The tent of the High Shaman was the largest of the entire village; its dark, tanned hide contrasting against the almost white sand of its back drop. As though being adorned with skulls and runes wasn’t foreboding enough, to reach it visitors had to climb the winding, wooden steps above the Bone Pit to reach its beaded doors. It was a mysterious place. Many villagers only visited the High Shaman a few times in their entire lives. They would find themselves there during bouts of terrible, incurable sickness or when something strange was dug up from the Pits below, but the one time that every villager visited, was as a right of passage when they turned twelve.
Tahli, along with the other four twelve year olds, found herself inside the High Shamans tent. It was darker than any place she had been in her few years and the only light source came from a bone brazier in the centre of the tent. If the outside was designed to look as ominous as possible, then there wasn’t a word for the decor inside the hide walls. everything was designed to unnerve and menace. Puppets, chimes, and incense holders, hung down from the rafters like spiders dangling before trapped flies and Tahli found herself instinctively stepping backwards till she pressed against the other children. With a loud bang, the brazier in the middle burst into a multitude of colours, scattering long, wiry shadows across the walls and suddenly the High Shaman stood before them. When the flames subsided, he was hard to see. His already dark skin was dyed during his initiation, rendering him camouflaged in the tents almost lightless room. He still stood out, however, as his face was painted to resembled a glowing white skull, and over bones and symbols traced his body and limbs. He stepped forward, the children stepped back, then his face contorted into a wicked grin.
It was only moments before the children were surprised yet again. From his pouches, the High Shaman produced five carved, bone runes and he held them in an open palm over the brazier, for all to see. The flames licked his hand, spreading light across the runes’ smooth edges. They were intricately detailed, with elaborate symbols inscribed into each one. They were made from bones from the Pits, of that Tahli knew for certain, but what the inscriptions meant she couldn’t even begin to guess. As the children gathered closer, each interested to the meaning of the High Shaman’s gesture, he quickly clenched his fist and cast the runes into the air. The children jumped back in shock once again, and watched as the runes spun and twirled on their journey upwards. Tahli watched in captivation. Something about the way these carved bones moved, the way they danced with each other in the air, pulled at her curiosity. She found she couldn’t look away and, just for second, she could have sworn they moved in slow motion; defying the will of Gods and gravity. Whether or not they had hung in the air, and whether of not the other children had witnessed what she had, the runes still fell to the ground again as expected. In one instantaneous movement the High Shaman snatched them from the air before they hit the brazier and turned his back on the children, disappearing into the darkness.
When he turned back around, his grin had faded and his painted face was stern.
“Girl. Step Forward” he commanded, his voice carrying a weight no child, nor adult, was familiar with. Looking around, Tahli was the only girl who was there; she nervously stepped forward as the boys stepped back.
“These Are Yours Now” said the Grand Shaman, thrusting the runes into Tahli’s hands. She stared down them in disbelief. The runes were surprisingly heavy, despite being so small, and they were incredibly cold, even when pressed in her hands. Tahli was suddenly aware that these carved bones were not just for show, as many naysayers believed; in her hands she carried great power where there had been none before.
“Now Out!” He commanded, turning his back and disappearing into the tent once again. The bewildered children stood staring at one and other in disbelief. Some actually seemed afraid of Tahli, but she didn’t notice; she was too busy trying to make sense of the markings in the dim light.
“I Said Out!” The voice echoed all around them and the brazier flicked its flames up into the sky. It was the last warning they needed. The children ran as fast as they could, their motions causing chimes and beads to sing and rattle, and as they left the brazier went out.
This is entry #16 for the WordHigh July Challenge of 30 Beautiful Filipino Words! I know it might sound far-fetched, but this is actually part of a story I have planned… Only it’s a sequel for the novel I’m currently working on… So if you like this, more is actually coming! I just need to finish its predecessor first!