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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
Many chapters contain brutal violence.

The Mantis Equilibrium - Book Two - 5. Chapter 5 - Ninyani & Ilya

Frostflower in flames, and what's happening in Bluewood Village?

Ninyani stayed at his home in Frostflower, even as the body of his mother putrefied at the bottom of the basement stairs. The 14 year old boy did not know what he could possibly do. He was small, and there was nowhere else he could go.

During his days alone, he scoured every building in the village for any signs of life. He found none. Ninyani did see several of the forest’s wild crystal dragons, but only on the first two days. With no people left to keep the traps armed, there was nothing to stop the beasts from slinking through the town in search of prey.

Each year, a few children were taken by the monsters, but it always happened out in the surrounding woods. The guards of Frostflower prevented the crystal dragons from ever entering the village itself. However, they now crept down the narrow lanes and sniffed at each house; they did not find what they sought. Despite Ninyani’s confidence that he was a god, he stayed hidden from them while they were there. They did not stay long, and once they were gone, they did not return.

Ninyani spent his waking moments searching the village and eating whatever food he could scrounge or throw together. He was already a skinny boy, and the limited amount of prepared food meant there was little for him to eat. He cried often, and would fall asleep in different places, waking in terror and confusion as the reality of his predicament came crashing back to him.

On his 11th morning in the dead village, the horrors finally pushed the young boy over the edge of his misery, and Ninyani inadvertently set his village on fire. He did not mean to cause the inferno, but his sorrow was like an avalanche, and it covered all other thoughts and feelings. He did not realize that the god-powers of thermodynamics within him had ignited the pile of logs beside his home’s hearth, and in an instant, the room was ablaze.

The tests that his mother worked through with him when they experimented with his powers were far from Ninyani’s mind, and instead of stealing the heat from the flames before they could spread, the boy fled. He reached the edge of his village and watched the fire leap from one home to the next, until all of Frostflower was in flames.

The buildings burned as the winter sun slid across the sky. It slowly began to set, threatening the land with oncoming darkness, but the raging flames of Frostflower illuminated the forest with an eerie light.

Everything that Ninyani knew in the entire world was swiftly being turned to ashes before his eyes. He could not think. He could not cry. He could only watch the devastation. Smoke billowed towards the winter sky, and it looked like streaked charcoal that an artist smudged across a painting of dark clouds.

Night fell, and still, the village burned.

From the darkness above his head, Ninyani heard a voice speak. For a moment, he thought that he must have died in the fire, and Death was there to claim his soul. However, the words spoken were not how Ninynai expected Death to sound.

The voice called out, “Hey, are you okay down there?!”

Ninyani scanned the smoky skies, but he could not see who was speaking.

He was not dead, and he wondered if the voice came from inside his own head. Am I hearing things? he thought.

Boy!” the voice called, clearly coming from outside of his head, and Ninyani looked up again.

A woman was hovering in the air near the tops of the trees and looking down at him.

“What happened?” she asked above the roar of the flames. “Where is everyone else? Why are you alone?”

Ninyani started to cry and fell to his knees. He looked up through his tears, but the woman was gone. Maybe she was just a figment of his imagination. He dropped his face to his palms and sobbed.

Then a hand touched his back and the woman’s voice spoke right beside him.

“It’s going to be all right,” she said in a gentle tone.

He looked up and asked between shuddering breaths, “Who are you?”

“My name is Ilya,” she replied. “I saw the smoke. There are some missing children from Bluewood Village, and I thought they might be near the fire, but this place is much farther north than I realized. I don’t think the children could have gotten all the way up here. What is this place and what happened? Where is everyone?”

They’re all dead!” Ninyani wailed.

Ilya was not expecting that. “They can’t all be dead,” she retorted. She took Ninyani’s hand. “Come away from the fire,” she urged, and they moved a little farther into the trees. “How can everyone else be dead? Did they die in that fire?”

“No,” Ninyani replied pitifully, “they’ve been dead.”

Ilya furrowed her brow. “What do you mean, for how long? How did they die? Are you sure there’s no one else?”

Ninyani took a ragged breath. “They died when I became the new god.”

Ilya did not know what that meant. “Erm… What’s your name?” she asked.

Ninyani opened his mouth to speak, but he hesitated and took a breath. Then he replied to her.

“I am Ninyani, living god of Frostflower. The old god before me is dead, and I am the new god.”

Ilya was more confused. “You think you’re a god?” she asked him.

Ninyani looked uncertain, but he said, “I am.”

“What do you mean? Why do you think you’re a god?”

“Because I can do this.”

He reached down, picked up a twig, and it turned to ash in his fingers.

“Oh!” Ilya responded in surprise. “You’re a Shift?”

The boy gave her a blank expression.

“I’m a Shift, too,” Ilya informed him. “I can fly! You’re not a god,” she said with a smile, “you are a Shift.”

Whether out of sorrow, or fear, or exhaustion, or hunger, or despair, or offense at words that would have been described as blasphemy by the villagers of Frostflower, the boy attacked her. Ninyani grabbed Ilya’s forearm with both hands, and he poured his heat and heat-absorption into her flesh.

Hey!” she snapped. “What are you doing?”

Rage was scrawled across the boy’s face, or maybe it was terror, or woe, and he lashed out at the only living person in the vicinity of his burning village. However, instead of ruining Ilya’s flesh and turning her arm to a cinder, like his powers did to the old god’s head, Ilya wrenched her forearm out of Ninyani’s little hands and she was unharmed.

She put her palms up, facing him in a gesture of surrender, and said, “I’m not going to hurt you. You don’t need to be afraid of me. In fact, I think you should come with me.” She waved towards the flames. “You can’t stay here, and now that I know the lost children from Bluewood aren’t there, I think we should head back. Come with me,” she urged.

The boy looked at his burning village and fresh tears sprang to his eyes. “I’m sorry!” he wailed to her, and Ninyani wrapped his arms around her.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Ilya comforted. She spoke in a kind voice. “I don’t know how you were raised here, but you shouldn’t use your powers to attack people. You’re a Shift. Don’t use your powers against others.”

Ninyani wiped his eyes with his sleeves and repeated himself. “I’m sorry.” He blinked hard. Then he looked up at Ilya with an expression of wonder and asked her, “You… you can really fly?”

“You just saw me flying,” she reminded him with a smile. “Here, wrap yourself in my jacket.” She removed her outer garment, and the boy stuck his skinny arms into sleeves that were much too big for him. Ilya buttoned the coat and pulled up its hood. “It gets cold,” she warned him.

“But won’t you be cold?” Ninyani asked.

“Temperatures don’t affect me,” Ilya informed him. She squatted down. “Now, wrap your arms around my neck and hold on tight.”

Ilya stood, and the two of them lifted off the ground. She needed to soar high into the sky above the forested mountains in order to see the lights of Teshon City in the distance. As she approached, she knew that she would eventually be able to see Bluewood Village, but the city was her target.

She flew through the dark winter sky with the boy in her arms. The wind whipped around them and the leagues passed below, and as Teshon City approached, the flickering of lights in the forest alerted Ilya to the location of Bluewood Village. She circled it once and opted to land on the Pinewood Path just outside of town. Ilya and Ninyani’s feet touched down, and they approached.

When the watchmen saw them round the bend in the trail, he waved and called out his greeting.

“I’m Dozi’s friend,” Ilya informed him. “I was out trying to help find the lost children, and I found this boy who is not from Bluewood, but he was alone.

“Oh no, did you get lost,” the man asked Ninyani. “Are you hungry?” and the boy nodded to him.

“I’m going to bring him to the tavern for food,” Ilya said to the guard. “One of our group is a healer. I want him to look the boy over.”

“That’s a good plan. Do you need me to guide you to the inn?”

“Thank you,” Ilya replied, “that would be very kind of you.”

They followed the watchman and arrived only a few minutes later. He left them at the front door to the pub and resumed his duties.

“Come on,” Ilya said, “let’s take you to the room so you can meet everyone, and we can get you some food.”

She climbed the stairs with Ninyani and knocked on the door to the private suite.

“It’s me,” Ilya called out.

Tchama opened the door.

“Hey, everyone,” Ilya said, as she and the boy entered. They closed the door behind them. “I didn’t find any of the lost children from the Bluewood, but the smoke that I saw was coming from a separate village very far to the north.” She looked at Dozi. “It was way up north over an enormous mountain range, much further away than I first thought. I can sort of understand why your people don’t know about it.” Ilya turned back to the others. “The entire village was on fire. Every building was burning, and this boy was the only person there. I’m sorry,” Ilya added, turning to him, “please, remind me of your name again.”

“Ninyani,” he said in a quiet voice.

Ilya turned to the mystic’s husband. “Theolan, can you please run down and order Ninyani some food?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” he replied with a smile.

Lahari’s voice called out from the second room, “Ilya, I can’t hear you! Sorry, do you mind saying it all again? What happened with the smoke?” and she stepped into view.

Monster!” Ninyani shrieked, and he pointed at her with his eyes bulging and a look of sheer horror on his face.

“Whoa, whoa!” Ilya responded, stepping between Ninyani and Lahari. “I’m so sorry,” she said over her shoulder to the unique Biological Shift woman. “Do you mind waiting in the other room for a few minutes while I explain things?”

Lahari bristled and gritted her teeth, but Tchama took her by the hand.

“Please,” Ilya begged, “I’m so sorry, Lahari. I don’t think he’s familiar with Bio-Shifts.”

The spines all over Lahari’s body flexed a little, as she allowed Tchama and Dozi to lead her into the other room.

“Ninyani,” Ilya said gently to the boy, “that’s Lahari. She is a Shift, like you and me, but unlike us, her body changed. She’s not a monster. She’s our friend.”

Ilya turned to the mystic. “Will you look over Ninyani?” she asked. “I want to make sure he’s not hurt.” She then said to the boy, “Let him check you out. He is a healer and will know if anything is wrong.”

She entered the second room and closed the adjoining door. Tchama and Dozi were flanking Lahari.

“I think he’s kind of like Agrell,” Ilya stated, hoping the memory of their lost friend would help soften Dozi and Lahari to the plight of the boy. “From the tiny amount I’ve gathered, it seems like the people of that village actually thought Shifts were some sort of gods. He told me he was made to kill the old god, who I think was just some poor old Shift man. He said that because of going through that, he was the new god.” Ilya paused before continuing. “But the entire village was on fire. There were no people anywhere. I don’t know what happened, but he was not interested in staying.”

“I don’t fucking trust him,” Dozi replied, and she crossed her arms over her chest. “Maybe he burned the village to the ground. If he’s a Shift, maybe he killed everyone and started the fire.”

Ilya shrugged. “He did attack me when I first landed, but I think he was just scared. He didn’t seem to actually want to hurt me. Whatever he’s been through must’ve been terrible.”

Dozi frowned at Ilya, but then Tchama commented to her, “We’re a pack of strays.”

Dozi turned and snarled at hearing words that she spoke often, now being repeated and used against her.

Tchama added, “He should be one of us, and besides, you took me in.” She smiled sheepishly at Dozi and Ilya.

“Ugh!” Dozi grunted, rolling her eyes at the three of them. “Fine!” She threw her hands up. “We’ll give him a test run,” she conceded. Dozi sounded annoyed. “You both really bring out the best in me,” she said in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

Dozi then turned to Lahari. “I suspect the boy will alter the plans for our vacation, and this little old rural village is not as accepting as the city, but at least we are aware of the existence of Shifts.” Dozi looked towards the door that led to the other room and the boy who fancied himself a young god. She continued to Lahari, “During the height of the day, the rest of us should still do our sightseeing outside of town, even if your father opts to stay here with the boy.” Dozi turned back to Ilya. “I suspect that you’re right. I would not be surprised if there are strong similarities between he and Agrell.”

Theolan came through the door and joined his stepdaughter and the three other women in the adjoining room. “Ninyani appears to be uninjured,” he informed them. “Food is on its way for him, and I think your dad is going to try and see what information he can gather,” he added to Lahari.

“We should give them some privacy,” Ilya recommended, “and spend our evening in here.”

“That’s a good idea,” Theolan replied.

Lahari stepped up and wrapped her arm around him. “I’m happy just staying in,” she said, “but why don’t you four go down and see if there’s any entertainment in the tavern.”

Dozi looked doubtful.

Lahari leaned her head on her stepfather’s shoulder. “Maybe you’d bring me something,” she asked in her most cutesy voice. “I’d love an ale!”

He smiled at her. “Of course, I’ll bring one up to you,” he replied, and he and the others left Lahari alone in the room.

Like she did at the seaside tavern in Brokenpointe one year earlier, Lahari doused the lights and positioned a chair by the window. She looked out at the dark trees and the star-speckled night sky with her bright yellow eyes.

Maybe I am a monster, Lahari thought to herself, and she chuckled.

A moment later, the door creaked open and her stepfather entered. “Here you are, my dear,” Theolan said, handing her the beer. It was dark. “The barkeep says this is the town’s speciality, and it’s only available during the winter. Said it was a lucknut porter. I ordered one for myself, too,” he added with a smile. “I hope you enjoy it and hope they bring us both luck!”

“Well, you better get back down there, before someone else drinks it,” Lahari replied with a grin. She took a sip. “Ooh, it’s good!”

Theolan kissed Lahari on her spiny cheek, left her in the dark with her drink, and returned downstairs.

The mood in the pub was somber. Those villagers who spent the day searching for the snatched children were exhausted and downtrodden. Almost no one spoke, and the clinking of cutlery was the soundtrack in the background.

Ilya was the only one in their group who ordered food, since the others ate upstairs in the room. The four sat quietly, enjoying their beverages and waiting for the meal to arrive. Soon it did, and Ilya tucked in; they ordered another round of drinks.

When the group was almost finished, one of the Bluewood Village watchmen burst into the tavern. Blood was smeared across his torso.

“What happened?” called the barkeep.

The man’s face was ashen, and he said in a frightened voice, “In the woods, I found half…” he paused before continuing, and he swallowed hard, “half of one of the children.”

Copyright © 2023 Adam Andrews Johnson; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you for sticking with my crazy story!
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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It seems the story Ninyani's mother told him about her friend's daughter didn't sink in or he's still in shock. Good thing Ilya has thermal immunity or she'd be dead.

Dozi may be close to her wish of becoming more than human since Ninyani has the old man's mantis gland.

Time for a seek and destroy mission against these creatures taking children.

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Illya is a good soul. She rescued Ninyani from his destroyed village and took him to see her group and to joining them. He dies not know he is a bio-shift.

Dozi resists Ninyani joining, and he is scared of Lahari. He has never seen a strange shift and thinks she is a monster. All will need to learn to get along.

Illya want them to be friends.

A watch man comes into the tavern and reports he has found one-half of a child. A search party will likely follow him. Will one or more of the shifts be involved in killing the kidnappers and have to reveal their identities?



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2 minutes ago, scrubber6620 said:

He dies not know he is a bio-shift.

He's not, since that involves changes to the physical body.

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3 hours ago, drpaladin said:

He's not, since that involves changes to the physical body.

Right, he's not actually a Bio-Shift, but he's gone through such trauma that he was certainly not thinking clearly when he met Ilya and then arrived at the village with everyone else.

And thank you all for reading ❤️

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Well, a new member for the group, and like Agrell, Ninyani does not understand his place in the world yet.  A child torn asunder will make the village fear anything or anyone that is different; but perhaps if the group fights to save them, we will just have to see.

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