The Dragons Shattered
Teman, the Feral
The settlement finally failed when Teman, or Tenya as his mother liked to call him, was young. The family tried to stay for a time even after their neighbors had moved on, but eventually the home was left to be reclaimed by the wild as they collected their few possessions and left to find more welcoming lands.
They traveled many weeks without luck. Finally, nearing the end of their endurance, the question was posed as Tenya slept – could the two of them move farther, and faster, without a child in tow? The mother first bridled at the implication, and then relented – with the condition that she would not allow for the boy to be mercifully laid to rest, but that she could only abide leaving him if she could believe he may survive alone.
Tenya woke late the next morning, accompanied by nothing but most of a roast rabbit, wrapped in leaves. Starved on the limited rationing they’d travelled under, he devoured it at once, then sat guiltily awaiting his parents’ return.
It was hunger, two days later, which encouraged his first anxious steps away from their last camp. At first he would pause frequently, looking back, as if the act of leaving would cause his parents to burst from the underbrush and grab him up in a fury of scolding. When that did not happen, he eventually ceased to look back at all.
His mother had been right on one point – it was easier for one person to feed himself, granted, precarious. Tenya learned quickly which growths were edible and which would grab his stomach and twist it up until he could barely move for pain. When berries and shoots couldn’t sustain him, he learned to fish for meager portions with a sharpened stick, and, once older and more bold, how to steal the kills of other predators.
With time, he grew tall and weedy, as much a part of his environment as the bats and bush dogs. The older Tenya could sit and hear the land around him, knowing what was nearby, and who was about to prey on who. The seasons were in his blood, and he could hunt and store by with as much regularity as a calendar. Occasionally, humans would pass through, but Tenya never approached. Humans disturbed the routines of the wild, sending both prey and predator running, breaking and tearing the plants.
Once in awhile, great humans of power – some that smelled like different forests and jungles, and faraway places – would pass through. These seemed to understand his lands better, but it was still as if they spoke a foreign dialect or sister language. They made Tenya uneasy, and he would hide or flee from them. Even more rarely did they pursue him – always those who had an almost sympathetic energy with these lands – but Tenya was fast, and spoke his world’s language, and they were easily avoided.
In his fifteenth year, a strange situation arose – a rabbit that he could not catch. He’d spotted it from the tree. The creature was unusual, a freak that should not have lived to adulthood. Rabbits of the forest were mottled grey and brown and hard to spot, but this one was pale and bright.
He had immediately settled that he desired its pelt.
Dropping down softly, he approached it, first moving foot-over foot in silence, then dropping close to the ground to be shielded by the grass. Had had no snares set up in this immediate area, but it had been years since a rabbit had noticed him in this manner. They were anxious prey animals, but dumb, and when they were paralyzed in fear, he could strike freely.
Tenya was crouched on his belly, inching forward when the rabbit turned its head and met his eyes. Tenya froze.
Its whiskers quivered, then it leapt in an explosion of leaves, fleeing the boy. Startled out of his stupor, Tenya jumped up and took off running. The pale rabbit hypnotized him, enticing him to chase although there was easier prey around. He crashed through the bushes, trying to overtake it, suddenly and unexpectedly consumed with obsession. Nothing was in his sight but the rabbit’s bright pelt.
For hours they ran – the rabbit at times taking sharp turns to lose him, but never showing any sign of weariness. Forest spirit? Tenya wondered, Forest GOD?, but neither thought could take root in his mind, and he chased on, relentless and even laughing.
Suddenly, the rabbit disappeared over a small bump of earth. Its burrow! I’ve got it! Tenya celebrated, reaching the top of the earthen mound and starting down the other side just as his ankle twisted, and he went crashing down through a tangle of old roots and dirt.
He fell onto smooth, leaf-covered ground and lay for a few moments, winded. When he looked up, the rabbit was sitting close at hand, studying him with twitching nose.
YES! He crowed inwardly, bunching himself up and then springing forward in a final, mighty effort. Grasping fingers closed around silver fur, twisting into the scruff of the rabbit’s neck.
The rabbit laughed.
Luna remained with Tenya for the next day and night, speaking with him of himself and his forest. The rabbit was not always strictly a rabbit, as she told him and demonstrated, but that he had so lusted for her fur pleased her, and so she would make him her own, and see that the boy was not always a boy.
“Dwell here,” she said, as the evening drew towards its end “make this your home; I give this to you. This place and this forest are yours and you are their steward, know that – but you must defend them from those who would take it from you.”
“Oh, and,” she added, with the rabbit’s silvery laugh, “it would honor me if in all the years before you, you would never forget how well you admire my pelt.”
The problem with the cavern he had fallen into was that it didn’t have a clear exit. It was dark, and Teman’s torches did not last long, but he explored it as well as he could. It soon became apparent that the cavern was man-made, with old chambers and water-worn steps to floors beneath. Lower levels softly thrummed with an energy similar to that of his wilds, but the pulse was slightly off-time and broken.
Nevertheless, over years Tenya worked to repair the buried building, clearing away centuries of fall-in and gently encouraging roots to grow elsewhere. Tenya changed alongside the manse as well, although he worked in such a haze that he didn’t notice it at first until he woke to discover himself wrestling the legs of an unruly tree out of a hallway with his horns.
He crashed and clawed his way up and out of the manse, breaking into the greater forest and hurrying to a nearby pond. He slumped down and gazed into the waters, quietly examining his long ears and large, rounded horns. A soft sheen of fur covered him, tan and dark brown with small dapples – the same moon-touched silver of the rabbit’s pelt. They dotted along his ribs, and waist, and thighs – he noticed, with a blush, before finally noticing that his legs were now longer, and terminated in a pair of split hooves.
That he had not previously noticed this was more of a shock to him than their existence – if he thought about it much (which, he did), Tenya realized that these changes didn’t feel all so foreign. If he focused hard and tried to remember how he had looked before, he felt confident that these things were not so permanent as they appeared.
The rabbit is not always strictly a rabbit, he concluded, standing and going back to his work.
History of Teman’s Cult
Work on the manse had nearly completed, when a nearby village – Ut Ho’Chik – spotted Tenya at a distance. While not a problem on its own, this village had recently been suffering crop shortages, and they attributed it to failing to properly worship the regional god – which they had taken Tenya for.
Hoping to rectify the situation, they finally made contact – sending a girl out as both olive branch and sacrifice.
Tenya, still remembering the village of his childhood, met with them and agreed to help them out as long as particular rules were observed.
Specifically, these rules were few – every twenty-five years, each family with an unmarried daughter would draw lots. The family that was named in this drawing would “sacrifice” that daughter to Tenya at that year’s fertility festivals. Each twenty-five years, Tenya would appear personally to the village to meet with its people and join in the revelry, then would collect his bride and disappear until the next time.
The understanding was that, although he possessed these daughters for all of their fertile years, he would train them during that time. They would return as powerful wise women, healers, and oracles, respected within Ut Ho’Chik – three wives at a time. One, the crone, would be the eldest – and she was unusually long-lived for their people. The one under her, middle wife, would train and serve under the crone. The youngest traveled solely in Tenya’s company, and was seen only by him until her twenty-five year service was ended.
Additionally, during this twenty-five year period, Tenya would guarantee the fertility of their crops and animals. This was difficult at first, but once the manse was repaired and he was able to attune to it, it became a trivial issue – the wood manse swelled the Essence of the local Dragonlines, and the hearthstone it yielded only helped all the more.
Though unsteady at first, Tenya’s relationship with Ut Ho’Chik grew over the past century and a half, with his yearly festivals being a widely anticipated event, and the quarter-century festivals – experienced twice in a lifetime and rarely thrice – always commanded a solid month of excitement and preparation as people fought to get a glimpse – or even touch – of their god, and young men bragged of trying to out-drink him (and, as they approached that line – bragging that they would out-screw him in the coming years). Approaching these events, his worship changed as well – the tone becoming less respectful and more bawdy as spoken epithets shifted from “Faun of the Harvest” to “Buck-Mounts-the-Flock”.
However, after a century and a half, the prosperity of Ut Ho’Chik left its people to pursue other diversions, and a class divide began to spring up within the growing village. The wealthy began to hold themselves apart from the commons, and eventually separate from everything that marked them – worship of Tenya included.
In the last quarter-century harvest, this upper class abstained from drawing the lots to choose the sacrifice. This angered Tenya, who broke the celebrations by offering an ultimatum – with the next quarter century, only the families which had not drawn lots this year would be expected to. The sacrifice, he demanded, must be of your blood. No man’s house Is above the ritual.
Though he left the village, the crone and middle-wife remain to help keep an eye on things. After all, they always have their mysterious ways of communicating the village’s goings-on to their god.
Additional Names and Notes
Teman’s/Tenya’s formal epithets include, but are not limited to:
• Father of Witches
• Faun of the Harvest
• Pillar of Ut Ho’Chik
• Sower Amongst the Grain
• Strong Vine (or, especially close to his festivals amongst the younger males, Choking Vine)
His current wives are:
• Akna, Lotus Blooming, the crone
• Patli , the middle-wife
• Eleui, the youngest, who has been with him only a few years at this point.