Winter Festivals

A typical "Christmas" celebration amongst the Nioneska, a northern tribe of magic users seen through the eyes of a member returning home for the festival and experiencing the more supernatural aspect of their way of life and be with family again.
A winner of the Advent Calender writing competition.

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2. The Games (Mitine)


Unable to contain his excitement, Thorne sprinted to the plateau that opened up before them. A crowd had amassed around a handful of competitors, each bearing clothes stitched with symbols and designs revealing their heritage. As varied as it was, they all were similar in small ways. Tall collars, black or dark vests, belts laden with pouches of food or trinkets. Just as they prepared to take aim at the targets painted on the trees, Thorne felt a hand clap on his shoulder. Expecting one of his uncles, he turned to see his Aunt Siiri.

"Why don't you join in? It's just started. Besides, what's the fun in watching if no one in my family is playing?" She pointed out, taking a bow off her shoulder. She proudly displayed her medallion around her neck which resembled Thorne's more than his father's. "Oh and you got something on your face," she teased as she rubbed her thumb along the line tattooed across his cheeks and nose.

Just as Callum caught up with him, Thorne was forcing his way through to the other archers. Most of them were girls. They were ones he'd grown up with. More or less. They lived in different circles. Quite literally. The smoke puffed from the vent holes and melted the snow around them, showing where the homes were built into the ground in massive depressions surrounding trees.

But Thorne wasn't focused on that. He was focused on the game. As he drew back his arrow, much to the confusion or annoyance of the other participants, he reminded himself of the rules. Fire the first arrow into the target, sprint and retrieve, aim for the highest branch of your tree, climb and retrieve, shoot the spot you stood in the very beginning, retrieve. A game for the hunters to show off their skill. For Thorne it was just to show off.

"Release!" Shouted a gruff voice, aged and weathered by the frost.

The arrows sang as they soared and hit their marks. One unfortunate archer failed to hit a tree and the arrow went sailing into the woods. The telltale chock of the arrow burrowing into the bark was all Thorne needed to know he'd hit his mark and to start running. That part was easy since this playing field had been charmed by the shamans so the snow would melt and the ground would stay dry and soft. The part that made it difficult was that Thorne was still a little tired from his running earlier. On top of that, he was pretty sure two of the girls could have been in the Olympics if members of the Nioneska didn't have to keep a low profile when out in the world.

The fastest one already had her arrow removed and was whispering a prayer with her hand on the point of impact, as was customary. Thorne was the next after that, pulling his arrow free and muttering the prayer while he used his momentum to get a better look at his next target. He released. Swish, thump. Snow came crashing down on his head, sinking down his collar and melting on his back. But he ignored it and slid his bow over his shoulder and started climbing.

Siiri and Callum watched with increasing interest, pumping their fists like the other people watching. The wolf Callum had called Sevri was even there watching as Thorne jumped and wove himself ever upward into the branches of the tree with ease, looking almost like what a tree snake might appear to be. In fact, he looked more animal like. Siiri and Callum's jaws dropped. Other shamans saw it. A slight glowy trail followed the contestants like tails and a distant hum droned on in the ears of everyone near. Sevri gave a howl and began jumping around and wagging his tail.

Thorne wrapped his hand around the branch that housed his arrow and let out a victorious roar that wasn't his. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the gnarly scowl of a spirit with piercingly blue, glowing eyes that froze him cold while it hovered over the fastest runner. It was a wind spirit. At least Thorne thought so. Neither him nor his father Ronan paid much mind when Callum lectured them on spirits other than how not to anger them. This one was very angry. And it knew that it could win as long as Thorne was afraid and gave a triumphant smile to the girl it had chosen to help.

"Come on!" Siiri hissed through gritted teeth. Sevri gave another long and loud howl to try and get Thorne back on track.

What did was a strange tingling that started in his fingers and didn't resist until he aimed at the ground. The arrow became lodged in the spot he'd once stood. Then he dropped from the branch he'd been perched on and made it to the ground at the same time she did. Her spirit was large, a thundering beast that contrasted wildly from her graceful and swift gait. Thorne's heart pounded at the thought of losing. The wind whistled in his ears. But she pulled ahead of him. And just as she was a few yards away, Thorne felt his feet leave the ground.

"YES!" Siiri cried, jumping and pumping her fist. Thorne leaped and bounded like an elk. Just like the one made of the same glowing smoke as the beast. On the last bound Throne grabbed his arrow and pulled it free. A chorus of cheers erupted from the onlookers as Thorne came to a stop and the spirit that chose him looked over his shoulder. It must have been at least 8 feet tall with a magnificent crown of antlers and bells on its head. Everyone 'oo'd and 'aww'd as the other spirits all twirled through the air or around the plateau before reshaping themselves and spiraling upwards into the darkening sky. As soon as their glowing forms disappeared, the northern lights came to life overhead.

Sevri came rushing out and licked Thorne's hands.

"Haha! Impressed?" Thorne joked.

"That was amazing!" Callum shouted over the cheering and boasting of the crowd.

The other contestants all gathered around Thorne and bowed their heads in respect before clapping a hand on his shoulders. He'd won. So he relaxed and stared in endless wonder as the stars began to wink into existence above the ribbon of endless color.

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