A Drifting Soul

The story of Daithi, a young shaman of the Nioneska prior to the events of A House Of Photographs.

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1. Trading Places

The brothers ran through the trees of the and over the creek to home. Callum was more desperate to get there; the uptight and timely young man was late for an important gathering of the shamans. One or two from every minor council and the council of their tribe. Callum was a shaman and as such, was meant to be there. Ronan and Daithi, however, were racing each other and Ronan was winning. Daithi was smiling wide and breathing in and out, then jumped off a log as high as he could. His shape shifted; fire red locks were traded for feathers, feet for talons, arms for wings. The medallion around his neck glowed and sang with the transformation, shrinking to fit his feathery neck. His clothes went flying, but he scooped them up in his talons and flew at Ronan's side.

"That's cheating! Pishkӧ!" Ronan cried, marveling at Daithi's skill. He even felt a little envious at times like this. He wished he'd been born the youngest just to have all the gifts bestowed upon the seventh son of a seventh son or even the ability to manipulate magic. Ronan looked to his twin and saw the flash of realization in his eyes. Callum followed suit, though it took a bit more effort and Callum struggled to take flight as a peregrine falcon, dwarfed by the rough-legged hawk Daithi was.

So Ronan howled with excitement as he raced two birds. Dodging trees at such high speed was easy for him, he only needed to take care his bow and quiver never got caught. But for his birdy brothers, it was difficult and they flew up above the trees. Ronan could still see their shadows on the forest floor and raced those instead.

They saw the huts of home come into view. The people going about their days and chores. They even caught sight of their oldest sister and her husband and new baby.

"Sarafina! Hey!" Ronan shouted as he waved, not once slowing down.

She looked up and waved back. She looked so young, barely in her twenties even. But that was the wonder of being brought up in this way of life: it slowed down aging. Sarafina was nearly one hundred years old and didn't look a day over twenty. The same went for Ronan and Callum who were half that and looked like late teenagers.

Ronan brought up memories of her and their oldest brother, Sampsa, looking after them all.

Lost in thought, he failed to noticed Daithi and Callum roost on Sarafina's shoulders. Callum nuzzled Sarafina's cheek while Daithi carefully used a special talon, ground and dulled, to pat the baby. The baby, blue-eyed with wispy ashen hair looked the spitting image of her mother. Sampsa and Sarafina both, with a darker completion than the rest of the siblings and a spattering of freckles on their cheeks.

"You boys," Sarafina began, meaning Daithi and Callum, "are late for the meeting. It's serious. I had to leave before lunch or this little one would have been fussy."

Daithi glided down to the dirt floor and struggled to stick his legs into his pants without tearing holes in them. Then he transformed back into his normal self, pulling up his pants as he stretched and grew so nothing lewd was on display. He took a deep breath of the spring air and let a smile onto his freckled face.

Ronan looked in bewilderment at the mass of freckles that draped over his little brother's shoulders.

"What's that look for?" Sarafina asked curiously as her husband left her with a kiss on the cheek and the baby in his arms.

"Oh, nothing. Just seems like Daithi forgets to wash the dirt off right there!" Ronan teased as he pushed Daithi forward by his shoulders.

"No need for slander, lard-for-brains!" Daithi replied with a wicked grin and a brotherly shove. It escalated into a wrestling match quickly in which Ronan used everything he could thing of that he learned from their father, and Daithi melted the snow with a plume of fire from his hand and splashed the water into Ronan's face.

Callum shifted and was quickly covered by Sarafina's shawl. He halted the skirmish with a flick of his wrist and a muttered spell. Or he at least tried to. All it did was create a puff of smoke that dissipated quickly. "Ugh! Would you two quit?! Daithi, get dressed and let's go!" Callum screeched as he attempted to brush back his hair out of his eyes. In his opinion it was time for a hair cut. And he preferred it short to contrast with Ronan's shoulder length mane
 and tell them apart.

Ronan tried to keep up the play fighting, but Daithi weaseled his way out and picked up his shirt as he looked around for shoes before realizing he hadn't put any on and neither had Ronan or Sarafina. Their feet were dirty and stained with grass and dirt and leaves. Callum was the only clean one, jamming his feet into his boots.

"Come on, Callum. Why get after me if you're gonna take so long," Daithi pointed out.

Callum scrunched up his nose and muttered a curse before skulking off and adjusting his medallion.

Daithi and Callum left Ronan standing alone, fiddling with his arrows, and cut through the huts to the biggest one in the very center of the camp. It was adorned with antlers and runes and furs and hummed with the chatter of the councils' gathering. The pair slipped inside and came face to face with a haggard old man, inspecting every medallion for the special etchings that allowed shamans inside; council shamans and young prospects.

Callum flashed his with pride and Daithi stretched out his neck as evidence before taking a place in the circle. Light poured in from the skylight in the ceiling and illuminated the head shamaness; The Champas, highest of all and a sort of chief. This honor wasn't passed by blood, but by merit. Anyone of any family had the opportunity if they displayed the proper characteristics: magical skill, integrity, honesty, among other things and a young prospect was chosen by the Champas and the councils. This particular Champas, a lady by the name of Daileska, was older than half the shamans in the room at five hundred and thirty. She was in the middle of readdressing the issue at hand.

"Settle! We all know that it is time for us to move! Mayhaps even a time for us to settle," Daileska explained in the Nioneskan language, the mother tongue of them all. She was met with an outcry from a few which she silenced with only a raised brow and a threatening hand. Her skill was unrivaled. She had raw talent and knowledge, the most deadly of combinations.

Daithi looked over and saw the look of desperation on Callum's face. Callum wanted to be taught by her and take her place.

"There is the threat of war touching our people before we can leave this land to a place no one will venture."

"We must send someone to fight and send warning, right?" A voice asked from somewhere.

Daileska nodded slowly. "Yes. We need to send our own to ensure the survival of us all. Naturally, I leave it to you all to vote who should go. They must possess considerable power if there needs to be...manipulation of the situation." Then she stepped back and sat with the members of the local council.

Daithi nudged Callum, curious who he thought would be picked, but Callum stared ahead blankly, stiff as a board.

The chatter escalated and small votings were conducted amongst themselves. Daithi was even consulted once or twice even though Callum knew far more about everyone present, had made it his business to know. When the buzz of the different languages and tongues spoken died out, Daileska stood again and asked for the prospects. To the brothers' surprise, Sampsa was pushed forward along with five others. Neither of them realized they practically jumped to their feet.

Upon seeing Sampsa in those chosen, Daileska's eyes seemed to mist over. Sampsa was her 'heir', her choice for the next Champas and was being trained as such. "Is this the final decision you've come to?" She asked patiently, not betraying her own thoughts.

"I'll take his place!"

Everyone's heads swiveled to look at the source. Daithi's cheeks burned hot, but realized there was a second voice that cried the same. He looked and saw Ronan forcing his way through the fur curtains, face pale and his breath ragged.

Daileska stared startled for a moment then asked "Whose place, Daithi? Whose will you take?"

"Our brother Sampsa," he stammered.

"He has a wife and a baby and another on the way. If what you say is true and there will be war then he would leave behind a family and leave them heartbroken if he died." Callum stated, unwittingly supporting Daithi and Ronan's claim.

Sampsa's eyes went wide and he rushed to his brothers, but his actions were stopped by Daileska. "Do you agree with this? Are you willing to let them take your place? You know as well as I do, when the council votes on something it requires exchange or sacrifice to change it."

Sampsa was quiet for a moment. It seemed there was a black hole that sucked up all the sound and every thought in the hut. Daithi's head was swimming. His first thought was "don't let Sampsa do this with a life already built". His second was "this will be an adventure".

The silence was enough and the Champas nodded him off. "I believe you're Ronan, yes? Do you truly wish to join this endeavor? Because you aren't of the council"

Ronan nodded slowly and let the curtain fall behind him. Both young men were beckoned closer and in line. They stood tall and ready. They took the oath to do everything in their power, and made a vow to each other. Callum and Sampsa were speechless, each hoping it was only a dream. But it wasn't. Not this time.

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