breakfastofchampions: (reian)
[personal profile] breakfastofchampions
I am starting up a new month of Original Fiction Bingo! If you're curious, you can find my new card here.

Title: Become the World
Universe: Wind & Foxes
Characters, pairings: Ana Lijen, suggested Imbri/Reian
Rating: G
Word count: 1,625
Summary: Ana likes to keep an eye on her runaway son--but someone else has the same idea.
Notes: Set before the time of the novel, years after Reian leaves home, but only a little while after he meets Imbri. Written for [community profile] origfic_bingo, for the prompt "ritual sacrifice".

The ritual is a quiet one. In the past, some shamans used candles, burned herbs, but those things were not necessary. They were mental aids, which helped their users to focus on the task before them. There is no shame in needing help, though Ana doesn't need it. She finds smells and smoke distracting. She leaves her tent door open so the Wind can enter, if he so wishes. She leaves a lantern shining outside, so her tribe knows she is at work. As she lights the lantern, she says a prayer to the Moon.

All one truly needs for the ritual is oneself.

Ana lies down on the mat in the middle of her tent. She covers herself with a blanket. If it grows too cold after she begins, she won't realize it. Her body will be vulnerable. Once she's comfortable, she closes her eyes. Then, little by little, she begins her work.

The process isn't difficult for one with the gift, one who knows how to do it. Little by little, Ana peels her spirit away from her body. Shamanism is the changeable gift. Like the Moon who gave it to her people, its face is different from day to day. Shamans cannot move mountains or shift the sea. Shamans incline their heads and ask the mountains or the sea a favor, in a humble voice. They say, Will you please do this for me? Ana says that now. She asks the Moon to allow this separation. The Moon allows it.

There is a sacrifice involved. Ana makes it, without hesitation. To leave your body, you must give yourself up. You become something else. Every time, she feels herself lose a tiny scrap of what makes her Ana. Only a scrap, but over years, a series of scraps can become something much greater.

It's often said that shamans don't die. Instead, they become the world.

Ana becomes the world, if only briefly. This is not the final time. Her spirit, the last tie cut, sloughs off her body, and for the time being, she is no longer human. She becomes aware of the Wind, flitting through the tribe's encampment on his soft feet. He turns to regard her with eyes that have no color but a strange, shifting blue and no end but forever. "Ah, it's you," he says, and smiles, and now that she is no longer human, she feels she understands him better, and she smiles back, though without a mouth. She wonders how she appears to him.

The Wind is never in one place long, and before she's had a chance to finish her wondering, let alone ask him a question, he has disappeared, though she is aware of the wake he leaves behind. She knows where it has come from and where it's going. She is expanding. Moment by moment, she knows more and more. Every vein on every leaf. Every mole and every mouse in every underground nest. Every stone set upon stone. Every grain of earth. All things. She asks their leave, and they allow her to become them, to grow greater even as she grows less and less herself.

She could keep going like this forever, until she is everything and nothing of herself, but that day is still a long way off. Today, she has a particular goal in mind, and it is nothing so vast and unfathomable. How strange it is that she becomes something so big to find something so small: a single person. She only wants to find her son.

Reian. Where is he? He is easy to find, because he has the same gift she does, though it is buried inside him, all but unused. No matter: it shines out, and she can sense it. She would call it a light, but she is not seeing it with her eyes. She does not know what she is seeing it with. There are some things there are no words for, because those who experience and understand them have left words far behind. If Reian were a real light, he would be a warm one, red-gold like an ember, but with a steadier glow, in no danger of going out.

Ana spreads beyond the forest and the hills where her tribe makes their home. She expands beyond plains, over lakes, into much farther forests and much stranger hills, growing in all directions until she finds him.

Since he left home, she has looked for him like this every so often--maybe too often--to see where he is and what he is doing. To be sure that he is safe. He left home without saying goodbye, but Ana knows why. She knows he had to go. She always knew he would.

Today, when she finds Reian, she also finds a surprise. There is another light shining beside her son's warm glow. This second light is cold, almost harsh. If it were a real light, it would be be pale blue. It would not flicker. That's how it feels: cool and eternal. It is not a human light.

The light focuses itself on her as she approaches, her expansion slowing. It reminds her of the Wind in a way, and she thinks, This must be a god.

Like the Wind, this god knows her. "You must be Ana Lijen," he says. He is not human at all. He is not even a human god. He is a small, bright animal with sharp ears and a wide smile, though oddly, his light is sewn into flesh that looks human, flesh that can die. She's never seen anything like it before. "I've been waiting to meet you. It's a pleasure."

It is not a good god, and it is not an evil one. Like most gods, it simply is. "I came to see my son," she explains.

"I know. He's well. You don't have to do this so often."

She pauses, studying the little god. He is a completely unexpected thing. Though she knows so much in her current state, she does not know what to make of this encounter. How does he know how often she does this?

"You'll turn yourself into something else," the god adds, warningly. "I don't think you want that to happen yet."

"Everything is a risk," she says.

"Some things are a certainty," the god replies, and he sounds a bit wicked as he does so, amused. "You should be more careful with yourself. Your people need you. It's hard to find a shaman these days."

He's right. They do need her, but so does her son, in some ways. "What do you want with Reian?" she asks the god, wary.

He doesn't need to consider. He answers at once. "I'm lonely," he says. "I like his light."

This curious answer does not help her. She is not sure what to do. If she called upon her own gods, they could undoubtedly make this little god leave. Her gods have more power over one of her people than any other god can. They would protect Reian, if she asked it of them. Yet she has no reason to believe that this god means Reian harm, and it seems Reian has chosen to spend time with him. Their bodies are resting side by side. Reian is slumbering peacefully.

"I'll make you a bargain," the god offers quickly, before she can decide what to do. "I'll take care of him for you. You can stay home. Remain yourself. Protect your people."

Gods' bargains are not like human bargains. They cannot be broken without great cost, and they are never lightly made. They usually favor the god who makes them. "What do you want in return?" she asks.

"I told you already. I like his light. I'll stay with him until it goes out. That's the bargain, if you want to take it."

How strange. She has become so much, but this god is beyond her gift and her understanding. He seems to ask for so little for his side of the bargain. She cannot say if she trusts him or likes him, yet his words appeal to her. I like his light. "Why have you chosen him? My son is not a great man." She does not mean that as an insult. Great men and women, of the type she means--any god would know what she means--are very rare. They shine out, not with a glow, but with a blaze. Most gods, if they choose a human companion, ally themselves with the great.

"No, he isn't great," the god agrees. "Unlike his mother. He's something I like better. He's kind."

This decides her. If she had a real mouth now, she would smile with it. "I accept your bargain," she says.

The bright, immortal animal laughs from what must be the prison of the mortal body he is bound to. "You honor me, Ana Lijen," he says. "You won't regret it." Beside him, Reian shifts in his sleep and makes a soft sound, as if he senses her presence, even in dreams.

Then Ana's body is shifting too, as she opens her eyes and sits up suddenly. She is back in her tent. The Wind is tiptoeing around her on his quick feet, though she cannot see him now, can only feel him on her skin and in her hair. She is human again. The god must have done something to send her back home. She knows his name; he has left it on her lips, and she speaks it aloud in the quiet tent. "Imbri."

Gods must keep their bargains, and her son's god is no exception. Ana never regrets it.
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