Chapter 10: Chances
May 20, 2007
1013 words. A whole lot of nothing this. 😛
Naoko vaulted over the wall. Landing, she hit the ground running, holding the bundle in her hands close to her body. She took off towards the nearby forest. Behind, the dogs barked as they caught her scent. Soon they had fallen silent, but Naoko was not only too far ahead of them to hear their barks, she was also making for the quickest way out. These hunting dogs were not normal; once they were in the hunt, they were silent and effective killers. Like most dogs trained this way, they were also much faster than usual.
She ran through the brook, water splashing as she stepped in them. It was too shallow to throw the dogs off her tracks, but she hoped it would give her the extra few minutes she needed. Breathing much heavier than usual, she stopped for a moment and looked behind her. The forest was unusually silent, which made her start running again. The bundle she held closer to her, adjusting the makeshift pouch in which it rested. She could not see, but rather felt as dawn broke. She did not have much time; the time window was quite small and specific.
The trees were thinning ahead of her, but she could hear the soft footsteps of the hunting dogs. They were silent like the wolves when they hunted, and they would be as merciless. Not paying full attention, she tripped over a root, and fell headfirst. Turning it into a one-handed cartwheel, she landed feet first, barely even registering the impact. One of the dogs jumped out from behind her, missing her by just an inch. There was just one single bloodcurdling howl from the pack before they fell silent again.
They jumped her as she was clearing the last line of trees before the riverbank. She reached into her clothes and pulled out a small bag of pepper, which she tossed over her shoulder to the dog behind her. It yelped and headlong into another. As it did, she reached up for a low-lying branch, pulled herself up, and jumped upwards. Taking just half a second to estimate, she pushed herself against the tree, jumping across the river to the other side. She landed just inside of the river bank, grabbing a branch to pull herself clear. The river was wide enough for her to attempt such a jump, but too deep for her to actually wade across.
When she had landed, she watched as three of the five hounds stopped just shy of the riverbank. The two that she had blinded with the pepper powder ran headlong into the river, but they pulled themselves out after a few minutes. Nodding gravely to the dogs, she disappeared into the forest. The dogs eyes glowed unnaturally as she disappeared, but they retreated after watching the empty banks for a little while longer.
Sukina sang as the sun rose over the horizon. Standing on the steps leading up to the temple, she looked out on the village that served the Temple and sang her song. Her voice could be heard over a long distance, silencing all, including the poultry. Many came out to look at who was paying tribute to the Lady; most were the old and sickly who had been dumped her by their families. The village that served the Goddess of Death was comprised of both volunteers and the outcast of societies. The latter were not familiar with the traditions of the Lady, but those who were woke up with a smile on their faces; the Miakan, the Head of the Alin’sa, had returned. It was often said that when the Miakan returned, so did the Lady. And when the Lady returned, rebirth happened. The crops would grow, the harvest would be bountiful. Tragedies would be more bearable, for they knew that the souls rested well with the Lady.
The young woman singing at the top of the Temple stairs could be seen from a fairly far distance. Dressed in white, she shone as the sun rose and reflected off her clothes and the large gold necklace she wore. The song was more than ritual to her; it was pure emotion. Behind her, sitting unseen behind a pillar, the Goddess listening to the song. Putting her head against the pillar, she let herself be lost in the song. Quietly, inside the temple, a piano played, accompanying the song. The Goddess smiled. Kishan was very good at drawing the best out of his sisters; their talents increased many times over whenever he accompanied them.
When the sun was a third over the horizon, the Goddess opened her eyes to see the third member of the family standing in front of her. She bowed before the Goddess, offering the bundle to her. The Goddess nodded gravely and took it from her, and the girl looked at Sukina singing longingly. Smiling, the Goddess stood up, carrying the bundle carefully in one hand, and patted the girl. The girl ran towards Sukina, jumping off the stairs and doing a pirouette in mid-air, landing gracefully on the landing below Sukina.
Her movements matched the singer’s tone, intense and passionate. Sukina’s song reached deeper into the emotions of her listeners when she saw her sister dancing. It was more than just a song now, nor just a tribute. It was an offering. The Lady smiled. She watched her Daughters sing and dance, but not in her honour; they were doing for the sheer joy of it. In many ways, they were just like their mothers. The crucial difference was that in terms of raw talent, Naoko and Sukina far outstripped their mothers, but the two Priestesses had made up in emotion what they lacked in talent. She smiled. There was a gurgle in her arms, as though agreeing with her assessment.
The baby was awake and smiling happily. It reached out to her, and the Goddess took its hand. She began walking while holding the babe in her arms, disappearing into thin air as the last notes of the song died away.