To Each Student, a Master
A snout tracked the air. The nostrils filled with musk, odors. and hope. Hope that her mother would arrive. She had waited a long time.
Her nose was fine-tuned. A musician’s instrument or a poet’s ink. It led her atop a bald hill The scent was closer here. Her nose carried authority about it.
The sky was slowly but surely mimicking her. Fair and terrible. So dangerous that it exuded sublime fear and respect in equal measures from its devastating winds and rain in the distance falling like a land slide. Her blond haired whipped around just outside of her hood like the very lightning arriving her way.
The storm followed the new hunting season every year and she had seldom seen her mother on calm evenings.
An overcast was growing dimmer and the light was being strangled out in a cosmic struggle. The sun’s noose kept it hanging low and the horizon behind her was a choked purple. Dark omens and bitter signs surrounded the traveler that neared her. It was her mother at last.
The sky poured and never let up for a moment. But upon the hill overlooking the coming struggle in the clouds, the air was still. And rough yawn of a lions broke the stand still.
The daughter unveiled her hood as she rested at her meeting point. She sat cross legged. The the new arrival circled her daughter. They gazed past the other’s guise. A mother and daughter long separated and rejoined after decades had caught the other.
“Its you. Anwen my dear...You’ve grown.” She was human from the neck down with the head of a lioness. Fur wet and less pronounced.
“My collection has grown in your absence.” Said the daughter.
“No proper changeling would show another their hoard but today is an exception mother.” The daughter said as claws protracted out of her hands. Her face was not that of a lion like her mothers but a she wolf. And her claws pulled at the skin upon her shoulder.
“Look and behold my new additions.”
The skin parted and revealed the splendor. Scales laid beneath the skin. Scales of gold silver and other jewels, and such a sight would make one weak. But the mother knew greed better that most.
Her own claws tore away much of the skin from her shoulder and part of her arm. Like knives through paper they slid and revealed through the flayed flesh such brilliance that even the daughter’s eyes glowed bright and her guard was lost.
Lightning again danced and with a wicked burst of witch fingers, the pale white hands reached out. The forked and twisting bolts dragged the light, pulling it lower with each hour towards the sun’s setting.
Without the lightning flash one could make out the daughter’s pale skin, large eyes and fair features proving very elegant. But the lightning revealed her true face. Merely a noble’s daughter, such a simple and dazzling youth, so cunning and so deadly.
With the light blasting, the smooth lips of the women became muzzles and teeth flashing in the dripping maws of the mother and daughter. Fangs and canines like hers could tear a skull open without difficulty.
The mother wore a different mask. Without the lightning she was old an withered crone. But in a moment it would all change.
The Mother chuckled and her aged and ragged face grew fair and sweet as a young maiden. Until her bones cracked and a lion’s head emerged from her neck again.
With your head lowered they would appear as gentle women of the country side, or perhaps women of the caravans. Educated, proper and wise women in their youths.
Like porcelain rapiers, sharp, artistically decorated and pure in their composition, but capable of such gore soaked atrocities.
To add to these illusions, the mother was more sophisticated and efficient in her form. Her stance brought out a proud posture which was made authoritative with her countenance.
She wore a wild and passionate form of a young black skinned girl now, a girl with a narrow chin, and a short nose. She was possessed of a greater height than the locals of the land. Her posture was perfect. And her tanned skin was around uncovered arms despite the colder climate. The clothes changed as well.
A villainous smile and an uncommon muscle tone would have attention drawn from miles. Her body had form and tone. The body of a warrior and a runner. The image of a tribal huntress.
While these did not distract from her womanly charm and appearance, this form was hardly part of her of her entity but merely one of dozens of forms. This was all appearance above the skin and was placed with purpose and an intent to fabricate a female human. With the next flash, the head of a wolf laughed out a high and malicious snicker. The jaws of death were revealed as her maw stretched wide and her teeth sneered.
The usual conversation and retelling of decades were great for a visit but proved time consuming as the night invaded.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, I’m looking for someone younger now. Someone with potential, maybe a young man, a young lass, someone out to seek their fortunes.” Said the younger, Anwen Aderyn.
“That would be very nice wouldn’t it.” Her mother replied. “Oh being young, I remember my days of roaming, wondering aimlessly. I found your father that way. He went by another name in those days. A trickster without comparison.”
“So much nostalgia mother, I will wed when I am ready. I have had many marriages among the humans. I don’t understand the bond just yet. Only in their form it all makes sense but once I embrace my full form it seemed so quaint and trivial.” Anwen smiled a sincere but eerie grin from her fangs and her snout.
“A good sixty or seventy years of freedom is not too much to ask for.” Anwen said while walking merrily back and forth along the summit.
“You have not met the right companion yet. If you don’t get out there in this century, I’m finding you a good ghoul. They’ll see your future and tell you when you should go. Or I’ll have you wed to the ghoul so help me.” Said the mother.
“Thats enough mother, I don’t need my fortunes read by ghouls. Time is short now mother.” Said Anwen.
Her teeth glittered with hunger as a bolt of lightning flashed before them. Anwen yawned. Her eyes cannot decide if they should be sorrow filled or pleased at their parting but they knew it was the time.
The sun was dipping into the dark as the black gnawed the fading sky like rats on the peel of an orange. Anwen shuddered more each moment in her mother’s presence.
“I know daughter, come here.” She sprinted to her mother’s arms and embraced her with tears and growls. Then a purr. Sigyn, the mother, rested her head on top of her daughter’s neck. Much like a she-wolf to one of its pack.
“These instances in time are like a match compared to a lamp. Our meetings burn fast.” Sigyn said quietly. “A single spark in the dark. We are both called to return to our hunts and we will return in company soon, Anwen Aderyn. Do not forget the great game.”
“Yes, Mother. It does feel like a great game. Only to lose this great game… has it occurred?” Her face reflected concern. It was a topic that was consistent in her childhood. Her mother did not have the luxury of hunting humans that she did today and never brought the topic up as seriously before.
“On occasions. But you doubt yourself. You mean for me to reveal details of the interloper. Better to leave your prize and keep your life if he is involved in your affairs. You will need to flee and flee quickly. If you can take your children do so. If not, you may have to beg for his mercies, which are few.”
“Take the children?”
“Yes daughter. Those of your brood deserve more than abandonment. Do not do as many others.”
“Mother, I have heard from my brother Cad Fan. The Interloper has married our ancient sister, Persephone. Does he hold her under some tainted sway?”
“Understand Anwen, she is a spawn of your father’s meddling much as you are as well. She clings too tightly to humans she preyed upon. She made him immortal and the two work together to hunt down our kind. We betrayed her before she betrayed us.” Sigyn said with a distraught face. “She has no love for me, that I know. She is not my child, but of your father’s and that of a human woman. You and Cad Fan are much the same, he is not your true father but he raised you himself. Your sister rejected your father as much as he rejected her.”
“How could I detect this interloper mother. Much has changed since our last meetings. If I could stop hunting the humans I would but the stones are just so majestic.”
“Am I to live in uncertainty that I will be hunted for my own instincts?”Anwen said as she Aderyn moved her palm over her shoulder and the skin was bound back to itself.
“They would confront you and interrogate you and then leave you. Please daughter, they would not hunt you without reason. You have not opened the doors to the hell-spaces or used foul magic before. Even if the interlopers were hunting you, you wouldn’t understand their strategy without being in paranoia indefinitely.
Anwen calmed down but took the words of her mother to heart.
“You will not know the interloper’s guise my dear, he takes many forms that can rival us. But he is a man, only he ages and grows young as he chooses. He is merely a traveler, sometimes a merchant, a traveling bard, or even a highway man with a black lance that flickers like lightning. But you will never be safe from his gaze. The interloper has rooted out many changelings and has drawn swords with your father as well.
“He drew swords with Father?”
“Fear not, your father Vorath cut his leg from his body in a duel. He leaves our kind alone if he can help it. Only changelings of high reputation must worry, Changelings that dapple in the hell magics. You need not share my burden. Let me worry about the interloper, you are still young and the game is still fun. Our sister did take him off his crusade though. He hunts only the changelings that take advantage of their game.”
“Please mother you do not mean that. I understand sister’s hatred of you and her fury. But why does she align with the enemy?”
“It was accidental, too long ago to recall well enough. Your father was still in a guise in those years, I was in peril, it was a last resort. But I can warn you now, using a disaster to further your ambitions is an art, and like art, a poor artist is subject to the ramifications of her patron.”
“I would never use such measures mother, those are cruel and underhanded. Please tell me you have not dabbled in the cursed words and their disasters. Does he seek you mother? Have you brought death from nature to escape your contracts?”
“Yes child. But that was long ago. I have grown adapt at evading him. He carries your sister Persephone upon his shoulders. The serpent of fire at times, a woman with red hair, a fire demon, an amber fox, many forms each more brilliant than the next but she always dresses in orange when she can. She walks among the womenfolk like we do, only to accompany the knife in the dark that is her husband when they depart their lands. But we must depart child. Speak no more of the one that follows our shadows. He is not a bloodhound on a hunt, he is merely a falcon, he can be deceived or redirected with guile.”
“He does not follow me mother. I have nothing to fear, except to lose you.”
After a quick conclusion to their conversation, they waited in a final stare.
The green hills had turned purple like a corpse, the clouds grew malevolent with the ivory mists boiling under the full moon. The storm had come and through a tear in the sky, a faint light flicked. The signal.
Then the sunset was over. The sun was dragged from the sky. The black rolling vortex approaching the land was like a rabble of hunters clubbing and hacking their kill. The spoil divided and the feast followed. A blast of wind violently snapped the reeds growing by a pond, hail fell, water poured and the currents of the air moaned out in torment.
“Till fate wills our unison again mother. As the lightning strikes.”
With the moaning and an echoing wail, a lightning bolt flashed black and white, it smote the ground between them. The two vanished into an explosion of wind, their eyes were opened again to the thrill of the hunt. Splitting the field between them, the two hunters disappeared in search of the weak and sickly to redeem and make well.