Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Bloodlings by Tabitha Short

The gust of blustery wind picked up a strand of her red hair and dusted it across her forehead. The coldness stained her cheeks red. Her eyes, closed, fluttered as a second wind lifted her chest plate and crept across the silky Japanese material that lay beneath. The kimono was short on her body, leaving her thin, pale legs mostly bare. She sat with her legs crossed on a tiny ledge of her mountain. Her wrists lay on her knees with her palms facing the sky. Meditation was a necessity this day. With one last deep breath in and then out, she rolled her head in a circle and then slowly lifted her eyelids.

The fog that had been lingering in the sunrise had now lifted. She could see the sunlight taking hold of the city below. It burst through the open hallways and rippled over the cobblestone carriage-ways. She imagined its warmth as it absorbed into the bare skin of a lady, sweeping the dust from her entryway. The day markets would open soon and the streets would fill with people. It wasn’t the coming of the day that she dreaded. It was the coming of the night, that night. She wished she could somehow skip it.

Her arsenal was light, too light for who she would face when night curled its gnarly, spindly fingers around the Earth. She felt the bulge of the Arctic Round Tool in her small purse. She pretended she could smell her Fulmeric Tonic, but that was a right reserved only for the dead. She knew she had a half pound of Muhler Tea Sprouts and one-quarter of a Log Roller. These seemed like children’s weapons to her after having seen weapons like the Dark Hard Ball and Flaming Feathers. She wished she at least had Demon Dust or Periwinkle Gouges. She did have one viable weapon, though. She had one small Ball of Fury. In the past the Ball of Fury had proven to be a failure as a weapon, but there were ancient tales of the orb’s true abilities, only no one had figured out how to access them. But she had a plan and tonight’s fight was a different kind of fight. Tonight she would have to kill her opponent. In these games the only way to gain more weapons is to dispel your opponent and take what he or she has left. She had only been required to do this once before and the pain still lived in her veins. It was fortunate that her opponent had been able to supply her with many weapons and she had not been forced to take a life again. Until tonight.

Number fifty-two, she thought to herself. The fifty-second fight. She had survived to number fifty-two. She played with the number in her mind: fifty-two in half was twenty-six. At the twenty-sixth she had been against Tanya’s Wharf. Tanya was an excellent sea-farer. Her weapons consisted of all the water element weapons and deep sea items. But her skills were not a match for Petrova’s Russian Frozen Tundra and her Ancient Rune spells. Tanya had put up a fight though and the match had lasted sixteen hours, one of the longest in history.

Fifty-two, she thought. That was the age of her father now, wherever in the world he might be. Fifty-two. She was nearly in the last fights of her career and only at the age of nineteen. She would be a young Master. She remembered now her own master was an old man with a thick Japanese accent, even though there was nothing about his appearance that indicated he was Japanese. In fact, her master had been born Russian. When a master makes the binding agreement with a Bloodling, or student, he or she gives up the right to possess weapons and passes that right, along with their complete arsenal, to the Bloodling From her master she had received only twelve items that were all Russian in nature. Eight of them had been sets of eight Pummeler Rocks. The early use of the Pummeler Rocks had etched her fame into the name of Petrova (Pet-rove-ah) the Pummeler. She hated the name, but it was not hers to choose, it was the spectator’s.

Looking down on the city again she could see the people begin to come out of their homes. They made their way to the day market streets, bathing in the fountains at the commons and greeting one another. She would make her way down to the city in a few moments, but not before her Morning Prayer. Normally she would recite her prayer aloud in English, but today she needed to feel connected to her Master and all the things he had taught her. Today’s Morning Prayer would be said in Russian and would consist of the proper dustings.

Rotating her body around she collected the small bowls and small pouches that had been sitting, waiting, behind her back. In front of her she placed the three bowls in a triangle. The pouches consisted of Basil, Miron, Cress and Convolvulus Minor.

Into the cold morning air she whispered her prayer. The words spilled out from her lips, followed by her white breath: "Bogi drugogo mira, gl'adite v rudniki v etot den'. YA predlagayu Bazilik dl'a korolej v vashem mire. Mozhet eto nravit's'a ih chuvstvam i zazhigat' ih interes vo mne." (Gods of the other world, peer into mine this day. I offer Basil for the Kings of your world. May it please their senses and spark their interest in me).

Petrova crushed the basil and sprinkled it into the first bowl.

She continued her prayer inRussian, "I offer Miron oil for a gift in death. May it be given to the opponent upon entering your world.

Petrova dug deep into her pouch of the Mirron oil. Scooping up a generous amount she held it in front of her face, staring at it. The oil was almost solid, squishy, and gum-like. She used her left index finger to scrape it from her right palm and into the second bowl. She watched as it settled and became more liquid-like.

Then she opened her third pouch. Pinching a few dry leaves of the Cress plants, she squished them in her hands, turning them to a fine dust.

"I offer Cress so that you will see fit to squeeze from it the power it holds and allow it to rain upon me."

Petrova allowed the dust to fall through her fingers before overturning her palm so that all the dust fell into the third bowl.

Now she fingered the lovely petals of the Convolvulus minor plant. The roots were still attached and she pinched them off. As she ripped each petal and rubbed them to release their scent she recited, "Finally I offer the minor form of Convolvulus to darken this night of full moon."

She placed a bleeding petal into each of the bowls and began crushing each bowl’s contents together with her fingers until all bowls contained fragments and pieces and dustings of their former item. Now she said the Prayer of the Bloodling, also in Russian.

"Fill me with the hope of the Chariot, Calm my heart and rest my mind. Bring me wit and power and heroism. Allow the clouds in my mind to disappear and all my focus come to the front. May the Gods be with me."

Petrova took out a flask which had been filled the previous night by her Master with Holy Water from the Spring of the Living and the Dead. She poured one-fourth of the water out around her in a circle. Then she added the dust in the bowls to the water and swirled the flask in a circle three times. Leaning her head back she gulped down the water and herbs and plants in three big gulps.

Now she was ready.

"I got fifty lards on Petrova," one lad said.

"I’ll put twenty-five on Eric," another chimed in.

"Fifty-five for Eric," said another.

They were gathered in the common area in the City of Carthusa, which sat at the bottom of the Mountain of Petrova. The crowd thickened as the betting began.

"The whole city is here," Miteous (Mit-e-us) said to his friend. Miteous stood against the wall of a home across the way from the common area. His friend, Virtos (Ver-toes), stood beside him. Virtos was only twelve, Miteous was fifteen and nearly two feet taller than Virtos. Miteous was dressed in long, dark pants and a tunic with nothing underneath. On his head was a solid blue bandana that held back his unruly, thick, dark hair. Miteous’ hair was long. Though the bandana held it back from his eyes, it trailed down his back in one long stripe. It was his custom to wear his hair in a tail, like many of the travelling men did. Miteous wanted to be a traveller when he was old enough. He wanted to be a Long Trade Merchant, bringing foreign items and supplies to many different cities across the world.

"Of course they are! This is the biggest fight of the season!" Virtos exclaimed. Virtos was small for his age, with sandy blonde hair and stark blue eyes. He too wore pants, but of a light-brown color. He was also adorned by a tunic; his was many different shades of brown. Across his waist was strapped a rather nice weapon belt and it held a small, sharp dagger on his left side which told everyone his preference was his left hand.

"More like biggest fight ever. I’ve never seen so many people. The merchants are happy I expect," Miteous said.

"I heard a ship is arriving later today on the coast, bringing in people from Pupler Island," Virtos said.

Another boy, slightly shorter than Miteous had come upon them. "I’ve heard the Queen herself will be coming," he said to them, taking a stand beside Miteous on the corner. Neither Miteous nor Virtos knew him.

"Is it true?" Miteous asked.

"I saw them setting up the box for her. Come with me and I’ll show you," he said to them and began walking away not even caring if they followed him or not.

Miteous looked at Virtos and Virtos looked at Miteous, silently determining if they should follow this stranger. Miteous shrugged and then they both sprinted to catch up to the boy. The streets were crowded now, thick with talk about the fight to come that evening. The workers from the Night Mill were piling in now, joining the morning crowd. Normally they would be headed home to their families for a meal and sleep, but today they joined their comrades in the square, betting on and talking about the fight.

Miteous made his way through the crowd, following the bright red hair of the unknown boy. Virtos’ thin frame and small stature made it easy for him to slip between the people, but hard for to him to see over their heads. He kept an eye on Miteous’ feet as he shuffled through the square. Fortunately Miteous wore Finger Scale boots. Finger Scale boots were expensive and had been a gift to Miteous from his grandfather upon his grandfather’s death. They were perhaps the only Finger Scale boots in the town so keeping an eye on Miteous’ feet was not hard for Virtos.

A tall man bumped Virtos and Virtos fell off his feet and onto the cobblestones.

"Sorry there little fella," the broad, beared man said, pulling Virtos up and into the air by his arm and then setting him down upright and on his feet. He handled Virtos like Virtos weighed nothing.

"No worries," Virtos said, dusting his pants. The broad, bearded man stood there smiling at him, waiting for an introduction, but Virtos simply scurried away. He began looking for the Finger Scale boots and eventually found them. It was odd that they were walking away from the arena, but he followed them anyway. They were headed toward Dark Alley now and Virtos wondered if the seating box was being constructed in the least popular alley in the town to keep people away from it. It was a smart move in his mind and so he continued to follow the Finger Scale boots.

As the crowd thinned and they came near Dark Alley, Virtos could now see not only the feet of the person he’d been following, but also the back of his head and could tell it was not Miteous. Miteous was abnormally tall and had long, straight dark hair. This lad had dark hair, but it was curly and frizzy and he was average height.

Just as the lad turned around, Virtos ducked behind a statue. He watched as the man looked around as if to make sure he was not being followed. Virtos grew suspicious. What was this man into that made him decide he had to make sure no one was watching him? The man wore a solid black, hooded cape and before he slinked onto Dark Alley he lifted his hood over his head to conceal his face.

Virtos ran lightly to the side wall adjacent Dark Alley after the man had turned the corner. He sucked in his belly as he pressed himself into the wall. After a moment he peeked around the corner to see that the man had made his way well into Dark Alley. Dark Alley was a thin hallway with no market outlets. It was the result of two buildings having been built back to back, except their backs did not align. The narrow hallway had scattered doors on either side. These were back doors to shops whose outlets were on the other side on the busy market streets.

Up ahead there was an awning with two barrels and so Virtos crept up behind them. Peeking out over them he saw the man even further down the alley. Dark Alley went on for about a fourth mile.

About seven feet ahead there were two more barrels. Virtos kept low and made his way quietly to the barrels. Now the man was nearly halfway down Dark Alley. He watched as the man neared a door on the left and quickly ducked behind the barrels as the man looked up the alley to make sure no one had followed him. Virtos hoped he had not glimpsed the top of his head. When Virtos gained enough courage to look again he slowly rose his head over the barrels, just enough to see over their lids. He saw no one. The man must have gone into the door at which he had stopped.

Virtos’ shoulders relaxed as he realized he was not in danger of being seen anymore. He tried to judge what shop the door led to by imagining the market street on the other side. It would have to be a shop that was halfway down. The silver shop was near there, he knew. And the blacksmith sold some of his wares in a small side shop there. All the food shops were in the back and all the trinket shops were up front. There was an artist near the middle, he remembered. He began walking toward the door in the hopes there might be some kind of sign on it that would indicate what kind of shop for which it was the back door.

Virtos stood beside it and could see there was no indication. He turned, facing the other side of the dark hallway and tried to think again what shop it might be and he never heard the door behind him open.

A large hand clasped itself around Virtos’ mouth and nose. Virtos’ eyes grew wide with the unexpectedness. He could see the black arm draping of the figure and knew it was the man with the hooded cape that was pulling him inside the door. Virtos fought against the figure, trying to wiggle out of his grasp and run, but it was no use. Once the figure got his hand around Virtos’ face and the other around his waist, Virtos’ strength was not enough to pull free and so he was dragged into the door. The alley was empty as always and so no one saw the poor boy being kidnapped.

Miteous found it quite easy to keep up with the red-haired boy once he caught up to him. They both dodged the men grappling in the street, and the round, white-haired man selling his bread. They even had to jump over a few animals that chased each other. Miteous was on a row, dictating when to jump, when to run faster, when to go around something. It felt like a game and he was good at it.