Saun 38th, 714
Rain drops were-a falling on the broad leaves in the dewy night, erstwhile haggard handsome heroes and hallowed heroines hunted in their many Trials, to be broken and forged anew by what lay ahead. Stories would be told, songs written and played, and their way of life would continue, as the eyes of the enlightened stared into the fire.
Two pair among them knew the secret of the flame, of its voice, but none other did hear in that way. They were Ragnum and North, Defiers, Mentor and Student. North, a prodigal disappointment to his House, and Ragnum, a legend of the Aesir whom had already made much lore of and for his self.
They hummed, each and every one, gifted or not, to the night, and to the Anak that fed from their devotion. The fire grew and blared with light, cooking the air. Over the coming Breaks, it dimmed, and the Spirit was pleased. No longer would it the homes of Fensalir ablaze, for it had been heeded, its hunger slaked.
Rising in the dead of the night, North retired to the woods with Ragnum, chatting away. “I could feel it,” he said tiredly. “I felt it in my bones.” Ragnum blinked tiredly, eyes reflecting the moonlight.
“You always wanted to be a bird? You seemed to be curious about having wings when I knew you, but what about wolves? A tail, walking upon all fours, your majesty haunting the woods as you skulk in the night upon your claim. Tell me, North, what do you make of that idea?”
Silent for a chilling series of moments, North’s jaw flexed, holding his words, choosing them carefully as they came about into a clearing, the familiar garb of a Ydalir ranger coming into view. “I think I would like that. I think I would like that a lot. Are you saying you’re ready to initiate me, o’ Ragnum?” North said with a smirk slowly spreading across his lips. What really had his attention was the voice of the wind, the Elements preoccupying much of his mind as of late to the point that he was generally aloof to all else around him.
Ragnum was silent, but his bones popped and cracked, dropping to all fours. With a sense of duty, he became a wolf then and there, a large one with big teeth and big claws, raven black fur. North stared in awe, keeping his distance though he knew the beast was still his mentor in all ways but one.
“Ahead of us lies one such wolf,” Ragnum said in a throaty voice, stepping up to a creature bound in ropes, breathing hard. “The Ydalir captured him stalking a young boy not far from here. They take their teeth to discourage them from hunting larger prey.” His bestial eyes glanced up, meeting with a woman standing there, a hawk at her shoulder, a bow slung across her back. “Isara, it’s been awhile. I thought it was you.”
“Smelled me out a mile away, did you?” came her voice, but she stared more at North than the man-become-wolf. “Is this small fry your protege, your apprentice?” She shook her head. “A real shame, he could’ve been something. You just had to set him off course.”
“You know Isara, bitterness will turn your heart black,” Ragnum replied with a chuckle, but his voice softened as he nosed the bound wolf, comforting it with an imperceptible sound beyond that of the human hearing range. The creature whimpered but relaxed.
“Isara, I sought Ragnum of my own accord. Magic is my burden to bare, and despite your thoughts, I have Melrath’s interests at the fore of my mind.”
“Big words for a kid,” was the rebuttal, but North sighed and shrugged, looking down to the wolf between the trio. “So what now? We’re taking its tooth, right?”
“Yeah, Ragnum likes to get his totems this way. He’s too much of a softy to hunt.”
The Becomer shrugged and stood, pacing around them. “You’re one to talk, Isara. You should be far more respectful of nature than you are, it’s a shame that night so long ago frightened you into the path you now take. We’re not here to talk about that tonight, however. Tonight is a very special night for my friend here.”
“So tonight’s’ the night you’ve chosen, is it Ragnum?” North asked.
“It is, it is...”
“Hurry up and take the tooth so I can go,” Isara responded, brushing back her rosy red hair. “I tire of your games, Ragnum. I know what you are, I know-” A low growl stopped her from speaking, and she shut her eyes and shook her head.
With a pop, Ragnum bit the tooth off the other wolf’s maw, and it made a heartbreaking noise, one of betrayal and pain. A good nosing and mushing cheek to cheek further calmed the creature, but Isara shooed him away with her boot.
“Such a heartless...” Grooowl. The word was said, but in another way neither boy nor woman could understand. Isara set about pulling the big wolf onto a sleigh tacked to her Sleipnir, that many-legged horse standing silent but stalwart nearby all this time. Ragnum said his goodbyes, and turned to a path that took the pair deeper into the woods, dropping the bloody tooth into North’s hand after hollowing out with a quick gnawing and shoving a bit of fur in there. “Keep this safe, we’ll need it later.”
“With care,” North said. “Where to now? Are all the Ydalir like this?” he asked, staring at the bloody, greasy bone in his hand, still warm with life. He felt the elements dimming as they walked, his interests jumbled and confused as he tried to play the role of a good student.
“She and I have a... history, but let it be known that I am a friend to all, including the creatures of this forest, as you should be. The Spirits watch over them as they do us, and we depend upon them for wild game. It’s a delicate balance, North. Is something wrong? You're nowhere near as excited to when I last gave you a Spark.”
It was strange even now to be talked to by a wolf, but North mumbled an acknowledgment, walking a bit faster as Ragnum’s trot became more hurried. After awhile, he opened up. "I'm just a little worried about it all, that's all. Aren't the Elements enough?"
"That's up to you, North. I won't force it on you," said the wolf.
"I want it, I'm just being careful," North said.
"As you should be," Ragnum acknowledged.
A night like this had a certain charm, as spooky as these shadowy woods with reaching branches were beneath their umbral boughs. A great number of stars twinkled overhead, their forms ascending up a hilly crag, the earth content to stall here as North dragged on with his dearest and wisest of friends.
Pausing before a circle of stone weathered to time and etched with history, Ragnum circled around and between them, rubbing his furred haunches upon their smooth stone. “This place is sacred,” he sighed. “An Induk once taught a boy to hunt here, and brought him food when he was lost. He grew up to be a great man, if oft misunderstood. There will be parallels in your life,” Ragnum said, pausing.
North stepped between them, respectfully acknowledging the stones, laying his hand upon their cold, runic carvings he could barely make out in the starlight. “So long ago, things must have been so different back then.”
“I would think so,” Ragnum said, and North could have swore he was smiling though wolves didn’t smile.
Walking to the center, North sat upon a large, sideways-turned obelisk, feeling the earth radiate up through his spine. “Even the earth is happy here. It’s so joyous.”
Ragnum began to shift, his voice grunting, bones again rearranging in yet another language of a different sort. It sounded painful. “Mmm, that it may be, but this is where you shall be initiated. This is where you, my boy, shall learn what it is to be a Becomer.” His mortal continence came into being, and he stood now upon two legs with a linen shawl about him. “If you truly wish to become all, then you must yield yourself to that idea entirely,” he continued. “And yet, you must keep who you are at heart, lest the beasts roaming your soul sense weakness and take control.”
“It’s like a sort of relationship, isn’t it? The animals, they’re friends to you, like the Elements? Your Totems?” North asked, rolling the idea around in his head. “It’s pleasant to think of. More friends. I’ll never be lonely again after this,” he mused, kicking his feet about playfully. “Thank you, Ragnum, with all my heart.”
“Before you thank me, let’s see you survive the first few steps. It’s an arduous journey, and the price is steep,” Ragnum warned.
“I’ll pay any price,” North quickly answered, sliding a bit closer. “What do I have to do?”
“The first thing all Becomers must do is preserve the part of themselves that makes them who they are. You. You must make a totem of yourself.” From his hip, Ragnum popped a bone knife from its scabbard, pulling it out and allowing it to gleam in the moonlight. “You may choose, but the left most big toe is what I advise.”
“Ohhhh,” North quacked, stroking his chin. “So it’s one of those rituals, where you cut yourself. I know where this is going. A toe is a bit much, isn’t it?” he said in disbelief. Really? A toe?
“This is a serious matter, North,” Ragnum said, eyes peering critically. “If you’re not ready, we can do this another Trial.”
“I survived Defiance. I can do this.” Arrogance dripped from the apprentice.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Get up and set your foot upon the stone if you want to back up those words with faith, boy,” the old shaman reprimanded.
North did so with a stubborn scowl, more steeling himself for the wound. Ragnum wasted little time on chopping down, cleaving that toe cleanly. White flashed before the boy’s eyes, and he screamed. “Ahh, Induk’s bastard, that hurts, it hurts, ooh, oooooh!” Shoving his hands on the sputtering toe, he whimpered, but Ragnum’s hands joined his, prying them aside.
“Move, boy.” The shaman’s palms grew bright, sparking flames igniting. The heat of a powerful flame licked at North’s wound, at first showing Deference to the fellow Defier, though in the end the act won out, and the scalding tongue of heat nursed the amputated stump black as North’s eyes watered.
When it was over he eased himself upon the stone, laying back with the back of his hand over his brow. “This better work,” North haggardly said, blinking slowly as the pain still radiated through his leg, beginning to dim but rarely.
“You feel the pain now. That’s you,” Ragnum said. “Every part of you, outlined by the hurt, the ache of your soul knowing it’s lost some part of its corpus. Think of how you look in the shores of a stream, your reflection. Hold the image of who you are in your mind.”
“I’ll try,” North said, shutting his eyes, focusing on breathing before holding the picture steady. As he meditated, Ragnum yanked on his hair, eliciting a grunt out of the boy, but he quieted down as the old man busily set about preparing the digit, weaving hair to flesh before pushing the totem into his hand.
“Hold this, keep that image steady in your mind... I ran my Ether through it, but now you need to give it your identity. Associate who you are with this trinket, and begin to feel it.” Ragnum said.
North shivered in the cold, holding the cooling digit close as it still oozed fresh blood on his clothes, having respect for his mentor yet occasionally drifting to harsher criticisms of his situation. It was rough, but he slowly fell into an easy trance, holding the image close. The wind around him picked up, but it did not rasp at his warmth, merely concerned about the Defiers and their dangerous dealings.
"Are you ready, boy?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," North said in a shaky voice.
There in the middle of old stones in haunted woods, clutching a severed toe, a cool breeze unlike the usual air surrounded the teen. Bit by bit, his body crackled as the Spark began to attach to his soul, making for itself a new home. The other Spark in his body, the Defiance Spark, rattled in alarm, taking swings at his emotions and feelings. Euphoria ensued, North's mouth hanging open with surprise as his body began to twitch.
"Don't lose focus. Focus on yourself, on you, on who you are. Don't lose that, boy!"