Beginnings 4

Neoma lurked in the forest between Hickory and Chipmunk, watching the human village in the valley below them. From here, though they could see little detail, they had a reasonable view of the cluster of a score or so buildings that made up the core of the village. The communal pens that held livestock were on the far side; most of the animals were outside their shelters, enjoying the end of the cold snap and the break in the spring rains. Cultivated land spread out on all sides in small to medium patches, some rectangular, some odder shapes worked into the natural contours of the land.

Irregularly, over the several decades Neoma had lived here, Valeyan or the forest-spirits had turned to her as an intermediary with the villagers; sometimes, she visited the marketplace to sell what she could provide—herbs for medicine or cooking or dyes from odd parts of the deep forest were the most popular—and buy what she couldn’t make for herself.

That meant that she had some idea of the layout of the village, which would be helpful come moonrise.

She kept her attention on human comings and goings, rather than on the glorious streaks of red and rose and glowing gold and copper in the western sky beyond the village.

“It won’t be in one of the livestock barns,” Neoma said, keeping her voice low—her companions would be able to hear her. “That would panic the livestock. My guess is that they’ll have it in someone’s outbuilding, a storage shed or something of the kind.”

Vetch and Maple had seen a quartet of humans, with six powerful-looking dogs dragging a kind of sled, approach the village from the direction of a neighbouring earth-lord’s domain. On the sled had been a covered cage, and from inside they’d heard the terrified whimpering of a wolf cub. They’d immediately gone looking for help.

Whatever might be permissible in other domains, Valeyan would not tolerate wild creatures being caged. Once Talir rose, Neoma intended to find that cub and rescue it, whether the humans who had imprisoned it consented or not.

But what was happening? There was much more activity than normal, an argument, she thought—voices were rising, carried by the breeze, though the words were indistinct.

Maple eased himself silently into the space between her and Chipmunk—Neoma started slightly, unable to grow entirely accustomed to her inability to hear or smell the forest-spirits coming. As naked as all his kind, his grey-brown skin blended with the gathering shadows, as he tossed back a hip-length lock of deep green hair impatiently. Continue reading

Beginnings 3

The forest-spirit joined her moments after Neoma roused at moonrise and changed to human, and she looked pleased.

“I think I found a good solution, as far as digging. Come and see?”

Neoma tied off the last wrapping around her leg, and followed her to the hole.

Hickory held up a flattish, curved, pale, vaguely triangular object. “It’s the shoulder-bone of a deer,” she explained. “I know where one died and I thought these might still be intact. They both were, so there’s one for each of us. We cleaned them up as much as we could, so they wouldn’t be so slippery to hold.” She held it out to Neoma, who took it. It was large and substantial enough for the wide end to make quite a reasonable shovel blade, and the narrower end should be a serviceable handle. Certainly far better than anything else available.

“These will work perfectly,” Neoma said. “You’re brilliant.”

Hickory shook her head. “No. I only know the forest and what’s available. So, now we can make it as deep as you wanted, and make it large enough to be comfortable.”

“We can,” Neoma agreed.

Later that night, Neoma made a long thin cord out of the moonlight, and anchored it to the ground in the centre of the hole with a rock; then she and Hickory used that as a guide so they could mark out the boundaries of a substantial circle. Neoma would have settled for a smaller one, but Hickory insisted that they make it bigger so she wouldn’t feel crowded inside.

It took them two more nights to finish excavating the circle to a comfortable depth across its full width.

“Tomorrow night,” Neoma said, before Hickory left, “we need to think about what to do for a frame. I don’t want to kill or harm living trees, but flexibility would be useful.”

“I’ll think,” Hickory promised.

Hickory’s solution, after further discussion, was to find saplings that had minimal hope of survival where they were—ones that had sprouted in conditions that would never be able to sustain them, or that were growing too close to their own kind. She assured Neoma that Valeyan would not see taking them as destruction, so long as she allowed Hickory to choose which ones. Continue reading

Beginnings 2

Note: Because, as it turns out, more people than I thought read the older version of Moonblood, and I don’t want to bore them while they wait for something new, there’s been a slight change of plans: until we’re past the material that was previously released in earlier form, posts will be three times a week, Monday and Wednesday and Friday. The frequency will drop after that, which I estimate to be in late January or early February. This will include at least one new short adventure around the last week of December, possibly more. Sorry about the change, still new at this serial approach! ~Steph

Neoma paused to twist her hair back out of her way yet again. She was going to have to see if she could find a village or something and try to barter for a few things—like a sharp knife so she could cut her russet hair off. Having it down to her elbows, when she lacked a ready way to confine it, just wasn’t practical with the amount of heavy physical effort that she suspected lay in her immediate future. Although how she was going to trade with a village when she had nothing to wear and had no idea what the local modesty conventions were and might not even speak the language, she had no idea—but clothing to protect her skin was also on the list of things she needed. Language wasn’t an issue with a god or his associated spirits, but she doubted they’d be any help as translators.

One thing she had learned, thanks to her endless curiosity, was the basic principles of engineering and the housing styles of any number of cultures; that meant she did have a reasonable plan for how to build herself a sturdy home able to withstand winter, but the actual construction involved more physical work than she’d done in over a decade.

Right now, she’d be happy with a way to tie her hair back.

And perhaps a shovel, as well. It was a good thing she didn’t have to worry about aging, given how slowly her current efforts were progressing. With the limited tools and materials at hand, she was certain that digging down at least a foot or so into the ground was going to give her the best foundation for her new house that she could expect. If she could even accomplish even that much before winter.

With a sigh, she cupped her hand in the moonlight to drink. Talir was waning, but even a mouthful would help heal incipient blisters and strained muscles.

The yellow light pooled in her palm, and she raised it, but paused, watching in amazement as it coalesced, growing less luminous. Only seconds later, a strip of fine, soft, pale-yellow material lay in a spiral on her palm.

This wasn’t something she’d ever been told that she could do! Did the others even know? Continue reading

Beginnings 1

“You cannot run forever, traitor,” the Master hissed into the midnight woods. “You may be crafty enough to escape us for the moment, but we will track you down, heretic. And you will die as you were reborn, in pain and in loss and in sorrow.”

The red wolf huddled under her bush, trembling, praying that he would leave. She’d flee far away from any lands known by the cult that had drawn her in. Surely there was somewhere still untainted by them.

Pale violet light intensified around the Master, brightened into a blur. When it faded, a wolverine stood there in place of the man. He nosed around in the brush, but failed to find the wolf, her russet fur thickly caked with dark river mud to hide her by sight and scent; if she stayed absolutely still, barely even breathing, he wouldn’t hear her—she hoped.

It worked. The wolverine snarled in frustrated anger, and loped off.

For some time she held still, shivering, hardly able to believe that she’d successfully evaded him—at least for the moment. Finally, she wriggled out from under the bush and bolted through the woods in the opposite direction. Away from her life as a human, full of the thirst for knowledge that had led her into such a trap; away from her life as part of the moon-centred cult that had promised to quench that thirst.

They had. Far too well. Over two decades she’d spent with them, and she’d learned far more than she wanted to about subjects she’d never have chosen.

She ran, tireless while the great topaz-yellow moon Talir was bright in the sky, resting when the moon set. The other four moons danced through their own cycles, but they were of no immediate relevance; one moon alone ruled her life. The forest changed around her, and opened into increasing stretches dominated by shrubby growth in expanses cleared and cultivated by humans; she hid from them, slinking by in the night, just another animal if any caught a glimpse, and finally she reached more woodland, though the trees were different, the scents were different. Talir waned, Neoma’s need for rest and food increasing as she did. Two days before the dark of the moon, unwilling to venture into the open without her moonlady’s strength to support her, Neoma hunted a deer large enough to feed her for several meals and dragged it to an overgrown gully where she could hide. For the day and night and day in which Talir hid her face, she alternately slept and ate. With the return of Talir’s light, nervous about being found, again she ran. Continue reading