Artist : Joe Slucher
Author : Shona Kinsella
Miranya was surprised at the speed with which the potion took effect. One moment she was wincing from the taste of it and the next she was standing in the middle of a mist the colour of moss and mud and undergrowth. She looked down. The mist swirled beneath her feet as well, giving her a moment of dizziness. She squeezed her eyes closed and concentrated on the information coming from her body.
If she focussed, she could feel the chair that her body still sat in, the rough wood pressing against the delicate skin of her forearm, the heat from the fire that the chair sat beside. She opened her eyes and once more she stood surrounded by mist. Nausea settled in her stomach over the discrepancy.
I should have asked Elfrin what to do when I got here. She wondered if she was supposed to wait here for something to happen or go looking for help. Well, I never have been one for waiting. With that thought, she started to walk.
She had to avoid looking at her feet, or she found herself unable to take a step, relying on the mist to hold her up. There was no way to tell one direction from another, so she just walked in a straight line, looking for any variation in the mist that might give her a clue as to what she should do next. Over to her left, the colour was different, a more vibrant green, like new growth in spring.
Miranya headed towards it.
Gradually, the mist grew thinner, revealing a well-kept garden. Crops grew in neat rows, hummingbirds flitted between the flowers and a stream chuckled somewhere nearby. Miranya stopped and looked around, taking it all in. The mist had disappeared and the sun warmed her shoulders.
‘Are you looking for me?’
The voice was deep and resonant. Miranya turned slowly towards the speaker.
The man who stood in front of her was not much taller than she was. He had the same dark skin and hair as her people and wore the tattoos of high rank. His arms and chest were bare; Miranya had to pull her eyes up to his face.
‘I’m not quite sure who I’m looking for,’ she said.
‘I am Fetuh.’ the man gave a half-bow. ‘At your service.’
Miranya took a sharp breath. Fetuh was the god of chaos and change, the storm and the aftermath.
‘Is this your garden?’ Miranya asked, looking once more at the neatly-ordered rows.
‘It is,’ Fetuh answered, smiling. ‘Do you like it?’
‘It is wonderful,’ Miranya said. ‘I would not have expected to find you in such a place. It’s so … regimented.’
‘I am not all chaos, you know. Now, please tell me your name and your business here.’
Miranya paused and tried to get her thoughts in order. ‘I am Miranya, of the Tabaui people,’ she said. ‘I come seeking help.’
‘My village lies in the shadow of Mount Onapo.’
‘I see your problem.’ Fetuh said, moving over to a row of plants and working his way along, removing dead leaves and straightening support canes. ‘Mount Onapo is waking from it’s long sleep, it will soon rain fire and your village will likely be destroyed.’
‘I knew it!’ The fierce satisfaction of vindication was swiftly overtaken by a cold wave of dread. ‘I need to keep them safe.’
‘It’s a little late for that.’
‘Please. Help me.’
‘How would you like me to do that?’
Miranya thought she could detect a smile in Fetuh’s voice though he still had his back to her.
‘I don’t know but surely you can do something! Give us enough time to escape, stop the eruption, anything!’
‘It may be that I could do as you ask,’ Fetuh said, slowly turning around. ‘But what would be in it for me?’
Miranya swallowed. This was the part she had been dreading. ‘What do you want?’
‘There must always be an exchange, Miranya of the Tabaui. It is the way of such things.’
‘What do I have that would please you, Fetuh?’
‘Do you know what gives the Onao their strength?’ Fetuh asked, gliding closer to Miranya.
‘No, I do not.’ Miranya fought to supress the trembling of her limbs that his closeness caused. There was something predatory about him but instead of being threatening it was arousing. He was dangerous and wild and free and something in Miranya longed for that.
‘We grow stronger or weaker according to the devotion of our people,’ he said, his voice flowing over her skin like a caress.
‘I don’t understand what you want from me.’ Miranya’s voice trembled.
‘You must devote yourself to me.’
‘You mean, act as your priestess?’
‘Not just that. You must bind your soul to me, so that you spend eternity with me.’
‘It will not be unpleasant, I assure you.’
‘But, does that mean I wouldn’t be reborn?’
‘Yes. Instead of the endless cycle of your kind, you will have just this one, last life and then you will stay here, with me.’
Fetuh stepped back until there was enough space for someone to walk between them and Miranya felt her mind begin to clear.
‘How do you benefit from keeping my soul with you?’ Miranya asked.
‘A pure soul such as yours, devoted only to me … that is a powerful thing. By binding yourself to me, you would increase my standing amongst the other gods and increase my ability to make changes in the world.’
‘You ask a lot,’ Miranya said.
‘No more than you do.’
‘I need a moment to think,’ Miranya said, rubbing her forehead.
‘Do not take too long,’ Fetuh said. ‘The danger to your people does not stop while we discuss terms.’
Miranya stepped away, mind swirling. She had come here expecting to pay a high price but her soul? Binding herself to Fetuh for all eternity? That was more than she had expected. If she did this thing, she would never be reunited with the spirit of her beloved mother again, never be reborn further down her family line.
But what was the alternative? Allow her village to be destroyed and all within it killed?
That she could not do.
‘Very well,’ she said, turning back to Fetuh. ‘I will bind my soul to you if you will save my people.’
‘You must bind yourself with blood,’ Fetuh said, handing her a small knife.
Miranya placed the blade against her palm and prepared to cut but Fetuh put his hand over hers.
‘It need not be so painful,’ he said. ‘May I?’
His touch overwhelmed her senses and all she could do was nod. Fetuh took the knife and pressed the tip into the pad of her finger until a drop of blood welled.
‘There, that is enough,’ he said, lifting her hand to his mouth. His tongue darted out and licked the blood from her finger and Miranya’s knees buckled.
‘It is done.’
His voice followed her down into darkness.
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