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Changelings - first chapter
Skydancer | Published 1109 days ago

Spring Equinox, near the end of the Older Dryas, ca. 14000 BCE

The Shaman - he needed no other name, and there were very few who even knew what it had been - sat staring out into the night, his hand caressing the oversized wolf at his side. Soon, my friend, soon. Things will turn again, I can feel it in the air and water. The stones sing of it, slowly and slowly as they do. The wolf perked up her ears, an inquiring whine in her throat. Well, no more than another century. But the Ice will come again, and the true magic with it. The wolf rumbled a bit, as if complaining, and curled up to nap.

His apprentice looked up from where she was working. True magic, honored one?

He shook his head. Nothing you need concern yourself with, Snowflower. Just the maunderings of an old man.

The apprentice went back to her work. The Shaman had been the leader of the tribal wizards and healers since before her grandmothers were born, and the wolf had always been with him. She knew that, and yet he looked little older than a twenty-winter, until you looked into his eyes. She knew better than to question him.

Ides of March, 44 BCE

Marcus Lupus shook his head at the news his daughter had brought from the Forum. Mere daggers killed Gaius Julius? You are sure of this?

His daughter nodded. Assassins, but they were armed with ordinary daggers. I sensed no charms, certainly nothing that should have been able to overcome the amulet you gave him.

Marcus sighed. I was afraid of this. The Gods are slowly withdrawing the power of magic from the world, for what reason I do not know. My great-grandfather was one of the wolf-men. My grandfather showed that heritage, but was mostly human in appearance. All that remains now is our family name. It has been longer than your lifetime since anyone has seen a mermaid or a centaur, Sylvia. And now even the spells are failing. The writings in the books fade to mere ink. There are tales, whispered from master to apprentice, that this has happened before, and that the magic returns - but that will not happen in our lifetimes.

The young woman shook her head in denial. Then what am I to do? I have been your apprentice all my life, Father. What can I do without my birthright?

You will do what you can for as long as the magic lives, and pass on the secrets and the books to your children against the day when the Gods will smile on us again. But... if magic is failing, simple building is not. Rufus Septimus has asked for your hand, my daughter. I think you should accept his offer.

She sniffed. That one? Hes sweet, but there is no magic in his soul.

Marcus chuckled. Perhaps there is more there than you know. He is clever in his own way, and makes new types of waterworks rather than merely copying what his teachers do. He will go far in life. And soon, I fear, there will be no magic anywhere. You could do much worse...

New Years Day (Lunar Calendar), Year of the Wood Rat, 49th Cycle (184 CE, western calendar)

Every sixty years, during the Festival of Jiazi, the Great Dragon appeared to renew the Mandate of Heaven and approve the ruling dynasty - or, as sometimes happened, he would appear somewhere other than the capital and approve a new dynasty. As this year progressed, the news spread that he had not appeared anywhere within the realm of the Han. Whispers spread rumors that the Emperor was too corrupt, or that the palace eunuchs were too corrupt, or that the nobility was too corrupt, or a combination of the three...

Near the end of the year, in the province of Sichuan, a hermit wandered down from the high mountains of the Tibetan frontier and presented himself to the guardians of the Temple of the Dragon. He was granted an audience with the high priest, and subsequently was admitted to the ranks of the senior instructors, where he distinguished himself in both his wisdom and his martial skills.

The Han Empire collapsed into warring factions within five years.

The former hermit was still teaching at the Temple sixty years later, when the festival of Jiazi celebrated the fiftieth cycle of the years. And by the fifty-first, he had been the high priest for half a century.

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