A/N – Thanks to Gasaway Alley for pushing those pretty words and cutting away my "that"s. Thanks also to Winterstale for pre-reading and shaking those pompoms.
I have a very exciting, complete story outlined for these characters, but have yet to get back to it as my sequel for Broken Doll demanded to be written. I'm hoping to complete Huilen and Nahuel's story this winter.
Crashing through the treacherous undergrowth of the vast Valdivian rain forest, her screams of pain pushed me forward. She was giving birth. My lungs burned from the exertion of running so quickly after such a grueling, but successful hunt. I dropped my precious kill to cover more ground in getting to her. I hated leaving her alone, but she required blood every few hours as the demon's child inside her grew at an alarming rate. Ducking into the darkness of our shelter, I was greeted by a sickening crunch; then the resultant snap of her spine breaking as the baby fought to be born. Barely resisting the urge to vomit from the horrific sound of Pire's body being pulverized from the inside out, I gathered her in my arms, praying for the ability to ease her pain, or just quiet her screams. The cold fear of the child's father finding us in this bald moment of vulnerability nearly swallowed my bravery whole. I forced my brain to think.
He must know by now we were gone, but he hadn't found us yet. My protection wards were holding strong; my Machi had taught me well. The demon's physical magic could overpower my shields if I wasn't careful. Joham would move heaven and earth to find us; for she carried his child.
Pire's ashen face was engulfed in raging pain, burning away the beauty she was infamous for. She had no presence of mind to speak, just guttural utterances and cries of unfathomable anguish were all that came from her cracked and bleeding lips.
Except for his name.
She cradled her hands lovingly over the monster within that was killing her, begging for his safety. Cooing to him softly as he brutally fought his way out of her battered body,
Hot biting tears blurred my vision as my sister's upper body writhed and jerked in agony, her legs disturbingly lifeless now. I stoically choked back my own screams of grief and horror at the damage done to her strong form. I was losing her. She would never recover from this birth. I put her down gently to make a circle of protection around us, there was nothing more I could do for her but watch her meet her violent end.
"Huilen." she breathed. I returned to her side. Shaking hands left the swollen belly, grasping for me blindly, my sister's eyes rolled back in her head. A tiny fist punched forcefully upwards, his mother's flesh straining against the outline, muffled ripping sounds punctuating the air. A scream, which would whiten the hair of the hardest warrior erupted from Pire's throat, dying in a raspy wheeze. She struggled to make eye contact with me, finding purchase for her desperate hands in my hair bringing me closer.
"Save him...love him as you loved me."
Her last words swirled amongst the blood rushing through my ears as the tiny fist thrust once more, brutally bursting from her abdomen, breaking free from a dying womb.
I reached over to pull him free as she took her last breath.
~One Moon prior~
What makes a hero? Must a sacrifice always be made to be one?
If dying for your people to save them from oppression or genocide, than my sister Pire was a hero. But she was not a warrior going off to war. Nor was she doing it out of the goodness of her heart. She had been chosen. Fated, due to her breeding and unsurpassed beauty.
Pire was a human sacrifice, a pound of flesh offered as payment to a Wekufe demon; a Liboshemon. An evil being of death and depravity, who devoured the blood of man to sustain his own life force. Centuries ago, he came to the Lonko, Chief of our Tribe offering protection from the threat of the Spanish Conquistadors and any other enemy which followed for every generation until the end of time. His price had been the sacrificial offering of our most beautiful daughter each generation to be his bride.
The melting orange glow of the fire ghosted over the cocoa skin of my sister who simply radiated with happiness. Each tribe member knelt before her, offering thanks and adulation. Tonight was the Feast in celebration of Pire's sacrifice for the tribe. Children kissed her feet, sang and danced for her. Gifts of blankets and clothing made from merino wool and piles of jewelery, fashioned from the finest silver. Our people were accomplished metal workers for eons. No Mapuche woman was without the large, silver trapezoid earrings of our culture. I fingered my own earrings she had given me for my birthday. I was so conflicted. On one hand I was happy for her as she truly believed herself to be in love and was receiving the attention she so readily craved, but the other hand choked me with the mortal fear for her life, the agony of never seeing her again.
Any other woman would be frightened, terrified of being given to a demon. But no. Not my sister. Her vanity knew no bounds, when chosen as this generation's most beautiful daughter she swelled with pride and purpose. She was never a smart girl, but she used what the gods gave her to get what she wanted; notoriety and respect. She got glory in spades when the demon actually approached her, taking her as a secret lover before the ceremony even began. During that courtship, the people of the tribe actually feared her, as no woman had ever survived his advances. Used to living in my shadow, as I was Machi apparent, she was empowered. From that point on she was lost to me. Ensnared and bewitched by the demon's silver tongued charms.
As I observed my fellow tribe members worshiping my sister, I could not help but zero in on the yellowed bruising of large hand prints branded into her arms. I shuddered. This was the first time the demon had ever marked his choice for a bride openly, before the Lonko offered. He knew Pire was most precious to my father, who was infuriated. The Liboshemon was sending a clear message it was Pire he wanted and would have no matter what the cost.
The delusional response from Pire when I first noticed the bruises in their angry purple best resurfaced, playing back through my mind ;
"It's nothing sister. He loves me, but he must be so careful. He doesn't mean to hurt me, he's just impossibly strong. He's a beautiful, virile god, Huilen. My dark lover only comes to me at night." Her voice lowered in the sharing of this secret, eyes dancing with the madness of obsession. Not wanting to alienate my sister, I kept my tone neutral and sedate. I did not want to lose my privileges as confident. Feigned neutrality was the only way I could try and keep her safe.
"Why only at night, Pire? Have you been sneaking out to meet him?"
"Yes! He is no Liboshomen! He looks like a man!"
My curiosity was piqued even though warning bells were sounding in my head of the danger my oblivious naive sister was in.
Liboshemon were demonic shifters; a half man, half wolf-beast of unparalleled ferocity. There used to be many in the jungles of Brazil, but now it appears we were beholden to only the one.
Or were we?
"Explain Pire. Father is about to put you on lock down for the bruises around your arms. I wouldn't put it past him to tell the demon to go to hell. He can't stand the thought of losing you! I can't stand the thought of losing you!"
"No, no! Father must give me to him! He must!" Bordering on hysteria, she wrung her hands and paced the floor, turning to me abruptly, the need to convince me bled from her speech.
"He's a man, Huilen. A man made from the coldest smoothest stone. He touches me like a woman, makes me feel like a goddess. I think he is a Ngen, a spirit of nature. Perhaps even Ngenechen himself as he says I am to be his Queen."
"Huilen! He's no beast! He cautioned me his own beauty could blind me should I see him during the day, yet this god has chosen me, I am the most perfect of all his brides. I am to bear him a son and live forever young, just like him."
The kultruns sounded the primal drumming beat for the communal dance, ripping me from my reverie. With one last look to my sister as she took the center of the circle to dance for her idolaters, I shuffled over to the ruka of my grandmother, the Machi, Shaman of our tribe. She had trained me since I was below her knee how to be a Machi. She was like a mother to me, my own had died birthing me. My father and my grandmother are all I knew as parents, and all I truly needed. My grandmother was as powerful a Machi, as my father was a headstrong Lonko.
Never did I dream he would go against her advice. Her word was law in our culture. Hearing and recognizing the raised voices in the hut, I slipped in behind it, the din from the celebration lessening as I pressed myself into the inky shadows made from the overhang of the thatched roof. I positioned my ear against the bare wood of the walls to eavesdrop.
My father's deep bass resonated around the room. His rage boiling below the surface.
"I will kill him myself before he can have her."
"He can not be killed by a mere mortal. He is deadlier than you can imagine!"
"He is a man. My father came across this Liboshemon, found his dwelling place. Saw his true form. He is nothing but a greedy polygamist, surrounded by beautiful women who wait on him hand and foot."
I heard the rustling of clothing as my father dug for something on his person.
The shock in my grandmother's voice made my stomach plummet to my feet. She was never surprised.
"Where did you get this?"
"Father drew it. He believed we could bring the Liboshemon down, be free of his demand for our daughters. We have warriors willing to kill, willing to die to protect our tribe. We fought the Incan gods and gained our independence long before the Spanish menace landed on our shores. I refuse to keep paying the debt of a weak and frightened Lonko from long ago. This contract with the devil ends now!"
My grandmother sighed and sat down heavily.
"You are making a terrible mistake and cursing us all to hell."
"So be it."
The door whipped open then shut and my father was gone. An ambush? My father was either being very reckless or he truly believed the Liboshemon was not who he represented himself to be. What if Pire dies in the scuffle? Why risk her chance at immortality if what the demon promises her is true? If he's not a demon...what is he that he can pass for a man, yet offer immortality?
I waited a few minutes more before I entered. Grandmother was rolling up a sheet of canvas, slowly, tenderly, tucking it into her woolen cloak.
Her shoulders were hunched forward and she seemed to have aged 20 years. I went to her and began removing the ornate silver hair pins from her hair, the heavy jewelry from her neck.
"Ahhhh. Huilen. I'm so glad I will always have you my child. You are more my own than my son. " Her eyes narrowed shrewdly upon my own. "I know you were listening. It's alright. As up and coming Machi, it's important to process how you feel about seeing our matriarchal right of final fate overruled by a father's pride and love for a daughter. Tell me your thoughts." Never being one to mince words I got straight to the point.
"Pire has chosen the demon. Regardless of the danger. She is under his spell."
"I know. The spilling of blood is inevitable. How much is the crux of the situation. Pire has her destiny as you have yours. It is not mine to interfere with either and play my role."
Something in her words forced a shiver down my spine, a snapping electric kiss of foreboding . If my grandmother knew I was eavesdropping, I might as well tell her everything I know, especially if she could help me save Pire.
"Pire believes him to be a man too. "
"I truly hope your sister and your father are correct in their assumption."
"And if they aren't?"
"We could all die."
Dusk crept along the snowy mountain tops. Dark shadows rained down to collect in pools of blackness amongst the deciduous trees of the forest. I was disobeying my father's orders in coming here; he was adamant I stay behind, as the tribe could not be without a Machi, should his mission fail. The bond with my one and only sister tightened my resolve to see her one last time. A cold hard stone of dread sat at the bottom of my stomach when I thought about how many things could go wrong tonight. I took the only weapon I had, a small quiver of poisoned darts and the slender blow pipe my grandfather carved for me. This choice of weaponry had long been outlawed, but my grandmother had shown me how to make the poison for the tips, and it made me feel incredibly secure while collecting ingredients in the mountain ranges. Any mountain lion that attacked could be neutralized quickly and painlessly just with a prick of the tiny darts. Padding softly through the tickling fingers of the ferns I was coming up on the site where Pire was to be given to the Liboshemon. I could see the broad back of my father, and the small wiry frame of my grandmother holding the arm of my sister who seemed to be in a drugged haze. They must have done that to handle her easier should things go awry. She would be hysterical if her lover was killed in front of her.
To the left of me was a tall Monterey Pine with low hanging branches for me to scale to the uppermost reaches. A bird's eye view, I would also be safe. The bark of the tree rubbed and pricked against my bare skin as I climbed. I had left my blanket shawl behind for ease of movement, yet even though I scaled the tree easier, the deadened needles of the tree stabbed at my bare arms. I chose my perch as the wind drafted about my body like a frosty lover.
My grandmother's voice rang out strong and true:
"We call you to come forth, Joham. Come forth and receive your offering. Pire, the most beautiful daughter of this generation."
The night sounds filled in the empty space left behind when her call to the demon died out in the darkness. The air was pregnant with tension as we all listened for something to crawl out of the black night. Suddenly, there was a blanket of silence suffocating all sound. The animals, insects, birds seemed to hold their breath in anticipation. The fine hairs on my neck stood up as we were plunged into eery quiet. A blur of movement burst out of the bush stopping a few feet away from my family.
He was tall, yet that was all I could discern as his entire body was covered in a long black hooded cloak.
Pire was straining against father and grandmother to get to her demon lover. Her movements were drunken and weak.
"Why is my bride drugged? She would come to me willingly."
His voice was beautiful in it's sound but frightening in it's precise clipped delivery. He was already wary. I crouched closer to the tree, furrowing deeper into the shadows, I muttered a prayer for protection to my gods.
"We do not give her willingly, Joham."
My father raised his hand, twelve of our tribe's strongest warriors stepped out of the tree line around the small clearing.
The demon turned in a circle to see he was surrounded. Folding his hands together in front of him he whispered,
"I see. In that case, Lonko, prepare to die."
The cloaked man vanished, turning into wind he moved so fast. One by one, the warriors slumped to the ground. All that could be heard was the pulpy, muffled crunch of bones being broken beneath skin in quick succession. It was over before we even had a chance to realize it began. The demon easily overpowered each warrior, snapping twelve necks in less than five seconds. Joham crouched before my father who pushed Pire behind his back but it was too late. I bit my hand to suppress a scream as my father's heart was precisely removed from his chest. Joham's hand simply reached in and plucked it out as if there was no barrier of bone and muscle to deter him. My sister became lucid enough to clue in to the nightmare around her as our father fell to her feet like a limp doll. She was about to let loose a scream when Joham placed a bloody finger to her lips, crushing our father's heart before her like it was an overripe piece of fruit.
"This is the price for disobedience woman. Remember it well."
My grandmother was shell shocked, but once she processed the masticated major organ of her son in Joham's hands, she became a wild thing. A war cry sounded from her throat and she threw herself at Joham like a jungle cat. He backhanded her so forcefully she flew back and hit the wide gnarled trunk of a ancient tree before slumping to the ground in a boneless heap...I couldn't breathe...couldn't wrap my mind around the violent devastation of what just happened. My throat was twisted and raw from screams held too long, my chest constricted with fear and shock.
Joham placed his hands gently beneath Pire's knees and cradled her to his body. She shook and snuffled, sobbing softly. After looking around at his handiwork, he covered my sister with his voluminous cloak and disappeared into the woods. I dared not breathe until I heard the night sounds begin once more. Moments passed when I heard the pitiful groans coming from my grandmother who was somehow still alive.
Half falling, half sliding down the tree, my legs shook as they hit the earth. I staggered over to my grandmother and kneeled beside her, feeling her thready pulse. I was trying to figure out how to move her when she spoke,
"It's no use, Huilen. I can't feel my legs," my beloved Grandmother rattled. "I have too many grave injuries."
I finally let loose the sobs of anguish painfully choking me since the demon tore apart my world with a ferocity and brutality I never knew existed. I placed my head in my grandmother's lap and cried like a child in her broken arms.
We sat there for what seemed like hours, yet only minutes had passed.
"Huilen, " my grandmother croaked. She was losing strength. Moans of agony rumbled across her chest and I knew her pain rivaled our sorrow. She would not survive these injuries, and death would be slow and merciless, of that I was certain.
"Take my bag, it has what you need to find Pire. Use your wits and magic. In this you have learned well."
"Grandmother, he is too strong..."
"Child, I have seen your fate. I bargained with Dark Magic to peel back the veils to glimpse your future." I sucked in a breath, this type of magic work was forbidden. Not so much forbidden as...expensive. A blood debt was the price, but at the god's discretion and choosing. My grandmother's broken body and fading life force was proof that debt was being paid.
"You will rescue your sister. Family is the most precious treasure in life. She is all you have left now."
Her words did not escape me that she was now counting herself out of the equation. I reached for her bag and gingerly removed it from her, strapping it over my own body. Raw pain emblazoned itself across her beloved face. I had to make a decision that no child should have to make for their parent. A cold rage settled into the marrow of my bones against the monster who had done this to us. If it was my destiny to rescue my sister from the deadly cunning beast who stole her and killed my family, than who am I to fight destiny? Especially since my payment of pain has already began. Balance must be restored.
But first I had to give.
My grandmother resurfaced from the undertow of pain, her eyes softening once she recognized what I was about to do.
Placing a kiss upon her forehead, I straitened, standing over her. Not wanting to leave.
"It's time to go."
"I love you."
I put the pipe containing the lethal poisoned dart to my lips and blew.