A straight-talking woman destined for the bear-god
Anastasia grew up on the Southern edge of the city of Kislev. Her mother was a horse-breaker; an honourable profession in a nation of warrior-horsemen. Anastasia and her two younger brothers were raised among the stables, as comfortable dodging the thrashing hooves of an untamed stallion as they were practising with their wooden (and later steel) swords. Anastasia’s father was also an animal tamer, but spent much of his time, as most fit Kislevite men do, training for war as a lancer. No time was happier for Anastasia as when she came home to her father’s pennant fluttering from the fence posts to indicate he was just back from battle.
Anastasia was only 17 when the mind-rending incident that would change her life happened. Her father had just left for war; the Kurgan were attacking the Northern settlements again – some said it was a big one this time. She was riding one of the new geldings out over the tundra (he was a nervous beast but light footed and fleet) when she heard a noise that made her breath catch in her throat. To this day she can’t remember what it was; her father calling out from the battlefield, injured, or her little brother Sergo crying for help. A foul wind picked up and whispers echoed from every direction, and a thick oily fog began to boil up over the scrubby ground. Her mount screamed and reared, throwing Anastasia down into the wet, scratchy vegetation, then bolted. Disorientated Anastasia staggered towards the pitiful sounds of her injured family, the wind encouraging her along.
The human mind isn’t built to withstand unprotected travel through the warp, it interprets it’s time within as dreams, and fragments of memory. Does she truly recall a fight between a bear and an loathsome eagle, or is that just her mind trying to interpret something it perceived with senses beyond the normal five? Regardless she remembers emerging from the fog, into the arms of a mutant most foul. Laughing it grasped her wrist and dragged her to a pen full of other young and frighted girls.
“Number forty is finally here. We can finally start the ritual!” it cackled while capering about.
Anastasia had been placed into a holding pen of woven sticks with a large fire in the middle. Whether the pen was to keep the girls in or to discourage the throng of leering mutants was an unknown. There were at least two-hundred of them. Presiding over this loathsome congregation was a truly horrible creature. The daemon-prince Urtgaran the Change-seeker, also known as the patchwork-prince for his appearance. This monster loomed over a strange altar that appeared to be carved partly from stone and partly from a glowing and ever-shifting substance that hurt to look at. Bound to this altar was an old woman who appeared to have the rapt and hate-filled attention of many of the mutants. Unbeknownst to Anastasia this was in fact Baba Rasnyov, hag of the Northern steppes. Surrounding the altar was a stone floor into which channels were carved in intricate symbols centred about a steel ring set deep in the stonework.
Soon the altar was surrounded by nine chanting mutants, and the first girl was dragged from the altar to be sacrificed. Stripped and painted with wyrd symbols the weakly struggling girl was dragged and made to kneel on the stone where she was tethered to the ring. The patchwork prince stalked toward her and placed his clawed and feathered hand on her forehead with the words ‘I sacrifice your purity and virgin magical power to almighty Tchar!’. The change was immediate as mutations writhed and boiled from within her; moments after it began it was over, and the mutants carried off the still twitching and mewling thing, only to replace it with another girl nine minutes later. A faint glowing energy began to spark between the chanting mutants.
Anastasia huddled down in a group near the fire with the four other remaining girls still sane enough to talk. There was Rasputina Sleipnir from Praag; a nordic-looking girl whose story was pretty much the same as Anastasia’s, dressed only in her under-things she was shivering despite the blazing fire. Then there were twin-sisters Erin and Karin Lapnoyv with the look of ungols; they had been learning the art of the charcoal-burner in the forest of spirits when the fog rose. The final girl’s clothes were gently steaming in the heat of fire; named Xu Altweis she was a girl with an Empire accent but the look of a Hung. Xu was with her sailor-merchant family in port in Erengrad when she’d thought she could hear her mother’s voice crying out from the sea.
Together, amid the screams, chanting and sickening sounds, they became friends and planned their escape. Moving to the back of the pen, where the mutants were thinnest, they began to talk with them. With gentle promises of intimacy the mutants were persuaded to help them out the pens, and into their hungry arms. A flash of steel, and a moment of confusion was all it took for the five captives to flee. They ran like the hounds of hell were after them, the screams and shouts goading them to efforts beyond what their bodies should have been capable of.
They gasped together, crouched behind a fallen tree. Xu wasn’t with them. Her wet clothes had hampered her running and she had been caught. Tears streaked the escapees faces as they were forced to listen to Xu’s torture until blissful silence filled the woods once more.
Rasputina was next. The girls tried to share their clothing and warmth with her but it just wasn’t enough; they left her stiff body with it’s blue lips and frost-rimmed eyelashes and kept moving.
The twins died in the jaws of wolves; at least that was mercifully quick. The pack stopped chasing once it had caught Erin, but Karin wouldn’t leave without her.
That left Anastasia, babbling to herself as she wandered the wastes. As exhaustion, hunger and the cold rose up to claim her she thought she saw the smiling form of her mother; at last she could rest. She collapsed in the snow at the feet of a surprised sloth bear, murmuring the word ‘Mother’ as she fell.
The bear had recently had her cub taken by hunters, and had a powerful maternal instinct still burning in her blood. And unknown to Anastasia, she had spoken the word ‘mother’ in Bear-tongue. Okay it was more gangly and naked than her own fusby little cub, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Anastasia woke to a warmth like she hadn’t felt in a long time… and a sticky face. Something buzzing on her cheek jerked her to full consciousness. A bee? She licked her lips. Honey! She licked it up, then ate the comb of it resting in the dirt next to her, then worked her way through the fruit. Feeling full and safe she slept again, against the warm furry flank of her mother.
Together the pair made their way back to the city of Kislev. Much of this journey was dreamlike for both Anastasia and Mother. In the end Anastasia was only gone three weeks.
As they neared civilisation, Anastasia thankfully began to remember her real mother…and family…and where she lived. To her confusion, her human family did not remember Mother, but accepted her as a blessing from Ursun, sent to keep Ana safe.
Her first week home was tough. Recovering from dehydration and exhaustion while seeing that.. monstrosity (the Patchwork Prince) every time her eyes closed. When she did manage to sleep, she’d wake screaming and sweating – plagued by nightmares.
It was apparent from the start that Mother could not stay in the grounds with the horses, they were all terrified of their natural predator. She was sent to the nearest temple to stay, where Anastasia spent most of her time. The priests there found her communication fascinating, and she came to draw quite a bit of attention.
After another week, she felt it too much. The Ursun clergy were pressuring her to join their ranks while she were still trying to come to terms with her fear and guilt about her friends. Things were not great with her family either. Her experience had changed her, filling her with an urge to explore and do more with her life than train a few horses. Maybe she survived for a reason…
Her father returned around ten days after she did. Her mother had been struggling, as her screams would wake the whole house at night. She spoke to her parents of her plans, and they reluctantly agreed that it may be for the best, particularly as Mother could not stay near her home.
When next the carnival came to town, she went along to ‘audition’ and suitably impressed the manager. She felt that something was amiss, but this would be her best chance to get moving safely. As had been planned, her funeral was held the next day. It was a particularly emotional time as she nearly never had one, but her mourners gave her strength as she listened to each tale, staring into the flickering pyre as it consumed her rocking horse. The toy’s sacrifice signified her change from stable hand to bear trainer, as well as girl to woman.
Ana has a serious guilt complex after losing all of her new friends in the escape. She tries to compensate for this by closely guarding those she gets close to. Her mind has been somewhat damaged, and if an experience reminds her of the chaos she is likely to flash back. She can be construed as brutal, but she simply believes in doing what she must, and has no love nor guilt about her foes.
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