t really there before moving to the front door.
“Wait,” his voice was hoarse from nearly six days of sleep, yet it washed over me more caressingly than the falls where I bathed.
I paused, but I didn’t turn around and didn’t respond. I concentrated on not letting it show how much he affected me, mostly because I still did not understand it myself.
“You are -”
He was going to say ‘a white priestess’ because I heard the unspoken words so I responded.
“I am.”
I turned slowly toward him and smiled at the surprise on that once stone-like face now resonating with expression – those tell-tale ‘starry’ Hawk-eyes simmering with questions as he tentatively returned my smile. He wasn’t beautiful. He was magnificent.
“I will be right back,” I stated, still unable to keep from smiling at the sight of him alive and well as I opened the door, “I just have to take care of these.”
I washed the small linens in the wash basin, taking my time so that I could bask in the sun and revel in the link I shared between it and the living land beneath my feet.  I searched for any disturbances in that connection that would signal a problem with him or my feelings toward him and found none. What I can best describe as relief washed over me, causing me to shake my head and giggle at myself and, perhaps, at the whole situation.
As I hung the last cloth over a nearby branch, my attention was drawn to the distant horizon. There, still far off and not quite discernable, it seemed there was a growing cloud. It was not the purple color to which I had become accustomed, however. This cloud was comprised of hues of browns and blacks, and it moved and expanded with much more regularity than did the storms of dark magic.
I heard the door behind me open and shut and his footsteps approach at a slow pace. As his chest aligned with my back and his unbroken arm settled around my waist, pulling me against him, I sighed in unexplained contentment.
“That is not a storm approaching, is it, Gauvain?” I whispered.
I felt his chest rise and fall against me as he chuckled, his soothing voice still somewhat hoarse.
“They are our clan come to greet their new Priestess,” his nose burrowed into my hair, and he inhaled, “and the Chosen of their Regent.”
I swallowed hard and closed my eyes. I willed myself to savor this brief, peaceful moment in the sunshine with the feel of him running through all that I was. I wasn’t sure what storms the spirits had in store for us, but I knew now that I was prepared for all of them.


Writing Prompt
Write a short story where a storm is approaching. Minimum length 700 words. Maximum Length 4,000 words.

Storm Approaches
Contest Winner

Not the traditional entry, I'm sure....but I'm sortof non-traditional. :) :)

Image of 'Purple Storm' from Love This Pic []
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