Midwifery

This myth was given to me by my sister Marie.

“Give us the child!” Chenek’s servants had been standing outside of the house all night. Mariam was wringing her hands as she saw to her daughter-in-law and the infant they wanted so badly. She could feel her humanity acutely as their menacing energy outside clashed with the quietly incensed Brhenti’s across the room.

The goddess–her daughter, she reminded herself, though it felt so unreal now–crossed to the door. She seemed to be considering something.

“What are you going do, my Lady?” Surely this wasn’t a betrayal. Brhenti had no love for Chenek, and she wouldn’t break an oath of hospitality.

Brhenti simply drew her sword and threw open the door. They pressed to rush inside, but she threw them all back, pulling it shut behind her and blocking it with a spell. “Enough!”
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Light and Dark

The light falls across her body in colored shards: red, green, cobalt blue. The Daughter of Light is unmoving aside from the soft twisting of color with each note she calls. She breathes in plain air and sings out promises and stained glass and hope and a spray of blood. Her throat was ragged from the sharp edges of color, and still she sang.

“Doesn’t it hurt?” her auntie Dark asks, concern pulling her lips tight.

“Oh yes, very,” the Daughter of Light responds.

Darkness wraps her arms around the younger spirit and pulls her into a tight hug. The Daughter of Light squirms, trying to escape.

“Why do you do it?” the Dark Lady asks with a sigh.

Light lets out a soft, smiling laughter. “Oh, it’s just exquisite, the pain. It’s lovely. You should do it.”

The Dark Lady, who had held her daughter through more bawling and nightmares than this, shakes her head and only holds tighter.

Running to Stand Still

I fought my way through the panicked civilians, the nurses and doctors trying to help whoever they could, the soldiers fallen out of formation in the confusion. I understood now why we hadn’t seen any soldiers from Wa all day – they may have been bold in death, but they weren’t wasteful, not on this scale.

Bai Ling had never married, and when the Imperial line ended, there was no one to appoint a messenger. The new government hadn’t had time to, or hadn’t cared. Maybe the latter- they seemed much less impressed by mythology and magic. That’s understandable. When you throw aside the will of Heaven…

Regardless, someone had to go find him. I wasn’t going to put my children in that danger. That meant me.
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The Sun-Mother's War

this myth was given to me by my sister Marie

The Sun-Mother, Daughter of the Heavens, was happily married to the Moon-King, a noble and kind Spirit who loved her and saw to the needs of both her and her aging mother, Fate.

The Spirits and the tribes of their lands existed peaceably under their reign. Oases flourished, crops were bountiful, livestock and humans alike were fertile.

There was joy and wealth in the land under the Sun-Mother’s bright light. And that is what attracted the curious newcomer, intent in leveraging their power.
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Building Up Immunity

On the subject of teacher-student relationships, Chenek is certainly an alchemical master as well as an Elemental Lord, and has a great deal of knowledge he tempts potential students with. He is, however, not a very good teacher. He often violates the social contract of the educator, using his students for his own benefit, mistreating them, and teaching them skills without teaching them risks. Teachers like Chenek leave a trail of angry students behind them, and rightfully so. Stories about his students are often used to demonstrate the consequences of being a selfish teacher.

*

The first package arrived at my door with no fanfare, labelled simply to Makena Kuria with no address. The note said only that he was a fan of my work and wondered if these notes would help. I opened the package expecting a text or perhaps printouts. Instead it was an old, leather-clad folio. I opened it up and flipped through it, trying to get a sense of what it was about. Alchemical, obviously. Old. Old enough that the paper inside could barely be called paper, and was older than the folio. The leather was so aged it was only a few shades lighter than my own skin.

Deciphering the Sanskrit took a little while but oh, was it worth it. I took away so many things I was able to incorporate into my own work. I told myself that I’d given up magic long ago but clearly this was alchemy, not magic.

I knew it was bullshit even as I thought it, but it made me feel better. Read more

The End

Finding no allies remained to him, Adalric ran from his castle without even a heavy shirt, let alone cloak or boots. His chest heaved, whether from screaming or running. Cold bit his damp face, whether from tears or the snow in the air. He didn’t feel the chill as he stumbled through the snow that remained in the woods despite the near presence of spring.

“Mara!” he shouted as he went deeper in the woods. “Mara, I need you!”

There was no answer, and eventually he stopped running and knelt in the snow like a wounded rabbit. Adalric heard a growl and reached for his sword, thinking it must be a wolf. He no more wore his sword than his boots, however. He scrambled to his feet anyway.

No wolf met him but a woman, wearing little more than blood so fresh it seemed to steam in the cold. Her hair hung in matted tangles, and her teeth greeted him with sharp points. She looked at him and he was certain she was sizing him up for a meal.

Adalric shook his head to clear it and drew himself to his full height.

“Ah, so stiff! So you’re not going rabbit after all.”

“I am not prey,” he told her, “but instead the rightful king of this land. My subjects have turned on me, witch, but if you come back with me surely you can slay all who oppose me.”

“Everyone is my prey,” she said.

Adalric began to argue, but before he could say anything further, she pulled her hair up and before his eyes her face softened. He sobbed as he recognized her.

“My love, I told you never to seek me in the winter.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” The apologies spilled out, insensible, for everything, and Mara understood each one.

“You sound tired, dear Adalric. I would bid you to rest with me.”

“But- I-” he stammered.

When Mara spoke again he saw sharp teeth glinting once more. “Everyone must meet me in the winter eventually, Love. Even you.”

She took him into her arms, and the king’s body was never found. But then, we all rest with Mara in the end, one way or another.

Overbuying

It was late when I got back to the market. Many of the more legitimate vendors had packed up for the day, particularly the ones who sold fresh meats and vegetables. But still nobody stopped me as I walked away from those shops, and if anything, the Goblin Market was busier.

There was somebody else working in the little shop with the big shrine in the back, sorting through costume jewelry at the counter. She looked up when I came in but didn’t say anything.

The figure was there. Of course it was. It wasn’t like a spirit would go to all the trouble of getting me back there and then let the figure disappear. I picked her up and headed for the counter.

“Do you know Mara?” the woman at the counter asked, a hint of accent in her Mandarin. Was she from Aryavarta, maybe?

“I know she’s a money spirit,” I shrugged. “That’s all I need to know, isn’t it?”

She shook her head. “She’s much more than a money spirit. She can touch virtually every part of your life, if you let her. Her oldest title is Daughter of Earth.”

I laughed uncomfortably. “Well, money’s really all I’m worried about. Dirt’s not really my thing. It’s not like I’m a farmer or anything.”

“Oh, earth is everyone’s thing,” the priestess at the counter said.

“I don’t really…” I trailed off, not wanting to offend her.

“Let me tell you a little about Mara,” she smiled, and I listened.

Franchise Opportunites

“I know where you can get cheap materials,” Daiyu offered. “I’d go with you if I didn’t have to see to Grandfather and prepare for patients this afternoon.”

“It’s fine, your family comes first,” I threw the strap of my bag over my shoulder. “Where am I going?”

“On the south side there’s this sprawling indoor market that was built during the war. I guess it was pretty popular for a while? But it trickled off until eventually there was only one wing occupied by a handful of businesses. They’re pretty much the same places you see in every market, you know, a nail place and that place that sells phone cases and knock-off purses and that place that sells factory irregular clothes.

“According to my grandfather, when it got really bad one of the shop owners tried to get in touch with the landlord to arrange something. She got no response, so she went ahead and called in some favors and set up a kind of farmer’s market, the sort of sellers that would have been in the old open-air market that got replaced by the indoor place. And when the produce and seafood sellers started getting traffic, the cheese and preserved meat guys came, and then the craft people who weren’t yet making enough money for the really nice markets, and the place was busy again, and if the landlord had a problem, nobody said anything. The organizer was careful to get everybody’s fee and turn it in with her rent.

“Now back at the end of that one open wing, there’s a metal grate covering the hallway, but it’s not quite closed all the way. Don’t look shifty about it, just act like you know what you’re doing. You go through and to the left and past the empty fountain, you start running into shops again. Secondhand stores, at first. Clothes, books, electronics. I don’t think most of those people pay rent, or if they do it’s not to the landlord. There’s antiques and curiosities and miscellaneous stuff, which is why my grandfather used to go down there, and eventually started taking me.”

I nodded. “Yeah, that sounds like his kind of thing.”

“I guess some Anglo called it the Goblin Market and the name stuck. He says you can find anything down there, in one direction or another. There are people who do tattoos and magic items and the kind of spellwork it’s hard to find up here, if you don’t know somebody. Places that sell stuff that’s “new” and maybe fell off the back of a train, and people who will jailbreak any cell device without checking the numbers on it, and lots of electronics of questionable origin, basically, anything you want from a factory floor. There’s scrap dealers too, if you need more raw material. Just careful you don’t go too far back, you’ll get guys “encouraging” you to go back the other way, unless you have an appointment with somebody.”

The walk across town was just long enough for me to relax, and Daiyu’s directions were good. I didn’t have much trouble finding the market at all, and I didn’t hesitate when I walked up to the metal grate and slid through the opening. I saw a few people coming back the other way as I went, so there wasn’t much chance of getting lost. I stopped at the fountain, impressed by the way the decorative trees around it had gone wild.

My heart beat a little faster as I walked into the first shop and the next. It really did seem like anything might be hiding down here, and old habits die hard. I made myself track down the memory and circuitry I needed first, and I did my best to network a little, in case I needed more specific pieces some day.

Then I let myself wander through the antique shops and apparently random item stores. I told myself that I would need bloodstones for power sources anyway, so this was useful hunting. A few inexpensive magical devices with stones tucked inside made it into my bag for later dismantling.

One of the shops had both paper lanterns and green twinkle lights in the window, and inside there were mostly displays of charms and spelled jewelry. There were some statues and icons, just as artfully disarrayed as any of the other stores I’d been in. The back wall of the store was full of a garish shrine that would put my aunt Macy to shame, with more twinkle lights and silk flower garlands for the four-foot plastic statue. I looked at the little figures, just in case any of them had a stone or a spell.

“Looking for some money blessings?” The clerk asked as I picked one up. “Mara’s good for that.”

“Mara, huh?” I laughed. “I wish, but first I need the money to buy in.”

The clerk just shrugged. “If it’s meant to be, she’ll make sure you find a way.”

That sounded like something Grandmother Dee might have said. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to come back later, if I had the money.

On my way out, I hesitated at the fountain, thinking about the rest of what Daiyu had said.

So you know, if you take a left at the fountain, and you don’t look too hard at the walls, suddenly you’re in a busy mall again. An active mall, a mall with lots of stores whose signs you can’t quite read. An arcade with all kinds of games, and a food court where you can’t quite figure out what half the people are eating. And if you walk out of that mall’s entrance, you’re in some weird city where time doesn’t work right. Grandfather only took me there a few times, but that was where I met Jian.

I shook my head. I had work to do.

The Hunt

Come spring I went on. We hadn’t heard nothing back from my mama and if something came, he’d hold it for me til I told him where I landed.

My hometown had seemed real small after the city around the temples, but that ain’t had nothing on a real city like Lybiv. I’m sure I looked every bit the farmer’s daughter I was, walking off the train. My boss’d helped me put together a portfolio, and I had my savings and the remains of my dowry from the temple. I got myself a cheap room, and a cheap computer, and I went looking for work.

In between interviews that didn’t seem to be going much of anywhere, I saw a lot of the city. I liked riding the trains around, getting off wherever took my fancy. I ate anywhere looked cheap and crowded; I figured that was how you knew it was good.

On a day the maggots was talking real bad about how I wasn’t worth having around, I went hunting out Mara. Big city like Lybiv, ain’t gonna be centered on Mara like out in the farmlands, there’s lots a gods and lots a temples. I found her quick enough, though. Turned out the closest one there was was an old shrine outside the Market, and temple had opened in an empty storefront nearby, with a couple folks inside. There was a big shrine taking up most of the back wall, lots of spare change in the pool at Mara’s feet, and glass cases full of handmade charms and jewelry and whatnots.

“What’s all a this, then?” I asked the fella behind the counter. I’d mostly known ‘Mother of the Market’ as one title out of dozens, but he started explaining to me like I didn’t know a shrine from a swamp, and just when I cut him off an older woman walked in.

She looked at the two of us and laughed. “You insulting the customers again, Mitka, aren’t you? Don’t mind him, he’s just likes to hear himself talk. I’m Katya. What brings you in?”

“I, ah,” I thought I felt myself blushing. “I was looking for a temple of Mara’s and you folks came up the closest to where I’m staying. It just ain’t the kind of temple I’m used to is all.”

“It wouldn’t be, with an accent like that. You’re from up north, am I right?” She put an arm around my shoulder and walked me back to the foot of the shrine. “We get importers and wholesalers who like the Mara of the Fields, and sometimes pathologists or mourners, one guy who got a heart from a dead woman who makes offerings to Mara for the woman who saved his life… but mostly we get people who need the Lady of the Marketplace, so that’s what we cater to.”

“I hate to be rude about it and all but… is this a temple or a business?”

Katya shrugged. “Little of both. We have to pay for the space somehow, and we don’t take much of a commission.”

I looked at the statue of Mara and took a real deep breath. “So you hiring? Or recruiting? Or whatever you call it out here?”

She looked a lot less welcoming awful fast. “You got any qualifications?”

“I trained ten years at the temple in Riga, afore I decided that life weren’t for me. I got six months bookkeeping and a reference who’ll talk me up. I’ll work high days and weekends if you want, don’t matter to me. Any of that worth anything to you?”

Now Katya was smiling again. She didn’t answer me direct, instead walking past me, “Hey, Mitka, you know how you said you wanted me to hire someone to cover your weekends?”

I emptied the change in my pockets into Mara’s shrine right quick, then hurried to follow her.

Midsummer

“Sister,” Mara called her, though their parents were siblings themselves. “I need your help.”

Brhenti laughed in her face. “I am tired of people asking me for things. Go away.” And who could blame her, with Wodanaz always trying to wheedle some weapon out of her and Wehaz trying to talk his way into her skirts?

But Mara saw how her sister-spirit was with her followers, her gentle hand with them in the autumn as she showed them how to make their homes fast against the winter and to preserve the harvest against starvation.

Since Brhenti would not answer to her, she went to those who could hear her and told them, this spirit is my sister, call on her when you smoke your meats, call on her when you put up your grains. They called and made offerings, and Brhenti answered them. Mara turned away knowing they were in good hands.

Winter came, and the Winter Mara ran through the forests, warming herself with the blood of her victims. More than once she saw Wodanaz running bloody as well, with an entourage at his back of howling spirits. She wondered at that, but she kept her distance and he did the same.

In spring, she watched her people thank Brhenti for keeping them from starvation. They ploughed and planted, singing of the balance of metal and earth, and Mara stood beside her sister again.

“If I were feeling uncharitable, I would say you are more clever still than our brothers,” Brhenti said. “And yet I can hardly complain that you spread my name and increase my reputation.”

“I only want what’s best for them,” Mara said, looking at the farmers.

“Then it’s a miracle you haven’t been taken advantage of already.”

“I have more strength than you think,” Mara answered.

She and her sister were often called together as the planting season continued. As the sun grew hotter and the summer came in, however, Brhenti answered fewer calls and left small offerings uncollected. Finally at midsummer, Mara went to see her sister again and saw why.

Despite the heat, forges were white hot and Brhenti’s smith-priests were hard at work. Sweat poured off them as they hammered magic and metal into swords and pikes. Brhenti herself was standing behind a tall, powerfully built young man, whispering into his ear of reputation, of his name, of the spoils of war against Wodanaz’s tribes. He repeated her words to his men, and they cheered.

Then they left, and Brhenti with them. Mara almost left, but she noticed a woman making offerings to an empty shrine.

“I don’t know who might hear or help,” the woman said, “but please do not let my son go into the ground alone in some foreign land.”

Mara went out after the raiding party then, and watched them from afar. Fighting between men is part of nature just as fighting between animals is, and at first she was hesitant to interfere even as Brhenti’s men and Wodanaz’s went into the ground. Several times she saw Vala as sie collected hir dead from the fields, and she watched and waited as others took their due as well.

After several weeks, the remaining soldiers were exhausted, but Brhenti and her chosen were still trying to whip them up again. Mara finally chose to confront her sister. Brhenti drew her own sword on Mara and ordered her sister away, but Mara would have none of it.

“I accepted a charge from his mother, that he would not die alone here,” Mara told her. “His men are exhausted and there is nothing left nearby. Let them return home.” Brhenti swung her sword, and though Mara dodged, she felt the metal cut into her side and draw away her energy.

“He’s mine,” Brhenti argued, looking down on him – just in time to see a small group of his exhausted men turning on him. She held him as he struggled to breathe and then looked at Mara.

“Take him,” she said. “I would not make a liar of you.”

Unhappy, Mara took the bleeding man. It was not trivial to carry him back home in mere moments, and the look on his mother’s face when she presented him to her made her think that perhaps she was not meant to work with humans after all. But she busied herself making her son comfortable, and so far from her home and her own power exhausted from following Brhenti, Mara couldn’t do much.

She noticed, however, that her wound had crusted over with red crystals, bloodstones. She tore the scab away and let the wound bleed freely, dripping to the floor where it crystalized. She picked one of the larger crystals up and handed it to the woman, who had just finished cleaning and dressing her son’s wounds. It glowed at the woman’s touch.

Behind her, Mara felt the energy shift as Brhenti appeared, but her sister spirit didn’t move or intervene. The young man’s breathing became easier as his mother guided the energy from the stone into him, and by the time it crumbled to dust, he was no longer pale as death.

“I was rash,” Brhenti said. “I owed him better than that.” If the woman could hear the goddesses, she gave no sign.

“It’s done,” Mara answered, and there was a moment of quiet between them.

“So about that favor of yours…” Brhenti began.