IN THIS ISSUE:



Rachel Adams >>

Roshelle Amundson >>

Kenny Bellew >>

Cat Campbell >>

Alicia Catt >>

Raymond Cott-Meissel >>

Ben Findlay >>

Gail Gates >>

Brent Giesen >>

Kristine Hayes >>

Blaine Huberty >>

Peter Laine >>

Amy Mattila >>

Suzanne Nielsen >>

Dawn Nissen >>

Norah O'Shaughnessy >>

Rebekah Pahr >>

Sally Reynolds >>

Donna Ronning >>

Kah Shepard >>

Kelly Taylor >>

Jonah Volheim >>

William Wells >>

Jake Wendlandt >>

S. A. Victory >>

Kate Young >>

Alice Lundy Blum >>

Natallia Meleshkevich >>

S. A. Victory



Hope's Birth


“You must find her and be there when the child comes,” the old one said. 
    “Why?”  I asked.  “Why would you choose me, there are others who…”
    “No.” he stated.  “It must be you.  The prophecy says two women must care for the child, one the mother, the other a female warrior.”
    “I do not believe in prophecy, I find no…”
    “No need to believe prophecy.  Yes, I know.  You have always been one who lives for the day, who does what must be done to survive.  So.  Protecting this young one will bring about our survival.”
    “One child?”  I asked.
    “The first of many, the return of those who dance life,” he smiled.  You have felt it, you have seen it.  Our world grows more fragile, more dangerous.  What was done centuries ago continues, fewer plants, fewer animals, fewer children born every season.” 
    I nodded.  What he said was true; hunts that had taken days before, now took weeks and the animals found were smaller.  To feed the clan more were needed.  We planted few crops but we tended those carefully, but no matter how carefully they were tended every year the yield was less and less. 
    “One child will stop this?”
    “One will bring hope,” he said.  “Many will restore our world; bring life back to the dead places.”
    The dead places.  Places viciously destroyed during the long ago wars.  For uncounted seasons, my people had avoided them.  Nothing grew there; nothing lived there, only the blackened remains of trees, skeletons of animals that had died in heartbeats.  In recent times, the dead places were spreading; lands that had supported some life no longer did.
    He said.  “You must leave at dawn if you are to reach her in time.”
    I sighed, “Where?”
     “Go east, along the old river for two days, there you should find her trail, follow it, find her, help her; keep the child safe.”
    I began to protest again that I wasn’t the one for this, but he turned and moved away, becoming transparent before vanishing completely.


     “Wait,” the word left my lips quietly, but it was enough to awaken me.  I sat up in my sleeping robes and looked around; none of the others had heard me.  For a time, I remained sitting thinking about the dream.  Why would the old one come to me, I was no shaman or seer, I was a hunter, a warrior, for all that I was female.  Perhaps I thought that is the reason he had come to me, I was the only female in our small clan who was a warrior.  I lay back holding onto the images of the dream.  Two days the old one had said. Though I didn’t believe in prophecies, something in the dream, in the old one’s manner stayed with me.  What would it hurt I thought, if I did go and look for the woman.  I often went out alone the others had come to accept it no one would miss me or try to follow. If I didn’t find her, I would come back. 
    The sun hadn’t risen but I did.  I dressed swiftly, the feel of my leggings and shirt sliding over my dusky golden skin familiar and welcome; the tanned hides that made them were well worn and soft.  Quickly I braided my dark hair binding the ends with a leather cord to keep it out of my way.  I gathered my weapons; taking both my blankets and a pouch filled with healing herbs, bandages and other things I might need, making a pack of everything with the ease of long practice. Moving to the central fire, I took some dried meat, and bread, supplies that were always available to hunters.  I took a water skin as well, hanging it from my belt.  Moving quietly I left the cave the clan was sheltering in during the heat of the summer season. 
The sun was just rising when I left and provided enough light to traverse the difficult trail leading from the cave.  It took me a short while to reach the river. Summer had reduced it to a much smaller stream; a thin rivulet that ran noisily over the rocks in the middle of the riverbed.  Tracks on the banks marked the coming and going of animals.  The spread of the dead lands hadn’t reached here yet and I would be able to find food to supplement that which I’d brought with me if it became necessary. 
    Settling my pack more comfortably I set off following the river to the east into the rising sun. 


***

It was morning two days later when I found tracks made by small booted feet.  The tracks were recent, their depth showing that the person was moving slowly.  I sped up slightly thinking I could catch up with the person before the end of the day.  My thought was correct, a little after noon I spotted the person, a woman, moving cautiously up from the riverbank towards a series of caves in the hills above the river to the south.  She was wearing a light blue cloak that stood out in the terrain.  The slight breeze blew it about her form revealing a body swollen with pregnancy, covered with the multiple skirts and a shirt woven in the bright colors of one of the deep forest clans. As I watched, she stumbled slightly and then sank to her knees.  I increased my pace, reaching her just as she tried to stand again.  She turned, a soft cry escaping her.
    “I’ve been looking for you,” I said.
    A frown creased her smooth pale brow; amber eyes regarded me, the remnants of pain still in their depths. “How...why?”
    “I was sent,” I told her.  “I was told to help you, to help the child you are about to deliver.”
    Emotions flashed across her face too fast for me to identify completely but need and pain were among them.  “Come,” I said. “The sun is setting and we need to move to the caves before it’s full dark.”
    She nodded, dark red hair catching the light as she moved.  She moved to stand, and with my help this time, she was able to. 
    Although the distance to the caves was short, we needed to stop many times as her labor advanced.  As we walked, I asked her how she came to be alone at such a time.
    “My clan was moving, following the herds, the hunting was bad and we needed to move swiftly.  Then we were attacked by dwellers from below, they had emerged from one of the old places.”
    “It is rare for them to come out onto the surface,” I said.
    “Their animals are dying,” she panted. “The crops they raise failing more than those we raise.”
    A spasm halted us for several minutes, she straightened slowly speaking again as we continued up the hill.  “I couldn’t keep up, so I hid.”
    “A dangerous thing,” I told her.  “Being on your own.  Where is the father?”
    “Dead.”
    I said nothing, death was something all the people of the clans were familiar with, few there were who hadn’t had someone close to them die.  
    I began to see why the old one had come to me, had prompted me to look for her.  “What are you called?”
    “Khitaka.”
    “I am Cin’No’Aza.”
    She smiled slightly, then, grimaced as another spasm took her. 
    “We only need to go a little way, I think that cave there will be fine,” I said, pointing to a dark opening. 
    She gritted her teeth and nodded.
    A few minutes later, we entered the cave. The entrance was narrow; only three people could have walked into it easily side by side, the roof was about the height of two tall men.  I left Kitaka at the opening for a moment, moving deeper into the cave to make sure no animals had made their home there. I found no sign of any occupants even though the cave went back into the hill for quite a distance. There was a small hole in the roof and beyond that a pool of water. 
    Returning to the entrance, I helped her inside and to the rear away from the opening. Further to the back beyond the pool of water, the cave was damp and a thick moss along with some ferns grew there.  I gathered enough to make a pallet on the floor then covered it with one of the blankets I’d brought in the bundle. 
    Though I was a warrior, I had assisted at births, as well as tended those wounded in battle. 
    Sweat covered Khitaka’s face, soaking the thin fabric of her shirt. As she lay there, I could see the contractions moving across her belly. 
    “Your child is coming, I think,” I told her. A frantic nod was her only answer. Moving away, I built a fire and filled a pot with water for tea and a slightly larger one for washing the child when it came. These chores done and both pots on rocks near the fire I moved back to the soon to be mother.
     The sounds of her labor, and my own voice offering what comfort and encouragement I could, filled the cave for the next few hours.     
    It was not the easiest labor I had seen, Khitaka was young and this was her first child, but she was also healthy and fit and it wasn’t the hardest labor either.  The moon had just risen and silver light lined the entrance of the cave as the child entered the world.  His cry was strong and forceful, as if he were announcing his arrival to the world.  As I handed him to his mother, his eyes opened and he looked at me, pale lavender eyes that seemed far older than they were caught mine for a heartbeat. 
    “His father’s eyes?” I asked.
    “No, his were dark, like yours,” she said. 
    I heard her fear in her voice and moved my hand across the baby’s face; he turned his head, following the shadow as it moved.  Khitaka smiled.
    “What will you call him?”
    “Inok’ashu,” she said.
    I finished the chore of cleaning her and replacing the soiled bedding, I would burn it all the next morning outside the cave.  For what little remained of the night, I settled near the new mother and her son and soon drifted to sleep. 


“It is well done,” the old one said.
    I wasn’t surprised to see him again.  I bowed my head slightly, then, looked at him, “Now what?”
    “Now you help her raise him, her own people are far away, it will be many seasons before she sees them again.  The boy will be raised among our clan.  You must help keep him safe from those who dwell below.  He will be a handful, smart and curious, he will need both of you to watch over him, and you will teach him the ways of the earth that you know.”
    I smiled.  “I feel that he is special, it’s in his eyes.”
    “As it should be,” the old one smiled.  “You don’t know what the dancers are, do you?  So much has been lost.  Legend tells us that our world is a living thing, but young. The dancers were the ones who spoke to it, gave it companionship and suggested how to grow.  The dancers are tied to the world.  When the wars came, they tried to stop the destruction, and they died first, when the last one died, the world withdrew into herself.  That is why the dead places don’t heal, even after all seasons that have passed.  That is why they spread.  It was foretold long ago that such would be the way of things until another dancer was born.  This is that child.” The old one looked at me solemnly for a moment, waiting until I nodded that I understood. Then his form became transparent as he moved away. I watched until he had gone.


The sun was up; its light filling the entrance to the cave as I woke.  I looked to where Inok’ashu slept cradled against his mother. He was so small, so fragile.  As I watched, his eyes opened again and he looked at me, again I saw more in those eyes than there should have been.  He moved a tiny hand, his fingers waving like reeds in the wind, and right below that little hand, a leaf appeared and then another.  He looked at it and then at me, and though he was far too young to do so, he smiled.




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Victory White (who writes under the name S. A. Victory) is a junior at Metropolitan State.  She is a Creative Writing and English major. As a child she only read fairy tales and stories about animals. She never read a Nancy Drew book or Hardy Boys novel until she was an adult. Today she writes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and poetry. She thinks that in Sci/fi and fantasy humans can far be better or far worse than they are, and that morality can be explored in ways that are more difficult if not impossible in non-genre fiction.  She likes exploring how people might act if such-and-such were true, and she likes pushing that “what if” to the max.