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A Forest Cat, Chapter two: The Summoning, part 1

Clad in a long dark robe, the woman walked steadily towards the ring of stones. Her face was raised towards the sky, watching the full moon with barely controlled emotions; her mouth was set in an eager grin, her eyes shining with anticipation. She strode the forest floor on bare feet, ignoring the stings from twigs and branches. With reverence, she carried a small leather sack, holding it with two hands, fearful to drop its precious contents. Once clear of the forest, she had to contain her urge to run the remaining distance to the stones and managed a quick but dignified pace instead. She stopped in the middle of the ring and paused, collecting her thoughts before she softly began to chant, opening the leather bag to reach for a small vial. Without interrupting the chant, she opened the vial and began to trace a pattern on the ground with the powdery contents, sprinkling it on the dew-covered grass. When she had completed the pattern, she halted in its middle, careful not to tread the lines. Her face set in concentration; she took a small bowl from the bag and loosened her dagger from its sheath at her belt. Her soft chanting increased in volume, a tremor in her voice betraying the rising tension within her. Placing the bowl just outside the pattern, she held her free arm out in front of her and cut her skin with the dagger. Little red droplets welled up from the shallow wound and she anxiously watched them fall into the bowl while she uttered the last phrases of the incantation. She stared at the bowl with held breath, fear mingled with excitement.

At first nothing seemed to happen and she shifted momentarily with the first impatience of disappointment. But then the air began to shimmer, contorting her vision of the stones in the clear moonlight. The ripples in the air became more pronounced, solidifying into an odd, vaguely humanoid shape. As it gained more physical presence, its outline became sharper, dispelling the initial human impression of the creature. Suppressing her fear, the woman watched the apparition silently until the air stopped trembling and the shape was as solid as she was herself. Fiery cruel red eyes glowed in the moonlit darkness; leathery blue skin shone dully. The creature, easily twice the woman’s height, flexed its large sharp claws as if the summoning had stiffened its muscles. Its eyes watched the robed figure with such intense hate that she had to concentrate hard on remaining where she was, safe within the pattern, as the urge to run burned in her frightened mind. Then the creature spoke and its voice caused the earth to tremble, sending shivers down her spine.

“Why hast thou summoned me, mortal female?”

Swallowing hard, she rehearsed the words in her head before uttering them, painfully aware that one mistake now could not only rob her of her life, but could create enormous havoc in the world.

“I have summoned you to hunt. The task I will set you will not prove too hard for one as strong as you. If you have completed the task, I will once again release you from my control.”

Hate spilled from those inhuman eyes, fire raging behind them. Claws clenched into tight fists, the creature struggled against the magic that held it there in its place. The woman watched it in fearful fascination, steeling her mind to sound confident.

“Until the task is forfilled, you shall walk this earth in the shape of a man. Upon completion, I will release you from your mortal shape.”

She sprinkled a fistful of dust over the creature and it roared with anger, frustration and pain. Then she called out its true name and the earth shook vehemently as the creature led out one last agonising cry. Again the air shimmered and the horrid shape of the creature slowly transformed into a human body. The process of transformation did not last as long as the summoning had and before long, the woman stared at the naked body of a man with black, curly hair, whose eyes watched her with the same hateful expression, fire still smothering behind deep dark irises. Her cheeks began to burn with sudden embarrassment but she flinched when his dark, icy voice said.

“What is your task, woman?”

Shivering, she again expected the earth to tremble at his voice but despite its disturbing undertones, it was a mere human voice. With infinite care, she lifted one foot and took a hesitant step outside the pattern. Ready to jump back into its middle, she watched the man anxiously as she removed her other foot from the pattern but he remained motionless. Feeling elation replacing her fear, she smiled at the demon-man.

“I will tell you your task when we get back to my hut. And you can call me Tennela, instead of woman.” Trying to appear unconcerned, she looked at his well-proportioned body. “We must first find you some clothes.” As he made no move to follow her, she snapped impatiently. “Well, come on, let’s go.” The man’s eyebrow lifted in irony and his gaze darted suggestively towards the pattern that was still spread out on the grass, before telling her in a dry voice: “I cannot as long as that is still there.” She looked at the pattern uncertainly, and then frowned in suspicion. She could not remember for certain if he told her truth. But she did know that he was supposed to obey her commands and she had commanded him to come with her. The knowing little smile that greeted her when she stole another look at the demon-man evaporated the feeling of elation and brought fear back in her heart. Hiding her concern, she quickly scattered the dust, obliterating the pattern. The demon-man’s smile deepened.

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