Brenna R. Singman
Sunday Divination always made Eli antsy, but his agitation grew a thousand times worse when fresh snow had fallen the night before. He would shatter the perfect blanket of silence with his sister's screams when her cheeks met a frosty pummeling. But prayer had to come first. Eli knelt before the wooden altar and plucked at a small splinter in the floor of their family temple. His sister sat to his right and his mother one over. Before them, his father sat perfectly still, easily mistaken for one of the Saints' carved statues, for nearly a half hour. If Amro had something to say, surely He would say it by now. The snow was waiting-the snow that the Daoas gave them to enjoy as a family-and now they were stuck inside-
"Elidal!" His father's rumbling baritone voice made Eli jump back and prick his hand on the splinter. His mother held her heaving chest, and his little sister started to cry. Eli caught his father's manic gaze. His knobby hand pointed directly at Eli's chest. "Upon those who regenerate the earth begins the destruction. In its gleaming eye the sight of chaos that turns our magic to machination, bleeds our love with iron fist. Behold it but blindly!"
Eli's father slumped forward, and the room fell quiet again. A moment later, the elder lifted his head with a tired, but satisfied smile. He clapped a sturdy hand on his son's shoulder. "He's spoken to you, my boy. Amro's eye is on you. Take it seriously."
Eli nodded slowly while his mother held his little sister and cooed until her tears fled. With a final bestowed blessing, the family dispersed to their pre-supper activities on the day of rest. Eli tugged on his hide boots and knotted his midnight blue woolen cloak. He ran out the door through the snow, dove into a flat, pristine section, rolled and flapped his arms to form perfect snow stars. Then he kicked up the snow with a laugh.
Eli untied his iron-footed sled from a lonely tree and hopped the fence of his family's land some hundred meters from the house and temple. He took in a fresh breath of icy air, the sweet taste of unhomesteaded land tickling his pink nose. Every owned plot had the seal of that family's lineage. Eli's family had a particularly potent brand as their father was a Priest of the Daoas. That amount of exaltation came with a certain level of respect and magic aura. But once Eli was beyond the boundaries of his birthright, it was all Wild power. The zipping energy of magic picked at his senses, made his eyes light up, prickled the hairs on the back of his neck. The earth was teeming with it and yet always ravenous for more. Every different stem of magic somehow found perfect harmony with another. It was what brought the snows while the sun still shined behind the thick gray clouds.
Eli reached a ridge that began a steep, snowy descent towards a forest glistening with icy teardrops. The pine trees looked harmless enough from afar, but it would do one well to respect any grouping of trees. Powerful sentinels of the Daoas made their homes in those sharp evergreens, both for their protection and for the mortals who worshiped them. Eli settled onto the seat of his sled and aimed for a spot of compact snow at the base of the hill where a fence of blessed honeywood enshrined the forest. As he tensed to lift his feet, a shadow stalked the corner of his eye. Not a full kilometer around the ridge, a pack of beasts trampled the snow at their ankles. Something about them made Eli pause. The bony curve of their spines and the sharp tusks on their faces spoke of wild boar, but the closer they shambled, he realized they were as tall as oxen. He squinted through the pale sunlight reflecting off of something nestled on their wide foreheads. Eli stood, ready to run, but the creatures never charged. They trudged onward like dutiful beasts of burdens, but nothing was hitched to their rumps.
Curious, Eli carefully approached the line of six wild boars that stood taller than he. One sniffed and grunted, swinging its head towards Eli. The boy froze as he locked eyes with its glowing green. Now he could clearly see some shined iron plating clutching the boar's skull. Thin vines of metal pierced the hide but looked as if the wounds healed over the foreign object. A nasty odor assaulted Eli's nose, the likes of which he had never smelled in the Wild before. It reeked of rotting and waste.
The line of boars stopped and stared. Eli stood his ground so as not to frighten the beasts. The first in line opened its large maw, revealing four rows of tombstone teeth. Eli expected squeals or snorts. Instead he heard a grating whisper, "Fleshy creature."
"Huh? Ugh!" The odor assaulted him. The tingling vibration he knew to be free-flowing magic now felt like a thousand stingers in his blood. "A beast with man's speech?"
"Speech." Atop the boar's head, a glass bulb in the center of the metal headdress flickered with green light. "Magic."
Whatever that headdress was, Eli hated it. His body hurt to sense its magic, if one could call it that. And yet it could give speech to beasts, something he had never seen the Daoas do. He reached his hand out gingerly. The beast didn't retreat. The iron was frigid under Eli's touch and rang with an energy he couldn't understand. "How do you speak?"
"Machine," it said again. Then it turned away and continued to shuffle through the snow. The others followed.
Eli looked back towards his village, then at the retreating boars. He jogged a pace behind the putrid animals to see where they would lead and what he could learn about their machination. What could compete with the Gods themselves?