My completed Manuscript for Harmony of the Untamable Singers is ready for querying and I have decided to put the Query Letter and the First Fifty Pages here.
If all you want is to just go straight to the story, feel free to skip down the page to Chapter 1 “How it Ends.”
TO: Agent Person
FROM: Daniel Hansen
SUBJECT: Novel Submission “Harmony of the Untamable Singers”
Dear Agent Person
I am writing to seek representation for my novel HARMONY OF THE UNTAMABLE SINGERS, an ownvoices indigenous fantasy of about 87,000 words. I am submitting to you because I think we would make a great team to bring my story to the world.
Everyone wants an Indigenous Fantasy Slasher Road Trip Revenge Tale they just don’t know it yet. Help readers discover Turtle and his band of eclectic Indigenous characters as they travel down the rivers of their world in search of sanctuary. Strong female characters and LGBT representation come to life amidst diverse tribal cultures. At its heart HARMONY is a mysterious timey winey revenge tale that becomes more and more clear as the reader follows the three points of view of the student, the hero, and the villain.
I currently run a casino consulting business and am an enrolled member of the Village of Kotzebue Indigenous Nation. I have self-published several books and short stories with good reviews, and I am now trying to find my way in traditional publishing. Raised on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation I grew up listening to stories told over the fire, and those stories have shaped my life and my writing.
I attach the first 50 pages as requested and can supply a synopsis upon request. Thank you for the time you have taken in reading my submission. I hope you like what you read and look forward to your response.
- Subject: First Fifty Pages:
- How It Ends
- Turtle 1
- Scar Hero 1
- Fox Villain 10
- Turtle 2
- Scar Hero 2
- Novel: Harmony of the Untamed Singers
- From: Daniel Hansen
How It Ends
He made his choice, that is how stories begin, that is how they end. Everyone has a choice. A choice to embrace life and love. A choice to embrace hate and death. To hold hope close to one’s heart, or to fill it with sorrow. Everyone has choices, and he chose hate.
They say love is the strongest Song in the universe, but sometimes, just sometimes hate is the truest Song. A hate-filled with rage and pain that takes hold of a being and refuses to let go. Every moment fans the flames, every word strengthens the emotions. Perhaps at times, love is the source of all that rage and hatred, but in the end, what caused it gets lost. For once hate starts to feed upon you it devours everything put before it. A Song that one cannot get free from one’s head.
Some wounds cannot be lanced, and the infection just grows and grows taking first the limbs and finally the trunk. The hatred burns and burns as it devours itself and all those around it. A raging forest fire unstopped and unstoppable until it has burned itself out. Hatred can reach a level it can only be fed not fought, for it must burn everything before it can finally die out.
Hate is a tough Song to sing.
Tough but freeing.
It gives one the drive to begin their story, and the medicine to end it.
Hate is where we find ourselves ending this story. But each end is a beginning, and each beginning is an end. Time is a funny thing, and since this hate formed at the last point, I suppose it should be counted as the end of the story. For that is how hate is, an end to everything. This story is no different, it has an ending of pain and sorrow, and that ending is why there is hatred. A hatred that spreads from its inception back only to finally die in the beginning. A hatred that hunts the characters throughout the tale.
But we begin this end with the man before us. Like all adults, he was once a child, but a child no more. His life has been one of fear and fleeing, one of struggle and pain. But that fear was killed when he lost everything and began to hate himself. He would no longer flee, he would instead hunt. He had looked into the eyes of his greatest fear and would now face the enemy. He would stand before the maelstrom of life and say, ‘no more.’
His pain so deep he would struggle no more.
His every thought now overwhelmed with first a feeling of sorrow that was all-consuming, before that sorrow turned to hate. Hate he could no more escape than one can escape the air around them. It was his every breath, his very reason to continue on. He breathed in his hate and never once did he breathe it out.
Can you feel that hate? That fire that burns and burns throughout him? He stares at the fox mask in his hands. He stares at the bodies and the dead around him. Broken bodies of those he loved. Some bleeding, some too burnt to bleed.
And one body. No, he would not think of that, he could not consider what had been done. Some deaths mean more than others, and this death he could not even fathom. The pain of it seared him deep, and he turned away from it before it could cut him any deeper.
The stone around him was melted with fire and scorched with pain. Dark shadows of soot marching down the walls and along the floors. Something hot and fierce had raged through here, and left death in its wake, left him in its wake.
The air filled his nostrils with the old smell of burnt flesh and wet blood left to dry while he planned. It was all around him, even now, even still. He looked upon the altar and saw the glaive reflecting the light down upon him. Its long pale wooden shaft glowing in the light, even as the obsidian blade at its end sucked that light in. A weapon of opposites, shining light from one end as it spread darkness from the other.
He knew who was at fault. He knew where the blame lay. He may have forgotten much, and it was likely he would forget more, but this one thing he knew. He knew where to point his blame. His memories were becoming singular, focused, this would get worse, or perhaps it was better.
The man who came next had told him just before leaving. The man had explained it all, and if he had not, well it was obvious for all to see. Death had come to everything he loved, and there was only one reason for it. A reason he had the power to remove from the world.
The man had slapped him in the face and berated him with hate, before calming and explaining what must come next, what must be done. The man had left him then, to start his hunt. Left him alone with the man in black, the man that wept amongst the bodies. He had feared the first man before he left, and he feared now the man in black, but he was beyond all those fears. They had been tools in his becoming.
He ran his fingers over the fine fur of the fox mask in his lap and wiped his tears from it. The slightly orangish brown fur shimmered in the flickering light, and his sobs echoed along the cave walls. The mask stared back with a promise of menace, a promise of redemption.
Sharp little teeth ringed the mask’s mouth, and green eyes stared from it. Frozen in a grimacing smile it stared up at his crying face. It was beautiful and terrifying. A thing of medicine sent for him to help him become what he must become. Its eyes held wisdom, and a promise of what was to be.
“We can stop this,” it seemed to sing to him in a whisper, reminding him that he had a choice to make, a choice he had made, a choice he would make again. He could feel his tears dripping down his cheeks, in long ugly trails. He sniffed and gripped the mask harder. Its fur rubbed against his palms until they burned, but even this could not match the fire within his chest.
His hate was a burning sun within him, burning away his deep pools of sorrow. His mind filled with the steam of it, hiding away every other thought, but hate. He may have once tried to see through the fog. To move beyond his emotions, but those days were gone. He no longer wished to brush away the steam and see the world clearly, not this time. Not here. Here he used it to focus on the one and only important thought. The one and only important goal.
The time of tears was over. The time of sitting in sorrow was at an end. The Songs of mourning had been sung. Hate had cleared all of that and filled him with a new need. It was now time to act. Time to become that which he had been born to be.
He was to become an instrument of violence. Not to punish, no, not to punish, though punishment would be acceptable in this circumstance, perhaps even appropriate. The punishment was called for, but he understood that this was not what he was to be an agent of. He may seek his vengeance, be driven by it, but that was only a bonus. Feeding his vengeance would be curing the symptoms and not the disease. His true goal was one of preventative medicine. The illnesses would not be allowed to grow.
No, he would be a finer tool, a tool to stop the atrocities that had come upon his people. Stop them before they could take hold and become this sorrow. He would go to the source and cut it from this world. Untamable Singers had been gone from the world for generations, and with his help, they would return to obscurity.
He may dream of acting as an avenging angel but the idea of treating symptoms of sickness was proven ineffective, and not what he needed to do, needed to be. He would be proactive, he would nip the source before it could fester into this pain. His hatred would guide him into moving the world into health in a way love had failed to do.
It nagged at him that he would be snuffing out innocence, but that thought was barely a moment’s. He laughed it off in a single bitter bark of what little humor his hatred allowed to slip through. It was painful that laugh and threatened to pull his sorrow back up with it, so he pushed it down. Too many times he had laughed as bodies lay burning. The thought sobered him, and cut his laugh off at the legs.
The only innocence in all of this was that innocence he would save by acting. For the evil was already built into his enemy. The potential to cause such pain was already there, hiding and in waiting. Just because the enemy had not used it yet was not important, because it would be used, and death would come with it. Was he not proof of that, was he not proof there was no innocence to save?
The armor snapped together piece by piece. It had been made for him. Shaped perfectly for just this purpose. Made for him, to shape him, to guide him, to focus his need, his goal, his everything. The Myen had foreseen him, and they had prepared for his coming. He sang quietly to himself as he began.
First, had come the well chewed, perfectly cut, and finely sewn buckskin. No decoration. No lovingly shaped beadwork or lines of color. Just thick leather ready to turn even the sharpest blade. Like a glove, it molded to his body. The moccasins he tied up his legs to the knees. The rough ties cutting into his fingers as he pulled them each tight before tying them into thick knots.
Next, came the armor. Hardened pieces of hide and bone overlapping along their length and built just to snap and tie over him. Every piece was once a living animal. The bone and hide glowing with the once sentient life that made each piece up. The wisdom of their previous lives wrapping him and completing him. Filling him up and replacing what he was. They had been bred and raised just to become this armor.
“It will rob you of you,” came as a whisper in his head, almost a memory.
By the time the armor was around him, he was nothing but bones to the outer world. It’s faded yellowing color as yet un-nicked and unchewed. It was perfect and ancient, made before memory, made for him before there was him. Some ancient craftsman forming each piece just for this moment.
He could feel his Song surge along the armor strengthening it, using it to protect him from what was to come. The armor focused him and his Song as it tightened around him, holding him as chains hold the slave, as prisons hold the criminal, as a noose frees the guilty. His Song finally focused and put to task. Tightening his hate until it choked his memory from him and left only his hate.
The mask was last. He held it considering as it stared up into his eyes. Unable to meet that gaze he turned it seeing how it would slip over his head completely. How it would envelope who he is, he was, so that he could be who he would become.
“The fox will change you,” came the whisper in his head
He lifted the fox mask to his head and slipped it on. His new face. His new eyes. His new being. To protect him through his travel. It tightened around his head with a pressure that was near pain, but the pain in this instance was good. Knowledge filled him as the mask joined with him. It left him with his hate, focused him. Of memories it brought silence, for once blessed silence.
“We will save them all.”
Was it him that whispered these words or the mask? It did not matter. The words and the mask helped him to forget even more than he already had. Forget everything but his goal, his purpose, nothing else mattered, everything else was squeezed from him. He was Fox Villain.
Fox Villain smiled as he reached up to the altar and took the glaive in one gloved hand. It felt right, this weapon of death and time. He tightened his grip and the well-worn handle set perfectly within his fist. His smile grew, and the Song within him grew with it. His hate screamed for release.
“Do not go back into its power,” the secret voice spoke, but here the mask answered
“It will soon be time. You will see it then.”
The glaive began to glow as if from within, shining a light upon his armor and reflecting back into the cave. Dark shapes danced along the light within the shadows of the once great temple. Edifices and colored paintings highlighted along the wall, coming in and out of focus. The glow brightened as his own Song finally focused completely.
The man in black cleared his throat and Fox Villain turned his head to take in the once ally. This man had scared him. Truth be told he still would scare him if fear had not taken leave of him. The man in black’s anger burned as bright as Fox Villain’s hate.
“You know what you need to do?” The voice was a Song upon the wind. A Song of sorrow, vengeance, and anger. The voice was a melody of pain, and for a moment Fox Villain feared that this man would turn on him before he could take the next needed step.
“I do,” his own voice was rough through the mask. More a growl then speech. A deep rumbling growl that echoed back from the stone walls. Fox Villain narrowed his eyes as he stared at the man in black.
“It must be stopped before it can happen. The glaive can harness your Song for just that journey, the armor will protect you from others and yourself. Only with the death of one can there be life for all.”
His lack of memory tugged at him, “I don’t remember, not all of it.”
“Do you need to though? Beyond what needs to be done?” The voice was so reasonable.
“Did you do this to me?”
“Your armor, mask, and Song do affect your memories, but I may have amplified it,” the voice paused, “But I did not do it to you so much as for you. To assist you, a gift for what you did.”
Something needed to be said.
“I understand,” and Fox Villain found that as he said the words he did understand. His memories of life were choppy and broken, but new knowledge had replaced it. He knew the death he sought would put an end to all this pain before it could become. More importantly, he knew how to use this medicine. Knew how to put a stop to that which could not be allowed to happen. The world opened to him with possibilities.
He had already known who was responsible, but with this new knowledge, he knew how to get to the point to stop it. There was one creature that was to blame, and he would end them before they even began. That was the gift he would give the world. Would anyone not do the same? Faced with a monster poised to bring pain and suffering upon the world, would anyone not end them before they had the chance? It is only natural to wish to stop the seeds of evil before they can sprout into suffering.
“The mask will protect you,” the man in black added.
Fox Villain made no reply. His new face squeezed, and his Song flared and crackled around him. Sparks flew as electricity surged along his body and jabbed painfully into his mind. But the glaive sucked it in and focused it.
“It is time,” his voice, the mask’s voice whispered, either to the man in black or to himself he was not sure. He stepped into the light, bright and blinding.
And so, with the Song of hate Fox Villain raised the glaive before him and leaped into the world he once remembered. His choice had been made, his hate would guide him.
The clan had settled upon the river for several weeks now as they met the fish coming upstream to spawn. It was the salmon season, the season of gathering salmon, that sacred fish that brought life and plenty to his people. The season just before they moved into the valleys of the east sending groups into the mountains to gather berries. The time before they began preparation for winter and the hunts to come.
The hot seasons came with living in the teepees they used to travel from area to area and ensure easy access to much-needed foods. Turtle liked this time more than hunkering down in longhouses throughout winter. Sure, winter allowed him to compete with Raging River in the hunt, but it felt too unchanging, too stagnant of an existence.
He knew that there were clans in the world that never moved from place to place. Choosing instead to remain rooted in one spot, but it was not a life he could understand. He was made for the constant moving and changing of his clan, and he embraced every moment of the hot seasons that allowed him this freedom of travel.
The planting during the thaw and rain. The long treks and root digging as rains became heat. The river berries and fruits of the hottest days, followed by traveling to the rivers and lakes to find the salmon, water potato, and camus. The gathering and preparation for winter as they harvested the high mountain berries and roots, and finally the hunker down through the cold months, broken only with the hunts that kept his people in fresh meat as their dried goods slowly depleted.
A cycle. Life was a cycle. All he had ever known was the cycle of life. Each moment exciting and new before it died and changed into something else just as exciting and just as new. On and on again it fed him and kept him on his toes. This was the world he had always known.
The sharp cry woke him from his thoughts as he turned from the water’s glare to look up the bank. Raging River stood clad in buckskin, shoeless. Her hair hung long and black framing her sharp face and copper skin. She was the darkest woman in the clan, and her darkness was seen as a sign of blessing upon the people.
Turtle looked down at his own arm, the same ochre colored skin of all his people, but not as dark as his sister’s. He felt a moment’s envy as he always did when thoughts turned to his sister. Even in birth, she had outperformed him coming fast and strong from the womb. And now she had spotted the coming salmon first, proving again her skill.
Raging River’s cry turned into trilling and her finger pointed out toward the traps. The shimmer of fins sparkled along the water’s surface in mass. For the past few days, a few of the strongest fish had passed by, but the people had allowed them to pass unmolested. It was good that the strongest would make up the next generation, that they would live to breed.
But now patience had given way to a mob, as the salmon leaped through the waters of the river in their thousands. The sight of their reddish scales glinting in the sun so bright Turtle had to look away for just a moment.
The traps, of course, had already been built and the clan would eat well tonight as those traps filled and were emptied. The wooden structures dotted the river across points the salmon were likely to find themselves and worked to ensure those that fished need only empty them upon the bank in mass.
Once upon the banks, those fishing would give way to the cleaners that would pull each fish to gut and fillet and prepare for smoking, wind drying, frying, cooking, and eating raw. They would fill their stores and then feast upon the rest.
But all of that was sidelined in Turtle’s mind. It was great the clan would eat, and he would do his duty during his turn on the traps, but the joy of this time was in gaffing the fish. Gaffing took skill. A gaff was a long wooden pole held tightly in the hands on one end, with the other end tied with barbed hooks made of bone or horn. The gaffer would stand upon the bank and as the fish swam by the gaffer would reach out and hook a salmon before wrestling it onto the shore.
Sure, the traps fed the clan, but gaffing was a chance to practice a skill and compete for the hardest fighting fish. The strength of the person placed firmly against the strength of the salmon. It was a game that bided the time as the traps filled, a game that often fed many and honed skills.
The best games are like that. They hone the skills one might need to survive. Games of the mind and body designed to keep one fit and hale in times of plenty, because as all clans learn times of plenty only last so long before slipping into history. The cycle might bring all seasons with it in time.
Turtle and Raging River had competed throughout their lives. Who could hunt the best, pick the most, dig the deepest, carry the most, and gaff the best fish? They had this unending competition for who was the best, and all the ways it could be proved, and Raging River nearly always won.
Not today though, today, Turtle promised himself the best fish from the river, and so he held his gaff firmly as his eyes roamed the deeps and shallows. It was not a hunt for the most, for none of them could compete with the traps, no this was a hunt for the best. He bent his knees and speared into the water jerking to the side to hook the thick red salmon he spotted.
A game, perhaps, but a game he would win.
He laughed as he pulled the wet flopping body from the water and the waves crashed up onto him. He jerked the gaff to one side over the bank and stabbed his catch into the earth. The salmon flopped and turned upon the hook, and with a twist, it was free to beat into the ground. It was bright red and thickly grey as it jumped this way and that upon the earth. Turtle kicked it idly up higher onto the bank and admired his catch.
He took a moment to glance at Raging River smiling and pulling a big beautiful salmon from the water. His eyes tightened at her obviously a better choice and he turned to spot a better specimen he could hold up before her smug face.
A deep red form leaped from rock to wave before him, and he leaned out over the bank to get a better view of it. The wiggling tail gave away its position and Turtle aimed his pole just so, just so. The fish turned upon the water and then leaped, water flung back from its scales as it flew up and into the air.
Just as it reached its peak Turtle struck out catching it upon the gills. It was common to aim for fish within the water at the time of their stillness, but for Turtle that was a lack of skill. Pulling them from flight was so much more satisfying, and here he was pulling the strongest from the river mid-jump.
The weight of the fish yanked his pole down, and he leaped back pulling it from the waves. The splash of water covering him as the strength of the beast pulled him forward. He yanked back trying to further set the hook and pull it free.
Right it pulled then left, before pulling straight out and away from him. He led the fish just enough to really get a good pull, before attempting the harsh jerk that would ensure the barb would never let go.
But that jerk never came. The barb never set. The pole jerked Turtle to the left nearly off his feet and driving him to his knees, and then back up before going slack. The damn thing had unhooked itself and escaped his grasp. Wet and irritated Turtle looked into the waters trying to spot his prey, that had moved further upstream, likely into the arms of a less skilled fisher.
His ego deflated he kept looking, taking solace in some smaller fish. He would find another queen, but until then he had to keep up with the small warriors. Water dripped from his chest and hair, and he spat it all away as he kept up his hunt.
“Do you see me Brother,” Raging River laughed as she flopped another salmon upon the bank and moved up to a more precarious position upon a cliff next to her, assured in her expertise, and if Turtle was honest, likely showing off by leaning out over rocks and rapids where most fishers stayed to the lower and safer banks. He felt a moment of jealousy and pulled his own gaff from the water holding it high into the air.
She laughed, that beautiful laugh she had, and the joy of the hunt filled her eyes. She sparkled, and Turtle wondered why more of the men and women of the village did not love her. Sure, many did, but none had brought his mother gifts for the attempt to woo her. They hid from her instead, taking easier spouses. It put an ache in Turtle’s heart for his sister in search of love equal to her. It was hard believing any would.
Raging River laughed and flipped her hair at him in derision and he had to admit she was likely too annoying to find a lover when she snorted at his own small salmon pulled from the waters. She waved him away one-handed and sang to those watching her greatness as she speared down into the waters at a large salmon leaping up to her hook.
She jerked back and turned to pull it up on the bank, but gravity and the strength of the salmon worked against her. This fish would fight, and Raging River had not set her feet to fight back. It turned this way and that upon the gaff, and she grasped the pole double fisted. The look of shock on her face would have been comical if not the undercurrent of fear.
Turtle’s sister was not one to give in to fear though. Nor was she one to let go of a catch she had caught. With the foolish pride of an eagle, she held tight and attempted to yank the fish up before it struck the water. Her strength was not equal to her pride, and the salmon splashed down into the river.
At that moment for most the fight would have been done, and the pole released and pulled from their grasp. But it became the start of the fight for Raging River. The salmon was surely hooked so even in defeat she would eventually win, but that was not enough for her. She pulled back and attempted to manhandle the creature from the water.
A man out of stories told around the fire stepped from the trees behind Raging River. He stood tall in the sun, his scarred chest glistening with the sweat of the day. A thick bearskin hung from his back and its head hung over his shadowed face. It’s dark bristled fur sucking in the light. His breeches were buckskin, rough cut, and rougher prepared. As if by a person unused to making their own clothing, but had to make due.
The man’s breeches clung to him fitting him as if sewn on. His thin waist led up into a muscled stomach and thickly muscled chest. His arm was like a piece of iron, built rather than grown. But over all of him was a spider web of scars and old burns thick and screaming of violence. The violence had not left his face alone, were somewhere someone had burnt him beyond recognition.
His stared out from that ruined face with eyes like beady black obsidian. He was a creature of violence that had embraced what it was and lived to tell the tale, and he was walking towards Raging River, who did not see him as she fought with the fish.
The salmon pulled and Raging River pulled back. Her arms tightened and bunched as her every muscle struggled against the flopping fish and rushing currents. The sweat of the moment formed on her brow, and Turtle tossed his pole back to rush to his sister’s aid, not that she would bother to thank him for intervening in her personal battle with the fish.
The clatter of his pole was distant background noise as he rushed towards her, but everything moved in slow motion. The fish, the girl, the boy, the moment, the monster, it all happened faster than a blink of the eye. Turtle’s feet squelched and he felt himself slip and plummet into the wet earth, mud filling his mouth and covering his face.
He spat what he could out and pushed himself to his feet, still trying to reach his sister, but to his chagrin, she began to laugh. One hand pointed out at him and the other on the pole. He would never live this down, that much was obvious. Still, the salmon pulled and his sister held on.
Raging River slipped upon the earth and plunged towards the roaring water. The hard rocks and crashing waves waiting for her. A thickly muscled arm covered in scars and burns reached out and the thick hand attached grasped her buckskin and pulled her from the rapids. That arm was attached to a man, the man that walked from the forest.
He held Raging River easily above the water and rocks before lifting her back up and sitting her upon the bank. He stepped forward quietly and pulled her gaff up out of the water, salmon still struggling and sit it upon the earth next to her. He turned then to Turtle and stared, a moment of hate in his eyes, that made Turtle flinch before being replaced with a resigned look of duty.
Turtle recognized this man though he had never seen him before. The entire clan had whispered about him. He had appeared almost a year before from the high mountains. He had swooped down upon the land like a spirit out for vengeance. Saving those hapless travelers and lone campers deep in the woods from monsters and animals set to harm them.
Several had started to pray for him to save them, and often he had. Never giving a name. Never giving a sign of hello. Just stepping in to save those in need and ridding the deepest darkness of its monsters.
He was a man who had become a legend. A man that they had named in absence of him naming himself. As is only right, for names are a thing given and not a thing to be taken. A moniker used by people to name and shape others. A label to box him and put him into the place they needed him. An honor from those he helped that they sang to add to his story.
They had named him Scar Hero, and now in this instant, he stood upon the bank of the river shaded by the background of the village and calling Turtle’s name.
Scar Hero 1
The village was much as he remembered seeing it. Some folk standing or sitting amongst the teepees covered in thin buckskin dresses heavily beaded. Others running too and fro along the banks pulling large reddish fish from the waters with long poles or gathering out large flopping hauls from wooden traps.
The smells of humanity and home lingered on the air. The smell of already caught fish smoking, a sweet embrace that watered his mouth and made him yearn for what once was. The sharp taste of berries still fresh yet drying brought a small smile to his lips.
He had found a patch of berries just days ago and had his fill, but only carried away enough to get him here. He had known where he was heading and had not wanted to weigh himself down too much. He had already snagged a large deer along the trail, and with the leftover bear meat still dried in his pack, he knew he had enough deer to gift to the village in exchange for a warm welcome.
One did not merely enter a village and expect kindness. Sure, one would receive the welcome that all hosts might offer, but it was rude, and not how he had been raised. One brought enough to ensure that the visit was a blessing and not a curse.
The salmon in the traps would feed the village well, but their stores of meat would have dwindled as they spent time fishing instead of hunting. It was not a season to hunt, and so only those easy kills were chased after in the fishing camp. If winter was to be a time of plenty, they must fill up on salmon now and store what they could. A nice deer would go well with them, and he thought it might be a fine gift of what they had no time to gather themselves.
For now, the village was concentrating on the fish and traps. The traps themselves were made of skinned logs hammered into the water in edifices of layered round wood. The salmon swam in, but just couldn’t swim out, and the trap tenders just had to scoop out piles upon piles.
Around the traps ran laughing youths competing with each other to gaff out untrapped fish with long wooden poles. The sparkling joy of the day reminded Scar Hero of better times and better days.
He knew they had named him thus, Scar Hero. He had had another name once, several in fact, but this name was who he had become. His tortured and scarred body and face removing all trace of who he had once been, leaving behind who he was now.
A savior to some. He had spent years healing his body and preparing his skills with monster hunting. The bearskin on his back was proof of his success in riding the forests around them of the more dangerous of beasts.
The bear had lived peacefully for years in the high mountains before something within it snapped. Perhaps it had gotten a sickness, or just got fed up with people wandering into its territory, but in the end, it had become violent, and Scar Hero had been forced to put it down to save a small hunting party to the north of where the village now sat.
Like some other beasts, it had become broken in a way that only finishing it off could cure. It had been a sadness for Scar Hero to harm such a massive and beautiful creature, but he had done what needed doing at the time. The skin a reminder of his success in ending its pain, and his failure in not being able to save the creature but only the humans.
He flipped one arm free from under the skin to leave it open and free. He was here to stop another beast. A beast of greater maliciousness, if not one any less tragic. The birds chirped behind him in the heat of the growing day, as the laughter of humans echoed back at him from the river’s edge.
His moment of remembrance was over. He had spent the year of seasons preparing for what came next. To meet his opponent and save that which he could.
Scar Hero sighed and moved slowly along the tree line towards the river bank. The laughter and calls of the fisherfolk echoing along the water’s edge. He slipped silently from shadow to shadow until reaching the short cliffs the banks rose up to.
The cliffs were not so high they could be counted as true cliffs, and yet the rock sheared off and fell before meeting rocks and raging rapids. Just downstream from the main traps, where the bulk of the hunters stood.
The fish coming upstream glistened in the sunlight. Their scales like shiny stones filling the river as they swam upstream. The water rippled as it hastened towards the seas, but it wiggled as well with the jumping and moving fish.
It was a sight to see, and one that Scar Hero had not seen in too long. He could imagine a well-balanced warrior walking across the river’s surface on the backs of the fish they were so thick. He smiled. It would be a good catch this year, and the clan would eat well once they had preserved and stored their limit.
For there would be a limit. There always was in the hunt. One did not take more than could be replaced. A bad hunter killed too much and so feasted before starving. A good hunter knew that some berries must be dropped and left to continue the cycle of growth. The world was full of limits, and they must be respected if prosperity was to continue and grow.
To overharvest was a fool’s harvest.
To survive one must find a harmony of sustainability.
One young woman had climbed the hill to better meet the coming stream of fish and spot the best of the batch. The woman was likely in her teens. Skin darker than those others in the village, with midnight black hair that hung straight and long. She was muscled as were most of the village and moved easily upon the rocks and earth with her youth.
She laughed and called to another, in the joy of her moment. The joy on her face hurt something in Scar Hero’s chest, memories of a better time. He could have stood and watched her for days in her glory. Memories of his own happy childhood stung at his core, and something within him hitched and made it hard to breathe. He swallowed it all down.
Memories were a tricky thing, and he was here not to relive his own, but ensure those of others. Still, he took the moment to appreciate the joy before him. He had had so few times like these in his life. So few moments to just stand and appreciate joy.
She grew close enough to him that with only a short burst of speed he could be by her side, and yet she did not notice him. She was so focused on the river and fish within it. The look of concentration on her face belying her blindness to everything but the task at hand.
It took only a moment’s pause before everything started. The action that would make all other actions necessary. The moment that ended his time alone in the forests hunting monsters in freedom, and a return to the suffering that was others.
The woman seemed to hook something that decided to fight back. Her head down and back muscles bunched she pulled this way and that. Scar Hero stepped forward in a moment’s worry, only to see her slip upon the mud and rocks and tumble straight over the ledge and towards the rocks below. She fell fast, but Scar Hero was faster. His pack and weapon dropped at his feet as he rushed in and grabbed her by the forearm.
The shock of contact almost caused him to let go. Her smooth skin under his own scarred flesh a momentary thing that lasted an eternity. The muscles in his arm bunched and his hand tightened as he lifted her back to the ledge and firmly on her own feet.
He released her before his grip could tighten more as she met his eyes. Her hand jerked back as she took in his visage, and he knew then that his scars were worse than he remembered. Her eyes traveled from face to chest, up along his bearskin, and back again to his face, a look of fear and near disgust plain within her eyes.
He wanted to say something, to assure her, but no words came as they stood there looking at each other. When he could take no more of her look he stepped past and reach down to pluck the gaff sticking straight up from the water’s edge. He lifted it and the salmon easily and dropped it all upon the ground next to her, a gift she likely would not welcome.
The cries of the boy she had been yelling and laughing at came closer, and Scar Hero turned to meet his dark gaze. The boy was dark, but not near as dark as the woman beside Scar Hero. He likewise was a teen, yet his face seemed more childish in its own way. The boy was covered in mud and grime, but it did not faze him.
Had he ever been that young? Had he ever looked with such worried eyes for another? Scar Hero sighed again and attempted to smile at the boy.
A moment’s recoil before some kind of recognition entered the boy’s face. Like the woman his eyes roved Scar Hero’s body, making him self-conscious of his many scars. But it was not to be helped, and the boy seemed to recognize him for a moment. A recognition of stories, and not of self. This was no surprise, it was unlikely that with the burns and healed cuts along his body that even Scar Hero’s own mother would be able to recognize him.
The boy’s look changed from fear to awe, as Scar Hero smiled and spoke the boy’s name aloud, “Turtle.”
“Raging River are you ok?” Even in awe, the boy’s worry won out, and he rushed to the woman’s side.
She humphed and pulled away from him in anger. Likely unhappy that she had been saved, or even needed to be saved. It does not always sit well on the young to be forced to recognize that not all things were in their power.
Scar Hero smiled at the small act of youthful defiance against embarrassment. He stood silently watching, as the two flapped like birds around each other. One in worry, the other in irritation.
“Yes, brother I am fine, now step away,” the woman flapped her hands in the face of the boy and mimicked pushing him away. He hovered still.
“I just,” his worry was bright and energetic as he hopped from foot to foot trying to soothe her.
“You just nothing, I am fine,” the woman turned to Scar Hero rubbing her shoulder, “And you, what do you think you are doing manhandling someone like that, you could have broken my arm.”
Again, he smiled, but not sure how to respond, luckily the boy did for him, “Raging River, he saved you from that fall, be nice.”
“Turtle you hush up, I was fine,” she looked exasperated at her brother then back at Scar Hero with a stern countenance that only the young can really master. By the time one grew old that sternness became strictness, and was easier to take seriously.
“I apologize if I have injured you,” his own voice sounded rough and broken in his ears. It had been too long since he had spoken. He thought back, had he spoken since leaving the mountain lake where he had stayed to heal? He had seen humans, saved some, moved past others. But he could not recall ever speaking to any of them. His voice was unused, but here at least he had found it again.
“I’m fine, it’s fine, who are you?” Raging River sounded mollified, but not necessarily finished with her anger.
“Don’t you recognize him, he is Scar Hero, the one that has been saving people all over from monsters,” Turtle sounded excited and the awe was back upon his face.
“Scar Hero, what kind of name is that?”
“Not one I chose, but one that works as well as any other I have had.”
Raging River humphed again and stood back taking him in, this time with less disgust, and more a gauging eye. Her sight ran along his arms and took in his rough sewn clothing, and bare chest. He could feel the touch of it. The investigation like fingers upon his scars as her eyes traced the many cuts and burns, before stopping on his face. He knew it was a ruin. He knew the burns covered and disfigured all that was there, and yet she did not seem afraid of it.
Her initial shock gone, she now looked at it as a part of him, a part she did not seem to care about. No different than some having longer hair or smaller hands. She accepted that this was him, and rather than look at what it could have been, she looked at what was. It hurt him, as he had not even been able to look at himself in such a way in so long.
He could see her body preparing to reach out towards his scarred face, and perhaps he would like that. Perhaps he wanted fingers to sooth away his pains and aches, but it was not to be. He stepped back and away from her rising hand to be just out of reach and met her eyes.
She gave him a look of pain as if thinking she knew what he had felt, but she could not know, that was impossible. Turtle waved between them and coughed in oblivion to what had just past.
“Come down to the village, everyone would love to meet you,” the boy paused in sudden shyness, “That is if you can stay for a bit.”
“Yes, I plan to stay for a bit,” he paused, “There is a thing I am hunting, and it is close by.”
Scar Hero stalked over and lifted his pack upon his back in one swift movement. Its thick elk hide straining for just a moment before settling upon his back. He had rolled it just this morning and he knew it was tight, and all within it safe. The long glaive he had carried for too long he grasped in his hand and held tight.
“Hunting! Like a monster,” Turtle’s excitement filled the air around them and Scar Hero again wondered if he had ever been so young and naive to find excitement in such danger. He must have been once.
The boy’s eyes seemed absorbed by the glaive and its newness. At this point, Scar Hero had seen it too much in his life, and so the eyes of this boy let him see it again for the first time. A forearm length of obsidian sharpened to a razor’s edge, fastened to a long thin pole of pale wood. The pole was much like the gaff poles they used here, or the spear poles some used for hunting. But shortened and the blade longer than any spearhead had a right to be. It was longer than even most knives. A weapon to kill, not simply to hunt. The weapon of the Myen’s and one Scar Hero wished to one day put down.
Before he could respond though Raging River’s resigned sigh spoke over them both.
“Well if you are going to stay, you better come to be introduced to Grandmother.”
Her words echoed through him for just a moment. He grabbed the deer carcass he had brought as a gift and lifted it bodily up onto his shoulder with ease. His muscles bunched, as the deer met air, and then shoulder. He turned to Raging River and his grip on the glaive grew tighter.
It was time to face what scared him more than monsters.
Fox Villain 10
The first thing Fox Villain experienced as the light dimmed around him was the village humming with life nearby. Far enough back a line of trees hid it from his sight but close enough he could hear it. He could taste smoked fish upon the air, and he felt a moment’s yearning to feel his teeth sink into it.
It had been too long since he had sat upon a bark woven mat and ate his fill of fresh smoked salmon. To just relax and enjoy the sounds of children playing and people living. The colors and music, of people. The joys of a life lived amongst the clans.
The pain in his chest momentarily caught him. A sharp ache that pierced his thoughts. He moved it from his mind as his hand idly rubbed his bloodstained chest. Such wounds would not matter soon. A lucky blow, that could have ended him but hadn’t. He was still well enough for this one final chance.
‘We save them today,” his voice whispered.
The noise of the villagers no longer called to him. Their smells and colors not for the likes of him. He had moved beyond such things, he came to save such as they, not join them, he had left them long ago. He must focus on his tasks and his desires. The needs of the world came before the wants of his heart.
He breathed deeply of the hot pine air and smiled at the sudden stillness of the forest around him. The only creature not driven into fear and silence by his arrival the humans that lived nearby. The slowest of all beasts, but still he would protect them from the evil in their midst.
He cracked his neck along the top of his armor, letting his mask’s cheek bend nearly to his shoulder guard. He loosened his arms and legs, letting them become accustomed to movement, and preparing them for the action to come.
He needed to loosen the tightness that his hate had made of his muscles. It would do him no good to seize up and harm himself. He laughed at the thought for a moment before setting off towards the sounds of life. One of those sounds needed silencing. He could smell his prey from here.
Fox Villain moved as he had been trained. Not straight through the trees and brush, but as a hunter. Taking each step slowly but surely. Taking in the world around him as he flowed through it towards his prey. It would not do to charge ahead until he was ready to pounce. Only then could he charge in with reckless abandon.
The village was much as most villages were. The fires stoked and cooking. People gossiping around them as food cooked and the day wound away. It was a nice life, a nice village. Little did they realize the malice that walked within them.
Fox Villain did not begrudge them their ignorance. It was not always easy to spot. Maliciousness did not always declare itself to one’s face. It often hid in plain sight, hid and cried as if innocent and in need of help.
No, it took one of great keening at times to really spot it. As a specialist Fox Villain had come to cut it away from the bosom that held it close. Cut it away before it poisoned the body and ruined the mind. He would be their savior, though they would fear him for it.
He was noticed, he could hear the sounds of them as he walked first from the trees and in amongst the teepees and fires. He was noticed, and he gave no sign of it. He was not here for them, and there was no need to cause them more fear than necessary by attempting to engage with them.
Even so, he knew he scared them. He was a ghost in their midst how could he not. His fox mask alone was enough to worry most who gazed upon it. He was a silent shadow moving from fire to fire, person to person, family to family.
He brought trouble with him, and those who saw him took only moments to feel it in their guts. He was not here as a kind and happy guest, but as a messenger of death to come. He wore his hatred upon him like a cloak, thicker than the armor around him, and more visible than the mask upon his face.
The bone armor shone in the afternoon light, pale and faded yet still shining in its menace. He smiled at how he must look to them, a ghastly apparition had come to call as their day ended. A storyteller’s most fearsome words come to life and walking among them.
He could hear the villagers first curious, then afraid, then running from him. This is who he was now. The villain had come to collect. The village scattered around him in fear that his shadow might fall upon them. He was bad medicine in the flesh.
His quarry stood in the middle of the village, surrounded by his allies even as Fox Villain walked alone. The group huddled near a teepee no larger than the others, but glorious in its way. The dwelling of a leader not held above her people but held in respect by them.
The girl noticed him first, turning from the elder woman she was speaking to, her arms waving until her eyes spotted him. Then her arms stilled and dropped slowly to her side. Her words caught in her throat. She became stillness incarnate, as she tried to make sense of what she was seeing.
The old woman looked made of stone, hard edges and harder eyes. Her grey hair pulled back tightly from her wrinkled face as she looked to where the girl’s eyes had turned. Her mouth pursed, and the boy. Oh, the boy, he turned in immediate fear.
Such fear was a thing remembered as Fox Villain strode purposefully across the village. The boy seemed to shrink down and stepped to the side behind the large hulking form of the scarred man beside him.
“It will rob you of you,” a voice whispered from beneath the mask as the man stepped forward. Fox Villain hissed at that voice, his mask hissed, his body shook.
That man was not a welcome sight. A longtime enemy, that often stood in the way of justice. The scarred one turned, his long dark bearskin shading his eyes from the afternoon sun. Those eyes pierced out from under the skin and Fox Villain felt his step falter. Falter for a moment, before he took another step letting his righteousness fill him and steady his mind.
The scarred one stepped forward and dropped the bearskin from his shoulders and stood bare-chested as if chiseled from stone. The thick fur pooling at his feet like a second dark shadow in the day. Here was the boy’s last and final protector. Many had died to reach this point, but it would all be made better once the boy died. All would be saved today.
Fox Villain stepped slowly through the teepees and fires knowing his time had come. The scarred man mirrored him as he began closing the distance. Fox Villain stopped and planted his feet on the ground looking not at the man but at the boy.
“Islaqnous,” the word directed at the boy. The boy was all that mattered. Fox Villain did not expect him to understand, but still, the forms must be met. He leaned into his glaive letting the pole dig deeper into the earth. There was no response to his word, but that was fine. He answered to himself, he would understand and that was enough.
The scarred man cried out in a long low whoop that filled the air and drew Fox Villain’s eye. It seemed he had an obstacle still to his goal. It made no matter, one step at a time, one more end before the last.
He turned slightly setting his feet as the man charged across the ground, earth chewed up under his feet, and glaive cutting through the air. Their battles had not always gone well for Fox Villain, but he had learned. Learned hard.
The man would not give way easily, nor without a battle. Fox Villain was still injured, and his chest ached where it had last met a blade. He smiled still though, smiled at this the beginning of the end. Today they would start the final act. One that would free the world of those that would bring it harm.
Fox Villain stood tall, his armor tight against him, glaive glowing in his hand. It filled with Song, less than it had, but still enough to do what needed to be done. The man charged against him, his own glaive dark and spent, but still sharp.
The two weapons were mirror images of each other. One dark, sucking in the light around it, and the other bright with Song and need. Bright with hatred. The two struck and sparked as the men circled and fought.
The force of an avalanche striking the stone buried in the earth. The air shook with the impact, as each man turned and circled lashing out with all they had. The world fell away as both focused down into just each instant. Nothing mattered but now in a sea of now’s, a chain reaction of events that flowed like a dance.
Obsidian met obsidian as blade struck blade. Death offered and turned in the swinging morass of battle as the two twisted through their dance. Too often they had met, too often Fox Villain had failed, but not this time.
As his weapon vibrated with a blow, Fox Villain turned his body, and his hands until he pushed upon his opponents’ weapon. Both caught and gripping the other as they attempted to push back against the strength of arms But their bodies held, and neither budged an inch.
Fox Villain leaned his blade before turning it against his enemy and he began pushing the other’s weapon down towards the earth. The two-meeting eye to eye, grimacing burnt face against the fox mask. The mask smiled as he turned sharper and struck out with the wooden pole striking the man a glancing blow to the side knocking him off balance.
The man turned with the hit and Fox Villain flipped the weapon in his hand and let it spin until he struck out again. Obsidian was turned by wood, but the parry only opened the door to another blow from the wooden shaft. This one with the full weight of Fox Villain’s strength against the man’s head and the scarred man hit the ground with a heavy thud.
Stepping closer and before his opponent could react Fox Villain slammed the butt of his staff into that head again, feeling the satisfying crunch of the blow that knocked his enemy unconscious. He raised his glaive and turned it blade down to finish this obstacle off when he heard the cry of anger. Too late he turned to find the girl charge into him knocking him off balance.
He froze, this was not how it was supposed to happen. He spun his blade away so as not to cut the girl, and drove the butt of the glaive into her stomach knocking the wind from her lungs. The force of her charge halted, as Fox Villain reset his feet and slammed the pole into the side of her head knocking her to the ground in a boneless crunch. He took a moment to watch her there upon the earth breathing heavily but breathing.
He had no time or desire for this, something within him ached, so he turned. The village was in shock and hysteria. Not used to such a brutal attack in their midst. He felt a moment’s sadness for bringing such terror among them, but what must be must be.
His eyes found his prey huddled against a teepee not far from him, and he smiled at his success. He would win the day, and the evil would be pulled up by the root of it. He stalked towards the boy, watching fear fill the young eyes.
Again, he gave his prey the honor of the moment and said, “Islaqnous.”
His words were met with only fear. He knew that fear had tasted it on his own lips. He swung his glaive lazily as he approached, slowly but surely, righteousness in his every step. This would be his triumph. The boy’s eyes though gave him pause. Hard to see the evil that would flourish through the innocence he found there.
No, he could not think of such things. This was the moment. This was his chance to finish it all before it began. He caught his glaive in his hand with the firm steady thump of wood on flesh. The pressure from the boy’s Song pulling the air from his lungs.
He could feel the force of an untamed Song building, all around him an undercurrent of a Song too raw to unfocused. The noise of it grated at his being. This was his chance before the boy could become what he would become. Before the Song could fill him and surge out into the world. Fox Villain had sacrificed too much and come too far to let it happen, not again. Not ever.
He took another step towards the boy and he knew what it must be like. The pain of it, the sheer confusion of what was happening to him. The pain of Song building with his emotions, the noise of that hateful music filling his ears. The fear gobbling up all that was and forming a ball in the pit of his stomach.
Fox Villain could not allow that build up to reach its next level. He must cut the source off before it reached its next note. The air around him pulsed slightly as the boy’s fear grew. Fox Villain breathed deeply and bent into the force pushing out at him, cutting his way through the pressure towards the boy. The steady build of medicine, the twisting of the world’s harmony.
And like that it all changed. The Song that had been pushing against him pulled. A silence so deep it sucked him towards the boy, Fox Villain staggered with the sudden shift and had to use the pole of his glaive to keep from falling. The world took in its breath and he knew that he had taken too much time.
The world blazed in pain, fire, and Song. A deepening sound unfocused, untrainable, broken and chaotic. And within the Song sparks flared upon the air and grew until lightning struck out from the boy and burnt away all in its path. A dance of light woven around and around with the Song reaching out with unchecked destruction.
Fox Villain was struck again and again with the blasts, crackling along his armor, through his armor. He could feel the burn of it even through his mask. With each strike pieces of him ripped free replaced by blurry murky memories of times that had been buried. As each surfaced he wept at what he had done, had been.
He staggered back and knew he had failed even as the Song receded from him. Only with the pole to lean on did he remain standing. Staggered and bent even then. The weight of his failure pressed him towards the earth. He coughed through the smoke and pain and felt too injured to move, too broken to complete his mission.
He tried to right himself. Tried to pull it all together. As the smoke filled the air around him he reminded himself this had been his chance. He wanted to scream at his own weakness. Why had he taken his time and not simply charged the boy? Why couldn’t he have simply run in and finished the mission before the boy’s Song had been allowed to escape?
If he could take a moment and finish this it would all be worth it. He coughed in the smoke and shook off the flames that covered him. If he could gather himself and make that final push to end it all. But no, he had not that moment, as he felt his own glaive pulse in response to the Song that had surged around it. He felt it pull from him that which it needed and he screamed in frustration and rage as it pulled him into its light.
And like that the world turned and he leaped. The world not going dark, but instead bright. And as the light past, he stepped out onto another bank. His armor cracked and burnt as he tried to keep standing, but his glaive slipped and fell from his hands. The earth reached up and slapped him with its muddy fist.
He had passed the dream land too quickly, and his protection was cracked and burning still.
More mud, more fog, more memories, more pain, and he had fallen face first into the earth weeping in frustration, weeping in failure, weeping alone, weeping because he understood that he had failed to save anyone.
Smoke rose in a perfect circle around Turtle. Teepees rent and thrown aside. The devastation was beyond his keen. Hides, blankets, and poles smoldered upon the ground. Gaffe poles and other gear lay strewn across the blackened earth. Heaped in scorched piles, blown back by the force of the explosion. The smell of burning meat filled the air, and Turtle was happy to see it was merely held over dried elk and no human bodies were amongst the wreckage.
One might think his body would be sore and bloodied amidst all that destruction but the opposite was true. His memories of the last few minutes were fuzzy, but all in all, he felt amazing. What exactly had happened was hazy, but the image of a deep discordant Song filled with lightning was stuck in his mind.
A pressure that had built within him had finally released. Freedom of spirit and movement awoke within his tingling skin. An itch finally scratched. The release of his Song had been a release of that pressure. He could already feel it starting to build again, but for this moment it was gone.
Turtle shook his head in an attempt to clear the fog, but it coated his mind and held on tight. He laughed at how light he felt and began to cough as he breathed in the smoking ruins of his once serene village. The laughter died in his throat, and the fog of memory refused to burn away. He coughed, feeling a sharp burn in his throat and he knew that his memory of lifting his voice in a Song was not fantasy.
Raging River huddled against a still standing teepee twenty feet from where he knelt upon the ground. Her face a mask of shock, her normally straight hair hung in long black hunks along her face and down her shoulders. Ash smudged her normally serene face, and Turtle could see her shock slowly turned to fear, and he forced himself to look away.
He remembered her running to Scar Hero’s aid in the midst of battle. It had been a near thing, and Grandmother had tried to pull him along with her as she ran the other way, but his hand had slipped as he turned to help his sister. In the last moments as the others were felled he had done no more than huddle against the earth and await his death.
Scar Hero stood unflinching in the aftermath of the battle. He had stood back up and shaken off what Turtle had assumed was a killing blow. Now without his bearskin to hide him, the extent of his scars was finally fully visible for all to see.
His face and chest were a mass of scars and lines. His body a spider web of healed wounds. No trace of what the man he had once been may have looked like visible through the history of violence writ upon his flesh. The dark copper of his skin shown with a sweaty sheen, and he turned obsidian eyes upon Turtle filled with a moment’s anger, before smoothing into calm. Turtle hunched back in fear and quickly looked around for the man in the fox mask until he remembered what had happened.
The man in the fox mask had disappeared in a flash of blue light. A single stretch of unburned grass the only evidence he had ever been there. A shadow made of trampled green surrounded by blackened soot stains. A shadow of life in a sea of death. A shadow indicating that one lone creature had stood before the raging fire and blocked out this thin strip of life. He had been the closest to Turtle when… when the explosion had occurred.
The Song had to have struck him, had to have burned through him. How something, someone, could have survived that fire and lightning, Turtle couldn’t say. But the man had staggered back, injured but alive. He had bent over in pain but still lived. In that hunkered state his armor had smoked and burned before the creature had turned away into a flash of light. Gone, in the blink of an eye.
“We must go before Fox Villain’s return,” Scar Hero’s voice was rough and broken. A thin line of blood dripped down one arm where Fox Villain must have caught him with his glaive. Scar Hero walked across the ravaged earth to stand above Turtle. His hardened stare glared down upon the youth. His glaive reflected the sunlight in a sharp glint that hurt the eye.
“Fox, Fox Villain?” Turtle stammered. Scar Hero reached out his hand and helped Turtle to his feet. It took only a moment’s hesitation before Turtle took the offered hand and found himself easily lifted from the ground. The man’s muscles pulled taut as Turtle was pulled to his feet in a rough yank. The strength of him gave Turtle a moment’s pause.
“Yes, Fox Villain. The man in the mask. He will return, and we must be far from those you love when that happens.”
“But, he’s gone,” Turtle struggled to get his stammer under control, but the shock of the suddenness of combat and its end clutched him in its steely claws. He struggled with the fuzziness of the memories, but the shock of it all kept him from fully being able to process all that had occurred.
“Yes, and he will return, driven to put an end to the Untamable Singers.”
“I am not a…” Turtle stopped, the devastation around him stalling his lie. He had done this. With his Song released in fear, he had done this. The smoke and destruction, all that remained of the area around him. But an Untamable Singer? That was not possible, they were creatures to scare children. A thing of an uncontrollable Songs so dangerous the bearer killed all it loved. He changed what he had meant to say, “How, how is this possible?”
“You, like all Untamable Singers are a descendant of the Myen people. A great nation that once ruled from their city to the south,” Scar Hero sounded almost sympathetic. Turtle found it hard to adjust to the look of understanding he found in the man’s eyes. He wiped away his thoughts and asked the only question that popped into his mouth.
“Myen?” Turtle said in confusion, what did those ancient people have to do with Untamable Singers? With him? Everyone who knew their history had heard of the great civilization building cities of stone and jade. As wise as they were all consuming. A nation that had come to power overnight and died out as quickly. What did they have to do with Turtle?
Scar Hero looked at him in sadness as if remembering long dead pain. What had happened to this man to cause such scars, so much pain, so much suffering. A man that understood what Turtle was going through with his entire life ripped away in a moment. As much as he had envied Scar Hero’s strength and legend before, he pitied him now. What kind of life had this man lived? Turtle knew he could never understand what such a being had lived.
A throat cleared and Turtle turned to find Raging River taking in both himself and Scar Hero. Turtle knew that look of curiosity, and the strength of resolve to get answers that look reflected. He was momentarily relieved to see no fear in her eyes, of him or for herself. He only wished he had as much resolve as she did, the story of his life. For as long as he could remember she had been his rock, his driving force, and here in a world gone unstable, she was still as solid as ever.
“What do the Myen have to do with my brother?”
Scar Hero’s eyes tightened as he turned to her and simply stared. His hands tightened as he leaned on the glaive, and his look hardened even further. As the moments crawled by and the silent stare became almost uncomfortable he finally turned and stared out towards the horizon. A forlorn look of longing and sadness. His voice came out soft, almost too quiet to hear.
“There is little time we must travel soon.”
“Where, why?” Turtle could hear the whine in his own voice and hated it. He wanted to be strong, strong like this man before him. He wished he could sound as steady as this man and Raging River, who talked as if it was just another day, and not as if they were standing in the smoking ruin of the village Turtle had known every summer of his life. But all he felt was fear and from it stemmed shame. He realized Scar Hero was talking.
“As to where I do not…” a pause as if searching for the word, “know, yet. But the ‘why’ is simple, Fox Villain will not stop until you are dead. He is driven by a need, by a rage. If we are here upon his return those you love could be harmed. And without the little, I can teach you any emotional event could… it could be catastrophic. Even with it, I am not sure it can be enough. You are a danger to those that stand too close to you.”
None of this made sense, why Turtle? What was so special about him? He had lived his life in the basic rhythms of his people in the same way as everyone else. He had helped pack and travel to the fishing ground in the summer, and gathering areas in the fall. Helped manage the fires that cleansed the brush. Helped repair and build the longhouses for the winter, and sat listening to the same tales as everyone else.
He had helped with planting and packing in the spring before moving back to the fishing areas of the summer. He had hunted when the family needed food and gathered when they needed berries and roots. He had dried meat and fish, and sewn gear at his mother’s knee. But now out of the sky, he was suddenly important. It was all too much.
According to this stranger, he was an Untamable Singer, he was one of the dangers the storytellers whispered about on winter nights. Turtle himself had huddled in fear of these beings too dangerous to live among other humans.
One of those whose Songs could not be focused upon one of the standard tracts of medicine. The other medicine users and spirit speakers could harness their Songs into knowledge and specific paths, all people could do it to some degree. But a sad few were beings of pure Song that could not shape it and were as much a victim as those they killed. One of those who was destined to bring misery upon those around them like a tornado upon the plains. The tornado went unhurt as it leveled everything around it, burning bright in the world until one day it simply twisted itself out.
Turtle looked shyly over at Raging River and for a second he could see the fear in her eyes, replaced quickly with shame before she turned quickly away from him. He knew his sister would never have tears in her eyes, it was not a part of who she was, and he whipped his own forming tears away before turning back to the man before him.
“Why, why my brother, this thing must have better stuff to do,” Raging River sniffled as she spoke, but when her eyes met Scar Hero’s they were dry, and her face was set in the sternest look Turtle had ever seen her wear.
Scar Hero cleared his throat and continued, “Fox Villain believes that your brother’s Song unchecked will lead to a great evil, an evil he will do anything to stop.”
“If I am…” the words caught in Turtle’s throat, a pain to even say them, “if I am what you say there is no training, and he is right, isn’t he?”
Raging River humphed as her arms crossed over her chest, hands tightened into fists. Her look brooked no argument, and the glare she swept from Turtle to Scar Hero and back gauged them both and found them wanting.
Scar Hero was unfazed, by that glare, but there may have been a momentary hesitancy as his eyes moved away from her harsh stare. He stalked over to where he had dropped his pack and bearskin and flipped the skin up over his shoulders. It hung from him covering his naked scarred chest and back in thick fur. The bear’s head flipped up over the man’s head and several strips of beaded ribbons hung down along his face.
Raging River and Turtle followed him over to the edge of the destruction. Flames and smoke crawled up behind them filling the air with a haze that itched the back of Turtle’s throat. A constant reminder of the destruction he had caused, and that the moments before had not been a dream, but a memory.
“All things can be changed. Untamable Singers are often believed to be untrainable, but it is not true. What little I know I can teach you. The Myen built an entire civilization on the Songs of the Untamable Singers. It can be done, but not here, the danger, if we fail, is too great.”
“They built a civilization from Untamable Singers?” Turtle had never heard anything so unbelievable.
“But they are so dangerous,” Raging River looked sheepish for a moment at her question, and she smiled slightly at Turtle, but she did not falter. She knew the same stories Turtle had heard.
“The Myen were immortal, a life unending, building the greatest civilization ever created in a single generation.”
“If they are immortal, where are they?” Turtle wish he had thought of the question instead of Raging River, but she had always been quicker witted then he was. He smiled, letting her do the talking.
“They are still there embracing their yesterday,” Scar Hero smiled at what he had said, his scarred face pulling tightly against his skin, causing his smile to turn into a grimace. He waved his hands in the air as if that explained something.
“Then can we go to them? Learn how to stop all this.”
“Yes, can we learn how to stop this?” Turtle’s words leaped out of his mouth before he had a chance to fully consider them. Everything was happening so fast, he barely had time to think. Luckily his sister was here to handle the thinking parts.
Scar Hero looked at them askew for a moment as if thinking. Almost as if remembering something he had heard once, maybe something he had heard about the Myen. He responded slowly and hesitantly.
“To them no, to their city yes. There is much to learn in their city, that at least I remember,” Scar Hero shook his head as if an internal argument had arisen within him, “but I do not know that it would be wise, there is danger there, I think there was danger there.”
Turtle stood tall and gathered his courage, “Danger if we stay, danger if we go,” Turtle looked at Raging River and felt a moment’s pride that she looked at him with a smile. Since they had been young she was always the one pushing him into situations that only the bravest would dare.
It was her that would jump first from the highest cliffs into the lakes and rivers. It was her voice that called for him to jump despite his fears. It was her that pushed him into the most dangerous hunts, and up to the tops of the highest trees. The fact that in this instance he jumped first, was a moment’s pride to him.
Scar Hero sounded uncomfortable but resigned as he responded, “Yes, and you must learn to control what you are. There you can learn. As I said I can only teach so much myself.”
As the words left Turtle’s mouth he wished he could swallow them back down, but they tasted of ash, and so instead he spat them out.
“Then we go.”
Scar Hero 2
Scar Hero packed gear into the canoe he had been pointed to as Raging River spoke to Grandmother.
“Are you sure you will not need it?”
“Yes, I am sure, there are plenty of others and your auntie and I can use one of the other canoes. Without you two we do not need so much room to travel,” the old woman’s voice was humored as she nodded her head and smiled.
“And the harvest, it will be a lot without us to help.”
“Stop fretting girl, you were never that much help, to begin with,” the old woman’s harsh words were softened by the calloused hand she laid upon Raging River’s arm, “we will be fine, I assure you. And without you here to eat it all we will not need so much as most winters.”
“Winters, we will be back soon, I promise.”
“Hush girl,” the old woman’s look softened more, and she seemed saddened for a moment as she looked at the young woman with sympathy, “you will be gone as long as it takes, we will be here when you are ready.”
“I just want to make sure.”
“Nothing in this life is assured, just do what you must,” the old woman lifted her hand from Raging River’s arm and turned away, “And it is not like we did not survive long before you ever came into our lives. Just be careful my child. I know you like risks, but I did not raise you to take them selfishly.”
Raging River’s breath hitched and she turned away, neither woman wanting to see the other cry.
“I will go get the rest of our stuff than.”
“Yes, you do that, I will be here to see you off, we all will.”
Raging River ran as much as walked back up into the camp. What was left of it still smoked, but there were those pulling what could be salvaged from the wreckage that was. Scar Hero turned from his task and watched her go.
“You do not wish the girl to go,” the old woman had spotted his reluctance and likely heard him argue against Raging River. He did not turn his head as he responded.
“It would be safer with just the two of us, she could be needed here.”
Grandmother laughed, “She has not been one to be told what is safest even in the cradleboard. She hated to be swaddled, and fought for her own freedom even then.”
Scar Hero laughed a low deep laugh and smiled down at the pack he was trying to get tied down, as he responded.
“I suppose that is the way of some.”
“It is, and she most of all. The boy less so, always fretting, always following her lead, no matter the danger it might take them in. His bravery only in regards to hers.”
“Yet he will learn to be brave alone.”
The silence at his words made him pause. Had he offended? He could not be sure and the pack just would not sit flat against the floor of the canoe. He paused in his struggles as it finally pulled tight and he breathed. He hoped he had not offended.
“You will watch out for them?”
He turned his head slowly towards Grandmother. She had not asked a question, not really. Her voice though had taken on a pleading tone, he could not bare. He looked at her, and she looked at him. Stone looking at stone, their eyes so eerily similar. He turned back to the task at hand and answered as best he could.
“I will guard them as my own, guard them as I do my own family.”
Grandmother’s breath was hard, and he wondered if it had hurt her to breathe in so. He hoped not, she was a great woman, and he wished her only the best. But the phrase he had used was an old one, and she would know it, how could she not.
“I suppose you will young man, I suppose you will.”
With that their conversation was ended, and he continued with attempting to get everything tied down and the gear tight. Villagers came and went, bringing what they could spare, and wishing well the two children they could not. Scar Hero wished he could cry with them, but it was not his place, no matter how he ached for home and family.
The village had reacted quite readily and mostly calmly once the fighting had stopped. No crying and weeping for these people. They had simply returned to life, even if that life now meant they had to sort through the debris of what had been destroyed. The cycle brought many things, not all of them easy, but all of them in need of surviving.
They quietly accepted that Turtle was an Untamable Singer, and though they seemed relieved that he was leaving before he became a danger, they also seemed genuinely sad to see him go. He seemed well liked, but it was understood without saying that he should not stay. Some things are just too dangerous for the whole, and clans must consider all.
Still, there was no fear beyond the fear of what might happen if he stayed. Fear that was rightly felt for the danger he possessed, but not the fear of a mob. No, he was loved, and he would be missed. And it was respected that he had decided to do what was best and leave to find a way to be safe for all. A boy of theirs was a creature out of myth to be feared, and though they feared they still wished him well and would see him off prepared. They would give him that fighting chance because regardless of what else he might be he was one of theirs.
Raging River’s leaving was perhaps less accepted, but it was understood that her brother would need her guidance and protection. Would not they all do such a thing for their family if needed?
They as quickly accepted Scar Hero, though a stranger, to their midst. Some had wished him to stay, and not a few of the women and indicated a good hunter and killer of monsters would not be unwelcome in the blankets no matter his scars. He felt a smile at that but waved them all away good-naturedly.
It had been too long since he knew the comforts of other humans, and it warmed him that he would still be welcome with all the wounds he carried both outside and inside. People were a funny lot, and he was sorry to leave them, though he knew he needed to.
But everyone there gave, and there were no hard feelings, some peoples are just like that, they give and give until there is no more to take. Good people, a people he could love.
And so, the canoe was gifted and filled with things they would need upon their trip. What could be sacrificed for the travelers was sacrificed, and by the time they bundled in the canoe sat heavy in the water.
Turtle sat in front, Raging River in the middle, and Scar Hero to the back. Their weight as evenly distributed as possible, seeing as Scar Hero was so much heavier. But he took the back to start as the strongest paddler.
The people waved and cheered their going, and tears could be heard, but before they were even fully sitting the sounds quieted and the people went back to work in fixing what could be fixed. Comings and goings were common among people who traveled all their lives.
Songs carried over the river. Songs of goodbye, and Songs of hello. Songs of good travels, and Songs of work. Songs of that which was lost, and that which was found. Song of a people, and with those Songs Scar Hero felt sorrow in his heart for what had been lost.
As the canoe took hold and the current pulled them towards their goal, Scar Hero felt a moment’s sadness to see the village go. So much of his life had been leaving. Here for these two, it was a first, but for him, it had been so many.
How does one prepare for a life of loss? A life of goodbyes that come too soon. All life is change, but all too often that change is goodbye. He felt sorrow for his two companions, these were lessons they would still be learning, just as he would relearn them.
“That thing he kept saying, is issla, is isslagous something,” Turtle shivered as if he recalled Fox Villain’s voice; more like an animal’s growl, then a human voice. Scar Hero started at the question and then thought about it.
The canoe slipped through the water, and the warm wood of the oar felt reassuring in Scar Hero’s hand. He had always loved to travel by water. To feel the pull of wood through the liquid as the canoe pushed forward through the waves. With the quick-moving current, he did not yet need to pull, but it felt nice to relive old memories.
“Yes, Islaqnous, it is a Myen word,” Scar Hero’s tone took on a teaching sound, and he smiled in thought, the rhythm of his oar catching with his words.
“But what does it mean?”
“It’s a funny thing you see the Myen have no words for hello or goodbye. They would merely appear and perhaps give indication through action that they knew each other were there. But at times of importance, they begin and end by saying, ‘Islaqnous.’ It is best translated as ‘it is now.’”
“It is now? That seems an odd thing to say for hello,” Turtle looked confused, and Scar Hero wondered if he was teaching it all wrong, but the boy would learn, as he must.
Scar Hero dipped his oar into the water and turned it just so, ensuring they gave a rock they past wide berth. The pause gave him a moment to collect his thoughts. The river sounds filling in his silence with a comfortable gurgling.
“Well maybe,” Scar Hero became confused and then thoughtful again dipping in his oar to push them faster forward, “but one must remember that they saw the world differently than others. Well differently than us.”
“Different enough to never say hello except when telling someone it is now,” Turtle for a moment seemed bemused, and Scar Hero smiled. He would get it.
“Yes, it was more common to say nothing, but the word could highlight an especially important meeting of people. An acknowledgment that such a meeting both had been waiting for, and was finally happening.”
The boy looked to have more questions but if so he would need to wait, Raging River jumped in, “What about goodbye?”
Scar Hero looked sadly at the woman. He had not wished her to come, but when both young woman and old woman decided, it was decided, and so here she sat with them. He answered the question without even a need to think.
“Again, it was uncommon to say anything. Merely leaving was enough to indicate that one was gone. But for important leavings, well, they often used Auhtnook.”
“Ought Hook,” Turtle seemed to be tasting the word.
“Nook, Auhtnook, it means… well, I suppose it means I do not know,” Scar Hero smiled as his oar felt the resistance of the river, “Yes I do not know.”
Raging River looked at him in disbelief, and he smiled back at her. As much as he did not wish she had come, he was glad that she was here. A comfort to him, to be near. He shrugged his shoulders in a most un-stoic or heroic way and flipped water with his oar at the bank.
“They saw the world differently than ourselves. All have their own way,” Raging River and Turtle made faces at each other and Scar Hero felt a moment’s irritation. They seemed amused by what he had said, “what is so amusing children?”
Raging River laughed and Turtle laughed with her, before she answered him, “You sounded just like Grandma, she always says that.”
“All have their own way,” Raging River’s voice was low and cracked in imitation of someone much older. Scar Hero started and then laughed with them. It was nice to laugh, he had once forgotten how.
“And she is right. The Myen see the world very differently, and their language will be key in teaching Turtle to harness his Song.”
“Because of what he is,” her face had become serious, and Scar Hero felt a pang of sadness well within him. These two were so young, too young to be dealing with this. He modulated his voice to mimic her seriousness and give her a respectful response as was her due.
“Yes because of what he is.”
“An Untamable Singer,” to the boy’s credit, his voice did not crack as he said it. He looked resigned yes, but fully ready for his fate. Scar Hero only hoped he truly was.
“Yes, you are an Untamable Singer. Where others with medicine within them can focus it along different paths, the Untamable Singers are beings of pure Song. Even now you will feel it building within you, and as it builds it will need to be released. You must learn to do this safely or be a danger to all around you.”
The canoe bobbed slightly, and Scar Hero leaned into the turn and used his oar to steady them in the rapidly moving water. It was like a dance between himself and the waves. It calmed him, and the rocking seemed to calm the others with him.
“And Fox Villain?” Turtle looked sheepish as he stared back at Turtle, and Raging River, who sat between them, reached up to touch her brother’s arm. Scar Hero gave them a moment’s silence before responding.
“He would kill you.”
“But why, my brother has done nothing to him.”
“Not yet perhaps.”
“What does that mean, ‘not yet?’”
Scar Hero’s silence filled the canoe and echoed across the river. He sat and felt it grow until even he was uncomfortable with it.
“It means what it means. Fox Villain is driven by hate for what your brother is,” the sadness of his own words dug deep into Scar Hero, and he shook his head before going on, “Hatred. He knows nothing else. It is all he has. Untamable Singers are dangerous. He, well he…”
A wave crashed against the front of the canoe soaking them in spray, and Scar Hero knew he had been saved for now in answering. The canoe buckled and turned to the side, as Raging River squeaked and Turtle guffawed.
The spray had hit Turtle hardest as it crashed over the bow, and he shivered in the cold as Scar Hero dug his oar in and pulled them away from the deepest rapids. Raging River had finally grabbed her own oar and pulled with him as Turtle shook the water from his arms and hands.
The river was a thing to battle against, and it took a better part of the evening to fight their way through. When they finally had, they decided it was time to make landfall and a quick camp for the night. No one spoke through it all, but Scar Hero never forgot the question. And wondered who he meant by ‘he’ and he fought against the answer harder than he had against the rapids.