Johanna was holding a flame in her palm when her father came into the room. He immediately poured a glass of water over her hand. “I told you not to do that in the house.” She gave him a sheepish look and headed outside. She’d been practicing forming flames like that ever since her mother had showed her how. She was confused about why her dad was so worried about it. Couldn’t he do the same thing? She figured that he couldn’t by the way he acted, but that was o.k. She’d just be more careful next time.
Her mother was rocking on the porch when she came out. She reformed the flame and started passing it from hand to hand. Her mother must have guessed she’d be out here sooner or later. She had a bucket sitting next to her filled with water just in case she lost control of the flame. That had happened once and father had had to replace the rocking chair. Her mother had been furious and very upset about her chair. She’d loved the creaky old thing. In Johanna’s opinion it was good riddance that the old thing was gone. Her mother highly disagreed.
Her mom looked at her. “Your cousin is coming to visit. He’ll be here in a couple of days. I don’t want you to do that in front of him. He’s like your father, he can’t do that and fire will always hurt him. Do you understand?” She nodded. Her mother smiled back with a wince, she hoped she’d feel better with her cousin around.
Johanna looked up at her mom as her cousin came up in the carriage that his family owned. He always came in it. She wasn’t feeling well. Her father had been looking worried all week and she wanted to make sure her mother was up to watching her cousin. She didn’t look like it. She pulled on her shirt to get her attention. Her mother smiled and looked down at her. “What is it?” She smiled at her. “Can me and Mathew go play in the woods? We’ll be back the moment you call us for supper.” Her mother sighed and smiled. “Run along.”
She gave her mom a tight hug. She winced slightly at the tight grip, but didn’t complain. She was always good like that to Johanna, even if it hurt she wouldn’t complain about it. It was how she showed just how much she cared for her. Her father came out and gave her a tight hug. “Run along and play with your cousin. But, don’t stay out too long, supper is on the way. We’ll call you two in when it’s finished.”
Johanna motioned to Mathew as he stepped out of the carriage. He smiled and ran to catch up with her. She turned back to look at her mom. She smiled and waved them off. Mathew ran for the trees. She looked up at him and took off after him. If she didn’t he would soon get lost and scared. He was seven, and by his standards better than her.
She caught up with him quickly as he got caught in the brambles a few yards in. She kept going past him, easily outdistancing him in the familiar territory. She waited till she was a ways ahead before stopping and waiting for him to catch up. When he caught up he was breathing hard. She turned to face him. “Do you want to play hide and seek or race to the far clearing?” His smile was wide. “How about both, hide and seek first.” She nodded. “I’ll count first.” He smiled and ran off.
She counted to twenty and cried out the agreed call for searching. This would be great practice for tracking. Her dad had been teaching her with her mom’s help. She looked down at the grass and was disappointed that he hadn’t even tried to make it hard. She followed the broken grass stems till she found him. He sighed, “I’ll count now.” He didn’t sound happy about it.
She did her best not to leave tracks as she looked for a hiding spot. She climbed up into a tree and watched below her. When she looked around she could have sworn she saw a very big cat pass by about a hundred yards to her left. She shook her head and looked again but didn’t see anything. She’d been watching for several minutes before she realized that Mathew must have given up looking and went looking for him. He was waiting by the counting tree with a mad look on his face.
“No fair, you know all the good hiding places here.” She rolled her eyes but didn’t contradict him. She’d purposely broke some branches under the tree she’d been hiding in so that he would find her. He’d passed by her not once but twice. She let it go and cheered up slightly. “Want to race now?” He smiled back. “Yeah.”
They took off in the direction of the clearing. She made sure he was going the right way before she pulled ahead. When she broke through the trees she almost tripped over her own feet in shock. The clearing that had always been empty before was filled with tents. Some were bigger than others, but none of them were showy, she hadn’t seen them before because they were designed to be hidden from a general look. When she got a better look she realized that there really weren’t that many tents it just looked like it. The center and a large area around it were empty. Two circles had been etched into it. One large one, and another about a third of the way in from the outer one. She walked up to the first circle with Mathew not far behind her. “Come on let’s get out of here.” “Stop being a baby, this looks like fun.” She crossed the circle and was surprised when it felt as if something had brushed by her. She looked around, but all she’d done was cross the circle. Mathew was still outside it.
“Maybe we should leave.” “Stop being a baby and come here.” He was about to say something when they heard something. They spun around to see a cat come through the trees. Maybe she hadn’t been wrong. Mathew ran for the trees but the cat stopped him. It suddenly changed size and then shape and became a man. Another one came from the side and changed like the first. But unlike the first one who had a white sash, this one had a red sash.
Kisten was surprised to see that two children had found their camp, he’d warded it. His eyes locked with that of the girl. Something about her yelled shifter. The look on her face told him that she probably didn’t even know. She was shocked, but more surprised by the fact that he’d changed shape then where she was.
He called out to her in Darien to make sure. He frowned when she didn’t react. How could she not know what she was? “Johanna, let’s go now.” The boy said. He ordered his second to erase Mathew’s memory. He stepped forward and touched the boys forehead. His eyes rolled back and he crumpled to the ground. He looked over at the girl.
“Is your name Johanna?” She nodded. He held his hands out in an ‘I’m helpless’ gesture. She snorted at him. He gave her a mocking bow, so maybe she wasn’t stupid. He knew his eyes were still gold and she seemed to have an unhealthy interest in them. He swayed slightly to make sure she was watching them. He stepped forward and she immediately moved away. He frowned. “Why do you move away from me?” “I don’t want to forget.” He froze. “How do you know you’re going to forget?” She shrugged. He thought it over for a couple of seconds. It was possible that she might have sensed what they’d done to her brother or cousin or whatever he was to her, all he knew was that he wasn’t a shifter.
Johanna turned toward the house as she heard her father calling. Mathew got up and shuffled out of the clearing in a daze, he didn’t even realize that there was anyone else in the clearing. She turned to the man with the red sash. She doubted she’d be let go as easily, at least not memory intact. “Who are you?” He gave her a searching look and nodded to himself. “Kisten.” He watched her for a few seconds.
“I’ll make you a deal.” She frowned. “What kind of a deal?” She remembered her aunt saying something about deals with the devil. He smiled. “Nothing bad or evil. You just have to touch my hand.” She moved forward to touch his hand then stopped. “What do I get out of it?” He smiled. “You get to remember being here.” “We can’t let her-” “We can and we will.” Kisten quickly cut off the other man.
She backed away and he moved forward in a blinding movement. One second he was three yards away and the next he was right in front of her. She swallowed a shriek as his hand clamped over her mouth. “Don’t scream, you agreed, remember?” She nodded.
He moved his hand to the side of her neck and she felt something move. It woke something up in her but she wasn’t sure what it was. She felt the bones in his hand lengthen and then shorten. When she didn’t scream or try to pull away he pressed his hand harder against her skin. The other man walked up and placed a hand on the back of her neck. She felt something move in her gut and she realized it was a cat. Hers. The realization shocked her slightly. She had a cat inside her.
She felt her eyes shift and knew that she could let the cat out but didn’t. She felt the energy suddenly change as if a switch had been thrown. It became flames. They formed in her hands and then jumped to the outer circle. She looked up and away as the flames in her hands died and she heard someone come through the trees. It was her mom. “Good afternoon. It seems that I won’t be lighting your ring after all.”
Johanna was still getting used to the idea that her Name was Kievan here. Her friend Artemus was sitting next to her, explaining the ceremony. She said something and they both broke out in giggles. Another shifter came up to them and Kisten sent them off with him. Kisten had called him Silver, she thought it was a funny name for someone but she’d never say it in front of him.
“What is a Jaga?” Kievan asked, startling herself in the discovery that she could talk while in cat form. Silver was walking just ahead of Artemus, she was just behind them both, still getting the hang of walking. He paused and looked back at her. “It’s a high-level shifter whose spirit markings show up in the design of their fur when they’re not trying to hide it.” “Spirit markings?” “All shifters have spirit markings, they’re specific to the shifter. No two are alike, not even twins. It’s named after spirit because it tends toward what the person is born capable of, thus, what their traits are.”
She thought about it for a few minutes. “So what does skull markings mean, you have them too.” He was quiet for a few minutes. He stopped them and turned back to face them, returning to human form, they followed suit. “It means that you were born a fighter. You’re a warrior by nature. You think like a fighter, whether to run or fight, which way your prey is going to run, what’s the fastest way to catch it, do you want to kill it, capture it, or play with it, all those thoughts drift through with no thought to the consequences of them, as natural as night and day.”
She thought back to the lessons her stepfather had given her in tracking, how she’d caught on so quickly, as if she’d already known how to do it, just hadn’t realized it. When she looked up Silver was watching her, reading the thoughts as they drifted through. She frowned and he pulled back, leaving her alone in her own head.
They all settled into a sitting position, Silver expected to be pestered with questions whether they were moving or not and had decided it would be easier if they just stayed put through most of it.