-The First Sunset-
A snout tracked the air.
Her nose was fine-tuned like a musician to a marvelous harp. It led her atop a bald hill. She knew her mother’s scent anywhere. Her nose carried authority about it. A prospector finds gold in his tunnel, a chef selects his spice of choice, the changeling locates its kind.
The sky was slowly but surely mimicking her hair, fair, terrible, and black. The storm followed the new hunting season. Supernatural? It was. Lightning didn’t suck the light away before it exploded. Not only did the black bolts of lightning drain the light from the stars like leaches but they would strike the ground and the world grew darker. An overcast was growing dimmer and the light was being strangled from the sky. The sun’s noose kept it hanging low and the horizon behind her was a choked purple.
From the south came the force of nature, writhing under the sorcerous signal. A cloud legion waving banners of rain and spears of lightning marched upon the land. The clouds touched down on their beachhead like a hail of arrows. In the distance, a downpour was coming, strong enough to topple lesser houses of wood and nails. The sky poured down like hair ebbing and flowing in water but never letting up. But upon the hill overlooking the coming struggle, the air was still.
The first woman unveiled her hood as the other followed. The two hunters circled each. Each gazing past the other’s guise. A mother and daughter long separated and rejoined after decades. They smiled in fondness and good will until the lightning stuck across the sky. With a wicked burst of witch fingers, the pale white hands reached out for the sun but were stricken from the sky. The forked and twisting bolts dragged the sun from the sky, pulling it lower with each hour towards the sunset’s end.
With the light blasting, muzzles and teeth flashed in the dripping maws of the mother and daughter. Fangs and canines tear a skull open without difficulty. Black hair and fair features proved an elegant taste to one with many forms. But the lightning revealed her true face. A lioness of coal and ash hair with white teeth. Her eyes shimmered in the night.
The Mother chuckled and her aged and ragged face grew fair and sweet as a young maiden. Until her bones cracked and a wolf’s head emerged from her neck.
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, elegant, and capable of such atrocities, revenge would require reinventing.
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, a girl with a narrow chin, and a short nose. She was possessed of, more than possessing, of a greater height than the locals of the land, tanned skin despite the colder climate, a villainous smile, and an uncommon muscle tone. She was not thin or fat but her body had form and tone. The body of a warrior and a runner.
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. But 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.
These were changelings, mischievous and cunning in the vilest ways. Heads of predators, the cunning of demons; very pleasant and wise creatures. Outside of their hunting season they are good natured and create their own families. Often raising orphans even a few of their one species.
But what does an immortal trickster require? It lusts and loathes the quintessence of humanity. The soul stone, mysterious and unknowable to mortals.
The younger of these bizarre creatures carried an eye of eagerness and the promise of a hunt. She gave a curtsy to her mother across from her at the summit with her elegant dress beneath her cloak. Her attire was simple, a merchant’s daughter, guised under a traveling cloak. With the face of a black lioness she grinned with enthusiasm. She wore less of the local clothes, than purely cloth. She is wrapped tightly in hundreds of strips of gauze cloth and sashes. Then adorning her body rests a colorful fur vest under her cloak.
The two had destined this day at the first bolt of lightning, to signal their meeting. The creatures had met for the fifteenth time in their lives. A fifty-year span between fifteen meetings meant that the youngest was already seven hundred and fifty years old and still empowered with the spirit of youth. Naive at seven-hundred and fifty but joyful for it. She abandoned her disguise. For once again she could relish her original form.
It was both soothing and good for reflection to have met and enjoyed the company of another changeling even more so in the presence of her mother. But all changelings could not do this so for long. They loved to take part in pleasantries of a long overdue reunion but their own nature compelled them on to treachery. The usual conversation and retelling of decades were great for a visit but proved time consuming as the night approached. They were both impatient.
Each could not wait to escape the company of the other, but neither the mother nor the daughter truly wished for this moment to end. A proper conflict; the thrill of the hunt, or the embrace of kin and family?
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, I’m looking for someone younger. Someone with potential, maybe a young man, a young lass, someone out to seek their fortunes.” Said the youngest, Anwen Aderyn, the daughter of the Changeling King Vorath.
“That’d be 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.” 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.” The younger said while walking merrily back and forth along the summit.
Her teeth glittered with hunger as a bolt of lightning flashes before them in the distance. The lioness 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 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 says 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: our hunts are lamps, long fueled and captivating, only slow and methodical. A great game of sorts.”
“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.”
“Mother, I have heard from my brother Cad Fan. The Interloper has married our ancient sister, Persephone. Does he hold her under some sway?”
“Understand Anwen, she is a spawn of your fathers meddling much as you are as well. She clings too tightly to her human she preyed upon. She made him immortal and the two work together to hunt down our kind.” 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. Much as Cad Fan is to your father.”
“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.”
Anwen freed her shoulder from her sleeve and tears the skin from her body as if it were paper. A flash of dazzling jewelry lit up the hilltop.
“Am I to live in uncertainty that I will be hunted for my own instincts?”
Anwen Aderyn moves her palm over her shoulder and the skin binds itself back tight.
“Please daughter , they would not hunt you without reason. You have not opened the doors to the hell-scapes 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. 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? Who prevailed?”
“Fear not, 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 you dared to dabble in hell magics?”
“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 worlds 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 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. She walks among the womenfolk like we do, only to accompany the knife in the dark that is her husband. 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 and killed like the ropes to drag down a beast. 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 black lightning bolt flashed black and white, it smote the ground between them. The two vanish into an explosion of wind, their eyes are opened again to the thrill of the hunt. Splitting the field between them, the two hunters disappear in search of the weak and sickly to redeem and make well. Lions and wolves seeking the ones they wished to devour happened to be remarkable physicians.