Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Story: "Swallow the Sky"

This story fills a square on my card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This fest encourages the creation of boundary-pushing material that explores what happens when things go horribly wrong and people actually care  about each other. I'm hoping to attract some new readers for my writing.

The following story belongs to the setting of Quiar (which I designed) in the World Walkers collection by [personal profile] kajones_writing, so it counts as authorized fanfic and I get credits for it. World Walkers is about worlds created by the fae to keep magic available to them, after they ruined their homeworld by overusing magic. Quiar is one of the later worlds created, with a sophisticated magical structure and a great many anthropomorphic races in ever-shifting alliances. This project encourages audience interaction, and there are lots of ways you can get more of storylines you enjoy.

Fandoms: World Walkers: Quiar
H/C: Apocalypse
Medium: Fiction
Summary/Preview: The tiger shaman Adoni tells the last story of the Great War.
Content Notes: In this setting, "tiger" means "Tasmanian tiger," not feline tiger. Australian-inspired fauna.  Furry fiction.  Anthropomorphic drama. References to war and related atrocities. Cute fuzzy babies (who are not harmed).

"Swallow the Sky"

The old tiger Adoni sat on his haunches, propped up by his powerful tail, marsupial pouch faintly visible between his hind legs. In the fading heat of evening he wore only a colorful vest and a loincloth. His natural stripes lay dark over a tan background along the lower half of his body, augmented by dye so that they extended all the way to his face. It was not vanity; the rest of his fur remained grizzled, his muzzle almost white with age. It was a traditional pattern worn by shamans and wizards, a sign of favor because the tigers had tough skin which could tolerate dyes in a way that few races could. His people had so little left of their past.

Adoni gazed around the circle of faces, strangers' eyes watching him as they sat around the cookfire. Large kangaroos and smaller numbats made up most of the caravan. A pair of kookaburras joined them, vestigial pinions fringing their arms. One of the kangaroo jills had two small furry heads poking out of her pouch: her own joey and a fosterling tiger cub. The two pouch-sisters jostled each other casually as they stared at him with the open fascination of the very young. The cub was the first tiger Adoni had seen in moonweeks, other than his own reflection where water pooled in the rare billabongs.

"So you want a story of the Great War," Adoni said. His delicate forepaws wove fanciful patterns in the air, drawing magic out of the firelight and the long dark shadows all around. "I shall give you one -- the last story of the Great War."
The beads and fobs attached to his vest swayed and clicked together as he moved, fingers opening to cast his illusion like a curtain. "See Theas as it was, and remember, for this was our might before the peoples of Mothar and Fasach allied against us," Adoni said. His voice held echoes and thunder as it rolled over the audience. "The land grew greener then, where now it struggles to renew what the invaders cut away." The images flashed before them, emerald forests of eucalyptus and tropical flowers.

"I recall but little of this on my own," the storyteller said. "I was barely old enough to peek out of my mother's pouch, no bigger than these two young ones here." He pointed with his nose at the two pouch-sisters. "My mother followed her father to the battlefield at the heart of Theas, for there was no safety to be found anywhere by then. In those days, the baboons and the capuchins raided at will, killing us or carrying us away as their slaves." Between his hands, whole armies marched, the Tropes in all their diversity mingling the races of three different hames.

"My grandfather Burnum, a great general, knew that the invaders would soon conquer the whole of Theas if not stopped," Adoni said. The illusory armies twisted and twirled, one encircling the other like a snake. "So he lured them deep into the center of our land, where they could get no swift relief from the coasts." The sound and scent of the ocean boomed and then faded away, replaced by the baking desert wind.

"They fought all lightweek when Solas, the light moon, strengthened the power of the diurnal races," Adoni said. Now two spheres danced between his hands, one brightly shining like silver and one dimly gleaming like hematite. "Then Dorchadas, the dark moon, drew level with Solas and lightweek turned to evenweek. The tides of magic shifted with the moons. The power of the diurnal races waned while the crepuscular races waxed ever stronger." Such matters of urn had turned political tides before, as allies who shared their waking hours and magical peaks arrayed against opponents from elsewhere in the cycle. The prevailing races of Mothar and Fasach were all diurnal, as were numbats -- but the kangaroos and the rare but gifted tigers of Theas were crepuscular. The Great War pitted hame against hame, and so the Theasian peoples allied across the lines of urn to fight for their homeland, taking the advantage that their diversity offered.

"The battle raged onward, with the diurnal races attacking during the day when the sun lent them its power. General Chicahua of Mothar was strong and bold, while General Godlumthakathi of Fasach was a canny foe," Adoni said. He added a golden sun to the twin moons as ghostly armies struggled beneath them. "Meanwhile, the crepuscular races attacked twice, at morning and evening, when the halflight of the sun cycle and the moon cycle combined to make them even stronger."

"When his power reached its peak, in the evening near the middle of evenweek, Burnum called on the forces of creation and destruction. He opened his mouth as wide as he could --" Adoni followed suit, his long jaw angling as only a tiger's could, so that his teeth made nearly a flat line where his face had been. "-- and he cast forth all his magic at once in an almighty spell." The storyteller snapped his own jaws shut as he brought to life an image of the famous general.

"Burnum opened his mouth wider and wider. He swallowed the earth. He swallowed the sky. He swallowed the invading armies. He even swallowed himself, so that he disappeared from sight and was no more," Adoni said. The illusory general winked out as his impossible jaws met at the edges of the reversed angle. Adoni clapped his hands together where the image had stood. The pouch-sisters yipped in fright and dove into their mother's pouch.

"This my mother Yani saw while she carried me. She saw the armies unmade, the earth and sky rent like rotten cloth. She saw the death of her father, the great general Burnum," said Adoni. All around the campfire, ears lowered in respect.

With a swish of his fingers, dust and ash swirled into a new image. The twisted bush of the Umbral Desert took form. "In all that space, but little lived or moved, and so it remains today. Of the scattered survivors, most had their magic torn from them. A few, like myself, found our magic enhanced instead as if the lost pieces somehow clung to our fur," Adoni said. "This, too, remains, for those who approach the Umbral Desert risk losing their lives and their magic. It is rare for anyone to be spared, to be blessed -- as rare as tigers ourselves have become. We have been hunted for our magic, for our leadership, for all the things that make our fellow Theasians look up to us." The illusion dispersed into ash and dust again.

Now Adoni rose from his crouch and hopped forward, stopping at the two pouch-sisters who peered over the furry rim at him. "Yet the tigers survive, scattered among the peoples of Theas, always welcome wherever we go," he said. "We share our children with you so that our enemies can never catch too many of us in one place at one time. We carry the traditions and the history of Theas, to rebuild what was and will be again." The old shaman pulled two tiny bronze bells from his clothing and offered them to the little ones, who took them from his hands and hid themselves again. "Remember the cost of the Last Battle of the Great War, when General Burnum stood fast to swallow the sky. We are Theas! We may be battered, but we will never be beaten."

The audience burst into applause. Kangaroos and numbats drummed their big feet against the ground. The kookaburras tilted back their heads and gave a shrill cry. Adoni bowed, touching his hands to the soft red-gold sand of their shared hame.

At last he withdrew to his wagon. A faint stiffening in his joints foretold a storm to come. Tomorrow, they would reach the town of Iluka. He would go one way, the caravan another. People always had need for a traveling shaman and storyteller. The Great War might be over, but the story of Theas went on.

* * *


1) jill -- a female kangaroo. Males are called jacks.

2) joey -- a kangaroo of either sex young enough to fit into a pouch.

3) pouch-sisters -- any two marsupial babies raised in the same pouch are considered siblings. Tigers commonly foster some of their offspring with kangaroo mothers in this manner.

4) moonweek -- ten days; four moonweeks make up a month.

5) billabong -- watering hole.

6) Tropes -- all of the sentient, anthropomorphic races of Quiar.

7) hame -- homeland; or the allied group of races all belonging to the same place. The five hames are Theas, Mothar, Fasach, Larnach, and Inish.

8) lightweek -- the ten days when Solas, the light moon, faces Quiar. Magic flows from Solas to Quiar, and the power of diurnal races is strongest.

9) diurnal -- active during the day; one of the three major urns.

10) evenweek -- the ten days when the moons are side-by-side, with Solas moving away and Dorchadas moving forward. The ambient magic swirls, and the power of crepuscular races is stronger.

11) crepuscular -- active during morning and/or evening.

12) urn -- activity period, similar to a working shift; or the allied group of races habitually awake at the same time. The three main urns are diurnal (lightweek races), crepuscular (halfweek races), and nocturnal (darkweek races). A fourth and less respected urn, metaturnal (moonweek races), is recognized primarily by its own members who do not have a fixed cycle.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, event, fantasy, fiction, reading, weblit, writing

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