Hope things are going adequate. Or well. Or great. Or spectacular. Whichever you feel is fitting for your current situation.
I have been breaking major ground with the first draft of the Story of Hajra. Some days I have been able to write over a thousand words without becoming burnt out.
I have begun to write pivotal scenes that I have previously glossed over in my head. It’s been a little rough. Soon I will finish the story, and emotionally prepare myself for critiques. It will be difficult for me to take feedback, and it shouldn’t be.
Positive feedback, no matter how simple, will help me in this step. I need to feel confident and driven. If I continue to feel this way, I won’t leave anything out. If I don’t leave anything out, than I won’t have nearly as much work to do during the drafting phase.
Thank you guys for reading! It means much to me that I have people from all over the world looking at my organized words and sentences.
If any of you want to talk about stories, send me a message. Even if we have to translate everything…ESPECIALLY if we have to translate everything. firstname.lastname@example.org
-Scott “Potato” Brown
Chapter 2: Reintegration
“You can keep your first name. But not Neimev, that name you never speak to anyone,” Mamun said.
She threw Hajra’s high collared blouses and shirts into the bag on the bed. Frantically she went, mumbling to herself.
Hajra sat in a chair near the window, watching her mother go mad.
“I do not want to go. My family needs me. You need me,” Hajra said.
Mamun stopped, huffed and turned, “Your mark is low enough to be hidden. Our family is strugling. You show too much promise to let it be wasted. Just remember, do not question the way of things. The trouble it causes is not worth the cleansed soul.”
“But you were scared! You are still scared. No one listened. They burned you, and me, and everyone else,” Hajra pleaded.
“I don’t care anymore. I am cursed on two ways: Death wakes me when I try and sleep, and my countrymen throw feces at me in the market. This is your chance to separate from that, Hajra! Do you understand! Do not deny me the chance to save one of my children!”
Hajra’s eyes welled up. She might never see her family again. Her mother’s voice had grown weary, gravelly, and devoid of joy over the last six years. The lack of sleep had made her older beyond her years, and her mind was unravelling.
Mamun had become erratic, compulsive, irritable, and worst of all; quiet.
“You need me here,” the lie pained her.
“No. We need you out there, child,” Mamun said, pushing clothes tightly into the luggage.
“How can we trust this soldier?” Hajra asked.
Mamun dropped clothes on the bed, and went to her youngest. She placed her hands on the girl’s cheeks.
“We don’t,” Mamun said softly, “But I cannot let this opportunity fall off. It’s too important. You must trust me, Hajra. This is what is best for you, and us.”
“I don’t want to go,” Hajra stuttered.
“I know. I know,” Mamun took a step back, and took a deep breath.
She began to sing, and the tones and melodies lifted Hajra’s spirits. Years had passed since the last time her mother’s singing had brought this much emotion. Hajra smiled through her tears, laughing at the insanity of the situation.
“I am becoming a different person,” she laughed.
Mamun reacted while singing. A pleasant smile.
Mamun’s singing ceased, the two of them looked at each other.
Hajra took a breath, stood and closed her luggage with arched brows. The two embraced, and it broke Hajra’s determination for a moment. They headed into the hallway.
Her brothers and sisters peered from the doorways, and each one stuck a hand out to touch their younger sister as she passed.
“Good luck, Hajra,” Kilde said.
“Make us proud,” said Beliv.
Abidya and Liruz hid next to each other, reaching a hand out but refusing to speak. Their sadness could not overwhelm their jealousy.
Charyk went to the door to greet the soldier.
Through a complex means of communication this man had agreed to plant Hajra into the ranks of the Sirens. Vague stories floated about this man. He was after redemption, he was a horrible person, he was a kind person, he was a deceiver.
The door opened to reveal a familiar face: Dima.
It was one of the soldiers that had come to brand the Neimev house. His face was older, lines like spiderwebs ran from the corners of his eyes. Grey lines were dispersed in his hair.
“This one!” Beliv screamed from the doorway.
He left his room, and stomped down the hallway towards the man.
Dima did not pull back, but his whole body seemed to tire from witnessing the show of anger. He was exhausted, perhaps not from the long walk to the Neimev house, but life in general.
Mamun grabbed at Beliv’s hair. He was stopped in the hallway, and yanked to the floor.
Beliv yelled from the floor, “Argh! He is the one who branded me! I feel the mark every day! He should be killed! He should be beaten! Something! Something has to happen to him!”
“He is risking his own life by coming here! How is that not the first question you ask?” Mamun scolded her son.
Beliv’s anger weakened. His face grew white with embarassment.
“He seeks redemption. Do you not, Dima?” Mamun gestured towards the open doorway.
“I do,” Dima said.
“And you are going to take Hajra to become a siren?” Mamun said, it was not a question.
“That is right,” Dima said.
“Still, we cannot trust him!” Beliv shouted.
Mamun twisted her grip on her son’s hair. He grasped at her wrists, but she twisted more and he became still.
“I apologize for my son’s behavior,” Charyk said, eyeing the young man.
“I understand his rage. I remember the night. It haunts me. I remember saying I was sorry. It was not enough. I knew it then, but I did not know what to do,” he bowed his head slightly, looking down at the floor, “I am here to redeem myself.”
“If you do not do as you say…” Kilde started.
“Kilde!” Charyk tried to inturrupt.
“…I will find your life-rhythm with a sharp stick,” Kilde said with a cold stare.
“You have my word as a discordant soul seeking a meaningful melody,” Dima told the house, placing a hand over his heart.
“What is your position?” Said the inquisitor.
the seal of the royal face of death rested at the bottom of her neck. A simple design of black with two white circles in the center. any siren would know the face of death.
Here she was, in official capacity, to claim her talent in front of these other women.
The rejected group all eyed her with eager validation. They wanted to see her fail, to know that a young one knew nothing.
“I will be a siren,” Hajra said. Her voice spat in their faces. She revelled in it.
“Then you must demonstrate,” the inquisitor said without looking.
Her hair was short. Too short to be a choice. The inquisitors spent a lot of time around eager cadets claiming to have exceptional singing ability. They would send the dead into a frenzy after they gave into death during thier application. Sometimes the dead would get to the inquisitor, and they grabbed at anything. This one had cut her hair after getting attacked. Hajra was sure of this.
This meant she was particularly jaded. She would be a harsh judge.
“When do I begin?” Hajra stalled.
“Now,” she stared at her, waiting.
Hajra took another look at the rejected, gaining confidence. She took a deep breath and began humming. A deep gutteral sound, rattling in her voice box. It produced a reaction in the inquisitor’s face, and it hushed the potentials.
“Rage,” the inquisitor smiled.
Hajra focused her energy at the woman, easily hating the judgemental beurocrat. Her tones shifted, and she sang in stuttered forceful breaths. It grew louder, and the small group of women began jostling against one another.
the inquisitor raised her hand to signal “more”.
A single scream, wavering with trills escaped Hajra’s body. A sound came from the rejected, and when she turned, it was evident that one of the younger girls had punched another.
The inquisitor signalled to stop, and Hajra cut herself off. The girl in the crowd received everyone’s gaze, she looked confused.
“You will go to the western front, Hajra,” The inquisitor said, carving a triangle into a solid gold square, “Keep this with you. It is your designation. Show it to the officer when you arrive.”
“Next!” she shouted.
Hajra exited quickly, smirking a bit at the surprise and jealousy on all the women’s faces.
The wagon wheels chipped and chopped over the stones as they went. Hajra watched the road disappear to the horizon from the back. she rubbed her hands together. The calluses she had accrued were nearly faded now. They had peeled off in a matter of days. The military was rough with new recruits, but when it came to Sirens they were rushed.
There was always a need for more.
Alchemists moved the bodies, and prepared them. There was little risk in the work. They rarely needed to be replaced. It was hard work, and when she saw muscled men and women, Hajra knew they were Alchemists.
The sirens were treated with hurried respect. They were weeded out quickly and efficiently. Because of the risk the sirens would be confident and young. Because of their youth, they would be inexperienced. Because of their inexperience, they would give in to death, and die.
A veteran siren was hard to find.
They were paid well, embodied duty, honor, and respect. sirens were also the most in touch with death, and could claim to be holy.
Hajra knew the price though. No rest, insanity, a short life.
The other sirens at her back chatted away about their plans. They would spend their money this way and that. The way they spoke, it was apparent that none of them had any idea what happened after their first awakening. That, or they were so enamored with their validated talent that they chose to ignore the repercussions of being face to face with the God of Death. These were first generation sirens.
Hajra’s feet dangled over the back of the wagon, kicking softly at the air. Her new shoes were comfortable. She ecould see why people give up on everything they care about to be part of the military. In the winter, she had worn moccosins. The winter chores she did outside would hurt her back. The frozen ground was unforgiving on the soles of her feet. She would sit, after a long day of activity and let her feet swell inside her shoe. It was an unfomfortable feeling, and one she only did after Mamun would announce the end of chores for the day.
Today her feet relaxed. There was no weight on them. The shoes she wore had thick soles to hide the ground from her senses. But back home her family would be toiling away at their chores right now. Their workload was even more severe since she was not there to help. Mamun would be staring off into nothing, and Kilde would have to snap her back to reality every so often. Abidya and Liruz would argue about anything. Biruz would boil with rage at the mention of life.
Guilt churned in her belly. A nauseating wave. How long would she have to be away? One month? Two? Years? This was not disscussed.
She missed them. Mamun and Kilde especially. Her absense was surely creating more stress, and more blisters.
Hajra dug her palms into her eyesockets, trying to compose herself.
“What is wrong?” a voice came from just behind her.
When Hajra turned, red-eyed and exasperated, she saw a girl a little older than her. This one’s hair was braided. A single, tight, imaculate maze of golden hair went along the top of her head. It was a hair style of the honorbound. The girl’s clothes were military, as they were all dressed. She wore it with grace and dignity. Like a dream, she existed above the troubles that plagued Hajra. How could she understand?
“I miss my family,” Hajra said.
It surprised her, to open up even this much to someone that she felt contempt for.
“We all do, but we must become a family. All of us, Sirens,” her voice was soft and comforting.
It infuriated Hajra further.
“I am Siveny, what is your name?” she cooed.
“I am Hajra,” she smiled as disengeniune as she could.
“Join us! What will you do with your new wealth?” Siveny gestured towards the others.
“I will hire a southern assassin,” Hajra began, smiling.
“To kill an ex-lover?” one of them shouted.
“To eliminate an opposing house?” another chimed in.
Hajra elevated her voice above the rabble.
“To kill that question from all new Siren’s minds!” she yelled at them.
The wagon went quiet. Most of the girl’s faces turned sour, rocking gently with the uneven ground that the wheels passed over. The ones who were not upset, were confused, but all of them remained locked onto her.
Hajra turned away from them, back to the road. Her life-rhythm beat stronger and faster. She steeled herself from the backlash. Her eyes closed, and she grew embarassed. If she would be here for years, this would not make things easier.
Do not think so much with the life-rhythm, think with the melodies of the mind, she told herself.
“Why do you have so much anger?” siveny asked.
Hajra turned to find that she was still next to her, and her face was not like the others.
“She is afraid! Leave her to her disord,” one of the girls called out.
“Are you not?” Siveny responded.
Her call was met with silence. Siveny sat next to Hajra, with her feet dangling over the edge.
The two girls sat in silence for a while. Hajra refused to give her a glance. For someone who was honorbound, she was behaving like an Alchemist’s daughter, but without the unrelenting jealousy. Was this someone she should know?
“My parents are dead,” Siveny said.
The words hung in the air. Hajra was unsure what to do with this. She glanced over at the girl. Siveny’s head hung down, with her feet kicking at the air under the wagon. She did not turn to see a reaction.
“I do not understand. Why are you singin me this melody?” Hajra forced out.
“I don’t know,” Siveny grimaced, then whispered, “They left me much wealth and honor. But I do not know what to do with it. My family seeks to divide amongst themselves. It is a disgusting sight. I feel pity for them.”
“So you are without a family?” Hajra asked.
Siveny looked back slightly, “Yes. I do not wish to return to my home.”
“Than we are very different,” Hajra said, shaking her head.
“What will happen?”
“What do you mean?” Hajra became immediately uncomfortable.
“Your mother was a Siren?”
“Oh. You seek protection. You can join the others in the back now. I have no interest in helping you,” Hajra signalled with a tilt of her head.
“I heard about your audition,” siveny continued, “Everyone talks of it. You are very talented.”
“Leave me alone,” Hajra turned from her.
“Hajra…” siveny started.
With the mention of her name, her rage had grown uncontrollable. The traitor’s mark was all she could see. Years of oppression that she could not discuss. This girl, who would refuse to speak with her if she knew the full extent of her family history. This girl, who enjoyed a life of luxury and priviledge. This girl, who decicided that they are friendly enough to use each other’s names.
Hajra growled, putting all her grating, discord, throaty, glaring, hatred into it.
Siveny felt it. The girl got up quickly and joined the others in the back. She did not speak, nor turn to see Hajra’s face. The rabble died down for only a moment before the Sirens began again with their mindless ramblings.
Hajra felt much older than these girls, despite being the youngest. In her family she felt the youngest, where everyone talked to her like a child. Kilde would be laughing when she told her about this.
“They sing you their best? Ha! They do no know you yet. Once a little sister, always a little sister,” she would say.
Hajra smiled, and with the realization that her spirits were brightened for a bit since leaving home, she reacted. Her smiled turned. she forced herself to adopt a somber and depressing posture. Her face dropped along with her shoulders.
She thought it was a betrayal, to be happy away from home. Her guilt swept back up, as she pictured her family working to survive the next harsh winter. Every venture into town was an excercise in restraint, as the locals would berate them.
They did not know what the mark was for, and they did not care. They threw their rotten food and dung not out of malice, but out of ignorance and HERD MENTALITY. Even though she knew this, and Mamun had told her many times that this was the case, she was still angered. How could they not think about this? How could their minds be so simple?
The girls were them. Anyone other than her family was them. They were dogs, howling at nothing, only because another began with its moonsong.
There was no emotion in their song except greed. A song forged in greed was always discord.
But Siveny did not have that. A pang of regret hit Hajra. That one did not sing with greed, she sang with something else. Perhaps there could be a friendship built with those basic tones.
Hajra turned back to see her.
She was sitting with the other girls, struggling to pay attention as they clucked like hens about their husbands-to-be or potential titles.
Siveny had felt the eyes on her and turned to Hajra.
There was a small moment of understanding between them. Hajra made a small, but large gesture of recocilliation. Her right hand tapped an imaginary drum three times against the floor of the cart.
In the older times, when clans were warring with each other in the Sowd lands, three loud drum hits was a sign that one leader wanted to talk with another. Either to discuss terms or peace. It had become synonymous with an apology. That someone was willing to admit fault in their actions.
siveny left the girls, and headed to the back of the wagon. She was ignored.
“I’m sorry too,” she said, gripping her braid in both hands.
“I know you are different from them. Your melodies are drawn from pain, like me,” Hajra said.
“Yes. But I’m sorry I pushed you. I’m scared. Tell me about your family,” Siveny said.
Hajra grew excited, eager to tell her about her sisters, and their fighting. But the stories she would tell would always lead back to the mark of the traitor.
Her mouth closed, and it dawned on her that this girl had lost her family. It would be rude of her to spin vocals about her own.
“You mentioned yours,” Hajra turned the conversation, “Do you have any that you speak with?”
“Only my brother. He is younger, but he is an officer. A drummer. We have been separate for many moonsongs,” she told her.
“Is he on the western front?”
“No. The eastern front. He is as far away as he can be,” Siveny said.
Hajra nodded, “Why is that?”
She wondered if this might be by choice. Or perhaps a rival family name vying to separate them.
“We each handled the the loss of our parents differently. He is not lost like me. I speak of confusion, and he speaks of honor. There was no doubt in his songs when he joined the military. He wished to be far away from my directionless melodies,” Siveny told her.
“Do you hear the same songs as anyone in your family?” Hajra asked.
“No. They are all doubtless. They are all bound by the way of things. I ask questions, and they only see weakness.”
“I am sorry, Siveny,” Hajra said, “We are both more similar than I had thought.”
“It is alright. I should not have invaded your ears so soon with my questions.”
“My mother was a siren. I fear that these girls are in for a rapid change in melody when it comes time to perform,” Hajra said.
“It cannot be as bad as they say. Why would there be any volunteers?”
“Her mind is gone. The god of Death comes to her in her sleep. She must awaken or die. Every night.”
siveny’s face dropped, she turned to the road.
“Sirens die. Their songs meld with the eyes of death. I have no confusion over what is going to happen. I will live a short life, but die with more honor than most,” Hajra told her.
“It is worse than they say,” Siveny said with a smirk.
“I’m sorry. I should not be so direct,” Hajra said.
“It is alright. I am glad that you told me. My family coated their untruths in lullabies. I knew this was the case, but I did not know enough to challenge them,” Siveny said.