|I Never Said I Was Brave
Author: lookingwest PM
La Campanella Supernatural winner and Creativity runner-up / SKoW Best Non-Romance winner / Featured on Project FictionRated: Fiction M - English - Fantasy/Romance - Chapters: 28 - Words: 75,261 - Reviews: 1,118 - Favs: 161 - Follows: 139 - Updated: 02-04-13 - Published: 11-10-09 - id: 2740147
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I Never Said I Was Brave
Emily S. Lundgren
A change is as good as a rest.
They searched me first.
I accidentally met eyes with their leader. He was determined and morbid looking, just like the rest of them, but he was wearing an old green military style coat with a tiny badge of honor including the seal of his royalty. My suspicions were confirmed—this was a legitimate band of witches. He stood from his chair and flicked the ashes of his cigarette at me.
"Hello shapeshifter, I was delighted to hear of your capture," he said. His eyes were a supernatural glowing blue against his dirty unshaven face. Witch eyes were always illuminated with their magic... So this was the visage of death. I chose to keep my mouth shut and tried not to shake.
Another witch handed the general my only possession: One folded piece of yellowed paper, every edge covered with scribbles. I cringed as he brought it to his blue eyes and began reading. He translated loosely, "Thou wouldst still look lovely, if I deserted thee…thou must still look kindly if I ran from our enemies. I will look upon thee," he sighed, and flicked his cigarette again, "to Nature's eyes, would you still loveth me, if I took from thine—what is this?"
"Sir," one of the witches from the shadows interrupted, "I believe it's a poem, a short narrative."
The general was unimpressed. He laughed, "A literate savage—indeed this is a special catch."
"Go ahead and throw him with the others."
I once was the poet laureate of my people. I was responsible for writing our first epic narrative at the age of fifteen. I lived comfortably, and brought my family good fortune. I wrote nationalistic verses and romantic lyrics. I supported our people, I pushed for witch executions, for human enslavement, and for the destruction of vampires. I acted with passion, and my weapon was my pen. I killed with my words.
The war erupted when I was seventeen. And when it came time for me to live up to my heroic ideals—I was one of the first to dodge the draft. I ran before I was enlisted to fight, and it became a scandal. My immediate family disowned me some months after my disappearance. They died shortly after the witches stormed our city.
My works were burned—largely by the witches, but also my own people. Soon my fame, my patriotism, and my faith in language, burned too.
Now I was unrecognizable. Five years of dodging witches and staying alive had transformed my arrogance into cowardice. And though I had kept myself on the edge, skittering in exile among the outer regions of the kingdoms, I made a mistake.
My maps, which were miles from here, buried, had successfully led me to the city of Cypress. Once spouting with humans and witches alike, it was now considered the ground zero of The Rebellion. For too long, I had justified my absence from society with a simple idea. I was a writer. I would write tales about this war, I would live through it, and again I would rise.
When I saw I was close to Cypress something came over me. I stared at the markings on my maps under twilight, and the dimness of a burning fire. The foliage of trees loomed over my shoulders, peeking at a terrible destination. I measured k'jus, kilometers, with the tip of my dirty fingers.
And the question: What story did I have? I had nothing. No experience of the war. I'd lost everything, yes, but I had not fought for anything either.
How dare you, the looming trees seemed to whisper.
I had spent five years in the company of memories and ghosts. I had not seen a fellow shapeshifter in three years. Though I did not thirst for battle, I thirsted for closure. So stupidly—blindly, I padded into Cypress hoping to find some answer or some satisfaction. I continuously asked myself: What would I write about if not this? So far, I felt like I could not do the war justice by imagining battles or hearing them second-hand from real heroes.
I had to find something for myself. I had to make my own story.
I had never been to Cypress and went with the hope of finding food and warm clothing, maybe news of the war. As soon as I began searching on the foreign streets, my good luck seemed to finally end—and the first peoples I encountered were witches on a late patrol.
I had not fought well, not like I imagined. I might have fended them off once, maybe if I'd had a proper weapon. This time I proved an easy yet exciting catch. They caught me with nowhere to run while I looked for food in a back alley. Even as a dog, they'd known me for a shifter. It was hard to run from four witches, cornered, with nothing but tooth and claw. Tired. Dirty. Hungry.
They'd beat me into my natural form, my shift had bought me enough time to dig into my bag in a desperate attempt to take my poetry, scrawled on yellowed thin paper. I would not die without it. I crunched the paper into my fist before their magic ganged up on me, and forced me to unconsciousness.
Despite all of my revelations and eagerness to prove myself, I had foolishly ended up in a musty prison cell. With my last poetry in the hands of a witch.
Carelessly thrown inside the prison cage, I groaned when I hit the floor, and rolled over in exhaustion, staring at the dank cement ceiling. Once a human police building, it worked well for the few prisoners of war this particular witch general found worthy of torture.
Holding my left hand up to the flickering electric light, I more closely examined a gold ring, my ultimate captor. It looked simple; I wasn't sure what I'd been expecting. I'd heard rumors of the witches constructing spells that bound shapeshifters to their natural forms, but such a notion had been unimaginable. Now I stared at my worst fear. With these simple gold rings—my people would fall, if they hadn't already. I was still in the dark as far as the war was concerned.
My permanent gold ring innocently shimmered. There were no inscriptions, no witch marks, it appeared ordinary.
I felt ordinary.
All shapeshifters were born human, but some of us rarely retained our natural forms. I had always enjoyed humanity because my talents were human—I had spent most of my childhood human and had learned languages with ease, also developing a taste for writing. My brother however, had spent most of his childhood in various canine forms, while my sister enjoyed those of birds.
Still, for the past five years, I had solely relied on other forms to deceive others and escape unnoticed. I could have easily escaped this prison—if I could shapeshift.
I had already screamed at the witches who did this to me until my voice was hoarse, I'd already cursed them—anger more than fear had blinded me. But now only hopelessness enveloped me. I'd already said my prayers for my imprisoned magic, and I'd already accepted the normality—the weakness. I'd been living with it for almost a day now, but it still stung, and I tried not to tear up, but my eyes glazed in my own self pity.
Though I'd been fond of the human form, I had never felt like a human. I could now understand why they were always considered helpless. Previously while in human form, I could always enhance the shortcomings of human senses, especially smell and sound—but now I could do nothing.
Worst of all, my natural human form had deficient vision. Everything slightly blurred or glowed.
I finally sat, blinking away my last tear remnants as my fear also caught up with me. My hands were shaking from my close encounter with death. I was disappointed in myself, maybe even embarrassed of my cowardice. After all I'd seen and endured, why did I still shake when I neared death? After five years of surviving wilderness, after stealing from the hill communities, and from villages, after defending myself against vampires, how could I still be a coward? Why didn't I feel as if I had earned my survival?
Upon further inspection of my cage, I noted I wasn't alone.
To my shock, there was a young human woman sitting crossed legged in the shadows of the bed. She had a blanket pulled around her shoulders, and was regarding me with suspicion, as she ought to have. I could not make out her finer details, but saw her dirty blonde hair was in tangles. I could not keep my eyes off her. I had not seen a woman, let alone a nomagic woman, in years.
How had she survived so long—? In Cypress, impossible! How long had the witches been holding her? And on what offense? It was rare for them to care too much about humans, unless she was doing dirty slave work. I observed her eyes were cold towards me, so I decided to sit on the opposite side of our cage, and wait.
Her voice made me jump, "Don't go over there!"
I stopped, noticing I was about to sit next to a dark figure that sat huddled in a separate cage, in the corner meeting with ours. I stumbled back when I saw its bright eyes peeking from its black blanket. They were deep chestnut brown, but eerily bright—glowing bright, a sign of magic.
"Witch," I hissed. The word always felt like a razor cutting my tongue.
The eyes disappeared.
"He used to be on the other side, but he's been moving closer and closer. I woke up earlier, and he was like he is now. It makes me nervous—just stay away from him, please."
I understood her concern. Why would a witch be in a prison guarded by witches?
"Mas'tru ral!" I tossed under my breath.
"You're a shapeshifter."
I watched her cower against her dark corner. How curious, I had never seen anything cower from the likes of me. In my opinion, I never evoked fear. And still more amazing, she had cowered from my words. I'd indirectly killed with that language, I'd ridiculed and I'd criticized with that language, but I never thought it would still hold such power.
"You're not a Fury, are you?" she whispered, now sounding desperate, as if on the verge of pleading for her life, but held herself.
I didn't laugh. Obviously, she had come in contact with the real warriors of my kind. Our specialized and well-trained army was referred to as the Furies, in no relation to classical Greek myth, though they did destroy and wreak havoc. While I had learned Angle, my cousins had learned intense combat and had been mastering as many forms as they could. For her to assume I was a warrior, meant she had never encountered an ordinary shapeshifter. She only knew of our most lethal.
It would have made me proud to know they'd left such an impression on the humans, but I felt no pride. I only felt a little pity. Enough for both of us.
"No," I said, "I'm not a Fury."
I caught the noise of a distant stifled laugh coming from the displaced witch. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I took it as my cue to join the shaken young woman on the bed. I sat on the opposite side, stiff at first, trying not to look at her. Nyt'a, I had not seen a woman in such a long time, I had forgotten their fairness. Her eyes were the deepest of blues, so less chilling than the witch general's. I hated her for reminding me of my sister.
We didn't talk.
Eventually, I loosened my tense muscles and leaned against the wall, choosing to cross my aching legs. I examined the bottoms of my bare feet, picked at some of the blisters and regretted not taking the ill-fitting shoes the witches had thrown at me.
When I'd woke from their inflicted unconsciousness, I'd been bound in my human form already, naked, shivering and scared, my crumpled poems still in my unclenched fist. They gave me contemporary clothes of which I had never worn in my culture: denim jeans too short, and a T-shirt, too big.
Finally, after a good hour, she spoke in a whisper, "What were those words, in your language?"
I closed my eyes, hearing the ghost of my sister in my ear, asking me words I'd said in English on one of the frequent nights we'd fought. She'd hated it when I spoke English, knowing she couldn't understand. "I said, mas'tru ral. How intimidating."
She didn't have anything to say about that bit of sarcasm.
I sighed and kept my eyes closed, feeling the tiredness in my heavy lids and heavy limbs. Though I hated to, I speculated I would be drifting into a light sleep soon. My traumatizing capture was wearing off, and was leaving me with no more adrenaline—only exhaustion.
A line from my famous epic floated in the depths of my consciousness, and I found myself whispering the well known line under my breath. My hero had said it, regarding the witches. "S'kra vajmea phmir, wijan se'ht kaut wett'eau."
Her tone was sleepy now too, "What does that mean?"
"All must be dead, and by the last morning we will be free."
In the separate cell, the displaced witch tensed, his magic hummed.
(C) Emily S. Lundgren (lookingwest) 2009-2011 (id423768); protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License; view via my profile link. (Cover photo by photographer Paul Shiek, I do not own any of the cover art on my fiction)