"Are you girls planning anything for Midwinter?" Mouse asked casually.
"That almost sounds like a pickup line," Firefly said with a smirk.
Mouse snickered softly. "If it were, I'd know I'd not be getting anywhere. Everyone knows that you and Dawn are the thing."
Dawn said, "Everyone?"
"Well, everyone that's anyone important, anyway," Mouse said with a shrug.
"Heh," Firefly said. "We're probably just going to head down to the Fire Dance and join the barbecue, pick up something to eat, maybe dance a bit."
Mouse grinned a little and lowered his voice, and said, "I've got a great idea if you're up for a little fun."
"Oh?" Dawn said, perking up a bit and raising an eyebrow.
"Everyone's going to be at the Fire Dance, most likely," Mouse said. "That'll leave plenty of room for a little mischief with less chance of prying eyes catching on to what we're doing."
Firefly chuckled. "Always with the sneakiness, Mouse. One would think that you were younger than us and not older."
"What have you got in mind?" Dawn asked.
"We can have a little party of our own," Mouse said. "Maybe swipe some booze while we're at it -- the good stuff, not the stuff that doesn't do shit to werewolves like us. And then we can have a little dance of our own, too..."
"Have our own Fire Dance?" Firefly asked. "What's the point in that?"
Mouse shook his head. "No. Do the Sword Dance instead."
"The Sword Dance?" Dawn said, raising an eyebrow.
"That's only supposed to be performed on Midsummer," Firefly said. "We'll get in real trouble if anyone catches us doing that."
Mouse scoffed. "It'll be fun. Besides, what's the worst that could happen? They put us on kitchen duty or something in the unlikely event anyone actually sees us?"
"True," Dawn said. "Okay, you can count us in."
"Who else is going to be there?" Firefly asked.
"I haven't talked to anyone else yet," Mouse said. "Besides, the more people there are, the more likely someone's going to notice that people aren't at the Fire Dance, and that someone's going to run off to tell someone. So we'd best be careful just who we let in on the fun."
"What about Apple?" Dawn suggested. "Crow? Diamond, maybe?"
"Bah, Apple and Diamond would just go squeal to the elders. Crow, maybe."
"Let's go find him, then," Dawn said.
Firefly frowned a little and said, "I don't know if I like the idea of going behind even our friends' backs."
"You've just got to know who you can trust," Mouse said with a crooked grin.
"I thought I could trust them," Firefly said.
Mouse shook his head. "Some people, you can trust with some things. Some people, you can trust with others. And then there's the rare few people that you know you can trust with anything and know that they won't betray you. I trust the two of you. Don't you trust me?"
"Well, of course," Firefly said, and sighed a bit. "Alright, let's go find Crow."
They found Crow perched atop a low stone wall on the edge of town, watching people coming to town on the road for the Fire Dance and absently smoking something as he did. Crow was younger than them, but he had been born a metis, so he had reached his first change sooner.
"Afternoon, friends," Crow drawled, waving to them. "What's up?"
"Hey, Crow," Mouse said. "Seen anything interesting on the road?"
Crow shrugged. "Looks like everyone'll be in town for the Fire Dance tonight. Some of the farmers have been just arriving. Had a long way to travel or just waited till the last minute. It'll be a great party, I'm sure."
"I'm sure," Mouse said. "I don't suppose you'd be interested in a bit of fun during the party, hmm?"
Crow raised an eyebrow and sat upright, looking down at him. "Fun? Heh. What sort of mischief are you planning this time, Mouse? And you've got the girls in on it too, I take it?"
"Uh-huh," Mouse said with a chuckle. "We're planning a little side-party of our own. Get a little barbecue of our own going, get some of the good booze to spice things up..."
"So in other words," Crow said, "You want to get the lesbians drunk enough to have sex with you."
"What?" Mouse said. "No, no, that wasn't what I was thinking of."
Firefly smirked at him, but didn't say a word.
"I'm sure," Crow drawled. "And rather than get all the ladies for yourself, you wanted to make sure to at least have as many guys around, is that it?" Crow snorted softly and hopped down off the wall. "Y'all can have fun if you want, but you can count me out." He turned and strode back toward town.
Once he was out of earshot, Mouse muttered, "Well, that could have gone better."
"You didn't even mention what you really had planned," Dawn said.
"Of course not," Mouse said. "At least at worst if he goes and tells somebody, they'll just think it's nothing more than teens being teens, and won't care."
"So was that the real reason you wanted the booze?" Firefly asked him.
Mouse snorted softly. "Do you think I'd insult you girls like that? Anyway, come on. It's getting late and we've still got preparations to make. Looks like it's just going to be the three of us."
"What if somebody catches us?" Firefly wondered as they finished arranging the swords they had pilfered into a three-armed spiral.
"No one's going to know," Mouse said. "Who'd come all the way out here in the middle of the night, what with the Fire Dance going on, anyway? There aren't even many wild animals around here."
"Except nirrils," Firefly said.
Dawn scoffed. "And who would be afraid of nirrils, anyway?"
Firefly snickered. "Let's do this thing."
Dawn turned on the music player they had brought out, scratchily playing back the sounds of drums and chanting that were normally sung during the summer ritual. They didn't have the usual actual musicians as backup this time, with it just being the three of them, but they certainly could manage the atmosphere. They were far enough away from the main action that hopefully no one would hear it and investigate.
Then they started chanting along with the music. Dawn hopped into the dance first, followed by Mouse, then Firefly. Their footsteps struck the dirt in time with the drumbeats, and they chanted in synch with the music. Around and around they went, increasing in speed as the tempo built and whooping wildly.
The torches around their little camp flickered and guttered as if in a strong wind, and then were snuffed out, leaving them in darkness. Dawn was knocked from her feet, panting and gasping for breath, wondering what was going on and what had hit her. The music warped and twisted, screeching and scratching, squealing and screaming. Or maybe it wasn't the music.
"What the fuck just happened?" Dawn said, peering about and blinking her eyes as they adjusted to the sudden darkness.
It was a very dark night, and not even the stars could be seen through the overcast skies, but so far as she could make out, Mouse and Firefly weren't in front of her any longer. Something felt very, very strong, as if the barriers between reality and the other world were weaker than they ought to be, and something malevolent was watching her.
"Mouse... Firefly... Where are you?" she called out, not even hoping for a response, but more to just hear her own voice.
And the only thing that responded was nirrils. They came out of the foliage to look at her, peer at her. She knew that they wouldn't normally attack a full-grown person, or even a child, but she was unreasonably nervous at the moment. Or perhaps not so unreasonably. She yelled at them and waved her arms about to frighten them away.
"Go away. Leave me alone!" she cried out.
The nirrils stared at her with glowing red eyes and didn't move. This wasn't normal nirril behavior. They must be possessed, she thought. And then in a moment they were on her, attacking her, biting at her with their tiny fangs.
"Get off of me!" Dawn screamed, flailing her arms and batting at them.
After what seemed like several minutes of frantically fighting off the rabid nirrils, Dawn managed to break herself free of them, and the slightly bruised nirrils flew off. Why was she suddenly afraid of nirrils, anyway, rabid, possessed, or what? She was a werewolf, for fuck's sake! She could have eaten them all for lunch if she'd had a mind to, or roasted them on the barbecue!
Panting somewhat, she lay on the ground staring through the trees up at the sky. There was a new moon tonight, and the sky was very dark, under the thick winter's covering of clouds. She shivered involuntarily, although it wasn't even particularly cold for this time of year. But now, even the shadows seemed alive and ready to devour her at an instant's misstep. She could hear her own heartbeat pounding in her chest above the wailing of a wind she couldn't feel.
Slowly, Dawn climbed to her feet again, peering about into the darkness. The spiral of swords in the center of the camp glinted like sharp teeth, but there was no light for them to be glinting from. She went over and began to yank the swords out of the ground, dismantling the spiral. As she did so, the eerie feelings began to ease down a bit, and then as she pulled out the last blade and set it aside, she glanced over and saw a pair of shadows on the ground, or what she had thought were shadows at first. It was Firefly and Mouse.
Dawn rushed over to their sides. They were still breathing. Good. They weren't dead. Unconscious or incoherent. Mouse was groaning and muttering nonsense.
"Firefly? Mouse? Are you alright?" she whispered, kneeling at their sides.
"Nngh," Mouse murmured, followed by a stream of incomprehensible syllables.
"Better than I could hope for at least," Dawn said, putting a hand to his forehead, then peering over Firefly with concern. "Firefly?"
Firefly was silent. She was out cold, her eyes not even opening, and clearly not seeing her friends or aware of what was going on. Dawn frowned at her in concern, but Mouse at least was coming to and stirring. He opened his eyes and stared up straight at her for a long moment, as if her face was only slowly registering to him.
"What did I say?" Mouse asked.
"After I came out," Mouse said. "What did I say?"
"I don't know," Dawn said. "Just a bunch of nonsense."
Mouse sat upright and said more forcefully, "It's important. Tell me! As close as you can tell."
"Um..." Dawn said, thinking hard, and wondering why he wanted to know this. "Nnn-guh-kkhhh-blargh?" she guessed, shrugging. "What does it matter? Are you alright?"
"Hmmm..." Mouse mused. "Gakh'blar? Yes, I think I like the sound of that. Henceforth, my name shall be Gakh'blar."
"But your name is Mouse," Dawn protested.
"No, not Mouse!" he snapped. "Gakh'blar!"
"I don't understand."
Firefly groaned softly and uttered a faint hiss. Mouse grinned and turned his attention to her, and said, "Zethe... That's what she said. That's what her name shall be."
"Didn't we already get names when we came of age and were accepted by the tribe?" Dawn wondered.
"New names now," Mouse said. "Better names! Names brought through enlightenment! It's a pity you woke up first, so we won't be able to tell what yours might be, but just as well I suppose."
Dawn thought that she had been less afraid when she was alone. Mouse had always been a tricky, sly fellow, but this was going a bit far even for him. "We should see if we can't get Firefly to wake up, and then maybe we should go back..."
Mouse clambered to his feet, growling and panting himself. "No! They'll all destroy me. That's what they do. They destroy anything that they don't understand. You, no, you I have to thank for helping to open my eyes. Whether it was intentional or not, whether or not you knew what you were doing. But them... They'll kill me. And I'm not so sure that you won't kill me either."
"Mouse, what are you talking about?" Dawn asked.
"Don't you see?" he said insistantly. "We're Black Spiral Dancers now! What do you honestly think that they're going to do to us once they find out? They'll kill us, they'll kill us all!"
"I didn't--" Dawn began.
Mouse shook his head. "No. We have to get away. We have to hide. They'll know. They'll know what we've done, but it was worth it. It was totally worth it. Everything is so clear to me now. And I feel so powerful... But I'm no fool. I know I'm no match for all of them. I would kill them, kill all of them, if I could, but I'm not ready for that yet. Not yet. Come with me, the both of you. We'll hide out and make our stand, build a new headquarters for ourselves, and recruit others. It will be glorious, and we shall show them the glory of the Black Wyrm!"
"Mouse..." Dawn said, her voice wavering, finding herself trembling a bit at his words. "I can't do that."
"Why not? Do you think that they're just going to accept you back and pat you on the head after that?" Mouse scoffed. He went over to Firefly and nudged her. "Wake up. We've got to get moving as soon as possible."
Dawn shook her head. She hated to have to do this, but she couldn't allow this to go any further. "I'm sorry," she whispered, and shifted into her war form. She didn't care how ridiculous anyone might think she looked, as an oversized beagle. She had to stop poor Mousey before he destroyed everything he might have once believed in.
"What!?" Mouse cried out as he turned to see her bearing down on him, shifting himself. But she had the element of surprise, as paranoid as he might be, and she had always been a better fighter than him. With a quick slash of claws and teeth, she latched onto him and ripped his throat out. Blood spurted all over, soaking her fur, but he died quickly. Putting an end to a reign of terror before it had a chance to begin.
"Poor Mousey deserved better than that," she said quietly. "But he left me with little choice. I wasn't about to allow him to go and try to kill all of our friends... I just hope that you're saner than that..."
She wasn't entirely certain just what she was going to do now, or what she would do if it turned out that Firefly was lost as well. She didn't think she would be able to handle that. But she perked up a little as she saw Firefly slowly regaining consciousness.
"Where am I?" Firefly wondered. "How did I get here?"
"How are you feeling?" Dawn asked, kneeling beside her. Damn, she thought, she was still covered in blood, what would Firefly think?
"I... I'm not sure. What happened?" She looked at Dawn. "Was there a fight?"
"You could say that," Dawn said softly. "Mouse wasn't entirely... himself... after the ritual, I'm afraid."
"What ritual?" Firefly asked.
"You know, we were performing the Sword Dance on midwinter, remember?" Dawn said. "We were going to make a little party of it..."
"The Sword Dance?" Firefly asked, frowning. "That's... not good. So what happened to Mouse?"
"He had to be killed," Dawn said softly. "He was insane. I..."
"Mouse danced the Black Spiral?"
"I... I guess..." Dawn said. "I suppose you did too, then. You both disappeared for a while there."
Firefly shook her head. "I didn't go in. Only Mouse did. That didn't happen. I stayed outside the spiral of swords and tried to discourage him. I tried to stop him. Then I helped you kill him."
"What?" Dawn said, blinking. "That's not..."
"We're going to have to get you cleaned up," Firefly said, sighing. "And then, I suppose, tell someone about the unfortunate incident with Mouse. They might well hold us accountable for failing to stop him from doing it to begin with, but I'm sure they'll say we did the right thing in stopping him before he caused any trouble."
Dawn didn't know what to say. "You really don't remember anything, do you?" she whispered.
"I remember everything quite clearly," Firefly said. "Just as I said."
Dawn sighed. For the sake of a silly game, two of her closest friends had been destroyed. What was she to do now? She didn't know, but she didn't care to argue with Firefly any longer as she went to get cleaned up and put everything away, the swords and the food and drink from the party that never happened. There would be hell to pay later, and she knew it.
They didn't get the chance to clean up in peace, however. "What in the world?" said a voice from the edge of the camp.
"Crow!" Dawn said.
"Here I thought I'd come and lend a hand if Mouse actually tried to rape you ladies," Crow said. "But it appears I'm too late. What the hell happened here?"
"Hell is an accurate word, I think," Dawn said darkly. "Mouse... apparently did something called 'dancing the Black Spiral', and I don't even understand what the hell that's supposed to mean, but he came back all psychotic."
"He... what?" Crow said, raising an eyebrow and looking her over, and glancing over at the corpse. "You killed him, I take it?"
Dawn nodded, shivering a bit. "He'd started talking about killing people and 'recruiting' others... I didn't like the sounds of it."
"There haven't been any Black Spiral Dancers in a long time," Crow said. "I'm surprised you haven't heard about it. Meh, right, you and Firefly are homids, and neither of you even knew you were werewolves until you changed, right? But still, did they not consider this important to tell you? Did you really not know?"
Firefly came up to them, wiping off her hands. "Of course I knew," she said. "I've made it a point to learn all the old stories I could get my hands on. They're quite fascinating. Once I found out what Mouse was trying to do, I tried to stop him, but it was too late."
Crow looked askance at her. "So you're telling me you didn't know what he intended to do with all the swords? What did you think he meant to do with them, make kabobs?"
"Kabobs?" Firefly said. "Yes, of course. It was going to be a big party, quite the barbecue."
"With just the three of you?" Crow said. "We werewolves might eat a lot, certainly, but there was no cause to bring out every damned sword in town for it. Are you lying to me, Firefly? Are you trying to cover something up?"
"What?" Firefly said. "No, of course not. Why would I ever do such a thing?"
Dawn just sighed quietly. She didn't want to turn her back on her closest friend, but this was all going way too far. Especially if her suspicion was correct that Firefly knew exactly what she was getting into and didn't mention it. Mouse certainly knew.
"Firefly..." Dawn said in a strained voice. "You... go finish putting the swords away. We'll gather up the food and take it back."
"Okay," Firefly said, and turned away to head off and do that.
Once she was out of earshot, Dawn murmured to Crow, "I think there's something wrong with her."
"You don't say," Crow said. "You don't think I really believe her lies, do you?"
Dawn shook her head. "I don't even know if she's lying intentionally or if she really just doesn't remember what happened, but I'm inclined to think the latter. She was saying the same things to me, too, and I'm sure she would have known perfectly well that I knew what really happened."
"So tell me what really happened, then," Crow said.
"Alright..." Dawn said with a sigh, and recounted the events of the evening. Crow listened quietly until she had finished.
"And you had no idea that any of this would happen?"
"No, of course not," Dawn said. "I would have never agreed to it if I had."
"The rite requires at least three people to work," Crow said. "But it can be more powerful the more people are involved. That's why we do the Sword Dance every year at Midsummer, you know. To give strength to the Silver Wyrm and keep away the Black Wyrm."
"I'm not so well-versed in spiritual matters," Dawn said. "Obviously not as well as I should be."
"Fine, let me put it this way," Crow said. "They might let you off easier on account of ignorance, maybe, but I'll be surprised if they even let Firefly live. You've got points in your favor for killing Mouse when you figured out what was going on, at least. But she's in serious trouble, whether she realizes it or not. They're not going to believe her lies anymore than I did, whether or not she believes them."
"I don't want anything bad to happen to her if I can help it..." Dawn said. "I don't think she's really a danger to anyone, at least."
"You know they're not going to tolerate a Black Spiral Dancer in their midst, whatever you might think of how dangerous she is or isn't. We're going to have to take her back for judgment."
Dawn sighed. "I know you're right. I just... I don't know. Let's finish cleaning up here and then we can go see Feldspar about it, alright?"
The Fire Dance was winding down and the revelers heading to bed as the three of them made their way through the pre-dawn town. They found Feldspar relaxing at the edge of the celebration grounds, sipping at a cup of punch. He raised an eyebrow at them when he saw them approach.
"Sir," Crow said. "There's a matter which needs to be brought to your attention. I'm sorry about ruining the party night, but this is important."
Dawn shifted uncomfortably. How could Firefly be so blissfully calm, after what she'd willfully done? But she kept quiet as Crow described what had happened. But when he got to any part that implicated anyone other than Mouse, Firefly protested.
"I did nothing of the sort," Firefly said. "I tried to stop him! I helped Dawn kill him!"
"Firefly..." Dawn murmured in exasperation.
"It's true!" Firefly insisted.
Feldspar shook his head. "The Black Wyrm has left its mark upon you, girl. I must admit that I am... disappointed in you. I did not think that you, of all people, would stoop this low."
"You've gotta believe me... that's not how it happened..." Firefly murmured, lowering her gaze.
"There's no point in denying it, Firefly," Dawn said gently. "I was there, you know."
"And what about you, then?" Firefly snapped, shooting a look at her. "Are you saying that you also danced the Black Spiral?"
"I-- Of course not," Dawn said, shaking her head. "I'm not even sure just what happened in between there, but I don't think that's what happened to me."
"Are you sure?" Firefly said. "If you're telling me that I remember things wrong, couldn't you also be remembering things wrong?"
Dawn thought back on the strange things she had seen but couldn't readily explain, and had to admit to herself that she didn't even know what this 'dancing the Black Spiral' thing might entail. "That's... entirely possible," she murmured. "Regardless... I humbly submit myself for judgment for my part in this matter." She lowered her head and knelt before Feldspar quietly.
Feldspar sighed and set aside his cup, and rose to his feet. "This might be against my better judgment, but I'm not going to kill you here and now. Either of you. I'm going to gather the elders and speak with them. You'll be held until then."
Feldspar called over another couple werewolves to take them off to a side building to be kept under guard for the interim. Firefly didn't even protest any longer at the moment, and went along with them quietly. Once locked inside, Dawn sighed and sat down against the wall. It wasn't much of a prison, but the room was small and the only window was far too tiny to even think about escaping through, were she even so inclined to try.
"I still think this is all a big mistake," Firefly said quietly, sitting down next to her.
"I don't know," Dawn said. "I'm not so sure about anything anymore. Just know that whatever happens, my friend, I'll be by your side regardless."
"Thank you," Firefly murmured.
Feldspar came to them the next day, after they'd had a chance to sleep, and one of the guards had passed in some breakfast for them. The two of them stirred and climbed to their feet.
"Well, I've spoken with the elders, and we've decided what we're going to do with you," Feldspar said, approaching them. "It was difficult to get them to agree to this, but I don't honestly think that you really knew what you were doing, and it was the only way that you would be allowed to live."
"What's going to happen with us?" Dawn asked.
"You will be cast out from the tribe, your names stripped, and people will be forbidden from dealing with you," Feldspar said. "But we can't have Black Spiral Dancers running around freely with nothing left to lose. So we're sending you away, far away."
"To Nietor?" Firefly wondered.
Feldspar shook his head. "Further than that. You see, not long ago, I was contacted by a group of mages who call themselves the Elkandu. I didn't really trust them or their motives, especially as they seemed to be recruiting and were particularly interested in shapeshifters, but the ones I encountered didn't appear to mean any harm. They were explorers, for the most part, seeking to learn about the universe and discover new realms and new peoples."
"That sounds fascinating," Firefly said.
"I'm glad you think so, because your choices are to either go with them, or be killed," Feldspar said dryly. He turned to Dawn, and said, "You, however, have a choice. You may remain, if you wish. But unless I miss my guess, you're going to want to go with your friend, am I right?"
Dawn gave a small nod and said quietly, "I will go with her and share in her punishment."
"Very well," Feldspar said. "May Gaia look after you both."