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Initiation

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Furiosa was named when she was only ten years old. It was young for her daemon to settle on one shape; her sister-who-would-be-Valkyrie didn’t get her name until she was fourteen, and Val’s daemon Keranos settled into the shape of a raven. Among the Vuvalini, a person had two names. The name they were called as a child, and the name they took when their daemon chose their shape. It was a chance for the children of Next Wednesday to take the ferocity they would need to survive their new world, and it created a distinct line between those who had been old when the world fell, and those who had been born after the end.

The girl who would be Furiosa and her daemon Aurelio always knew he would settle to a bird of some kind; all witches did, and they came from the best blood line in the Hellcat clan. Mary JoBassa was two hundred years old and had lived in a white house in the Outback, before the Vuvalini were more than a loose confederation of Australian witches. Before mankind went crazy, killing itself and murdering the world around them. Now she lived in a tent striped with old curtains and the wide petals of sewn-together skirts, and she had a daughter she named Caesia, and who she loved as much as sun and sky and soft earth under her feet.

The girl was Caesia (a tree, a Silver Princess), not one to be found inside when her eyes were open. She prefered the danger and excitement of the outdoors to the sharp-scented fingers and careful concentration of a healer like her mother. Caesia lived for the freedom of the fields and the patrols that swept through the Hell Cat patch. Perhaps the only thing that could hold her still for more than a few moments were the long-remembered stories of the witches.

Her mother’s treatments brought in Vuvalini from all over the Green Place, from all other clans, and often the only thing they had to trade were stories. Caesia heard about raids thrown back from the desert, invaders who swept through the outskirts of the Green Place from mountains and salt flats and stranger places. She heard stories of the dead cities her mother’s patients had visited, of the shimmering blue on sand and the treacherous mirrors of the desert.

These were women who had lived through the end of the world, and they could tell older stories, too. Stories with cloud pine branches, the kiss of moonlight on bare skin. The soaring triumph of clouds between your teeth. But these, especially, were only stories, because there were very few cloud pine branches left. Wherever those ancient trees had grown, they did not live there anymore, and the only brooms left to the Vuvalini witches were kept as heirlooms, too dangerous to risk in the open air.

Caesia listened, and grew, and when she was ten and Aurelio spread dark and creamy wings, declared that they were his and nothing else would suit, many of the Mothers came to her initiation. She knew Mothers from Swaddle Dog, and Bright Wings, and the Mothers of her mother’s Hell Cat clan. She knew everyone there, greeted them with the seriousness of an initiate (except for her sister-who-would-be-Valkyrie, who caught her up in a hug and started tickling).

Like all witch matters, it began and ended with a story. First, Caesia’s mother stood and paced a circle around a large fire, set with enough fuel to burn high and fast. She told the story of her daughter, who was restless and reckless and loved the bright of the day. She told the gathered Mothers that her daughter was ready to be an initiate not just because her daemon had settled, but because she knew the length and breadth of the world, and would not be satisfied until she had crossed it all.

So the thing was well begun. And Caesia was made to stand with her back to the fire while the Mothers talked, and she could not hear them over the hiss of the flames. Aurelio was perched on her shoulder; he was small enough to do that, still, though his hooked claws dug into her skin with the terrible sharpness of a predator. She was glad to have him, would have liked to hold him close to her chest. But at least one of them could see, this way.

When the Queen of the Hell Cat clan beckoned, Aurelio whispered that she should turn around, and maneuvered himself on her shoulder so that he would be facing the fire with her. Someone stood on the other side, obscured by smoke. The flames had burned down into embers that gave off incandescent shimmers of heat, warping the air with showers of sparks. “Daughter of the Vuvalini, today you leave your childhood behind,” the witch Queen said. “We have heard your story, and it is time for you to begin a new chapter.”

The next person to stand was her mother, who was not a Queen but stood as tall and straight as any royalty. “A new chapter needs a new name,” she said, and her voice was warm and familiar and Caesia straightened under it, Aurelio raising his head and flipping out his wings so that his new patterns showed to their best advantage. “Cross the fire to your Initiate mother, and learn who you will become.”

Caesia only realized she was holding her breath when she stepped forward and found that she was dizzy – with a gulp she shifted her footing and continued on, hoping that no one had noticed. Her Initiate mother would have to be someone she knew. Her mother would have asked one of her friends or lovers, surely. She hesitated at the edge of the coals, too wide to step across and just long enough that a jump would be risky. Especially since she still couldn’t see who was on the other side.

This was a rebirth, of sorts. Go through the fire and see a new mother, one who would teach her everything she needed to know to be one of the Vuvalini. Caesia wanted it more than anything. Her feet itched like they always did, with the urge to run until she couldn’t recognize the horizon, to find the edges of the world and push past them.

She glanced at Aurelio, who looked back at her with one yellow eye and clicked his beak encouragingly. Caesia smiled, and backed up a few steps, feeling the eyes of the Mothers all around her, ready for her jump, encouraging her. And if there was magic in the world, though she had never felt it before, there was magic in her feet when she ran forward, magic in the roar of the fire under her when she jumped, magic in Aurelio’s wings as he leapt from her shoulder.

Caesia jumped, and felt the heat shimmer around her like a crucible, and then her booted feet were slamming into the earth on the other side, and a witch she recognized was towering over her with a golden eagle daemon on her arm.

Katie Concannon was a Swaddle Dog, a road warrior with a bike and blood under her nails. She was everything Caesia wanted to be, strong and smart and laughing with her sisters around the dinner fires. If there was one Mother out of all of them who had to be her Initiate Mother, Caesia would have picked her.

She stood with one hand on her belt and one arm supporting her huge daemon, as steady as if she could have stayed there all night with the heavy bird on her arm. The two of them looked down at Caesia, and despite her excitement the girl found her mouth dry. Katie was not the kind of witch who you were comfortable with. Caesia loved her, undoubtedly, but she was not comfortable around her.

“You’ve left a child’s name behind,” Katie said, and the Vuvalini around the fire were suddenly distant, distorted by smoke and heat and sparks. Her mother was distant. “From now on, with a daemon who shows his true self, you will be called Furiosa, she who is full of fury. Don’t forget that to survive in this world we must be angry, and deadly, and stronger than any who would dare to threaten our clans.”

Furiosa. She wanted to carve the name into her heartbeat, to make it hers. It still sat strange on her shoulders, where Aurelio was perched. Furiosa. It felt like a promise.

“As an Initiate, you will work and eat and sleep at my side,” Katie continued, and Furiosa snapped straight, listened to every word with all the seriousness of a soldier receiving orders. “I will expect work from you that will have you dreaming of sleep and food and all soft things. Make no mistake, this will be a hard path.” Katie stooped, and put a hand on Furiosa’s clear shoulder, and her voice went just a little bit soft. “But I believe you have the strength to walk it. Furiosa. Do you accept?”

She did not hesitate. “I accept!”

The fire flared behind her, but it was not magic so much as the thunder of wings as twenty bird daemons taking flight as their witches stood and called out, “FURIOSA!”

Her name echoed in the trees and grass and fields of the Green Place with the strength of forty voices, and Furiosa felt it sink into her bones.

Chapter Text

“Oh my daughter, I am so sorry,” her mother whispered, thinking Furiosa was too asleep to hear. “I wish you didn’t have to grow up in a world so terrible and savage.”

“She’s strong enough to survive it,” Katie spoke more softly than Furiosa had ever heard her. “You of all people should know.”

“Of course I know,” Mary JoBassa whispered back, fierce as the hellcat her clan was named after. “You’re not the only one who named her Furiosa. I just wish…”

“We all wish,” Katie said, and it was not sympathy but derision in her voice. “What use are wishes in the Wasteland?”

“We won’t let this place become Wasteland.” Mary cradled her daughter to her chest, picked her up without a groan and rested her small head on a strong shoulder. Furiosa, about as curious as she was exhausted, feigned deep sleep. “Promise me you won’t let my daughter be as bright and terrible as that place. Those mountains. I know it’s hard, out here. I know that she’ll be hard. But you’d better swear on your daemon’s blood, Katie, that you won’t let her become terrible.”

It wasn’t Katie who answered, but her daemon, a gold-eyed eagle perched on the handle bars of her bike. He was, like all witch daemons, separate and strange, but he flew down to pick up Aurelio in his huge claws and he was as gentle as the water of Swaddle Dog’s spring. “Promises are worth less than wishes in the Wasteland,” he said, cupping Aurelio’s dark-feathered wings in his. “But we will do our best to protect them, Mary JoBassa.”

“She is bright, and fierce. She’ll make a fine Swaddle Dog,” Katie said, coming close, pressing her forehead against Mary’s and Furiosa squished between them. It felt like safety, to be held so close, with her mother’s smell of aloe and palm oil in front, and Katie’s sharper gunpowder-and-leather at her back. It felt like home.

“I know you don’t miss the old world,” Mary breathed out, her hands full of child but leaning steady against Katie in the night cold. “But I wish, for her sake, that she didn’t have to know the things you’ll teach her.”

“I’ll teach her how to live in this world, Mary. Not the one we grew up in. I’ll teach her to shoot a gun, how to kill a man a hundred ways. I know you think it’s terrible, but you know as well as I do the beauty we’ve found past the end of the world.”

Above and behind her, the two women kissed, a softness neither allowed themselves often. With Aurelio drowsing in Katie’s eagle’s claws, Furiosa felt herself falling closer to sleep, their voices fading as if a great distance stood between them. She barely noticed when she was transferred to the heavily padded back of Katie’s bike, and didn’t wake up long enough for the cold to register before her mother wrapped an old blanket around her. It smelled like home, like brewing medicine and old sunlight, and long after the worn white cloth had lost its scent Furiosa kept it close; it was the last piece of her childhood, and she was determined not to lose it.