Adane barely escaped war in his homeland. He wanted nothing more than to hide in this new city with his adopted child Chisa by his side. But every choice he makes risks their quiet lives and every day brings the war that Adane fled closer to their doorstep. Soon Adane will have to choose between running away again or taking a stand against an enemy that can’t be seen and cannot be fought.
Transplant of War
by Meyari McFarland
Copper tainted Adane’s tongue as he licked his split lip. The wood of the door flaked away under his fingers. Something large and heavy scuttled away from the slow drag of the door across the uneven stones that marked an ancient pathway into the garden at the center of the house. Heavy green ferns covered the ground. Moss as thick and soft as a one hundred year carpet spread between the worn stones of the path.
It was an old style house, older than Adane had expected. Instead of an outer ring of building that opened into a central courtyard, the house loomed like a moss and vine-covered shadow to the left. Something that might be an outdoor kitchen lurked directly opposite the door behind shrubs that had grown into trees during their decades of neglect. And to the right Adane could just make out what he thought might be a wash house and toilet. Maybe.
“Got lots of work to do,” the Shiraida hunter snorted.
“Lots,” Adane agreed, much more tense. “Do the summoning spell, please.”
“Not gonna get Shiraida in a place like that,” the hunter sighed and spat towards Adane’s feet as if to drive him away for his stupidity. “Don’t like that much greenery.”
“Please,” Adane said. He deliberately didn’t respond to the insult. There was no benefit to that. “Get paid either way.”
The hunter snorted, spat towards Sand who glowered at the man but didn’t clench their fists as Adane expected. Instead Sand bit their lip, swallowing so hard that Adane could hear the swallow from yards away. Adane waved Sand to come over to his side so that he could protect the child. He was alive because of Sand. It was only appropriate, no matter what the others around them might think of him for protecting a homeless, filthy child with no name.
To his surprise Sand actually did it, leaning into Adane’s side while shivering as if afraid of him. As soon as Sand leaned against Adane the official grumbled at them, clearing his throat ostentatiously enough that Adane glared at him.
“Hush,” Adane hissed. “Shiraida don’t like noise.”
He got flat stares coupled with an impressively derisive smirk from the old Shiraida hunter. Adane shook his head at them. Setting his hand on Sand’s shoulder got another loud throat clearing but at least Sand stopped shivering quite so bad. Fortunately the Shiraida hunter just shrugged and began the summoning spell.
The spell was a soft one, quiet and gentle. Adane closed his eyes and let the magic of it wash over his senses. It smelled so old, older than the building, the city, perhaps the desert itself. Rudrai was one of the oldest countries in the whole world and its magic always felt of that age. There was a weight to each syllable and gesture that the Shiraida hunter made. Adane could have sworn he heard thousands of other Shiraida hunters chanting the spell like a ghostly chorus lurking around them.
Iron screeched against cobblestones. Adane opened his eyes and smiled as a fat old female with masses of glimmering eggs adhered to her back waddled out of the ferns towards the cage. Another followed, just as heavy with eggs. Then a male as large as Adane’s chest ambled genially into sight, snapping its claws as if it heard the chant and thought it a pleasant music.
“Holy Mother,” the Shiraida hunter whispered. He tapped his first two fingers against his forehead, lips and heart, shuddering as even more Shiraida appeared out of the greenery.
Adane smiled. He watched the hunter whisper prayers to the Goddess as Shiraida after Shiraida ambled into his cage. In less than a minute the cage was full of mature adults that would bring a huge price on the market. The eggs might be an issue but that wasn’t Adane’s problem.
“Twenty,” the hunter whispered as he closed dropped the gate on the cage and shut off his summoning spell. “Twenty adults. Twenty breeding adults!”
“Got more cages?” Adane asked. “That’s just some. Gotta be young ones lurking. More adults. Larva. Been what?”
He looked over his shoulder at the former owner of the house. The man was so pale that he looked as though he’d been gutted and was barely holding his guts in place. The question apparently didn’t sink in because the man only stared at Adane with his mouth slowly working. His son or whoever it was looked equally horrified, face gone pale as ash, eyes locked on the quietly snapping Shiraida and their powerful tails with the magically enhanced venom stinger.
“How long?” Adane repeated. “The curse. How long?”
“One hundred fifty-seven years,” the former owner said, his throat choking the words into something painful to hear.
Adane turned back to the hunters, shrugging casually despite the keen interest of the official in the size and health of the captured Shiraida. “Breeding ground for hundred fifty years. Gotta be lots of them. Maybe something to set up somewhere else. Keep the females, give them a male or two, let them just… live. Like this. Every year or so, go harvest the big ones. Get a good price, yes?”
All three hunters stared at him. After a moment they looked at each other, looked at the cage, and then their teeth gleamed as they grinned like spelled giant wolves set loose to hunt running prey. It took another three hours before every single Shiraida adult, adolescent, larva and egg mass was removed from the property. The official stayed the entire time though the crowd dissipated within minutes of the second cage filling up. He pulled out a little tally sheet and counted. By the end he was smiling nearly as much as the hunters.
“Quite the sum,” the official said.
“Mmm, suppose so,” Adane said. “Being paid by the cage, you know.”
The official’s head snapped up. “What?”
“They sell by individual,” Adane explained patiently, mildly, with a sweet smile that felt stiff on his face. “Hunters pay home owners by the cage. One cage, one price, whether there’s one Shiraida or a hundred. So. Get paid for ten cages. You tax by Shiraida, yeah?”
The hunters glared at him but Adane sure as the Hunter God threw his spear wasn’t going to pay their tax. Little Sand leaned against his side again, clinging to the hem of Adane’s shirt with eyes as wide as the full moon in the night sky.
“Yes,” the official said much less mildly. His scowl was a thing of doom, like a thunderstorm sweeping out of the mountains mid-Spring with sleet and death in tow. “We do.”
“So. Twelve cages for me to pay on,” Adane said with a shrug. “Don’t know how many Shiraida for them to pay on. Truth be told, should pass the tax onto the gourmet. Free range Shiraida? Gotta be better than slum Shiraida. Better flesh. More of it, for sure. Should make them pay the tax and pay by pound. Just opinion there. Don’t have to sell or tax that way.”
That lowered the glares from the hunters and brought back their toothy grins. It got a similarly toothy grin from the official who nodded slowly and then cackled as if he loved the idea of charging the rich and powerful ever more tax for their luxuries. Adane’s tax turned out to be half the price of one cage, leaving him with eleven rudrii, five sanrii. He sighed with relief as the hunters and officials slowly moved away, already bargaining about how they’d handle the taxes and how to count the egg masses on the females’ backs.
Adane waited until they were gone, the rudrii and sanrii weighing heavy in his hand. So much money and yet it was only a drop in the bucket compared to what he would need for the future. The house would need so many repairs. The garden needed desperate amounts of attention. And Adane had no idea when his family would show up. If they would. He hoped they would. Someday.
“Half?” Sand whispered.
“Huh?” Adane asked, blinking down at Sand’s draw, pale face. “Oh. Yeah. Um. You don’t got family. I… lost my family. Want to, well, team up? Make our own family?”
Sand stared at him, body so still and stiff that they almost looked like they’d been petrified, turned to flesh-colored stone. Their expression was too blank for Adane to make any meaning out of. The eyes said fear. The mouth said anger. The little hand clinging to Adane’s shirt hem screamed need. Adane looked away, fighting the prickle of tears in his eyes at the thought of his brother and the little niece he might never see again.
“Refugee,” Adane murmured. “Me. My whole family. I… lost them. Got separated. Don’t know when I’ll see them again. If. And. Well. You got no family. I got no family. Why not… make our own family? Can be Chisa na Adane, child of the Shiraida House.”
Sand squeaked, life suddenly coming back to its face. They looked over their shoulder at the open door and the overgrown garden, abruptly dissolving into giggles that made Adane’s shoulders relax, too. Adane laughed, gently rubbing Sand’s shoulders. His legs shook hard enough that Sand’s sudden hug knocked Adane to the uneven cobblestones.
“Yeah,” Sand whispered as they giggled into Adane’s shoulder. “Like that. Chisa na Adane. Small child of Adane. Yours? Forever?”
“Forever,” Adane agreed. “No more alone. Just lots and lots of work.”
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